In Genesis 14, Abraham leads a commando unit to rescue Lot and the other citizens of Sodom after they have been seized in a raid led by four kings from the east. Abraham’s mission is successful, and afterward Abraham is blessed by Melchizedek, king of Salem and priest of God most high. Abraham gives Melchizedek a tenth of everything. The identity of Melchizedek is a puzzle. He is mentioned in Psalm 110 and plays a prominent role in the letter to the Hebrews, where Jesus is declared to be a priest in the order of Melchizedek.
Some people have suggested that Melchizedek is Jesus, the same Jesus who spoke with Abraham on many occasions and even ate at the tent of Abraham. Another suggestion is that Melchizedek is Shem, the son of Noah, who lived 502 years beyond the flood. (This is an interesting suggestion, as Methuselah, according to the book of Genesis, was born early enough to have known Abraham and lived long enough to know Noah and his sons. Now Shem was born early enough to have known Methuselah and lived long enough to known Abraham.) Both these suggestions overlook an important truth: Abraham and his family were not the only people on earth who believed in God. Although the promise of salvation was being carried out through the family of Abraham, other people also believed that promise and were saved through the future work of Jesus. As a priest of God, Melchizedek taught and served some of those people.
Hebrews 7 notes that Melchizedek is a picture of Jesus. His name means “king of righteousness,” and as king of Salem he is also “king of peace.” Like Jesus, Melchizedek is both a king and a priest. This was forbidden in Israel. King Saul was rejected by God because as king he offered sacrifices to God rather than waiting for Samuel to arrive. King Uzziah was punished, stricken with leprosy, because he burned incense to the Lord in the Temple, which was intended only for priests to do (II Chronicles 26:16-21). In Israel, no one but Jesus Christ was fit to serve as both priest and king.
All the kings of Israel and Judah were pictures of Jesus, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Jesus is the ultimate King, but every other king is a picture of Jesus. Even bad kings are bad pictures of Jesus. All the priests of Israel were pictures of Jesus, making offerings for the forgiveness of sins, representing the people to God and pleading for their forgiveness. Jesus is the ultimate Priest, offering himself as full payment for all the sins of history, pleading to his Father for our forgiveness. Even evil priests and ungodly sacrifices are bad pictures of Jesus. By combining these jobs, Melchizedek was a unique picture of Jesus. Only he and Jesus belong to the order which bears his name.