PROPHET, PRIEST & KING
Written by Doug Ponder on April 24, 2013
Speaking, Serving, Leading
The ancient community of Israel had three basic “offices” (not places for your desk, but roles for people in authority and responsibility). These were the offices of prophet, priest, and king.
Prophets spoke to the people on God’s behalf. They were God’s chosen spokesmen. Their words came from God, and they preached to call people back to faith in God and obedience to him.
Priests represented God’s people in his presence. They were mediators between God and his people. They served the people on God’s behalf and represented the people before God himself.
Kings ruled over God’s people as an extension of God’s own rule. They were responsible for upholding justice and keeping the peace. Kings were also symbolic reminders of God’s power and authority.
Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be
In the beginning, however, none of those offices were needed. In fact, we all were meant to be like prophets, priests, and kings of creation. He called us to have dominion over what he had made (a kingly role), to serve creation through our work (a priestly role) and to fill the world with people who reflected God in all they said and did (a prophetic role).
But all that changed when Adam and Eve turned their backs on God. Their hearts (and the hearts of their descendents) were hardened, and their sin introduced evil in the world, causing all kinds of barriers to seeing, hearing, and experiencing the goodness of God. Not only that, clearly people of that sort were incapable of being the kinds of prophets, priests, and kings that God desired.
Yet God did not give up on his people. Even in the midst of their sin he rebuked them directly, provided for them personally, and promised to give them a son who would conquer their enemy (Gen. 3:14-19). The rest of the Old Testament is the story of how God worked through his people to prepare the way for the arrival of that promised son.
God called prophets to preach and turn the people back to him. God called priests to make sacrifices for the people’s sins. God called kings to protect his people from their enemies. But like their parents before them, these people were imperfect prophets, priest, and kings. The prophets who preached God’s laws were not able to obey them. The priests who were offered sacrifices for sin were full of sin themselves. And the kings who ruled the people were often ruled by their own selfishness, greed, and lust. There’s not a single example of a perfect prophet, priest, or king in Israel. That is, until Jesus.
Jesus: Prophet, Priest, and King
Jesus is the son that God promised would come through Eve. And not only was he the king who won the battle against sin and death, he’s also the priest who represented us before God and the prophet who pointed us back to him. In fact, the New Testament authors go out of their way to make all three of these connections.
Jesus is more than any prophet who simply spoke from God, for he himself was God in the flesh (John 1:14). All that he did was a perfect reflection of God’s exact nature (Heb. 1:1-3). This is why John calls Jesus the “Word” (John 1:1) who perfectly reveals God (John 1:14).
Jesus is more than any priest who represented the people before God, for Jesus is the sacrifice and the priest who makes the sacrifice (Heb. 10:11-14), as well as the temple where God and man perfectly meet (John 2:21). That’s why the Scriptures say that Jesus is the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).
Jesus is the king (Acts 17:7) and ruler of creation (Col. 1:16-17). He has conquered sin and death on our behalf of his people (Heb. 2:9). He now sits victoriously heaven until the day when he comes again to destroy sin and evil forever (1 Cor. 15:25). This is why the Scriptures call him “Lord” (Phil. 2:11).
Jesus was not only the perfect prophet, priest, and king in our place. He remains a prophet to us, a priest for us, and a king over us. In other words, he did not just fulfill those offices in our place. He continues to fill those offices for our good. If you diminish his role in any of them, you are likely to miss the point of all that Jesus came to do. In other words, you miss the good news of the gospel.
Distorted Faith from a Distorted Jesus
The following sections have been adapted from Vintage Jesus, an excellent book that introduces you to the meaning of Jesus’ life and teachings.
Prophet + King – Priest = the Jesus of Fundamentalism
If you see Jesus as a prophet and a king but not a priest, then you will love the idea of Jesus the truth-teller, Jesus the judge of sin, the Jesus the commander of repentance. But you ignore the idea of Jesus as a loving, gracious, merciful, caring priest who serves us in time of need. As a result, you are likely to think of Jesus as a super critical judge who sits on his throne far away waiting for you to screw up, but he never gets off that throne to help. Jesus seems harsh, stern, distant, even cruel. This view of Jesus will trap you in a cycle of religion that goes back and forth between pride and despair. You’re proud of yourself when things are going well, but you look down on others who seem to be having a harder time obeying Jesus than you do. And the moment you screw up, you fall into despair because wonder if your stern and critical Jesus loves you anymore.
Prophet + Priest – King = the Jesus of American Evangelicalism
Evangelicals are people who believe that Jesus is Savior and Lord, believe the Scriptures are true, and believe that God wants us to live for him and tell others about Jesus. So what’s wrong with their Jesus? For many evangelicals, they agree to the basic ideas of the gospel while living a moral life that is virtually identical to the non-Christians around them. They believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. They believe he holds the truth. They believe he died for sins. That’s why they know when they screw up, Jesus will forgive them and love them. Their problem is that they live and act as if they were still kings and lords of their own lives. Their problem is they still think they own their money, their time, their gifts, and their lives. Thus they rule as king over their life with Jesus as little more than an assistant. But Jesus says to such people, “Why do you call me Lord if you don’t do what I tell you?”
Priest + King – Prophet = the Jesus of Liberalism
If Jesus is your Priest and King only, then like much of liberal Christianity, you will think of Jesus as the king who rules to extend all people unqualified acceptance, total tolerance, unending patience, and sentimental love. The sad result is that Jesus is never seen as someone who would offend us, point out our sin, or command us to repent. When Jesus is not seen as a prophet, sinful beliefs and behaviors are overlooked, condoned, even endorsed. That’s why liberal Christianity never stands up for anything other than issues that modern secular humanism already agrees with. In the end, liberal Christianity ends up looking no different than modern progressives, except that they go to church services on Sundays. Also, many liberal Christians never tell others about Jesus out of a fear that they will “offend” them. Worst of all, if Jesus is not a prophet to you, then you will never believe that you are in the wrong about anything either. You will never see your for his truthful corrections. You’ll just think you need to “try a little bit harder.”
Who Is Jesus to You?
Jesus came to earth to be the prophet, priest, and king that we were created to be in the garden, but have not been ever since. As the ultimate prophet his words and actions perfectly revealed God to the world (Heb. 1:1-3). He not only spoke the truth, as other prophets had done before him; he himself is the truth (John 14:6). As the ultimate priest his compassion and mercy served others selflessly without ceasing (Mark 10:45). His greatest act of service was offering himself up in our place, so that we might live through him (Heb. 9:11-14). As the ultimate king Jesus rules over all creation with righteousness and justice without end (Isaiah 9:7). His kingly victories have defeated sin and death on our behalf, and he will one day come again to destroy them both (1 Cor. 15:25).
Furthermore, Jesus holds the three-fold office forever as the prophet who speaks to us, the priest who walks with us, and the king who rules over us. His words continue to convict us of sin and call us to faith and repentance (Luke 5:32). His grace continues to come to our aid in time of need (Heb. 4:16). His reign continues over all the earth, directing all things to the day when all is made new (Rev. 21:5).
Honestly ask God to reveal to you which of Jesus’ offices you are most likely to ignore or deny, and read Scripture with a humble heart seeking to see Jesus in the fullness of his glory.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.