Who is Jesus? Prophet, Priest, King
Jesus is the Christ foretold in the Old Testament. As the Christ, He is the one mediator between God and man. This means that He is the only way we can access God and be assured of our salvation. Jesus Christ is the only one that can save people from sin and death. And He continually does this primarily in three ways: as prophet, as priest, and as king.
In Revelation 1, Jesus is described as the “faithful witness” (prophet), the “first begotten of the dead” (priest), and “prince of the kings of the earth” (king). Theologians sometimes point to this formulation, calling it Christ’s “threefold office.” These are more than just titles of adoration. They are the roles and means by which God secures our salvation. It is only by this threefold office that we can be saved.
Jesus takes on this threefold office both during His time here on Earth, i.e., His earthly ministry, and after His resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father. He continues to carry out the work of each office until, as Christians still confess throughout the world, “he will come to judge the living and the dead,” (The Apostles’ Creed).
Old Testament types and shadows
The three distinct offices of prophet, priest, and king are all found repeatedly in the Old Testament Scriptures. Every person in the Old Testament that held one of these roles was anointed with oil and commissioned by God. Every person that held one of these roles was also a shadow and a type of the one to come.
This just means that their place in the Scripture is a signal to us of the coming of Jesus. In their good moments, they were a picture of the goodness of Jesus Christ in that role—think of King David defeating Goliath to protect the Israelites. In their bad moments, they showed the need for the faithful and perfect prophet, priest, and king to come save us all—think of evil King Ahab or the wicked priests in the book of Judges that caused the people to commit idolatry.
The Old Testament is full of these roles because as a whole it points to the coming of Jesus as the true fulfillment of them. The Old Testament prophets look forward to Christ, speaking on His behalf and proclaiming His coming as the final anointed one, that is, the Messiah (Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Micah 5:2; Isaiah 53). The Old Testament priesthood was a picture of the work of Christ, cleansing and healing the people and leading them in all righteousness (Leviticus 8-10, 14; Malachi 2). Likewise, the Old Testament kings were a picture of Christ’s rule on the Earth, advancing God’s justice, law, and wisdom to all the nations (Deuteronomy 17; Isaiah 2; Psalm 127).
Jesus in every way fulfills each of these distinct roles perfectly and without any failure.
How is Christ a prophet?
As a prophet, Christ reveals to the Church throughout the ages the entire will of God concerning their edification and salvation (WLC 43). This seems a bit complex. But, simply put, Jesus is God’s final and ultimate revelation of Himself to mankind.
The Bible tells us that throughout history God spoke to us through various means and messengers usually called prophets (Hebrews 1:1). These Old Testament prophets spoke God’s own words directly to the people. They were agents of revelation. God would tell them exactly what to say and they would relay His messages word for word. Usually, the prophet would warn the people, urging them to repent and believe in God. The prophet would also comfort the people and recall God’s loving kindness and faithfulness to His people. These words were often written down and they make up a sizable portion of our Bibles today.
When Jesus lived on Earth, He was like one of these prophets. Throughout His ministry, He spoke the very words of God to the people around Him. He clarified that He spoke not on His own authority, but on the authority of the Father (John 12:49). But remember, that Jesus is also the Word of God incarnate[LS1]. Jesus Christ, as the Son of God, as the Word becomes flesh, was the last prophet. The Scriptures remind us that in the past God spoke to us by the prophets but now He speaks to us directly through His son (Hebrews 1:1).
Jesus is thus the final word. And now that He has ascended to heaven, He still prophetically guides His Church by the Holy Spirit speaking through the Scriptures in such a way that when you read your Bible you can confidently say that Jesus, the ultimate prophet, is speaking directly to you.
How is Christ a priest?
The Old Testament priests spoke to God on behalf of the people, urging God to remember His promises to save His people. They would also offer sacrifices for the cleansing of sin. These sacrifices had to be repeated often, as they could not free people from the consequences of sin in the long term.
Jesus takes on the job as priest by offering Himself on the cross as the final and lasting sacrifice for sins and by making continual petitions before the Father on our behalf. His sacrifice is once and for all, but that does not mean that He ever stops working for our sakes (Hebrews 10:12-13).
This has a twofold meaning. First, we know that we are truly cleansed and forgiven once and for all because Christ’s sacrifice paid for all our sins (Hebrews 10:18; Colossians 2:14). We never have to doubt our salvation or second guess if we are good enough. We are not good enough, but Jesus in love has covered us in His righteous blood, making our salvation secure.
Second, this means that when we still sin today, we have an advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). We will never have to make another animal sacrifice to be at peace with God. We simply call on our great high priest, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16), and He advocates for us, cleanses us, heals us, and frees us.
How is Christ a king?
This role might be the most obvious one. Jesus Christ is the ruling king over all the earth (1 Timothy 6:15). In the Old Testament, the kings of Israel were supposed to be God’s righteous rulers mediating His justice and mercy on Earth. Not many of them fulfilled that job description perfectly. Few of them even came close. Jesus, however, has fulfilled it perfectly from the moment He became man and continues to be the perfect and righteous ruler promised in the Scriptures (Psalm 2, Zechariah 9:9).
Jesus Christ fulfills the role of a king by drawing a people to Himself from all over the world to worship and adore Him. He also visibly rules over us through the officers and governments that are already in place (Romans 13:1-7). Additionally, Jesus is always actively protecting His people and ordering everything for their good and His own glory. This includes both disciplining those He loves and conquering His enemies. Indeed, as the Apostle, Paul reminds us, “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet,” (1 Corinthians 15:25).
Jesus Christ rules the Earth now through His Church and will continue to rule, expanding the Kingdom of God from shore to shore until He comes back to Earth again (Psalm 72:8). He is the fulfillment of Psalm 110, the greater King David, and the loving and righteous ruler of the nations (Isaiah 9:6; Revelation 19:16).
Jesus Christ is the Prophet that made God’s Word live in us. He is the Priest that shed His blood for us. He is the King that rules over us with justice and peace. On our own, we are ignorant of the truth, guilty of sin, and rebellious to authority. But with Christ as our prophet, priest, and king we are made new.
Having been freed from sin and death by Christ through his threefold office, we are given a new life. In Him, we become each of the roles. Together, we are now the prophets, priests, and kings of the world (1 Peter 2:9). We are to bring His truth, His love, and His justice to a broken and confused world. Christ has washed us from our sins in His own blood and is interceding for us even now so that we may do this work for Him and do it well. For He has, “made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen,” (Revelation 1:5-6). May His will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven, as we learn to continually submit to our King until he comes.