What is the “three-fold office” of Jesus Christ, and why does it matter?
The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks and answers the first part of that question:
Charles Hodge explains why Christ’s three-fold office is so important to every believer:
We as fallen men, ignorant, guilty, polluted, and helpless, need a Saviour who is a prophet to instruct us; a priest to atone and to make intercession for us; and a king to rule over and protect us. And the salvation which we receive at his hands includes all that a prophet, priest, and king in the highest sense of these terms can do. We are enlightened in the knowledge of the truth; we are reconciled unto God by the sacrificial death of his Son; and we are delivered from the power of Satan and introduced into the kingdom of God; all of which supposes that our Redeemer is to us at once prophet, priest, and king. (Systematic Theology, Vol. II, p.461)
Another way of saying that is to say that the Lord Jesus Christ has done, is doing, and always will completely do everything that is necessary for our salvation from sin.
Left to ourselves we are ignorant of God, but Jesus Christ is our ultimate Prophet who was to come (Deuteronomy 18:15-18). He is “the Word” (John 1:1), God’s fullest and final revelation of Himself to sinful mankind. Hebrews 1:1-2 tells us,
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (ESV)
Left to ourselves we are sinful, rebellious against God and cut off from Him because of the guilt, uncleanness, and corruption of our sin, but Jesus Christ is our “great high priest” (Hebrews 4:14). He represents us before the Father, offering the once-for-all sacrifice of His own shed blood (Hebrews 9:24-28) to pay for our sins, and ever lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25). 1 Peter 1:18-19 says,
. . .you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.
Left to ourselves, we are weak and helpless, but Jesus Christ is our all-powerful King. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16), the One to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given (Matthew 28:18). And He rules over and defends His people from all of their enemies. In Philippians 2:9-11 Paul writes,
. . .God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
In fact, to use the words of the Heidelberg Catechism, part of our “only comfort in life and death” is that the exalted Christ watches over us “in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation” (Q.1)!
The “three-fold office” of Christ, may sound like a dusty old theological term, but it really is anything but that. It helps us to understand the glory of Christ in the gospel and the greatness of the salvation that God has blessed us with through faith in Him!