The triple cure – part 3
Jesus Christ is our king. The biblical writers would have been quite mystified, I think, at much of the evangelical discussion about ‘making Christ Lord’ – as though it was through a decision on our part that Christ ‘becomes the Lord over our lives’.
And they certainly would have been perplexed by those who insist on reading the kingdom language of the New Testament through the grid of the Christian right’s political nationalism or Christian left’s moralistic social gospel.
They would, I think, be equally confused by our dispensational brethren, who insist on undercutting the present reign of Christ by arguing that Christ’s kingly office (especially the regnum gratiae, or ‘kingdom of grace’) does not come fully into view until a future millennial age commences and at long last Christ supposedly begins to exercise his full authority from the earthly city of Jerusalem.
Most of this confusion comes from a failure to understand this third office of Christ, his kingly rule. The Scriptures plainly declare that ‘the Lord has established his throne in heaven and his kingdom rules over all’ (Psalm 103:19).
We don’t make Christ anything – he is the Lord over his creation; his throne is in heaven, and he is king over creation. This kingship is therefore to be seen as ‘his official power to rule all things in heaven and on earth, for the glory of God, and for the execution of God’s purpose of salvation’ (Berkhof).
If Christ is not presently ruling in this capacity, we must ask ourselves, just who exactly is minding the store? Reformed theologians usually argue that there are two aspects to this kingly rule. The first is Christ’s regnum potentiae (‘kingdom of power’) and the second is the regnum gratiae.
Unlike the dispensationalists, who argue that Christ delays the full manifestation of his rule in this present dispensation, the Reformed argue that Christ presently exercises full dominion over all, even now.
He is king, and his kingdom is presently a kingdom both of grace and power. He is in full control and ordering all human history as he sees fit. This means that at his ascension, Jesus Christ ascended to the right hand of his Father and even now rules over all creation (regnum potentiae) and his church (regnum gratiae).
In the kingdom of grace, Christ is seen to rule the church of which he himself is head. As such, this rule is a spiritual rule, since it is exercised in a spiritual realm. As Berkhof puts it, ‘it is established in the hearts and lives of believers’.
The New Testament repeatedly speaks of Christ as ‘head of the church’ (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23). Christ’s rule over his church is closely related to his mystical union formed with the church, which the Scriptures describe as his ‘body’ (1 Corinthians 12:27).
Christ’s rule over this kingdom is based on his redemptive work. ‘No one is a citizen of this kingdom by virtue of his humanity. Only the redeemed have that honour and privilege’.
It is a spiritual kingdom, so it has no flag, no world headquarters, and no mail box. But it is certainly and powerfully present wherever Christ’s people gather to hear God’s Word proclaimed and receive the sacraments (Romans 14:17).
This kingdom is identical to that which the New Testament repeatedly calls the ‘kingdom of God’. Lest we forget, this kingdom is a conquering kingdom (Matthew 12:28), though we err greatly if we connect its advance to cultural, economic or political institutions (John 18:36).
The wicked will not inherit this kingdom (Galatians 5:21). It is a glorious kingdom (1 Thessalonians 2:12), and, despite what some may say, is a present reality (Matthew 3:2). It is a kingdom which, as the creed declares, ‘has no end’ (2 Peter 1:11).
The kingdom of power, on the other hand, refers to Christ’s rule or dominion over all of creation. In this case, as creator of all, he is also Lord (Colossians 1:16-17). He orders the affairs of nations (Isaiah 40:17) and controls the lives and destinies of individuals (Acts 17:24-27).
Quite simply, the Scripture puts it this way: ‘Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him’ (Psalm 115:3). This serves as the basis for understanding all of history as ultimately serving the purpose of the redemption of God’s people, since we know that God is working together everything after the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:11), and that he is ordering all things so that human history is racing to a great and final climax – the return of our Lord to Earth for the resurrection and final judgement.
It is this kingly rule of Christ that gives us comfort in the midst of the tumultuous signs of the end of the age – earthquakes, disease, wars and rumours of wars.
The threefold office of Christ has profound ramifications for the Christian life. First and foremost, this model enables us to connect the work of Christ, who has secured our redemption, with our present experience and struggles as Christians.
As Calvin noted, the threefold office of Christ is certainly one of the best ways to explain our Lord’s redemptive work, which by design overcame our ignorance, guilt and corruption, and which even now provides us with illumination, redemption and hope in the present.
Take, for example, Christ’s prophetic office. Christ was revealed in type and shadow in the pages of the Old Testament. Though he was the central character, he remained hidden. In the New Testament, however, our Lord steps out from the shadows of darkness and assumes centre stage in the drama of redemption (Galatians 4:4).
‘That was then’, some may protest, ‘but what does he do for us after his ascension when he had finished his earthly ministry?’ How does his prophetic office help us in the midst of our current struggles?
Perhaps it would be useful to think of it this way: If the Scripture bears witness to Christ (John 5:39), then the Holy Spirit, who is Scripture’s divine author (2 Timothy 3:16), will open our minds and our hearts to hear our Lord’s voice as we read his Word (Acts 16:14). This is what theologians have historically spoken of as illumination.
Since we are blind to the things of God, the Holy Spirit must provide the understanding we need through the Scriptures. Thus, Christ our prophet certainly speaks to us today though the pages of his Word.
In fact, whenever the minister of the Word opens the Scripture for us, there is a profound sense in which Christ our prophet is speaking to us through his Word, every bit as much as if he himself were standing in our presence and speaking these words audibly. Therefore, in Scripture we find a voice that is certain, not like the extemporaneous musings of those today who claim to speak for God.
The same pattern holds true for Christ’s priestly work. Not only has Christ done what is necessary for our salvation, through his sinless life (his active obedience) and sacrifice for sin (passive obedience), but at this very moment he has assumed his place at the right hand of his Father, where he now intercedes for us.
What comfort we derive from the knowledge that he is there as our advocate and friend, pleading our case whenever we sin!
It is also important to note that since he has been tempted in all the ways that we have been tempted, our great high priest not only knows our weakness – and is there to help us when we ask – but in addition has promised us that he will never give us more than we can bear and that he will always provide us a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13).
Christ’s kingly office provides us with a wealth of comfort and assurance. For while the nations rage one against another; while the earth groans beneath our feet; while there is sickness, disease, and economic hardship (Matthew 24:3ff.), even now our Lord is ruling and reigning, until he makes his enemies his footstool (1 Corinthians 15:22-27).
And so, while unbelievers may look around at these world conditions and see the apparent chaos as an excuse to scoff, saying ‘Where is this “coming” he promised?’ (2 Peter 3:3-4), the believer can take heart, for the signs of the end are exactly that.
The tumult we see around us is, in fact, proof that Christ is reigning and that he is directing all history toward a great and final consummation, when he will come with great glory with his angels as the great conquering king (1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 5:11).
This, then, is our hope and our comfort. Jesus Christ is the final prophet, the great high priest, and the conquering king. There is a miraculous cure for the disease of ignorance, guilt and pollution after all. It is what is known by some Reformed theologians as ‘the triple cure’.
As Calvin said, in Christ ‘God has fulfilled what he has promised: that the truth of his promises would be realised in the person of the Son. Believers have found to be true Paul’s saying that “all the promises of God find their yea and amen in Christ”’ (Calvin, Institutes, II. ix, 2).
© Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals; used with permission