Image-Bearers: Priests and Kings

As believing Bible students steadily acquire a panoramic perspective of major Scriptural themes, the view is amazing when more of the interconnectedness of God’s pervasive purposes comes into focus! For example, the new and future way to be human in the Messiah is truly a way that gets back to the original purpose of God-designed humanity!

To the one who loves us and has released us from our sins by his own blood, and has made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father – glory and the dominion be to him forever. Amen. (Revelation 1:5b, 6 – KGV)

“You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals because you were slaughtered, and with your own blood you have ransomed people for God. These are from every tribe, language, nation, and race. You have made them a kingdom and priests for our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9b, 10 – KGV)

Blessed and holy is everyone who has a share in the first resurrection! Over such ones the second death has no authority, but they will be priests of God and of the Messiah, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:6 – KGV)

His servants will devotedly serve Him …. And they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:3b, 5b – KGV)

Through Jesus’ redemptive, sacrificial death, believers take on the wonderful vocation (at the future time of a new heaven and earth) of being priests who will reign (as a kingdom) with the Messiah on the earth. Interestingly, when humans were first created in God’s image or likeness (Genesis 1:26 -28) on God’s original, freshly created earth, they were to exercise “dominion” or “rule” over the animals, which had just been created by God. Adam and Eve were also to procreate and fill the earth.

After many centuries of severely limiting consequences of rebellion against God in ancient times, He was still able to raise up the people of Israel with the potential to be a “kingdom of priests.” “The priestly vocation consists of summing up the praises of creation before the Creator; the royal vocation, in turn, means reflecting God’s justice and wisdom into the world.” (1)

‘Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you will be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Exodus 19:5, 6a – NASB)

When Israel ultimately failed to stay faithful to Yahweh, by consistently breaking the primary old covenant commands to avoid idolatry, Yahweh promised a “new covenant” with the house of Israel in Jeremiah 31:31-34. This new covenant, to be written within them on their heart, was rooted in forgiving their iniquity and remembering their sin no more. The picture of the kingly priesthood (in Exodus 19) is later transferred to the redeemed ones (whether having been previously Jews or Gentiles) who have believed in the Messiah’s permanent, ultimate victory through his death and resurrection.

Like living stones yourselves, you are being built up into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices that will be well pleasing to God through Jesus the Messiah…. But you are a “chosen race; a royal priesthood”; a holy nation; a people for God’s possession. Your purpose is to announce the virtuous deeds of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. Once you were “no people”; now you are “God’s people.” Once you had not received mercy; now you have received mercy. (1Peter 2:5, 9, 10 – KNT)

Nowadays, when believers in the Messiah thankfully reflect the honor and praise that is due to the Father God (in thinking, words, and actions), they essentially “offer spiritual sacrifices” in a priestly way, while loving God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. When such believers also reflect the loving compassion that God works within them (in thinking, words, and actions) to minister to others, they function in their “royal” calling of humble, wise service, while loving their neighbors as themselves. That is exactly how Jesus himself, the masterfully perfect image-bearer (Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:2, 3; Phil. 2:5-8), truly lived! Of course, he is the representative Davidic king who is set to return and also the perfect high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Our future vocation as a “kingdom of priests” as joined along with him (as seen in the above quotes in the book of Revelation) is made possible since he ransomed people for God with his own blood.

So that believers not be presently distracted by modern perspectives about “priests” and “kings”, it might be good to consider a few points.

In many modern cultures, it might seem obvious that monarchies in recent centuries involved highly defective, unjust kings and queens, worthy to be replaced by potentially better forms of government. Interestingly, a broader overview of history shows that such monarchial corruption was already the case in older times. How damaging were Herod the Great and the series of Caesars in the Roman Empire? Even before those times, Israel’s (and Judah’s) ancient monarchies, permitted and established by Mosaic Law, were fraught with serious, harmful problems! On certain occasions, devastating errors occurred despite the Israelites having the best anointed kings possible! Nevertheless, Yahweh’s “big picture” solution to these historical deficiencies is not to permanently abolish monarchy itself. Yahweh’s final answer is the promise of the perfect ruler, the descendant of Jesse, whose reign will never involve being deceived by misleading appearances, as described in Isaiah 11:1-10.

We might notice parallel observations upon considering the historical realities of priests. Doesn’t the mere concept of “priests” for many people evoke the image of cruel, oppressive, religious tyrants? Even very recent, painful events have caused folks to associate priests with the most outrageous of scandalous behaviors. Notwithstanding, it can also be observed that the old covenant priesthood of Israel was a continual source of devastating injury. How corrupt were Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests who sought Jesus’ death? Nevertheless, God’s unique foresight, in providing the new covenant, replaced corrupt, defective priests with Messiah’s own perfectly untainted function as high priest!

Our hope is deeply rooted in being called in the Messiah – to be a real part of just, faithful, godly service without the deteriorated circumstances of the present age. The prophetic victory shout, “Your God reigns” (in Isaiah 52:7) is deeply relevant.

When things came to a head almost 2,000 years ago, extremely devious, envious religious leaders from Israel planned and clamored for Jesus’ death. Consequently, cruel, corrupt, self-serving Gentile politicians carried out Jesus’ brutal, painful torture and crucifixion. The evil, spiritual powers behind the scenes thought they were enjoying a field day at God’s expense! In their view, they had achieved a major victory! Little did they know….

 

Footnote:

  • T. Wright, (The Day the Revolution Began [Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion]) (New York: Harper Collins, 2016), 79.

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