THE SAVING WORK OF JESUS CHRIST
The late Prof. R. A. Finlayson, M.A.
The saving work of Christ is that which He has undertaken in His capacity as Mediator between God and man. And Christ’s mediatorial work is inseparably connected with His offices as Prophet, Priest, and King. Here the term “offices” has the sense of functions, and represents various aspects of Christ’s saving relationship to the sinner. It can be put generally thus: as Prophet, He meets our ignorance; as Priest, our guilt; and as King, our rebellion. Or, put otherwise, Christ saves from sin’s darkness, sin’s guilt, and sin’s dominion. Some would put it that Christ as Mediator is now fulfilling for fallen man the functions which man in his unfallen state would be performing for himself: as a prophet, given knowledge and understanding; as priest, clothed with righteousness and holiness; and as king, exercising dominion over the creation. Sin has deprived man of the capacity of fulfilling these offices, and Christ became Mediator that He might function on behalf of man.
It has to be noted that Christ fulfilled all three offices throughout His entire life: He did not relinquish one office to take up another. In fact, while these three offices are distinct in their bearing on man’s need, they are quite inseparable, and do not refer to distinct and separate periods in Christ’s life and work. He was a King while He was offering His sacrifice, for He was exercising a royal priesthood; He was a Prophet, revealing God while He was offering Himself as sacrifice for the world’s sin; and He was King, speaking with supreme authority and power, when He was exercising His prophetic office. Nor must we forget that all these offices entailed the exercise of all the attributes of both His divine and human natures.
1. Christ as Prophet
A prophet is one who speaks for another. In religious matters, a prophet is one who speaks to man for God. He must possess knowledge, authority, and powers of communication. The functions of a prophet are twofold: receptive – receiving the divine message; and productive – giving it out in ministry. We believe that it was ever the function of the Second Person in the Blessed Trinity to communicate objectively the knowledge of God to His intelligent creatures, and in this respect He is the Eternal Word of God. When, however, the Word became flesh, He entered upon a ministry of illumination which brings God as a great God and a Saviour within the knowledge of His sinful creatures. Christ’s human nature became the most effective organ through which His teaching function was wrought out. Thus we still “learn Christ”, our lesson as
well as our teacher. Throughout His entire earthly life, Christ fulfilled a prophetic ministry and spoke with immediate prophetic authority. The Old Testament prophets sounded forth, “Thus saith the Lord”, but Christ spoke with personal authority, saying, “I say unto you”.
Moreover, Christ confirmed His prophetic office by miracles, mainly of healing. Miracle was His teaching in action. Miracle has ever accompanied new beginnings in the history of God’s dealing with men, and it was fitting that the Kingdom of God in the world should be inaugurated by the forth-putting of supernatural power.
While we believe that our Lord continues and shall continue to exercise His office in heaven. He sustains this ministry in the world through the agency of His Holy Spirit in the Church. Englightenment is part of His redemptive work, and without this spiritual illumination there can be, at least in the case of rational adults, no repentance, faith, and new obedience. In His “High Priestly Prayer” Christ referred to eternal life as standing in the knowledge of God and of His Son Jesus Christ (John 17.3). For this reason it is legitimate to speak of saving knowledge.
2. Christ as Priest
As the prophet was the teacher from God, so the priest was man’s representative to God, with the right of access to God and the authority to act in His presence. Thus a prophet comes down from God manward; a priest goes up from man Godward. We believe hat the Man Christ Jesus, as a true member of our race, was chosen of God, anointed, and set apart for the priestly office, to transact with God on behalf of men. We will find that in His own Person Christ performed all the functions of the priestly office.
(i) He mediated with God on behalf of men. For this He possessed all the qualifications in the highest degree, and was anointed by the spirit “without measure”. As the Son of God He had an absolute
right of intimate access to God; and as man He could represent man and “have somewhat to offer” (Heb. 8.3). It has been pointed out that as Mediator Christ has at heart the interests of divine justice, not less than the case of those who supplicate mercy.
(ii) He acted in a sacrificial capacity. Christ’s entire earthly life,
His coming to earth, His entrance into flesh, was a sacrifice, an offering that culminated upon the Cross. His obedience, as well as his endurance of suffering, entered into His offering. Obedience was indeed the underlying quality of His life, and so it is customary to speak of His active obedience and His passive obedience. Both of these terms cover His entire life, and not merely the closing period. Suffering was involved in His contacts with men from the beginning;
and obedience was the characteristic note of His sufferings to the very end. We recognize that in all this Christ was active and not merely passive, which is but another way of saying that He was not only sacrifice. He was also priest actively offering the sacrifice. He was, indeed, the altar on which His perfect manhood was laid as a sin-offering for men. The whole transaction was bounded by what He was, what He became, and what He did.
(iii) He is Intercessor. As mediator and surety of the new covenant, He presents His sacrifice as the ground of our acceptance, and secures for us the forgiveness of sins and peace with God. As advocate – or paraclete – within the veil He provides a way of access for His people, and presents to God their worship and service.
3. Christ as King
The three offices of prophet, priest, and king, were kept apart in the Old Testament, for no man was allowed to fill all three. Yet there are many indications that the Messiah promised in the Old Testament was to combine all three offices in His own person. The kingly dominion of Christ is everywhere evident, and without it His functions as prophet and priest would not be effective. Again, we note that though divine majesty belonged to the Son of God by eternal right, it is of the Man Christ Jesus as Mediator that we think in connection with the functions of the kingly office.
The Messianic prophecies proclaiming His kingship doubtless had a partial fulfilment at His first coming, and He exercised a kingly sovereignty in His humiliation on earth. In His triumphal entry into Jerusalem He accepted kingly homage; and we are entitled to see more than proud Roman scorn in the title that Pilate put upon the Cross: “The King of the Jews”.
Though it is undoubtedly true that the Atonement was the foundation of His royal sovereignty (Phil. 2.7-11), it was at His ascension that He entered fully upon the functions of His kingly office. It is customary for theologians to classify the different aspects of Christ’s administration of royal power as the kingdom of power (material), the kingdom of grace (spiritual), and the kingdom of glory (heavenly). We know that His reign is not confined to the Church. It is universal, and embraces the whole universe and every department of it. This was the ground of His commission to His disciples: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth, go ye therefore …” The extent of His reign is indicated in Philippians 2.9, 10, and its duration in Ephesians 1.20-13. We know that “He must reign till He has put all his enemies .under His feet”, and that the divine promises of His mediatorial Kingdom and glory shall find perfect fulfilment at His Second coming.