The three-fold office of Christ (which is from the Greek, meaning Messiah, or “Anointed One”) has to do with the work of Christ for the redemption of His people. These are known as the Messianic offices, as these offices are associated with the prophesied and pre-figured Messiah in the Old Testament, which Jesus has fulfilled. These three offices are Prophet, Priest, and King. When we think of Christ, therefore, we should think of Him as our Prophet, our Priest, and our King. The order of these offices is not arbitrary but conforms to the logical and theological nature of their roles. On this ordering, William Ames notes,
[The] order of CONFERRING salvation shows this number [of offices] also which should first be unfolded [i.e. revealed], then obtained [i.e. accomplished], and then afterward applied [i.e. His people brought to Himself and protected]; the first is the part of a Prophet, the second of a Priest, and the third of a King.William Ames, The Marrow of Sacred Divinity, (London: 1639), 19.12.
Following is an overview of this three-fold office with brief scriptural evidence.
Jesus Is the Prophet
Jesus came first as the Prophet foretold in the Old Testament in order to instruct and foretell His disciples of His redemptive mission. For example, Jesus prophesied or foretold of His coming crucifixion: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). The Old Testament prophecy and the New Testament fulfillment can be seen from these Scriptures:
The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen….‘I [God] will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.’Deut. 18:15, 18-19
Moses said, ‘THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN: TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you…. For you first, God raised up His Servant [Jesus] and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.Acts 3:22, 26
He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak.Jn. 12:48-49
As Prophet, Jesus taught the will of God, expounded the spiritual nature of the Law, called Israel to repentance, and foretold future events. His prophetic role continues today through the witness of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures. The primary theological significance of Jesus as Prophet is that He teaches us the truth, and so reveals to us the will of God and the way of salvation.
Jesus Is the Priest (and Sacrifice)
Jesus then obtained or accomplished that which He foretold. The interesting thing about Christ’s priesthood is that he is also the sacrifice. This is communicated by Him when He says, “No one [takes my life] away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This commandment I received from My Father” (Jn. 10:18). This is likewise prophesied of old and foreshadowed in the animal sacrifices. We can see the Old Testament prophecy and the New Testament fulfillment from these Scriptures:
The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.Ps. 110:4
(for they [the Levitical priests] indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him, “THE LORD HAS SWORN AND WILL NOT CHANGE HIS MIND, ‘YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER'”); so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.Heb. 7:21-22
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.Heb. 9:11-12
For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf [i.e. He intercedes for us].Heb. 9:24
The two central aspects of Christ’s priesthood are 1) the sacrifice of His body and shed blood on the cross and 2) His continual intercession for those for whom He died. The two are inseparable works, for that which is accomplished in His sacrifice is the pleading ground of His intercession before God (Rom. 8:31-34). His intercession assumes that justice has been served and propitiation for sin made.
Jesus Is the King
Then, in His kingly office, Jesus “convince[s], subdue[s], draw[s], uphold[s], deliver[s], and preserve[s] us to His heavenly kingdom” [1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 8.10]. The Old Testament prophecy is especially seen with God’s promise to King David to establish his throne forever (2 Sam. 7:12-16). While this prophecy did have immediate fulfillment with his son, Solomon, it is not unusual for biblical prophecies to have tiers of fulfillment; and this prophecy is ultimately fulfilled in King Jesus.
The LORD has sworn to [King] David a truth from which He will not turn back: ‘Of the fruit of your body I will set upon your throne.’Ps. 132:11
And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.Lk. 1:30-33 (cf. Acts 2:29-36)
Every king has a kingdom, and Christ is not without His kingdom. As He told His disciples, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Mtt. 28:18b). A major theme throughout the book of Acts is the proclamation of the gospel of the kingdom (Acts 8:12; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23, 30-31). This essentially speaks to Christ as the crucified King, reigning over and expanding His kingdom by way of the gospel and the obedience of faith. Jeremy Treat remarks, “Inasmuch as God’s kingdom is founded by the cross, entered through the cross, and shaped by the cross, it is truly a cruciform kingdom” [The Crucified King, (MI: Zondervan, 2014), 227.]
We have only taken a brief look at Christ’s glory in His fulfillment of the offices of Prophet, Priest, and King for the sake of our salvation. These offices and this doctrine, however, are found all throughout the Scriptures. With this truth in mind, therefore, you are better positioned to understand the redemptive-historical significance of these offices as you move from the Old Testament to the New, with Christ as the center.