Heidelberg 31 And 32: He Is The Savior And We Are The Saved


I first encountered the Reformed theology, piety, and practice (c. 1980) in St John’s Reformed Church, in Lincoln, Neb. There were a couple of fairly recent seminary graduates, who had both studied at the Reformed Episcopal seminary in Philadelphia in the 70s, who were working with university students. One of them, Warren Embree, once said something in passing that took me a long time to understand: “Too many Christians think they a are little Jesus’. They aren’t. They are Christians.” That is a profound truth. I finally decided that he was trying to say  that Christians are often tempted to try to do the work that only Jesus can do. They are not content to be, to bend Lewis’ phrase, mere Christians. This can happen in a variety of ways. Sometimes people want to try to do more than simply tell others the good news. They want to try to “close the deal.” Whenever we try to present ourselves to God on the basis of what we’ve done (our performance, our cooperation with grace) we deny the finished work of Christ. Sometimes it’s just a matter to taking an attitude, a stance (e.g., self-righteousness) toward others that communicates: “I’m not one of those who needs saving. I’m here to save you.”

As we understand Scripture, however, there’s only one Savior. The rest of us are the saved or those who need to be saved. We’ve been considering our need for salvation under the previous questions. In order to help us understand how Christ is our Savior, the catechism turns to Christ’s threefold office (triplex munus): prophet, priest, and king. These are truly essential offices. Calvin wrote:

Therefore, in order that faith may find a firm basis for salvation in Christ, and thus rest in him, this principle must be laid down: the office enjoined upon Christ by the Father consists of three parts. For he was given to be prophet, king, and priest. Yet it would be of little value to know these names without understanding their purpose and use. The papists use these names, too, but coldly and rather ineffectually, since they do not know what each of these titles contains (Institutes 2.15.1; Battles edition).1

In Heidelberg 31 we confess:

31. Why is He called Christ, that is Anointed?

Because He is ordained of God the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption; and our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of His body, has redeemed us, and ever lives to make intercession for us with the Father; and our eternal King, who governs us by His Word and Spirit and defends and preserves us in the redemption obtained for us.

Jesus Christ is God the Son incarnate. He took on our flesh, of the Virgin Mary, to be our substitute and our Redeemer. As he fulfilled his mission, i.e., his being sent, in three offices. Scripture calls him Christ (χριστός) because he is anointed. Peter identified office of the anointed one with the office of Son: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 1:16). The imagery, of course, goes back to David’s anointing:

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers. And the Spirit of Yahweh rushed upon David from that day forward…(1 Sam 16:13; modified from the ESV).

Jesus was not anointed by a prophet, even as one as great as Samuel. He was anointed by his heavenly Father with an anointing of which David’s was a mere shadow (Isa 61:1–3; Heb 1:9). Jesus, the God-Man, was anointed with the Holy Spirit to fulfill his offices for us. To say that he was anointed is to say that he was empowered by the Spirit for us. He was so enabled, so blessed by the unique presence of the Spirit and the endowments belonging to his divine nature that he was utterly uniquely qualified to save his people.

The temptation to blur the line between Christ and his Christian is perennial and powerful. It comes of downplaying the effect of the fall (depravity) and from downplaying the uniqueness of Jesus’ person (his two natures) and his all-sufficient, once-for-all work for us. His three offices ground us in these basics again, which helps us to avoid this temptation. In his prophetic office we have the uniqueness and finality of his Word (sola Scriptura), in his priestly office we have the uniqueness of his grace and salvation received through faith alone (sola gratia, sola fide), and in his kingly office, we have his unique sovereign rule over all things, expressed generally in providence and specially in the embassy of his eternal kingdom in the church and her ministry.

Christ Our Prophet

Above we considered the fundamental distinction between the Savior and the saved, an apparently obvious  distinction that, nevertheless, has been regularly blurred in the history of the church. The catechism helps us to understand this distinction by speaking of Christ’s three offices: prophet, priest, and king. Each of these, of course, is rooted in the history of redemption. Each of these offices was instituted by God, among his people, to serve as a type (an illustration) or a foreshadowing of the ultimate reality to come in the incarnation of God the Son in Jesus the Messiah (anointed). The Apostle John teaches us to read Scripture this way when he writes,

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (John 1:17–18; ESV).

According to Hebrews 11 (among other places), Moses was a Christian who lived under a typological (time of illustrations) administration of the covenant of grace. He was not the Savior and he knew it. He was looking forward to the Savior to come. He knew Christ by faith just like Abraham who saw Jesus’ day coming and believed (John 8:56). Moses, as it were, worked for Jesus. This is a very important principle that many Christians have not understood and consequently inverted. Frequently well-meaning believers have turned things around so that Jesus works for Moses. One sees this in those forms of Dispensationalism that see a restoration of the temple and sacrifices. That’s exactly contrary to the repeated teaching of Hebrews that Jesus is the final, once-for-all sacrifice (Heb 7:27; 9:12, 26; 10:10). Jesus said, “It is finished (John 19:30) not, “the sacrificial system is done for now but it will be back when the temple is re-built.” No, Jesus said that he is the temple and he was going to raise it again in three days, by which he meant his body (John 2:19–21). The Roman communion has made the same mistake by effectively re-instituting the sacerdotal (priestly) sacrificial system. That ethical system that seeks to reinstitute the Mosaic civil code, which we confess to have “expired” with the death of Christ (WCF 19.4).

One of the more important ways that Moses worked for Jesus was in his office as prophet, the first of Christ’s three office. In Deuteronomy 18:15–20 The Lord characterized the office of prophet:

“Yahweh your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—just as you desired of Yahweh your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of Yahweh my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ And Yahweh said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that Yahweh has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of Yahweh, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that Yahweh has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him (revised from the ESV).

Moses was to serve as the baseline of the office of prophet. The Lord set up tests by which Israel could empirically verify that one really was a prophet. He will be like Moses, raised up by God. He will have God’s Word in his mouth, he will speak God’s Word to his people. Even though he is human, he will have divine authority on the basis of the divine Word (sola Scriptura). Anyone who presumes to speak an authoritative word that is not from God or who speaks in the name of an alien God (other than Yahweh) is not a prophet and, under the Mosaic-Israelite system temporarily instituted by God, must die (Deut 13:1–5). Anyone who claimed to be a prophet had to meet these tests and, in the course of redemptive history, the Lord raised up a succession of prophets like Moses. Indeed, when God explained the prophetic office to Miriam and Aaron, he said contrasted Moses with the coming prophets:

And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I Yahweh make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of Yahweh. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” (Numbers 12:6–8 rev. from the ESV. See also Joshua 34:10).

The Old Covenant prophets were given visions. They were taken up into heaven

Like Samuel the succeeding prophets received direct revelation from the Lord (1Sam 3:20). They all received their commission from God. According to Isaiah 6, he was given a vision of heaven. He came to God’s people as a representative of the heavenly court, as an ambassador from another kingdom to mediate God’s Word to his people.

The last of those Old Covenant prophets was John the Baptist. He announced that another was coming after him (Matt 3:11) of whom he, John, was merely the forerunner. That one, whose sandals John said he was unfit to tie, was Jesus (Matt 11:7–12). Jesus described himself as a prophet (Matt 13:56). When he made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem he was hailed as a prophet (Matt 21:11, 45). The man who was born blind called him a prophet (John 9:17).

Jesus more than fulfilled all the tests of Deuteronomy 18. In his entire ministry he only spoke God’s Word, which is why he was arrested and murdered. Israel treated him as she had all the other prophets (Matt 5:12). He announced God’s Word and his kingdom (Mark 1:15).  He spoke with divine authority (Matt 7:29)  because He not only had God’s Word in his mouth, he is God’s Word (John 1:1–3) incarnate.

Jesus is the Savior because he is the prophet, the Word. He is God’s authoritative, definitive self-disclosure. The Apostles had authority because they ministered the Word, Christ and his revelation. It was he who spoke to Adam and Eve in the garden. It was he who promised a Redeemer. It was he who thundered from Sinai (Hebrews 12) and he who promised a prophet, priest, and king to come. This is why we seek salvation in no other one, why we seek no further revelation (e.g., The Qur’an,  the Book of Mormon, papal or conciliar dogmas, or alleged neo-Pentecostal revelations).

He is our prophet and teacher. All ministers and councils work for him, just as Moses worked for him. He is the Word and we are servants of the Word. He is anointed with the Spirit and he sends us, not to be little christs (there is a difference) but to be his Christians (more on that in future). We don’t seek additional revelation (i.e., God’s secret will) because Jesus is the revelation of what we need to know about God’s secret counsel. He came to save sinners of which I am chief.

Christ Our Only High Priest

The second aspect of Jesus’ threefold office (triplex munus), of his saving work and office that we need to consider is his office and work as our priest. The first time the word priest appears in Scripture it is in connection to that mysterious figure Melchizedek. Genesis 14:18 records, “And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High)”(ESV). Abraham recognized Melchizedek’s two offices (king and priest) by receiving his blessing by giving him a tithe (a tenth) of everything (v.20). A king is a ruler (more about that in the next post) but a priest is an intercessor. Abraham was right to recognize Melchizedek as a priest “of God Most High.” In Scripture Melchizedek becomes the paradigm for an eternal priesthood. Yahweh says to Adon:

Yahweh has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4 revised from the ESV)

For the reader of Scripture who is aware of the extensive teaching about the Aaronic priesthood (e.g., Exodus 31:8; 40:11–15; Leviticus [all]) that Yahweh should confer upon Adon a Melchizedekian priesthood, rather than an Aaronic priesthood, might be a surprise. Still, we learn from Aaron what a priest is and does. He receives sacrificial offerings (Lev 1:5–9). He diagnoses ceremonial uncleanness and applies the appropriate stipulations (e.g., Lev 13:1–4). They minister at the tabernacle, i.e., the place of meeting with God (Nu 3:5–8). They were responsible for the ritual purity and holiness of the congregation (Nu 25:6–9; Lev 5; 13). He makes atonement for the sins of the people (Lev 4). He represents God’s people in the most holy place in the temple. The pastor to the Hebrew Christians reminds them (and us):

For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was (Heb 5:1–4).

It was essential that a priest be like those whom he represented:

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Heb 2:17–18).

According to Peter in Acts 2 and according to Hebrews 5, Jesus is our high priest but his was not an Aaronic priesthood, because all the Aaronic priests died and were replaced by a successor. Jesus has an eternal priesthood. He has no successor. Like Melchizedek, his coming and going were mysterious. Like Melchizedek his was also a king (more about this next time). When Yahweh said to Adon (Ps 110:4) “You are a priest forever” he was not speaking about David, who is dead and buried. He was not even speaking about Melchizedek, who was only a man. No, in Ps. 110 we’re given a window into an eternal covenant between God the Father and God the Son, two distinct persons. In which God the Father gave to the Son a people to redeem and represent and the Son accepted that people and pledged to conquer their enemies, to redeem them, and to represent them eternally (Ps 110). Melchizedek was a mysterious figure worthy of honor but he was not God the Son in eternal communion with the Father. That was someone else.

David was anointed but he was not the anointed. It was not David, to whom God made that promise. Peter said that they knew then where his grave was. By contrast, Jesus was killed and he was buried but he did not remain dead, he did remain in the grave. On the third day, when the women came early in the morning (Luke 24:22), they found his grave empty. The angel who was present asked them why they were looking for the living among the dead. His grave clothes were folded neatly (John 20:7). Death was not able to keep him because he had the power of an indestructible life (Heb 7:16). Jesus is the anointed one, the Messiah.

The Messiah, is a priest who has “passed through the heavens” (4:14) yet who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. He has been “tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sin” (v.15). Hebrews says this because our priest is true human and true God. He has two natures, undivided, unconfused in one person (Definition of Chalcedon, 451 AD). Jesus is the greater than David and Solomon (Luke 11:31).

Indeed Jesus is not just a priest, he is our “high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens…” (Heb 7:26). He is a royal priest, seated at the right hand of the Father (Heb 8:1) serving not the copy but in the Holy of Holies in the real, eternal, heavenly temple (vv.2–5). The Aaronic priesthood was intentionally temporary. Like we used to say about cars, they had built-in obsolescence. Not so Jesus’ priesthood. By his intercession and ministry he has secured redemption once-for-all (Heb ch. 9; 10:10). He is not only the priest, but he is the eternal, once-for-all sacrifice (Heb 9:12; 10:11; 10:20). His body was the temple curtain. In other words, the tabernacle, the temple with all its appointments, the Aaronic priesthood, even the Melchizedekian priesthood, they all worked for, i.e., pointed to, Jesus. He is the reality and they were the shadows, the illustrations.

Thus we confess:

31. Why is He called Christ, that is Anointed?

Because He is ordained of God the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption; and our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of His body, has redeemed us, and ever lives to make intercession for us with the Father; and our eternal King, who governs us by His Word and Spirit and defends and preserves us in the redemption obtained for us.

By the “one sacrifice of his body” not the repeated sacrifice. The temple has done its work. Even were a third temple to be built it would have no spiritual virtue. This is why it is sad and foolish for Christians to invest money (as some have done) in breeding heifers and in sewing uniforms for a re-established priesthood. The temple has been already been re-built in the resurrection of our Lord’s true human body. Jesus could not have been clearer about that. The Lamb of God will not be sitting on a throne in Jerusalem watching men sacrifice lambs, as if THE Lamb of God had not already died once-f0r-all on the cross to take away the sin of the world.

This is why the Reformed churches are so adamantly opposed to the medieval and Roman re-institution of the priesthood and the memorial re-sacrifice of the allegedly transubstantiated eucharist.2 Yes, the supper is a memorial. Our Lord instituted it as such. Yes, it is a feast on his body. Our Lord instituted it as such. By grace alone, through faith alone, through the mysterious operation of the Spirit, Christ feeds us on his “proper and natural” (Belgic Confession, art. 35) body and blood. We cannot say how but we do say that it is so. To ask how is fundamentally a rationalist question, i.e., an attempt to place the human intellect over divine revelation. We might as well ask “how is God one in three persons?” or “how is Christ one person in two natures?” These mysteries are fundamental to Christianity and require intelligent submission not what we used to call cupidity.3 God says in Deuteronomy 29:29 that we must content ourselves with what he has revealed and not seek to know what he has not revealed.

Because God is one in three persons Christ’s humanity need not be brought down out of heaven from the right hand and the elements transformed or his body impanated. No, he is the bread. Paul condemns this very impulse (Rom 10:6, 7). Remember, Jesus’ body was true humanity, not divine. His person is divine but his humanity does not become divine any more than his divinity becomes human. To confuse the two is the Eutychian heresy just as to separate the two natures is the Nestorian heresy. With the church catholic we condemn both heresies.

To seek even a memorial re-institution of the priesthood, whether in a putative re-built temple in Jerusalem or in a Roman cathedral, is to deny the once-for-all finished work of Christ and it is to seek to make ourselves into little saviors rather than being content with being the saved.

Christians ought to rejoice and rest in the finished work of Christ for us and his ongoing, eternal, perfect intercession for us before the Father (Heb 7:25). His righteousness is sufficient. It is perfect. In Christ our head, our representative, our substitute, our High Priest, we believers are irrevocably, immutably acceptable to God. He is the Savior. He has saved us. He is saving us and he shall save us to the uttermost. We are only the saved but but by his grace we are that.

Christ The King

The third of the three offices (triplex munus) is the office of king. We Americans have a little difficulty with the office of king. In the 18th century we rebelled against King George III and we have not had much direct experience with them since. In recent history, most of the civil kings in the western world have been ceremonial. Scripture, however, takes for granted that we know what a king is. They appear without explanation or comment in Genesis 14. As we saw last time, one of the most significant kings in Scripture was also a priest, Melchizedek. He is portrayed as greater than Abraham and it is to him that Abraham gives a tithe (a tenth). As a priest-king he blessed Abraham. In the narrative Abraham submits to him as a greater king. We know, of course, from Psalm 110:4 and from Hebrews 7 that Melchizedek, King of Salem, was a type, a foreshadowing of a greater king.

The Lord appointed Judges over Israel but they were not satisfied (1 Sam 8:5) and they asked for a king “to judge us like all the nations” (ESV). The Lord instructed Samuel to listen to the people and to appoint a king because they had rejected his divine kingship. He warned them about how life under Israelite kings would be:

‘These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day’ (1 Samuel 8:11–18; ESV).

In effect, Samuel said, you will wish that you had not chosen a king. The Israelites again refused to listen to Samuel and demanded a king so that they would be like the other nations and so that he would go fight their battles for them (vv.20–22). They got their wish, as it were. Samuel anointed Samuel’s head with oil (1Sam 10:1) and he was temporarily gifted with extraordinary powers for the purpose of fulfilling his new office but, in time, it would become clear that he was not the anointed one. He died in shame and humiliation but not for the salvation of his people. The king to come would come from the line of King David and he becomes the paradigm by which Israelite kings were to be measured. Unlike Saul, though a wretched sinner and a “man of blood” (1 Chron 28:3) whose sins would disqualify him from being the one to build God’s temple, nevertheless, he was a man after God’s own heart (1 Kings 11:4; Acts 13:22). In material terms, Solomon was perhaps Israel’s greatest king. The kingdom was at its greatest under his rule and his wisdom and skill were famous across the ancient world (1 Kings 10:1).

When we confess:

31. Why is He called Christ, that is Anointed?

Because He is ordained of God the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit to be our chief Prophet and Teacher, who has fully revealed to us the secret counsel and will of God concerning our redemption; and our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of His body, has redeemed us, and ever lives to make intercession for us with the Father; and our eternal King, who governs us by His Word and Spirit and defends and preserves us in the redemption obtained for us.

Our understanding of Jesus’ royal office is understood against its Old Testament background. He came to Israel as a king, but of a different sort. He came preaching the kingdom of God (Mark 1:15) and the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 3:2). Like King David, he came to Israel on a donkey (1 Sam 16) in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Our Lord Jesus entered Jerusalem as the King of Peace to conquer in triumph but not to shed the blood of others. He entered in order to defeat sin and death by the shedding of his own blood. This sort of conquest, this sort of kingdom was such a reversal of expectations, that it was impossible for the Israelites to see it. This was what the Lord had been promising all along. The son of the woman would crush the head of the serpent but only at the cost of his own life as the serpent would strike his heel. Like the rest of us, national Israel like the head crushing bit but did not care for the humiliation and shame entailed in heel striking. So, given the choice by the ruling secular authority between a criminal named Bar-Abbas and “Jesus who is called Christ” (Matt 27:16) they cried out for Bar-Abbas (Matt 27:20). The soldiers mocked him as if he were a deluded, faux king. His death looked to all the world, even to his disciples and family as the tragic end of great possibilities—until Sunday morning, the inauguration of the new creation (2 Cor 5:17) and the inauguration of the concomitant new creation sabbath. When his body was not to be found in the tomb, where they had laid it cold and dead, they began to experience the Kingdom of God in power. His risen body could be touched (John 20:27), was not to be held, as if he was not going to ascend bodily to rule over all things with a rod of iron (Ps 2:9). He is the Shepherd-King, who protects and rules his people as Mediator, by his Word and Spirit, in his church (Matt 16; 18). He rules all of creation as the anointed Son in his sovereign providence.

Against those Dispensationalists who suggest that Jesus is not yet ruling we confess that Jesus is ruling now. This was the express teaching of the Apostle Peter in Acts 2:30–33:

Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing.

Jesus does not have to wait until the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple to begin ruling. He is ruling now. David is not the fulfillment of Psalm 110, Jesus is. In Acts 4:25ff, the Holy Spirit says that Jesus, not David, is now fulfilling Psalm 2. Those who are waiting for Jesus to begin reigning need to adjust their conception of what his reign and kingdom are. Whatever transpires, that is his sovereign good pleasure. When Paul wrote Romans 13, the dissolute pagan Roman emperor Nero was about 20 and he was on his throne as Christ’s servant, even though he never acknowledged him as king and persecuted the Christians. This was Paul’s theology of the King in his preaching in Acts 13. When God raised Jesus the Messiah, the King, from the dead he fulfilled the promise of Psalm 2: You are my Son, Today have I begotten you.” This is the language of royal enthronement, of accession. God the Son is the eternally begotten (not made) Son of God but in the resurrection Jesus assumed his royal throne in glory. He is the fulfillment of Psalm 16. He did not see corruption.

Because they knew and understood him to be king, the early Christians were known for speaking of King Jesus (Acts 17:7). Of course, Pilate had queried Jesus already about his kingly office. That’s why Jesus told him that he could have legions of angels descend on Jerusalem but that’s not why he came. That is not the nature of his kingdom. He rules his twofold kingdom (duplex regimen) sovereignly but in distinct ways. Through his embassy and his ambassadors or ministers he rules his spiritual kingdom with spiritual keys. In his general, sovereign providence he rules everything else and holds the entire world accountable to his moral law revealed in creation and in the conscience (Rom 1–2). The Christian’s whole life is under his Lordship and one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord (Phil 2:10).

Finally, we must remember that our King is also our Savior. We must not repeat the error of the medieval church by thinking of him solely or exclusively in his royal office to the exclusion of the other two. This is how they came to seek other mediators and other saviors. As we confess in the Belgic Confession, there is no other Savior and no one loves us or is more ready and willing to hear us than King Jesus who obeyed and died in our place and who was raised for our justification.

Our Office: Christian

So far we have been considering Christ’s three offices (triplex munus). The catechism, however, connects Christ’s threefold office to the Christian. This series began with a basic distinction between the Savior (Jesus) and the saved (Christians). Jesus is God the Son incarnate, true God and true man—notice that the catholic creeds (Nicene, Apostles’, Chalcedon, Athanasian) do not use quantitative adjectives or adverbs (fully or 100%) but qualitative, true as distinct from false. He obeyed as our substitute and all of his perfect, whole (actively suffering)  obedience is credited (imputed) to all those who believe (Rom 4:3; 5:12–21). That is the ground of our justification and salvation (deliverance from sin and judgment). We receive justification and salvation freely (sola gratia) through faith, resting and trustingin Christ alone (sola fide). True faith results in sanctification, good works, and fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5) but it is Christ’s righteous obedience for us not the Spirit’s work in usthat makes true faith powerful. Faith is formed by Christ not by love or Spirit-wrought sanctity. Nevertheless, the Christ, by his Word and Spirit, does work in us. He grants us new life (regeneration) and he sanctifies us. Sanctification is what Reformed theologian Caspar Olevianus (1536–87) called the second benefit of the covenant of grace. Notice I did not write “second blessing.” In that scheme there are two kinds of believers, those that have had “the blessing” (e.g., tongues, prophecy) and those that have not. That was a feature of the Gnostic heresy of the 2nd century and it continues to plague neo-Pentecostalism and the charismatic movements in modern evangelicalism. There is no such thing, however, as believers who have the first benefit of the covenant of grace but not the second. A second benefit is a necessary consequence of the first (justification). Distinguishing justification and sanctification does not make the second less important or unessential but if we do not distinguish them we will lose the gospel of free grace and Christians come to think of our standing with God as contingent upon the degree of our sanctity. This was one of the great errors of the medieval church and it the Roman communion continues to affirm it. Confessional Protestants, however, reject this notion as unbiblical and contrary to the nature of the gospel. As Luther, Calvin and many others have said, should we attempt to base our standing with God on our sanctity, our assurance, our confidence, our comfort (Heidelberg Catechism 1) will be shipwrecked. None of these outcomes are necessary, however as long as we bear in mind certain basics:

It is sinners, not the sinless, who need salvation. Jesus said that repeatedly.

And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17; ESV).

Paul says that, indeed, Jesus has actually saved his sinful people:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost (1 Tim 1:15; ESV).

Salvation was accomplished in history, once for all his sheep. It is sovereignly and freely applied by the Holy Spirit, through the preaching of the Gospel and the use of the sacraments (Rom 10; Heidelberg Catechism 65). So, we were saved at Calvary but we came into possession of salvation when the Holy Spirit made us alive, granted us faith, and through that faith united us to Christ.

So Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, and by his Spirit, by his free favor alone, through faith alone, we are united to him and become, as Luther said, his Christians.

Heidelberg Catechism 32 says:

32. But why are you called a Christian?

Because by faith I am a member of Christ and thus a partaker of His anointing, in order that I also may confess His Name, may present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to Him, and that with a free conscience I may fight against sin and the devil in this life, and hereafter in eternity reign with Him over all creatures.

Please notice how the catechism speaks about union with Christ. It’s very straightforward. It’s speaking here about what Reformed theologians call mystical union with Christ, i.e., that union worked by the Spirit through faith. In distinction from some of the more confusing approaches to union proposed in the last few decades the mainstream Reformed approach, reflected in the catechism, is not difficult. There are two other aspects of the doctrine of union with Christ that we might discuss but the catechism here focuses on the third, so that’s where this discussion will stay.

We are called Christians because “by faith I am a member of Christ.” We have already considered at length the teaching of catechism 21 on the nature of true faith. We confess that faith is not something we generate. It is a free, unconditional gift of the sovereign Holy Spirit. He does not give us new life and faith because he foresees anything in us. No, election is of grace (Ephesians 1; Rom 9). If the gifts of new life and faith were conditioned upon anything foreseen in us then they would not be gifts and salvation would not be by grace (Rom 11:6). We need new life in order to believe because, by nature, in Adam, we are dead in sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1–4). But God, Paul says, when were dead, made us alive by his Spirit.

Faith is the gift of grace (Eph 2:8–10) and through it we are made members of Christ. To say “member” is a metaphor. Sometimes, when Paul uses this expression, it refers literally to Christ’s physical body.  Sometimes, however, it refers metaphorically to the church and to believers who make up “the body of Christ” (1 Cor 12:12). This is the sense in which the catechism uses the word “member” here. As members of Christ, it is as if when he was anointed by the Spirit, we too were anointed. Remember, we are not anointed to save but because we have been saved (and are being saved). We are participating, by grace, in what is true originally of Christ. He is the anointed, theMessiahand we share in that by his grace.

Christians As Prophets

Heidelberg Catechism 32 distinguishes between the Savior (Jesus) and the saved (Christians) and applies to believers the three offices of Christ: prophet, priest, and king. By virtue of our Spirit-wrought union with Christ, through faith, we too are prophets, priest, and kings but just as Christ is the Savior and we the saved, we must distinguish clearly between the way he possess and fulfills those offices and the way we do. God the Son is the archetype for the biblical offices as they were revealed progressively in the history of redemption. When he became incarnate of the blessed virgin (blessed because she was chosen to be the Theotokos i.e., θεοτοκος—Definition of Chalcedon, 451 AD; the God-bearer) he not only fulfilled the types and shadows from the history of redemption but manifested in the flesh the full reality of those offices on which the types and shadows were based. Put simply the types and shadows work, as it were, for Jesus not the reverse. So he is the original, we are his image bearers. We partake in his offices but they are his offices. We reflect them as servants to whom gifts have been given. As servants we administer his belongings, on his behalf and on behalf of his kingdom.

In Heidelberg Catechism 32 we say:

32. But why are you called a Christian?

Because by faith I am a member of Christ and thus a partaker of His anointing, in order that I also may confess His Name, may present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to Him, and that with a free conscience I may fight against sin and the devil in this life, and hereafter in eternity reign with Him over all creatures.

We use four verbs to capture our fulfillment of the three offices: confess, present, fight and reign Our prophetic office is to confess his name. As prophet Jesus reveals God and his salvation to us. We are not revealers. We are recipients of revelation. This is has been a difficult distinction for people to accept. At least since the Montanists in the 3rd century Christians have been tempted to dislocate Scripture as the sole, unique authoritative revelation from God. The Montanists wanted ongoing revelation. Ultimately the medieval church would reply to such approaches by saying, in effect, “we have continuing revelation in the teaching magisterium” (councils and popes). In the 1520s the Anabaptists claimed to receive continuing revelation and accused the the Reformed of being “ministers of the dead letter.” Since the 1820s and particularly since the early 20th century American evangelicals have regularly claimed to have renewed apostolic gifts and revelation. In contrast, however, the Reformed are content with Holy Scripture as God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Word.

Simply repeating what God’s Word said is evidently not very interesting to many who profess to hold the Christian faith. Confessing God’s Word, however, is a holy privilege. When we confess the faith in our confessions (e.g., the Belgic and the Westminster), our catechisms (e.g., the Heidelberg and the Westminster), and the Canons of Dort we are fulfilling our prophetic duty. Today, when Christians talk about the church’s “prophetic role” we don’t often hear and read about the duty to confess. Typically the “prophetic role” is invoked when we want the government to change a law or a policy. Surely there are a small number of instances when the church as Christ’s institutional representative might speak to the state. WCF 31.4 says:

Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.

This way of thinking about the questions that the church as institution should address was not original to the Westminster Divines. They inherited a view that had long existed among the Reformed and some medieval thinkers. Ecclesiastical assemblies have taken to speaking to all manner of social questions, e.g., investment in Israel, on which faithful believers who confess the same faith may well legitimately differ.

When ecclesiastical assembly pronounce on trendy issues (e.g., divestment) they are not likely to find much opposition from the powers of this age. When, however, they perform their actual prophet duty, then resistance is much more likely. This is as it has been since Christianity first came into contact with the pagan world in the 1st century. We certainly know how pagans thought of the Christians in the 2nd century. They wanted them to conform and to recite civil-religious formulas (e.g., “Caesar is Lord”) to show their conformity. Many Christians refused in favor of fidelity to Christ the Lord and they fulfilled their office as prophets by confessing that Jesus is Lord and Savior, that he was righteous, that he was unjustly arrested, tortured, and crucified, and that he was raised from the dead on the third day. That brought genuine resistance from the powers of this age including arrest, torture, and martyrdom. We have not seen too many high-ranking ecclesiastical leaders so treated for, e.g., attacking multinational corporations.

Confessing to one’s neighbor that all humans are born in sin, spiritually dead, and totally dependent upon God’s free, sovereign grace for salvation is rather more likely to demonstrate the antithesis between belief and unbelief than many other things we are tempted to say as churches and believers.

Christ is our chief prophet and teacher. His Spirit has given to us his Word in Holy Scripture. The church has confessed an understanding of that Word. Christians are prophets and we honor our King  when confess his Word to a watching world.

Christians As Priests

Scripture teaches and we confess that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, has three offices: prophets, priest, and king. In Heidelberg Catechism 32 we say:

32. But why are you called a Christian?

Because by faith I am a member of Christ and thus a partaker of His anointing, in order that I also may confess His Name, may present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to Him, and that with a free conscience I may fight against sin and the devil in this life, and hereafter in eternity reign with Him over all creatures.

Because the Holy Spirit has united believers to Christ through faith we are prophets (see part 6). We are also priests. Since the Reformation was, in part, a rejection of the medieval renewal of priestcraft (including the institution in the 14th century of a memorial, propitiatory sacrifice in the mass)  This might seem like an odd thing for a Reformed Christian, for a Protestant to say but it is not. Scripture clearly and repeatedly teaches that we are priests. The question is not whether we shall make sacrifices but what we offer and why.

you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Pet 2:5; ESV see also v.9).

As priests we do make offerings. Paul writes of the offering made by the Philippians in support of his ministry:

I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God (Phil 4:18; ESV).

Just as Jesus is the Christ, the anointed, the Messiah, he is the High Priest.  Melchizedek pointed to Christ. Aaron pointed to Christ. It is his priesthood that makes their priesthood significant. In other words, when Aaron and his successors made offerings, it was not they nor their sacrifices that gave significance to Christ’s offering of himself. No, it was as they looked forward to his priestly work that their’s had significance. Only to the degree that their work partook in and anticipated his was it of any benefit to believing Israelites. The blood of bulls and goats does nothing. The blood of Christ alone is satisfactory for our sins. Full stop.

Our priesthood adds nothing to Christ’s. It is not as if he inaugurated a new daily, ritual, memorial, propitiatory offering. He did not.  His suffering obedience and sacrificial death completed all such priestly work. Jesus, not we, went outside the city to make his holy offering for us who are legally sinful, morally corrupt, and ritually unclean:

So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Heb 13:12–14; ESV).

Notice the pattern in Scripture. Jesus has done for us therefore let us respond appropriately in light of his work. That is why our priesthood is figurative. We have become priests by virtue of our union with Christ the priest. The offering we make is only because of his once-for-all offering of himself.

Nevertheless, we are called priests and we are said in Holy Scripture to make offerings. This is why Paul says,

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Rom 12:1; ESV).

The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us, in light of all that Christ has done for us, that we should gather in congregation:

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.

Unlike the Levitical priests who went daily to the temple, in Christ the temple, by virtue of his grace and the Spirit-wrought union, by faith we are now his temple (1 Peter 4). As Christians we offer praise and ourselves to his worship. We are not turning away God’s wrath. That work has been done. We’re not sewing priestly uniforms for the future. That work has been done. We’re not saving toward the re-building of the temple. The temple has been destroyed and it was raised on the third day and by our union with Christ the Temple we are his temple (1 Cor 3:16, 17; 6:19; 2Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21). We are the temple over which the Glory Spirit hovers (1 Pet 4:14) as we await his glorious, visible return.

We should not think that our service in this life has no significance. It does. We are priests, anointed by Christ for his worship. When we gather together we do so as the temple, as priests, and as sacrifices, accepted only for the sake of Christ’s righteousness imputed and, in him, a sweet-smelling offering with which he is pleased.

Christians As Kings

So far we have been working through Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 12 (Q/A 31 and 32) and its fundamental distinction between the believer and the Savior. We have noted some ways that evangelicals have blurred the line between Christ and Christian but liberals and moralists do this too.2 They do this when they make Jesus primarily an example to be followed rather than a Savior of sinners to be trusted. To be sure, we do seek, by grace alone, through faith alone, to imitate Christ as appropriate. For example, unlike those misguided folk in the Philippines who literally crucify themselves each Easter, we do not imitate Christ thus. We are called in Scripture to imitate him figuratively by crucifying the old nature. By the way, this case is a great example of how something can be both figurative and literally true. It is literally true that we are imitating Christ but we do so recognizing the difference between Christ and Christian.2

Liberals also seek to make Jesus the first Christian by questing after his religious experience. This was Friedrich Schleiermacher’s (1768–1834) program. Every locus of theology in his Christliche Glaubenslehre 1821–22 was not account of the doctrine of the objective Christian faith but a different way of talking about the Christian’s subjective quest to imitate Christ’s experience. The child of pietist parents, Schleiermacher was completely unprepared for the Enlightenment rationalism he encountered at university. It rocked his entire faith. As a consequence, he repudiated the naive pietism of his parents in favor of what he called a “mature pietism” in which he divorced their Quest for Illegitimate Religious Experience (QIRE) from the Christ of history and the historic Christian faith and replaced their desire to experience the risen Christ immediately with a quest to recover Jesus’ religious experience.

The theology of Norman Shepherd, one of the godfathers of the self-named Federal Vision movement, illustrates one way in which moralists seek to make Jesus into the first Christian and thus blur the line between Christ and Christian. He does this in a variety of ways but particularly in his teaching that Jesus had faith and works and we should have the same faith and works, as if they were essentially the same thing. This is a form of Pelagianism. In Christian doctrine, in contrast to Shepherd’s teaching, Jesus may be said to have trusted his Father and obeyed not for himself  but for us. He did not believe for us in the sense we do not have to believe. No, we must to believe (which faith is God’s gift of grace; Eph 2:8–10), but he did trust his Father when he confronted the Evil One in the desert. As the Last Man, the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45), he obeyed his Father in our place and his obedience is credited to us as the ground of our justification. That is why justification is God’s free gift to sinners, by grace alone, through faith alone. Because he rejected these basic distinctions, Shepherd made a hash not only of covenant theology but also the doctrine of justification, including the definition of faith and the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. So, it is most important for us to understand the relationship between Christ and the Christian since on both sides of this road lie genuine dangers.

We have also been working through the biblical and Reformed doctrine of Christ’s threefold office (triplex munus), which he fulfilled for us (pro nobis) and which we, by union with Christ, also exercise as appropriate for the saved. In the previous postwe considered the believer’s office as priest. In this last post for this series we are looking at the Christian’s office as a ruler or a king.

In contrast to some streams of popular evangelical piety and theology, the Reformed do not usually speak of “making Christ Lord.” I understand what people mean by this expression but it is not particularly helpful. Christ is Lord. We do not make him Lord. We recognize his Lordship. We submit to his Lordship but we do not make him Lord. Further, Christ’s Lordship is not a second blessing for the more mature, more enlightened believer. Anyone who is actually a believer recognizes Christ as Lord—even if his theology tells him something else. Christians are not waiting for Christ to becomeLord (e.g., when some earthly  Millennium begins or when the right people are elected to office or when a majority of Americans are regenerated). No, he is Lord now. See more about this in part 4 of this series. By grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide) the sovereign Holy Spirit has united believers to the risen Christ and made them participants in his offices.

In contrast to the way that Christ’s dominion and Lordship are often discussed today (usually with the first reference to the broader culture), we confess that the first way in which believers exercise their ruling office is by fighting against sin. In other words, where the Moral Majority and various Reconstructionist and theonomic movements have tended to focus the question of the believer’s dominion first of all outside himself, the catechism wants us to begin with our own sins. This was Jesus’ teaching about specks and logs:

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck  out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matt 7:3-5; ESV).

Certainly believers must engage the world about them from a Christian interpretation of reality but we do so with a consciousness of our own sins and with an awareness that we stand before God by favor (grace) that Christ has earned for us, on the basis of his righteousness imputed to us. Yes, we stand for a fixed moral law revealed in nature, every human conscience and in Holy Scripture (Rom 1-2)  and we should seek to apply that to every area of life as appropriate. The USA, however, is not a new Israel and no elected official is King David. In God’s general providence we have much to learn from non-believers about the civil life that we share together. That we are Christians does not give us unique insights into how to pave streets or even, necessarily, about how to improve relations between the police and minority communities. Christians do well to make sure that our congregations are hospitable and warm to seekers and believers from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

The catechism follows Paul in applying the Christian’s office of ruler to the fight with sin and the devil. Here we could look at virtually the second half of all of his epistles. We could study Romans 6 and Colossians 2 about how we have died with Christ that we might to death sin and the old man. The relative silence of the New Testament about “taking back” Asia Minor or any other geo-political entity should be instructive. When the NT speaks of the Kingdom of God it is virtually impossible to discern a “social program.”

What we see is that the Kingdom of Heaven is first of all eschatological, i.e., that it is heavenly. It occasionally entered history in the typology (e.g., in the tabernacle/temple and destruction of the Canaanites) but it entered history definitively with the advent of King Jesus, who came preaching the kingdom of God. His rule was inaugurated in power not when he destroyed Jerusalem with his sword. It was inaugurated when he was crucified as if he were a common criminal. This is paradigmatic for the kingdom of God on the earth. To the watching world, whether Pilate or 2nd-century Romans, or to neo-pagans today, Christ’s seems to be a foolish kingdom with foolish keys (Gospel, sacraments, and discipline) but it’s Christ’s kingdom and he shall consummate it when he returns—not a moment before. Then, at the judgment, we shall reign openly, visibly, literally with him then but not until then. In the interregnum we wait. We obey him. We serve him faithfully by his grace and we try to avoid confusing his glorious, Spiritual kingdom with the kings, kingdom, and agendas of this world.



1. E.g., Battles cites Aquinas’ use of the threefold office. Berkhof explains:

It has become customary to speak of three offices in connection with the work of Christ, namely the prophetic, the priestly, and the kingly office. While some of the early Church Fathers already speak of the different offices of Christ, Calvin was the first to recognize the importance of distinguishing the three offices of the Mediator and to call attention to it in a separate chapter of his Institutes. Among the Lutherans Gerhard was the first to develop the doctrine of the three offices, Quenstedt regarded the threefold distinction as rather unessential and called attention to the fact that some Lutheran theologians distinguished only two offices, combining the prophetical with the priestly office. Since the days of the Reformation the distinction was quite generally adopted as one of the commonplaces of theology, though there was no general agreement as to the relative importance of the offices, nor as to their interrelation. Some placed the prophetical, others the priestly, and still others the kingly, office in the foreground. There were those who applied the idea of a chronological succession to them, and thought of Christ functioning as prophet during his public ministry on earth, as priest in his final sufferings and death on the cross, and as king now that He is seated at the right hand of God. Others, however, correctly stressed the fact that He must be conceived as functioning in His threefold capacity both in His state of humiliation and in His state of exaltation. The Socinians really recognized only two offices: Christ functioned as prophet on earth, and functions as king in heaven. While they also spoke of Christ as priest, they subsumed His priestly under His kingly work, and therefore did not recognize His earthly priesthood.

L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 358.

2. Historically liberals and moralists have been closely related. The same rationalism that gives birth to moralism tend to lead them to liberalism. Richard Baxter is a great example. He was a rationalist-moralist, who rejected the Protestant doctrine of justification and whose congregation became Unitarian, which is the ecclesiastical embodiment of rationalism. The Remonstrants rejected the Reformation doctrine of salvation and within a generation their leaders became Unitarians.

3. Thus, in the Reformed confession Jesus’ human nature can be said to be at the right hand of the Father and yet it is also true that believers eat his “proper and natural” (Belgic Confession, art. 35) body and blood in communion. He is truly present in communion but not literally and yet we are really, truly fed by his actual body and blood. How this can be is a mystery but we trust God’s Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore we need not be tempted by the doctrine of transubstantiation, whereby the elements are said (by Rome) to become Christ’s body and blood or by the Lutheran doctrine that his body is literally “in,” “with,” and “under” the elements.

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.


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