A King Like Melchizadek

When Peter, as the spokesman for the disciples, confesses who Jesus is, he declares, “Thou art the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). These parallel titles, “Messiah” and “Son of the living God”, are both royal titles. “Messiah” essentially means the “divinely appointed king of Israel.” The “Son of God” is a title that looks, in this context, less to Jesus’ divinity and more to His position as the Anointed of Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7. Since Israel also is God’s son (Ex. 4:22ff, Deut. 14:1, etc.), this means that the king is also the representative of Israel before God.

Jesus is clearly a royal figure from His declaration that He is Lord of the Sabbath, using the example of David, to His triumphal entry on the davidic animal, a donkey,1 to His kingly act of cleansing the Temple, to the placard over His head on the cross.

In His earthly ministry, Jesus steadfastly refused the kingship. Satan offers Him the kingship over the nations (Matt. 4:9). Later, the crowds in Israel want to make Him king by force and Jesus refuses (Jn. 6:15). When a man came to Him and asked Him to render a judgment—which is a kingly task - between him and his brother, Jesus answered, “Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbiter over you?” (Lk. 12:14). And when asked to render judgment in a capital case, Jesus again refused to judge. He refused to act as king of Israel (Jn. 8:1–11).

Satan offered Jesus a kingship apart from the purpose for which God had sent Him. Israel said the same thing. The disciples, too, called on Jesus to reject the path of suffering and death (Matt. 16:21–23) . Israel and the disciples had a distorted view of what kingship was. This problem went back as far as 1 Samuel 8. There Israel, on the pretext of the shortcomings of Samuel’s sons, demanded a king. Unfortunately, they wanted a king like the nations (vs. 5). The end of Judges shows that a king is just what Israel lacked. In those terrible closing chapters, when Israel’s apostasy is so deep that she begins to resemble Sodom, the repeated refrain is “In those days there was no king of Israel” (18:1; 19:1; 21:25). But what sort of king was needed?

Of course, Yahweh was the King of Israel. The exodus from Egypt had amply displayed this (Ex. 15:18). This is why He tells Samuel, “[T]hey have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being King over them” (2 Sam. 8:7) 2 Yahweh was the King, but, from the beginning, He had determined to share His throne with the man of His choosing. After all, Adam had been given a two-fold task, to guard and to cultivate the Garden (Gen. 2:15).

The Garden was God’s sanctuary, His earthly throneroom.3 God told the man and the woman that they would have dominion. They would, under God, shape and fill creation. The man and the woman’s task would, on a creaturely level, follow the example of the Creator God Who had, in six days, shaped and filled the dark, formless, and empty earth. The “cultural mandate” calls man to rule as God’s prince and, in a part that is often forgotten, he is to be fed by God. We often begin and end the mandate in Genesis 1:28, but it continues on in verses 29 and 30 where God promises to feed man. Man is created hungry, needing life from outside of himself, life that only God can provide. He is to rule, but only in subordination to God, only in faith and obedience.

Adam had a kingly task, but there was another part to the task given him. He was also to guard the Garden and this is a priestly task.4 It is in this priestly task that he fails. Instead of guarding the Garden, instead of being fed by God, instead of believing and obeying, Adam entered covenant with the Serpent. He listens to the serpent’s word and eats the food that the serpent offers. Of course, here is the fall of man into sin and Adam is expelled from the Garden; he loses access to the throne-room of God.

This shows us something about kingship. It is interesting that Adam’s sin is a “priestly’ sin. He does not guard the Garden, he does not listen to God’s Word, he forgoes the Tree of Life to which he had access, and he eats the food offered by the Serpent and forbidden by God. Adam does not worship and serve the Creator, but the creature. Adam’s sin is priestly, but when God pronounces judgment against him, it is Adam’s kingly work of cultivation, or service, that is cursed (Gen. 3:17-19). Kingship, then, is closely related to priesthood. In fact, the priestly work grounds the kingly work -for good or for ill. Kingship has to do with service and with eating God’s food. When we see that kingship is rooted in priesthood, we understand why we see the priesthood in Israel centuries before the kingship is established. As with Adam, Israel must be confirmed in her priestly work before the kingly service and rule is given to her.

This, then, also explains the significance of Melchizedek. He is mentioned only twice in the Old Testament (Gen. 14:18-24; Psalm 110) and, yet, he is tremendously significant in the New Testament, especially in the book of Hebrews. The author of the letter criticizes his readers because they do not understand the things about Melchizedek. As Gerald Bray writes, “The meaning of Melchizedek, for example, has escaped them, yet it was essential to understand Christ’s atoning work as both priest and victim.”5 We tend to sympathize with them. We seem to think that “the shadowy figure of” is Melchizedek’s first name. But if we reflect for a moment, Melchizedek is a faithful priest-king who dwells on the mountain of God.

He is the one who feeds and blesses Abram, and to whom Abram pays the tithe. Melchizedek reflects the kingship that Adam was to exercise.

This explains how Israel knew that Jerusalem was to be the “center” of the land, the city of God. It was the city of Melchizedek. It was to Moriah, part of the same mountain range with (Jeru)Salem, that Abraham is commanded to go to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:2) . Why? It is the district of Melchizedek.6 Why is Jerusalem the first part of the land conquered in the book of Judges—and the place where Adoni-Bezek is brought to die (Jdgs. 1:1–10)? Why is it that David’s first act, after being declared king of all Israel, is the conquest of Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5:1–16)? All for the same reason: this is the place of the priest-king, the place that Yahweh had marked off to be His earthly throne-room, the Garden redux.

When Israel, however, demands a king, they want one apart from the priesthood and service. They want a king like the nations. That is, they want one like the rulers from the line of Cain, who sought their own power and whose rule was founded on Lamech-like bloodshed. That is what they got with Saul. The principle of the book of Judges is still at work: God gives His disobedient people what they want good and hard. If you want to worship the gods of the Moabites, then you are just going to love being dominated and oppressed by the Moabites, and so on.

With Saul, they get a king like the nations. He refuses to wait for the priestly sacrifices, but seizes the priestly prerogative for himself (1 Sam. 13). Saul, like a new Cain, seeks to kill his son Jonathan, because Jonathan trusted in the blessing of Yahweh and prosecuted war against His enemies (1 Sam. 14). Saul seizes at power and wealth, refusing God’s command to destroy the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15). Saul is just like Adam. Saul fears Goliath; he never seeks the Ark which had returned to the land from Philistia; he ends up slaughtering the priests at Nob (2 Sam. 22:6–23); and Saul ends his days consorting with a witch, even to the point of eating a meal with her (2 Sam. 28) He is the anti-Melchizedek.

David comes as the replacement king. He is what Saul was not, a servant-king. David is anointed in secret and, immediately following his anointing, he begins to guard the land from enemies. David defeats the Egyptian-like Goliath, who struck fear into Saul.7 Significantly, David brings Goliath’s head to Jerusalem, which, at that time, is in the control of the Jebusites (1 Sam. 17:54). He is driven into the wilderness by the apostate king and he suffers at Saul’s hands. Around David gathers, not the elite of Israel, but “everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented” (1 Sam. 22:2). David, it seems, proclaimed good news to the poor. While in the wilderness, he defends Israel. These experiences of David are written of in the Psalms, especially in the second book of the Psalter, but throughout the entire book; and Israel follows David’s example of suffering service in her worship as she sings the Psalms.

All the defining things in David’s life are priestly. He is the one who completes the holy war against the peoples of the land. And here we must remember that warfare, especially holy war, is essentially priestly in nature. The holy warrior is marked out by the Nazarite vow (cf. Num. 6:1–21) which makes an ordinary Israelite a type of temporary priest. It is by the sword that Levi is marked out as the priestly people (Ex. 32:25–29; Deut. 33:8–11). Holy war is rendering God’s judgment. David defeats Amalek, in distinction to Saul and in obedience to Deuteronomy 25:17–19; he completes the conquest of the land.

When David destroys the Jebusites and captures Jerusalem, he seeks out the Ark and brings it to Melchizedek’s city. In fact, this is the defining event in David’s kingship, celebrated in several Psalms (e.g. 24, 68, 132, etc.). The coming of the Ark to Jerusalem is the occasion for Yahweh’s further judgment on Saul’s house and makes clear the difference between the kingship of Saul kingship and the kingship of David (2 Sam. 6:20–23).

It is at this time that David reorganizes the Levites (1 Chron. 15) . He appoints the Levitical singers and orchestra. Before this, worship in the Tabernacle had been silent, without singers and orchestra. Now, Israel’s worship is made more glorious. It is David who makes all the preparations for the building of the Temple and he appoints Solomon to the task of building the Temple (1 Chron. 22) . In fact, Yahweh revealed the plan of the Temple to David as He had revealed the plan of the Tabernacle to Moses (1 Chron. 28:19) David even appoints some of his sons as priests (2 Sam. 8:18). Add to this the fact that David wrote, or had written, the core of the Psalter, the cloud of praise on which Yahweh is enthroned (Ps. 22:3), and we see that David’s kingship is very priestly. He builds a house of people around God.

David does not really do a lot of kingly things, i.e. rendering judgment and building up the land. The few times we see David rendering judgment, he does not do it very well: he plans to act in anger against Nabal until Abigail intercedes; he does not punish Amnon for the rape of Tamar; he does not properly punish Absalom for the murder of Amnon; he does want to see Absalom punished for plunging the nation into civil war; he believes Ziba’s lies about Mephiboseth; and he numbers the people, even over the objections of Joab, who is hardly the paragon of virtue. Yet, for all these failings, David is supremely the priestly king, the man after God’s heart.

After David, good kings serve with wisdom and righteous judgment. Solomon is the great example here. Good kings glorify the Temple and the people. They build cities and provide food for Israel and the world. The history of the kingship shows that if a king forgot to be a servant after becoming lord, he would lose the kingdom.

Thus, when David ascends to the throne, we are told that he sat on the “throne of the kingdom of Yahweh” (1 Chron. 28:5). Of course, the throne of Yahweh was not in Jerusalem, but in heaven (Ps. 11:4; 103:19). David rules as the nagid, or vicegerent of Yahweh. David did not ascend to heaven. Yet, the palace was connected to the Temple; it is even patterned on the Temple (1 Kgs. 7:1–12) . When the king goes into the Temple, he is surrounded by gold shields. His throne is gleaming ivory. The king is very glorious, but, as glorious as he is, he is not as glorious as God. Once in the Temple, the king could not pass beyond the altar. For all his priestly prerogatives, David never entered into the holy place, much less the holy of holies. When kings trespassed on the holiness of the Temple, God struck them down (e.g., 2 Chron. 26:16–23). True, David did once eat the shewbread, but he was not regularly fed from God’s table (1 Sam. 21:1–7). Even as he sat on God’s throne, it was clear that something greater was to come. David’s kingship had to be brought to its goal.

If we consider the Temple, we can see this. In front of the Temple, there are the two huge bronze pillars on either side of the doorway to the Temple. One is named Jachin, the other Boaz (1 Kgs. 7:15–22). Jachin stands for the priesthood (1 Chron. 24:17) and Boaz, of course, for the kingship.

Viewed from the holy of holies, God’s earthly throne-room, Jachin is on the right hand. The right hand is the place of authority, power, and privilege. It is the priests who grant, or deny, access to Yahweh. They eat from God’s Table, being given portions of the sacrifices as well as the shewbread. They draw near to God - nearer than the king.

They, however, are not enthroned. There are no chairs in the Temple. They eat the shewbread, but they are not allowed to eat in the holy place, let alone the holy of holies. Further, they cannot give access to this food. The priest cannot drink wine in the Temple; the wine that is brought in is poured out as a drink offering. The strong drink on the Table of Shewbread is also poured out as a drink offering. The cup represents the king on his throne, at rest and ready to render judgment.8

In the New Testament, Jesus refuses to be a king like Adam and Saul. He follows, completes, and glorifies David’s priestly kingship. In Mark 10, He distinguishes His kingship from that of the nations: “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (vss. 42–45).

Jesus is pre-eminently the King who serves. He is glorified just in the way that He dies. He is the priestly Warrior bringing the true sacrifice. At His death, the centurion confesses that He is the “Son of God.” As we saw, this is, at least in part, a kingly title, but on the cross it is surrounded by all sorts of the priestly things. His death is sacrificial. Perhaps even more significant as a symbol is the tearing of the Temple veil. This symbolizes the opening of the heavenly sanctuary. The Temple, in part, protected the people from the presence of God. They could come close, but, because they were sinners, they could not come too close lest God break out against them. Now the Temple no longer keeps us from God’s presence and, in Christ, we do not fear that God will break out against us. The old Temple and the old priesthood are removed by the Son of God.

This is why the author of Hebrews insists on the significance of Melchizedek for understanding the work of Jesus and why the sacrifice of Jesus makes way for His enthronement (8:1, 2; 12:2). Jesus is the enthroned Jachin, or, better, the enthroned union of Jachin and Boaz. He sits on the heavenly throne of God as the Son of David. He has receive power and author ity and glory in heaven and on earth
(e.g. Matt. 28:18)9 We have a tendency to read over that, because, after all, Jesus is God so, of course, He has all power and authority. Yet, we must remember that this is all as He is true Man. Yes, Jesus is true God of true God, of one substance with the Father, and thus, everlastingly shares His glory and power. As true Man, however, He receives authority on the basis of His obedience to death. That is, Jesus still rules by self-giving service. He never becomes an arbitrary, self-centered ruler like those of the Gentiles.

By His blood, He made us a kingdom for His Father (Rev. 5:10). All authority is His for the sake of the salvation of the church. Jesus is Head over all things just for the church (Eph. 1:22) . He fills all in all, Paul says (Eph. 1:23) . This is the language of Genesis 1: “Take dominion and fill the earth.” Jesus has that dominion; He fills the earth and the church is His fullness. Jesus is the true King Who builds the true and final Temple. He is also the Priest of this Temple - and the heavenly pattern for it. This kingship will one day reach its goal: the full gathering and perfecting of the church. He will then, in humble submission, present the kingdom to the Father (1 Cor. 15:28).

Notes

1The faithful king was not to have horses, Deut. 17:16. One of the signs of David’s faithfulness is that he hamstrung the captured horses, 2 Sam. 8:4. When David wishes to show that it is Solomon who is to succeed him, he does so by having Solomon ride on his donkey, 1 KgS. l:32ff. And one of the signs of Solomon’s unfaithfulness is his multiplication of horses, 1 Kgs. 10:26

2 This shows that the complaint about Samuel’s sons was only a pretext. Whatever their failings, Samuel’s sons are not the counterparts of Hophni and Phinehas, nor is Samuel a counterpart to Eli, if for no other reason than that Samuel’s sons did not judge in the heart of Israel at the sanctuary, but on the periphery in Beersheba. The damage they could do was limited. The problem was not that Samuel was a bad father; the problem was Israel’s unbelief and desire not to be God’s special nation of priests.

3That this is so is shown in great (and occasionally fanciful) detail in Meredith G. Kline, Images of the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1980), p. 35 and throughout. Also see his Kingdom Prologue (Hamilton, MA: Privately Printed, 1989), pp 46ff and throughout.

4James B. Jordan points out that the guarding is a priestly task and that the cultivating, or “serving,” is a kingly task in Through New Eyes (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1988), pp. 133–138)

5Creeds, Councils, and Christ (Fearn, Ross-shire, Great Britain:Mentor, 1997, second edition), p. 51.

6There is no “explicit” connection between this Moriah and the Moriah of 2 Chron. 3:1, but these are the only two mentions of Moriah in the Bible, both in connection with the place of sacrifice and with God’s provision. Unless the Bible is designed to be as confusing as possible, the reader is obviously meant to connect the two.

7Genesis 10 makes clear that both the Egyptians and Philistines are descended from Ham. Symbolically, oppression by the Philistines represents a return to Egypt.

8This explains the prominence of the cup at Belshazzar’s feast and in the book of Esther. These are royal feasts, not fraternity drinking parties. Both Joseph and Nehemiah are portrayed as cupbearers. They are not someliers; they are the prime ministers who stand at the king’s right hand and hand him his cup when he sits on his throne.

9It is interesting to note the parallels between the “Great Commission” and Cyrus’ decree to end Israel’s exile in 2 Chronicles 36:23. Isaiah calls Cyrus both “shepherd” and “anointed,” two great davidic titles (Isa. 44:28, 45:1). He has the task to rebuild Jerusalem and deliver God’s people. This is also in the section dealing with the Servant of Yahweh. Jesus, then, is accomplishing in fullness what Cyrus was given to do. Jesus is the great World Emperor and the Jerusalem He builds is His church, see Revelation 21 and 22.

Rev. Ken Kok is a pastor at the Blue Bell Canadian American Reformed Church in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.

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