Lately I have been thinking a lot about the roles of prophet, priest and king described in the Bible. The more I study them, the more I begin to see them everywhere in Scripture. Try this, next time you get up early (or stay up late) to read your daily devotions, circle the major character you are reading about – Joseph, Samuel, David, etc. Then put a little note by their name. Which role do they best fill – a prophet, a priest, or a king? Some of the Old Testament characters are a little more obvious than others, but all of them should, in some way, fit into one of those three categories. You would be amazed at how much this simple tool can help you in understanding the text you are reading and be even more amazed at how the text points to Christ.
But what about today? Does the biblical example of the munus triplex (the roles of prophet, priest and king) still exist in our world? If so, how are we to think of them?
My hope is that this better prepares us to read Scripture in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The roles of prophet, priest and king were more than just mere titles or positions given to men. They were pictures of something that was coming. Something far greater than any mere man. They point us forward to the promised “serpent crusher.” In this, I hope that this hermeneutical method would cause you (the reader) to study the Scripture in a way to see how Joseph, Samuel, Boaz, Jonah, David, Daniel, etc. are all prototypes of Jesus Christ Who would come in the flesh. In addition to this, the roles of prophet, priest and king also gives us insight into the work of the Trinity (that is a post for another time). Study these passages for yourself and come to your own conclusion based on your understanding of Scripture and the work of the Spirit within you.
The munus triplex seems to have played a large role in devising the three branches of our government – the Executive, the Legislative and the Judicial. The purpose for the three-fold system was to hold each other in check and to avoid giving any one of the three too much power. This system of accountability seems to reenact the governmental structure of Israel and has allowed America to grow and flourish as a major world power. The munus triplex, in some circumstances, did seem to be a form of accountability between the King, the religious leaders and the prophets; but more than that, the munus triplex was pointing to something far greater to come. You see, the roles of prophet, priest and king were set up by God to be temporarily filled by man until the true Prophet, Priest and King would come – Jesus. Although, in the beginning, God created man perfectly to fill these offices, man has fallen woefully short. Because of man’s sin, these roles were not in of themselves a governmental structure that would save Israel, but were pointing forward to a Person Who would.
Where do we see the munus triplex today? Let’s start with the role of “Prophet.” In ancient Israel the prophets were to bring the people of God special instructions. They were the mediators between God and the people. They would speak on God’s behalf bringing a correct understanding of Who God was and what He had commanded. Today, we may not have prophets walking around giving divine words to people in the streets, but we do have all of God’s works and commands recorded in Scripture. The Bible is God’s authoritative and infallible Word. In essence, it speaks on God’s behalf and reveals the truths of His character and His commands. This is nothing short of what the prophets did in ancient Israel. They proclaimed the Word of God that came to them. For us, the Word of God is His revelation to us through the Bible. But it doesn’t stop there. In John 1:14, the Scripture says, “And the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The Word actually became flesh. God’s spoken word transfigured into a person, and that person could be none other than God Himself. Jesus Christ came as the Word of God to us. He came to reveal Himself as the Son of the Father so that we might have greater understanding of Who God is and what He has commanded. Jesus is the ultimate Prophet!
What does it mean to be a priest? If we have an accurate understanding of what this role is, we will be able to see how it is filled across the Scripture. A priest is one who carries out God’s command and serves the Lord with His whole life. The priest must be devoted to a life of worship and offering. When God instated priests, they were set apart from the rest as a unique, holy and consecrated people. They were to show the world how great their God is through the sacrifice and service they render. This is why God’s people, Israel, were called a treasured possession, a holy nation, a kingdom of priests in the Old Testament (Exodus 19:6). They were a people who were to be set apart in order to worship God. They were to be an example to all other nations of God’s greatness, mercy and power. But they failed miserably. If we observe carefully, the title given to Israel in Exodus 19 actually carries over into the New Testament as well. In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter reiterates God’s message to the church which was comprised of both Jew and gentile. Peter, an apostle of Christ, dubs the church with the same title God gave His people, Israel. This means that the church, God’s people today, are the living representatives of Christ and His work. The church is then set apart to adequately fill the priestly role as depicted in Scripture. Before He ascended, Jesus installed the apostles and the church to be His representatives. They are to be His priests ministering in a fallen world. The church is His living body! He is the head. Christ is the ultimate Priest!
This role can be adequately described as an individual with power to represent his people, to unify them around his rule and to govern them as his nation. The kingly role in the munus triplex is reserved for One Who will judge the nations righteously. Not just one nation, but all of them. The kingly role is reserved for One Who will have dominion for ever and ever. The kingly role is reserved for One Who will conquer death and defeat sin. It is reserved for One Who will crush the head of the serpent and make all things new. It is reserved for the One coming on the clouds, and His name is LORD OF LORDS and KING OF KINGS (Rev. 19:16). No human can fill this role since we lack righteousness, we are mortal, we cannot conquer sin on our own, and we will never be able to crush the serpent’s head left to ourselves. No, this role is reserved for only One Who has completed all these things. Even the many examples of good kings in Scripture only point to a better King yet to come. That King is Jesus!
By this time, you may have already guessed what I believe to be the biblical example of the munus triplex today. Jesus is the perfect Prophet, Priest and King who came to this world and purchased His people. He did this with His blood, fulfilling the prophesies of old and becoming the Passover Lamb. Jesus is the antitype of all the prophets, priests and kings that were before Him. He is the picture to which they all pointed forward because they were inadequate to save on their own. They lacked perfection in their duties and a heart fully committed to God. They fell short of His glory (Rom. 3:23).
Jesus completes all of the roles of the munus triplex when He died on the cross and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father. The munus triplex gives all the glory to God through the saving work of Jesus Christ. When God comes to call His people home from the north, south, east and west (Isa. 43:5-7), we will be with Him forever in unhindered adoration and praise. Christ, His body and the His Word are the biblical representations for today’s munus triplex.