How do I discover the glory and the mystery of the texts of Scripture? How do I find the light for my path that Psalm 119 promises (see Ps. 119:05)?
These are immensely practical questions for Christians and students of the Bible. Will you read the Bible in 2022? What will you learn as you read?
Sadly, it is not uncommon for Christians to do their daily Bible reading and then to “go blank”. What does it mean? What do I make of it? Too often, the wonder of Scripture seems hidden.
Sometimes this hiddenness happens because the text has been read dozens of times. What new discovery could there be?
Other times, the text is unknown or forgotten, or even odd. What do you do when you don’t know what to do with a text of the Bible?
I share here a musing on a framework that has proved immensely helpful to my own study of the Word of God. In short, the musing is this: read Scripture in view of the prophetic, priestly, and kingly realities of life.
Framed as a question, I encourage you to ask this big question of any text of Scripture: how does the text explore the prophetic, priestly, and kingly longings of humanity? Phrased with a different emphasis, ask it this way: how does the text reveal the prophetic, priestly, and kingly movement of God toward the world?
The prophetic longing for a Word from above. The priestly longing for the light and presence of God. The kingly longing for conquering and victory. All these are longings and realities found across the pages of Scripture.
What do I mean by that? Let me explore humanity, then Christ, and through this exploration, a vista to Scripture will open.
Made with the Prophetic, Priestly, and Kingly
Man's deepest longings, purposes, and callings can be mapped to the desire and purpose for the prophetic, the priestly, and the kingly. Of course, prophetic, priestly, and kingly concepts map to the classic (and Biblical) threefold office of Jesus Christ. Christ is our prophet, our priest, our king. As prophet, Christ announces God to us. As priest, Christ brings us to God. As King, Christ goes forth conquering and to conquer.
And yet, Christ’s offices are not created in the incarnation; they are realities present from the beginning of Scripture. Man is made with prophetic, priestly, and kingly longings, desires, callings, purposes. The more we grasp this truth, the more we will find these longings on every page of Scripture and life.
Consider the prophetic. Adam is made as the creature with a voice; He can speak to and hear from His God. He hears God’s voice and is shaped by it. We find his calling to use his voice – whether in naming animals or in communicating God’s truth in other ways. He has a prophetic calling.
Everyone longs for some version of the prophetic in life. Almost all films have a prophetic voice somewhere. A person of wisdom offers counsel to the protagonist in the time of need. A speech given at the end of the film summarizes its point. The prophetic is the role of the Gandalf, Yoda, or Herman Boone (Remember the Titans).
We all love a fit prophetic word. We long for a word of truth from the outside.
Man has priestly longings and callings as well. The priest, fundamentally in Scripture, is that which brings man to God, or experiences God. The priest is he who brings man into the presence, the splendor, the wonder of the transcendence and beauty of God. J.H. Bavinck describes the priest as “the wanderer along the borders of paradise who in the core of his essence belongs to that paradise.”
Adam lived in the center of priestly blessing. Eden, fundamentally, was a Paradise, a kind of temple, a dwelling-place of God in which Adam could see and gaze at His glory.
We all long for the priestly experience of God's temple presence. We do not want bare fact; we want splendor and wonder, light, and magnificence. Whether chasing the beauty of a vacation destination or the distorted beauty of illicit lusts, one is always searching for something magnificent. We live longing for Paradise, for the temple. We can rightly call this a priestly desire, a desire for the presence, yes, even of God.
And man as well has kingly callings and purposes. Adam was called to take dominion (Genesis 1:26-28), to rule in the garden as a King, subduing and conquering in this world.
And we long for the kingly. We long to be found conquering. Empty is the life with truth (the prophetic) and splendor (the priestly) that does not have a sense of purpose, dominion, conquering (the kingly). We want to do, succeed, overcome.
To be human, to be in God's image is to long for the prophetic, priestly, and kingly. Our daily lives and longing repeatedly reflect these interests. Every time we read Scripture, we see those longings and experiences playing out. They play out in humans, striving (and so often, failing) in those callings. And they are discovered in God, who reigns (kingly), calls out His voice (prophetic), and invites us into His presence (priestly).
Christ our Prophet, Priest, and King
It is here that the prophetic, priestly, and kingly move of Christ becomes manifest.
From the beginning of Scripture, we have found God announcing His Word (prophetic), inviting finite sinners into His presence (priestly), and going forth as the King of His people (kingly). But in the incarnation we have the loud display, the beautiful manifestation, and the full expression of this purpose of our God.
Look at Christ. On every page of the gospels we find a prophet, speaking into our sin and announcing to us the way of God. We find a priest, with a zeal for His temple, willing to lay Himself down that we might re-enter God’s presence. We find a King, subduing the world, the flesh, and the devil.
Christ takes on these roles in at least two manners. In one, He is the true Adam – truly walking in and toward Paradise in the perfection of the prophetic, priestly, and kingly realities.
But secondly, He is also the solver of the problem Adam created. His prophethood, priesthood, and kingship move toward and through sin and in this we find the wonder of the gospel.
It is a gospel that brings not simply problem-solving (like a medicine), but the restoration and wholeness on the other side of the healing. For in it, he recreates or initiates our calling again as the church of Christ.
It is this Peter announces in 1 Peter 2:9, a classic text on the identity of the church. I’ve highlighted in brackets where one finds the prophetic, priestly, and kingly calling.
“But you are a chosen race a royal [kingly calling] priesthood [priestly calling] a holy [priestly] nation [kingly], a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him [prophetic calling] who called out of darkness into his marvelous light [priestly experience].”
The church, Peter says, functions as kingly in its identity, priestly in its service and experience, and prophetic in its proclamation.
We are prophets, priests, and kings in THE Prophet, Priest, and King. Tethered to Christ, the purpose for Adam is now ours again in richer and fuller ways than ever before.
Back to the Bible
These realities of God and humanity shape the experience of God in Scripture. The Word made flesh now communicates these truths through the Word given by the Spirit.
And so, every text of Scripture plays out as an experience of the prophetic, priestly, and kingly realities of life. Exploring these invites us home. Exploring these invites us to know ourselves, and to know God in His person and work.
And so we should read our Bible with these in view. How? Prayerfully read Scripture with prophetic, priestly, and kingly eyes.
In this, you find its offer to meet the deep longings of the sinful and needy heart. You find the splendor of God in Christ who carries those offices in perfection. You find your calling in relationship to these realities.
Not all texts will explore the prophetic, priestly, and kingly in equal measure. And, you may in your own life be able to see which of these you emphasize, and which you ignore. But we must labor to explore the full richness. Ignoring any of these will lower our capacity to see the wonder of Scripture’s announcement.
And so learn to ask questions of Scripture in view of these offices. Consider below a few questions for each of these three, and then an example of how this works out. These are questions that could be asked of any Bible passage.
Prophetic questions: Where in this text do I hear the voice of God? Where is wisdom, direction, rebuke offered that reshapes my view of reality? Where am I being guided on the path of righteousness? Where am I being summoned off the path of foolishness? Where is the world being called to account?
Where is my own redeemed voice being called to be more molded after the voice of Scripture? What words is this text offering me that can cause my lips to better testify to the goodness of our God and His calling in life?
Priestly questions: Where in this text am I being led into or shown the presence of God? Where in this text is the human longing for the transcendent, the spectacular, the shining light, the wonder of life, the splendor of God’s handiwork, the presence of God Himself? Where are those longings being pursued in unhealthy ways? In healthy ways?
Where is God coming to His people in a way that announces His longing for them to enter His presence? How is He dealing with sin (via atonement, sacrifice, etc.) for the purpose of drawing us to Himself? What about this dealing with sin should be marvelous to me? Lead me to worship?
Kingly questions: Where in this text is a vision of conquering offered? Where is there a need for conquering to occur? Who is conquering in the passage? Who is succeeding? Who is failing? Why are they succeeding or failing? What is God accomplishing in His reigning as King? How is that experienced by the people of God?
As united to Christ our King, how are the redeemed called to conquer? How are they struggling? How do these struggles map to my struggles? What strength (or warning or guidance) does this text offer in my desire to conquer in Jesus Christ?
Let me close with an example of one text in which we can find these three realities pivoting and operating together. Any passage could be chosen; this is simply a sample.
In the seemingly obscure 2 Kings 1, we find a sick King Ahaziah sending his captains to Elijah to ask as to whether he will be healed from illness. Two of the captains have a deadly encounter with Elijah, but the third is led to plea for life. A few personal notes on the prophetic, priestly, and kingly functions of the text might look like this:
Prophetic: Questions over who should be trusted as the voice of God (Baal-Zebub and the true God speaking through Elijah). Captains struggling over whether they get to command Elijah or vice-versa. Whose prophetic voice rules in times of crisis?
The human heart longs for the authoritative Word (oh that God would speak!). But at the same time, it longs for autonomy, to be the voice of truth. Where do I act this way?
God leads in dramatic fashion to make us submit to His Word. It is to us a Word of life and hope when we submit.
Priestly: The third captain longs for life itself. So does Ahaziah. God has made us to long for life and the presence of God. I can identify with this captain. How do we get to this life but by mercy?
Kingly: Ahaziah abuses kingship. His kingship should be in harmony with the law and purposes of the God of Israel. He treats kingship not as the way of service, but the way of “lording it over like the Gentiles” (see Mark 10). He operates that this will be the way to advance himself to life. Do I do this? Or am I a humble servant?
Christ contrasts Ahaziah. Christ is the humble servant, even in time of sickness, who always cried to His God in time of need. In the way of Christ is the true victory of kingship.
Though none of what I write here is directly quoting from Zack Eswine, some of my thoughts stem from his work on some similar themes found in his book Preaching to a Post-Everything World. I am condensing and then musing on some themes he introduced to me.
J.H. Bavinck, Between the Beginning and the End (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing CO, 2014), 23.