John Calvin needs no introduction. The Magisterial Reformer is one of the most well known Christians in church history. In the preface to the Hendrickson edition of Calvin’s Institutes, the translator wrote, “John Calvin, who was the voice of the Reformation in France and Geneva, arguably ranks as one of Protestantism’s most prominent and influential thinkers.” One of Calvin’s most helpful contributions was his discussion of the offices of Christ. Calvin is often credited for drawing attention to Christ’s fulfillment of the Old Testament offices of prophet, priest, and king. Contemporary theologians continue to discuss the offices of Christ and their implications for believers today.
First, Calvin highlighted Christ’s prophetic office. After affirming the prophetic role of the Messiah by quoting Isaiah 60:1-2, Calvin wrote, “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.”
Calvin believed the Old Testament predicted the prophetic role of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, although he insisted Christ’s ministry was far superior to others who held the office. His view was grounded in the Old Testament and substantiated in the New Testament, and it continues to have implications for contemporary believers.
Old Testament Indications
In the Old Testament, prophets acted as spokesmen for God. From Moses to Malachi, God called and used prophets to proclaim His Word to His people. Although prophets are often connected with “foretelling” the future, they were primarily “forth-tellers” who communicated God’s Word as it was revealed to them. Moses, Samuel, Elijah, and a host of other God-called men challenged God’s people to faithfully love and obey Him.
The prophets in the Old Testament functioned as God’s messengers, but they also laid the foundation for a future prophet to arise. Moses, who is viewed as one of the greatest prophets in the entire Old Testament, spoke of the coming of a prophet who would be greater than he. He said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear” (Deuteronomy 18:15). The prophet would be “like” Moses, but ultimately He would be greater than Moses. No prophet in the Old Testament surpassed Moses. It isn’t until the New Testament that one greater than Moses appears.
New Testament Affirmations
The New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Jesus Christ was a prophet. Throughout the Gospels, various people acknowledge Christ’s prophetic role (Matthew 14:5, 16:14, 21:11, 21:46; Mark 8:28; Luke 7:16, 9:19, 24:19; John 4:19, 6:14, 7:40, 9:17). Jesus Himself affirmed His prophetic role (Matthew 13:57; Mark 6:4; Luke 4:24, 13:33; John 4:44). One of the clearest affirmations of Christ’s prophetic role is Luke 4:16-30. In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus read Isaiah 60:1-2:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”
Then, He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Commenting on Jesus’ use of Isaiah 61, Calvin wrote, “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.” Jesus Christ was anointed by the Spirit to proclaim the Word of God, just like the Old Testament prophets. His message was similar to the Old Testament prophets; He preached doom and judgment, as well as good news and salvation.
Unlike the Old Testament prophets, however, Jesus Christ came directly from the presence of God. He was able to reveal the Father because He had been with Him from eternity, and He was one with Him. His revelatory role was superior to the Old Testament prophets due to His intimate relationship with the Father.
Two other aspects of Jesus’ prophetic role deserve recognition. First, “He is the one about whom the prophecies of the Old Testament were made.” He is the content of Old Testament prophecies, as all of the Old Testament testifies of Christ (Luke 24:27). Second, He “was not merely a messenger of revelation from God (like all the other prophets), but was himself the source of revelation from God.” He is the source of God’s revelation. As a prophet, Jesus came from the presence of God, was the content of the prophecies of the Old Testament, and is the source of God’s revelation.
Ultimately, Jesus was not just a prophet…He was a prophet greater than Moses!
So what does this mean for Christians today? What are the implications of the prophetic ministry of Jesus Christ? Let me suggest several practical implications of Jesus Christ’s prophetic role:
1. We Should Read the Old Testament Christologically
Jesus Christ is not simply the perfect source of prophecy; He is also the content of prophecy. The Old Testament points to Jesus. He is the object of Old Testament revelation, and the Old Testament testifies to Christ. Jesus affirmed this (Luke 24:27) and taught His disciples this. Their preaching reveals they caught on to what He taught them (a prime example is the Christ-centered interpretation of the Old Testament in Peter’s sermons in Acts 2-3). The New Testament explicitly declares Jesus is the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, so we cannot fail to notice Christ in the Old Testament. When we read the Old Testament, we should look for direct promises and typological connections to Christ.
2. We Should Rest in the Gospel Completely
If Jesus is the greatest prophet and the ultimate revelation of God, we should not and cannot move beyond Jesus Christ and the gospel. Commenting on the implications of Christ’s prophetic office, Calvin said, “It is unlawful to go beyond the simplicity of the Gospel.” Jesus Christ is the climax of God’s revelation and the center of the gospel. The gospel is based on His sacrificial death, miraculous resurrection, and glorious exaltation. This gospel is essential for our salvation and our sanctification.
Therefore, we cannot and dare not move past the gospel or beyond the gospel once we are saved. It is essential for our continued growth and sanctification. As Timothy Keller has stated, “Because the gospel is endlessly rich, it can handle the burden of being the one ‘main thing’ of a church.” For this reason, we must rest in the gospel; we must dwell in the gospel; we must marinate in the gospel.
3. We Should Rely on Scripture Exclusively
There is a ring of finality to Jesus’ revelation of God. There is nothing to add to Jesus’ revelation of the Father and His will. The author of Hebrews said, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2). God spoke through various prophets in the past, but He has spoken finally and authoritatively through Jesus Christ. As Calvin said, “Paul’s expressions, that he was ‘made unto us wisdom,’ (1 Cor. 1:30,) and elsewhere, that in him ‘are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,’ (Col. 2:3,) have a somewhat different meaning, namely, that out of him there is nothing worth knowing, and that those who, by faith, apprehend his true character, possess the boundless immensity of heavenly blessings.”
Outside of Christ, there is nothing worth knowing, and in Christ, there is “boundless immensity of heavenly blessings.” This means we must constantly look to Christ as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. We have no need to go beyond Jesus or Scripture, because the inscripturated Word reveals the Word become flesh. We can rely on the Scriptures, which point us to Jesus Christ.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2008), xi.
For two recent examples, see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 2002), 624-633, and Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002), 780-787.
Calvin, Institutes, 2.15.2.
Calvin, Institutes, 2.15.2.
Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed., 783.
Grudem, Systematic Theology, 625.
Calvin, Institutes, 2.15.2.
Timothy Keller, Center Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 37.
Calvin, Institutes, 2.15.2.