Can a King be a Priest?
And vice versa: can a Jewish priest (from the Levite tribe) become a King of the Jews? The answer from Levitical law is generally NO. Then how come in so many prophesies in the bible about the Messiah describe the Messiah as a priest? I think this question is missed by most preachers and biblical scholars. I will give you the answer in a minute; and I think the answer is very important and very significant.
First I want to thank God for the Jewish scribes who so faithfully copied the scriptures from one copy to another. It took years of painstaking work to make a new copy of the Old Testament scriptures. Now the scriptures written on parchment lasted a long time but new copies were needed as old copies deteriorated and new copies were needed as population expanded and as the Jews spread out to other regions. Copying scriptures required a lifetime commitment.
So I thank those Jewish scribes for copying the scriptures so faithfully even when they did not understand some of the scripture passages but they trusted in the Lord that these scriptures were inspired and that God had some reason for having his prophets write the particular words that they were now copying. And these scribes trusted that eventually God would reveal the reasons and the purposes for all these writings. So in copying the scriptures, these faithful scribes wrote down all the prophesies about how the Messiah would be a priest and they faithfully wrote down all the prophesies that the Messiah would be a King; and specifically that the Messiah would be a king from the tribe of Judah from the family of David. The Messiah would be a direct descendant of King David.
The very first King of the Jews was Saul who was from the tribe of Benjamin. But the next king of the Jews was David from the tribe of Judah. And then after David, the prophets’ prophesized that all future kings would be descendants of David. Note that the tribes of both Judah and Benjamin were southern tribes who lived around Jerusalem.
So here is the dilemma, all future kings of the Jews were to come from the tribe of Judah and specifically from the family of David but the prophesies about the Messiah describe him both as a priest and as a king? How could the Messiah come both from both the tribe of Levi and the tribe of Judah? This seems like a contradiction, a paradox but the scribes dutifully and faithfully copied the prophesies as they were originally written.
In fact it was this dilemma which caused the majority of the Jews to miss the Messiah. Most of the Jews missed the Messiah, Yeshua, Jesus as we call Him in English.
You see the Jewish leaders and the people concentrated on the kingly prophesies of the coming Messiah who would throw off the yoke of Rome. And they did not emphasis as much the prophesies about the Messiah coming as a priest. In fact there are actually more prophesies about the Messiah coming as a priest than as a King depending on how you count them and how you interpret them. Obviously many of the messianic prophecies can be attributed to either a priest or a king. For example, when it says that the Messiah will save his people, this could be as a king who saves them from tyranny and domination or it could be more correctly interpreted as someone who would provide save his people from the consequences of their sin. Of course, it is easy for us Christians to look back in history and now interpret the scriptures properly.
But the Jews during the appearance of Jesus did not have that luxury of looking back in history. So it is interesting that many Jewish Teachers of The Law resolved this conflict in this way – they thought that maybe there would be two different Messiahs who would come at different times in history. One would come as a priest, from the tribe of Levi and one would come as a king, from the tribe of Judah. However, even these Teachers of the Law expected the Messiah to first come as a King and then later as a priest. These Teachers of the Law got it backwards and they got it wrong. First there would only be 1 messiah but he would come twice. And he would first come as the priest and save His people by providing salvation for their sins and then He would come again as the King which we Christians call the Second Coming of the Jesus.
One Messiah easily makes so much sense to us now since we can look back in history. It is easier for us now to see that the Messiah would have to be God himself in order to forgive sins and provide salvation to people and to provide perfect justice and reconciliation and to undo ALL the effects of sin - both sins of the past, current sins and even for ALL sins of the future. Only God can do that marvelous thing. And there is only one God and hence there is only one Messiah. O hear o Israel, the Lord our God is one! (Deut 6:4)
So looking back in history, it is easy for us Christians to view the prophesies about the Messiah and see that they were mostly referring to the coming Messiah as the Priest rather than as an earthly king; that is, there are mostly describing spiritual virtues and attributes rather than earthly or fleshy attributes. In fact that most of the prophesies, the promises about what the Messiah would be like and what he would do are so glorious and so spectacular that it becomes obvious that these prophesies are describing more than a man - they are describing the Son of God, they are describing things that only God himself could do. Let’s review just some of the prophesies; lets us look at some of the prophesies in the book of Isaiah and see if they are describing a great Kingly leader or a great spiritual leader. What you think, are they describing a manly King or someone much greater?
Isaiah 7:14 The Messiah would be born of a virgin.
Isaiah 8:14 Be a stumbling stone to Israel.
Isaiah 9:1-2 Bring light and joy to Israel.
Isaiah 9:6 Govern the world.
Isaiah 9:7 Reign on David's throne.
Isaiah 11:1 Be descended from Jesse, the father of David.
Isaiah 11:2 Be anointed by the Holy Spirit.
Isaiah 11:3-5 Judge in righteousness, justice and faithfulness.
Isaiah 13:10 Judge the nations.
Isaiah 40:3-5 Be announced by a messenger.
Isaiah 42:3 Be gentle to the weak
Isaiah 42:6 Make a new covenant with Israel.
Isaiah 42:6-7 Be a light to the gentiles.
Isaiah 49:1 Be called before birth to be God's servant.
Isaiah 49:5-6 Restore Israel spiritually.
Isaiah 49:8 Restore Israel physically in the land.
Isaiah 49:7 Be worshipped by gentiles.
Isaiah 49:7 Be rejected by Israel.
Isaiah 50:6 and 53:7-9 Suffer voluntarily.
Isaiah 53:4-6 Take on Himself the sins of the entire world.
Isaiah 53:10 Triumph over death.
Isaiah 52:13 and 53:12 Be exalted.
Isaiah 61:1-3 Comfort Israel and bring vengeance on the wicked.
And in Zachariah Chapter 6 verses 12-13, it describes the Messiah as both a priest and a king!
Now what do you think about those prophesies in Isaiah – are they mostly talking about a great King or a great Spiritual Leader – the Messiah would take on the sins of the world, be worshipped by gentiles, judge all the nations, triumph over death. Sounds like to me that this Messiah will be more than a man, He will be God himself!
To summarize, we see that the prophesies described the coming Messiah both as a King and as a great spiritual leader. So let’s get back to my original question, how do we resolve the issue that priests came from the tribe of Levi and kings came from the tribe of Judah? So then how could the Messiah be both a King and a Priest? If one of the parents of the Messiah was a Levite and the other parent was from the tribe of Judah from the family of David, would that solve the problem? No. Because to be a priest, a man’s father had to be a priest and to be a king, a man’s father had to be a direct descendant of David. So having one parent from the tribe of Judah and one parent from the tribe of Levi would not solve the problem. So how is this dilemma solved?
Well, in researching the scriptures, you will find the mention of Melchizedek. Melchizedek was both a King and a Priest of Salem which later became known as Jerusalem. And as you know, Abraham himself paid homage to Melchizedek giving him a tenth of all his possessions. Isn’t that interesting. Melchizedek was both a King and Priest of Jerusalem and Abraham confirmed exalted station by paying homage to him and presenting Melchizedek with a tithe. This is mentioned way back in Genesis, Chapter 14 starting in verse 18. So Jesus could claim to be both King and Priest similar to Melchizedek. In fact, this is mentioned in Hebrews Chapter 7 and David writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit says in Psalm 110. Psalm 110 talks about the Messiah. Psalm 110 is one of the great messianic Psalms: It says:
4 The LORD has sworn
and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”
Why would David write down such an idea - which seems to come out of nowhere? Yes, it came from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to be accomplished by the coming of the Messiah. I am sure this was another verse that the Jewish scribes did not understand and would not understand completely until it was fulfilled by the coming of the Messiah in Jesus Christ.
Then after the Messiah did come, then the writer of Hebrews in Chapter 7 can explain it to us all: The following is an edited and abridged version of Chapter 7 which I think makes it quite clear about how Jesus was a priest forever, not in the order of Levi and Aaron, but in the old, original order of Melchizedek:
Melchizedek the Priest
7 This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from his victory and Melchizedek blessed Abraham, 2 and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; and his title, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” 3 Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.
4 Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! 5
11 If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come—one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron, the Levitical high priest? 12 For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. 13 Jesus of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, the tribe of Judah, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the alter. 14 For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 15 And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, 16 one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is declared by David in Psalm 110:
“You are a priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek.”a
18 The former Levitical regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19 (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but Jesus became a priest with an oath when God said to him:
“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
‘You are a priest forever.’ ”b
22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.
23 Now there have been many of those Levitical priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completelyc those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
26 Such a high priest like Jesus meets all of our needs—because Jesus is the One who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, Jesus does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. Because He sacrificed once for all our sins when He offered Himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath of God, which came after the Mosaic law, appointed his Son, who has been made perfect forever.
So the writer of Hebrews explains how the Messiah could be both a King and a Priest. In fact, Jesus was the perfect High Priest. Yeshua was the fulfillment of ALL the law and ALL the prophesies. Isn’t that fantastic!
So the Messiah would become a priest in the order of Melchizedek, he would be a priest like God had intended the priesthood to be. And Jesus, the Messiah, would be a great spiritual leader, in fact, he would save His people from their sins!
You see originally, God intended every man starting from Adam to be both a priest and a king of his family. But Adam failed and every man since that has failed except for Jesus the Messiah. So when God brought His people out of Egypt through the desert, he established the Levites as the priests for the nation. But the Levites also failed God, just like Adam had failed. During the time of Jesus, the priesthood had become corrupt. The High Priest had become a political appointment. The priests, the Pharisees were more politicians than spiritual leaders. And they wanted to kill Jesus mostly because they saw Him as a treat to their positions. They were afraid that Jesus would still up the people against them – which He did in a way. Jesus called them hypocrites and vipers. And Jesus accused them of sending men to hell with all their false and unnecessary regulations rather than helping the people to live a life of virtue and help the people know and follow God’s will. The priests did not prepare the people for the coming Messiah and the priests who should have recognized and accepted Jesus, rejected Him.
To show you how corrupt the priesthood had become, we simply can go back to the Trial of Jesus. First the Jewish leaders tried Jesus at nighttime which was illegal. They did this because they were afraid of the people and they did not want the thousands of followers of Jesus to storm the palace of the high priest. And they also did not want to stir up the people during the Holidays because they did not want the people to cause a disturbance with the Romans.
Then as you know, during the trial the case against Jesus falls apart. The witnesses could not agree and so the prosecutors fail to make their case against Jesus. If the Jewish leaders were honest, upright men, they should have let Jesus go free. So in desperation, Caiaphas the high priest attempts to trick Jesus in answering an intimidating question. This also was illegal. A prosecutor could not ask the person on trial to incriminate themselves. Since the case against Jesus was falling apart, Caiaphas decides to ask Jesus directly this question: Are you the Christ, the son of the Living God? Now Jesus could have remained silent. It was up to the prosecutors to bring witnesses and present evidence to prove their case against a criminal. By Jesus is not afraid to answer this direct question from the High Priest by says, Yes I AM!
Now I find this question that Caiaphas asks Jesus to be very interesting from this perspective. Here I have been arguing and emphasizing how the leaders and the people were mostly looking for a great King. They wanted a Jewish Napoleon to kick the Romans out of their country and maybe who would go on to conquer the world the way Alexander the Great did. The leaders and the people were not expecting Jesus the Messiah.
But here is Caiaphas asking this very interesting question: Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Living God? Obviously in asking this question, Caiaphas is indicating that not only could the Messiah be a great spiritual leader but that maybe the Messiah would be the actual direct Son of God, he would be Emmanuel, the God who is with us on earth. He would be a man-God - both God and man.
I think a lot of people miss the significance of Caiaphas question in two respects: first its implication about the Trinity of God or at least a Duality. And second that it indicates that the Leaders knew about the possibility that the Messiah would be more than a King, more than a Jewish Alexander the Great.
But you know there is also another explanation and confirmation that Jesus was coming both as a King and a Priest - in the Baptism of Jesus. I think many miss some of the significance of the Baptism of Jesus. The Baptism of Jesus was a public announcement of the start of Jesus’ ministry. It was a start of his ministry as a priest. Did you know that a man had to be a least 30 years old to become a priest. That is why it is no coincidence that the writers of the Gospel mention that Jesus was about 30 years old when He was baptized. The writers of the Gospels were not just mentioning some trivial fact. They were recording a very important fact. Also, priests had to be cleansed; they had to be washed before starting their priesthood. This is mentioned in Leviticus Chapter 8 verse 6. Also the Dove that landed on the head of Jesus represented his anointing by God, His anointing by the Holy Spirit of God. Also before a man could become a priest, his Father had to confirm and vouch for his son before he could become a priest. So when Jesus was baptized by John and then anointed by the Holy Spirit, then God the Father, announces, that Jesus is His son in whom He is well pleased. Note that Jesus is again confirmed in his ministry during the Transfiguration, when God again mentions that He is please with his Son and instructs the apostles to listen to His son.
The baptism of Jesus is recorded in Matthew 3:13, Mark 1:9 and Luke 3:21.
The Transfiguration is recorded in Matthew chapter 17.
Now even thought I have been concentrating on the Messiah as a priest, he was also a King. So when Pontius Pilate asked Jesus if He was a King. He said, Yes I am and it is for this very reason why I came into this world! And it is no small coincidence that there was a sign posted above Jesus when He was crucified that stated that Jesus was the King of the Jews in 3 different languages. Jesus was a King and his first order of business was to save His people from their sins because His kingdom would be a kingdom of righteous people - people who could become true sons of God through the merits and sacrifice of Yeshua.
So I hope this discussion today helped to strengthen your faith and give you increased confidence that Jesus fulfilled ALL the prophesies. God bless you.
Virgin Birth (Postscript)
This is obviously describing something supernatural. It is scientifically impossible for a person to be born of a female without the male seed. Even if could get an egg to split and start growing, you would get a female because that being would only have the X chromosome. So obviously Isaiah is describing something spectacular by prophesying that the Messiah would be born of a virgin. By the way this is the very first messianic prophesy, you can find it hinted at in Gen 3:15.