Homer C. Hoeksema is professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament at the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
The believer is in office!
The expression “office of believers” is not found in Scripture; and it does not occur in our Reformed confessions. And probably when we think of offices in the church, we are inclined to think immediately of the offices of minister, elder, and deacon. Perhaps it even takes a reminder to make us think of the fact that there is such a thing as the office of believers and of the fact that all believers are in office. Whatever may be the reason for this, and whether or not it is due to the fact that there is insufficient knowledge and awareness of it in the church today, it is a fact that believers occupy a three-fold office, that of prophet, priest, and king; moreover, they should be keenly aware of this fact. If they are not, it can only be to the detriment of the church in the midst of the world.
Our Heidelberg Catechism speaks of this in Lord’s Day XII, although in this connection it does not use the term office, but speaks of anointing. In Q. and A. 32 we read: “But why art thou called a Christian? Because I am a member of Christ by faith, and thus am partaker of his anointing; that so I may confess his name, and present myself a living sacrifice of thankfulness to him: and also that with a free and good conscience I may fight against sin and Satan in this life: and afterwards reign with him eternally, over all creatures.” You will notice that in the 32nd answer the three aspects of this office are not mentioned by name; their function, or activity, is mentioned. But when you read Q. and A. 32 in connection with Q. and A. 31, it becomes plain that the reference here is to prophet, priest, and king. For according to Q. and A. 31 our Savior is called Christ, i.e., Anointed, “Because he is ordained of God the Father, and anointed with the Holy Ghost, to be our chief Prophet and Teacher. . . our only High Priest . . . and also to be our eternal King . . . .” Christians, believers, are partakers of that anointing. Hence, they are prophets, to confess Christ’s name; they are priests, to present them- selves living sacrifices of thankfulness; and they are kings, to fight against sin and Satan in this life, and afterwards to reign with Christ eternally over all creatures.
Many passages of Scripture could be cited in this connection, but let me quote just two passages which speak literally of this three-fold office of believers. InRevelation 1:5, 6 we read: “. . . Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.” And according to Acts 2, we are prophets. For Peter proclaims that on Pentecost is fulfilled the prophecy of Joel: “But this (referring to the events of Pentecost) is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:16-18).
To understand this, we must remember, first of all, that Jesus is the Anointed One. He is the promised Messiah, the Christ. Among all the anointed of the old dispensation, He is the Anointed, the fulfillment of them all. He is the One Who is ordained of God and divinely qualified to be God’s officebearer, to function with authority in the Kingdom of God in God’s name, as God’s servant. Hence, the central idea of Christ’s office is that of King-Servant. He is King as Head in the kingdom of heaven. For it is Gods eternal purpose to make of all created things in heaven and on earth His Kingdom, in which all in heaven and on earth shall in willing obedience be subject to Him. It is God’s purpose to make His Son in human nature the Head and King of that kingdom. And He is the Servant of Jehovah, representing God’s cause in the world. All things must be subservient to and subjected to Christ, in order that He may be subject to God, that thus God may be all in all. To that exalted position of the Firstborn of every creature in all the universe Christ has now attained, having fought the battle against sin and death, and having overcome all the powers of darkness. He has the name above every name. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. God has “made him Lord and Christ.”
In that office of Christ we may distinguish three aspects. He is Servant-King with His mind, to know God and speak for Him: Prophet. He is Servant- King with His heart and will, to love God, to be consecrated to Him, and to sacrifice Himself to Him: Priest. And He is Servant-King with His power, to do battle against sin and Satan and to reign over all things: King. Thus Christ is our Chief Prophet, our only High Priest, and our eternal King.
In the second place, we are partakers of His anointing. This means that through Him believers are ordained and qualified by Christ through His Spirit to be officebearers. In Him they have not only the obligation and calling (the must), but the privilege and right (the may), the volition (the will), and the ability (the can) to be and to function as God’s friend-servants in the midst of this world, and forever. All this we have, remember, only in and through our Lord Jesus Christ and by faith in Him.
In the third place, even as Christ’s office is threefold, so through our partaking of His anointing by faith we become servants of God in the same threefold sense. He changes us into true prophets of God, instructing us by His Spirit and Word, delivering us from the darkness of our understanding, enlightening us by His grace, so that we have the true knowledge of God. He does that now; but presently that knowledge shall be perfected in heavenly glory, so that we shall see face to face, and know even as we are known. When He does this, then we confess His name and show forth the praises of Him Who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light, and that, too, antithetically, in the midst of a world that is in darkness and that loves the lie. He transforms us into a holy priesthood, so that we become priests of God. For He instills in our hearts the love of God, cleanses us from the defilement of sin, consecrates us to Himself in true holiness—again, here in principle, but perfectly and completely on the plane of heavenly glory, when the entire glorified church shall become the perfect temple of God. When He does this, then we consecrate ourselves to Him and present ourselves as living sacrifices, with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, and that, too, in the midst of a world devoted to the service of the devil and sin. As our eternal King, He constitutes us a royal people, a nation of kings under God with Him. He delivers us from our unrighteousness and perversity of will, and gives us a new righteousness, so that we delight to do God’s will. He enables us to fight the fight of faith against sin and Satan; and He makes us partakers, through faith, of His victory, even in the midst of the battle. And while we have not yet entered into the glory of our royal dominion with Christ, and while we are still engaged in a daily struggle against sin and are in tribulation in the midst of the world, so that we even suffer defeat outwardly, He gives us the assurance that we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. And in His day, we shall appear with Him in glory and shall reign forever and ever with Him in the new creation. And when He does so, then we fight with a free and good conscience against sin and Satan, and presently shall enter into the glorious victory of our Lord.
Such is the office of believers!
Now what does all this have to do with Pentecost? Or perhaps we should put the question this way: what does Pentecost have to do with all of this?
The answer is that it was on Pentecost day that all that we have described concerning the office of believers became reality through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of the exalted Christ upon the church. This is pointed to specifically with respect to the office of prophet by the Apostle Peter, according to the passage in Acts 2 which we quoted at the beginning of this discussion. When the Spirit was poured out as the Spirit of the exalted Christ, the prophecy of Joel 2 was fulfilled. The effect was that all God’s people became prophets—sons and daughters, old men and young men, servants and handmaidens. And the same was true with respect to the office of priest and king.
This marked a tremendous change in the life of the church. It introduced something which was heretofore unheard of and never before experienced. We are accustomed to the fact that all Gods people have a three-fold office—perhaps too accustomed sometimes. For that reason, too, we probably do not always appreciate Pentecost as we should. I have often remarked in sermons that for the people of God who actually passed through the transition from the old to the new dispensation it must have been an astounding change to experience.
An entire additional article could easily be devoted to this subject; but permit me to point out a few things.
First of all, it is plain from Scripture that also in the old dispensation it was principally true that God’s people were a royal priesthood. We read, for example, in Exodus 19:5, 6: “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” In this connection, it was also true that God’s people in the old dispensation were saved even as we, and that the Holy Spirit, Who had been eternally ordained to be the Spirit of redemption, led God’s people through the shadows to the hope of the reality that was to come. God’s people, therefore, were emphatically saved by hope. The reality of atonement and redemption and of all the blessings of salvation had not yet been realized; and God’s people could only dimly apprehend these through the shadows and in the light of the promise of the coming Christ.
In close connection with the preceding, in the second place, in the old dispensation this hope and salvation of God’s people was inseparably tied to special officebearers; and these special officebearers were indispensable for the people of God in the old dispensation. There were certain men who were prophets; and to know the Lord’s Word one had to take hold of the skirt of a prophet. Certain men were priests; and you could not bring sacrifices and could not know atonement and forgiveness and consecration to Gods service without those priests. And the same was true of the office of king: it could only be known and experienced through special, God-anointed kings.
In the third place, all of this was strictly regulated by the law which was imposed upon the promise of Sinai—the law which strictly regulated every phase of the life of God’s children. Without that law the people of God could not move in the old dispensation.
But all this was changed at Pentecost. The church is no longer in bondage to the law, but is free. And the church is no longer dependent on any special men, special officebearers, to live its religious life, but only on Christ. All God’s people have the Spirit of Christ and His blessings. And all God’s people are prophets, priests, and kings. They all have the anointing of the Holy One!