Prophet, Priest, and King

One of my favorite ways to describe Jesus is through his three historical roles of Prophet, Priest, and King.  In this post, I want to take a quick look at all three and then apply them to our leadership roles in Jesus’ church today.

As a prophet, Jesus taught and embodied truth.  He perfectly filled both roles of a biblical prophet: foreteller (stating future events; Jn 2.19) and forth-telling (declaring present truth authoritatively; Jn 14.6; cf. Dt 18.15).  As priest, Jesus lovingly intercedes on our behalf to meet every one of our spiritual needs (Heb 9.11-12).  As king, Jesus demonstrated power over creation through miracles (Acts 2.22) and the building of His church; He will return to rule all of creation (Mt 21.5; Rev 19.11-16).

Only Jesus fully and perfectly embodied all three roles in one person.  Being his creation (Col 1.16-17), we all tend to be stronger in one or two of the roles and must rely on others to complement.  This is true in our personal lives and in the leadership of Jesus’ church.  One of the reasons why a church must be governed by a plurality of elders is to ensure all three offices are staffed well.  Each Christian—and church leader—brings unique weakness to each role that must be compensated by a well-rounded team.

Skim to the bottom of this post for a sermon on this topic

Prophets

Prophets are strong truth-tellers.  They teach, preach, proclaim with passion, pursue and permeate our lives with doctrinal truth, refute errors, and call people to repent of their sin.  Without priestly accountability, they can become cold, legalistic, impersonal, and harsh.  Without kingly support, they can gather a crowd with excitement but never mobilize them to go anywhere or do anything.

Priests

Priest understand the human condition, spiritual and emotional needs of others, and connect with people through compassion and mercy.  They lead in conflict resolution.  Without prophetic guidance, they can love people to the point of enablement—never naming the sin in their lives and calling them to urgent repentance.  Without a king’s organization, they run from crisis to crisis, forever working in the church without ever working on the church.

Kings

Kings show prophets and priests the importance of working on the church rather than simply in the church.  Kings excel at building a church with best practices, policies, plans, and professional procedures.  This is crucial because it creates a church where more people can get to know Jesus.  Kings without prophetic support can lead people toward mere pragmatism or even heresy.  If they aren’t working with priestly leaders, they can burn their people out and simply use them for work without seeking to care and nurture them as well.

Putting it All Together

This is why Paul tells us everyone is important![2]  Priests like caring for hurting people.  Prophets work to teach proper beliefs while correcting doctrinal errors.  Kings hold it all together with efficiency and best practices.  Churches governed by all three offices will be biblically solid (prophet), grace-centered (priest), and effective Kingdom builders (king).

Often, only priests are viewed as being “pastoral.”  This is because their nice and gentle nature wins them more friends than prophets or kings enjoy.  However, a priest serving as first-among-equals can stunt a church’s growth because they sometimes view kingly work as unholy or their policies as unnecessary.  Prophets can criticize priests for being too nice, and kings can critique both for never being practical enough.

Fight Fair

This criticism is not always fair, but it is very healthy.  Leaders (everybody is leading somebody) who care enough about their particular passions to voice concern are vital to a healthy, balanced church.  The key is simply fighting fair.  Disagree like a loving family is called to disagree, and then combine the contributions of prophets, priests, and kings so that you can build a church that grows deeper and wider at the same time.  Until Jesus returns to perfectly govern as one Man fulfilling all three roles, we’ll have to rely on each other for help.

Paul gets the last word:

1 Corinthians 12:6 (NLT)
6 God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.


[Note] This concept is in no way original with me.  Orthodox church teaching has relied on this breakdown for millennia.  For a deeper understanding of these concepts, start with this website or this little book.

[2] 1 Cor 12.14, ff

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