For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” — Hebrews 7.17
“Mark Twain is supposed to have said, ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes,’” reflects filmmaker Ken Burns—before adding, “He didn’t say it, but I love that.” Like all powerful storytellers, Burns looks to the past to clarify the present; “If you know your past, you’re much better armed to deal with the present and the future.”
Ancient cultures were guided from three powerful positions. It was the king’s role to provide and enforce the law; the priest stood between the god(s) and the people; the prophet brought the people hope. The book of Hebrews builds the argument that Christ fills all three roles.
Modern rejections of Christ are primarily reactions to his role as king and priest. No one really takes time to argue about Christ as a prophet. Perhaps this is because anyone can walk out of the woods, eat a handful of locusts for lunch, and claim to speak for god. Maybe it’s because so many have done so throughout history it has become easy to ignore.
But if Christ is king, he is owed allegiance. The implication is that you and I cannot self-actualize. The only way to succeed in this life is to pledge ourselves to someone who transcends our brokenness, heals our wounds, and holds us to his standard.
If Christ is a great high priest, he is the only access we have to God. All of our prayers, hopes, repentance, and joys must be channeled through him—you and I are insufficient for finding and communing with God on our own.
There is a wonderful balance in Christ serving as king, priest, and prophet. We miss the power in Christ’s work when we try to understand it through only one of these roles. The king brings the law—declares the truth—but if the only way to relate to God is through the law we become entangled in legalism.
Similarly, the priest stands as a comforter—but if God is just our comforter, religion is reduced to emotionalism, never moving us past our own “skull-sized kingdoms” and bringing hope and life to the world.
And if Christ is only a prophet, he says inspiring and helpful things, but is powerless to bring justice, peace, beauty, renewal, and new life to our world. Though the metaphors of king, priest, and prophet are ancient, our hope and faith in Christ renews our lives and world at present.