The Biblical Theme of the Priest-King
This week in our study over the book of Hebrews, we were introduced to a very important Biblical concept; that of the priest-king. While, as Cody rightly explained, Melchizedek is a relatively obscure figure in scripture, the importance of the priest-king is anything but. Of course, we see in Hebrews that Jesus is the ultimate priest-king, and the ultimate expression of both of these offices in redemptive history. However, the idea or concept of the priest-king is vital to not just our understanding of Christ as our Lord and Savior, but also to how we understand God's design for mankind, the creation narrative in Genesis, and the recreation of Revelation. I will do my best to briefly explain how each of these things tie together and why they are so important to our understanding.
First, we see right from the beginning pages of scripture that man has a special place within God's creation. In the creation narrative, we learn that we are created in the image of God. This doesn't mean that we look like God, because God is spirit and does not have physical form, flesh, and bones. Rather, it means that God has created us to reflect some of his nature. We call these his communicable attributes. Man was created with the ability to be wise, good, faithful, holy, gracious, loving, patient, and so on. Of course, we must recognize that while God defines these things in and through his nature, we merely reflect them. At the same time, we cannot neglect to consider how sin has distorted and marred that reflection in mankind. Still, every human being reflects to some degree the glory and dignity of God in his/her being.
Furthermore, man, as God's image bearer was created to not just reflect God's character among his creation, but also to serve a unique purpose as the means through which God would mediate his blessing and dominion. When we think of God mediating blessing among his people, we think of the office of the priest. In the same way, when we think of God mediating his dominion and authority, we think of the office of the king. Thus, mankind was created to serve the vital role of priest-king to all of creation. We see this explicitly within the creation narrative. In Genesis 1:28, God gives his cultural mandate which ascribes to mankind the unique task of filling, subduing, and most importantly, ruling over the earth. These are kingly duties indeed. Likewise, in Genesis 2:15, we see that God placed man in the Garden to tend to it. This expands man's role. We see that his purpose isn't simply to rule, but to serve. He is to be a servant-king whose dominion is one of blessing and caring for God's kingdom on his behalf. These are his priestly duties. For us to rightly understand what it means to be human, we must rightly understand what it means to bear the image of God in our unique role as priest-kings.
Of course, we can't forget that our Lord Jesus Christ, being God incarnate, is the ultimate expression of God in man. He is the perfect union of divinity and humanity. As such, he is the ultimate image bearer. The author of Hebrews says it best when he writes of Jesus, "He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature" (Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is the ultimate priest-king that Adam was created to be. Where Adam failed, Jesus succeeded. Thus, everything that God intended and foreshadowed in man ultimately finds its fulfillment and meaning in Jesus. This is the overall theme of Hebrews and the author's purpose in drawing our attention to Melchizedek as a "type" (or a foretaste) of Christ.
Last but not least, we can further expand our understanding of the priest-king by exploring the related concept of the temple. We learn in the book of Exodus that the Tabernacle is instituted by God to be his dwelling place among his people. Later, when the people settle in the promised land, the Tabernacle is replaced by the Temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place for God. It is important to recognize though that this idea of God dwelling with his people was not novel. In fact, it was God's intention in creation that he would dwell with his creatures. The Garden is in reality the first temple.
A New Testament theme, even in Jesus' own teaching, is that Christ, as God incarnate (his name Emmanuel means "God with us"), is the ultimate expression of God dwelling with his people. This is why Jesus so often spoke of the kingdom "coming" or being "at hand." Fast forward a bit further and we learn that after his death, resurrection, and ascension, Christ promises to send the Spirit which would thereafter in-dwell believers. In other words, now the Temple is the Church...not the building, but the people. Through the believer's union with Christ, his Spirit lives and dwells among us...indeed within us until such time as he returns to dwell with us bodily for all eternity.
This brings us, finally, to the recreation narrative of Revelation 21 and particularly 22. Here we see that the redeemed and restored creation is described again with garden language...similar to that of the original creation. Thus our final eternity will be a perfect reflection of God's original creation where we shall dwell forever in the presence of our Lord and Savior who is both our priest (mediating blessing) and our all-powerful servant-king.
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Part 16 - MelchizeWHO
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. How does Melchizedek's name point us to Jesus?
2. What does the priesthood of Melchizedek teach us about the priesthood of Jesus?
3. Why is Jesus the only high priest we need?
Next week's lesson: Hebrews 7:11-22