In the Old Testament, three different kinds of people take center stage in the story of God's salvation of his people 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. Finally, kings in the Old Testament functioned in the realm of exercising judicial power in the civil realm and were often times military figures who led military campaigns. Kings like David established a dynasty that lasted for over four hundred years.
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. Jesus is fully present as our prophet, he is fully present as our priest, and he is fully present as our king.
Jesus as Prophet
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. (1) 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. (2) 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.
Jesus as High Priest
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. (3) 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. (4) That savior was Jesus Christ, the great high priest.
Jesus as King
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. (5)
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. (6) 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.
Adapted from Mathew R. Richard, “Jesus Christ: Prophet, Priest, King” Modern Reformation, January/February 2014.
1. Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics: Volume II (St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1951), 335.
2. Jack Kilcrease, The Self-Donation of God: A Contemporary Lutheran Approach to Christ and His Benefits (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013), 87.
3. Kilcrease, 381.
4. Kilcrease, 90.
5. Richard C. H. Lenski, Commentary on the New Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1998), 34.
6. Pieper, 394.