‘The Three Offices of Christ’ Deuteronomy 17:14-18:22 September 27, 1992
v. 17 Alas, an indication of things to come!
v. 18:9 Between sections devoted to Israel’s priesthood and prophecy, several verses forbidding them to recognize or make any use of the priestly and prophetic practices of Canaan.
This is a highly interesting passage of Scripture for the way in which it places together the three great offices of the Old Testament church and people of God. God, then as now, though he communicated his presence directly to the hearts of his people by his Spirit, used men as the instruments of his presence. He spoke to his people through prophets, he granted forgiveness of sins and maintained fellowship with them through priests, and ruled over them through kings.
Notice, how, in the case of each office here, the point is made that those who hold the office are chosen by God and exercise their office as prophet, priest, or king, in his name and for his sake. You have that in 17:15,19 with regard to the king; in 18:5,7 with regard to the priest; and in 18:15,18 with regard to the prophet. In each case these are God’s officers, who speak and act on his behalf.
This is not information of merely historical importance. For, as you well know, those three offices and the officers who filled them in the ancient epoch were enacted and living prophesies of Jesus Christ. These offices are one of the most important ways God chose to reveal in advance what the Messiah would be, what he would do, and how he would save his people from their sins.
Almost from the beginning, from the early chapters of Genesis, we begin to gather that our salvation will come to us from the hands of a prophet, a priest, and a king. And later in the OT it becomes clearer that, however the offices are separated in the OT law, they will finally be held in the hands of a single man who will be prophet, priest, and king at once. Moses, the greatest figure in the OT history was a prophet, as he says here, but he also did many things which would later be particularly the business of priests — remember how he interceded for Israel, for example — and, as a ruler, he was in everything but name, Israel’s king. You remember that David, the king par excellence in the OT, was also a prophet who wrote Psalms with great [news] in them and also did some priestly things, such as blessing the people. You remember how, much later in OT history, Zechariah the prophet was instructed by the Lord to put a crown on Joshua the High Priest’s head. But then he had to take the crown off again and store it away, for a priest on the throne was not for that time, but was an enacted prophecy of things still to come.
All of this about the Savior being a prophet, priest, and king is taken up in detail in the NT and applied to Jesus Christ and that is why, in Christian theology from the very beginning, and especially since the Reformation, the work of Christ as our Savior has usually been presented in terms of his being our Prophet, our Priest, and our King. Our Shorter Catechism asks: ‘What offices does Christ execute as our Redeemer?’ And the answer is given: ‘Christ, as our Redeemer executes the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a King, both in his estate of humiliation and of exaltation.’ Jesus Christ is presented in the Bible, as the prophet, the priest, and the king. We know a great deal about what that means, because these offices are so richly described and illustrated in the OT.
When the birth of Jesus was announced, it was declared by the angel that Jesus would be the Messiah, the anointed one, who would reign on the throne of his father David; that is, he would be the king of which the OT kings, and David especially, were an anticipation. Later, over and again, the Lord Christ is presented to us in the NT as the King, the King of Kings.
What is more, the Lord Jesus is also the priest. The book of Hebrews devotes a great deal of its space to demonstrating that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all of the regulations and purposes of the OT priesthood.
And, finally, he is also the prophet. He is the Word of God, he reveals the Father, he is the preacher of good news to the poor, and so on. Then, lest anyone miss this point, Peter in Acts 3:20-26, quotes this very passage we have read in Deuteronomy 18:15ff. about the prophet to come and says that Jesus is that prophet like Moses but greater than Moses.
Now, the Bible never in so many words explains why there should be these three offices, why these and why no others. But, it is not difficult to discover at least some of the reasons why God should have it that his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, should be our prophet, our priest, and our king.
First, as God created mankind, all men and women were intended to fulfil this three-fold office and work. Every human being is to be a prophet, a priest, and a king. For that purpose God endowed mankind first with knowledge of himself, second, with righteousness and with the capacity to have fellowship with him, and third with both the right and the power to rule over the creation.
All of these offices and callings were perverted in the fall, but it is precisely to the same offices and callings that man is restored in Christ. Now God grants in grace the knowledge of himself, as the Bible often says; his people are taught by the Lord and have his truth in their mouths. When God calls a people to himself he makes them, the OT says as well as the NT, a ‘kingdom of priests,’ a kingdom of men and women who call upon the Lord, who worship him and help others to do so. It is the great promise of the gospel that all who are saved will, at the last, reign with the Lord Christ for ever and ever.
Prophet, priest, and king, are thus a way of describing the true purposes of human life and, as Christ is both the perfection and the fulfillment of that life, it is no wonder that he is above all others the prophet, the priest, and the king.
A second, and a still more important reason why Jesus Christ is our prophet, priest, and king is that our salvation absolutely required that the work of each of these offices be done perfectly and infinitely on our behalf. As a result of sin, the Bible says, our foolish minds became darkened. We no longer recognized God for what he is. We believed lies and suppressed the truth. We were blind and could not see. And so Christ came to make known to us the truth concerning ourselves and God and salvation. He gave sight to the blind and made known the Father in heaven. All the other prophets in the Bible and the Bible itself, were a part of that prophetic work of Jesus Christ, but he himself was its culmination and completion. He was himself the Word of God. All that we needed to know, he has taught us by his Word and Spirit. How could we ever call on whom we have not heard? So Christ speaks and his people hear his voice and follow him.
Further, in our guilt, we were estranged from God and subject to his wrath. And so Christ the High Priest came and offered a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and make us friends with God again. He was the sacrificer and the sacrifice. And, then, when the work was done, he ascended to heaven and there continues to be our High Priest by interceding or praying for us. As Augustus Toplady puts it in a hymn of his:
And what he procured on the tree,
For me he demands in the sky.
Then, finally, in our sin we were rebels against God and had allied ourselves with many who were the enemies of our souls, though we did not know it. So Christ came and conquered us, subdued our stubborn hearts and made us his willing servants, and then did battle with the enemies of our salvation: the world, the flesh, and the devil, and freed us from them all. Even now, he rules over all things on our behalf to ensure that, at the last, no one and nothing will prevent our final ascent to the eternal city.
Prophet, priest, and king. We needed Christ to be each one for us, and because he was, we, now and forever, in our own smaller and different way, will ourselves be prophets, priests, and kings to God.
Now there may be any number of applications of the Bible’s teaching that Jesus Christ is his people’s prophet, priest, and king, but I’m sure that chief among them is this: we are in this way being taught to prize and cherish the Lord Christ as a perfectly complete and sufficient Savior. There is not a need you have which he does not supply, not a problem you face that he does not solve, not a danger to which you are exposed that he does not rescue you from. It is the all-sufficiency of Christ that we are being taught. We are being directed, in this way, to look to Christ always for everything and never to another. And depending upon him, we are assured by this doctrine of Christ’s triple office, that we will never find him wanting to provide all that we need.
Now, I thought for several days how I might help you to see the glory of Christ Jesus in this doctrine of his triple office and how I might help you to draw from it a stronger faith in the Lord, a deeper appreciation for him, and a greater confidence in him as your Savior. And I decided that really, what I was to do in this sermon, was what God himself did. He used human prophets, priests, and kings, to reveal his Son. I’m going to do the same.
Think first of a prophet. Think of the great prophets. Think of Jeremiah, the man of sorrows, whose sermons were so full of the thunder and lightning of God, sounding and flashing about Israel’s sins. Think of the solemn power of his sermons, but also the deep and tender sympathy of that man and his message. How faithfully he preached the truth of God, with what tears he preached and pied with the people of the Lord. How you and I would hang on the words of this great preacher if only we were given to hear one of his sermons.
Or think of John the Baptist. What a lion of a man he was! No reed shaken by the wind was he! Unafraid of the face of any man, he spoke the truth to the great and the small, the powerful and the oppressed and when people heard him speak, they heard the voice of God himself.
Or think of Peter and his sermon on the Day of Pentecost. Those thousands of folk had got up that morning with no idea that in a few short hours they would be listening to God speak to them, but caught and kept by Peter’s words, they were at last, the Scripture says, ‘pierced to the heart’ and, though indifferent to the whole question just an hour before, now their entire lives compressed into this moment, cried out to know how to be saved.
I have to say that I grew up without much of a sense of how powerful, how wonderful, how life-changing, preaching can be. I knew very little of that kind of preaching which creates a hush that tells you that Christ is in the midst. It was later that I heard some preaching like that, preaching that brought the sun’s fire down to earth, that drew back the curtain and gave me a glimpse of the unseen world. There is nothing in all the world that is needed more at this hour than that kind of preaching. There is nothing in the church that is more desperately needed than just that kind of prophet. We come into church beset by the sins and the fears and the sorrows of our lives, wearing — as one put it — ‘hidden sackcloth near the heart,’ and what do we need except to hear God himself speak! Let us hear God speak his love, his promise, his sovereign purposes and we can leave riding on the heights of the land!
There is a famous letter, a report written some 350 years ago by an English merchant, describing to friends in London certain preachers he had heard while on a business trip to Scotland. At St. Andrews he had listened to Robert Blair. ‘That man,’ he wrote, ‘showed me the majesty of God.’ Afterwards he heard ‘a little fair man’ preach — he is describing Samuel Rutherford. ‘That man showed me the loveliness of Christ.’ Then at Irvine he heard a sermon by a preacher he described as ‘a well-favoured, proper old man’ — he meant David Dickson -- , and that man showed me all my heart.’ 0 for such preachers in large numbers in our day and in our churches. What a different world it would be and what different lives we would live and what higher joys. Such is the picture of the true prophet both in Holy Scripture and in Church History: he makes the truth to live and to sing and to work in the heart and through him, God’s own voice rings in our souls.
But take all of those prophets, from Jeremiah to the present day; take the very best of them, the holiest, the most spiritually impressive, the most powerful preachers, and you have only a bare image, the vaguest shadow, the palest imitation of the prophet, the Lord Jesus Christ. All of those other prophets, who, in any case, cannot preach at all unless first Christ calls them and puts his word in their mouths, all of them, are not worthy to untie the thongs of his sandals. When he opens his mouth to speak the truth of God is a living power before which all things in heaven and earth must submit.
Then think of the priest. Think back to the men in Holy Scripture who so faithfully and earnestly led the people to the Lord, and cared for their souls, and prayed for them. Think of godly Jehoiada, who brought up the young king Joash and raised him to do that which honored the Lord. And think of many other faithful shepherds of the sheep in the centuries since. Faithful men who loved the Lord’s house and people, and emptied themselves in caring for them. Men of the most intense labor and the most ardent prayer and all of it directed to the good of the saints.
Think of those multitudes of faithful men in years before inoculations who, without hesitation, entered the homes and came to the bedsides of parishioners dying from plagues and other infectious diseases, all to provide spiritual guidance and encouragement or warning when the dying needed it most. We have the record in his own hand of Robert McCheyne’s numerous pastoral visits to his people dying of influenza when an epidemic of it was raging in Dundee. Or think of William Guthrie, who loved his people so much — even though they were at first hostile toward the faith and toward him — that he sometimes would disguise himself as a traveller simply to gain access to their homes. Eternity alone will reveal how many saints are now in heaven because of the faithful and tearful prayers of pastors who were their good shepherds and wished not to let a single one of their sheep wander from their fold.
We know what a faithful priest is. We know what it means to lay down your life for the sheep and to intercede for them. But take the most faithful priests you know anything about, the best shepherds of souls whom we see in the Bible or in the church, and you will find them the rankest amateurs compared to the great High Priest, who gave himself up for the church and intercedes for her still. For sympathy and understanding, for concern and care, for love and passion, for wisdom and insight into the problems of human life, for faithfulness and steadfastness, Jesus Christ is the Priest, the shepherd, compared to which the best of all the others are but sheep themselves. He has not lost one of his sheep in all these centuries. They can all be brokenhearted under the heaviest sorrow, and they will not exhaust his sympathy.
Third, think of the king. Think back to the great kings of Holy Scripture: David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah. Strong men, good men, wise men. The people of God prospered during their reigns. They protected them from their enemies and granted them peace on every side. Their laws were just and good and the wicked were not allowed to trouble the good.
But not just biblical kings were such men. I read over the last two days the wonderful biography of Louis IX of France, the famous St. Louis, by his contemporary and close friend and associate Jean Joinville. What a wonderful man and king Louis was. I read passage after passage that I wished I could read to you in its entirety just to give you some sense of this great and good and godly king. In a day when kings were often corrupted by their position and when few of them had a truly Christian outlook on life, here was a king who sought first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and, as a result, his people had added to them everything else.
He was generous to the poor from his own wealth and possessions. He fed them daily at his own table and gave them his own clothes. He was always moderate in eating and drinking. Perhaps, more striking, he never complained about the food set before him, because he didn’t want to hurt the feelings of his cooks. Joinville’s narrative has the definite ring of truth to it in large part because Joinville himself is so amazed at all that he saw in his king’s life and character and so freely admits that more than once Louis had to take him to task for not being the same kind of man. Joinville recalls once when as a young man, he criticized in the presence of the king another young man for dressing too extravagantly and was surprised to find the king, who himself dressed very humbly for a king and warned others of the dangers of lavish and expensive clothes, nevertheless coming to the defense of the well-dressed young man Joinville had criticized. Later the king took Joinville aside and confessed that he had wrongly defended the other man, but had done so because he could tell that he had been so hurt and so stung by the criticism, he felt he needed to encourage him. So, he told, Joinville, don’t pay any attention to what I said in the young man’s defense. A man of stern principle and tender heart. That was Louis IX.
He was a king who cared for his people. He took care to abolish any tax which seemed to him to impose a hardship on the people. He was centuries ahead of his time in enacting and enforcing laws requiring government officers to show no partiality, to take no bribes, and to ensure that great and small alike obeyed the same laws.
He told his son that he would rather have a stranger on the throne of France than his son rule his people unjustly.
He was himself always settling quarrels among his nobles because the Lord Christ had said: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers.’ He was a man of worship, a man of faith. He talked often of heaven and of the importance of living in this world only for the next. He was at the same time, a brave soldier and leader of armies. As a final measure of the man, listen to Louis’ deathbed instructions to his son and successor:
My dear son, the first thing I would teach you is to set your heart to love God…Keep yourself from doing anything that is displeasing to God…If God sends you adversity, accept it patiently, and give thanks for it to our Savior; consider that you have deserved it, and hope that He will make it turn to your advantage. If, on the other hand, God sends you prosperity, then thank Him humbly, so that you do not become worse from pride…For we ought not to use God’s gifts to fight against him… And so it reads, on and on, one holy and sacred sentence after another.
How fortunate were his people. No wonder they loved him as they did and mourned his death as they did. A good and great Christian king. A government that makes ours today seem pathetic in comparison. But, great a king as Louis was, he was a mere schoolboy next to his Master! the Lord Christ, is the King of Kings. Far more powerful, more wise, more good, more just, able to lead and rule his people even in their hearts; able to conquer all their enemies completely; able to bring his kingdom to perfect peace, happiness, and bounty.
You would love to have a preacher like Jeremiah or John the Baptist or Spurgeon or Lloyd-Jones and a shepherd like Jehoiada or Cyprian or McCheyne and a king like David or Louis IX. Would that we did in the church and the world today have an abundance of such men. How much better life would be!
But, you see, you have an infinitely greater prophet, priest, and king than any of these ever were or could have been. The Lord Christ is everything they were — indeed he made them what they were — and infinitely more than they were in all three of his offices. Why then should we not turn to him and depend upon him for all that we need and desire.
If he is the prophet, the priest, and the king then it is our wisdom and blessing to seek to be taught by no one else but the Lord Jesus and to seek his teaching every day, to be led and cared for by no one else but the Good Shepherd, and to submit no other than the King of Kings. Too often we live in the dark and wander aimlessly and serve no one really because we are not living with a sense of Christ’s glory and majesty as Prophet, Priest, and King.
In the old days in Israel, if people got wind that there was a prophet in the area, they dropped what they were doing and ran to hear him speak that they might know what God was saying to them. And people went to the priest to unburden themselves of their sins and their problems and to request prayer for themselves. And they gathered before their king to declare their allegiance to him and to promise him their obedience.
You can and you ought to do no less today, brothers and sisters. For one who is far greater in every way and far better able to help us is now our prophet, our priest, and our king. Set the Lord Christ before you, every day, and seek from him what no one else can ever give you.
Why, therefore, should we do ourselves this wrong
or others, that we are not always strong,
that we are ever overborne with care,
that we should ever weak or heartless be,
When with us is prayer,
and joy, and strength, and courage are with Thee!