In a land far from Eden, dead-souled creatures roam the earth without hope, seeking in vain to fuel the unsatisfied appetites of their blackened hearts while death stalks just a step or two behind. What hope does this wasteland existence have? An unlikely King—one who brings his people back to God by embracing death to defeat it. At the heart of our worship stands the one who is our Priest-King, the one who has conquered for his people through the sacrifice of himself. For us to grasp this glorious truth and worship him rightly, we must see our need for one who not only brings us to God as Priest by making atonement but who also reigns victoriously for his people as King.
In this brief article, we will consider 1) our need for a Messiah who is both priest and king, 2) a brief biblical theology of the dual office of this Priest-King, and 3) how these offices are ultimately filled by Jesus in his work on the cross.
Our Need for a Messiah Who is Both Priest and King
It is only by the means of a sacrifice that sin can be dealt with fully and finally. Because of Adam’s sin, all are objects of God’s consuming wrath and remain under the curse of sin and death (i.e., all are “in Adam”). The curse of sin brought with it a new master over humanity. The first Adam was created to exercise a wise rule and stewardship under God as his vice-regent in creation (Gen 1:26-28). This is key to what it means to be created in God’s image. However, because of the first Adam’s rebellion, we rejected God to put ourselves under the mastery of sin and the power of the evil one, living under the gloom of death (Gen. 1:17–19). Do you see the mother weeping at her son’s drug-induced early-death—as she herself over-medicates on prescriptions, wondering why the world is so cold and cruel? This is one of a billion pictures of a noble humanity being mastered by sin, Satan, and death, and this woman’s only hope is to lift her eyes to the last Adam. This is the only hope for all of us.
In our need, we turn to Christ’s work on the cross as our victorious King achieving victory in the divine conquest over sin, death, Satan, and the powers of darkness (Col. 2:15) and providing for us an example of image-bearing as one who is the exact imprint of the divine nature (Heb 1:3). God the Son incarnate comes as the new Adam (Rom. 5:14–17), perfectly obedient to the Father in all things (Heb. 4:15), providing and securing, by his obedience, a perfect sacrifice for the payment of our sins as our substitute (Rom. 3:25).
In this way, Christ has purchased his people out of their slavery to sin and death by his own blood (Eph. 1:7), bringing reconciliation between God and man as the new Adam (Rom. 5:6–14), satisfying the divine justice of God (Rom. 3:23–26). In Adam, we are under God’s divine judgment. We need one who is able to mediate between God and man. We need such a priest—Jesus is that priest for us (Heb 4:14-16).
This is what we celebrate, not only this month, but in every month, as we remember that Christ our priest and king is over all and working all things for good (Rom. 8:28).
A Brushstroke Biblical Theology of the Messiah Who is Priest-King
The truth of Christ’s glorious conquest as our Priest-King is progressively revealed throughout Scripture. In Genesis 3:15 God tells that ancient serpent, Satan, of the offspring of the woman who would destroy him at a cost, “he [the future deliverer] shall bruise your head, and you [the serpent] shall bruise his heel.” This protoevangelium sets the tone for redemptive history. From this point on, the people who called upon the name of the Lord also looked for the promised Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head and deal fully and finally with that great enemy.
All throughout the pages of Scripture, God’s people long for this promised deliverer and call upon the name of the Lord to fulfill his promise of redemption and deliverance. Early on in this history, we read of a figure that is later associated with Christ in a way that typifies his work as priest-king. That figure is Melchizedek, the mysterious king of Salem, the “priest of God Most High” (Gen 14:18) who pronounces a blessing on Abram in the name of the LORD God. He then disappears until David, under divine inspiration, ascribes the same designation to the coming priest-king in Psalm 110. It is at this point that we see the dual office of the Messiah as both priest and king. In reference to this passage, the author of Hebrews shows that this dual office typified by Melchizedek and proclaimed by David is finally realized in Christ (Heb. 5:6–10, 6:19–7:22).
Parallel to this thread of the priest-king Melchizedek is the Davidic covenant, where God promises that through David a king would come whose reign would never end (2 Sam. 7:13). What is clear in the Davidic covenant is that the Christ would come as king and victor, securing rest for God’s people. What is not explicit in this passage is that his own sacrifice would secure his reign. Only later do we learn that the messianic kingdom, unlike kingdoms of the world, would be established by victory through sacrifice. It is a victory that we see in the suffering servant-king of Isaiah who is to be “high and lifted up” (52:13), who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (53:4). It is unlike any king we would dream up for ourselves. We might picture the white horse and the shining armor. “But he [the servant-king] was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (53:5). The peace of this messianic kingdom is won by the sacrifice of its king.
Fast-forward to the New Testament. In John 12:31, Jesus speaks of the “judgment of this world [in which] the ruler of this world is cast out.” He clearly explains how this victory is to be accomplished: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (12:33). John adds “He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die” (12:34). The crowd understood quite well what Jesus meant and responded in bewilderment. They connected the dots between what Jesus said and what Isaiah predicted above. Jesus points to his own crucifixion as the moment of victory for his people, the decisive judgment of the world, and the casting out of the “ruler of this world.” His being “lifted up” points to his sacrifice as Priest on the cross and his victory as King in glory.
After the apostle Paul writes a glorious hymn about the preeminence of Christ who is “the image of the invisible God”—employing kingly language from Genesis—he points to the priestly work of Christ who has made “peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:11, 20). It is through his sacrifice as Priest that vile sinners, though “once dead in [our] trespasses” have been “made alive together with him” through the forgiveness of sin and “canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:14). This priestly work is at once followed with reference to Christ as King, who through his death on the cross, “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col. 2:15).
We see the dual office of Melchizedek as priest-king is once again brought to the forefront in Hebrews. Nowhere in all of Scripture is this idea more clearly articulated. Through his incarnation, Christ became “a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17). This priest is unlike any other before and there are none after for “he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption” (Heb. 9:12).
Unlike those before him, “he holds his priesthood permanently because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:24-25). As the ultimate Priest-King, “when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet” (Heb. 10:12-13). All others “serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” which continually point forward to Christ who “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26b).
The progressive revelation throughout the Scriptures leads us to this Priest-King who stands in a category all his own. Even in the final pages, we see a glimpse of the dual office as the one who is the Lion and the Lamb (Rev. 5:5–6). Through his atoning sacrifice, he has made his people “a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:10). He alone is worthy of the worship of all creation: “To him who sits on the throne,” the King who reigns over all, “and to the Lamb,” the Priest who is our sacrifice, “be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13b)
The dual office of the Messiah as Priest and King is no minor theme when discussing the person of Christ. The theme of victory through sacrifice is presented throughout the canon and in more passages than can be considered here. So, as we place special emphasis on the finished work of Christ on Calvary and on his victorious triumph in the resurrection, remember that his victory as King has come through his sacrifice as Priest.
1. See Gen. 3:15–16; Isa. 52:13–53:12; John 12:31; Col. 1:15–20,2:13-15; Heb. 2:5–18; 1 John 3:4-9; Rev. 5:5–10,12:9–11, 22:1.
Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for sin on the cross. In so doing, he made war on death, “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14–15). This is our Priest who became the sacrifice for us, and this is our Warrior King who conquered sin, death, and the evil one: Christ the King Victorious.