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The Threefold Office of Christ is an ancient way of understanding the work of Christ: that he fulfilled the three Old Testament roles of Prophet, Priest, and King.

While it's very easy to see in the New Testament how Jesus performs each of those roles, I was wondering if there's any actual basis for seeing these specific roles as part of a specifically threefold office?

Because there are some other roles from the Old Testament which Jesus also fulfils. The most prominent one I can think of is the Shepherd/Pastor. While this was a title given to the priests and kings in the OT, it really looks at leadership in a very different way than the intercessory and ruling nature of those roles. Jesus as Shepherd can't be completely subsumed into Jesus as Priest and King.

Another minor role could be Patriarch. I'm thinking of this mainly because Jesus is called the "Last Adam". I can't think of anything else in the NT that really pictures Jesus as a patriarch, but there might be some other obscure allusions. Teacher could be another minor office.

There may be some other roles I haven't thought of too.

So my question is whether we're Biblically justified to see the three roles of Prophet, Priest, and King as not only the primary roles fulfilled by Jesus, but also that the three fit together as a whole in a way that other roles do not? Or in other words, does the idea that these three roles form a set originate from God, or are they a human construct? Note that I'm not interested in this question for the basis for each role (that's been adequately covered by another question), but instead only for the basis that the three belong together in ways that Jesus's other roles do not.

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What is the basis for the Threefold Office of Christ?

Are we biblically justified to see the three roles of Prophet, Priest, and King as not only the primary roles fulfilled by Jesus, but also that the three fit together as a whole in a way that other roles do not?

The short answer is yes: We are biblically justified to see these three roles in Christ!

The three offices

Eusebius worked out this threefold classification, writing: "And we have been told also that certain of the prophets themselves became, by the act of anointing, Christs in type, so that all these have reference to the true Christ, the divinely inspired and heavenly Word, who is the only high priest of all, and the only King of every creature, and the Father’s only supreme prophet of prophets." During the Reformation this concept played a substantial role in scholastic Lutheran Christology and in the christology of Reformed theologians such as John Calvin as well as that of John Wesley.

The entry in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology claims that Christian theologians view all the other roles of Christ as falling under one of these three distinctions.

All threefold offices of Christ since the moment of his hypostatic union in the womb of Mary. Being true God and true man, these roles can not be taken away or divided in some form or other, from Christ because they are his by Divine Privilege and used to fulfill his mission on earth: our salvation.

Jesus is a messenger of God. And as such brought to us the words of salvation written down in the Gospel.

He is a priest as one who offers sacrifice to God for atonement for our salvation.

He is King as he has great authority given him by the Father. His kingdom is not of this world.

A prophet is a messenger sent by God, a person who speaks for God. He or she witnesses to God, calls people to conversion, and may also foretell the future. Prophets often are killed for their message.

Jesus fits this description. He is none other than the Word of God in the flesh. He called the world to turn from sin and return to the Father and was put to death for it. In Scripture Jesus is presented as a prophet. Crowds identified him as “Jesus the prophet” (Matthew 21:11). He spoke of himself as a prophet: “No prophet is accepted in his own native place” (Luke 4:24). He foretold his passion and resurrection.

A priest is a mediator, or bridge, between God and human beings. He offers sacrifice to God on behalf of all. Once a year on the Day of Atonement the Jewish high priest went into the Holy of Holies in the Temple. There he offered sacrifice to God to make up for his sins and the sins of the people.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews compared Jesus to Melchizedek, a mysterious, superior priest in the Old Testament who blessed Abraham. Jesus is the greatest high priest. Because he is both divine and human, Jesus is the perfect mediator. He is not only the perfect priest, holy and sinless, but the perfect sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus need never be made again. Jesus “entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12). Jesus continues his role as priest. “He is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

A king is a person who has supreme authority over a territory. When the Jewish people were ruled by kings, they became a nation. They longed for a Messiah who would again make them great.

Jesus is spoken of as a king in the Gospels. Gabriel announced to Mary that the Lord God would give her son the throne of David his father, and he would rule over the house of Jacob forever. Magi looked for a newborn king of the Jews. When Jesus last entered Jerusalem, crowds hailed him as a king. He was arrested for making himself king, and the soldiers mocked him as one. When Pilate asked if he were king of the Jews, Jesus replied, “You say so,” and he clarified, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36). The charge written against Jesus was “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” Jesus announced the kingdom of God. His mission was to have God reign in the hearts of all and to have peace and justice in the world. Jesus exercised his royal office by serving. - Jesus: Prophet, Priest, and King

These are the three main offices spoken of in the Old Testament: prophet, priest, and king. Jesus fulfills all three of these roles.

Jesus as Prophet

Prophets were tasked with speaking God’s Word to people. In the Old Testament, this included both proclaiming God’s truth to others and revealing God’s plans for the future. Some of the prophets also performed miracles and healings.

The people of Jesus’ day referred to Him as a prophet many times, and He took the title upon Himself as well (Matthew 21:11; Luke 7:16; John 4:19; Mark 6:4). Both Peter and Stephen spoke of Jesus as being the ultimate fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15—Jesus is the prophet like Moses who must be listened to (Acts 3:17–23; 7:37–38, 51–53).

Jesus taught the Word of God, often speaking in parables. “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Mark 1:22).

Much like the Old Testament prophets, Jesus also foretold the future. For example, He told His disciples of His pending death and resurrection (Matthew 17:22–23; 20:17–19), Judas’ betrayal (Matthew 26:20–25; John 13:18–30), and Peter’s denial (Matthew 26:31–35; Mark 14:27–30; Luke 22:61; John 13:31–38). He predicted the coming of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7–15; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4–5), the persecution of His followers (John 16:1–4, 33), and the destruction of the temple (Matthew 24:1–2). Perhaps most encouraging for believers today, Jesus prophesied of His coming return (Matthew 24:30–31; John 14:3).

Like many of the Old Testament prophets, Jesus performed multiple healings and miracles (Matthew 8:1–17; 9:18–33; Mark 1:32–34; 2:1–12; Luke 17:11–19; 18:35–43; John 2:1–11; 6:1–24). He even compared Himself to Elijah and Elisha (Luke 4:24–27). The people of Nazareth rejected Jesus, just as the people of Israel did not believe Elijah and Elisha.

Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1). He does not simply speak the Word of God as a mere human prophet, but is Himself the Word made flesh (John 1:14). He is the final word, the ultimate revelation of God: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe” (Hebrews 1:1–2).

Jesus as Priest

Old Testament priests served as mediators between humans and God. It was the priests who offered sacrifices on behalf of the people. Jesus is our Mediator and our High Priest: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

Hebrews 4–10 details how Jesus is our ultimate High Priest and how His priesthood is far superior to the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament. The writer of Hebrews also explains how the Old Testament system of priests served to foreshadow the ministry of Jesus. The Levitical priesthood of Aaron’s line was not intended to continue forever. Jesus’ priesthood is eternal.

Hebrews 4:14–16 says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” With Jesus as our High Priest, we can go before God boldly, knowing that Jesus has true compassion on us and that, through Him, we will experience the grace and mercy of God (see also Hebrews 10:19–23).

Hebrews 7 shows how Jesus is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek was both a priest and the “king of Salem” who blessed Abraham (Hebrews 7:2; Genesis 14:18). Likewise, Jesus is not just a “priest forever,” but also a king.

Jesus as King

The office of king in the Old Testament is illustrated well by David. God called David a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). He promised to David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). This promise was fulfilled in the Messiah, who was also given the title “Son of David.” Jesus is this Son of David and the rightful King (Matthew 1:1; Revelation 22:16).

The angel Gabriel told Mary that Jesus “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32–33).

The Son of David would be a ruler of God’s people, and also their deliverer. The Jews of Jesus’ time expected a political king (Matthew 21:1–11). Instead, Jesus conquered sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:54–57). He promised He will also return to the earth to rule as a king, first in the Millennial Kingdom and then forever (1 Corinthians 15:24–28).

Jesus has “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). He has “the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9–11). Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16), and one day He will be king in the earthly, political sense of the word, as the weight of governance is borne on His shoulders, He reigns on Mt. Zion, and the nations bring Him homage (Psalm 2:6; 48:1–2; Isaiah 9:6; 11:10). Even before then, He truly is the ultimate authority. Even though His enemies are not yet made His footstool (Psalm 110:1), Jesus should be reigning fully in our hearts.

Normally, the three offices of prophet, priest, and king were distinct from each other, with no overlap. That is, a king was not a priest or a prophet. A priest did not function as a prophet or a king. And a prophet simply did a prophet’s job without trying to be a either king or a priest. But Jesus Christ perfectly fills all three roles simultaneously: He is the Prophet, Priest, and King, to the great blessing of the world. - What does it mean that Jesus is prophet, priest, and king?

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Jesus’ Three Offices: Prophet, Priest, and King

Other offices may possibly be applied to Jesus, but these are secondary to these three main offices of Our Redeemer. Jesus is still fully divine and human even now (Col. 2:9) and presently holds the three offices mentioned above. It is simply a manifestation of the work of the person of Christ, who is all in one: Prophet, Priest, and King.

Other possible offices that Christ may have fulfilled could be that of the Good Shepherd, the Son of God, Patriarch (as meaning the head of his family: The Church)

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  • I know all these things of course, I was more wanting to know if there are passages that refer explicitly to these three roles and no others, or if there's any other strong argument that other roles are secondary to the big three.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 2:11
  • Or in other words, that the three are a set that originate in the God ordained scriptures, rather than being a human construct. Human constructs can be very helpful! But I've been wondering whether the Threefold office originates with humans or God.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 2:31
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    I think this would be an absolutely fantastic answer on this question, just not so much on this one :)
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Oct 7, 2023 at 4:35
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OP: does the idea that these three roles [King, Prophet, Priest] form a set originate from God, or are they a human construct?

King/Priest

King/Prophet

Priest/Prophet

King/Priest/Prophet

Priest

The earliest Biblical mention of a dual king and priest is Melchizedek.

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. Gen 14:18

Christ was of this priesthood.

As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. Heb 5:6

King David says this is of the LORD.

The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. Psalm 110:4

Prophet

Elsewhere, it is said of King David that he is a prophet.

Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne; Acts 2:29-30

Lastly, we have the King and Priest also defined as a Prophet.

And he [God] shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: ... For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. Acts 3:20, 22

King

We know Christ was to inherit the kingship.

He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: Luke 1:32

This New Testament application to Christ originates from Isaiah.

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this. Isa 9:6-7

King, Priest, Prophet

So in conclusion, to answer the OP question, yes, the tri-fold set of King, Priest, Prophet originated from God over some 6,000 years to be fulfilled in Christ Jesus some 2,000 years ago.

PS To add about "other fulfillments".

The true Priest of the Most High God requires the perfect sacrifice. Thus Christ the priest was also the sacrifice.

And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. Eph 5:2

The true King of the kings requires subordination and compliance.

And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all. 1 Cor 15:28

The true Prophet prophecies that which comes to pass.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: Rev 1:1

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  • Hmm, interesting that David is a bit of a prototype of the threefold office, I've never seen that highlighted before. I'd still like to see if there's a more explicit scriptural delineation of the threefold office as being exactly and no more than 3.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 5, 2023 at 4:02
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The Threefold office(s) of Christ are set forth already in the Old Testament:

Kingly emphasis:

  • Deut. 17:14-20

Priestly emphasis:

  • Deut. 18:1-8

Prophetic emphasis:

  • Deut. 18:9-22

In the New Testament we see Jesus' role as king referred to and fulfilled:

  • Luke 23:38;John 1:49; John 12:13;John 12:15; John 19:19; etc.

So also, we find Jesus as our Priest:

  • Cf. the entire book of Hebrews

And finally, we see Jesus fulfilling the role as The prophet especially in Acts:

  • Acts 7:37 (and the rest of Stephen's sermon in Acts 7)

  • As our king Jesus defeats sin, death, and the Devil
  • As The Prophet he preaches and teaches God's word perfectly
  • As our Great High Priest, he prays on behalf of the people and offers up himself as one sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

As to your final questions, the fact that King, Priest, and prophet are listed one after the other in Deuteronomy (with no direct inclusion of other roles, e.g. Shepherd) would lead me to conclude that there's a grouping together of these roles.

Are the roles from God or man? As one can see from the passages I listed (and by no means an exhaustive list) the threefold office of Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King is not from humans, but from God.

Now, having said this, the question as to whether the threefold office is the "primary" offices he holds is not a question that God's word answers. Or, to put it differently, considering the fact that there's an entire long chapter in John 10 where Jesus goes out of his way to let us know in detail that he is The Good Shepherd, we naturally conclude that the threefold office of Christ is not the only office he holds. And these three roles do not supersede the other roles he establishes for himself.

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  • Deut 17-18 is a great find! Though note too that just before it in 16:18 the role of Judge is also appointed, there's just some non-role sections in between.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 12:42
  • @curiousdannii Indeed, as I mentioned, the threefold offices of Christ are emphasized, but they aren't the only offices he holds. Judge is emphasized there too, but fleshed out in the NT: Acts 10:42; Acts 17:31;2Tim. 4:1; etc.
    – user24895
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 16:08

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