Prophet, Priest And King

By Martin Girard, adapted, with permission, from Skyway Messages

Anyone familiar with Israel in the Old Testament will realize that prophets, priests and kings all featured in the life of the nation. How did these distinct offices originate? A brief review of Israel’s history will answer that question. To begin with, an individual – Abram, later named Abraham – was called by God to leave his familiar surroundings and embark on a pilgrimage to an unknown destination (Gen. 12:1). That individual became the father of a family, which eventually became a nation, Israel – named after Abraham’s grandson, whose original name of Jacob had been changed (32:28).

The nation, as foretold, spent 400 years in slavery in Egypt (15:13-14) before God delivered them under the leadership of two men – Moses and Aaron. Initially, Moses was fearful and lacking in confidence, but God encouraged him by sending his brother Aaron to assist (Ex. 4:14-16). Moses was the one who had been chosen to speak on God’s authority; and Aaron, although a prophet on Moses’ behalf, took a secondary place in service to him. (7:1). Later, after God had appeared to Moses at Mount Sinai, instructions were given regarding the tabernacle – the place where God was to be worshiped by His people while they journeyed through the wilderness – and the priesthood. Thus, not only was there a prophet in Israel who spoke for God, there were also to be priests who ministered in sacred things relating to the worship of God.

The First Of Each
Strictly speaking, Moses was Israel’s first prophet. Meanwhile Aaron became the father of a family of priests who ministered at the tabernacle (28:1). Of that family, Aaron assumed the role of high priest on account of his seniority, as ordered by God. After the nation became established in Canaan, their “Promised Land,” the people began to take notice of the nations around them. Each of these other nations had kings who reigned over them, and the Israelites wanted to be like them (1 Sam. 8:5). Samuel, God’s prophet at the time, was displeased; but God told him to agree to their request and establish a king over them. The first king chosen was Saul, who was anointed with oil before taking up his responsibilities (10:1).

Three different figures therefore came to feature in the life of the nation of Israel:

  1. The prophet was God’s messenger and spoke with His authority.
  2. The high priest ministered at the tabernacle and was over the family of priests and Levites.1
  3. The king was the secular ruler of the nation, under God. The judgments of God rested with him (Ps. 72:1).

All of these leaders were mortal and died. Moses, after living for 120 years, passed from this earth (Dt. 34:7). By that time Aaron had already died (Num. 20:28). Years later we read of the deaths of Saul (1 Sam. 31:6) and then of David (1 Ki. 2:1,10), who was arguably Israel’s finest king.2 The life of each was marked by success and failure, but death prevented them from occupying their positions in a permanent sense.

While these facts are clear in the Old Testament, other Scriptures indicate God’s intention of raising up a prophet, a priest and a king who would surpass all those who had gone before them. Moses, speaking to the Israelites, told them that God would raise up “a Prophet” from the midst of His people, “of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him ye shall hearken” (Dt. 18:15 KJV). The LORD had told Moses, “I will … put my words in His mouth; and He shall speak unto them all that I shall command Him” (v.18). A “Prophet” – notice the capital letter – who would arise in Israel was therefore promised and would speak with the authority that Moses had possessed. The Jewish people have certainly respected Moses throughout their history, so who could this promised “Prophet” be?

Not only do we read of the coming Prophet in the Old Testament but also of the coming Priest. Consider Psalm 110:4: “The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent. Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” The promise, we notice, does not concern a priest like Aaron but like Melchizedek who had lived before Aaron. Mentioned only briefly in Genesis 14, Melchizedek was “the priest of the Most High God” and “king of Salem” (v.18). We find no king of Israel officially serving as a priest in the Old Testament. Any who dared to do so incurred the judgment of God (2 Chr. 26:16-21), for the roles of priest and king were distinct.

Prophets in the Old Testament prophesied of the coming of a special king who would bring peace to the warring planet. Isaiah wrote, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever” (Isa. 9:6-7). Who could this special king be?

Three In One
Turning to the New Testament we discover that one Person is the perfect fulfillment of all these Old Testament prophecies. The Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, is revealed as Prophet, Priest and King. We must consider each role in turn.

As already mentioned, Moses had foretold of a coming Prophet with features similar to his own (Dt. 18:15). On one occasion the Lord Jesus stood up in the synagogue at Nazareth and read the words of Isaiah 61:1: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Lk. 4:18-19). After sitting down, the Lord Jesus told His listeners, “This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.” They marveled as they listened to the gracious words that proceeded from His mouth (vv.21-22).

Isaiah had written of the Messiah who would come bringing the message of God. He had come! When a crowd of 5,000 had been fed miraculously by the Lord Jesus, people declared, “This is of a truth that Prophet that should come into the world” (Jn. 6:14). The Lord Jesus Christ, as “the Word,” was the very expression of God (1:1) and spoke as God. He was one of Israel’s own people, like Moses, and was known as “Joseph’s son” (Lk. 4:22). Although He was not recognized as a Jewish rabbi, He spoke with authority, unlike the scribes (Mt. 7:29). His words were living words (Jn. 6:63). His critics were forced to declare, “Never man spake like this man” (7:46).

Promises in the Old Testament speak of another Priest – not a descendant of Aaron but connected with Melchizedek. The book of Hebrews elaborates on this theme and reveals in Hebrews 5:5-6 that Christ is the fulfillment of Psalm 110:4. In Hebrews 7 the subject is developed further. Melchizedek, with no recorded ancestors, is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is eternal. Under the law He could never have served as a Levitical priest, “for it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah; of which tribe Moses spake nothing concerning priesthood” (Heb. 7:14). The Lord Jesus, “after the similitude of Melchizedek,” was appointed as Priest – “not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life” (vv.15-16). The priests of the tribe of Levi “were many … because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death” (v.23). By contrast, Christ, who lives forever, has “an unchangeable priesthood” (v.24). In order to function as a priest, however, “it is of necessity that this man have somewhat also to offer” (8:3). The wonderful truth revealed is that Christ “offered up Himself” (7:27) – not in the sense of a repeated sacrifice like the priests of old, but “once … to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (9:26).

Melchizedek, you may remember, “priest of the Most High God” who lived at the time of Abraham, was also a king (Gen. 14:18). Before His birth at Bethlehem, Mary the mother of our Lord was told that her Son would be given “the throne of His father David” and that He would “reign over the house of Jacob for ever” – His kingdom knowing no end (Lk. 1:32-33). Tracing His earthly genealogy we discover that the Lord Jesus was indeed a descendant of both Jacob and David (3:31,34). The words spoken to Mary resemble those we have already considered in the Old Testament in Isaiah 9:7. Thus the Lord Jesus Christ is revealed to us in the New Testament as the Prophet whom Moses spoke of, the Great High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek, and the King of David’s line. Significantly, when Jesus was crucified, the title placed above Him was, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” (Mt. 27:37).

In the Old Testament three distinct offices were seen – prophet, priest and king. Nobody in Old Testament times could combine all of these because they were distinct. But the New Testament unfolds the truth that the three offices have been brought together in one Person – our Lord Jesus Christ.

Past, Present, Future
The subject we have been considering is vast, and this article certainly has not done justice to it. Before concluding, however, an explanation might be helpful.

The three roles that we have been looking at need to be related to the three aspects of time – past, present and future – and can be examined in that order. The Lord Jesus fulfilled His role of being the Prophet of God in His first coming. Hebrews 1:2 makes it plain that the God who had spoken in past dispensations to our forefathers by the prophets “hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son.” Christ, the Eternal Word, is God’s final “word” to mankind. He has nothing further to say.

But the very next verse goes on to speak of this great Prophet by whom God spoke actually purging our sins through His sacrifice at the cross before taking His seat at God’s right hand on high. One of the great themes of the Epistle to the Hebrews is Christ’s work as our Great High Priest. Not only did He offer the sacrifice of Himself upon the cross, but He also fulfills another priestly function at the present time. The priests of old needed to “have compassion on the ignorant” and to be “called of God” to the task (5:2,4). Hebrews presents the Lord Jesus to us as our compassionate Great High Priest (4:15) who “is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them” (7:25). This statement brings us to the present time. The Lord Jesus is our Great High Priest at this moment, helping us in our need and pleading for us before the Father. What a wonderful provision we have!

But we must also consider the future. Christ, our Great High Priest who lives in the very presence of God, “shall … appear the second time” – not to deal with sin again but coming “unto salvation” (9:28). In other words, He will come again to bring final deliverance and blessing to His people. So many New Testament passages speak of the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. Revelation 19:11-16 describes Him returning to earth accompanied by the armies of heaven. He wears the inscription “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (19:16) and comes to reign for 1,000 years (20:6). But beyond that millennial reign it remains true that “He shall reign for ever and ever” (11:15).

Only God Could Have Planned All This!
What a wonderful prospect lies before us: those who belong to Christ shall reign with Him! But more than that, what a wonderful book the Bible is! What human mind could have planned all these things and caused them to fit together with such perfection? Along with G. V. Wigram in his hymn “What Raised The Wondrous Thought?”, we can only exclaim, “O God! The thought was Thine … Thine only it could be.”

All of these thoughts center in God’s beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom He was well pleased (Mt. 17:5). Like the wise men of old, let us “worship Him” (2:2), listen to Him through whom God has spoken to us, and obey Him. As our Great High Priest He will never fail us, and one day He will return from heaven to reign as King, supreme over all, forever.

1. Levites generally served in less significant ways than the priests.
2. The kingdom was taken from Saul (1 Sam. 15:23), while it was covenanted to David forever (2 Sam. 7:13).