Christ the Neglected Prophet

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The Westminster Divines affirmed the threefold office of Christ when they wrote in Chapter eight section one of their Confession of Faith, “It pleased God, in His eternal Purpose, to Choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man; the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Head and Saviour of His Church, the Heir of all things, and Judge of the world”. We see that the Divines desired us to observe that Jesus Christ, in His mediatorial office, accomplishes our redemption in three distinct functions, namely those of Prophet, Priest, and King. Christ is the mediator between God and man (1Tim. 2:5). A mediator is one who interposes between two parties at disagreement in order to obtain reconciliation. Prior to the fall a mediator between God and man was not necessary, for “though there was an infinite distance in nature, yet, there was no variance between these parties.”1 After the fall of man this situation was altered forever, for God was dishonored and sinned against and man was alienated from God and subjected to God’s judicial displeasure and punishment. Man is unable to satisfy the demands of the divine law which he transgressed, thus if man is ever to be restored to fellowship with his creator he must have the interposition of another who is able to satisfy the demands thereof. That person is the Lord Jesus Christ. The whole work of Christ’s mediation is acceptable to God, for God himself gave Christ the task of fulfilling the divine demands of the law; “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” (John 6:38); “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1John 4:9,10).

The teaching of Christ’s threefold office is found in the prophecy of Isaiah 61 verse one, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tiding unto the meek (as a prophet); He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted (as a priest); to proclaim liberty to the captives (as a king).”2 This teaches us that God intervenes between himself and man not merely by pleading and persuasion, but with a true absolute power, effectually making peace by accomplishing all that is necessary to that end in the person of the mediator, the God-man Jesus Christ. The appointment of God the Father for Christ in fulfilling his threefold office of mediator assures us that the whole work of his mediation is most acceptable to God and affords us the highest encouragement to rely upon his finished work for our eternal salvation. These offices of Christ are a trinity of sorts. They are the three disclosures of the one office of mediator, not three offices but three functions of the one indivisible office of mediator. “These are not three distinct offices meeting accidentally in one office, but three functions inhering essentially in the one office of mediator. And they each so belong to the very essence of the office that the quality peculiar to each gives character to every mediatorial action. When he teaches, he is always priestly and kingly prophet. When he offers sacrifice or intercession for sin, he is always a prophetical and royal priest.”3

This being true, one function of the threefold office tends to receive less attention and study; the function of Christ as Prophet. Scripturally, a prophet is a spokesman for God; one who is sent from God to man in order to make known the will of God. Any man receiving a revelation from God, or inspired in the communication of it, is, in the Scriptures, called a prophet. The common phrases ‘the word of the Lord came unto me’ (Isa. 38:4; Jer. 1:4,11,13; 2:1; 13:3,8; 16:1; 18:5; 29:30; Ez. 6:1; 7:1; 11:14; 12:1; Hos. 1:1; Joel 1:1; Jonah 1:1; 3:1; Mic. 1:1; Zeph. 1:1; Hag. 1:3; Zech. 1:1; 4:8; 8:18; Mal. 1:1) and ‘thus says the Lord’ (Ex. 4:22; Isa. 7:7; 10:24; 22:15; 28:16; 38:5; 42:5; Jer. 2:5; 4:3; 14:10 etc.) show that a prophet is indeed a spokesman for God.

In spite of the fact that many more modern scholars have neglected the study of Christ’s mediatorial office of prophet, the Westminster Divines heartily acknowledged it in question 44 of the Larger Catechism and question 24 of the shorter. The answer to question 44 in the Larger gives a more full answer, reading, “Christ executeth the office of a prophet, in his revealing to the church, in all ages, by his Spirit and word, in divers ways of administration, the whole will of God, in all things concerning their edification and salvation.” Christ therefore was the ultimate fulfillment of a prophet, more fully and perfectly revealing the will of God unto the world than any of the prophets of the Old Testament, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). In the stream of prophets given to us in Scripture Christ rests at the head. G.C. Berkouwer tells us that the Heidelberg Catechism speaks of Christ as our highest Prophet (Lord’s day XII question 31 ‘He is ordained of God the Father, and anointed with the Holy Ghost, to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who fully reveals to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption;’), which implies a relationship with the Old Testament prophets but not an identification with them. “Christ does appear in the list of prophets (Matt. 21:33-46) but he cannot be explained simply as one of them because prophecy is fulfilled in him and derives its significance only from him.”4

But can we say that the Scriptures explicitly teach the Prophetic office of Christ? We answer a resounding yes. We see that Christ has been anointed as a prophet in Deuteronomy 18:15 “The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me.” Stephen pointed back to this verse in Acts 7:37 stating that in Jesus Christ that Scripture was fulfilled. Deuteronomy 18:15 was an important verse for the Old Testament Jews who were awaiting a great final prophet who would appear at the end of times. We are told in the New Testament that this verse was fulfilled in Christ (Acts 3:22). Notice at the end of verse fifteen, “harken ye unto him.” Christ is the Word, the voice of God speaking to us. “When the Messiah, the Christ, was predicted as a prophet it was predicted that He should be the great organ of God in communicating his mind and will to men.”5 On the mount of transfiguration Christ was declared to be a prophet unto his people when the Father spoke from the cloud that overshadowed them, saying, “Hear ye Him.” (Matt. 17:5). Even the people of Jesus day recognized him as a prophet sent from God, “And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people.” (Luke 7:16).

As a prophet, Christ was infinitely greater than the Old Testament prophets, for they were sinful men proclaiming a divine message, whereas Christ was the sinless Word of God, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1). They merely spoke the prophetic word unto the people, but Christ was the prophetic Word unto the people. The prophets of old were men taken and chosen by God from among the people to be his spokesmen, declaring his word and reproving Israel for sin. They were in essence no more than unworthy servants only doing their duty. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, “while he was the servant of God, was also the Son of God, equal with the Father from eternity.”6 Christ is the focus and fulfillment of all the prophets, “Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoke: Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:25-27); “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.”(Luke 24:44 emphasis mine); “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me.” (John 5:46); “Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desired to look into.” (1Pet. 1:10-12).

The teaching of the prophets did carry authority, but it was only a derived authority, whereas Christ taught with complete authority, “I am… the truth” (John 14:6). Furthermore, Christ is said to speak the very words of God, “For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him” (John 3:34). Unlike the merely human prophets, “whatever he [Christ] speaks is free from arbitrariness and selfwilledness.”7 When Christ speaks, he speaks as a prophet, he speaks the very words of God and nothing else, “as I hear, I judge” (John 5:30). His doctrine is not his own, but that of the Father, the one who sent him, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me.” (John 7:16) Christ speaks as the Father has taught him, “When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.” (John 8:28) This shows Christ’s obedience and submissiveness as prophet. Again, Christ does not simply testify to the truth as the prophets did, he is the truth. “A prophet spoke God’s word only when under the influence of the Spirit of God. Otherwise he was an ordinary fallen man, sinful and weak. Jesus, on the other hand, who is our Lord, Spoke on his own authority.”8

Lest we think that Christ was unaware of his office as prophet the Scripture gives clear testimony to the self realization of Christ as prophet, “Verily I say unto you, No prophet is accepted in his own country.” (Luke 4:34); “Nevertheless I must walk today, and tomorrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.” (Luke 13:33) Jesus never once specifically claimed to be a prophet, but all the necessary elements of the office of prophet are present. In a way, Jesus “transcends prophetism… for he himself is the truth to which the prophets bore witness.”9 Jesus Christ is the culmination of God’s speech to mankind, “God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, but whom also he made the worlds.” (Heb. 1:1,2)

What then are the duties that Christ fulfills as prophet? “The prophetical office of Christ is that part of His Mediatorial office by which He, both in the Old and New Testament, reveals the entire counsel of God concerning the salvation of the elect, and explains it for their spiritual enlightenment.”10 It is Christ’s duty in his office of mediator to communicate any and all divine knowledge to his intelligent creatures. This he does in his office as prophet. As prophet Christ fulfills the outward or external spreading of divine truth and the inward or internal enlightening of the human heart by the Holy Spirit.

Christ teaches outwardly by His Word, “Faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God [Christ].” (Rom. 10:17) The expectation of the messiah was that “when he is come, he will tell us all things.” (John 4:25) Christ, as prophet, is a teacher who is come from God (John 3:2), therefore he must tell all things. It is to Christ alone that the preaching and publishing of the gospel is ascribed, “I have preached righteousness in the great congregation: lo, I have not refrained My lips, O LORD, Thou knowest. I have not hid Thy righteousness within My heart; I have declared Thy faithfulness and Thy salvation.” (Ps. 40:10,11); “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me; because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek.” (Isa. 61:1). Christ propounds the word of God unto his people and enlightens their understanding (Luke 24:45). “We see that he was anointed by the Spirit to be herald and witness of the Father’s grace.”11 Thomas Watson said that Christ, in his office as prophet, was the best teacher, for “he not only opened the Scriptures, but opened their understanding.”12 Jesus was not merely a messenger of revelation from God as all the other Old Testament prophets were, but was himself the source of revelation from God. He did not say, as the Old Testament prophets did, ‘Thus says the Lord,’ rather Jesus taught with divine authority, saying to the crowds who were staring on in amazement, ‘I say unto you’. The word of the Lord came to the Old Testament prophets, but Jesus spoke on his own authority as the eternal Word of God, who perfectly reveals the Father unto his people “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father … the words that I speak unto you I speak not of myself: but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.” (John 14:9,10). “All the prophets under the Old Testament, however eminent were but Stars, and borrowed all their light from the Sun of righteousness.”13

The great theologian Charles Hodge tells us that Christ outwardly or externally fulfilled his office as prophet by his personal instruction, discourses, parables, and expositions of the law and of the prophets; in all of which he taught concerning himself.14 Thus, the prophetical ministry of Christ is indispensable to salvation, for Christ alone teaches the way of salvation.

Nonetheless, this is not the only way Christ fulfilled his prophetic office; he also fulfilled it internally. As prophet, Christ enlightens the understandings of his people, which have become darkened through sin “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2Cor. 4:6) In this, Christ glorifies his prophetical ministry in the hearts of the elect by enlightening the eyes of their understanding “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things…. And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, ever in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.” (John 2:20;5:20).

Christ’s office as prophet does not stand alone but is interwoven with his priestly and kingly offices as mediator. His preaching as prophet is a calling of sinners to repentance and conversion, a preaching through which people see a great light (Matt. 4:16), a preaching of the kingdom of heaven surrounded by the signs of his kingship in the healing of the sick, casting out of demons, and raising of the dead. “The prophetic office is wholly directed to the coming of the kingdom, which in turn is directly connected with the priestly office.”15 These offices of prophet, priest and king in function are abstractly distinguishable, but in their exercise they qualify one another in every action. “Thus, when he teaches [as prophet], he is essentially a royal and priestly teacher, and when he rules [as king] he is a priestly and prophetical king, and when he either atones or intercedes [as priest] he is a prophetical and kingly priest.”16 We see then that the three functions of the one office of mediator are intimately connected and that one cannot function properly without the others.

The neglected prophet, Jesus Christ, must be studied and lifted up once again as he was in the days of the Westminster divines. We conclude by saying that Christ is a prophet, and as the Redeemer of his people, executes that office, in revealing to them, by his word and Spirit, the will of God for their salvation; doing this both “in the external and the internal, by which he not only outwardly reaches the ears of our body by his word, but also inwardly turns and opens the heart by his Spirit and leads it into all truth (John 16:13).”17

1 Robert Shaw, The Reformed Faith: an Exposition of the Westminster Confession of Faith, Revised ed. (Ross-Shire, Scottland: Christian Heritage, 2008), 139.

2 Rev. G.H. Kersten, Reformed Dogmatics: A Systematic Treatment of Reformed Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Netherlands Reformed Book and Publishing Committee), 280.

3 A. A. Hodge, Westminster Confession: a Commentary (Carlissle, Penn.: Banner of Truth, 2004), 134,135. 

4 G.C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: The Work of Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1946), 66.

5 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology Vol.2 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans 1986), 463.

6 Robert Letham, The Work of Christ: Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, Il.: Intervarsity Press, 1993), 92.

7 G.C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: The Work of Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1946), 67.

8 Robert Letham, The Work of Christ: Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, Il.: Intervarsity Press, 1993), 94.

9 Robert Letham, The Work of Christ: Contours of Christian Theology (Downers Grove, Il.: Intervarsity Press, 1993), 94.

10 Rev. G.H. Kersten, Reformed Dogmatics: A systematic Treatment of Reformed Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Netherlands Reformed Book and Publishing Committee), 281.

11 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol.1 (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox, 2006), 496.

12 Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2012), 166. 8

13 Thomas Boston, A Body of Divinity (Hartshill Road: Tentmaker, 2002), 411.

14 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology Vol.2 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1986), 463. 9

15 G.C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: The Work of Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1946), 67.

16 A.A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology (Carlisle, PA.: Banner of Truth, 1999), 395.

17 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1994), 400. 10

Assembly, Westminster. Westminster Confession of Faith. Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 2003.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Shaw, Robert, The Reformed Faith: an Exposition of the Westminster of Faith, Revised Ed, Ross- shire, Scottland: Christian Heritage, 2009.

Kersten, Rev. G.H., Reformed Dogmatics: A Systematic Treatment of Reformed Doctrine, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Netherlands Reformed Book and Publishing Committee, 2009.

Hodge, A.A., Westminster Confession: a Commentary, Carlissle, PA.: Banner of Truth, 2004.

Berkouwer, G.C., Studies in Dogmatics: The Work of Christ, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1946.

Hodge, Charles, Systematic Theology: Vol.2, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans 1986.

Letham, Robert, The Work of Christ: Contours of Christian Theology, Downers Grove, Il.: Intervarsity, 1993.

Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion: Vol.1, Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox, 2006.

Watson, Thomas, A Body of Divinity, Carlisle, PA.: Banner of Truth, 2012.
Boston, Thomas, A Body of Divinity, Hartshill Road: Tentmaker, 2002.
Hodge, A.A., Outlines of Theology, Carlisle, PA.: Banner of Truth, 1999.
Turretin, Francis, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1994.

2 thoughts on “Christ the Neglected Prophet

  1. What a wonderful exposition of the offices of Christ! A lot of food for thought here. Well substantiated with Scripture, the reformed confessions of the faith, and quotes from reformed Christian scholars. I love it!

    Like

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