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.

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.

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.

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.

Life Theology

Jesus: The Greater David

Jesus isn’t just the greater Moses. He is also the greater David. In Psalm 78, the psalmist is reflecting on Israel’s rebellion against God after they were saved from slavery in Egypt. God was so gracious to his people despite their unfaithfulness. “Yet,” the psalmist wrote, “they sinned still more against him” (vv. 17, 40, 56).

Later in the Psalm, the writer tells us that he chose a shepherd from the tribe of Judah to lead his people back to God. This shepherd is David. The psalmist tells us:

He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand (vv. 70-72).

You might be thinking, “David had an upright heart?! What about that whole Bathsheba and Uriah thing? That wasn’t so upright!” And you would be right. Of course David had his moral failures. He was human. And that’s the point: as great as David was as shepherd-king of Israel, he still fell short of the perfection that God’s people needed.

That’s where Jesus comes in. In John 10, he said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (v. 11).  In saying this, Jesus claims to be the long awaited heir of David who would lead God’s people perfectly. He would be the ultimate shepherd-king who would never have a moral failure or a bad thought toward his flock.

When we read the Old Testament, we cannot look for examples in men like David and Moses. We need to see them as imperfect men who could never fully be what God’s people needed.  They should not inspire us to be better people. They should leave us longing to be saved by the greater Man who did and said all that God wanted with complete perfection.