"In short, since neither as God alone could he feel death, nor as man alone could he overcome it, he coupled human nature with divine that to atone for sin he might submit the weakness of the one to death; and that, wrestling with death by the power of the other nature, he might win victory for us" (John Calvin, Institutes, 2:12:3, Battles Translation; cf. Beverage translation).
The person of Christ was discussed in the articles, The Deity of Christ, The Humanity of Christ, and Two United Natures in One Person. However, the work of Christ is equally important to consider as the person. Each - the person and the work - is significant and an integral part of who Jesus was: without the incarnation there would be no atonement; and, without the atonement there would be no incarnation. For, Christ the Person came to accomplish a work within God's redemptive plan.
This article introduces the work of Christ by first considering His "offices" of Prophet, Priest, and King. These offices of ancient Israel properly root the work of Christ, a Jew, within the promises of God unto Israel and consequently allow a right interpretation of His work. Additionally, they provide a balance of Christ's entire work as theologian Millard Erickson notes: "Jesus reveals God to man, reconciles God and man to one another, and rules and will rule over the whole of the creation, including man" (Christian Theology, Ch. 36, p. 762).
Christ As Prophet
A prophet is one who receives revelations of God by various means (visions, dreams, voice) and speaks them unto the people (Num. 12:6; Jer. 1:7-10). Jesus Christ was prophesied to arise as a prophet (Deut. 18:18) and so did, explicitly claiming the office for himself (Matt 13:57; Luke 13:33). Others recognized that Jesus was a prophet (Matt. 21:11; Luke 7:16), since Jesus predicted the future (Matt 24:3; Luke 19:41-44, John 2:19-21), applied God's Word to the times (against the Pharisees and religious leaders and against Satan), and called sinners to repentance (Matt. 4:17; Matt 11:20-21; Mark 1:14-15). However, unlike prior prophets, Jesus differed in that:
Christ As Priest
While Old Testament prophets normally represented God to the people (via proclamation) and taught the moral law, priests normally represented the people before God and emphasized the ceremonial law. Priests were by divine order (Heb. 5:4) able to bless God’s people and act on their behalf before Almighty God (Heb. 5:1-3). Jesus Christ, perfect in His humanity, held the very office of priest. Unlike, however, the Levitical priests who were required to be direct descendents of Aaron (Nu. 3:6-12; 16:40), Christ was a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 5:6; 7:17; 7:21), a priest (Gen. 14:18) recognized by even Abraham as such in his tithe (Heb. 7:2)3.
Christ, the Messiah, was foretold by the Old Testament prophets to be a priest (Ps. 110:4; Zech. 6:13; Isa. 53, esp. v. 4). In the New Testament, Christ exercised this office by demonstrating a special relationship with God's temple (the place of occupation of the priests), especially as He thwarted the marketers there (John 2:16-17). But, perhaps most important is that Christ interceded for His people before the Father (for Peter in Luke 22:31-32; for His disciples in John 14:26; and for His people in the High Priestly prayer of John 17). This is why the New Testament can later refer to Him (note, Christ was not only the one making an offering before God, but He was also the offering itself) as a fragrant sacrificial offering (Eph. 5:22), which satisfied the justice of God and reconciled His people to God. Additionally, the believer can rest in knowing that Christ intercedes even now in His office as priest for the believer (Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25; 9:24).
Christ As King
The ultimate King of Israel was always God Himself (Ex. 15:1). As king, God established the laws and administered justice. Only because there was a lack of leadership in Israel did the Lord establish an earthly office of king for the Jews (Judges 17:6; 1 Sam. 8:11). The office of king served as an earthly substitute for Yahweh. The king represented the people before God, protected Israel against its enemies, and served as the final "court of appeals" on all matters of justice. The king was even involved in religious matters (held a place of honor in the temple, officiated at national sacrifices, prayed for the people, appointed and dismissed chief priests, and supervised the priesthood and worship). Unfortunately, the men of Israel did not uphold the office of king very well. However, Jesus Christ was not only labeled a king4, but He perfectly upheld that office as well.
It is important to note that there are two different ways in which Christ can be spoken of as king. First, He is king universally. In that sense, He was king before the church, Israel, or any creation ever existed (i.e. as the eternal Son of God before all things). Secondly, He is king in a mediatorial sense. By creating all things, Christ stands generally at the head and is sovereign over all of creation (Col 1:16-17). This is why He holds that high title, "firstborn," a preeminent designation of authority and rule. It is His entire creation that received the curse of the fall (Gen. 3:13-19) and now waits with groaning for salvation (Rom. 8:22-23). In the end, Jesus -as The King - will unify all things under His Name and for His purposes (1 Cor. 15:24-27). He will restore to His church the dominion originally given to Adam (and in a sense already has begun so, per the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-22).
Each of the "offices" of Christ is not completely separate from the other. For example, the Atonement of Christ, although primarily thought of as a priestly work, is at the same time revelatory, in that it revealed the holiness and love of God. Additionally, the three offices above are not titles to abstract the work of Christ into obscurity. Christ was a person and was personal and His work was personal, rather than "title-istic." However, these offices do indeed root the work of Christ in the Old Testament and God's single-purposed redemptive-historical work of God and relationship with fallen man.
1An analogous concept as the Old Testament saliah, where the representative or messenger is equivalent in authority as the one who sends him/her. This is like the modern concept of one who has the "power of attorney."
2Also notable is that faith in scripture is necessary (and compatible) with faith in Christ. One cannot say, "I'm just living for Jesus" and ignore the scriptures. Nor could one say, "I don't put my faith in the scriptures, but I put mine in Jesus." The two are one and the same as Jesus is the Word itself and co-inspirer with the Holy Spirit. The scriptures lead to faith in Christ; and, faith in Christ is accompanied by faith in and submission to the scriptures, which contain the revelations and commandments of Christ.
3The writer of Hebrews provides information on the hardly mentioned Melchizedek of the Old Testament, which indicates that he was a type or foreshadowing of Christ, who was to come. Melchizedek was without a genealogy in the Old Testament and had neither “beginning of days nor end of life,” and was “like” the Son of God, remaining a “priest continually” (Heb. 7:3). The same is true of Christ’s priesthood, which is solely His, non-transferable (the literal meaning of Heb. 7:23-25).
4Some would insist that Christ distanced himself from the office of king by stating that He was a king of a kingdom that was not of this world (John 18:36). There is even an account of Jesus' fleeing to avoid being made king by force (John 6:15-16). However, immediately after claiming that His kingdom was not of this world, Jesus acknowledged before Pilate that He was indeed a king (John 18:37). And, His fleeing in John 6 was because He did not want to be made king by force. Similar to Jesus' refusal to submit to death until it was time, Jesus was not subject to the whims of man with respect to His kingship. Yet, indeed, He was a king. In fact, He was a king from before all time universally, not just over His people.
All Rights Reserved.