Glimpses of the initial fulfillment of these roles can be seen throughout the life and work of Jesus; but what we do not always realize is that they all reach a climactic conclusion in the narratives of the crucifixion.
During his ministry, Jesus fulfilled the role of the “prophet like Moses” foretold in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 18:15-19 and compare John 1:45). It was clear to those who heard him that Jesus was a great prophet. “This is the prophet Jesus …” the crowds affirmed of him (Matthew 21:11 ESV) and “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14 ESV). But in his final hours, Jesus exercised his prophetic office to an unprecedented degree. He made dozens of prophecies in the hours leading up to his crucifixion, not only predicting details concerning his own death, but also events that would occur after it. We see many of these prophecies in the “Upper Room Discourse” of his final evening (John 13-18), but they continue up to moments before his death (Luke 23:43).
The role of Jesus as prophet that culminated in his crucifixion was certainly clear to his enemies. We should not forget that the soldiers who mocked and tortured him hailed him as a prophet when: “They blindfolded him and demanded, "Prophesy! Who hit you?” (Luke 22:64). As far as the Jewish religious authorities were concerned, they were crucifying a “false” prophet (John 7:52) – unaware that in reality they were condemning the very Prophet their scriptures foretold, and that in his death, this role would be affirmed (Matthew 23:37).
Jesus also fulfilled the role of the “priest like Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4 and compare Hebrews 7:17). As the New Testament shows us, he carried out this priestly ministry by making an atoning blood sacrifice for all people. This is made clear by the author of the Book of Hebrews who concludes: “Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:27).
This principle – of Christ fulfilling the role of priest by offering himself – is found throughout the letters of the apostles, as we see, for example, in the writings of Paul: “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith” (Romans 3:25), and of John: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). But we must not forget that although Christ offered his life from the beginning, it is in the crucifixion that this role was fulfilled. And we see other glimpses of the priestly aspect of the crucifixion in the fact that Jesus was crucified at 9 am (Mark 15:25), the time of the morning temple sacrifice, and died at 3 pm (Mark 15:33-38), exactly the hour of the afternoon sacrifice. It was also in his priestly role that Jesus offered a prayer from the cross on behalf of others –in this case his enemies, and by extension all of us (Luke 23:34).
Although Jesus only began to fulfill the role of the “King like David” in his earthly life (2 Samuel 7:8-16 and compare Luke 1:32), his role as a king is directly spelled out in the gospel accounts. He is identified as the king prophesied in the Old Testament throughout the Gospel of Matthew and also, occasionally, in the Gospel of John (John 12:15, 19:3, etc.). Even Mark, who mainly portrays Christ’s role as that of a servant, makes repeated reference to the kingship of Jesus in the passion narrative (Mark 15:2, 9, 17-18, 26, 32).
All four Gospels record the fact that Pilate referred to Jesus as the “King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:33) when he appeared before him. And all four Gospels record the fact that Pilate had “King of the Jews” inscribed above the crucified Jesus (Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:3).
The royal robe, scepter, and the crown of thorns, along with the title “King of the Jews” given to Jesus by the soldiers who mocked him (John 19:3), may have been given ironically, but they nevertheless were elements in the coronation of Jesus the king at his crucifixion – which foreshadowed his true coronation after his resurrection (Hebrews 2:9).
Three Roles Fulfilled
The offices of prophet, priest, and king that were foreshadowed by Jesus in his physical life all reached a high point of fulfillment in his death. Having prophesied the nature of his last hours, having served as a great priest in offering himself and praying for those he represented, and having been clothed, crowned, and hailed as a king, Jesus was finally enthroned on the cross. The crucifixion was not only the fulfillment of Christ’s atoning work on our behalf, but also it was the initial fulfillment, before the resurrection, of his three eternal roles of prophet, priest, and king.
*For more information on this topic, see our free e-book Inside the Four Gospels.