Hebrews 1:1-4 opens with a magisterial statement about the Son of God—Jesus Christ. It provides seven statements about Jesus in a series of doctrinally-rich phrases. One of those statements reads: “After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1:3b; all verses here in ESV).
The question here: does this sitting down next to the Father relate primarily to Jesus’s priestly role, or does it relate to the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant, that a descendant of David will sit on his throne and reign forever and ever (2 Sam 7:8-16)?
Here’s what the priestly interpretation has going for it. The author of Hebrews leads into the statement of the Son sitting with the participial phrase, “after making purification for sins.” This is Levitical language, priestly language. Priests make purification for sins.
In addition, when we survey the rest of Hebrews, we see several statements that seem to support that Jesus sitting at the right hand of God relates to His role as great High Priest. Consider especially the following verses:
8:1 Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,
10:11-13 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.
In these two passages, the sitting at the right hand is clearly linked with the completed priestly role of Christ. These offer strong contextual support for 1:3b relating to Jesus sitting after finishing His service as High Priest.
But there may be some evidence pushing the other way, that Christ sitting fulfills the expectations of the Davidic Covenant. Though Heb 1:3b doesn’t mention a throne, the phrase “Majesty on high” clearly points to the picture of a supreme king, not a priest.
Furthermore, many scholars have noted that this verse likely has a conscious allusion to Psalm 110:1, which has great significance in other passages in Hebrews: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Psalm 110 is a psalm of David, looking forward to the Messiah who will fulfill the Davidic Covenant. It is certainly more “kingly” than “priestly.”
That God appointed the Son as “heir of all things” (vs 2) is also a probable allusion to Psalm 2:7-8: “I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.’” Here in Psalm 2, the reign of the “Son” is a kingly, sovereign reign, the entire chapter wrestling with kingship issues.
So which is it? Does the “Son” in Hebrews 1 fulfill the role of priest or king?
In fact, we can add another role in there, too: prophet. The author of Hebrews contrasts God speaking through the prophets with God speaking through Jesus, one greater than the prophets (1:1-2a).
Jesus fulfills the earthly roles of prophet, priest and king. He is greater than that which we saw on earth during the Old Testament times. He is perfect prophet, priest and king!
The rest of the book of Hebrews explores Jesus’s fulfillment of these roles in much greater detail.