Jesus: Prophet, Priest, King

If you had three words to describe Jesus, which words would you use?

Gentle? Lord? Master? Kind? Loving? Gracious? Truthful? Teacher? Savior? Compassionate?

These descriptors are all true, of course. The truest of true! But I want to challenge you to think big picture, and consider the background of the Old Testament–which all points to Jesus (see John 5:29; Luke 24:24-27, 44). In the Old Testament, there were only three offices in Israel: prophet, priest, and king. Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of these offices, so whenever we read about them in the Old Testament, we need to keep one eye on that text and another looking ahead to how Jesus fulfills them in the New Testament.

So, if I had just three words to describe Jesus, I’d say he is Prophet, Priest, and King. Let me unpack these ideas and the implications for us.

Prophet
Prophets spoke to people on behalf of God. Jesus came as God’s word in the flesh (John 1:1-2), as God’s final revelation (Heb. 1:1-2). Jesus came to speak the true words of the Father to the world (John 8:28). We know what Jesus speaks today by reading God’s written word–which is all a testimony to Jesus (John 5:39). In our heart of hearts, we either want to hear the true God or a god of our own making. We all look for some kind of divine word, don’t we? Who is the most influential speaker in your life? You need a prophet who will deliver pure words that give life, not false prophets who fail to deliver on their promises.

Priest
Priests went to God on behalf of the people. As a mediator between God and man, they offered sacrifices to God for atonement for sin. Jesus came as the sole and final mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5). He is the great high priest who has no need to offer sacrifices repeatedly (Heb. 4:14-16; 7:26-27), because he has made a once-for-all sacrifice (Heb. 10:1-14). He did not sacrifice a lamb; he is the Lamb (John 1:29, 36; Rev. 12:11). At our core, we all realize that we have inadequacies that keep us from being right with God. What mediator do you seek to find righteousness and forgiveness? You need Someone who is perfect and spotless to stand in the gap, to go to God on your behalf and represent you before him.

King
Kings reigned over a nation, subdued enemies, and brought blessing to his people. Jesus is the true King–the King we’ve always longed for. He is the promised descendant of David, the greatest king of Israel (Rom. 1:3). Jesus brings the promised kingdom of God to earth (Mark 1:15). He has conquered our enemies (Col. 2:15) and his throne and kingdom will never end (Heb. 1:8-9; 12:18-29). We desire to be ruled justly and with love, but we realize that our human governments are insufficient, incomplete, and always corrupt at some level. We also wrongly desire to be ruled by everyday things that are temporary by nature. Who rules you? What authority do you look to for security, hope, and blessing? You need a King who will forever rule your heart in grace and truth.

This is no shallow and boring Christ. He is a dynamic, strong, gracious, and supreme Christ. And do not be fooled. Everyone longs for and clings to prophets, priests, and kings–even in our day. It’s just a matter of whether we set our gaze on false ones or the true One.

Yahweh the King

Part 4 in a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

If there was one thing the king of Israel was to be, it was a reflection of Yahweh’s kingship. The king was Yahweh’s “vice regent.” In Book IV (chs. 90-106) there is a decidedly noticeable shift toward the focus on Yahweh as king.[1] If Ps. 89 indeed depicts the supposed failure of the covenant and disabling of the monarchy (see previous post), it makes sense for Book IV to embrace the shift back to Yahweh. Psalms 93-99, often called “enthronement psalms,” are the showcase songs for Yahweh’s kingship. This small collection of praise Psalms gives hope to those in exile, for they sing a new song of Yahweh as king, deliverance, judgment on those who worship idols, judgment on the nations, and the continuation of Yahweh’s steadfast love.[2] What a message of hope!

The message of this collection is simple: “Yahweh is king! He has been Israel’s refuge in the past, long before monarchy existed; he will continue to be Israel’s refuge now that monarchy is gone; and blessed are they that trust in him. His kingdom comes.”[3] Yahweh is declared to be the one who reigns over the world (93:1), for it is his “throne [that] is established from of old” (93:2). He is “a great God and a great King above all gods” (95:3). Though Yahweh will not forsake his people and his kingdom (94:14-15), his kingship is not solely for Israel. His majesty is to be proclaimed among the nations: “Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!” (96:10). Therefore, all the earth should rejoice (97:1).

Psalm 98 celebrates Yahweh’s sovereign activity,[4] as Yahweh is depicted as a divine Warrior-King who is savior, king, and judge.[5] Yahweh’s identity is significant for Israel, but not less so for the nations.[6] The theme of Yahweh’s universal kingship thus arises again. Yahweh has worked salvation for his people, remembering his steadfast love (vv. 1-2), and the nations have witnessed to this salvation (v. 3). Because of this, Yahweh reigns as king over the whole world (vv. 4-6). Yahweh therefore has the right to judge the earth, which he will do with righteousness and equity (vv. 7-9). Finally, Ps. 99 exalts Yahweh as the cosmic ruler, and calls all peoples to joyfully acknowledge this (vv. 1-3). Yahweh is the true, holy king and the only one worthy of exaltation (vv.4-9).

Other psalms, outside of Book IV, are also considered enthronement psalms. Psalms 24 and 47 are most prominent.[7] Yahweh owns the world and everything in it (24:1), thus he is king over all the earth (47:2). He is the king of glory, strong and mighty in battle who subdues Israel’s enemies (24:7-8; 47:3-4). Yahweh reigns not only over the ethnic Israelites, but it is promised that “the princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham” (47:9a). This is a fulfillment of Yahweh’s promise to Abraham, and as the psalm ends, it is evident that there is no one left who competes with the divine authority of Yahweh.[8]

N.T. Wright explains that the enthronement psalms, including others not so formally titled (e.g. Pss. 10; 22; 44; 74; 145) have a “constant triple theme.”[9] First, Yahweh’s kingship celebrated in Jerusalem in his home in the temple. Second, when Yahweh is enthroned as king, the nations are brought under his rule. Third, when Yahweh is king, the result is proper justice, equity, and the removal of all oppression. Wright then concludes, “One can see all too easily how these songs would give rise, among a people weary of corrupt and self-serving rulers, to the longing for Yahweh himself to come and take charge. He and he alone would give the people what they needed and wanted. He would take control and sort everything out.”[10]

As wonderful as Yahweh’s reign from heaven is to the psalmist, it is incomplete. Because Yahweh is committed to his creation, to his people Israel, and to David, his sovereign rule over the entire world must come through a Davidic descendant on the earth. This precious promise moves Israel’s theology of kingship in Psalms one step further toward a future son of David who would be a messiah-King. The messianic king will be our focus in the next post.


[1] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 886.
[2] Walton, “A Cantata,” 28-29.
[3] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 886.
[4] Richard D. Patterson, “Singing the New Song: An Examination of Psalms 33, 96, 98, and 149.” Bibliotheca Sacra 164, no. 656 (October 2007): 418.
[5] Trempor Longman III, “Psalm 98: A Divine Warrior Victory Song.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 27, no. 3 (Sept. 1984): 271.
[6] John Goldingay, Psalms: Volume 3: Psalms 90-150 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 123-124.
[7] Walton, “A Cantata,” 25-26, notes that these chapters may seem out of order in the Psalter, but they may actually reflect David’s military successes. It is clear that the glory goes to Yahweh, not David, thus reinforcing the fact that the Davidic king is not the ultimate authority in Israel. Yahweh is.
[8] Goldingay, Psalms: Vol. 2, 80; Wilson, Psalms—Vol. 1, 729.
[9] N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters (New York: HarperOne, 2011), 45.
[10] Ibid., 46.

Covenant: A Strategy for Singing the Psalms

Part 2 in a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

In order to properly understand the Psalms and sing them with saints of old, we must employ the right strategy. In other words, we need to have a proper biblical and theological hermeneutic (i.e. interpretive grid). As I mentioned in the last post, I propose that the Davidic covenant (see 2 Sam. 7:12-16) is the lens through which the entire book of Psalms should be read. For the most part, the Psalms are a collection of royal prayers and petitions.[1] Because covenants in the OT are based on the vassal treaty model, it makes sense for “kingship” to be a major theme in the Psalter.[2]  Indeed, “David and the Davidic kings were…the vehicles through which [Yahweh] would bless Israel and the nations.”[3]

The primary reason to use the Davidic covenant as the framework for the whole book is due to the fact that the Davidic covenant is a partial fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant.[4] Yahweh’s original commitment to creation was first articulated in covenant form to Abraham (see Gen. 12:1-3; 15:1-5). Through Abraham’s line, Yahweh would bless all the families of the earth. Later, as a nation, Israel’s duty was to be an overflowing reservoir of blessing to all people. This would come to fruition through Israel’s kingly line, for the king is ultimately the one upon whom this responsibility falls. The focus of Yahweh’s covenants with Abraham and David is not with the men themselves, but a yet-to-be-born son (cf. Gen. 15:4; 2 Sam. 7:12).[5] In his covenant with David, Yahweh confirms his promises of “seed” and “land” to Abraham, but he goes beyond a mere confirmation. Yahweh partially fulfills his promises to Abraham when he promises to give David a great name and give Israel a secure land.[6] Moreover, the Davidic covenant supplements the Abrahamic covenant in that the promise of David’s dynasty mediates the kings whom Yahweh promised through Abraham’s seed.[7] What we are seeing, then, is that Yahweh will fulfill his promise to Abraham through David’s royal line!

Additionally, it is helpful to note that the Davidic covenant as unifying thread is aided by the structure of Psalms. The five books within the Psalms were organized “in such a way as to focus on the king.”[8] We’ll talk more about this in the upcoming posts. This gives us a solid framework for how to understand Israel’s theology of kingship in the Psalms. Namely, it begins with the Davidic king.


[1] Bruce K. Waltke, with Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 692.
[2] Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 230. The vassal treaty was a political relationship between a powerful king of a superior state and a less powerful king of an inferior state who subordinated himself to the more powerful king.
[3] David M. Howard, Jr., “A Case for Kingship in the Old Testament Narratives and the Psalms,” Trinity Journal 9, no. 1 (Spring 1988): 35.
[4] Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, 700.
[5] Ibid., 692, notes, “It is important to remember that the covenants are unconditional, yet the blessings of the covenant are conditioned on obedience to the Mosaic covenant. Their descendants will inherit the enjoyment of these rewards only to the extent that they are loyal to I AM and obey the stipulations and commandments of the Mosaic covenant.”
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid., 693.
[8] Ibid., 884.

Psalm 45 and Jesus

This is a love psalm for a royal wedding. The king is praised for his appearance and speech (v. 2), his military power (v. 3), and his work of justice (vv. 4-5). The psalm turns to God in verses 6-9 where God is praised because his throne is the perfect throne. God’s throne is “forever and ever” and he rules with “uprightness” because he “loved righteousness and hated wickedness” (vv. 6-7a).

The pslamist then says something strange. He says that God has anointed the God mentioned in v. 6. It’s evident to the reader that this is dealing with more than a mere human king. Hebrews 1 tells us that this Psalm is ultimately about Jesus, the true Davidic king (Hebrews 1:8-9). Hebrews 1:8 says that God says to the Son (who is God) that it is his throne that lasts forever and ever. He is the one who rules his kingdom with perfection and justice. He is the one who takes a beautiful daughter to himself as his bride, the church, who is led to her king with “joy and gladness.”

Jesus’ name is the one that will be “remembered in all generations,” and he is the only king whom “nations will praise…forever and ever” (v. 17). For he is the true and better King of Israel, the only one whose speech, power, and justice is peerless.