If you don’t know Jehoahaz from Jehoash or Pekahiah from Pekah, I don’t blame you. Most of us don’t camp out in the book of 2 Kings. It seems easier to find links to Jesus in the stories of popular heroes like Joseph and David.
But as I worked through 1 and 2 Kings in my devotional time last year, I was surprised by how these stories helped me rejoice in Jesus over and over again.
Through the rise and fall of kings and kingdoms, I glimpsed the promised Saviour. His threefold office is foreshadowed—he’s not just the perfect king but also the perfect prophet and priest. Let’s consider three stories from 2 Kings to illuminate Jesus’s roles.
1. Jesus the Perfect Prophet
Two brief episodes at the end of 2 Kings 2 serve as proof that Elisha has taken over as prophet from Elijah, as he brings blessings and curses in turn.
First, Elisha throws a bowl of salt into a river that has gone bad, proclaiming, “Thus says the Lord, I have healed this water” (2:21). Elisha has the authority to proclaim the words of God, and he’s a conduit of God’s blessing to his people by healing the life-giving water.
Next, a group of boys insult Elisha, calling him “baldhead.” He curses the boys in the name of the Lord, and two bears come out of the woods and tear many of the boys to pieces. Again, Elisha calls on the name of the Lord, but this time for cursing.
Jonty Rhodes defines the role of a prophet: “Prophets in the Bible speak God’s words to God’s people.”1 Those who hear and follow his words will find blessing; those who reject his words are cursed (Deut. 28:2).2
Through Jesus, all people are either blessed or cursed. Rhodes notes that Jesus identified himself as “anointed” by the Spirit to “proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18).3 Jesus also pronounces curses and judgment with a sword in his mouth (Rev. 2:16; 19:15).
Jesus surpasses Elisha because his doesn’t have derivative authority whereby he needs to call on the name of another. He doesn’t just speak the words of the Lord—he is the Word (John 1:1). He doesn’t just reveal the way to blessing or cursing—he is the Way (John 14:16).
2. Jesus the Perfect Priest
Priests in the Old Testament were to guard the temple and to serve God there.4 Since the temple was where God met with his people, the priests were responsible for preserving the its purity.
In 2 Kings 11–12, the priest Jehoiada fulfills this role. He makes a covenant between God and the king and people, leads them to destroy false idols and altars, and posts watchmen to guard the “house of the Lord” (11:17–18). His instruction enables King Jehoash to walk rightly before God (12:2). And yet the very next verse says, “Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away; the people continued to sacrifice and make offerings on the high places” (12:3).
Although he preserved the temple, Jehoiada couldn’t fix the impurity in the hearts of God’s people that led them to false worship. And when he died like all other priests, those who came after him weren’t so diligent (see 2 Kings 16).
Jesus, by contrast, “continues forever” in his priestly role (Heb. 7:24). There’s no longer any temple; God now dwells within our hearts by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 1:22). Jesus by his death cleansed us of our sin, so there’s no barrier to God living with us. The temple curtain was torn in two at the moment of his death, symbolizing how Jesus has brought sinners to his Father. He showed us the way as our prophet and made the way as our priest.
3. Jesus the Perfect King
Although David and Solomon are renowned as great kings of Israel’s golden age, there was another king a few centuries later who was said to surpass all who came before and after (2 Kings 23:25). Josiah was a faithful king who walked in the ways of the Lord (22:2). When the lost Scriptures were discovered in the temple and read aloud, Josiah tore his clothes in mourning (22:8–11). He knew Israel had strayed far from God. He called on the Lord and gathered the people to read the Word of God aloud, renewing the covenant.
Josiah is fulfilling the role of the biblical king, which was, in part, to conquer the enemies of God’s people.5 Often throughout the books of 1 and 2 Kings, we read details of military battles—the focus is on physical enemies. But we also see the encroachment of bigger enemies who eventually conquer much of Israel: sin and Satan.
Josiah could smash pagan pillars and burn Asherah poles (23:14–15), but he couldn’t conquer the sin in his people’s hearts. After all the good Josiah had done, we read, “Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah” (23:26–27).
But Jesus does conquer sin and death (2 Tim. 1:10; Heb. 2:14). He alone brings our hearts back to joyful submission to his perfect rule. Eventually, Josiah dies, only to be replaced by his son who “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (23:32). But in Jesus we have a king who lives and reigns forever and ever (Rev. 11:15).
We can never run out of reasons to praise Jesus. If we skip over the stories in the books of Kings, we impoverish ourselves. There we see in dazzling colour the inadequacies of even the best earthly leaders. And we praise God that he didn’t leave us there but sent his long-awaited Son, the perfect and eternal prophet, priest, and king.