Prophet, Priest, and King: A Book Review
P & R Publishing was kind enough to provide Joshua Sommer with a review copy of Prophet, Priest, and King by Dr. Richard P. Belcher Jr. The following is a review of this timely work.
My generation is a generation of over-simplicity. If things get too complicated or too lengthy for immediate review, the easier route is usually the preferred route. That said, our view of Christ Jesus and His ministry can be simplified to the point where we have an unbalanced idea of who Jesus actually was and is.
Dr. Richard P. Belcher of Reformed Theological Seminary starts with this very common problem amongst Christians in his book, Prophet Priest, and King: The Roles of Christ in the Bible and Our Roles Today. In fact, the book itself seems to be calling the reader to a more balanced view of their Lord and Savior.
So many times Christ’s name has been associated with only the priestly aspects of His ministry to the exclusion of the Prophet and King roles. This lop-sidedness of Christ’s work happens with just about any office Christ holds. Sometimes, He is thought of as King and nothing else, or Prophet, but not King or Priest.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven,”
— Hebrews 8:1 (ESV)
Dr. Belcher summarizes the dilemma of an unbalanced view of Christ and His manifold roles as such, “Many Christians tend to think of Christ’s work as one-dimensional. Sometimes only the priestly role is emphasized, or the kingship of Christ in his exaltation. Many times Christ’s prophetic role is neglected, or his role as king in his humiliation. This can lead to a one-sided view of Christ and his work.”
Primarily, this issue matters because Scripture itself ascribes to Jesus these three distinct offices (Deut 18:15; Heb 7:26; Rev 17:14). Belcher helpfully travels deeper in his analysis of these three offices. He explores the Old Testament backgrounds of the roles, as well as the nation of Israel’s commission to serve in all three offices (Ex 19:5, 6). What Belcher does is paint a detailed picture, encouraging reverence as we meditate upon Christ and His work.
Secondarily, yet still vitally important, is the fact that our view of Christ largely affects how we see ourselves before God, and how we determine to live in light of our union with Christ. In other words, Christ’s offices, the way in which He functions for the sake of His people to the glory of the Father, affect who we are as Christians. An example of this may be so-called “love.” Today’s doctrine of God’s “love” has usurped everything else that God essentially is, and that has clear implications for practical Christian living.
THE BIBLICAL UNIQUENESS OF PROPHET, PRIEST, AND KING
Belcher goes on to point out the extreme contrast between the pagan practices of inductive and intuitive divination. Inductive divination was used by the ancients by using an object (i.e. arrows, or body parts) in order to discern answers to difficult problems. Intuitive divination functions on a more personal level. People who practiced intuitive divination functioned like spiritual mediums who tried to communicate with the gods to receive revelation. Concerning this, Belcher writes:
Just before the role of prophet is defined, Israel is warned of the abominable practices of the nations who inhabit the land (Deut. 18:9-14). The broad term to describe these methods is divination (v. 10, “anyone who practices divination”). This word refers to different ways the nations sought to obtain information from the gods.
The inclusion of this contrast between prophecy and divination by Belcher is helpful in understanding, firstly, how unique the Christian system is over against all other worldly religions, and secondly, how valuable these three offices actually are.
We do not have a God who is obscure in the sense that it takes human effort to seek His revelation. Rather, it’s God’s prerogative to reveal Himself, and to that end we may know Him. Our knowledge of God is contingent on His action, not ours. This is crucial, especially in considering God’s active sending of His Son to act as the perfect Prophet, Priest, and King.
THE HUMILIATED KING?
One of the most important aspects, as I alluded to above, of Belcher’s volume is the emphasis of a well-balanced view of Jesus. That said, one of the most important areas of his book is the place where he discusses Christ as King, even during His humiliation here on earth.
We can so often get caught up in seeing Jesus as less than King in His humiliation. Some see Jesus as a beggar who is weak, and lacks the power to rule all things, yet wants people to freely choose Him. This view of Jesus results from seeing Him as less than a King. Belcher points this out in the disciples:
The disciples did not understand the nature of Jesus’ kingship partly because suffering and kingship do not easily fit together. A suffering king seems to be a contradiction. How can someone exercise rule and authority through suffering? But the rule of Jesus is demonstrated in several ways during his earthly ministry of humiliation.
Belcher is correct. It is often difficult to find kingship in servitude and suffering. Kings aren’t thought of as people who serve or suffer. They are usually pictured as men who sit upon finely-crafted thrones of wood or gold, who are fanned and fed by their servants, and who utter decrees––words which change nations. This picture doesn’t seem to fit with the humiliation of Christ during His earthly ministry.
The book goes on to point out several ways Jesus demonstrated His kingship in the midst of His servitude. Belcher gives examples like Jesus’ dominion over the wind and waves in Matthew 8:23-27. Another example he gives is Christ’s lordship over the demons. At a single command, He caused them to flee (Mk 1:21-28).
Belcher goes on to point out the announcement of the Kingdom where Jesus says, “‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel’” (Mk 1:14, 15). The coming of the kingdom of God is made evident, as Belcher notes, by the following casting out of demons and “by healing many who are sick (Mark 1:21-34).”
So often is this display of Christ’s lordship over all things missed as one reads through the gospels. It’s usurped by Christ’s suffering on the cross for the sake of our sins. Though Christ’s sacrifice (a priestly action) ought to be held as a necessary truth of our faith, we must be careful not to neglect Christ’s kingly office, which is held simultaneously with His priestly and prophetic. This is the balance Dr. Belcher strives for in his work.
Prophet, Priest, and King is a valuable resource for anyone wanting to dig further into Christ’s manifold office. There are some points of clarity which could be made for the sake of readability, but nothing hindering to pure doctrine.
One example I can think of is when the author writes, “They are now separated from him and will be ignorant of his purposes unless he reveals himself (pg. 11).” But this was always the case. Even before the Fall, man’s knowledge of God and His purposes remained contingent on God’s self-disclosure. However, I don’t think Belcher meant to deny that fact with this statement; it’s merely a point needing some clarity in my opinion.
Overall, this book is easy to read and continuously interacts with the biblical text. It’s brief, yet detailed, allowing even the most busiest of Christians to read through it.
I would recommend this book to any of our readers here on the Reformed Collective. Dr. Belcher’s book is sure to sufficiently supplement the Christian’s study of Christ, our true Prophet, Priest, and King.