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Offices of Christ

OFFICES OF CHRIST. Christology has been traditionally divided in three parts: (1) The Person of Christ (His deity and humanity united in one person); (2) The states of Christ (the humiliation and exaltation of the Mediator); (3) The work of Christ.

The last topic has been frequently and conveniently dealt with under the title of “The Offices of Christ.” The principle which underlies this terminology is simply that the work that Christ accomplished is the perfect fulfillment of certain basic functions or offices in which the essential relationship of God and man is expressed.

These offices often are classified as prophetic, priestly and kingly. While these categories are not fully exhaustive of all that Christ accomplished and while some overlapping may be occasionally observed between them, there are good reasons why these may continue to be used.

2. The terms prophet, priest and king are in fact used by the NT with reference to Jesus Christ, and while other titles could also be pressed into service here, there is no good reason to question the appropriateness of these designations.

3. This division is consecrated by great antiquity. It appears notably in the beginning of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (I, iii, 8, 9) and frequently since that time. It has been favored esp. since the Reformation, perhaps because of its effective use by John Calvin (Institutes II, xv).

The prophetic office

A prophet is a person used by God to transmit messages that God desires to communicate to men (Exod 7:1; Deut 18:18). The element of prediction, which is prominent in the popular idea of a prophet, is not an essential of the Biblical concept.

There are two major ways in which Christ exercised His prophetic office: instruction and example, to which may be added a word about miracles.


The true disciples therefore were always eager to receive Christ’s teaching. They accepted it even when others viewed His utterances as a “hard saying” (John 6:60). They addressed Jesus by the title “Rabbi” (or, Rabboni), which is an acknowledgment of His authority. Mary who sat at His feet and listened to His teaching received commendation (Luke 10:39, 41). Those who wish to be closest to Christ must hear the Word of God coming from His lips (Luke 8:21; 11:28).

Perhaps the best summary of this aspect of Christ’s ministry came from the lips of soldiers who were sent to arrest Him: “No man ever spoke like this man” (John 7:46).


The prophets were occasionally called to present the truth not merely in verbal expression, but in certain dramatic portrayals in which they were to be the center of an “object lesson” given by divine mandate (cf. Ezek 4:5; Hos 1; etc.). In fact, the whole character of the prophetic life was ordinarily to be in such conformity to the divine commandments that the prophet could be called “the man of God.” The case of some rebellious prophets like Balaam (Num 22-24), is really an exception to the rule that God chose to speak of old through holy men (cf. possibly 2 Pet 1:21). Yet even the most notable and dedicated prophets were under the curse of sin, and failed to portray with complete faithfulness the image of God. For its full implementation, the prophetic office demanded one whose life would follow a pattern of perfect conformity to the divine will.

This is precisely what Christ accomplished. His food was “to do the will of him who sent” Him (John 4:34). He who sees Him sees the Father who sent Him (John 12:44; 14:9). In the high-priestly prayer of Jesus, He sums up His earthly ministry in these words: “I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me” (John 17:6; cf. also v. 26). In the truest and deepest sense “He made God known,” He “exegeted” God (John 1:18). No one can really claim to know God, but those to whom Christ willed to reveal Him (Matt 11:27).

Miraculous activity.

The nature and variety of Christ’s miracles are considered elsewhere in this encyclopedia. It will suffice to point out here that in range and frequency His miracles far excel those of other ages of supernatural intervention (e.g. Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Apostolic age, etc.). For the apex of prophetic utterance, we have the utmost divine sanction in miraculous power.

“In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son” (Heb 1:1, 2).

The priestly office

In contrast to the prophet who addresses the congregation in God’s name, the priest appears before God as spokesman and representative of God’s people. In the OT, this sacred office was carefully protected, perhaps more so than any other (cf. notably the severe punishment of King Uzziah for infringing on sacerdotal prerogatives, 2 Chron 26:16-21).

Accordingly, the sacrificial language has an important place in the NT, but it is arresting that Christ is expressly referred to as a priest only in Hebrews.

There are two major ways in which Christ performs His sacerdotal office; oblation and intercession, to which a word may be added about healing.


It is a very salient feature of the NT that the death and resurrection of Christ have a place of sing. prominence in all the strata of its teaching (cf. V. Taylor, The Atonement in New Testament Teaching [1940], pp. 72f.). This fact does in no wise minimize the significance of His life and teaching, but it marks an emphasis which no serious student of the NT can afford to ignore. The oblation of Christ involves two basic relations: Christ as the spotless victim; and Christ as the perfect offerer. In this article obviously the latter must receive primary consideration, but a brief paragraph on the former is needed as well, since Christ as Great High Priest offered Himself (Heb 7:27; 9:14).

The victim.

The precise purpose of the Biblical sacrificial institution has been the object of intensive discussion. It is not necessary to insist that all the forms of sacrifice were exclusively intended for the expiation of sin, but the expiatory, or more specifically propitiatory, strain is a very prominent feature of the Scriptural representation. Elaborate efforts to dispense with this element have been put forth (C. H. Dodd, F. N. Hicks, O. C. Quick, V. Taylor, and others), but the explanations advanced appear contrived and incapable of giving to the NT message the kind of impact that it has had through the ages and still has today. What won the hearts of men since the days of the apostles is the good news that by His oblation Christ has wiped out the sins of those who believe in Him. It is this great truth which makes all other sacrifices superfluous so that animal sacrifices of all sorts are stopped wherever Christianity is accepted.

The supreme value of this offering lies in the fact that this victim is not only a spotless human being, but that it is the God-man, the only Son of God, whose life is worth more than the whole created universe. There is no need, therefore, of a constant repetition in the oblation, but the sacrifice of Christ has been offered once for all on the cross of Calvary (Heb 7:27; 9:12, 25-28; 10:10, 12, 14). Even those who hold that there is a sacrificial significance in the Eucharist, do not think that the latter is the presentation of a different sacrifice, but insist that we have here a re-enactment of the one offering of Christ on the cross.

It is important to recognize the relation of Christ’s sacrifice to the Christian sacraments. It is true that there is considerable diversity of opinion concerning the meaning and effect of the sacraments, but whatever more may be involved, one can at least assert that in baptism the identification of the believer with Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection and the cleansing from sin through His blood are symbolized (Rom 6:3-7; 1 Pet 3:21); while in the Lord's Supper|Lord’s Supper the elements used are directly related to Christ’s sacrifice, to His broken body and shed blood, and the participation of the believer implies identification with Him (Matt 26:26, 28, etc.; 1 Cor 10:16; 11:26, etc.)

(In Matt 20:22, 23; Mark 10:38, 39 there is an arresting case of the use of the terminology of baptism and of the cup with reference to the death of Christ.)

The perfect offerer.

Because of their human limitations, OT priests had constantly to repeat their ministrations; Christ by contrast has made an offering that is unique (cf. above under 1. Victim). Because of their subjection to mortality, OT priests inevitably passed away from the scene and new ones had to be appointed, but Christ’s priesthood is established for ever (6:20; 7:16, 17, 24, 25, 28).

Moreover the effect of OT sacrifices was only temporary but Christ has secured for His own “an eternal redemption” (Heb 5:9; 7:25; 9:12, 15). This feature should be kept firmly in mind by those who are inclined to quote the Epistle to the Hebrews to support the possibility of the final apostasy of some regenerate individuals (6:4-6; 10:26-29, etc.).

In keeping with the dignity of Christ, the sanctuary in which His priestly ministry is exercised is not marred by the weaknesses of the earthly scene, but it is marked by the majesty and perfection of heaven itself (4:14; 6:20; 8:2; 9:11, 24). There is, of course, a sense in which Christ performed His priestly office on earth in the days of His flesh (5:7), offering His own body as a sacrifice upon Calvary’s cross as the altar. What the author of Hebrews points out is that these earthly events do not exhaust the meaning of the transaction, but that there are cosmic implications which can be recognized fully only in the perspective of heaven, that is to say, in divine terms.

For the execution of His priestly work, it is apparent how Christ needs to be both divine and human. His deity qualifies Him to find acceptance with God and to perform a work of eternal significance and power. His humanity is essential to secure real contact with those whom He came to redeem, to make possible their identification with Him by virtue of His prior identification with them (2:14-18 and passim. One should consult on this topic Geerhardus Vos, “The Priesthood of Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews [1956], pp. 91-114).

In keeping with some critical views of the Scripture and of the development of religious ideas among the Jews, it often has been fashionable of late to deprecate priesthood and to view the whole priestly establishment of Israel as a corruption of the nobler outlook favored by some of the OT prophets. In the NT the designation of Christ as a priest and the ascription to Him of sacerdotal functions preclude endorsement of such positions. In keeping with the dominant orientation of the Bible as a whole, it is incumbent upon us to view the priesthood as a divinely initiated and sanctioned institution, evident well before the Mosaic legislation, articulated with great fullness and notable centrality in that legislation, and brought to its full bearing and significance in the work of Jesus Christ as the great mediator. Of course, there have been many unworthy priests in Israel’s history. Even the best priests have had some failings in their performance of the sacred office, not to speak of their private lives; and in some periods of history, notably at the time of Christ’s life on earth, certain abuses were apparently dominant in the priesthood, but this does not warrant a blanket condemnation of the institution as such, when the Scripture makes it so clear that it is a paramount need of mankind after the Fall and represents Jesus Christ as the perfect answer to that need.


The verb ἐντυγχάνω, G1961, tr. “intercede,” means “to deal or transact with one person in reference to another” (W. Milligan, The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of Our Lord [1908], p. 151). The nature of the transaction is not indicated in this term, and the context must determine whether this is in a favorable, or unfavorable sense. With reference to Christ, the term is found in Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25 where the phrase “for us,” “for them” leaves no doubt that the intervention is to the advantage of those concerned. In 1 John 2:1 Christ is named our advocate (parakletos) who has offered Himself for our sins, and in Hebrews 9:24 we read that Christ appears “in the presence of God on our behalf.”

This type of activity is in line both with certain OT priestly functions and with some ministrations of Christ in the days of His flesh.

The Aaronic high priest wore the names of the twelve tribes on his ephod and on his breastplate (Exod 28:11, 12, 21, 29, etc.), and it is not difficult to see in this arrangement a symbol of the priest’s representation before God of those for whom he stood.

The ceremonies involving incense (Exod 30:8, 27; etc.), may well be viewed as symbolic of prayer as well. This connection is intimated in Psalm 141:2; Revelation 5:8; 8:3, 4.

This ministry is expressly emphasized in Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 9:24; 1 John 2:1. It is also prefigured in passages like Isaiah 53:12. We are naturally led to ask the questions, What is the bearing of this intercession? What is the blessing requested? From whom is it implored and for whom? Interpreters appear to have been sometimes puzzled by these questions. Some matters, however, may be clarified at once. The one to whom the intercession is directed is surely the Triune God, represented, as is frequently the case, by the Father. It is doubtful that it is just one person of the Trinity in contrast to the other two.

The One who offers the intercession is Christ, the God-man, in His office of mediator, thus not merely as man, nor merely as God. This point is surely made amply clear in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

The blessing sought can scarcely be a favor that God would be reluctant to grant and that is wrested away from Him on the ground of personal privilege. It is here that one must note with care the close connection between the atonement and the intercession of Christ. These are distinct, but inseparable aspects of the priestly work of Christ, and they appear in conjunction in a number of crucial texts (e.g. Isa 53:12; Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25-27; 9:24-28; 1 John 2:1, 2). Perhaps no one has articulated this connection between oblation and intercession as carefully as Hugh Martin in his great book on The Atonement (1870, pp. 96-160). In the light of this relationship we may feel some confidence in asserting that 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).

If we are correct in this basic understanding, the intercession of Christ might be compared 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). This type of illustration may help us to grasp the importance of having an eternal high priest and an eternal redemption. 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. Failure to give sufficient attention to the forensic aspect is at the foundation of the onesided views of the Socinians in the 16th cent. and more recently of W. Milligan and B. F. Westcott. Conversely those who view the intercession of Christ exclusively in terms of justification are falling short of the full amplitude of His gracious ministration.

We might conclude that the object of Christ’s intercession is the full measure of the manifold graces which He has secured for His own. While the most eminent of these are the benefits of salvation, Romans 8:32 permits us to feel confident that nothing that we need is excluded from His intercessory concern. (Cf. also John 14:13; 15:7; 16:23, etc. as well as Jesus’ prayers during His life on earth.)

What a comfort for the believer, besieged by ills of various sorts and burdened by a sense of his own weakness and unworthiness, to think of the perpetual intercession of Christ on his behalf! This is the precise point of the Scriptures which speak of this theme.

If the question be raised for whom Christ does intercede, the answer appears to be given clearly in the words of John 17:9: “I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine.” This Scripture seems to teach that the intercession concerns mainly those who are encompassed in God’s saving purpose. In some instances these may be alive at the time of the prayer, although not yet brought consciously into the circle of the redeemed (cf. Luke 23:34). In John 17:20 the prayer concerns men who are not even alive at the time. The magnitude of Christ’s mind and heart transcends in His intercession the limits of time and space that usually circumscribe us.

And so in keeping with His supreme majesty the great mediator intercedes constantly (Heb 7:25) and effectually (John 11:42), securing for His own the full measure of the blessings which He purchased for them by the blood of the cross.

Ministry of healing.

In the OT, the priests had certain medical responsibilities (Lev 13 and 14; cf. Matt 8:4; Luke 17:14; etc.), and while they had no special power to effect a cure, they were those appointed by God to safeguard public health.

This aspect of the priesthood may find its supreme expression in the healing ministry of Jesus Christ. The prophecy of Isaiah 53:4, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows,” is interpreted by Matthew to have reference, at least in part, to Jesus’ healing activity (Matt 8:17).

B. F. Westcott has a classification of gospel miracles (Introduction to the Study of the Gospels [1896], pp. 466-469) which shows that out of thirty-four miracles of Jesus related with some detail in the gospels, twenty-five were miracles of healing (this includes three cases of resurrection and six cases of exorcism). Thus the work of Christ could well be characterized by Matthew as “teaching...preaching...and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people” (Matt 4:23 cf. Matt 14:36; Mark 6:56; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38; etc.).

Christ delegated to His disciples some share in this work (Matt 10:1; cf. also Mark 16:18; Acts 5:16, and James 5:14, 15). Faith healing may be viewed as an extension of Christ’s priestly office.

The kingly office

The term “king” in the Biblical language has a far greater scope than what is commonly understood in the 20th cent. A king cumulated legislative, executive, judiciary, economic and military prerogatives within his realm. He often wielded unlimited power over the life and properties of his subjects. His rule which had to provide leadership in so many areas, could easily slip into tyranny and despotism.

In Israel, the original approach to civil government was a “theocracy” in which God’s rule was emphasized and carried out through appropriate representatives who exercised leadership in God’s name: Moses, Joshua, the judges. Later on Israel desired to have visible kings, even as the surrounding nations (1 Sam 8:5; etc.). Some of these provided luster and power to Israel and led the armies to victory, but the great majority of them turned out to be a snare in the path of the nation. In the Babylonian exile the kingship collapsed, together with the independence of the nation. The kingship of the Herods was a far cry from what the people of God desired, and the pious souls in Israel were yearning for a promised renewal of the rule of David, the king after God’s own heart.

It is evident from these statements that our Lord was far transcending the nationalistic and earthly aspirations of those who were looking for the promised Messiah-king. Beyond the rule over Israel is the dominion of the anointed of God over His people and over the cosmos. It is generally in terms of these broadened categories that the apostles envisioned the kingship of Christ (1 Thess 2:12; 2 Tim 4:1; Rev 11:15). This outlook is perhaps best summarized in the title “king of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim 6:15; Rev 17:14; 19:16).

The subjects of Christ’s kingship.

Considerable differences of opinion have prevailed on this theme. The best approach appears to be comprehensive rather than exclusive.

There are those who hold that Christ is to rule over Israel, viewed as an earthly nation, while others think that Scripture does not give appropriate warrant for expecting a future renewal of this sort. This is hardly the place to give the details of the discussion. We may perhaps be content to note that, even if this type of kingship is to be envisioned, it will be at best a temporary one and does not need to retain our attention here in a primary manner.

Here also one must note the title Kyrios, Lord, which occurs scores of times in the NT. This term has a rich content involving even an acknowledgement of deity when used in a religious sense (cf. B. B. Warfield, The Lord of Glory [1907] and W. Foerster and G. Quell “KYRIOS,” TWNT, Eng. tr. III [1965], 1039-1100), but what specifically concerns us here is that it 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). These constitute precisely the company of the redeemed, the Church of God: the kingship of Christ over His Church is therefore clearly in view. We find no trace in the Scripture of a distinction between accepting Christ as Savior and acknowledging Him as Lord, as if some people could take the former step while refusing the latter. The full implications of the Lordship of Christ, it is true, are not perceived at once at the moment of conversion (nor for that matter at any subsequent moment of this life’s course), but they are gradually unfolded and apprehended in the development of the Christian life (sanctification). From the very start, however, to the very end, the Christian is taught to pray “Thy kingdom come” (Matt 6:10; Luke 11:2) and this must include a yearning for an increasing manifestation of Christ’s rule over self, whatever else may also be encompassed in this petition.

Christ is presented as the judge of His people (1 Cor 4:4; 2 Cor 5:10; James 5:9; 1 Pet 4:17). This too is a royal prerogative.

The time of Christ’s kingship.

When? The question whether the kingdom of Christ is present or future has been the object of extensive, and sometimes passionate discussion. Those who opt exclusively for one alternative encounter serious exegetical difficulties. A median course of interpretation appears possible in which it will be acknowledged on one hand that Christ reigns now, and that His kingship is manifested wherever His rule and His law are obeyed; and on the other hand, that there is a climactic fulfillment of His kingship that is yet future and that will be ushered in with cataclysmic changes (Matt 24; 1 Thess 5:3; 2 Pet 3:10-12) at the consummation of history. Both of these perspectives appear to be firmly imbedded in the scriptural outlook. (Cf. George Ladd, “Can the Kingdom be Both Future and Present?” Crucial Questions about the Kingdom of God [1952], pp. 63-74.)

The difficulty may not be as great as it might seem, if we take due note of the fact that there are various aspects of the kingdom. The rule of the triune God is surely eternal like God Himself. The mediatorial rule of Christ, on which we focus our attention in this article, may have both temporary and eternal features. Most interpreters agree that the mediatorial union of Christ with His own is permanent, so that His headship, even as His priesthood, is everlasting (Ps 110:4 and Heb 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:17). This could account for the first group of passages.

All agree that the millennial kingdom and the prophetic fulfillments related to national Israel (if so be that these have indeed a place in God’s plan for the future), will have a limited duration. Those who hold to this type of view have therefore a natural explanation for the second group of passages.

It is, moreover, possible to envision the statement of 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 as relating to Christ’s ultimate recommitting unto the triune God of His universal mediatorial rule (cf. above) after it has fulfilled its purpose in God’s all-inclusive plan. This is the position advocated among others by H. Bavinck, L. Berkhof, G. Stevenson, and favored by the author of this article.


Besides the articles on Atonement, King, Priest, Prophet in this encyclopedia, one may consult G. Stevenson, Treatise on the Offices of Christ, 2nd ed. (1845), 1-530; H. Martin, The Atonement (1870), 96-160; W. Milligan, The Ascension and Heavenly Priesthood of our Lord (1908), 61-336; H. B. Swete, The Ascended Christ (1910), 1-168; A. J. Tait, The Heavenly Session of Our Lord (1912), 105-176; H. H. Meeter, The Heavenly High Priesthood of Christ (1916), 1-220; H. Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatik, 3rd ed. III (1918), 345-550; L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 5th ed. (1949), 356-411; R. Leivestad, Christ the Conqueror (1954), 1-320; T. F. Torrance, Royal Priesthood (1955), 1-22; G. Vos, The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews (1956), 91-124; J. G. Davies, He Ascended into Heaven (1958), 15-224; J. Bosch, The Kingly Office of the Lord Jesus Christ (1959), 1-166; A. J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom (1959), 1-556; G. E. Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom (1964), 1-367; G. C. Berkouwer, The Work of Christ (1965), 1-358; L. Morris, The Cross in the New Testament (1965), 1-454; L. H. Marshall, The Work of Christ (1969), 1-128.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


General Titles of our Lord


Historical Review of the Theory


The Failure of the Offices to Secure Their Desired Ends


The Forecast of the True Prophet


1. Christ’s Manner of Teaching

2. Christ as Prophet in His Church


1. Judaic Priesthood

2. Sacrificial Relations of Christ in the Gospels

3. Christ’s Ethical Teaching Affected by Sacrificial Ideas

4. Mutual Confirmations of the Synoptics

5. The Dual Outgrowth of Sacrifice, the Victim and Sacrificer

6. Christ’s Priesthood in the Apostolic Ministry and Epistles

7. The Crowning Testimony of the Epistle to the Hebrews

8. Christ’s Relation to Sin Expressed in Sacrificial Terms


The Breakdown of the Secular Monarchy



General Titles of our Lord:

I. Christ’s Mediation Expressed in the Specific Offices.

In presenting a systematic idea of this Redemptive Work of Christ by Mediation, Christian thought gave to it a harmonious character by choosing the most general and familiar titles of the Lord as the most inclusive categories expressive of the mode of Redemption. These were prophetic, priestly and regal.

Historical Review of the Theory:

The first trace of this division is found in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica, I, 3, and his Demonstratio Evangelica, IV, 15. It was accepted very largely in the Greek church, and continues to be used by Russian ecclesiastical writers. The Roman church has not so generally followed it, though it is found in the writings of many Roman theologians. The earlier reformers, especially Lutheran, ignored it. But Gerhard employed it and the Lutheran theologians followed his example, although some of these repudiated it, as Ernesti, Doderlein and Knapp. Calvin employed the division in his Institutes, II, 15. It was incorporated in the Heidelberg Catechism and has been adopted by most theologians of the Reformed church and by English and American divines. In Germany most theological writers, such as De Wette, Schleiermacher, Tholuck, Nitzsch, Ebrard, adopt it, affirming it as expressive of the essential quality of the work of redemption, and the most complete presentment of its contents. The justification of this position is found in the important place occupied in the progress of revelation by those to whom were entrusted the duties of teaching and leading men in relation to God in the offices of priest, prophet and king. Even the modern development of Christian thought which extends the view of Divine dealing with man over the entire race and its religious history, not excluding those who would find in the most recent conditions of the world’s life the outworking of the will of God in the purposes of human salvation, cannot discover any better form of expressing Christ’s relation to man than in terms of the prophetic, the priestly and the governmental offices. The prophet is the instrument of teaching: the priest expresses the ethical relation of man to God; while the king furnishes the typical form of that exercise of sovereign authority and Providential direction which concerns the practical life of the race.

II. The Threefold Office in the Old Testament.

From the close relation which Jesus in both His person and work bore to the Old Testament dispensation, it is natural to turn to the preparatory history of the early Scriptures for the first notes of these mediatorial offices. That the development of the Jewish people and system ever moved toward Christ as an end and fulfillment is universally acknowledged. The vague and indeterminate conditions of both the religious and national life of Israel manifest a definite movement toward a clearer apprehension of man’s relationship to God. Nothing is more clear in Israel’s history than the gradual evolution of official service both of church and state, as expressed in the persons and duties of the prophet, the priest and the king. The early patriarch contained in himself the threefold dignity, and discharged the threefold duty. As the family became tribal, and the tribe national, these duties were divided. The order of the household was lost for a while in the chaos of the larger and less homogeneous society. The domestic altar was multiplied in many "high places." Professional interpreters of more or less religious value began to be seers, and here and there, prophets. The leadership of the people was occasional, ephemeral and uncertain. But the men of Divine calling appeared from time to time; the foundation work of Moses was built on; the regular order of the worship of Yahweh, notwithstanding many lapses, steadily prevailed. Samuel gave dignity to his post as judge, and he again beheld the open vision of the Lord; he offered the appointed sacrifices; he established the kingly office; and although he was not permitted to see the family of David on the throne, like Moses he beheld afar off the promised land of a Divinely appointed kingdom. With the accession of the Davidic house, the three orders of God’s service were completely developed. The king was seated on the throne, the priest was ministering at the one altar of the nation, the prophet with the Divine message was ever at hand to teach, to guide and to rebuke.

The Failure of the Offices to Secure Their Desired Ends:

Notwithstanding this growth of the special institutions--prophet, priest and king--the religious and national condition was by no means satisfactory. The kingdom was divided; external foes threatened the existence of the nation; idolatry was not extinguished, and the prophets who were true to Yahweh were compelled to warn and rebuke the sins of the rulers and the people, and even to testify against the priests for their unfaithfulness to the truth and purity of the religion which they professed. The best hopes of Israel and the Divine promises seem thus to be contradicted by the constant failure of the people to realize their best ideals. Hence, slowly arose a vague expectation of reform. The idea of the better condition which was coming grew ever more distinct, and settled down at length to Israel’s Messianic hope, expressed in various forms, finally converging to the looking for of one who should in some mysterious way gather into himself the ideas which belonged especially to the three great offices.

III. The Prophet.

In this article we are concerned only with the offices as they tend to their fulfillment in Christ. For the more general treatment of each office, reference must be made to the special articles.

The Forecast of the True Prophet:

IV. Christ the Prophet.

1. Christ’s Manner of Teaching:

How remarkable was His method of teaching! Parable, proverb, absolute affirmation, suggestion, allusion to simple objects, practical life--these all made His teaching powerful, easily understood, living; sometimes His action was His word--and all with a commanding dignity and gracious winsomeness, that was felt by His hearers and has ever been recognized (Mt 7:29). So perfect and exalted was the teaching of Jesus that many have supposed that revelation ceased with Him, and the immediate followers whom He especially inspired to be His witnesses and interpreters. Certainly in Him the prophetic ministry culminated.

2. Christ as Prophet in His Church:

An important aspect of Christ’s prophetic office is that of His relation to the church as the source, through the instrumentality of His Spirit, of ever-enlarging knowledge of Divine truth which it has been able to gain. This is the real significance of the claim which some churches make to be the custodians and interpreters of the tradition of faith, with which has also gone theory of development--not as a human act but as a ministration of the Lord through His Spirit, which is granted to the church. Even those who hold that all Divine truth is to be found in the sacred Scriptures have yet maintained that God has much truth still to bring out of His word by the leading and direction of the Spirit of Jesus. The Scripture itself declares that Christ was the light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world (Joh 1:9). He Himself promised that the Spirit which He would give would guide His followers into all truth (Joh 16:13). The apostles claimed to receive their teaching and direction of the church from the Lord (1Co 11:23). The testimony of Jesus is definitely declared to be the spirit of prophecy (Re 19:10). Indeed, all the apostolic writings in almost every line affirm that what they teach is received from the Spirit, who is the Spirit of the Lord.

V. The Priesthood of Christ.

1. Judaic Priesthood:

For the history of the development of the priesthood of Israel on which our Lord’s High-Priesthood is ideally based, reference must be made to the article especially dealing of with that subject. The bearings of that institution upon the work of Jesus as Redeemer alone fall under this section. Judaism like all religions developed an extensive system priestly service. As the moral sense of the people enlarged and became more distinct, the original simplicity of sacrifice, especially as a commensal act, in which the unity of the celebrants with each other and with God was expressed, was expanded into acts regularly performed by officials, in which worship, thanksgiving, covenant and priestly expiation and atonement were clearly and definitely expressed. The progress of sacrifice may be seen in the history of the Old Testament from Cain and Abel’s (Ge 4:3,4), Noah’s (Ge 8:20), Abraham’s covenant (Ge 15:9-18), etc., to the elaborate services of the Mosaic ritual set forth in Lev, the full development of which is found only in the later days of Israel. When Christ appeared, the entire sacerdotal system had become incorporated in the mind, customs and language of the people. They had learned more or less distinctly the truth of man’s relation to God in its natural character, and especially in that aspect where man by his sin had separated himself from God and laid himself open to the penalty of law. The conception of priesthood had thus grown in the consciousness of Israel, as the necessary instrument of mediation between man and God. Priestly acts were performed on behalf of the worshipper. The priest was to secure for man the Divine favor. This could only be gained by an act of expiation. Something must be done in order to set forth the sin of man, his acknowledgment of guilt, the satisfaction of the law, and the assurance of the Divine forgiveness, the restored favor of God and finally the unity of man and God.

2. Sacrificial Relations of Christ in the Gospels:

That the work of Christ partook of the nature of priestly service is already indicated by references in the Gospels themselves. He was called "Jesus; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins" (Mt 1:21). Salvation from sin, in the habit of thought at which the Jew had arrived, must have expressed itself most clearly in the symbolic signification of the sacrifices in the temple. Thus in the very name which our Lord received His priesthood is suggested. The frankincense of the Magi’s offering is not without its mystical meaning (Mt 2:11). Some may find in the Baptist’s words, "baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire" (Mt 3:11), a suggestion of priestly action, for the understanding of John’s declaration must be found in the conventional ideas of the Jewish thought of the period, determined as they undoubtedly were by the history of priestly service in the past and the fully developed ritual of the temple. The baptizing of the proselyte was not necessarily a priestly act, as indeed we cannot be certain that the baptism was always necessary at the introduction of a proselyte into the Jewish church. But the association of circumcision with the initiation of the proselyte certainly introduced the priest, and the sprinkling of the congregation by the priest was a familiar part of his official duties. It is quite probable therefore that John’s use of the expression carried with it something of the sacerdotal idea.

3. Christ’s Ethical Teaching Affected by Sacrificial Ideas:

4. Mutual Confirmations of the Synoptics:

5. The Dual Outgrowth of Sacrifice, the Victim and Sacrificer:

Here appears for the first time the double relation of Christ to the sacrificial idea, worked out in the later thought of the church into the full significance of our Lord’s priestly office. In Joh 11:25,26 Christ is the source of life, and life after death. It is hardly possible that this conception should not have, even if remotely suggested, some reference to the significance of sacrifice; for in the sacrifices the Divine claim for the blood, as specially to be set apart as the Divine portion, was ever present. God ever claimed the blood as His; for to Him the life was forfeited by sin. And moreover He alone possesses life and gives it. Of that forfeit and that Divine sovereignty of life, sacrifice is the expression. This is fully realized and made actual in Christ’s life and death for man, in which man shares by His unity with Christ. Man at once receives the penalty of sin in dying with Christ, and rises again into the new life which our Lord opened, and of which He is the ceaseless energy and power through the spirit of God. The emergence of this idea is illustrated by the evangelist in the sayings of Caiaphas, where as the high priest of the nation he gives, though unconsciously, a significant expression to the truth that it was "expedient" that Jesus `should die for the nation and for the children of God everywhere scattered’ (Joh 11:47-52). Here the symbolic significance of sacrifice is practically realized: death in the place of another and the giving of life to those for whom the sacrifice was offered. The vitalizing power of Christ’s death is asserted in the discourse following the visit of the Greeks (Joh 12:24-33). The idea of life from the dying seed is associated with the conception of the power of attraction and union by the cross. The natural law of life through death is thus in harmony with the gift of life through sacrifice involving death. That sacrifice may be found much more widely than merely in death, is shown by the law of service illustrated in the washing of the disciples’ feet (13:14-17); and this is declared to spring out of love (Joh 15:13). For the priestly ideas of our Lord’s prayer (Joh 17) see Intercession; Intercession of Christ; Prayers of Christ.

6. Christ’s Priesthood in the Apostolic Ministry and Epistles:

7. The Crowning Testimony of the Epistle to the Hebrews:

In 1Pe 1:2 the sacrificial element appears in the "sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." The sufferings of the Lord were prophesied, the spirit of the Anointed One signifying what the prophets desired to know (1Pe 1:11); the redemption by the precious blood of Christ is of "a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1Pe 1:19); the priesthood of believers was through Christ (1Pe 2:5), who carried up our sins in his body to the tree (1Pe 2:24 the Revised Version, margin).

In the Johannine writings we have the cleansing from sin by the blood of Jesus Christ (1Jo 1:7). Christ is said to have laid down His life for us (1Jo 3:16). The sacrifice as well as the teaching of Christ is insisted on in the coming by blood as well as by water (1Jo 5:6).

The appearance of Christ in Re 1:13 is high-priestly; His robe is the talar, the high-priestly garment. The sacrificial place of Christ is indicated by "a Lamb .... as though it had been slain" (Re 5:6,9,12). The repeated title of Christ throughout the Apocalypse is The Lamb.

8. Christ’s Relation to Sin Expressed in Sacrificial Terms:

This review of the Scripture teaching on priesthood clearly indicates the development of thought which led to the affirmation of our Lord’s priestly office. He came to put away sin. The doctrine of sin was intimately associated with the priestly service of the temple. The sacrifices were in some cases sin offerings, and in these there ever appeared, by the function of the blood which is the life, the fatal loss of life by sin, the punishment of which was the withdrawal of the Divine gift of life. The life was always in the sacrifice reserved for God. It was natural therefore when Christ appeared that His work in taking away sin should have been interpreted in the light of sacrificial thought. We find the idea steadily developed in the New Testament. He was the sacrifice, the Lamb of God. The question as to who offered the sacrifice was answered--Himself. Then He became in the conception of apostolic teaching, especially emphasized in the Epistle to the He, the priest as well as the sacrifice. This was at length completely defined in theology of the church, and has generally been accepted as setting forth an important aspect of our Lord’s redemptive work.

VI. Christ’s Kingly Office.

The Breakdown of the Secular Monarchy:

VII. The Messianic Basis of the Threefold Office of the Lord.

That the developments of Jewish thought centered round what may conveniently be called the idea of the Messiah is plain to any student of the Old Testament and other Jewish writings. They sprang from the ethical and theological ideas of this people, interpreted by and expressed in their political and religious forms, and continually nurtured by their experiences in the varied course of their national life. The essence of Messianic belief was a personal deliverer. Jewish history had always been marked by the appearance and the exploits of a great man. The capacity of the production of exceptional and creative individuals has been the characteristic of the race in all its ages. A judge, a lawgiver, a teacher, a seer, a king--each had helped, or even saved the people in some critical period. Each had added to the knowledge of God, whether received or rejected by the people. The issues of such service had remained, enshrined in a growing liturgy, or made permanent in a finally centralized and unified ritual, recorded in chronicle and lyric. The hope of Israel at one time did not take the completely personal form; indeed, it is probably easy to exaggerate the Messianic element as we look back from the perfect realization of it, in the Christian revelation and history. Much that has been called Messianic has been the result of reading into the Old Testament what has been derived from Christian thought and experience. Zephaniah has been described as a picture of Israel’s restoration and triumph. Yet apparently it has no reference to the personal element. Still the "Messiah" begins to appear in the prophetic writings (see above), especially in the royal elements of His office. It is at this point that the meaning of the term is to be considered. "Yahweh’s anointed" is found as applied to a king, and is familiar in this use in the Old Testament. But anointing belonged to the priesthood and to the prophetic order, if not actually, at least metaphorically, as sett ing apart (see 1Ki 19:16; Ps 105:15; Isa 61:1). And the word Messiah (Christ) the Anointed, came to be used for that conception of a person, perhaps first employed definitely (Da 9:24-26), who should be the Deliverer of the Jews and even still more widely, a Redeemer. In the age immediately preceding the Christian, the idea had taken possession not only of the Jews, but also of the Samaritans (Joh 4:25); and was not altogether unknown in Gentilethought; e.g. Sib Or, iii.97; Virgil Ecl. iv. It involves certainly the prophetic and royal offices and, in the idea of a Suffering Servant, was closely allied to the objects of the sacrificial order.

The claim of Jesus to be the Christ, and the recognition of this claim by His followers and apostles, gave a new meaning to the teaching of the Old Testament, and the writings lying outside the canon, but which were familiar to the people. Especially was the suffering and death of the Lord and its relation to sin the occasion of a new Understanding of the Mosaic and later-developed sacrificial system. Jesus as the Offerer of Himself perfected the function of the priest, as He became the Lamb of God who t aketh away the sins of the world. He thus completed the threefold ministry of the Messiah as the Prophet who reveals, the Priest who offers and intercedes, the King who rules. In Him the offices are commingled. He rules by His sacrifice and His teaching; He reveals by His Kingship and His offering. The offices spring from both His person and His work, and are united in the final issue of the salvation of the world.



Euseb., HE, I,3; Aug., De civ. Dei, x. 6; Catech. Council of Trent; Calvin, Instit., II, 15; Heidelb. Catech. Ans. 31 and Reformed Liturg; Thanksgiving aft. Inft. Bapt.; J. Gerhard, Loci Theolog; Spener, Catechism.; Ernesti, De officio Christi triplici; Knapp, Theology, section 107; Ebrard, Herzog Realencyc., under the word Further discussion is found in the standard theologies, as Pye Smith, First Lines, and Scrip. Teatim. to the Messiah; Hodge, Shedd, Weiss, Biblical Theol. of the New Testament, Van Oosterzee, Christian Dogmatics. See also Higginson, Ecce Messias; Moule’s brief but suggestive statement in Outlines of Christian Doctrine; Ritschl, A Critical History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification and Reconciliation, especially Introduction; Dorner, The Development of the Doctrine of the Person of Christ.

L. D. Bevan