What does it mean that Jesus is prophet, priest, and king?
The roles of prophet, priest, and king are the primary leadership roles described in the Old Testament, and when Jesus came, He fulfilled all three of them.
Prophets speak on behalf of the Lord. They say what God is saying and prophesy what is to come. Sometimes they perform healings and miracles in the name of the Lord. Old Testament prophets foretold the story of Jesus, and those who were alive during Jesus' lifetime frequently referred to Him as a prophet (Matthew 21:11; Luke 7:16; John 4:19).
Jesus called Himself a prophet and even made connections between Himself and the great prophets Elijah and Elisha (Mark 6:4; Luke 4:24–27). He spoke with authority and frequently taught the Word of God through parables (Mark 1:22; 4:34). He performed healings and miracles (Matthew 8:1–17; 9:18–33; Mark 1:32–34; 2:1–12; Luke 17:11–19; 18:35–43; John 2:1–11; 6:1–24). Just as with Old Testament prophets, many of the Jews did not believe Jesus or heed His words. Peter and Stephen each proclaimed that Jesus was the prophet whom Moses was predicting in Deuteronomy 18:15, and He is to be listened to (Acts 3:17–23; 7:37–38, 51–53).
Jesus foretold what was to come many times, similar to the prophets of the Old Testament. He told His disciples of His coming death and resurrection (Matthew 17:22–23; 20:17–19), how Peter would deny Him (Matthew 26:31–35; Mark 14:27–30; Luke 22:61; John 13:36–38), and that Judas would betray Him (Matthew 26:20–25; John 13:18–30). He foretold the persecution of those who follow Him (John 16:1–4, 33), the arrival of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7–15; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4–5), and the forthcoming destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:1–2). We are still awaiting the fulfillment of His prophecy that He will one day return to earth (Matthew 24:30–31; John 14:3).
Jesus Himself is the Word of God (John 1:1). He is not a human prophet who speaks God's Word. Rather, He Himself is the Word made flesh to dwell among us (John 1:14). There is no stronger or more truthful revelation of God than Jesus Christ: "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world" (Hebrews 1:1–2).
The role of priests in the Old Testament was to act as mediators between God and humans. Priests offered sacrifices to God on behalf of people for the pardon of sins. This was the role of the Levitical priesthood of Aaron, and it was not intended to last forever. After Jesus paid the ultimate price and was crucified for the payment of the sins of the world, He became the only priest we need for all of eternity: "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). Hebrews 4—10 discusses in detail the contrast between the two priesthoods and how Jesus is the ultimate High Priest for all of us.
Jesus is the perfect High Priest for mankind because He was one of us. He understands our struggles for He had the same ones and still lived a sinless life. He is our perfect Advocate, giving us confidence to approach God the Father, knowing we will find favor with Him (Hebrews 10:19–23). Hebrews 4:14–16 says, "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." In the Old Testament, Melchizedek was both a priest and a king, and so is Jesus (Hebrews 7:1–28; Genesis 14:18).
King David is an excellent example of the office of king. He was a man after God's own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). God promised David: "And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever" (2 Samuel 7:16). Mary, the mother of Jesus, was told by the angel Gabriel that Jesus would have "the throne of his father David" and that "of his kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 1:32–33). Jesus the Messiah was the fulfillment of these promises. He was called the "Son of David" and was born in the lineage of David (Matthew 1:1; Revelation 22:16).
Jesus, as the Son of David, was to be the deliverer and ruler of God's people. At the time Jesus was on earth, the Jews anticipated that the Messiah would be a political king who would free them from Roman rule (Matthew 21:1–11), but what Jesus actually did was free all of humanity from the power of sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:54–57). When He returns, He will rule and reign as king (1 Corinthians 15:24–28; Psalm 110:1). Jesus has ultimate authority and prestige (Matthew 28:18; Philippians 2:9–11). He is the "King of kings and Lord of lords" (Revelation 19:16).
As a prophet, priest, and king, Jesus is the ultimate leader. He is whole and complete within Himself. He is our perfect authority figure, our guide, and the empathetic advocate that we need. He grants us forgiveness, grace, and access to a personal relationship with God.
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