Priest, Prophet and King in Matthew’s Gospel

In brief, this essay argues: Three roles coalesce in complete perfection in the person of Christ, as perfect priest, perfect prophet, and perfect king. He goes on to establish a community (the Church) led by men who are invested with this same authority, acting in the person of Christ, not merely on His behalf, but participating in the very ministry of Christ, such that Christ Himself ministers through them.

Authority, as the power to enforce obedience of some form,[1] is a prominent theme in Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew’s Hebraic focus leads him to zone in on the kinds of authority,[2] and the manifestations thereof, that were held to be important by the Jews, so that the fullness of Christ’s authority may be both appreciated and accepted. This sees three roles coalesce in complete perfection in the person of Christ, as perfect priest, perfect prophet, and perfect king. He wields absolute authority in each of these spheres, which unfold in the actions of sanctifying, teaching and governing. The perfect fulfilment of these offices is grounded in Who He is, a fact which Matthew utilises to do a double implication: His identity points to this threefold authority, and the threefold authority points to His identity. This paper will argue that not only does Jesus satisfy in abundance the expectations of Israel regarding the fulfilment of these important roles, but that He goes on to establish a community (the Church) led by men who are invested with this same authority, acting in the person of Christ, not merely on His behalf, but participating in the very ministry of Christ, such that Christ Himself ministers through them.

The prophet is called specifically by God, and given a mandate to stand in His presence, receive His message, and then to proclaim His word to Israel, with the purpose of restoration of their relationship.[3] His authority stems both from his unique call and the fact that the message he proclaims is spoken on God’s behalf. The essence of his authority lies in compelling Israel to take his words to heart, or, internal obedience.[4] Jesus is the perfect prophet, because He is God Himself, His Word incarnate,[5] and thus, in His Person and in His preaching,[6] He is God’s ultimate revelation.[7] His very being is the restoration proclaimed by the prophets,[8] and His coming heralds the advent of the long foretold “day of the Lord”.[9] Matthew reveals that the Jewish people were awaiting a “new Moses”,[10] to be heralded by the return of Elijah.[11] As the quintessential prophets, this new prophet was therefore to be even greater than either of them.[12] Seeing Christ in this light paves the way for His teaching to be taken as authoritative.[13]

Matthew depicts Jesus teaching authoritatively throughout his Gospel, in accordance with His possession of this perfection of prophetic ministry. While this authority rests ultimately on His identity as the Son of God, it is presented to the Jewish audience in the context of the new Moses. Matthew points to this by showing parallels between Moses and Christ: a particular example is His giving of the new Law. He taught the crowds from a mountain,[14] sitting down,[15] surrounded by His disciples (that is, a specific group that listen attentively to His teaching),[16] all signs that what He is about to say is to be received seriously. The titles given to Jesus also reveal something of the nature of His authority. These include “teacher”,[17] “Master”,[18] and “prophet”,[19] which Jesus accepts as appropriate.[20] It is worth noting that there is a certain irony in the Pharisees’ claim that they would not have killed the prophets if they had lived contemporaneously to them,[21] since they end up killing The Prophet, whom the prophets foretold, thus proving their inability to recognise God’s chosen messengers, a quality Jesus condemns. As the personification of prophecy, Christ is therefore able to charge others to spread the good news.

Jesus invests His Apostles with this prophetic teaching authority. He entrusts to them a participation in His own mission, sending them out to preach the Kingdom of Heaven, and repentance, with the stamp of His own authority.[22] He also gives them “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity”;[23] in other words, to perform the same actions that He has been carrying out up to this point, at the service of the proclamation of God’s kingdom. Twice He uses the rabbinic teaching terms to “bind and loose”,[24] once to Peter, and once to all the Apostles.[25] Finally, as He left them, Jesus states that as “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” to Him, the Apostles ought therefore to go baptising and teaching.[26] Each incident relating to Apostolic teaching authority explicitly ties their authority to that of Christ.[27]

A king functions as the leader and ruler of a nation. God alone reigned as Israel’s king originally, but they desired an earthly king, which He granted them,[28] with the provision that this king did not take His place, but acted in His stead.[29] The Israelite king had authority because God anointed him,[30] and this authority consisted of the power to enforce external, civil obedience, in appropriate alignment with the law of God. Matthew begins his Gospel by making Christ’s claim to kingship clear, with a genealogy of Christ, the focal point of which is King David.[31] Christ is depicted as the “Son of David”,[32] namely, the descendent promised to Israel who would rule forever.[33] The titles “Son of David” and “Son of God” both allude to the kingship of Christ, as the king of Israel was said to be God’s son.[34] His title of “the Christ” means “the anointed one”, that is, the one anointed to be king; and He is indeed anointed, by the Holy Spirit.[35] Jesus makes constant reference to the “kingdom of heaven”,[36] of which He is the king. As He entered Jerusalem a week before His death, His kingly arrival fulfilled prophecy.[37] He draws on images from the prophetic writings, such as Daniel, making reference to the “Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven”,[38] which evokes the notion of eternal kingship.[39] Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which, as Matthew points out, was the place where the ruler of Israel was to come from.[40] The wise men realise that He is the “king of the Jews”, but Israel fails to do so, leading the chief priests and scribes to go along with the Roman soldiers’ mockery of Him for His claim with a crown of thorns before executing Him.[41] Matthew thus portrays Jesus as the promised eternal royal messiah, the anointed One, God Himself Who has come to dwell among His people.

In the Gospel of Matthew we also see Christ exercising this kingly authority. With His words, Christ commands power over demonic forces, over nature, and heals with apparent effortlessness, often with but a single word.[42] His authority to govern is also manifested in the setting up of the earthly structure of His heavenly kingdom, the Church. The twelve Apostles are to sit on twelve thrones, while the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.[43] Just as the Davidic kingdom had a steward, entrusted with the keys by the king, and to manage his affairs for Him, so Christ established a similar role, in the person of Peter. Mt. 16:19 bears striking similarity to Is. 22:22, in which the king is to place on the new steward’s shoulder the key to the house of David, and “he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open”, with binding and loosing instead of opening and shutting.[44] The role of the king is often tied to that of a shepherd in Scripture,[45] and thus images of Christ as shepherd are used to show what kind of king He is,[46] and what kind of governance the Apostles ought to carry out, that is, leadership in service. This is made explicit when Christ contrasts the behaviour of worldly leaders with how His Apostles are to lead, with the upshot being that to lead is to give one’s life in service.[47] Many parables told by Christ feature a king or master, and his steward or stewards, and their treatment of what has been entrusted to them, demonstrating how Jesus wishes His kingdom to function.[48] Hence the Apostles’ ruling authority is utterly dependent upon Christ’s authority as king, and the king Himself established the hierarchical structure of His Church as the earthly manifestation of His kingly authority.

The priest acts as the bridge between God and man, in that he stands before God on behalf of Israel, and stands before Israel on behalf of God.[49] He has this authority because God has granted him the privilege of being a specific means through which He will give His grace and holiness to His people.[50] For Israel, the temple, the priest, and sacrifices were distinct objects that were nevertheless intimately connected. Jesus intensifies this connection by being all of them simultaneously. Matthew reveals that Christ, as God,[51] is both perfect priest (the one who offers) and perfect sacrifice, since the pure and holy sacrifice He offers is His own self.[52] Jesus identifies the temple with His own body,[53] and even goes so far as to claim that “something greater than the temple is here”.[54] His Body is the temple because He is the very presence of God among His people, reflected in His name, “Emmanuel”.[55] Christ therefore also possesses the fullness of priestly authority that comes with the fulfilment of the priestly office.

The priest has the authority to sanctify, or to make holy.[56] One’s holiness or lack therefore and one’s relationship with God are closely connected.[57] Matthew presents the restoration of man’s relationship with God as Christ’s chief concern, indeed the entire purpose of His mission. He twice quotes “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice”,[58] from the prophet Hosea.[59] He means by this to call for a return to the heart of the law, which is about love of God and love of neighbour.[60] The offering of sacrifices ought to reflect and reinforce this love, and when they coexist with hypocrisy, they are essentially a lie. Christ’s death took place for the forgiveness of sins.[61] This made all forgiveness possible, but it still had to take place on the individual, personal level. He, as God, was able to forgive the sins of men,[62] and the Jews rightly understood this to be a claim to be God, since only God can forgive sins.[63] Clearly, then, Christ’s priesthood, as are His other offices, is fundamentally grounded in His identity as God made man.

Christ invites His Apostles to participate in His priestly ministry through Matthew’s Gospel. In both of the accounts of the multiplication of the loaves, the Apostles participate in the miracle itself by distributing the food after Jesus has blessed it, and the precise moment at which the multiplication happened is not specified.[64] He goes on to institute the Eucharist at the Last Supper, instituting the New Covenant priesthood.[65] The power to heal and cast out demons that He bestows upon them is not purely for the physical healing of people, nor for the sake of miraculous signs in themselves. These restore individuals to a state in which they may once again enjoy full communion with the Jewish community, and therefore also enter the temple, and receive the fullness of the relationship with God that He desires them to have.[66] Since this priesthood of Christ is of its very nature incorporative of both and victim, His Apostles must be ready to partake also in His sufferings.[67] He refers to this as His “baptism”, since His own baptism is intimately connected to His redemptive work.[68] He then later commands the Apostles to baptise all nations,[69] an act which, in continuity with John’s baptism, is for the forgiveness of sins,[70] and is the beginning of the work of sanctification.[71] Thus the Apostles’ participating in Christ’s priesthood is expressed in a distinctively sacramental way.[72]

In conclusion, Matthew depicts Jesus taking up the offices of priest, prophet and king established in the Old Testament, and, since He is God, fulfils and transforms them in the very act of taking them on. He establishes His kingdom, with positions of leadership, and those in these positions participate in each of these offices. The different kinds of authoritative power associated with each office together cover the fullness of authority Christ possesses as God, that is, to demand authentic love of God, involving an integration of one’s heart and one’s actions, and to impart His forgiveness and reconciliation at will, along with complete command over all created things, both visible and invisible. He uses this immense divine authority not to dominate humanity, but to generously and lovingly offer us salvation, by establishing the Church, through which He teaches, governs and sanctifies us.

+AMDG

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

Brown, Raymond., Fitzmeyer, Joseph., Murphy, Roland. (Eds.), New Jerome Biblical Commentary (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1990)

Casciaro, Jose Maria. (Ed.), The Navarre Bible- Major Prophets (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005)

Casciaro, Jose Maria. (Ed.), The Navarre Bible- St Matthew (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005)

Guthrie, Donald., New Testament Introduction (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1971)

Hahn, Scott., Catholic Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday Religion, 2009)

Harrington, Daniel., The Synoptic Gospels Set Free (New York: Paulist Press, 2009)

 

Heschel, Abraham.,The Prophets Vol. 1 (Hendrickson Publishers: Peabody, Massachusetts, 1962)

 

Kleinig, John., Leviticus (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2003)

Murray, James., Bradley, Henry., Craigie, W. A., & Onions, C. T. (Eds.), The Oxford English Dictionary Vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933)

 

Pitre, Brant., Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (New York: Doubleday, 2011)

 

Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth- From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (New York: Image, 2007)

 

Ray, Stephen., Upon this Rock (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999)

 

Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, (4 December1963)

<http://www.vatican.va/&gt; (accessed 11 Oct 2013)

The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Volumes 1-6), David Noel Freedman (Ed.) (London: Yale University Press, 1992)

The Catholic Bible Concordance Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition C.W. Lyons and Thomas Deliduka (compilers) (Steubenville: Emmaus Road Publishing, 2009)

The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)

REFERENCE LIST:

 

Brown, Raymond., Fitzmeyer, Joseph., Murphy, Roland. (Eds.), New Jerome Biblical Commentary (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1990)

 

Casciaro, Jose Maria. (Ed.), The Navarre Bible- Major Prophets (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005)

Casciaro, Jose Maria. (Ed.), The Navarre Bible- St Matthew (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2005)

Hahn, Scott., Catholic Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday Religion, 2009)

 

Kleinig, John., Leviticus (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2003)

Murray, James., Bradley, Henry., Craigie, W. A., & Onions, C. T. (Eds.), The Oxford English Dictionary Vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1933)

 

Pitre, Brant., Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (New York: Doubleday, 2011)

 

Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth- From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (New York: Image, 2007)

 

Ray, Stephen., Upon this Rock (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999)

 

Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, (4 December1963)

<http://www.vatican.va/&gt; (accessed 11 Oct 2013)

The Holy Bible Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004)


[1] The Oxford English Dictionary Vol. 1, p. 572

[2] Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmeyer, Roland Murphy (Eds.), New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 631

[3] Scott Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, pp. 733-35

[4] This can be demanded because what the prophet asks (which always amounts to turning away from evil and loving God), is actually God’s request, and He is certainly entitled to make such a request. This kind of obedience is to be contrasted with the obedience owed to kings, which is external

[5] Jn. 1:1(NB: unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references will be from the Revised Standard Version)

[6] His Person is uniquely chosen: Mt. 12:18 quotes Is. 42:1; His message is eternal: Mt. 24:25: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” His message is actually His very self, and what His incarnation is all about

[7] Mt. 17:5

[8] Matthew makes this claim by inserting frequent quotes from the prophets (such as Mt. 1:22-23, Mt. 2:15, Mt. 2:17-18, Mt. 13:35, Mt. 21:4-5, Mt. 27:9-10), and by quoting Jesus as saying Himself that this was done to “fulfill the Scriptures” (as in Mt. 5:17, Mt. 13:14-15, Mt. 26:56)

[9] On this day the Lord Himself will come to set things right (E.g. Amos 4:12, Jer. 46:10, Zech. 9:16)

[10] Deut. 18:15-18; Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, p. 27

[11] Mal. 4:1-6; Mt. 17:10-13

[12] Since “Old Testament prefigurations (known as types) are never greater than their New Testament fulfillments (known as antitypes).” Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, p. 103

[13] By “teaching”, we mean to also encompass preaching, proclamation, and instruction, which the prophet may carry out by oral preaching, symbolic acts, or even his very life

[14] The mention of the mountain is reminiscent of Moses, who went up Mt. Sinai to receive the Law (Ex. 24:16-18); Jesus also teaches from a mountain in Mt. 15:29

[15] “To sit” is to teach with authority. The association between sitting and teaching is made by Christ in Mt 23:2, in which He says that those who sit on Moses’ seat ought to be listened to- Stephen Ray, Upon this Rock, p. 47; Jesus sits to teach elsewhere in Matthew (Mt. 13:1-2, Mt. 15:29, Mt. 26:55)

[16] Mt. 5:1

[17] Mt. 8:19, 12:38, 19:16, 22:16, 22:24, 22:36, 26:18

[18] Mt. 26:49

[19] Mt. 21:11, 46; in other Gospels He is also called “rabbi”, such as in Jn. 1:38, which explains that it also means “teacher”

[20] He never contradicts people’s use of these titles for Him; Jn. 13:13-14

[21] Mt. 23:29-31

[22] Mt. 10:40

[23] Mt. 10:1

[24] Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmeyer, Roland Murphy (Eds.), New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 659

[25] Mt. 16:19 and Mt. 18:18 respectively

[26] Mt. 28:18-20

[27] In each of the “binding and loosing” episodes, Christ makes reference to His own authority coming from His Father “in heaven.” (Mt. 18:19,  Mt. 16:17)

[28] 1 Sam. 8:4-22

[29] Scott Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary, p. 504; Deut. 17:16-20

[30] 1 Sam. 10:1, 1 Sam. 16:13, 1 Kgs. 1:34, 1 Kgs. 19:16, 2 Kgs. 9:6, 2 Kgs. 11:12

[31] He is revered as the greatest king Israel has ever known, because of the way he “walked before the Lord” (1 Kgs. 3:6, 1 Kgs. 8:25, 2 Chr. 6:16)

[32] Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmeyer, Roland Murphy (Eds.), New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 635

[33] 2 Sam. 7:10-16; Lk. 1:30-33

[34] Ps. 2:7- Likely to be a coronation psalm, thus the “you” here refers to the king; Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmeyer, Roland Murphy (Eds.), New Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 527

[35] Mt. 3:16

[36] E.g. Mt. 4:17,  Mt. 19:14

[37] Mt. 21:1-11

[38] Mt. 24:30-31, Mt. 26:63-64

[39] Dan. 7:13-14

[40] Mt. 2:2-6

[41] Mt. 27:27-29, 41-43

[42] E.g. Mt. 4:24, Mt. 8:16, Mt. 8:13, Mt. 8:26, Mt. 8:32, Mt. 9:2-8, Mt. 9:20-22, Mt. 9:28-30, Mt. 15:33-38

[43] Mt. 19:28; this image is repeated in Rev. 4:2-4

[44] Stephen Ray, Upon this Rock, pp. 271-280; the question of Apostolic and Papal succession is related to the discussion at hand, but due to space restrictions will not be dealt with in this paper

[45] 2 Sam. 5:2 (it is worth noting that before he was a king, David was an actual shepherd); the prophets often associate this shepherd-like king with the promised royal messiah, and with God Himself (who is the true king), e.g. Ezek. 37:24, Ezek. 34:15, Is. 40:11, Mic. 7:14

[46] Mt. 35:32, Mt. 26:31, Mt. 9:36, Mt. 10:6, Mt. 18:13-14

[47] Mt. 20:25-28

[48] These include: Mt. 18:23-36, Mt. 22:1-14, Mt. 24:45-51, Mt. 25:14-30

[49] He does this through offering sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins, making the ongoing relationship between God and Israel possible, as well as offering prayer. These take place primarily in the Temple, wherein dwells the very presence of God; John Kleinig, Leviticus, pp. 1-24

[50] The Israelite priest must continually offer sacrifices because both he and the sacrifices are imperfect, and therefore inadequate for proper worship of God, and lasting, transformative, sanctification (Heb. 10:1)

[51] Mt. 17:5

[52] Matthew shows that what looked like an execution was in fact a sacrifice, by connecting it with the Passover. Matthew shows that what looked like an execution was in fact a sacrifice, by connecting it with the Passover. Jesus began His sacrifice at the Last Supper, using sacrificial and covenantal language, revealing that He is offering Himself for the world’s sins. (Mt. 26:28) It is given in the context of the Passover sacrifice, revealing Jesus to be the Passover lamb (which is noticeably absent from the account). Jesus repeatedly told His Apostles this must take place. (Mt. 16:21, Mt. 17:12, Mt. 12:40)

[53] Mt. 27:40; what He meant is clarified in Jn. 2:19-22

[54] Mt. 12:6

[55] Mt. 1:23

[56] He does this by acting as the means by which people receive forgiveness, making it possible for Israelites to enter God’s holy presence in the Temple, thereby becoming holy themselves. Through the Temple and the divine liturgy carried out there, the whole people of God were made holy, within their holy land; John Kleinig, Leviticus, pp. 1-24

[57] John Kleing, Leviticus, pp.3-4: “Since he was holy and his people were sinful, his mere presence presented a danger to them. By itself it was never neutral, for he was present with them either in life-giving grace or in deadly wrath… thus God established the ritual for the daily sacrifice to give the people safe access to him and his blessings.” In other words, the people had to be ritually clean or pure in order to be in God’s holy presence and share in his holiness. Falling into a state of uncleanness or impurity resulted in loss of one’s holiness, and one needed to become pure again. Hence, to remain holy is equivalent to remaining in relationship with God.

[58] Hos. 6:6

[59] Mt. 9:13 and Mt. 12:7 respectively

[60] Mt. 22:35-40; Jose Maria Casciaro (Ed.), The Navarre Bible- St Matthew, p. 96

[61] Mt. 26:28

[62] Including the tax collector Matthew’s- Mt. 9:9

[63] He explicitly gives this ability to the Apostles in Jn. 20:23

[64] Mt. 14:19, Mt. 15:36

[65] Mt. 26:26-29

[66] John Kleinig, Leviticus, pp. 1-24

[67] Mk. 10:38-39, paralleled with Mt. 20:23

[68] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth- From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, pp. 18-19 ; Rom. 6

[69] Mt. 28:19

[70] Mt. 3:1-6

[71] Rom. 6:4, 1 Pet. 3:21, Eph. 5:26, Tit. 3:5, 1 Cor. 6:11

[72] Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, 7

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