The triple cure

Kim Riddlebarger Kim Riddlebarger (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, CA, and has been a visiting professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary Califo
01 November, 2010 6 min read

The triple cure

The diagnosis is not very good – we are ignorant, guilty and corrupt. As a litany of biblical texts reveals, we find ourselves as fallen sinners ravaged by this threefold consequence of our sins.

Our foolish hearts are darkened (Romans 1:21) and our thoughts are continually evil (Genesis 6:5). Our minds are clouded by sin and ignorant of the things of God (Ephesians 4:17-18), though in our folly we glory in our great knowledge and wisdom.

We have exchanged God’s truth for a lie (Romans 1:25), and our minds are ‘blinded by the god of this age’ (2 Corinthians 4:4). Like a blind man in a drunken stupor, pitifully groping his way through life, so our sin has blinded us to the truth of God.

Intoxicated with our own self-righteousness, we stumble through life seeking to justify ourselves before God. We labour under the tremendous weight of guilt – the penalty for our many infractions of the law of God.

While many are quite adept at ignoring God’s just verdict against them, many others feel they will buckle under the weight of God’s heavy hand. Not only are they guilty for their own individual violations of God’s law in thought, word and deed, but they are also rendered guilty for their participation in the sin of Adam, whose own guilt has been imputed to all those who spring from his loins (Romans 5:12, 18-19).

While we may delude ourselves into thinking that we have sinned against our neighbours only, David knew that this was not true. ‘Against you and you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight’ (Psalm 51:4) was his plaintive cry to his God.

Destructive pollution

Because of our guilt, there is no way we can dare stand in the presence of God. ‘If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, who could stand?’ (Psalm 130:3). But ignorance and the guilt of sin are not the only things in view as we survey the Scriptures. We also suffer from the destructive pollution of this inherited sinful condition, which infects every part of us from the moment of conception.

Born in sin as the psalmist declares (Psalm 51:5), there is no good residing in us (Psalm 14:1-3). Our bodies, which are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), become instruments to act out the wickedness that would otherwise lie hidden in our hearts (Romans 6:13).

It is the guilt and the pollution from this sin that renders us so miserable. Life apart from God’s forgiveness is described in the language of sickness – the trembling, sweaty weakness of a sick body trying to fight off a high fever (Psalm 32:3-4). We have no peace with either God or neighbour (Romans 3:17), and we are ‘separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world’ (Ephesians 2:12).

Thus sin leaves us ignorant, guilty and polluted, and therefore utterly miserable. Indeed, while the diagnosis is bad, the prognosis is far worse, for this disease is always fatal and earthly doctors have no cure.

There is, however, a glorious and miraculous cure from this disease. The good news of the gospel proclaims that while ‘this is impossible with men, nevertheless, with God, all things are possible!’

Threefold office

It was John Calvin who brought the munus triplex, or the so-called ‘threefold office’ of Christ, into prominence. Picked up by most of the subsequent Reformed tradition, and adopted by many Lutheran theologians as well, the threefold office presents Jesus Christ as prophet, priest and king, who in his saving work, fulfilled all the anointed offices of the Old Testament.

Calvin adopted this model to accomplish several things. First, it helped him give shape to his overall Christology, which focuses primarily on Christ’s work in terms of being mediator of a covenant of redemption, the one chosen by God to be the saviour of the elect.

Second, he used the threefold office to bind together Christ’s person as the eternal Son of God, fully human and fully divine, to his work as redeemer; as seen in his names ‘Christ’ and ‘Messiah’, which themselves are indicative of his being the ‘anointed one’.

This means that for Calvin, ‘the Son of God, therefore, is not properly called Christ apart from his office, for it is there, in his official capacity, that he manifests as the true fulfilment of the offices of the Old Testament his threefold work as prophet, priest, and king’.

This model also offers an excellent way to connect redemptive history to systematic theology. Since Christ’s three offices, prophet, priest and king, ‘represent the three offices of ancient Israel to which men were appointed as servants of God’, Calvin could connect the incarnation directly to Christ’s work as mediator.

This means that ‘the prophet, the king, and the priest are united in Christ, are perfected, and are thereby fulfilled and brought to conclusion in the one who is both king and priest forever after the order of Melchizedek’.

Triple cure

In the threefold office, Calvin offers an excellent and compelling way to make sense of a large block of diverse biblical data. Later Reformed theologians, such as Francis Turretin, introduce the threefold office of our Lord as the divinely revealed solution to the threefold disease of ignorance, guilt and pollution described above.

It is Christ, as prophet, priest and king, who offers the threefold cure to our fatal disease. Turretin sets out the threefold office as the remedy for human sin as follows. The threefold misery of men introduced by sin – ignorance, guilt, and tyranny and bondage by sin – required this conjunction of a threefold office.

Ignorance is healed by the prophetic; guilt by the priestly; the tyranny and corruption of sin by the kingly office. Prophetic light scatters the darkness of error; the merit of the priest takes away guilt and procures a reconciliation for us; the power of the king removes the bondage of sin and death.

The prophet shows God to us; the priest leads us to God; and the king joins us together and glorifies us with God. The prophet enlightens the mind by the Spirit of illumination; the priest by the Spirit of consolation tranquilises the heart and conscience; the king by the Spirit of sanctification subdues rebellious affections.

Turretin’s conception is not only eloquently stated (certainly powerful evidence against the argument that scholastic theology lacks devotion), but it effectively captures the thrust of the biblical data concerning Christ’s person and work to rescue us from the horrible consequences of sin.

Christ our Prophet

Christ’s prophetic office means, in effect, that Christ represents God to man. Jesus is the light of the world (John 1:4-5), who comes to show us God the Father (John 14:9). Under the old covenant, Christ taught us by means of types and shadows the history of redemption, and by his providential care over the people of Israel.

Since the Old Testament prophet is ‘one who sees things … who receives revelations, who is in the service of God, particularly as a messenger who speaks in his name’, our Lord Jesus exercised these functions both before and after his incarnation (1 Peter 1:11).

It was Moses who foretold of a great prophet that ‘the Lord your God will raise up for you among your brothers. You must listen to him’ (Deuteronomy 18:15). And it is Peter, who immediately after the birth of the church, applies this passage to our Lord (Acts 3:22-23). Jesus speaks of himself as such a prophet (Luke 13:33), and our Lord expressly claims to speak only what his Father has told him to say (John 12:49-50). Jesus speaks of the future (Matthew 24:3-35), and speaks with an amazing authority unlike all others (Matthew 7:29).

Indeed, our Lord’s words are backed by the power of God, for his mighty works serve to confirm the truth of his message. In John 6:14 we are told that ‘after the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world”’.

Christ’s prophetic work does not cease, however, with the end of his earthly ministry at his ascension. As Louis Berkhof notes, Christ ‘continues his prophetical activity through the operation of the Holy Spirit. His teachings are both verbal and factual, that is, he teaches not only by verbal communications, but also by the facts of revelation, such as the incarnation, his atoning death, the resurrection and ascension’.

Incarnate Word

Christ is the one who sends the Holy Spirit, and, as the Spirit of Christ, he is the one who ‘will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgement’ (John 16:8). As Christ is the Word incarnate, and the central figure in biblical revelation, so too we cannot divorce the work of his Spirit from the written word.

Since Christ fulfils the office of prophet, and since he continues to speak to us through his Word – and only through his Word – the Reformed are very reticent to give any credence to supposed ‘words from God,’ or ‘words of knowledge’ from such as Pat Robertson or Benny Hinn, who repeatedly make claims to speak forth Spirit-led utterances.

Kim Riddlebarger, PhD

(To be continued)

© Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals; used with permission

Kim Riddlebarger (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is senior pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Anaheim, CA, and has been a visiting professor of systematic theology at Westminster Seminary Califo
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