Prophet, Priest and King
The Hidden Message in the Ascension Story
Today is Thursday, May 30, 2019 (Iyyar 25, 5779) Day 40 of the Omer.
The 40th Day of the Omer is kind of a big deal. Besides the significance of the number 40 all throughout Scripture, it is when we recognize the final day of Yeshua’s life on earth. That is, the Ascension. It’s worth noting that today is also “Ascension Day” on the Christian Calendar.
The author Luke describes this event in two distinct ways: at the end of the Gospel of Luke, and at the beginning of Acts of the Apostles. Here’s what they look like when the two narratives are combined in a rational way. (The plain text is from Acts 1:1-2 and 6-11, the boldface text is from Luke 24:49-51)
I wrote the first volume, Theophilus, about all that Yeshua began to do and teach—up to the day He was taken up, after He had given orders by the Ruach ha-Kodesh to the emissaries He had chosen.
When [the Twelve] gathered together, they asked Him, “Lord, are You restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” He said to them, “It is not your place to know the times or seasons which the Father has placed under His own control. Behold, I am sending the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high, when the Ruach ha-Kodesh has come upon you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and through all Judah, and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
After saying all this, Yeshua led them out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them. And while blessing them, He departed from them and was taken up into heaven, and—while they were watching—a cloud received Him out of their sight. While they were staring into heaven as He went up, suddenly two men stood with them in white clothing. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you keep standing here staring into heaven? This Yeshua, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.”
When the accounts are combined, two things start to come into focus:
- Even on his last day, Yeshua’s disciples were still confused about his mission. (To me, they sound like children in the back seat asking, “Are we there yet?”)
- Upon his departure from earth, Yeshua wanted them (and us) to recognize his eternal role as prophet, priest and king.
In order to help his disciples understand what history-altering events were about to take place, he needed to remind them of his three-fold purpose. Although he did so implicitly, it’s not hard to see when we look a little closer. Let’s tackle them one at a time.
Yeshua the Prophet (like Elijah)
The first five verses of Acts emphasize Yeshua’s ministry on earth, namely: his miraculous works, his teaching, his knowledge of the forthcoming work of God, and his commissioning of chosen apprentices to take up his mantle. These are all activities of a prophet, as he walks back and forth at the urging of the Spirit. The prophet Elijah, for example, is famous for performing miracles in God’s name, teaching the people, announcing God’s works, and passing his role on to an appointed successor, Elisha.
The comparison to Elijah is especially vivid in the account of the Ascension. After all, Elijah ended his time on earth by being swept up into heaven, leaving his apprentice staring up in awe. Elijah promised Elisha that he would receive a double portion of his spirit, after telling him to ask for anything he wanted. (2 Kings 2:9-10) Likewise, Yeshua said “He who puts his trust in Me, the works that I do he will do; and greater than these he will do, because I am going to the Father … If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:12,14)
After Elijah departed, other prophets observed that “the spirit of Elijah has rested on Elisha.” (2 Kings 2:15) Likewise, after Yeshua went to the Father, his disciples were filled with his Spirit—the Ruach ha-Kodesh. Elisha was commissioned and empowered to carry on and expand the work of his mentor, just like Yeshua’s disciples (including us) are commissioned and empowered to carry on the prophetic role of Yeshua in the world: to do good works, to teach truth, and to make more disciples everywhere we go.
Yeshua the Priest (like Melchizedek)
In the third verse of Acts, Yeshua is identified as the great sacrifice, and in Luke 24:50 (immediately prior to his ascension) he offers a blessing with lifted hands. Both of these point toward Yeshua’s priestly role.
Like Acts 1:3, Hebrews 5:8 highlights the “suffering” of Yeshua, thus revealing the uniqueness of Yeshua’s priestly ministry. Not only did he stand up to serve, and offer the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, that sacrifice was his very own life. Yeshua is both the ultimate offerer and the ultimate offering. Thus, Hebrews identifies him as our “Great High Priest” in the order of Melchizedek. Jesus, as a member of the tribe of Judah, was not qualified for the Levitical priesthood. But Hebrews asserts that he instead belongs to an older and higher order of the priesthood than that of Levi: Melchizedek.
The other clue to Yeshua’s priesthood lies in the blessing he offers his disciples. We already know that every Jewish blessing begins with “Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheynu Melech haOlam…” or in English, “Blessed are you, Adonai our God, King of the Universe…” But there is a special blessing, which is the only one known to involve the lifting of hands over the blessing’s recipients, as Yeshua did. That is, the Aaronic blessing, also known as the priestly blessing, from Numbers 6:24-26.
Adonai bless you and keep you! Adonai make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you! Adonai turn His face toward you and grant you shalom!
This is the blessing that Aaron and his descendants were to say over the Israelites. It was said every morning after the sacrifice and it is a traditional way for many synagogues today to end their services. It has been used in the Catholic Church since the first centuries AD, and is in use in many liturgical traditions such as Anglican and Lutheran.
It would not have escaped a group of Jewish disciples that Yeshua, by blessing them in this way, was asserting and fulfilling his priestly role, in his final moment on earth. But, as with the unique sacrifice mentioned above, Yeshua is unlike other priests in this respect as well. Although he is superior to all priests—and indeed, to all humanity—he is able to relate to us in our human experience. (Hebrews 4:15)
Yeshua can relate to our struggles in a very personal way. I find it enormously comforting knowing that he understands. He has stood where I stand; he has experienced the highs and lows of life, the challenges and the successes, the joys and the sorrows. And yet, he experienced all this without sinning.
Although we humans are walking victims of our own sinfulness, we can hold fast to our confession and pray with boldness, because our faith is anchored in the firstborn over all creation—the Perfect Priest who serves as the perfecter of our own faith as well. In him, we are part of a new covenant, a new family, and ultimately, a new creation.
Yeshua the King (like David)
Judging by their hasty question in Acts 1:6, Yeshua’s disciples would have liked to mark the 40th day of the Omer with a decisive victory over Herod and Caesar, thus “restoring the kingdom to Israel”. Yeshua could have answered this question in a lot of ways, such as “The kingdom will never be restored to Israel” or “what makes you think of me as a king?” but he didn’t. Yeshua didn’t dismiss their hope, he simply corrected their perception of timing. Will it happen “at this time?” they asked. And Yeshua says that the time is not for them to know, implying that the event will indeed take place. This is an affirmation of Yeshua’s royal privilege, and royal destiny.
I mentioned above that virtually every Jewish blessing begins with a recognition of God as “King of the Universe”. If we go back to Hebrews 4 and 5 again (4:14, 5:5, as well as all the places where Yeshua calls God “Father”) we see that Yeshua is the “Son of God”. Therefore, he is the Son of the King of the Universe, and therefore, rightful heir to the throne of the Universe.
Yeshua’s favorite subject to teach about was the Kingdom of God. I have to wonder if, every time his disciples heard that word, they imagined him sitting on David’s throne, out from under the thumb of Herod, and Caesar, uniting the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah once again under a single crown. After all, didn’t God promise David to “establish his throne forever?” (2 Samuel 7:16) And doesn’t Yeshua quote David (Psalm 110:1) in asserting that he is both David’s descendant and David’s master?
This is all true, but the disciples were dreaming small. They couldn’t overcome their anti-occupation mindset to see that they had, right in front of them, the heir to the throne of the Universe. And that, in ascending to heaven, he was going to sit down at the right hand of the Father, and claim his title. A King of the Universe must, by definition, be greater than a King of Israel. Greater than Herod, and greater than Caesar. He is the King of all kings (Isaiah 9:5-6) greater than all sovereigns of history combined. And this is confirmed in what Yeshua says next, that his disciples will be his witnesses in Jerusalem (of course), Judea (naturally), Samaria (that might work), and the ends of the earth (wait! What for?)
What the disciples may have missed, in that promise to establish David’s throne forever, is that the word forever doesn’t simply mean never-ending. It is “ad olam” repeated twice in the same breath, for emphasis. The word “olam” also means “world”, so the phrase may be most accurately translated “world without end.” Everything, for all of time. So in addition to an eternal promise, God is making a global promise to establish the throne of David, in Yeshua forever and ever, to the ends of the earth.
Walking, Standing, Sitting
A prophet walks. He moves around to do his work, wherever the Spirit leads.
A priest stands. He presides over the altar and serves the people by offering sacrifices there.
A king sits. When he arrives at his throne, he sits upon it to judge and rule his people.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, King of the Universe! And Blessed is Yeshua, the heir to that throne!
And as for you, reader: May Adonai bless you and keep you, this Ascension Day, and this 40th day of the Omer. May Adonai make His face to shine on you and be gracious to you. May Adonai turn His face toward you, and grant you shalom.