Christ, Our Priest
Scripture: Ps 110; Matt 22:41-45; Heb 7; John 16:25-27
Leading Question: How can a Messiah from the line of Judah also be a priest, for according to Scripture, the priests were to be from the line of Levi?
The dominant mental picture of a priest is someone who presents human beings to God. One could use the term mediator. By contrast a prophet is someone who presents God to human beings. Where does a king fit into this picture? He rules over his subjects. At the end of the day, Christ is presented in the New Testament as Prophet – God’s message to humankind; as Priest – a human mediator presenting us to God; and as King – the one ruling over all creation. Adding to that picture is the image of Jesus as the submissive Passover lamb. Here we will explore Jesus’ role as priest, particularly in connection with his role as lamb and as Mediator between God and humankind.
1. A New Role: Priest/King. The Messiah was always seen as a royal figure from the seed of David, of the tribe of Judah. So how does the New Testament bring in the role of Priest? In the biblical world, the priests were from the tribe of Levi.
The book of Hebrews establishes the priesthood of Jesus by switching from the earthly line of Aaron to the heavenly line of Melchizedek. The clue for this shift is found in that tantalizing messianic psalm, Ps. 110. The most often cited messianic passage in the New Testament, it was cited by Jesus in the Gospels to confound his critics. In Matthew 22:41-45, Jesus messes with the minds of his listeners by asking them whose son the messiah was supposed to be. “David’s,” they replied confidently. “But then how does David call him Lord?” Jesus returned. His listeners had not yet tumbled onto the truth that the Messiah was God incarnate. Indeed, that truth was many years in coming to the followers of Jesus. But Jesus was the one who asked the question.
Also in Psalm 110, is a reference to a the messiah as a “priest forever in the order of Melchizedek” (Ps. 110:4, NIV). The book of Hebrews picks up this point and argues at length that Jesus superseded the Aaronic priesthood and was in fact in the line of that mysterious priest/king of Salem who had dealings with Abraham (Gen. 14).
2. A Better Mediator. Hebrews argues extensively that Jesus is a better high priest because he comes from human stock. This is especially clear in Hebrews 4:14-16: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (NIV)
But an experiential problem lurks in this model of a mediator who pleads on our behalf. The fact that Jesus is pleading on our behalf can give the impression that Jesus is our friend, but that God is more distant and somehow needs to be convinced.
The author of this study guide (Alden Thompson) had a particularly poignant experience in precisely that connection and found himself asking the question during his seminary days, “If the Father loves me, why do I need a mediator?” He embarked on an intense study program to understand the biblical meaning of “mediator,” finding the exciting answer in John 14-17. There he discovered two significant truths. First, that Jesus was and is God incarnate; second, that Jesus can be seen as representing the Father to us, rather than simply as representing us to the Father. The crucial passage there is John 16:25-27 where Jesus actually says that the day will come when he will not pray to the Father on our behalf, for the Father himself loves us. The full passage follows:
Each of us will find the different metaphors for Jesus meaningful in our own way. A fruitful discussion could focus on the question: Which of the following is most meaningful in your walk with God? Jesus as sacrificial lamb, Jesus at priest representing us to the Father, Jesus as mediator representing God to us, Jesus as king our eternal and all-powerful ruler?