The Lord has sworn And will not relent, “You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4)
As Christians, we rightfully assert that we are a ‘royal priesthood,’ but how many of us actually really grasp the deep and rich significance of this? It’s very obvious that Jesus is both King and High Priest. The Bible tells us this, and we have no trouble at all accepting its validity. We can even accept that David, that bold and obvious type of Christ, was king but also priest in that, while He did not necessarily fulfill the role of High Priest in the temple, he penned most of the Psalms and was a true, faithful worshipper who also arranged much of the worship and priestly duties and allocations. But there is so much more in the phrase ‘royal priesthood,’ all of which goes back to the time of Abraham.
In Genesis 14, after rescuing Lot, Abraham pays an interesting visit to a man named Melchizedek, the king of Salem. Vs 18-20 say this: Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all.
The little bit about tithes right at the end is powerful, because we can see right off that Abraham recognised the validity of everything claimed about Melchizedek in these verses. He was no ordinary man, and the Bible references Christ as being the ultimate ‘priest of the order of Melchizedek.’ But what made him extraordinary, and what is the connection between Jesus, David, and Melchizedek? The answers are themselves extraordinary, but the who is possibly the most telling place to start.
Living the Christian life means living the royal priesthood of the order of Melchizedek
Melchizedek was the king of Salem, which later became Jerusalem, but was also a priest of God. Note the powerful parallel of the bread and wine, his blessing Abraham, the fact that Abraham paid him a visit after a victory in order to tithe the spoils or war, and Abraham’s deference to him as a man of God. These are all important, as they establish Melchizedek in a place of godly authority. However, to really grasp his significance, let’s look at his name.
It comes from two Hebrew words, ‘melek’ which means ‘king’ and ‘tsedeq’ which means ‘righteousness’. Now let’s look at the meaning of the word ‘Salem,’ which is ‘peace.’ Wow. Melchizedek can therefore be literally translated as ‘king of righteousness and peace’ or ‘righteous king of peace.’ In other words, he was the closest thing that mankind ever had to Jesus. Don’t misunderstand. This in no way implies that he ‘was’ Jesus, or could in any way be a substitute. But it does mean that, in Melchizedek, God provided a living, breathing prophecy of the perfect King and Priest who was to come.
In essence, God created a kind of ‘superpriest’ legacy which stood apart from the Levitical priesthood from which Jesus was directly descended and, in so doing, fulfilled Melchizedek’s living prophecy. How this happened is interesting. We mentioned that Salem became Jerusalem. After being anointed and appointed king, David ruled for almost eight years from Hebron then relocated to Salem, which he’d taken after defeating the Jesubite king Araunah. As such, literally and spiritually, he became ‘righteous king of peace,’ i.e. he assumed the king-priest legacy of Melchizedek, which in turn was passed down to Jesus.
The ‘royal priesthood’ we use now seems a whole lot more significant, doesn’t it? The king-priest status of Melchizedek is ancient. It was established before Moses was instructed to build the tabernacle and institute the Levitical priesthood. These things were practical applications, daily rituals and traditions that established an ordered, worshipful way of life for God’s people. But the ‘order (nature) of Melchizedek’ already existed when God gave Abraham His promise to make him the father of many nations.
This draws a powerful distinction between the Levitical priesthood and the order of Melchizedek. God’s promise to Abraham is two-fold. Firstly, it is Hebrew-centric in that Abraham is the first of God’s chosen people, the father of the Hebrew nation which ultimately was established geographically in the Promised Land after the Exodus. Secondly, the promise includes all nations, i.e. Jews and Gentiles. For the Hebrews, God provided a unique, practical, recognisable priesthood which interpreted and acted according to the Jewish Law and rituals He prescribed for them.
But the order of Melchizedek was and is not a separate priesthood for the Gentiles. It is the ‘ultimate’ priesthood, the one for all the nations, both Jew and Gentile, and is therefore superior to the Levitical one instituted for the Jews alone. Melchizedek represents the universal priesthood of Christ who is King and High Priest of all. Melchizedek is a prophecy of the King-Priest of the world. This is illustrated by the fact that Melchizedek was ‘independent.’ Abraham may have acknowledged and respected Him, but they were separate social, geographical, and national entities. He was not Abraham’s king or leader in the literal, physical sense. He was a spiritual representative of God for all people.
It is very true that we are called to be a ‘royal priesthood.’ The order of Melchizedek is hereditary. It passed from David through to Christ, and by inheritance, it has passed from Christ to us. We can truthfully say that it’s an exceptional calling, a unique calling, and one that is entirely extraordinary. But what we so easily overlook is that it is a holy calling. Righteous King of Peace involves, first and foremost, righteousness, which is another word for holiness. In accepting the inheritance of the order of Melchizedek, we are accepting that we are a ‘holy’ nation. We willingly agree to be wholly set apart in the service of God.
Our part in this needs to be clarified. It is Christ in us that makes all this possible. Without Him, we would simply reenact a form of Levitical priesthood and authority. Our worship would be by ritual and our authority by tradition and form. Being part of the ‘royal priesthood’ means we no longer live for ourselves. We surrender all to Christ, and become His servants, His vessels, and His obedient followers. It’s not an order that brings wordly prestige or power. We have no claim to some kind of superior existence. It doesn’t make us special or of more value in and of ourselves. We become extraordinary only because we allow Christ to live and move in us.
Jesus is the great Righteous King and High Priest of Peace. We simply do His bidding. We are to follow in order to lead others to Him. We are set apart in order to bring others in. The order of Melchizedek is that of servanthood. We minister first to God and then to man. We give our lives to Him so that He may manifest His holiness and righteous authority through us. Anything that interferes with this should be be cut loose, cast aside, and left behind.
It’s all too easy when hearing wonderful expressions like ‘holy nation’ and ‘royal priesthood’ to fall into pride’s seduction. We are not special. Christ in us is special. That He loved us to the extent that He was willing to die for us is a source of never-ending mystery and awe. To be a holy nation and a royal priesthood, we must live it. Holiness and the ministry of worship to God is the highest calling their is. Jesus gave His life for the privilege. Can we expect to give anything less?
Forgive us, Lord, if we’ve taken Your holy calling for granted. Help us to live as we should, to draw near to You in humility and reverence. Thank You that You reach out to the ugly and unlovely, and through Your love and grace bring us to a place in Christ where it is possible to live holy and righteously before You.