write theology

writing about writing. writing about theology.

Making Use of Christ: The Offices and Titles of Jesus Christ (2 of 4)

The following series was a paper submitted for the course ST 711 at Reformed Baptist Seminary. It has been adapted into blog posts.

1.0 The Offices and Titles of Jesus Christ

Christ, the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, meaning anointed one, has been since Pentecost the church’s way of expressing Jesus’ Spirit-given authority and endowment to carry out his mediatorial, redemptive work.[1] The roots of the term Messiah in the Old Testament Law and History books are intertwined with the covenant mediatorial offices of Israel—the prophets, priests, princes, rulers and kings who were anointed (authorized and endowed by the Spirit) to represent the people of Israel before God as covenant mediators (Lev. 8:12, 30; 1 Sam. 10:1; 1 Ki. 19:16). The Old Testament prophets decried the corruption of these offices, which signaled the unraveling of the Old Covenant and the gradual dissolution of Israelite social and religious life, descending on a trajectory of chaos sparked by Solomon’s flagrant disobedience in 1 Kings 11.[2] In time God announced the establishment of a new, unbreakable covenant in Jeremiah 31:31-33 whereby God would secure the obedience of his people. Consummately, Jesus Christ came and was anointed (Matt. 3:13-17; Acts 10:37-38) to serve as the mediator of this New Covenant (Heb. 9:15; 12:24), accomplishing what Israel’s Old Covenant was never able or meant to do: the full redemption of the people God gave to him. This biblical data are the pillars for the (commonly Reformed) arrangement of Christ’s threefold mediatorial office as Prophet, Priest, and King that appeared in print as early as Eusebius[3] and was popularized by Luther and Calvin (Institutes, 2.15).[4] The title Christ, therefore, has reference to Jesus’ work as mediator, for which the functions of prophet, priest, and king are metonyms, and for which his unique dual nature as God and man is uniquely suited (1 Tim. 2:5).

1.1 The Covenant Lord and Servant who is Prophet, Priest and King[5]

Johnson provides an excellent overview of the work of Christ seen from the perspective of his restoring the marred image of God in new-creational redemption, following creation and the fall.[6] Echoing the Reformers and reformed confessions[7] in delineating categories of the image of God (knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, collated from Colossians 3:10 and Ephesians 4:24), Johnson then aligns them to each function of Christ’s threefold office.[8] As prophet, Christ embodies, delivers, and obeys divine revelation, restoring fallen man to true knowledge. As priest, Christ embodies and restores blemished mankind to true holiness.[9] Johnson teaches that redemptive initiative is two-sided, enacted by the covenant Lord (the one who gives the covenantal laws) and the covenant Servant (the one who obeys):

the covenant Lord must extend grace to rebellious servants; a covenant Servant must offer himself up in unblemished covenant faithfulness and in so doing bear the covenant curse in place of the rebels. The ‘indicatives’ and the ‘imperatives’ of scripture—law and gospel—ultimately find their meeting point in Jesus Christ… [He] comes both as the faithful and gracious covenant Lord and the trusting, obedient covenant servant.[10]

The Christ of the new covenant is the one anointed to enact redemption on behalf of God’s people (the mediator, as Prophet, Priest and King) both as the covenant Lord and the covenant Servant, “as the divine Sovereign who fulfills all the promises by which he has committed himself to his people and as the human Servant who fulfills all the obligations imposed by the Lord.”[11]

1.1.1 Christ as Prophet

The apostles unequivocally preached that Christ was the Great Prophet.[12] With respect to God’s truth, Christ as covenant Lord makes promises and issues commands; and as covenant Servant, he wholeheartedly receives and obeys God’s truth. So in the combined mediatorial covenant Lord/Servant role, Christ both delivers God’s word (promise and law) to fallen people (Lk. 4:43; John 17:8) and faithfully fulfills/obeys God’s word (Heb. 5:8) on their behalf.[13] He is the True Prophet both in word and example, giving and obeying divine revelation; revealing the God whom no one has ever seen (John 1:18; 17:6, 26). He also functions as prophet in his promise to send the Spirit to inspire his disciples and inscripturate the truths they disciples were not yet ready to hear; in other words, Christ commissioned the writing of the New Testament because of his prophetic function (John 16:13; 15:27). Christ still enacts his prophetic ministry by giving preachers, teachers, and pastors to the church and sending the Spirit to give illumination for the church’s better understanding the Word.[14] In his prophetic office, Christ redeems and recreates fallen man’s knowledge of God; it is “in respect to our ignorance” that “we stand in need of his prophetical office.”[15]

1.1.2 Christ as Priest

In his mediatorial role, Jesus Christ also serves as a merciful and faithful High Priest who, on the one hand, is holy, blameless, unstained by sinners, and on the other hand, is able to sympathize with our weaknesses.[16] In the dual function of his priesthood, Jesus both eradicates sin, making propitiation to God and expiating our sin; and he intercedes for his people, securing the ongoing application of the benefits of his saving work for their sakes (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25, cf., Isa. 53:12). As Christ continually secures an ongoing supply of the blessings of redemption, his intercession also shields us from the wrath of God.[17] His intercession can be likened to a “filter which absorbs rays which would be deadly for us, and at the same time would enable God to look at us through Christ, as covered by His interposition (justification).”[18]

As covenant Lord, Jesus Christ demands holiness. As covenant Servant, Jesus is holy and blameless, perfectly meeting all the moral requirements of the covenant. So as mediator on behalf of a sinful people (dually covenant Lord/Servant), Jesus meets the demands of the covenant himself by making the perfect, once-for-all offering to put away the sin of his people. Yet he is both the offerer and the one offered, since through the eternal Spirit Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice to God (Heb 9:14).

Thus, Christ enacts his priestly office with in view of sinners’ unholy and fallen state.[19] Christ’s priestly office is the foundation for the priesthood of all believers and the warrant for the acceptability of our spiritual sacrifices (Rom 12:1; Heb 13:14-14; 1 Pet 2:4-5).

1.2.3 Christ as King

Bevan observes that in the ancient Near East, “a king cumulated legislative, executive, judiciary, economic and military prerogatives within his realm”[20] which is the broad sense of kingship that Scripture writers had in mind in reference to Christ (1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 11:15). Jesus is not only a king, but is King of Kings and Lord of Lords (1 Tim 6:15; Rev 17:14; 19:16). The title, Lord (κυριος), commonly used of Jesus, “implies dominion or kingly rule, and that it is a particularly appropriate expression of allegiance to Christ on the lips of those who acknowledge the sovereign authority of Christ as Lord (John 20:28; 1 Cor 12:3).”[21]

As covenant Lord, Jesus executes righteousness judgment in the earth. As covenant servant, he succeeds where Adam failed in his vice-regent commission, faithfully extending righteous authority over the earth as the True Adam, now in seed-form as the Word gradually germinates in the world, but then in a future Kingdom that will be irresistible, glorious and triumphant following Christ’s second coming. So as mediator (dually covenant Lord/Servant) Jesus as both King and vice-regent, rules, judges and guards his people.[22] Christ as King destroys the work of the adversary, rescues us from the domination of Satan, and gives us true liberty by his royal law.[23] As king, Christ has the royal prerogative of judging the living and the dead (1 Cor 4:4; 2 Cor 5:10; James 5:9; 1 Pet 4:8, 17).

1.2 Other Titles of Jesus Christ

Scripture attributes other titles to Christ. Some are more discernibly aligned with his redemptive-mediatorial offices, like Rabbi, Teacher, and Wonderful Counselor with Prophet; and the Great Physician, Surety[24] and Lamb of God with Priest; and Righteous Judge, Prince of Peace, Son of God (Psalm 2), and Lord with King.[25]

[1] Even in Jesus’ earthly ministry, we see him refer to his anointing to do the Messiah’s work, as Jesus applied Isa 61:1ff to himself in Luke 4:18ff: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, / because he has anointed me/ to proclaim good news to the poor.”

[2] The prophets’ rebuke often falls on the kings, priests and prophets of the people. In Hosea, for instance, we read that the prophets had become corrupt watchmen, full of madness, foolishness, “great iniquity and great hatred” (9:7-9). The priests were rejecters of knowledge and a band of robbers (4:6; 6:9). The kings and princes had hearts like ovens; “at night their anger smolders; in the morning it blazes like a flaming fire” (7:6); the rulers were devouring each other, cutting each other down in an angry rage, which is why Hosea saw Israel go through 7 kings in just 20 years. Accordingly, God says, “All their kings have fallen / and none of them calls upon me” (7:3-7). The prophets, priests and kings, as representatives of the people before God, as mediators of the covenant, were all corrupt. Hosea thus relates a holistic mediatorial failure of the Old Covenant, signaling the need, not only for a New Covenant, but also a new mediator of that new covenant.

[3] According to “Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (I, iii, 8, 9),” says L.D. Bevan, “The Offices of Christ,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Volume 1, ed. James Orr. (Howard-Severance Company, 1915), 616. Accessed at <https://www.biblicaltraining.org/library/offices-christ>.

[4] “Many Christian writers up to Luther observed that, just as in the OT high priests as well as kings had been anointed, so the title Christ points to Jesus as a royal priest, i.e. to a (high) priestly and kingly office”; and Calvin outlined “a threefold understanding of the offices of Jesus Christ as the mediator between God and man, viz. prophet, priest and king [which] had actually been mentioned by Bucer in 1536.” J. P. Baker, “Offices of Christ,” New Dictionary of Theology. ed. Sinclair B. Ferguson and J. I. Packer (Logos Bible Software edition).

[5] Echoing a section heading from Dennis Johnson, Him We Proclaim: Preaching Christ from All the Scriptures (Presbyterian & Reformed, 2007), 258.

[6] Johnson, Him We Proclaim, 245-271.

[7] These categories of God’s image appear, for instance, in the London Baptist Confession (4.2), the Savoy Declaration (4.2), the Westminster confession (4:2) and catechisms (Larger, Q17; Shorter, Q10) and the Heidelberg Catechism (Q6), among others, though not always in the same arrangement.

[8] John Frederick Jansen, Calvin’s Doctrine of the Work of Christ (London: J. Clark, 1956), 17: “Christ fulfills these offices not successively (though their order may appear in greater successive clarity during His life) but rather simultaneously. Because Christ is one, He is not now a prophet, now a priest, or now a king; rather, He is always at every moment prophet, priest and king. In every act or word of the Saviour is revealed that plenitude of grace and power which these offices formerly suggested in different persons.” Though some might see it proper to refer to Christ’s one threefold office, and his prophet-hood, priesthood, and kingship as three functions of that office, I shall sometimes use the words offices and functions interchangeably, reflecting the lack of consensus about this arrangement in the literature.

[9] As king, Christ utilizes and instills righteous authority in a corrupt people. In Christian life, Christ restores these aspects of God’s image truly, not fully; but Christians entertain a “certain hope of becoming fully conformed to the image of the beloved son (Rom 8:29),” Johnson, 254

[10] Johnson, Him We Proclaim, 258, 261.

[11] Johnson, Him We Proclaim, 259. He elaborates “As we read the Old Testament in particular and observe prophetic, royal, and priestly figures functioning (well or poorly) as intermediaries of the Lord’s truth, authority, and holiness to the people of God, we must keep in mind how each office and officer illumines the complex and comprehensive sufficiency of Christ as the ‘one mediator between God and men’ (1 Tim. 2:5).”

[12] In Acts 3:22-26, as Peter preaches Christ, he quotes and applies Deuteronomy 18:15, “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.” Peter warns the people, whom he calls “sons of the prophets,” to heed the True Prophet Christ, lest they be “destroyed from the people,” since Christ was sent with the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant to “bless you be turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

[13] Johnson, Him We Proclaim, 258.

[14] Christ’s prophetic office is thus not confined to his earthly ministry, contra Dabney (“Lecture on Effectual Calling”), who says “His priestly office is only exercised in heaven, by His intercession. It is His prophetic and kingly which He exercises on earth.” Robert Lewis. Dabney. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. House, 1972, 362.

[15] London Baptist Confession (LBC) 8.10.

[16] cf., Ps 110:1–4, Heb 2:17–3:2, Heb 4:14–15, Heb 7:15–18, Heb 7:20–23, Heb 7:25–8:2, Heb 8:6–7, Heb 9:11–15, Heb 9:25–26, Heb 9:28.

[17] Bevan, “The Offices of Christ”: “the primary purpose of the intercession of Christ is to provide a continued application of the merits of His life and death for those whom He has redeemed, so that they are sheltered from the righteous wrath of a Holy God and, viewed through the interposition of Christ, their covenant head, they are in a position to receive the full measure of the blessings which flow from His redeeming activity (cf. Eph 1:3-11)”

[18] Bevan, “The Offices of Christ”: “It is only ‘in Christ’ that these blessings are ours and this relationship needs to be sustained in order for us to continue to enjoy the benefits. It is of great importance here to safeguard the close unity between the forensic and the recreative aspects of Christ’s redemptive work… those who view the intercession of Christ exclusively in terms of justification are falling short of the full amplitude of His gracious ministration.”

[19] According to the LBC (8.10), it is because of “our alienation from God, and imperfection of the best of our services, [that] we need his priestly office to reconcile us and present us acceptable unto God.”

[20] Bevan, “The Offices of Christ.”

[21] Bevan, “The Offices of Christ.”

[22] Because of “our averseness and utter inability to return to God, and for our rescue and security from our spiritual adversaries,” says the LBC (8.10), “we need his kingly office to convince, subdue, draw, uphold, deliver, and preserve us to his heavenly kingdom.”

[23] Johnson, Him We Proclaim, 258.

[24] On “Christ’s Suretiship”, see George Stevenson and William S. Plumer. The Offices of Christ. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, William S. Martien, Pub., 1840, 63-64.

[25] Other designations are less titles, per se, but more like echoes of Christ’s mediatorial functions. Jesus, for instance, was called and did the work of a τεκτων, often translated carpenter, but having a broader semantic range, closer to the idea of builder. In this sense, Jesus’ statements, such as “I will build my church” (Mt. 16:18), come into sharper focus, especially against the redemptive historical significance of the Davidic kings (covenant servants) building the House of God, and God himself (covenant Lord) promising to build the house of David (2 Sam. 7). Jesus as builder, therefore, relates redemptive-historically to his office of Kingship, as he, the Living Stone, builds upon himself a spiritual house comprised of his gathered, redeemed living stones (1 Pet 2:4-5).

Leave a Reply

write theology © 2014 Frontier Theme