Jesus Christ: Prophet, Priest, and King

Matthew Richard
Wednesday, December 31st 2014
Jan/Feb 2015

In the Old Testament, three different kinds of people take center stage in the story of God’s salvation of hispeople Israel: prophet, priest, and king.

These were real offices filled by real people. Prophets rebuked sin, proclaimed mercy to the crushed, and interpreted events of the past, present, and future. They functioned as mediators proclaiming only what was revealed to them. Moses spoke, acted, and occupied the office of prophet, bringing about genuine redemption for the Hebrew people. Old Testament priests, on the other hand, functioned as representatives of the people, offering gifts of sacrifice for sins on behalf of men in relation to God. Priests, like Aaron, offered up goats as a substitute, so that through these means the forgiveness of sins could be distributed. (1) Finally, kings in the Old Testament functioned in the realm of exercising judicial power in the civil realm and were oftentimes military figures who led military campaigns. Kings like David established a dynasty that concretely lasted for over four hundred years.

The grand narratives of Israel’s prophets, priests, and kings are reconsidered in the New Testament book of Hebrews with a specific focus on the person of Jesus Christ. The Epistle to the Hebrews starts by emphasizing the conclusiveness of Jesus’ office as mediator. (2) Furthermore, the epistle declares that Jesus is not just the most complete prophet, but that he is also the supreme king and high priest. Indeed, the author of Hebrews goes on to describe Jesus’ identity by applying God’s promises of David to Jesus, by applying the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system to Jesus and his atonement, and by showing that Jesus is the end to all the prophetic mediations. (3) For example, we read that Jesus is greater than Moses, Jesus is the great high priest, Jesus is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, Jesus is a high priest of a better covenant, and so forth.

Does seeing Jesus as the culmination of the Old Testament’s story of God and his people make the persons, places, and events of the Old Testament irrelevant? Is the Old Testament merely filled with dim, spiritualized shadows of the New Testament realities? No, by retelling their story in the light of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews describes the magnificence of God’s work through the Old Testament offices of prophet, priest, and king, but he also reminds the readers that Jesus surpasses their glory. Yes, the Old Testament prophets, priests, and kings paint a glorious canvas of God’s redemptive plan, but the painting remains unfinished until the revelation of Jesus Christ completes the canvas, giving it definitive glory. (4)

But how does the greater reality of Jesus Christ supersede the already glorious characters and offices of the Old Testament? The most obvious answer is that the three offices of prophet, priest, and king are combined by and culminate in Christ. The reason why this is significant is due to the fact that Old Testament individuals often fulfilled not just one particular office, but at times simultaneously crossed over into other offices. This blending of office, more often than not, led to a lack of office distinction and was not consistently accepted by the Lord as good. (5) Furthermore, as we know from even a cursory reading of the Old Testament, those who walked in these offices were stained with sin that led to disobedience and negligence toward their office at times. Undeniably, any time prophetic words were conjured up by man’s own wisdom, any time sacrificial reconciliation was attempted by mankind’s own moral, spiritual, and mystical ascetics toward God, and any time kingly authority was enforced that bound consciences to the schemes of mankind or the evil one, then the true outpourings of the quintessential offices of prophet, priest, and king were not witnessed, but were an imperfect expression of that office. Indeed, ancient and modern prophetic words, sacrificial reconciliation, and kingly authority apart from their culmination “in” Christ and apart from them being derived “from” Christ are nothing more than fruits of pseudo offices and are vacuous at best. (6)

Whereas the offices of prophet, priest, and king were often blurred and at times abused, it is not so with Christ. All that Christ did and still does for the salvific redemption of humanity can be easily associated together under the three offices. (7) Furthermore, Jesus Christ is neither divided into thirds to fulfill each office, nor does he stress one office at a time; for if one office is highlighted to deemphasize and/or bar others, due justice is not executed and the gospel is stripped of its efficacious power. (8) Rather, Jesus is fully present as our prophet, he is fully present as our priest, and he is fully present as our king.

As a prophet, Jesus stands in the office as Moses once did; however, as we see in Hebrews 1:1, Jesus is greater than all the other prophets in the Old Testament because in him God came and tabernacled in human flesh, while teaching and proclaiming on earth. (9) Whereas Moses’ message spoke of the prophet to come, Jesus as a prophet spoke of himself. Jesus’ message did not point ahead beyond him, for he is not only the Alpha but the Omega point of the Old Testament. (10) Without a doubt, Moses was the greatest of the prophets, but in Christ we have the Lord of the prophets; in Christ we do not have a mere man, but God himself.

As a high priest, Jesus acts on behalf of humanity, just as the high priest Aaron did for the people of Israel. As we see in Hebrews 10, however, Jesus is greater than the priests of old, for he does not offer up perpetual sacrifices, but rather he offers up only one sacrifice for the sins of the world’himself. He offered and shed not the blood of bulls and goats, but that of himself’for us. The reason why the blood of Christ is sufficient and exceeds the foreshadowed blood of bulls and goats is that Christ’s blood has immeasurable redeeming value’not due to the amount, but due to its distinctive characteristic of being shed by the Son of God. (11) The high priest was a sinner who had to offer sacrifices not only for the people but for himself as well. Consequently, he was not the savior, but rather he was one who needed a savior like those he served. (12) That savior was Jesus Christ, the great high priest.

As a king, everything (yes, everything) is put in subjection under Jesus’ feet, according to Hebrews 2:8. As a man, he has dominion over earth and creatures due to the laws of creation (see Gen. 1:28). However, he has greater authority than the average person and greater authority than that of earthly kings. His authority is due to the fact that he is the heir of all things, for through him the Father and the Holy Spirit created everything that exists. Indeed, as we contemplate the Old Testament office of king, we move past individuals and dynasties like David’s to the climax of the one great king and his dynasty that has no end. As true king, Jesus received the mighty inheritance. It is in his hand because he came to earth and completed his great saving work. (13)

Like a funnel, the offices of prophet, priest, and king merge and climax in the person of Christ. The Epistle to the Hebrews makes this clear without disregarding these Old Testament offices, and without making the Old Testament types into meager spiritualized gloom, but rather shows how Christ surpasses them.

Moses was the great prophet; Christ is the Lord of the prophets. Priests like Aaron offered up sacrifices on behalf of Israel each year; Christ the great high priest offered up himself once and for all. Kings of old had limited dominion and limited dynasties; Christ’s dominion is over all things and extends forever.

What this means is that we have a sole prophet, Jesus Christ, who proclaims to us words of life unto our salvation, Christ’s word of forgiveness’for us. We have a sole priest who reconciles us by his own body and blood, Christ’s shed blood’on our behalf. We have a sole king who exercises complete and just authority over the universe and the church, Christ’s authority’over us. (14) We have the quintessential prophet, priest, and king who is for us, acts on our behalf, and is over us.

Glory be to you, O Christ, king of eternal glory, crucified and resurrected mediator, and eternal Word.

1 [ Back ] As Martin Luther writes, "When we consider the application of the forgiveness, we are not dealing with particular time, but find that it has taken place from the beginning of the world. So St. John in the Book of Revelation [13:8] says that the Lamb of God was slain before the foundation of the world." Martin Luther, "Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments," Part II, Church and Ministry II, ed. Helmut T. Lehmann, trans. Conrad Bergenhoff, Luther's Works, vol. 40 (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1958), 213-15.
2 [ Back ] Jack Kilcrease, The Self-Donation of God: A Contemporary Lutheran Approach to Christ and His Benefits (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013), 87.
3 [ Back ] Kilcrease, 87.
4 [ Back ] According to Sidney Greidanus, the illustration of the Old Testament being like an incomplete canvas, which only receives its definitive shape and hues with the New Testament teachings about the first and second coming of Christ, is an illustration used by the early church fathers Irenaeus and Chrysostom. Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 47.
5 [ Back ] Andrew Steinmann, ed., Called to Be God's People: An Introduction to the Old Testament (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2006), 259.
6 [ Back ] Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics: Volume II (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1951), 394.
7 [ Back ] Pieper, 333.
8 [ Back ] "Christian Cyclopedia" (30 June 2014).
9 [ Back ] Pieper, 335.
10 [ Back ] Kilcrease, 87.
11 [ Back ] Kilcrease, 381.
12 [ Back ] Kilcrease, 90.
13 [ Back ] Richard C. H. Lenski, Commentary on the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 34.
14 [ Back ] Pieper, 394.

Wednesday, December 31st 2014

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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