John Owen wrote a book some time ago called The Glory of Christ, in which he looks through the Gospel accounts and spends time meditating upon different things Jesus does and different aspects of His being, in order that he might think about Christ doxologically. As a seminary student, this was helpful in more than a few ways. First, Owen’s exercise renews a devotional zeal with which we ought to read the Bible. Second, and more the case for a seminarian, it renews a devotional zeal with which we ought to look at Christ. To be sure, we should think about the person and the work of Christ theologically, and we should do our absolute best to get those thoughts right. But somewhere in thinking about Luther’s conception of the communication of idioms and Calvin's (and really the Church’s) so-called extra calvinisticum, I forget to take my head out of the clouds and remember what Jesus has done specifically for me.
The Reformed tradition, among others, has often thought of Christ in His threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King. These three offices are developed within the nation of Israel (and before), and Jesus’ fulfillment of all three of them points to His identity as the true Israel, the one who did what Israel did not, and further could not.
Prior to Israel, Adam performs duties belonging to all three offices as the first Prophet, the first Priest, and the first King. Adam is called and commanded by God to exercise dominion over the Garden and the rest of God’s creation as its King and Ruler by God’s commission. Adam, in his kingly duties, is also called to activities of priesthood. The verbs used in God’s command to “guard” and “work” the Garden are the same verbs used of Levite priests in reference to their work in the Temple context. The priestly parallels become more explicit when we consider that the Garden was God’s dwelling place on Earth, just as the Temple would later be. Adam also plays the role of prophet, for he is to handle the Word of God and presumably to teach Eve the command God gave concerning the Tree.
Unfortunately, we know how this story ends. Adam punts on his kingly duties, for he does not rightly exercise dominion over the Garden. Similarly, he fails to work and guard God’s dwelling place, for the serpent is allowed in and is not subdued. Additionally, the Word of God is mishandled, for Eve adds to God’s command in her conversation with the serpent, stating that God also said, “and neither shall you touch it.” Adam is tragically deemed an unfit prophet, priest, and king of the Garden, and is cast out. The cherubim will now fulfill this role, for we find them at the entrance to the Garden and inside the temple after Adam’s expulsion.
How terribly disappointing is Adam’s fall from grace. It’s perhaps more and more disappointing because we not only feel its effects every day, but we participate in them actively. Thankfully for us, though, Adam is not the last one to fulfill the duties of these three offices. Jesus Christ, the true Israel and the last Adam, takes on human flesh to fulfill those roles for us and for our benefit.
Jesus comes to us as the true Prophet, for not only does He handle the Word of God, He is the Word of God Incarnate. He comes to us as the true Priest, for in His earthly ministry He intercedes for us by living a life of perfect obedience and then by offering Himself as a sacrifice on our behalf, and even now intercedes for us at the Father’s side (Rom. 8:34). Jesus, the true King, exercises His kingship in His dominion over creation (Mt. 8:23-27) and His dominion over the demons (Mk. 1:21-28). Even now, everything is in subjection to Him (Heb. 2:8).
If John Owen pushes us to think of Christ in devotional terms, so does the threefold office of Christ. Jesus has come to Earth as Prophet, for us, as the Word of God, that we might no longer live in blindness. He has come to Earth as a priest for us, that He might offer Himself as a sacrifice for us, despite our sinfulness (Rom. 5:8). He has come to earth as a King, to show us that the kingdom of darkness which came with the failure of the first king no longer has dominion, for Jesus the King has inaugurated the Kingdom of God, which is characterized by Christ’s own life and light (Jn. 1:4). All these and more He has done for you and for me.