Ch. 5 The Offices of Christ

Making Sense of CHRIST AND THE SPIRIT by Wayne Grudem

The Offices of Christ
How is Christ prophet, priest, and king?

There were three major offices among the people of Israel in the Old Testament:
the prophet (such as Nathan, 2 Sam. 7:2), the priest (such as Abiathar, 1 Sam. 30:7),
and the king (such as King David, 2 Sam. 5:3). These three offices were distinct. The
prophet spoke God’s words to the people; the priest offered sacrifices, prayers, and
praises to God on behalf of the people; and the king ruled over the people as God’s
representative. These three offices foreshadowed Christ’s own work in different ways.
Therefore we can look again at Christ’s work, now thinking about the perspective of
these three offices or categories.1 Christ fulfills these three offices in the following
ways: as prophet he reveals God to us and speaks God’s words to us; as priest he both
offers a sacrifice to God on our behalf and is himself the sacrifice that is offered; and
as king he rules over the church and over the universe as well. We now turn to discuss
each of these offices in more detail.
A. Christ As Prophet
The Old Testament prophets spoke God’s words to the people. Moses was the first
major prophet, and he wrote the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. After
Moses there was a succession of other prophets who spoke and wrote God’s words. But
Moses predicted that sometime another prophet like himself would come.
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you,
from your brethren — him you shall heed — just as you desired of the Lord
1John Calvin (1509 – 64) was the first major theologian to
apply these three categories to the work of Christ (see his Institutes
of the Chris tian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 15). The categories
have been adapted by many subsequent theologians as a
helpful way of understanding various aspects of Christ’s work.
Chapter 5
The Offices of Christ
How is Christ prophet, priest, and king?
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Chapter 5 • The Offices of Christ
your God. . . . And the Lord said to me . . . “I will raise up for them a prophet
like you from among their brethren; and I will put my words in his mouth,
and he shall speak to them all that I command him.” (Deut. 18:15 – 18)
However, when we look at the gospels we see that Jesus is not primarily viewed as
a prophet or as the prophet like Moses, though there are occasional references to this
effect. Often those who call Jesus a “prophet” know very little about him. For instance,
various opinions of Jesus were circulating: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah,
and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matt. 16:14; cf. Luke 9:8). When Jesus
raised the son of the widow of Nain from the dead, the people were afraid and said, “A
great prophet has arisen among us!” (Luke 7:16). When Jesus told the Samaritan woman
at the well something of her past life, she immediately responded, “Sir, I perceive that
you are a prophet” (John 4:19). But she did not then know very much at all about him.
The reaction of the man born blind who was healed in the temple was similar: “He is a
prophet” (John 9:17; note that his belief in Jesus’ messiahship and deity did not come
until v. 37, after a subsequent conversation with Jesus).2 Therefore, “prophet” is not a
primary designation of Jesus or one used frequently by him or about him.
Nevertheless, there was still an expectation that the prophet like Moses would come
(Deut. 18:15, 18). For instance, after Jesus had multiplied the loaves and fish, some
people exclaimed, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!” (John
6:14; cf. 7:40). Peter also identified Christ as the prophet predicted by Moses (see Acts
3:22 – 24, quoting Deut. 18:15). So Jesus is indeed the prophet predicted by Moses.
Nevertheless, it is significant that in the Epistles Jesus is never called a prophet or the
prophet. This is especially significant in the opening chapters of Hebrews, because there
was a clear opportunity to identify Jesus as a prophet if the author had wished to do so.
He begins by saying, “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). Then after
discussing the greatness of the Son, in chapters 1 – 2, the author concludes this section
not by saying, “Therefore, consider Jesus, the greatest prophet of all,” or something like
that, but rather by saying, “Therefore, holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call, consider
Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession” (Heb. 3:1).
Why did the New Testament epistles avoid calling Jesus a prophet? Apparently
because, although Jesus is the prophet whom Moses predicted, yet he is also far greater
than any of the Old Testament prophets, in two ways:
1. He is the one about whom the prophecies in the Old Testament were made. When Jesus
spoke with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he took them through the entire Old
Testament, showing how the prophecies pointed to him: “And beginning with Moses and
all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself”
(Luke 24:27). He told these disciples that they were “slow of heart to believe all that the
prophets had spoken,” showing that it was “necessary that the Christ should suffer these
things and enter into his glory” (Luke 24:25 – 26; cf. 1 Peter 1:11, which says that the
2In Luke 24:19 the two travelers on the road to Emmaus also
refer to Jesus as a “prophet,” thus putting him in a general category
of religious leaders sent from God, perhaps for the benefit
of the stranger whom they presumed to have little knowledge of
the events surrounding Jesus’ life.
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Making Sense of Christ and the Spirit
Old Testament prophets were “predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent
glory”). Thus, the Old Testament prophets looked forward to Christ in what they wrote,
and the New Testament apostles looked back to Christ and interpreted his life for the
benefit of the church.
2. Jesus was not merely a messenger of revelation from God (like all the other
prophets), but was himself the source of revelation from God. Rather than saying, as
all the Old Testament prophets did, “Thus says the Lord,” Jesus could begin divinely
authoritative teaching with the amazing statement, “But I say unto you” (Matt. 5:22,
et al.). The word of the Lord came to the Old Testament prophets, but Jesus spoke on
his own authority as the eternal Word of God (John 1:1) who perfectly revealed the
Father to us (John 14:9; Heb. 1:1 – 2).
In the broader sense of prophet, simply meaning one who reveals God to us and
speaks to us the words of God, Christ is of course truly and fully a prophet. In fact,
he is the one whom all the Old Testament prophets prefigured in their speech and in
their actions.
B. Christ As Priest
In the Old Testament, the priests were appointed by God to offer sacrifices. They
also offered prayers and praise to God on behalf of the people. In so doing they “sanctified”
the people or made them acceptable to come into God’s presence, albeit in a
limited way during the Old Testament period. In the New Testament Jesus becomes
our great high priest. This theme is developed extensively in the letter to the Hebrews,
where we find that Jesus functions as priest in two ways.
1. Jesus Offered a Perfect Sacrifice for Sin. The sacrifice which Jesus offered for sins
was not the blood of animals such as bulls or goats: “For it is impossible that the blood
of bulls and goats should take away sins” (Heb. 10:4). Instead, Jesus offered himself as
a perfect sacrifice: “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put
away sin by the sacrifice of himself ” (Heb. 9:26). This was a completed and final sacrifice,
never to be repeated, a theme frequently emphasized in the book of Hebrews (see 7:27;
9:12, 24 – 28; 10:1 – 2, 10, 12, 14; 13:12). Therefore Jesus fulfilled all the expectations that
were prefigured, not only in the Old Testament sacrifices, but also in the lives and actions
of the priests who offered them: he was both the sacrifice and the priest who offered the
sacrifice. Jesus is now the “great high priest who has passed through the heavens” (Heb.
4:14) and who has appeared “in the presence of God on our behalf ” (Heb. 9:24), since he
has offered a sacrifice that ended for all time the need for any further sacrifices.
2. Jesus Continually Brings Us Near to God. The Old Testament priests not only offered
sacrifices, but also in a representative way they came into the presence of God from time
to time on behalf of the people. But Jesus does much more than that. As our perfect high
priest, he continually leads us into God’s presence so that we no longer have need of a
Jerusalem temple, or of a special priesthood to stand between us and God. And Jesus does
not come into the inner part (the holy of holies) of the earthly temple in Jerusalem, but
he has gone into the heavenly equivalent to the holy of holies, the very presence of God
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himself in heaven (Heb. 9:24). Therefore we have a hope that follows him there: “We
have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine
behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a
high priest for ever” (Heb. 6:19 – 20). This means that we have a far greater privilege than
those people who lived at the time of the Old Testament temple. They could not even
enter into the first room of the temple, the holy place, for only the priests could go there.
Then into the inner room of the temple, the holy of holies, only the high priest could go,
and he could only enter there once a year (Heb 9:1 – 7). But when Jesus offered a perfect
sacrifice for sins, the curtain or veil of the temple that closed off the holy of holies was
torn in two from top to bottom (Luke 23:45), thus indicating in a symbolic way on earth
that the way of access to God in heaven was opened by Jesus’ death. Therefore the author
of Hebrews can make this amazing exhortation to all believers:
Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary [lit. ‘the
holy places,’ meaning both the ‘holy place’ and the ‘holy of holies’ itself] by
the blood of Jesus . . . and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith. (Heb. 10:19 – 22)
Jesus has opened for us the way of access to God so that we can continually “draw
near” into God’s very presence without fear but with “confidence” and in “full assurance
of faith.”
3. Jesus As Priest Continually Prays for Us. One other priestly function in the Old
Testament was to pray on behalf of the people. The author of Hebrews tells us that
Jesus also fulfills this function: “He is able for all time to save those who draw near
to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25).
Paul affirms the same point when he says Christ Jesus is the one “who indeed intercedes
for us” (Rom. 8:34).
Some have argued that this work of high priestly intercession is only the act of
remaining in the Father’s presence as a continual reminder that he himself has paid
the penalty for all our sins. According to this view, Jesus does not actually make specific
prayers to God the Father about individual needs in our lives, but “intercedes”
only in the sense of remaining in God’s presence as our high priestly representative.
However, this view does not seem to fit the actual language used in Romans 8:34
and Hebrews 7:25. In both cases, the word intercede translates the Greek term entygchano.
m This word does not mean merely “to stand as someone’s representative before
another person,” but clearly has the sense of making specific requests or petitions
before someone. For example, Festus uses this word to say to King Agrippa, “You see
this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me” (Acts 25:24). Paul also
uses it of Elijah when he “pleads with God against Israel” (Rom. 11:2). In both cases
the requests are very specific, not just general representations.3
3Literature outside the New Testament provides further
examples of entygchano m used to mean “to bring requests or
petitions.” See, e.g., Wisd. 8:21 (“I asked the Lord, and made
petition to him”); 1 Macc. 8:32; 3 Macc. 6:37 (“They requested
the King, that he send them back to their home”); 1 Clem. 56:1;
Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians 4:3; Josephus, Antiquities
12:18; 16:170 (the Jews in Cyrene petition Marcus Agrippa
concerning people in their land who are falsely collecting taxes).
More examples could be found as well (cf. also Rom. 8:27, and,
using a cognate word, v. 26).
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We may conclude, then, that both Paul and the author of Hebrews are saying that
Jesus continually lives in the presence of God to make specific requests and to bring
specific petitions before God on our behalf. This is a role that Jesus, as God-man, is
uniquely qualified to fulfill. Although God could care for all our needs in response to
direct observation (Matt. 6:8), yet it has pleased God, in his relationship to the human
race, to decide to act instead in response to prayer, apparently so that the faith shown
through prayer might glorify him. It is especially the prayers of men and women created
in his image that are pleasing in God’s sight. In Christ, we have a true man, a perfect
man, praying and thereby continually glorifying God through prayer. Thus, human
manhood is raised to a highly exalted position: “There is one God, and there is one
mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
Yet in his human nature alone Jesus could not of course be such a great high priest
for all his people all over the world. He could not hear the prayers of persons far away,
nor could he hear prayers that were only spoken in a person’s mind. He could not hear
all requests simultaneously (for in the world at any one moment there are millions of
people praying to him). Therefore, in order to be the perfect high priest who intercedes
for us, he must be God as well as man. He must be one who in his divine nature can both
know all things and bring them into the presence of the Father. Yet because he became
and continues to be man he has the right to represent us before God and he can express
his petitions from the viewpoint of a sympathetic high priest, one who understands by
experience what we go through.
Therefore, Jesus is the only person in the whole universe for all eternity who can be
such a heavenly high priest, one who is truly God and truly man, exalted forever above
the heavens.
The thought that Jesus is continually praying for us should give us great encouragement.
He always prays for us according to the Father’s will, so we can know that his
requests will be granted. Berkhof says:
It is a consoling thought that Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent
in our prayer life; that He is presenting to the Father those spiritual needs
which were not present to our minds and which we often neglect to include in
our prayers; and that He prays for our protection against the dangers of which
we are not even conscious, and against the enemies which threaten us, though
we do not notice it. He is praying that our faith may not cease, and that we may
come out victoriously in the end.4
C. Christ As King
In the Old Testament the king has authority to rule over the nation of Israel. In
the New Testament, Jesus was born to be King of the Jews (Matt. 2:2), but he refused
any attempt by people to try to make him an earthly king with earthly military and
political power (John 6:15). He told Pilate, “My kingship is not of this world; if my
4Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans,
1939, 1941), p. 403.
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kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over
to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world” (John 18:36). Nonetheless, Jesus
did have a kingdom whose arrival he announced in his preaching (Matt. 4:17, 23;
12:28, et al.). He is in fact the true king of the new people of God. Thus, Jesus refused
to rebuke his disciples who cried out at his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, “Blessed is
the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38; cf. vv. 39 – 40; also Matt.
21:5; John 1:49; Acts 17:7).
After his resurrection, Jesus was given by God the Father far greater authority over
the church and over the universe. God raised him up and “made him sit at his right
hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and
above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come;
and he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the
church” (Eph. 1:20 – 22; Matt. 28:18; 1 Cor. 15:25). That authority over the church and
over the universe will be more fully recognized by people when Jesus returns to earth
in power and great glory to reign (Matt. 26:64; 2 Thes. 1:7 – 10; Rev. 19:11 – 16). On that
day he will be acknowledged as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16) and every
knee shall bow to him (Phil. 2:10).
D. Our Roles As Prophets, Priests, and Kings
If we look back at the situation of Adam before the fall and forward to our future
status with Christ in heaven for eternity, we can see that these roles of prophet, priest,
and king had parallels in the experience that God originally intended for man, and will
be fulfilled in our lives in heaven.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam was a “prophet” in that he had true knowledge of
God and always spoke truthfully about God and about his creation. He was a “priest”
in that he was able freely and openly to offer prayer and praise to God. There was no
need of a sacrifice to pay for sins, but in another sense of sacrifice Adam and Eve’s work
would have been offered to God in gratitude and thanksgiving, and so would have been
a “sacrifice” of another sort (cf. Heb. 13:15). Adam and Eve were also “kings” (or king
and queen) in the sense of having been given dominion and rule over the creation (Gen.
1:26 – 28).
After sin entered into the world, fallen human beings no longer functioned as prophets,
for they believed false information about God and spoke falsely about him to others.
They no longer had priestly access to God because sin cut them off from his presence.
Instead of ruling over the creation as kings, they were subject to the harshness of the
creation and tyrannized by flood, drought, and unproductive land, as well as by tyrannical
human rulers. The nobility of man as God had created him — to be a true prophet,
priest, and king — was lost through sin.
There was a partial recovery of the purity of these three roles in the establishment of
the three offices of prophet, priest, and king in the kingdom of Israel. From time to time
godly men occupied these offices. But there were also false prophets, dishonest priests,
and ungodly kings, and the original purity and holiness with which God intended man
to fulfill these offices were never fully realized.
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When Christ came, we saw for the first time the fulfillment of these three roles,
since he was the perfect prophet, who most fully declared God’s words to us, the
perfect high priest, who offered the supreme sacrifice for sins and who brought his
people near to God, and the true and rightful king of the universe, who will reign forever
with a scepter of righ teousness over the new heavens and new earth.
But amazingly we as Chris tians even now begin to imitate Christ in each of these
roles, though in a subordinate way. We have a “prophetic” role as we proclaim the gospel
to the world and thereby bring God’s saving Word to people. In fact, whenever we speak
truthfully about God to believers or to unbelievers we are fulfilling a “prophetic” function
(using the word prophetic in a very broad sense).
We are also priests, because Peter calls us “a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). He
invites us to be built into a spiritual temple and “to be a holy priesthood” as well as
“to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5). The
author of Hebrews also views us as priests who are able to enter into the holy of holies
(Heb. 10:19, 22) and able to “continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is,
the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb. 13:15). He also tells us that our good
works are sacrifices pleasing to God: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you
have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Heb. 13:16). Paul also has a priestly role in
mind for us when he writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God,
to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your
spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).
We also share in part now in the kingly reign of Christ, since we have been raised to
sit with him in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6), thus sharing to some degree in his authority
over evil spiritual forces that may be arrayed against us (Eph. 6:10 – 18; James 4:7; 1
Peter 5:9; 1 John 4:4). God has even now committed to us authority over various areas
in this world or in the church, giving to some authority over much and to some authority
over little. But when the Lord returns those who have been faithful over little will be
given authority over much (Matt. 25:14 – 30).
When Christ returns and rules over the new heavens and new earth, we will once
again be true “prophets” because our knowledge will then be perfect and we shall know
as we are known (1 Cor. 13:12). Then we will speak only truth about God and about
his world, and in us the original prophetic purpose which God had for Adam will be
fulfilled. We will be priests forever, for we will eternally worship and offer prayer to God
as we behold his face and dwell in his presence (Rev. 22:3 – 4). We will continually offer
ourselves and all that we do or have as sacrifices to our most worthy king.
Yet we shall also, in subjection to God, share in ruling over the universe, for with him
we shall “reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5). Jesus says, “He who conquers, I will grant
him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father
on his throne” (Rev. 3:21). In fact, Paul tells the Corinthians, “Do you not know that
the saints will judge the world? . . . Do you not know that we are to judge angels?” (1 Cor.
6:2 – 3). Therefore for all eternity, we shall forever function as subordinate prophets,
priests, and kings, yet always subject to the Lord Jesus, the supreme prophet, priest,
and king.
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1. Can you see some ways in which an understanding of Christ’s role as prophet,
priest, and king will help you understand more fully the functions of prophets,
priests, and kings in the Old Testament? Read the description of Solomon’s
kingdom in 1 Kings 4:20 – 34 and 1 Kings 10:14 – 29. Do you see in Solomon’s
kingdom any foreshadowing of the three offices of Christ? Any foreshadowing
of Christ’s eternal kingdom? Do you think that you have greater or lesser privileges
living now as a member of the church in the new covenant age?
2. Can you see any fulfillment of the role of prophet in your life now? Of the role of
priest? Of the role of king? How could each of these functions be developed in
your life?
intercession priest
king prophet
Baker, J. P. “Offices of Christ.” In NDT, pp. 476 – 77.
Clowney, Edmund P. The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament.
Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1988.
Letham, Robert. The Work of Christ. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993.
Reymond, R. L. “Offices of Christ.” In EDT, p. 793.
1 Peter 2:9 – 10: But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own
people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into
his marvelous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had
not received mercy but now you have received mercy.
“Rejoice the Lord Is King”
This powerful hymn encourages us to rejoice at Christ’s present and future kingship.
(An excellent hymn about Christ’s role as priest is “Arise, My Soul, Arise,” also by Charles
Wesley, and this may be used as an alternative hymn. Another alternative is “How Sweet
the Name of Jesus Sounds,” by John Newton, esp. v. 4.)
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Rejoice, the Lord is King: your Lord and King adore;
Rejoice, give thanks and sing, and triumph evermore:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice.
Jesus, the Savior, reigns, the God of truth and love;
When he had purged our stains, he took his seat above:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice.
His kingdom cannot fail, he rules o’er earth and heav’n;
The keys of death and hell are to our Jesus giv’n:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice.
He sits at God’s right hand till all his foes submit,
And bow to his command, and fall beneath his feet:
Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
Rejoice, again I say, rejoice.