The question of the roles and even the identity of Jesus has long been a part of our Christian heritage and even the history of the world. Some people see Jesus as merely a good teacher while others see Jesus as the savior for those who believe in Him. These questions are central to the Christian faith. Jesus himself first prompts the question in Matthew 16:13-20 when he asks his disciples “who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and “Who do you say that I am?”
John Calvin also sought to provide his readers with a summary of the identity and work accomplished by Christ.
He addresses these concerns in book 2 of his Institutes (chapters 15-17) Lane invites us to explore this topic when he asks us “what are the three offices of Christ?” and “How has he won our salvation?” (Lane p. 91)
It is necessary to understand the total picture of Christ’s presence and Christ’s work of redemption for those for whom Christ has died. It is more than simply recognizing the name of Christ. As Calvin states:
though the Papists have the words, Son of God, Redeemer of the world, sounding in
their mouths, yet, because contented with an empty name, they deprive him of his virtue
and dignity; (institutes 2.15.1)
In order that we understand the magnificent work of Christ, we shall consider each of Christ’s offices as understood by Calvin and then consider how the work of priest leads to our salvation. Calvin reminds his readers that Christ occupies the offices of Prophet, King, and Priest.
In fact one might even say that Christ completes each of these offices. Calvin reminds us in 2.15.1 that God has always provided prophets for his people in order that they might be enlightened until the time when the messiah comes.
Calvin proves that Christ is indeed the completion of the prophets when he says:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me: because the Lord has anointed me to
preach good tidings unto the meek; he has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord,” (Is. 60:1, 2). We see that he was anointed by the Spirit to be a
herald and witness of his Father’s grace, and not in the usual way; for he is distinguished
from other teachers who had a similar office. And here, again, it is to be observed, that the
unction which he received, in order to perform the office of teacher, was not for himself,
but for his whole body( Institutes 2.15.2)
As we consider this position that Christ’s work was not done for himself but rather for the whole body, we now turn our thoughts to the office of king. As Calvin reminds us this kingship is not an earthly kingdom but rather a spiritual one. Its purpose is two-fold, first to sustain the church in times of trial when it struggles against the powers and principalities which war against it, and second to call all believers to recognize that the fulfillment of God’s promises of reconciliation will occur in the world to come. Christ’s office of king and pastor unites all believers who voluntarily submit to him.
It is through the office of priest that we begin to comprehend how by the grace and mercies of God, Jesus Christ has won salvation for us. As Calvin reminds us God who is just requires that we cannot enter his presence unless we are made righteous by a sacrifice. The old system of sacrifice is imperfect and requires a better and perfect solution. Christ is that solution! Through the death of Christ, God reconciles those who believe in Christ to himself.(institutes 2.15.6)
Recognizing Christ is prophet, eternal king, and heavenly priest, we now turn to the question asked by Lane of “how salvation was won for us through Christ?
As Calvin reminds us in 2.16.1 because we are lost in and of ourselves, we have no other recourse but to seek righteousness in Christ. There is no other name under heaven which will bring us salvation (acts 4:12).
All of 2.16 outlines this work of Christ’s salvation. In summary it is accomplished through the death, resurrection, descent into hell, ascension into heaven, and acknowledgement that Christ does in fact sit at the right hand of God the Father. From that place, Christ exercises God’s power to judge and govern God’s people as well as to intercede as priest for them. Calvin acknowledges the Apostle’s creed as a foundational document summarizing this path to salvation. One might normally think that Christ’s redemptive work began with his death on the cross, but Calvin challenges that notion in 2.16.5 when he states:
“Thus even at his baptism he declared that a part of righteousness was fulfilled by his yielding
obedience to the command of the Father. In short, from the moment when he assumed the
form of a servant, he began, in order to redeem us, to pay the price of deliverance.” This idea of obedience should impact how we live our lives.
As we consider the type of death Christ suffered, Calvin reminds us that his death must be one in which he was judged, one in which the sins of all the guilty were laid upon him. He who knew no sin received the punishment of all. Scripture confirms that even in Christ’s descent into hell he was allowed to feel the full wrath of an angry god “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!”
As Calvin reminds us, while Christ was in hell he confronted the very power of the devil. Christ’s resurrection and ascension continues God’s reign and exercise of power over death. In 2.19 Calvin summarizes Christ’s path to salvation for those who believe:
“if we seek redemption, we shall find it in his passion; acquittal in his condemnation; remission
of the curse in his cross; satisfaction in his sacrifice; purification in his blood; reconciliation
in his descent to hell; mortification of the flesh in his sepulcher; newness of life in his resurrection;
immortality also in his resurrection; the inheritance of a celestial kingdom in his
entrance into heaven; protection, security, and the abundant supply of all blessings, in his
kingdom; secure anticipation of judgment in the power of judging committed to him.”
As one considers this amazing and wonderful work of redemption accomplished by Christ a question comes to mind:
Who are the “condemned” since we are all guilty of sinning against God? and what does this say about those who do not “believe?”