The Ongoing Priesthood of Jesus Christ

The kingdom of Christ and the kingship of Christ have received most scholarly attention in recent years.  (In truth, the kingdom of Christ has rightly received great emphasis since the Christ declared that the kingdom of God was drawing near).  Comparatively, the priesthood of Jesus Christ has often been slighted, misrepresented, or put in second (or third) place behind Christ’s status as king or prophet.  However, this ought not be so.

The New Testament frequently displays Christ doing priestly activities (atonement, intercession, teaching, etc.), and in places like Hebrews, the author displays him as the high priest par excellence.  On this important role, John Murray provided an insightful reflection on the “inter-permeation” between Christ’s priesthood and kingship.  While Christ’s kingship is often affirmed, it is often disfigured because of its separation from Christ’s kingdom.  Murray nicely unites the two.

In context, he points to 1 John 2:1-2; Rom 8:34; and Heb 7:24-25 as places where Christ’s ongoing priesthood is explicitly mentioned.  He argues that Christ’s priesthood should be recaptured if we are to fully appreciate the exalted work of Christ. Here is his main argument.

Truly Christ executes his kingly office as head over all things to his body the church. But Christ is a priest upon his throne, and we must not allow the consideration of his kingly office to eclipse that aspect of Christ’s heavenly activity with which we are now concerned. There is here an inter-permeation of the various offices. What we are concerned with now is to recognize that his specifically high priestly ministrations are more operative and pervasive in the church upon earth than we are frequently disposed to to appreciate. And when his specifically priestly function is duly appreciated, new perspectives are opened up in the interpretation of the activity of our exalted Lord. . . . This adds new richness to our conception of the relation he sustains to his people and enhances our understanding of the significance for us, as individual believers and as members of the body which is the church, of the activity which Christ in heaven continues to exercise in reference to God on behalf of those whom he has purchased with his blood (John Murray, “The Heavenly, Priestly Activity of Christ,” in Collected Works of John Murray, vol. 1 [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1976], 47).

In light of the attention given to the papal election of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church’s confused understanding of priesthood (and kingdom), it is vital that Protestants recapture a biblical understanding of priesthood.  It begins with understanding what Murray has argued.  We must understand how the ongoing priesthood of Christ, the priesthood of believers continue to this day and how those two realities are related.  Murray’s article is a helpful starting place.  Hopefully, in the days ahead, Protestants will be better equipped to affirm the finished work of Christ’s atonement and the ongoing work of his intercession and royal-priestly session.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

John Murray on Systematic and Biblical Theology

Writing on the relationship between systematic and biblical theology, John Murray writes with great balance, saying

Systematic theology is tied to exegesis.  It coordinates and synthesizes the whole witness of Scripture on the various topics with which it deals.  However, systematic theolgoy will fail of its task to the extent to which it discards its rootage in biblical theology as properly conceived and developed.  It might seem that an undue limitation is placed upon systematic theology by requiring that the exegesis with which it is so intimately concerned should be regulated by the principle of biblical theology.  And it might seem contrary to the canon so important to both exegesis and systematics, namely the analogy of Scripture.  These appearances do not correspond to reality.  The fact is that only when systematic theology is rooted in biblical theology does it exemplify its true function and achieve its purpose (John Murray, “Systematic Theology: Second Article,” WTJ 26, no. 1 (1963), 44-45).

Well said.

(HT: Brian Payne, from his doctoral dissertation, The Summing Up of All Things in Christ and the Restoration of Human Viceregency: Implications for Ecclesiology, SBTS 2008, p. 15)