One of the most amazing Messianic prophecies in all the Bible comes from Zechariah. And no, I am not referring to the famous verse from chapter nine quoted in Matthew 21.
Although this is a great prophecy, there is one more stunning that God gave to Zechariah. For rather than a prophecy about Jesus riding on a donkey, it is a prophecy about Jesus sitting on a throne. But He is not only sitting on the throne as king, which would be expected for the son of David; He is also sitting on the throne as priest, something unheard of in Israel.
The ruling structure of Israel had separate offices of king and priest. Priests were from the tribe of Levi. Kings were from the tribe of Judah. But when the Branch comes, according to Zechariah, He will combine the roles, and there will be peace between the two offices. These words of Zechariah are supported by a messianic psalm :
From the view of the Old Testament, when Messiah comes, He will be a king and a priest in the order of Melchizedek. He will not be a Levitical priest. And therefore it is anticipated that the Mosaic Law will come to an end and be replaced by the New Covenant, for why remove the priesthood from Levi unless great changes were going to occur?
In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews continues the discussion of this theme of Messiah as king/priest. The importance of this concept cannot be overstated, given the context of the Israel theocracy that was established through Moses. Age old structures, established by God, were changing, by God. The author goes to great lengths to explain that the changing of established structures was prophesied, and he further explains how the priesthood of Melchizedek exceeds the priesthood of Levi. His words are long and dense, but worth the read:
The book of Hebrews is called Hebrews for a reason. It wasn’t written for the pagan Gentile, although anyone in Christ benefits from reading it. It was written to Hebrews – those who knew the Law and who knew the intricacies and nuances of what was being written about. The author does well in explaining the logic of the king/priest role that Zechariah prophesied would come:
- The priests of old were based on bloodline. The sons of Levi were priests, and when a priest would die he was replaced by another son of Levi. Jesus, who is the eternal God-man, never needs to be replaced due to death, and therefore His priestly work exceeds that of Levi.
- The priests of old were sinners, and offered up sacrifices not only for the people, but for themselves. Jesus, the only man to ever be born under the Law and follow it without sin, has no need to repent of sins. And therefore His priestly work exceeds that of Levi. The priests of old were reminders of the sins of the people. The temple was nicknamed “the house of blood” due to the flow resulting from the sacrifices continually offered up. Jesus died once for all, and His blood was enough to end the daily sacrifice. The temple was no longer needed.
We can infer that the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy by Jesus was hard to grasp by Jewish converts, hence the explanation in the book of Hebrews. It is not easy to change, even with simple things on a personal level. Imagine how hard it must have been for the Hebrew Christians in the early church, to see the things that Moses wrote about (Levitical priesthood, sacrifices, etc.) going away. How hard must it have been to change their mindset, to change their understanding of God.
But, alas, if the teachers of that day cared more about the coming Messiah than creating a false law, and had taken to heart the prophecy of Zechariah, perhaps all of the Jews would have been better prepared to receive the words that the apostles taught about the Messiah, the one who combined the offices of king and priest, and who rules forever on His throne.