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  • Writer's pictureMcYoung Y. Yang

The Priesthood of the Saints: The Aim of Image Bearers Grafted into the Local Church


Back from the Beginning


God created humanity in His image (Gen. 1:26–28). Humanity’s being, consequently, is representative of the invisible God who within creation has been called to be a vice regent of the Creator Lord Himself; that is, man’s very being, i.e., his ontology, is symbolic of God’s reigning presence within creation.[1] Creation’s material existence is inherently designed to point back to its Creator (cf. Ps. 19:1–3; Rom. 1:19–20). Creation’s aim and purpose does not terminate upon itself. Rather, its creational telos is to showcase the wisdom, grandeur, and glory of its Creator. Additionally, man’s inherent being informs and instructs her function as a creature.[2] To this end, humanity’s function is apprised by her creational aim.[3] Or simply put, humanity’s function flows from her form—a form made in the image of God. This is why the Westminster Larger Catechism question 1 states, “What is the chief end of man?”, and is answered with the response, “Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy Him forever.”[4]

 

If who we have been created to be intuitively informs what we have been created to do, what biblical categories are provided to properly understand humanity’s function? Or said differently, what are we called to do? In addition, how does this impact our understanding of the people of God—the church (for further examination, click here)? 

 

Priesthood of the Saints 

 

The motif Scripture continually provides is mounted upon humanity’s priest/king role which is manifested in the creational order. The German Reformer himself—Martin Luther—demonstrates this notion through the doctrine of the priesthood of the saints when he states, 

[For] as priests we are worthy to appear before God to pray for others and to teach one another divine things. . . . Thus Christ has made it possible for us, provided we believe in Him, to be not only His brethren, co-heirs, and fellow-kings, but also His fellow priests. Therefore we may boldly come into the presence of God in the spirit of faith and cry ‘Abba, Father!’ pray for one another, and do all things which we see done and foreshadowed in the outer and visible work of priests.[5]

Simply put, Luther does not deem it theologically necessary to posture professional priests upon a higher spiritual caste system or pedestal than ordinary church members, though priest/pastors in his mind have genuine biblical functions. Quite the contrary, due to the saving work of Christ, faith grants all believers access into being what they have been created to be—priest/kings. At the root of this theological formation is the Apostle Peter’s claim that all believers are “being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood (Gk. ἱεράτευμα ἅγιον), to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 2:5). Thus, this blog article will strive to demonstrate that the priesthood of the saints as redeemed image bearers are marked off by their union with Christ which is expressed through them being (1) kings, (2) priests, and (3) prophets. Again, a believer’s union with Christ provides her the privilege to function representatively as a king, priest, and prophet. 

 

King of the Jungle. Humanity’s design is to reflect and image forth God’s kingly reign within the created order; that is, Adam was designed to have dominion rule in the garden sanctuary (cf. Gen. 1:26, 28). Image bearers, then, innately function as vice-regents. What are vice-regents? “Simply stated,” according to Benjamin L. Gladd, “vice regents rule on behalf of others; they do not rule independent of the supreme ruler.”[6] Therefore, Adam’s existence was a kingly existence contingent upon his covenantal relationship with the Creator God Himself. And, since he was a king, he was simultaneously a son.[7] This is indicative of the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) context where royalty would assume some sense of deity. For example, Pharoah was not merely the king of Egypt, but he embodied in himself, according to their understanding, some divine existence. Kings in the ANE were seen to be sons of God because of their royal prestige—their royal heritage. This further informs the notion that God’s covenant nation Israel was regarded as a son of God (cf. Ex. 4:22–23; Hos. 11:1; Ps. 80:15), King David himself was regarded as a son of God (Ps. 89:27), and the entrance of Christ Jesus into the tapestry of creation has Him being regarded as the Son of God (cf. Ps. 2:7; Rom. 1:3–4).

 

Therefore, those who have been redeemed through the blood of Christ are made sons and are commissioned to display God’s royal reign as His church—as His people—through the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:10; cf. Rom. 8:14–17, 19; Heb. 2:10, 17). Due to His vicarious obedience, which was divinely affirmed in His resurrection, Jesus has been assigned the kingdom of God (Lk. 22:29; cf. Jn. 17:6, 9, 24; Phil. 2:9–11; Jas. 2:7).[8] Our union with Him, in turn, provides grounds for the church to push this kingdom reign forward through the proclamation of the Gospel (cf. Rom. 8:17; Titus 3:7; Heb. 11:7). The people of God, likewise, become the vehicle by which God’s dominion reign is pressed forward through the heralding of Good News. All this to say, the church’s role is to abide in and expand the Savior’s kingly reign to the ends of the earth through being His priest/kings in Christ Jesus our Lord (cf. Matt. 28:18–20; Acts 1:8). 

 

Priestly Administrators of the Presence of God. Not only are the people of God to exercise a dominion reign, as vice regents of the covenant Creator, they are to administer His presence through a priestly task. In saying that, what is the role of a priest? As T. Desmond Alexander simply articulates, “the high priest is well-placed to mediate on behalf of the Israelites when their inappropriate actions threaten to undermine the covenant relationship. . . Having access to God, the high priest is ideally placed to intercede when the malevolent actions of others place them in jeopardy of divine anger.”[9] To this end, priests intercede on behalf of the people and meet face-to-face with the covenantal Lord Himself. They become a mediator by which covenant relationship is upheld and maintained. Accordingly, the author of Hebrews argues that Jesus Christ is the ultimate high priest for the elect in the new covenant (Heb. 9:15; cf. 7:13–17). Meaning, He intercedes for the sake of the people of God. The church, then, has a high priest who not only intercedes but offers Himself as the perfect sacrifice in atonement for reconciliation (Heb. 7:27). 

 

Consequently, the covenant community—through their union with Christ—function as priest who administer the presence of God to a dying and depraved world through the proclamation of the Gospel. This is manifested in two ways. First, the priestly task is accomplished through the preservation of the Gospel in the church; that is, church membership, congregational discipling, and church discipline function as a means to safeguard the Gospel propositionally (truth) and organically (deed). Secondly, the priestly task is governed by calling unbelievers to the Savior through trusting and having faith in His finished work. It is this presentation of Good News which saves sinners from damnation and transfers them into a covenant relationship with their Creator. The church functions, then, as the temple sanctuary indwelt by God’s covenantal presence which is expanding forth through the Good News of Christ.[10] Or as Mitchell Kim contends,

By our priestly task of keeping and guarding God’s Word in our heart, a priest task in which Adam failed, we can be faithful in the face of temptation and fulfill our priestly ministry in the temple. Through such priestly ministry, we convey God’s presence to those outside that temple in unbelief. As they trust Christ, they also become a part of the temple in Christ, expanding the size of the present temple.[11]

A Prophetic Voice as a Logocentric Community. That which is intrinsically tied to the responsibility and role of a priest/king is the glorious message of the covenantal Lord Himself. Meaning, the assignment attached to Adam’s mandate encompassed prophetic news which was to relay God’s very own self-revelation through the creational order. A prophet, as described by Brandon D. Crowe, “consistently [reminds] God’s people of God’s goodness to them and of their covenantal obligations, and they reprove them for their failure to walk according to the law of God. Yet they also look ahead in hope to the renewal of God’s kingdom and the people’s renewed obedience.”[12] The Adamic failure, then, is not merely due to his action in partaking the forbidden fruit, it consisted of the negligence to relay God’s command to his image-bearing helper herself. Eve’s confusion and editorial treatment of the commandment themselves demonstrate that Adam did not effectively relay God’s decree (Gen. 3:2–3). Similarly, Israel’s charge was to operate within a prophetic role in hosting and exhibiting the oracles of God (cf. Rom. 2:17-20; 3:2). Though Israel embodied such glorious responsibilities, her idolatrous tendencies propelled her toward divine judgment. In contrast, Jesus demonstrates covenantal faithfulness not only in His prophetic plea to herald the Gospel of the kingdom (Jn. 5:19–20; 12:49-50; cf. Matt. 5:17), but in being in Himself the Logos (Jn. 1:1). Jesus, then, is the personification and embodiment of Truth (Jn. 1:14, 17; 14:6).  

 

Accordingly, the local church must be built upon the identity that they are marked as being a logocentric community.[13] That is to say, the covenant community is a creature of the Word. As the great Reformer Martin Luther said himself, “It is the promises of God that make the church, and not the church that makes the promises of God.”[14] To this end, the church is not merely an institution spouting arbitrary concepts for the sake of “feel-good” experiences. On the contrary, she is “the pillar and buttress of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15; italics mine). Or simply put, she has prophetic responsibility to convey the Word of God. Luther poignantly hits this idea when he says, 

Now, wherever you hear or see the Word preached, believed, professed, and lived, do not doubt that the true ecclesia sancta catholica (Christian holy people) must be there. . . . And even if there were no other sign than this alone, it would still suffice to prove that a Christian, holy people must exist there, for God’s Word cannot be without God’s people and, conversely, God’s people cannot be without God’s Word.[15]

Fulfillment in Christ 

                                                                                                                                         

The new and greater Adam has come to restore humanity toward God’s intended telos (cf. Rom. 5:12-21). In so doing, He has given His redeemed image bearers the redemptive power to fulfill this task in and through the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The covenant community’s function, then, is not to merely serve human endeavors. Rather, her aim is to live to the glory of God by communing with the covenantal Lord Himself and becoming a workmanship in God through the power of the Spirit for the praise of His glorious grace (cf. Eph. 1:6, 13; 2:10). The second Adam, then, provides the means and goal to reach humanity’s ultimate aim. With Christ Jesus as the church’s great high priest, she will never faulter (Jn. 17:1-26). This is because our Mediator is the living God Himself who will never grow weary, never again fall under the guise of death, and never need to present new offerings since His own Person is a sufficient and suitable sacrifice (Rom. 3:25; 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:1–58; Heb. 10:12; 1 Pet. 2:24; 1 Jn. 2:2). The church has a sure foundation! 

 

As a local covenant community, it is imperative that we adopt and embody these biblical truths that shape and inform our daily activities. To walk in the Spirit is to abide in His Word (Jn 14–16). Therefore, to take on the mantle of church member is to take seriously our calling to be priest/king in and through the Lordship of Jesus Christ; that is, to be a priest, prophet, and king. May His Spirit guide us to accomplish these feats in joyful obedience to Christ. Soli Deo Gloria

 

***footnotes***


[1] See Owen Strachan, Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind (Great Britain: Mentor, 2019), 7-50. 

 

[2] Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, NSBT (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2003), 58. As Stephen G. Dempster explains, “humans are referential creatures; their being automatically signifies God. Since they are like God, they are best suited for a unique relationship to God, and this means that they also have a unique relation to their natural environment.”

 

[3] Strachan, Reenchanting Humanity, 31. That is, as Owen Strachan asserts, “Ontology does not stay still. It issues forth an active, purposeful, moral, volitional existence.”

 

 

[5] Luther, Freedom of a Christian, LW 31:355.

 

[6] Benjamin L. Gladd, From Adam and Israel to the Church: A Biblical Theology of the People of God, ESBT (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019), 12. Italics added. 

 

[7] See Graeme Goldsworthy, The Son of God and the New Creation, SSBT (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2105), 59-82. 

 

[8] See Fesko, J. V. The Trinity and the Covenant of Redemption (Great Britain: Mentor Imprint, 2016), 107-122. See also Crowe, Brandon D. The Hope of Israel: The Resurrection of Christ in the Acts of the Apostles. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020. 


[9] T. Desmond Alexander, Face to Face with God: A Biblical Theology of Christ as Priest and Mediator, ESBT (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2022), 67-68. Italics mine.

 

[10] See Beale, G. K. The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004. 

 

[11] G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim, God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2014). 161. Italics mine.


[12] Brandon D. Crowe, The Path of Faith: A Biblical Theology of Covenant and Law, ESBT (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2021), 79. 

 

[13] See Gregg R. Allison, Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church. FET (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 110-117.

 

[14] Martin Luther, Three Treatises Paper, 2nd ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Augsburg Fortress Press Publishers, 1990), 238. 

 

[15] Martin Luther, Luther’s Work, vol. 41: Church and Ministry III (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1966), 150. 

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, SBTS; ThM, MBTS) is the husband to Debbie and a father to their four children. He is a Pastor of Preaching/Teaching at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN and the Executive Editor of Covenant City Church Content Team. Along with his ministerial duties, he is a homeschool dad. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO, and his ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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