The Offices of Prophet, Priest, and King
By Reed Benson
One of the greatest misconceptions of our age is the notion that church and state can be completely separated, with no interconnecting relationships. This thinking is present in most nations of the Western world and is typified in the "wall of separation" interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. It is unfortunate that this philosophy has become so entrenched, even among Christians, because it is inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture. Religion is the foundation of law and government for any society. Thus, there always exists some measure of linkage between them. The Western nations of Israelís dispersion have embraced humanism as their religion. Therefore, the tenets of humanism establish the framework of law and the principles used in governing. The issue of authority is fundamental to this discussion because it is only through Biblical channels of authority that the church-state relationship can be understood. What does the Bible say about this vital relationship?
Prior to the entrance of sin into the world, it will be discovered that there were no intermediate authorities standing between God and man. Adam and Eve, not knowing evil and enjoying the conditional immortality, communed directly with God. It is plainly evident from scripture that God, in His triunity, made customary visitations to the Garden. Scripture states: " And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the Garden. And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?" (Genesis3: 8-9). This intimate relationship that Adam and Eve enjoyed with the LORD was clearly unique to the pre-fallen state of man. It was a perfect theocratic government. Never again since the fall have men enjoyed such close and familiar communion with God. With the entrance of sin, a gulf was fixed between God and men that required intermediaries. The divinely perfect theocracy had clearly been breached by sin.
Left to his own devices, only ten generations passed before man in his fallen, corrupt condition reached the point of self-destruction. The Noahic flood quickly consummated the inevitable annihilation of mankind. It was after the worldwide deluge that God established intermediate authority to act as a check upon the depraved condition of man. The implementation of the civil sphere is found in the book of Genesis. We read: "And surely your blood of your lives will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it, and at the hand of man; at the hand of every manís brother will I require the life of man. Whoso sheddeth manís blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man" (Genesis 8:20). The primary task of civil government is to restrain the excesses of sin nature and prevent man from self-destruction.
In terms of atonement, religious authority was needed to act as a mediator to approach an entirely righteous and holy God. Blood sacrifice was required, which Noah performed (Genesis 8:20). A priesthood was ultimately called forth to fulfill this ongoing requirement. This is the foundation of church government. While a perfect sacrifice has been provided by Jesus Christ, manís sin nature remains. Thus, the regular appropriation of that blood by ecclesiastical authority is required.
Throughout history it will be quickly discovered that the intermediate authorities represented in kings (state) and priests (church) have not fulfilled their tasks very effectively. This is because of manís continuing fallen condition. Acting as a check upon the potential abuses of kingly and priestly authority, God has established the third leg in this sphere of human authority, the office of the prophet. While prophet officeholders must also labor under the constraints of sin nature, they do provide a counter check upon civil and religious corruption. Thus, there are three offices of human authority appointed in as intermediaries between a holy God and fallen man: king, priest and prophet.
Of these three offices of human authority delegated by God, none of them is meant of stand above the others. They are separated in their functions and somewhat different in nature. Interestingly, enough, however, there have been rare times when one man has been called to simultaneously fill more than one of these offices. This seems to be true at critical junctures in Israelís history. Not only was Moses the civil head of Israel, but he also filled the prophetís role. Under his leadership, Israel was closest to a true theocracy. After his death, however, all of the judges were civil magistrates only, until the time of Samuel. In this transition period of Israelís history, Samuel brought both the civil and the religious spheres together again in one person for the duration of his lifetime.
It is clear that this was not intended to be the norm for history, because at other times certain civil authorities were severely judged for attempting to usurp the function of the priesthood. From Scripture we read of the case of Saul: "And he tarried seven days, according to the set time that Samuel appointed: but Samuel came not to Gilgal; and the people were scattered from him. And Saul said, Bring hither a burnt offering to me, and peace offerings. And he offered the burnt offering . . . . And Samuel said to Saul, Thou hast done foolishly: thou hast not kept the commandment of the LORD thy God, which he commanded thee: for now would the LORD have established thy kingdom upon Israel for ever." (I Samuel 13:8-13). Saulís disobedience and lack of respect for the functions of the priesthood had tragic consequences for himself and his family. In what is an even more clear cut illustration of the civil authority stepping into the realm of religious responsibilities, Scripture records the following act of Uzziah, king of Judah: "But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up . . . and went into the temple of the LORD to burn incense upon the altar of incense. And Azariah the priest went in after him, and with him fourscore priest of the LORD, that were valiant men: and they withstood Uzziah the king, and said unto him, It apperaineth not unto thee, Uzziah, to burn incense unto the LORD, but to the priests the sons of Aaron, that are consecrated to burn incense: go out of the sanctuary; for thou hast trespassed; neither shall it be for thine honor from the LORD God. Then Uzziah was wroth, and had a censer in his hand to burn incense: and while he was wroth with the priests, the leprosy even rose up in his forehead . . . And Uzziah the king was a leper unto the day of his death" (II Chronicles 26:16-21). The lesson here is unmistakable. The civil authority is not to usurp the function of the religious sphere. And, while the Scriptural mandate to avoid the reverse is not as pronounced, it is apparent that the general rule is as follows: the three spheres of authority that God ordained to govern fallen man are meant to be separate in their functions. Does this mean there is to be no relationship at all between civil and religious duties? Not at all.
It is clear from Scripture that the priesthood of the Church has a role to play in exerting strong pressure on the king and the state. What is the duty of the church in this regard? And by what means does God intend for the church to bear an influence upon the state? A clue is given in the book of Genesis where we read: "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall be the gathering of the people be" (Genesis 49:10). A lawgiver is referring to the realm of the priest, that is, the church. This passage promises that wherever kingly authority can be found in Israel, that the king will always have a priesthood close at hand, with the God given task of reminding him what Godís law says. Support for this understanding of the priesthood as it relates to the civil realm can be seen in this blessing upon the tribe of Levi, where Moses declares: "They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law" (Deuteronomy 33:10). God would have the priesthood of the church apply strong pressure upon the leaders of the state.
Has the established church always preformed this duty fully and responsibly? Absolutely not! At times corrupt priest and kings have conspired together to frustrate this system of God. The answer to this dilemma lies in the office of the prophet. When the church fails, Jehovah brings into high profile His appointed prophets, which should not be confused with the spiritual gift of the perceiver so common today. The duty of the prophet is to publicly declare unto the civil authority and religious establishment the truth of Godís law. Historically, prophets were of an unusual calling having various backgrounds. Jeremiah and John the Baptist were of priestly families, but they did not speak for the established order. Amos was a herdsman and gatherer of sycamore fruit, of humble origin. Concerning Nathan, who declared the word of God to David, the Bible is silent on his background. What all prophets have in common, however, is that Jehovah uses them in spontaneous counterbalance upon spiritual corruption in the civil and religious realms.
In our fallen world, these three officesóking, priest, and prophetóconstitute the three cannels of authority that God has established for maintaining an ordered society. They do not provide for the perfect theocratic government, for all officeholders are sinners. However, they are a pattern or a similitude of Godís perfect theocratic government. It is incumbent upon all Israelites in every nation of their dispersion to understand that these three offices are the vehicles by which God works His government in the earth. For better or for worse, these channels of authority form the fundamental principles of governing man in his fallen condition.
After the return of Jesus Christ to fully establish the restored Kingdom of Israel, the earth will once again enjoy a perfect theocratic government. Jesus Christ will uniquely and completely fulfill the offices of the King, Priest, and Prophet. As King, He will be reining on the throne of David, with all the kingdoms of earth under His domain (Revelation 11:15). As High Priest, He will embody the ultimate ecclesiastical authority. As Prophet, He will bring to fruition all the strands of ancient prophetic vision. Jesus Christ will combine the offices of King, Priest, and Prophet in a flawless and eternal theocratic government. At that time, intimate communion with God will be enjoyed by all the righteous.