Ronald H. Hanko is pastor of Trinity Protestant Reformed Church, Houston, Texas.
We have shown that the “counsel of peace” referred to in Zechariah 6:13 refers to the union of the two offices of priest and king in Christ, typically represented in the co-operation of Zerubbabel the Governor and Joshua the High Priest in the days of the, restoration of the temple. We have seen that this-union is significant first of all as far as the offices themselves are concerned, in that the two offices complement and complete each other. The kingly office adds power and authority to the priestly office, and the priestly office tempers the authority of the royal office with its own peculiar gifts.
Nevertheless, there is a far deeper significance to the union of these two offices in Christ. That union lies at the very heart of the work of redemption, it shows that the work of grace is a miracle work of God, and it uncovers the significance of Christ’s offices in their relation to the work of redemption.
In order to see all this we must first understand the meaning of the offices themselves, that is, that the kingly office is a revelation of God’s righteousness, and the priestly office a revelation of God’s mercy. To this could be added the fact that the prophetic office is a revelation of God’s wisdom and knowledge. The prophetic office, however, is not of firsthand importance in our discussion, as it is an office which belongs to both priest and king, and the proof and significance of that fact would be the subject of another study.
That the kingly office is a revelation of God’s righteousness or justice is clear from many passages of Scripture. Especially prominent is Psalm 45:4-7, where righteousness is mentioned no fewer than four times (once as truth) in connection with the kingly office. Especially significant is verse 6 of this chapter, which states that the scepter of the King’s kingdom, the symbol of all his authority and power, is a right scepter.Hebrews 1:8 is even clearer when it quotes this passage in reference to Christ: “A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of thy kingdom,” that is, it is a scepter which is characterized especially by righteousness and wielded in righteousness.
This, then, points us to the chief duty of the king, that is, to uphold and reveal true righteousness, the righteousness of God Himself in all the king’s work. His work, therefore, was that of maintaining the law of God as the standard of all righteousness, and judging the people righteously and justly in accordance with the demands of that law. Israel’s judges, for example, who were the forerunners of the kings, had as their primary task the restoration of the people of God through instruction in God’s law (cf. Judges 4:5, 6:25-27, 12:8-15, etc.). It was the solemn duty of the king, therefore, to rule the people righteously by rewarding and protecting the good and by punishing and destroying all evil as the law demanded (II Sam. 15:1-3, I Kings 3:16-28, etc.).
It ought to be added here, that this righteousness was the real power of the kingly office. God’s own power as King is maintained and supported not by brute strength, but by His righteousness. In other words, He is justified in His works not merely by the fact that He is all powerful and can do as He pleases, but in this, that He always acts righteously. This is the usual answer of Scripture to all the objections of wicked men against God’s rule (Gen. 18:25, Rom. 3:5, 6). As it is with God Himself, so also it is with all who bear rule in His Name.
The priestly office, on the other hand, has Gods mercy as its foundation and chief gift. This is not so easy to see, unless we remember that it was the priests who had not only the work of sacrifice, but also such duties as the cleansing of lepers and the maintenance of the cities of refuge. Especially the latter reveals this aspect of the priestly office, since the cities of refuge were places where certain types of criminals could find mercy and safety from the demands of the law as executed by the revenger of blood (Numbers 35).
When we understand the meaning of the two offices then we can also see that there is a certain conflict between them. Already in the Old Testament it was the duty of the King to see that all who broke the law were dealt with according to the demands of the law and punished for their evil. The priest’s duty as keeper of the cities of refuge often conflicted with that duty of the King. The judgment of the man who killed someone “without malice aforethought” is a case in point. The Scriptures hold such a man guilty, as is clear from the fact that the revenger of blood was justified in killing such a man if he did not seek the safety of the cities of refuge. If the king’s duty was the maintenance of justice, then certainly the revenger of blood was at least to be supported by the king, if he was not in actual fact to be considered an agent of the king. And yet, on the other hand, it was the priest’s duty to show mercy to such a man and protect him from the demands of justice by giving him a home in the cities of refuge.
Even in this case, there was, of course, a certain justice mixed with the mercy of the priest, but even then the demands of justice and the offices of mercy conflicted at least in this, that neither was entirely fulfilled in trying to meet both. Even the mercy of the priest, exactly because it was mixed with justice, was not entire and the man who had come under the protection of the priest had to live in the city of refuge away from his home until the death of the priest, at best a very severe mercy.
We see this same conflict in the life of David. More than any other of Israel’s kings he represented the ideal of a righteous ruler, and is thus the clearest picture of Christ as king in the whole Old Testament. As a righteous king, it was he who delivered Israel from her enemies and executed God’s law against the heathen and idolatrous nations around Israel. It was also he who restored Israel itself to righteousness, by upholding the law of God in the nation. Thus it is that he follows and stands in contrast to Saul. Nevertheless, exactly because he had bloodied his hands in the execution of God’s righteous judgments in Israel and among the nations, David was forbidden by God to have any part in the work of building the temple, the great place of God’s, mercy.
This conflict, then, is the main reason why the offices of priest and king could never be combined in the Old Testament. The separation points to the truth that righteousness (justice) and mercy are forever irreconcilable through any human effort or wisdom. We see that even today. In any judicial system, it is simply a fact that the judge, in executing the law, has mercy or justice as two options, but he can never really be just and show mercy at the same time. Either he maintains the demands of the law and punishes the criminal to the full extent of the law (and that is really his only duty) or he shows “mercy” by setting the criminal free or by lessening his punishment. But even when he tries to temper justice with mercy, he really ends with neither, as is so very evident in our own judicial system. The attempt to be merciful by mitigating the punishment the law demands (or ought to demand) always has as the end result that justice is not really done.
In so far as our salvation is concerned, however, it is exactly that reconciliation of justice and mercy which must take place. Because God is a righteous judge above all others, the demands of His law must be met and fully satisfied. If God is not just and righteous He is not God (Ps. 11:5). Yet at the same time He has determined to reveal Himself also as a God of mercy and promises mercy to the sinner.
That reconciliation is forever beyond man’s reach. If he seeks the glory of God (as he ought) in insisting upon justice for himself, he rules out all possibility of mercy, in that the punishment of sin is everlasting. If he seeks mercy, he can seek it only at the expense of justice. The separation of the priestly and kingly offices underlines this inadequacy of every human effort. We could even say that the priestly and kingly offices in the Old Testament had to remain separate, because those who served in those offices were only men and the union of all that those offices represented was too great a task even for the best and greatest of them.
In Christ, then, God performs a notable and necessary miracle when He bestows on Christ the gifts of both offices and in Christ reconciles the duties of those offices. In Christ God satisfies all the demands of His justice while at the same time clearing the way for the full revelation of His tender mercy. As the sinless Son of God in our flesh Christ the King is able to bear not only the responsibility of upholding and executing the law of God but also the responsibility of standing in the place of those over whom He rules when the wrath of God’s righteous anger against sin is uncovered. Thus He can be not only the king of His people but the great High Priest who provides for the people of God a place of refuge and shelter from the destroying power of God’s wrath. Indeed, He is not only the one who provides the place of refuge but is Himself that place of refuge which we by the grace of God now seek.
This is the miracle that the Psalms celebrate in Psalm 85:10: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” The Psalm sings of Christ as our great Priest-king and about the miracle of redemption in Him. This is the counsel of peace which Zechariah prophesied and which Israel saw so dimly in the co-operation of Zerbubbabel and Joshua in the work of rebuilding the temple. It is that union of the two offices of priest and king in Christ by which the true temple of God is built as the place where God’s people find everlasting peace in the fellowship of God Himself. As the great temple builder He is now and shall forever be a priest upon His throne. Thus John saw Him in the visions of Revelation (Rev. 5:6, 19:11-13) and thus we shall see Him when the tabernacle of God which He has built is revealed from God out of heaven. Then the counsel of peace shall be fulfilled.