JESUS CHRIST, THREEFOLD OFFICE OF: A phrase connoting the functions of Christ as prophet, priest, and king.

Historical Survey.

From the earliest times Jesus has been recognized as the representative of a twofold and yet unitary theocratic function, as king and priest. The spiritual kingdom of the Messiah has its foundation in the sacrifice of his life (Matt. xvi. 16-25, xx. 25-28). This thought may be traced from the second century to the time of the Reformation. But as early as Eusebius a threefold office is ascribed to Christ, that of prophet, priest, and king, and this is traceable to Jewish sources. The view of a threefold office, however, did not suppress the tradition of a twofold office, although the three designations of Christ were always used separately. Among the medieval theologians, Thomas Aquinas approaches closely the conception of Eusebius since he speaks of legislator, sacerdos, and rex, but with him this is merely a mechanical division, and Thomas makes no further use of the threefold scheme. The Evangelical doctrine followed in the beginning the tradition of a twofold office (cf. the works of Luther and the older Evangelical catechisms). Calvin added the prophetic office as a third function, and his conception of the doctrine of Christ's work became the basis for its treatment in Reformed theology and soon also in Lutheran theology. As prophet the Messiah brings the full light of intelligence and thus becomes the fulness and consummation of all revelations. As king of a spiritual and eternal kingdom he not only brings his people external and passing aid, but equips them especially with the gifts for eternal life and guards them against their enemies. As priest Christ secures to his people by his atonement and vicarious suffering the blessing that God deals with them not as judge, but as gracious father. In accordance with these principles Calvin emphasized the truth that communion with God is found in Christ's living personality and in life communion with that personality. In the Heidelberg Catechism (Questions 31 and 32) the thought of Calvin received a finished form and found a large circulation. The orthodox followers of Calvin, however, attempted both to explain the full content of the Messianic person from three points of view, and to analyze the act of salvation in its historical development according to the threefold scheme, thus not easily escaping the mistaken assumption that Christ had become first prophet, then priest, and finally king. It became the custom to deprive Christ of his royal function in the state of humiliation and of the prophetical function in the state of exaltation. Against this mechanical tendency, Cocceius opened new and fruitful points of view by returning to the living material of the Bible. The usual order of the offices of Christ seemed to him justified in so far as the dignity of Christ rose in the growing mind of the people, from the state of a prophet to that of a king. But in reality, be states, Christ's priesthood must be put in the first place, since even before time he mediated between his Father and the people; then follow the royal and prophetic offices. The first office is that through which Christ acquires his people; the second that through which he keeps them; and the third that through which he leads them to the knowledge and love of the king. This double consideration would have resulted in an organic and simultaneous union of the offices in the living personality, even if Cocceius had not expressly added that the entire mediatorial act lasted until the end of days.

The Roman catechism also teaches the threefold office of Christ.

In Lutheran Theology.

In Lutheran theology the doctrine was adopted only at a late period. Melanchthon had not left to the school of theology which followed him a uniform system as Calvin had left for Reformed


orthodoxy. The interest in the individual reception of justification drew attention from an all-sided objective observation of Christ and his gifts. There was even a tendency to reduce the twofold office of Christ to a single function. According to Melanchthon and Hesshusen, Christ is before everything priest; even as king he exercises essentially priestly functions. Selnecker seems to have been the first who used the formula of a threefold office, but his exposition is governed also by the priesthood of Christ, to which the two other offices are related like introduction and conclusion. Others again, like Gerhard, tried to identify the priestly and prophetical offices. Hemming and Nicohlus Hunnius taught that the office of the king was supreme and that it comprehended the other two functions. Everywhere the same concentration upon one point is found. In the mean time, however, Hafenreffer and especially Gerhard had directed their attention to the idea of a threefold office as advocated by Eusebius and Calvin. Gerhard not only used the new expression, but tried to prove that only the sum of the three offices offers the fulness of Christ's benevolent gifts. In the regnum potentiae he found a specific function for the royal office. Since the middle of the seventeenth century, after the old Melanchthonian scheme of dogmatics had been replaced by an objective and historical arrangement of the material, there was room for a coherent representation of the work of Christ, which was systematized according to the threefold office. There was a reaction of the old Lutheran sentiment in 1773 when Ernesti criticized the reigning doctrine because he could not see why the clear and sufficient designation of the work of Christ as satisfactioshould be obscured by metaphorical phrases. Moreover, he was of the opinion that the different offices were not clearly separated from each other, so that one title might justly cover all of them. Other dogmaticians after him raised similar objections on the ground that neither the prophetical nor the royal office stands upon equal footing with the priestly office, but that both point to the atonement which is included in it. But the majority of recent dogmaticians adhere to the scheme of a threefold office. Schleiermacher took the lead in this tendency by attempting the successful proof that the three offices in their indissoluble union completely define and circumscribe the character of redemption as accomplished by Christ. With the exclusion of the prophetic office, he holds, the clear consciousness of the believer would be superseded by a magical mediation of salvation. Without the royal office, there would be lacking the relation of the individual believer to a community. Finally, the absence of the priestly office would rob foundation foundation of Christ of its religious content.

Interpretation and Significance of the Doctrine.

The doctrine of Christ's threefold office represents the redeemer as the fulfiller of all Old-Testament prophecies and thus of all needs of the human being. Everything that Israel expected of its future salvation had concentrated itself more and more in the hope of the Messiah, "the anointed of God" (John i. 41, iv. 25). He was thought of as the king who was to restore the glory of David's kingdom. In the course of time the prophet, who as successor of Moses was never to be wanting among God's people (Deut. xviii. 15), became identical with the Messiah (John vi.14-15). The third office is reflected in the picture of the Mesaiah in Isa. liii. God's people can feel themselves secure only when all conflict of the theocratic offices is excluded by unity and every blessing of salvation is to be found in one single person (Heb. vii. 23 sqq.). There was a longing especially for the solution of the frequent historical conflict between kingdom and priesthood (I Sam. ii. 35; Zech. vi. 12 sqq.). A priest-king after the manner of Melchizedek was hoped for (Ps. cx. 4). All these elements were combined in the idea of the Messiah who was to possess the spirit of God in many-sided fulness and as the power of a comprehensive redeeming activity (Isa. xi. 1 sqq., lxi. 1 sqq.; cf. Luke iv. 18 sqq.; John iii. 34). The anointing with the spirit mentioned in these passages has the significance of the anointing of kings, priests, and to a certain extent also of prophets in so far as they were endowed with the charismata. By confessing Jesus as Christ, the Christian congregation expresses that it finds in him the performer of all activities which secure salvation to the people of God. Jesus is king (Matt. xxi. 5, xxvii. 11), prophet (Matt. xxi. 11; Luke vii. 16), and high priest (Heb. ii. 17, iii. 1). The scheme of the threefold office permits of arranging the Biblical material in its original connection, as it belongs to a complete representation of the person of Christ. Its systematic value becomes evident only from the proof that for the fulfilment of the Messianic activity there is necessary nothing more and nothing less than the functions designated by it. The three offices of prophet, priest, and king correspond to the needs of the moral education of man and of his connection with human society and the surrounding world. If the activity of Christ on earth were restricted to atonement, it would not be possible to speak of the perfection of the human being in connection with Christ. It is a matter of course that in every moment of his earthly and heavenly activity Christ exercises at one and the same time all his offices. Socinianism claims for the entire activity of Christ on earth only the prophetical office in order to reserve the other functions as faint ornaments' for the state of exaltation (Racovian Catechism, §§ 191 sqq., 456 sqq.). The permanent union and simultaneous exercise of the three functions do not exclude, however, a fixed aim, namely, the kingdom. To this as the organizing purpose of the whole points before everything the Biblical basis of the formula, the starting-point and essential content of the Messianic office is royal dominion over and for God's people, the peculiar modification of which is described by the other titles.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: For history of the doctrine consult: H. L. J. Heppe, Dogmatik des deutschen Protestantismus im 16. Jahrhundert, pp, 209 sQq.. 222 sqq. Gotha 1857· idem, Dogmatik der evangelisch-reformirten Kirche, Elberfeld, 1861; A. Schweizer, Glaubenslehre der evangelisch-reformirten Kirche, vol, ii., Zurich, 1847 H. Schmid, Dogmatik der evangelisch-reformirten Kirche, Frankfort, 1876: A.


Ritsehl, Die christliche Lehre von der Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung, i. 520 sqq., iii. 394 sqq., Bonn, 1882-83, Eng. transl., of vol. i., Edinburgh, 1872. For exposition of the doctrine consult the literature under DOGMA, DOGMATICS; WESTMINSTER ASSEMBLY.


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