There was recently a discussion online regarding the prophet, priest and king approach to leadership. I was reminded that I wrote this a few years ago on the same issue and thought, in light of that discussion, I would post it again.
There has been a bit of this knocking round lately. Church planters seem to love it. We even had some of it at the FIEC Leaders Conference. Then there was a bit of back and forth on twitter about it.
This is what the First London Baptist Confession has to say about it:
Jesus Christ is made the mediator of the new and everlasting covenant of grace between God and man, ever to be perfectly and fully the prophet, priest, and king of the Church of God for evermore.
Concerning His mediatorship, the Scripture holds forth Christ’s call to His office; for none takes this honor upon Him, but He that is called of God as was Aaron, it being an action of God, whereby a special promise being made, He ordains His Son to this office; which promise is, that Christ should be made a sacrifice for sin; that He should see His seed, and prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand; all of meer free and absolute grace towards God’s elect, and without any condition foreseen in them to procure it.
This office to be mediator, that is, to be prophet, priest, and king of the Church of God, is so proper to Christ, that neither in whole, or any part thereof, it cannot be transferred from Him to any other.
This office to which Christ is called, is threefold; a prophet, priest, and king: This number and order of offices is necessary, for in respect of our ignorance, we stand in need of His prophetical office; in respect of our great alienation from God, we need His priestly office to reconcile us; and in respect of our averseness and utter inability to return to God, we need His kingly office, to convince, subdue, draw, uphold and preserve us to His heavenly kingdom.
Concerning the prophecy of Christ, it is that whereby He hath revealed the will of God, whatsoever is needful for His servants to know and obey; and therefore He is called not only a prophet and doctor, and the apostle of our profession, and the angel of the covenant, but also the very wisdom of God, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, who for ever continueth revealing the same truth of the gospel to His people.
That He might be a prophet every way complete, it was necessary He should be God, and also that He should be man; For unless He had been God, He could never have perfectly understood the will of God; and unless He had been man, He could not suitably have unfolded it in His own person to men.
Concerning His priesthood, Christ having sanctified Himself, hath appeared once to put away sin by that one offering of Himself a sacrifice for sin, by which He hath fully finished and suffered all things God required for the salvation of His elect, and removed all rites and shadows, etc. and is now entered within the vail into the holy of holies, which is the presence of God. Also, He makes His people a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifice acceptable to God through Him. Neither doth the Father accept, nor Christ offer to the Father, any other worship or worshippers.
This priesthood was not legal or temporary, but according to the order of Melchisedec, and is stable and perfect, not for a time, but forever, which is suitable to Jesus Christ, as to Him that ever liveth. Christ was the priest, sacrifice, and altar: He was a priest according to both natures; He was a sacrifice according to His human nature; whence in Scripture it is attributed to His body, to His blood: Yet the effectualness of this sacrifice did depend upon His divine nature; therefore it is called the blood of God. He was the altar according to His divine nature, it belonging to the altar to sanctify that which is offered upon it, and so it ought to be of greater dignity than the sacrifice itself.
Concerning His kingly office, Christ being risen from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and having all power in heaven and earth, He doth spiritually govern His church, and doth exercise His power over all, angels and men, good and bad, to the preservation and salvation of the elect, and to the overruling and destruction of His enemies. By this kingly power He applieth the benefits, virtue, and fruits of His prophecy and priesthood to His elect, subduing their sins, preserving and strengthening them in all their conflicts against Satan, the world, and the flesh, keeping their hearts in faith and filial fear by His Spirit: By this His mighty power He ruleth the vessels of wrath, using, limiting and restraining them, as it seems good to His infinite wisdom.
1 Cor. 15:4; 1 Pet. 3:21,22; Matt. 28:18,19; Luke 24:51; Acts 1:1, 5:30,31; John 19:36; Rom. 14:9; John 5:26,27; Rom. 5:6,7,8; 14:17; Gal. 5:22,23; Mark 1:27; Heb. 1:14; John 16:15; Job 2:8; Rom. 1:21, [9:17-18]; Eph. 4:17,18; 2 Pet. 2.
This His kingly power shall be more fully manifested when He shall come in glory to reign among His saints, when He shall put down all rule and authority under His feet, that the glory of the Father may be perfectly manifested in His Son, and the glory of the Father and the Son in all His members.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure we can live up to the prophet, priest, king typology being applied. These are not things pointing to leaders of the church – I’m not sure we find any NT allusion to these things for elders and pastors – but all those that came before are types of Christ who is the antitype.
The closest we may get to these things being applied to us is the priesthood of all believers, but that applies to every genuinely believer not just church leaders. Even then, the priestly function of the priesthood of all believers is not, typically, the priestly function people want to claim for church leaders. Given that the New Testament doesn’t apply these things to elders/pastors, I think we are unwise to draw a stright line that it doesn’t.
The New Testament tends to picture leadership with shepherd imagery. That is, after all, what pastor (Gk. ποιμεν) means. Not only does it primarily picture us in far less exciting terms than prophet, priest and king – it calls us shepherds – we don’t even get top shepherd billing. We are undershepherds. There is a Chief Shepherd, Jesus, and we are watching God’s flock that he has entrusted to our care.
The types of prophet, priest and king – that certainly are scriptural – are never applied to church leaders. They are applied to those who held those OT offices and, latterly, all applied to Christ who is the antitype of them all. Our involvement in Christ’s work comes through our union with him. Our role as church leaders is not to apply those types to ourselves, but to serve under the one who fulfils them. Timothy Paul Jones says it well:
The munus triplex should indeed shape our leadership, but it shapes our leadership best when these offices are treated not as a leadership typology but as functions that have been fulfilled in Christ and conveyed to the whole people of God through union with him.