Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Messiah: King, Prophet, Priest, Lord and God

Following the publication of the book, The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism - Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, back in 1998, there has been considerable interest among Biblical scholars concerning the concept of a coming eschatological messiah (i.e. anointed one) alluded to in the Old Testament, and inter-testamental literature. From the preface of this book, we read:

In many ways, this volume is an extension – and specific application – of the of the Divine Mediator Figure Group at the Society of Biblical Literature. For seven years (1991 – 1997) many of the contributors for this work met annually to discuss developments and counter-developments of the phenomenon of divine mediation during the Greco-Roman period. (Page ix)

I have seen a number of the essays presented in the above tome quoted in literally dozens of books I have read read that discuss the themes of early Christology and/or Messiahship (and their related topics), since the book's publication. I would like to reserve the question of the veneration of Yahweh's mediating agents for a later post, and at this time discuss the attributes and titles of those agents—especially as it relates to the eschatological messianic figure(s) depicted in the OT and inter-testamental literature, which, of course, relates to the title of this thread.

I will begin my exploration into the topic of this thread by examining nomenclature concerning the Christian understanding of the Messiah (Gr. christos) as king, prophet, priest. That the Messiah would function as Yahweh's mediatorial agent in the capacity of king, prophet and priest, has its roots in the Old Testament, though it is distributed somewhat unevenly within its pages; and yet, prior to the New Testament one finds all three attributes/functions/offices tied together. Note the following extract from the famous Dead Sea Scroll document known as The Community Rule:

As for the property of the men of holiness who walk in perfection, it shall not be merged with that of the men of injustice who have not purified their life by separating themselves from iniquity and walking in the way of perfection. They shall not depart from none of the counsels of the Law to walk in all the stubbornness of their hearts, but shall be ruled by the primitive precepts in which the men of the Community were first instructed until there shall come the Prophet and the Messiahs of Aaron and Israel. (1QS ix.9-11, trans. Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls, 1997, p. 110 - bold emphasis mine.)

Commenting on this passage, the esteemed Biblical scholar, Joseph E. Fitzmyer wrote:

Here one finds an affirmation of the community's expectation of three coming figures: a prophet (undoubtedly a prophet like Moses, an allusion to Deut. 18:15, 18), a (priestly) Messiah of Aaron, and a (kingly) Messiah of Israel, who are all to be God's agents for the deliverance of His people. Such an affirmation has to be seen as a development beyond that of Dan. 9:25, where the coming Anointed One was expressed as ער משיח נגיר, "up until an Anointed One, a prince." (The One Who Is to Come, p. 89.)

The expectation of three eschatological figures is not unique to the DSS literature; in the New Testament we read:

And they asked him, and said to him, "Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" (John 1:25 - NASB)

And just a few verses later:

Nathanael answered Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel." (John 1:49 - NASB)

Turning now to the Old Testament, the 'seeds' for the view that the one who sits on the Davidic throne is not only king, but also a "son of God", a "prophet", a "priest", "lord" and even "God", are detected. We shall begin with Psalm 110:1-5:

Jehovah saith unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, Until I make thine enemies thy footstool. Jehovah will send forth the rod of thy strength out of Zion: Rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. Thy people offer themselves willingly In the day of thy power, in holy array: Out of the womb of the morning Thou hast the dew of thy youth. Jehovah hath sworn, and will not repent: Thou art a priest for ever After the order of Melchizedek. The Lord at thy right hand Will strike through kings in the day of his wrath. (ASV)

Psalm 45: 6, 7:

Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: A sceptre of equity is the sceptre of thy kingdom. hou hast loved righteousness, and hated wickedness: Therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee With the oil of gladness above thy fellows.

Psalm 2:2, 6, 7, 12:

The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against Jehovah, and against his anointed... Yet I have set my king Upon my holy hill of Zion... I will tell of the decree: Jehovah said unto me, Thou art my son; This day have I begotten thee... Kiss the son, lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way, For his wrath will soon be kindled. Blessed are all they that take refuge in him. (ASV)

In the above verses, the eschatological Davidic king is termed, "my [God's] son", "priest", "lord" and "God". I am not cognizant of any OT passage that explicitly identifies any Davidic king (past or future) as a "prophet", however, in the NT we read:

"Brethren, I may confidently say to you regarding the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. And so, because he was a prophet, and knew that GOD HAD SWORN TO HIM WITH AN OATH TO SEAT one OF HIS DESCENDANTS UPON HIS THRONE..." (Acts 2:29, 30 - NASB—see also 2 Sam. 23: 1,2; Matt. 22:43; Acts 1:16; 2:25-28.)

Conclusion/s: I think it is accurate to state that the attributes/titles most Christians identify with Jesus as the promised Messiah (as expounded in the NT), find their roots in the OT, and were cognizant on the minds of others besides the early Christians. Further, all of these attributes/titles concerning the Messiah seem to be linked to the Davidic monarchy, and are identified not only with certain past kings, but also with a future, unnamed, eschatological king.

Grace and peace,



Lvka said...

Knock yourself out!

[The identification of the king with the priest came as a result of the Maccabean/Hasmonean priest-kingly dinasty].

David Waltz said...

Hi Lvka,

Thanks much for the link; I need to admit though that I was already aware of this incredible site, and have downloaded the essays to my harddrive. However, thanks to your prompting, I will add the site to the Catholic/EO links section on AF.

God bless,