One day, while the Children of Israel were camped at Mount Sinai, Moses asked God to show him His glory. God answered by saying, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Exodus 33:20). As you may recall, Moses was subsequently hidden behind a rock and was only permitted to see the LORD’s back side as He passed by. Though he had only seen a portion of God’s glory, Moses’ face still glowed for many days afterwards.
Immediately prior to this encounter, Moses is seen going to and conversing with God outside of the camp in a special place called “the tent of meeting”. Whenever Moses went into this tent the pillar of cloud which signified God’s presence would descend from heaven and stand at the entrance. Inside the LORD would “speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11)
Here, in the same chapter, less than 10 verses apart, we find 2 verses that seemingly contradict each other. The Bible says that Moses spoke with God face to face (presumably on several occasions) and yet also says that no person can see God’s face and live. How can both of these statements be true?
I believe the restriction against seeing God’s face, which is referred to multiple times elsewhere in Scripture, applies exclusively to God the Father. Therefore, when Moses spoke with the LORD “face to face” he was actually conversing with God the Son. This simple explanation would satisfactorily resolve any conflict between the 2 statements. It also reveals that God the Son - who would later come to earth as Jesus Christ - made physical appearances on occasion during the Old Testament.
In today’s message, we will discuss another instance which I strongly believe to be an Old Testament appearance of Christ. It is related to Jesus’ role as our Great High Priest. Are you ready to get started? Let’s go.
I. WHO IS MELCHIZEDEK (v1-3)
Melchizedek is described as “king of Salem” (the city which later became Jerusalem) and “priest of the Most High God”. His name means “king of righteousness” and “king of peace”. He appears and disappears suddenly in the Old Testament narrative, appearing briefly in only one encounter (Genesis 14:17-20), and is therefore a somewhat mysterious Biblical figure.
An alliance of kings, led by Chedorlaomer, had defeated the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah and taken numerous captives including Abraham’s nephew Lot. In response, Abraham and his men went up and defeated this alliance and liberated their hostages. Upon his return from battle, Melchizedek the priest met with Abraham. Melchizedek presented bread and wine to Abraham and his weary men. He then blessed Abraham and praised God for the decisive victory. Abraham recognized Melchizedek as God’s chosen priest, and gave a tenth of his spoils (a tithe) to him.
Melchizedek is said to be “without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life”. If taken literally, this means that he is an eternal being. The only Persons who fit this description are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Melchizedek is further said to be “like the Son of God”. Based upon this verse, many Bible students identify Melchizedek as a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.
There are several instances in the Old Testament where Jesus (not yet named Jesus) appears to people. These occurrences are called either theophanies or, more accurately, Christophanies. Some of them include Jesus’ appearances to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, and Shedrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It seems quite possible, if not probable, that Melchizedek is in fact a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus himself, the divine Son of God.
II. RECEIVING THE TITHE (v4-10)
In these verses, the reader is invited to “observe how great” Melchizedek truly was. The writer seeks to demonstrate this greatness by comparing him to those priests who descended from “the sons of Levi”. While the Levitical priests collected tithes from among their brethren - the descendants of Abraham, Melchizedek collected a tithe from Abraham himself.
Melchizedek didn’t just receive a tithe from Abraham, but he also blessed him. Abraham was God’s chosen man, the “patriarch” of Israel, and the recipient of His amazing “promises”. Among the Jews there is no one more highly revered than Abraham. Yet everyone knows that “the lesser is blessed by the greater” - it is without “dispute”. This indicates that Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God, was superior even to Abraham.
The human priests who received the people’s tithes were “mortal men”, but the one who received Abraham’s tithe “lives on” eternally. Figuratively speaking, all of the Levitical priesthood paid tithes to Melchizedek through the humble actions of their ancestor Abraham, thereby showing themselves to be inferior. Abraham’s encounter with Melchizedek took place hundreds of years before the Law was given, while Levi was “still in the lions of his father”.
Without digressing too much, I want to point something out. Notice that Abraham practiced tithing long before it was ever prescribed by the Law. This principle predates the Law. While it was eventually codified by the Law, it clearly existed prior to it. Those who argue that tithing today is now obsolete because the Law has been fulfilled should consider the generous behavior of Abraham who willingly tithed completely apart from the Law.
III. ANOTHER PRIEST ARISES (v11-17)
“Perfection” could never be achieved through the Levitical priesthood, thus necessitating that another priest arise from the “order of Melchizedek” rather than from the line “of Aaron”. It would be up to this priest to accomplish what they could not. This new priest would come from “another tribe, from which no one has officiated at the altar.” “It is evident” that Jesus fits this description, as He was a member of the non-priestly tribe of Judah.
Earlier in the book of Hebrews, Jesus was identified as the Perfect High Priest. In these verses it becomes clear that Jesus was not appointed to this office “on the basis of a law of physical requirement”. In other words, He did not assume the role of high priest because He was a direct descendant of Aaron or Levi. Rather, Jesus arose as High Priest “according to the power of an indestructible life”.
Centuries before the birth of Christ, David wrote in Psalm 110:4 that God had already designated the Lord Jesus to be “a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek”. The writer of Hebrews cites and emphasizes this verse as the basis of his argument. His main point is clear - Jesus is a better high priest than any human priest could ever be.
In ancient times, the high priest was Israel’s representative before God. He approached God on behalf of the people in order to make intercession for them. He offered sacrifices to God in order to atone for the people’s sin. He was responsible for the spiritual well-being of the nation. All of these actions were intended to foreshadow the work of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ exalted position as our Great High Priest is revealed - at least in part - by His pre-incarnate appearance as Melchizedek during the days of Abraham. As we’ve discussed today, Abraham willingly and humbly showed respect and reverence to Lord who was manifested as Melchizedek - the Priest of the Most High God. Likewise, we as mature believers should acknowledge and recognize Jesus as our perfect and eternal High Priest.