The writings of John Calvin, especially his Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), established a pattern which would become widespread within the Reformed Christology. The significance of Christ was explored using the model of the “threefold office,” which depicted him as prophet, priest and king. As a prophet, Christ declared the will of God; as a priest, he made atonement for sins; and as king, he rules over his people. The noted seventeenth-century Genevan theologian Francois Turrettini, a major exponent of the Reformed tradition, here sets out this understanding more fully, in a text originally published in Latin in 1679:
“The office of [Jesus] Christ is nothing other than a mediation between God and humanity, which he was sent into the world by the Father and anointed by the Holy Spirit to carry out. It embraces all that Christ was required to achieve during his mission and calling in relation to an offended God and offending humanity (erga Deus offensum et homines offendentes), reconciling and uniting them to each other…
This mediatorial office of Christ is distributed among three functions, which are individual parts of it: the prophetic, priestly and kingly. Christ sustained these together rather than separately, something which he alone was able to do. For what would, in the case of other people, be divided on account of his supreme perfection. There could indeed be people who were both kings and priests (such as Melchizedek) or kings and prophets (such as David), or priests and prophets (as in the case of some high priests) – but there is no other who perfectly fulfilled all three. This was reserved for Christ alone, in that he was able to uphold the truth which is embodied in these types…
The threefold misery of humanity resulting from sin (that is, ignorance, guilt, and the oppression and bondage of sin) required this threefold office. Ignorance is healed through the prophetic office, guilt through the priestly, and the oppression and bondage of sin through the kingly. The prophetic light scatters the darkness of error; the merit of the priest removes guilt and obtains reconciliation for us; the power of the king takes away the bondage of sin and death. The prophet shows God to us; the priest leads us to God; and the king joins us together with God, and glorifies us with him. The prophet illuminates the mind by the spirit of enlightenment; the priest soothes the heart and conscious by the spirit of consolation; the king subdues rebellious inclinations by the spirit of sanctification.”
THINK BIG. START SMALL. GO DEEP.
1) Institutio theologiae elencticae, topic 14, q. 5; in Institutio theologiae elenticae, 3 vols (Rome: Trajecti, 1734), vol. 2, pp. 424-427.
2) The Christian Theology Reader, edited by Alister E. McGrath (Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1995), pp. 153-154.