Prophet, Priest, King and the Atonement

The work of Christ has been historically categorized in terms of prophet, priest, and king;1 I will demonstrate that the atonement is best understood when viewed in light of these three offices. First, in terms of the Old Testament covenants we will see that Messiah (Christ) would be a Prophet like Moses, a Priest like Aaron, and a King like David. Secondly, in the New Testament we will see that Christ is much better than Moses, much better than Aaron, and much better than David. Finally, within the frame work of each office we will take a look at the atonement. We will see in the atonement a demonstration of God’s love, a demonstration of God’s righteousness, and a demonstration of God’s power. Our story covers the entire history of the Bible; it is an incredible story of creation, fall, curse, redemption and restoration of all created things. In order to understand the work of Christ we must start at the beginning. The first three chapters of the Bible set the stage for the work of Christ; therefore, I request your indulgence in my survey of these three chapters.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and brought forth all life on the earth. (Gn. 1:1-24) God created man (male and female) in His own image to rule over His creation, and they were to be ruled by God. (Gn. 1:25-2:24) The man (Adam) and the woman (Eve) did what God had forbidden; (Gn. 2:16-17) they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Gn. 3:6) The man blamed the woman for his sin and the woman blamed the serpent for her sin. (Gn. 3:12-13) The man and the woman should have ruled over the serpent because it is what God had given them to do; but instead, the serpent ruled over the man and the woman and all their children. (Cf. Jn 12:3) In the garden, after the man had blamed the woman for his sin and the woman blamed the serpent for her sin;
The Lord God said to the serpent, Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it All the days of your life. “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you will eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You will eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” (Gn. 3:14-19, NASB)
Before casting them out of the garden the Lord God made Garments of leather. After clothing them God drove them out of the garden and put up a barrier between them and the tree of life. (Gn. 3:21-24) Thus far in our story we have creation, fall, and curse. What of redemption and restoration?

During the sentencing of curse, did you notice an inkling of hope? Theologians have called this inkling of hope Protevangelium. Protevangelium is the first revelation of God’s redemptive plan, it is a look ahead to Christ.2 The serpent would cause injury to the seed of the woman, but the seed of the woman would deliver a death blow to the serpent.3 God drove the man and woman out of the garden, but not before demonstrating His lovingkindness towards the man and woman. God made clothing of leather for the man and woman, innocent animals died to protect their flesh outside of the garden. This shedding of blood for the sins of another is a picture of the substitutionary atonement to come in Jesus Christ.4

In the beginning of our story we see a demonstration of God’s lovingkindness as He clothes man and woman with animal skins. In the beginning of our story we see a demonstration of God’s righteousness as He drives man and woman out of the garden. In the beginning of our story we hear the promise of God, victory over the serpent through the seed of the woman. At this point in our story the promise is a future hope.

The Revelatory Role of Christ

“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.” (Dt. 18:15, NASB) This prophecy was given by Moses to the Israelites East of the Jordan before crossing into the promised land. This prophet that Moses spoke of would be one who would rise up out of the midst of the people. The prophet would be one of them, an Israelite as they were, and he would go forth from among them to speak the word of God.

Now this passage does not speak directly of the Messiah but to all prophets in general.5 However, I do believe that if Moses is not speaking of the Messiah directly he is speaking of the Messiah indirectly because this prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. As part of this prophecy Moses tells the Israelites what to expect from the prophet: “I will put my words in His mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in my name, I Myself will require it of him.” (Dt. 18:18-19) Then he tells them how they may distinguish a prophet of God from a false prophet. The matter is this, did what the prophet speak in the name of the Lord come true? (Dt. 18:22) This gives us a discernible way of judging the validity of someone who claims to be a prophet.6 We can conclude four things from what Moses said with regard to this prophet:
  1. The prophet would be a man for Moses was a man.
  2. The prophet would be an Israelite because Moses said that God would raise him up from among the Israelites.
  3. The prophet would speak the words of God; and therefore, must be obeyed as if God Himself were speaking.
  4. All that the prophet said when speaking the words of God would come true.
Though there were many prophets in Old testament times who spoke to the fathers. The fathers being those who came before the present generation. A prophet is a person whom God uses to deliver a message to the people of God and in some cases to those whom the Lord condemns. For this reason, prophets were tortured and often killed. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them.” (Lk. 11:47, NASB) There is no doubt that Jesus believed Himself to be a prophet like the prophets of Old who told people about God and warned the people of the wrath of God. The same ones that the fathers had killed; for He, when journeying to Jerusalem said: “Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem.” (Lk. 13:33, NASB) Jesus was a prophet like the prophets of old, but like the writer of Hebrews said, He was better than the prophets.7

The apostle John in His testimony called Jesus the word. Most often theologians assert that this speaks of Jesus divinity.8 With that being true, I think that it also speaks of Jesus as the prophet of God. Jesus is the very word or speech of God in human flesh. He is better than the prophet’s because He is the very word of God made flesh.

In His prayer to the Father Jesus said, “for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me.” (Jn. 17:8, NASB) The Lord’s teaching recorded in John 13-21 is amazing. It is what the apostle Paul calls “the Law of Christ.” (Cf. 1Cor.9:21 & Gal.6:2) “The Law of Christ” is sacrificial love for the sake of the other. Jesus commandment is that we love one another just as He loved us. (Jn.13:34, 15:12,17) Jesus’ commandment to His disciples, to love one another, is bracketed by two amazing examples: First, He their teacher and Lord washed their feet. (Jn.13:13) Second, Jesus laid down His life for His disciples. (Jn.15:13) Talk about making your point! When Jesus had been raised from the dead He commissioned the disciples to go into the world just as the Father had sent Him. (Jn.20:21)

Do you notice that in this context, the context of Jesus as prophet, I referred to the atonement as an example? And what an incredible example it is, like the apostle Paul said in Romans 5:8 it is a demonstration of God’s love for His chosen people. In the twentieth century some have called this the moral influence theory of the atonement. Peter Abelard was the first to express that the atonement was an example or demonstration of God’s love.9 This theory has gotten a black eye because it is most often promoted by liberals who want to do away with a need for the atonement as a demonstration of God’s righteousness.10 Though the theory has been used wrongly by liberals, it should not be discounted by evangelicals least we disregard the teachings of Christ most profoundly taught in the atonement.

The Reconciling Work of Christ

Reconciling the grace of God towards His chosen people and the wrath against the sinner seems to be a contradiction in the nature of God. If God forgives sin then He is an unrighteous judge, yet the Bible says that God is a righteous judge. (Ps. 7:11) But if God executes the penalty for sin, which is just, then all must perish in the lake of fire, the second death. (Cf. Rev. 20) How can the grace of God be given to His chosen people and the wrath of God against the sinner be reconciled? How can God be gracious to whom He will be gracious (Ex. 33:19) and by no means leave the guilty unpunished? (Ex. 34:7) It appears that God does justify the ungodly (cf. Rom 4:5) Through the ages, many men, not understanding the cross have charged God with unrighteousness for justifying sinful men.11

Leviticus 21and 22 give the regulations about the Priests. These priests were without a doubt types of Christ,12 as we will see more clearly when looking at the New Testament. There were many various laws concerning priest in the old covenant, one of those being that they had to be a son of Aaron, because it was the Lord who appointed Aaron and his sons to be priests in Israel through the prophet Moses. (cf. Lv. 8)

In the book of Leviticus chapter 16 the Lord God through the prophet Moses gives the His law concerning the day of atonement with regard to those under the umbrella of the Mosaic covenant. The Mosaic Covenant is the covenant made between the Lord God and Israel at Mt. Sinai. The Mosaic Covenant is the central theme of the Pentateuch.13

The Day of Atonement was an annual day in which the sin of the priests and the sin of the people were atoned.14 In the holy of holies contained the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark contained the tablets on which God wrote the ten commandments of the covenant. They were covered by the Mercy seat. On the Mercy seat were two Cherubim covering the Mercy Seat with their wings. The place of God was above the Mercy Seat between the two Cherubim. (cf. Ex. 25:17-22)

On the Day of Atonement, the high priest and only the high priest would enter the holy of holies. It was the only day of the year that he may do so, but in order to do so he had to first make atonement for his own sins with a bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. Then the priest, after bathing and putting his priestly garb on took two goats to make atonement for the people. Lots were cast between the two goats; one goat was sacrificed and the other was released as a scapegoat. Once he had made the sacrifice he brought the blood of the sin sacrifice into the holy of holies and sprinkled the blood on and before the mercy seat. When he had finished making the atonement, the high priest placed both of his hands on the scapegoat and confessed the sins of the people, laying them on the head of the goat and sent it away into the wilderness forsaken. (Ex. 16)

One of the main themes running through the New testament book of Hebrews is that Jesus is better than. Just like Aaron had been appointed high priest by God, Jesus received His appointment as High priest from God. “So also Christ did not glorify Himself so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, You are My Son, today I have begotten You; just as He says also in another passage, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb. 5:5-6, NASB) Jesus is the perfect high priest, because unlike the high priest of the old covenant, our high priest did not need to make atonement for Himself. Though He did not need to atone for anything that He had done in the flesh, He our perfect high priest made atonement for our sins.15

I can find no place to point to better than Romans 3:21-26 to answer our previous question: “How can God be gracious to whom He will be gracious and by no means leave the guilty unpunished?”
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Rom. 3:21-26, NASB)
Anselm believed that Christ became man to make satisfaction to God for the sins of man and only a perfect man would do; therefore, Christ had to be God because only God is perfect.16 The Satisfaction Theory of atonement was first articulated by Anselm in why God became man. From his theory and further study of scripture the reformers came to understand the Penal Substitutionary Theory of atonement which evangelical Christians espouse today.17

Why was Jesus sacrifice done publicly? The answer, to demonstrate the righteousness of God. (cf. Rom. 3:25-26) Put plainly, we deserve death and eternal punishment, abandonment by God in the lake of fire and brimstone. Jesus took upon Himself the just penalty we deserve for our sin. “About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “MY God, MY God, why have You forsaken ME?” (Mt. 27:46, NASB) On the Day of Atonement for the new covenant people of Jesus Christ. Christ offered Himself once to bear our sins. (cf. Heb. 9) He is our high priest, our sacrificial goat, and our scapegoat offered once for all time, in His blood through faith. (cf. Rom. 3:25) His work on the cross as our high priest, sin sacrifice and scapegoat is a demonstration of God’s righteousness.

The Rule of Christ

The Lord God through Samuel anointed David king of Israel. (1Sm. 16:13) David brought the Ark to Jerusalem and placed the Ark of the Covenant in a tent that he pitched for it. (1 Chr. 16:1) David had it in his heart to build a structure of wood, a house for the Ark of the Covenant, that the Lord may dwell there, but the Lord told David through the prophet Nathan that this is not for you to do. The Lord told David that everything the he and the people had were given to them by God. David had it in his heart to build a house for God, but the Lord said that He would build a house for David. The Lord told David that He would establish one of his descendants after him; one of his Sons and the Lord God would establish his kingdom. This descendant of David would build a house for God and the Lord would establish his kingdom forever. The Lord God said that He would be his father and this descendant of David would be the Son of God; the lovingkindness of God would be with him forever. The Lord God promised to place the Son of God in His house and establish his thrown forever. (1 Chr. 17:1-15)

Theologians have called this the Davidic Covenant. The word covenant is never used in the instances of the oracle (cf. 2 Sm. 7 & 1 Chr. 17); nevertheless, the context of the oracle leaves no doubt that this is indeed a covenant. The Chronicler later referred to the Davidic covenant as a Covenant of salt. (cf. 2 Chr. 13:8) It is not clear what the Chronicler meant by using salt as a metaphor, but it is clear that he believed it to be a covenant; consequently, a descendant of David was to rule the kingdom of God.18

God is the sovereign ruler of the universe. He created the heavens and the earth and all life. God is not one who created all things and left it alone. God demonstrates his power in the situations of the world and in His creation.19

“Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk. 1:14-15, NASB) What was Jesus saying from the perspective of a Jew? Jeremiah had prophesied, “Behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth.” Jer. 33:14-15, NASB) And Ezekiel said, “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them.” (Ez. 37:24, NASB)

In the gospels and in Acts, the Greek word basileia is used 126 times. In these passages basileia is translated into English: kingdom, reign, rule, or domain.20 Jesus believed Himself to be a descendant of David; the promised Messiah (Christ), the Son of God who would sit on the thrown of David and rule. Therefore, He was proclaiming in Galilee that He is the one that they had been waiting for.

Jesus is fully human, but his birth (incarnation) on the earth is a supernatural work of God. Some have argued that His being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of a virgin has to do with His sinlessness.21 I do not think so but believe that the virgin birth has the same purpose as the works that Jesus Himself did. The supernatural birth of Christ and the supernatural works that Jesus did testify about Him; that He is the Christ, the rightful heir to the thrown of David; and therefore, the Son of God whom God would establish forever.

In the Gospel According to John Jesus performed seven supernatural signs that testify about Him: Jesus turned water into wine, (cf. Jn. 2:1-11) He healed a noblemen’s son from dying by a word over a great distance (cf. Jn. 4:46-54) and He healed a man by command who had an infirmity for 38 years. (cf. Jn. 5:1-17) Jesus feed five thousand men with five barley loaves two fish, (cf. Jn. 6:1-14) He walked on water across the Sea of Galilee (cf. Jn. 6:15-25) and He gave sight to a man who had been born blind. (cf. Jn. 9) Jesus called Lazarus, a man who had been dead for four days out of the grave alive. (cf. Jn 11:38-46)

As if these signs were not enough to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and therefore, the promised king of Israel, He performed one last supernatural work demonstrating the power of God. Jesus publicly told the Jews that He has authority to lay down His life when He wants and take it up again when He wants and does so as the good shepherd for the good of His sheep. (cf. Jn. 10:11-18)

Jesus allowed Judas to betray Him and be arrested in a garden. Jesus was trialed falsely by the Jews, suffered under Pilot, was crucified, died and buried in a Garden. On the first day of the week, in the morning, before first light, the tomb was found empty. Mary Magdalene saw two angles in white setting at the head and foot of the place where Jesus body had been. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in the garden alive and she clung to Him. (cf. Jn. 18-20)

I understand that we are to interpret the scriptures literally except where the context warrants an allegorical interpretation,22 but I must say that the angles have a resemblance to the Cherubim on the Mercy Seat and Jesus coming to Mary Magdalene in the garden has a resemblance to the Garden of Eden. After this Jesus appeared to His disciples alive by many convincing proofs. (Acts 1:3) Christ overcame evil in His death and bodily resurrection from the dead. In other words, the serpent bruised His heel; (cf. Gn. 3:15) Jesus in His humiliation became a man and suffered at the hands of the men whom He created, dying a horrible death on a Roman cross. Jesus was victorious over the serpent bruising his head, (cf. Gn. 3:15) He rose bodily from the dead. The apostle John said Christ Jesus “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.” (Rom. 1:4, NASB)


We are now living in the already inaugurated not yet consummated age of the kingdom of God. After rising from the dead Jesus told His disciples that He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. (Mt. 28:18) He commissioned them, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:19-20, NASB) According to John; “as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” (Jn. 20:21, NASB)

In this brief text I have shown the work of Christ in terms of three offices: prophet, priest, and king. It was the prayer of Jesus to the Father that His disciples be one. (Jn 17:21-22) One area of disunity among followers of Jesus Christ has been the atonement. In the forward of his book “Christus Victor” Gustaf Aulén begins by speaking against the Penal Substitutionary theory in order to set up his position that Christus Victor is the one true theory on the atonement.23 This is typical behavior regardless of one's atonement flavor.

I propose that the Moral-Influence theory developed by Peter Abelard, which demonstrates God's lovingkindness is true; I propose that the Penal Substitutionary theory developed by the reformers, which demonstrates God's righteousness is true; and I propose that the Ransom theory (Christus Victor) developed by the patristics, which demonstrates the promise of God, victory over the serpent through the seed of the woman is true.  All three of these atonement theories are true without exclusion, because Jesus Christ is Prophet, Priest, and King.

1 W. R. Downing, A Baptist Catechism with Commentary, (Morgan Hill: P.I.R.S. Publications, 2008), 130.
2 H. H. Halley, Halley’s Bible Handbook: New Revised Edition, 24th ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1965), 67.
3 William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, 4th ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989), 36.
4 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: the complete old testament in one volume, (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2007), 29-30.
5 C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, Volume I: The Pentateuch, The Fifth Book of Moses, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 394.
6 B. Buller, “Prophets, Prophecy,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Pentateuch, eds. T. Desmond Alexander and David w. Baker (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 665.
7 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: the complete new testament in one volume, (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2007), 802.
8 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. John King, (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translational Society, DOI), John 1:1.
9 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 717-720.
10 Denis Kaiser, The Doctrine of Atonement According to Peter Abelard, (Seminar paper, University of St. Andrews, 2008), 1.
11 C. H. Spurgeon, All of Grace, (New Kensington: Whitaker House, 1983) 13-14.
12 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, (CCEL, 1706), Leviticus 21:1.
13 Peter J. Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, God’s Kingdom through God’s Covenants, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2015.
14 John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 185-186.
15 Paul McClung, The Perfect High Priest, Lesson 11e, Hebrews 5:5-10, Sylvania Church, Tyler, TX, 2017.
16 Anselm, Cur Deus Homo: Why God Became Man, (United States of America: Beloved Publishing, 2014), 10.
17 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 747.
18 J. J. M. Roberts, “Davidic Covenant,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament Historical Books, eds. Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2005), 206-207.
19 John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion, eds. Tony Land and Hilary Osborne, 13th ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2002), 69.
20 J. B. Green, “Kingdom of God/Heaven,” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, eds. Joel B. Green, Jeannine K. Brown and Nicholas Perrin, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2013), 468.
21 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 689.[22 J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), 222.
23 Gustaf Aulen, Christus Victor, ed. Daniel Hagadorn and J. H. J. Dindinger, trans. A.G. Hebert (Austin: Wise Path Books, 2016), 41-73.