At least since John Calvin, theologians and Bible scholars have identified three offices of Jesus that he carries out in his humanity. They are prophet, priest, and king. These are offices that Jesus exemplifies in the incarnation as part of his mediatorial work between God and his people. While the Son is king according to the divine nature in the way that God is king, his office of kingship in the New Testament is a fulfillment of the messianic role as the son of David. Similarly, with the priesthood, Hebrews 5:1 tells us the high priest must come from among men.
Additionally, Hebrews 1:1-2 show us that the prophets through whom God spoke in ages past anticipated the preeminent divine speaking in the person the incarnate Son. These three offices, then, begin to be fulfilled from the point of the incarnation onward and certainly find fullest fulfillment in the death, resurrection, and exaltation of the Lord Jesus—again acts that take place in his incarnate humanity.
If we are to read the structural points of redemptive history as centered, in part, on the first Adam and on Christ, the Second Adam, then we should not be surprised when we find elements of connection.
In this post, I want to show that these are also offices that we find in Adam, the very first human, in the garden at creation. If we are to read the structural points of redemptive history as centered, in part, on the first Adam and on Christ, the Second Adam, then we should not be surprised when we find elements of connection. Christ after all comes and fulfills what Adam failed to attain to in the garden. Humanity was created with an eschatological end or goal in mind that would have been achieved had Adam as humanity’s first representative obeyed in the garden.
Adam as KingAmong Bible scholars and layman alike, one of the most easily recognizable features of humanity being created in the image of God is that Adam is placed in the garden to rule and subdue the creation. This is the language of kingship. In the Ancient Near East, when kings wanted to announce their dominion over a particular region, they often erected a statue of their image. It was a way of saying “this land belongs to me” even if the king was not immediately present. Gerhard Von Rad has summarized it well:
“Just as powerful earthly kings, to indicate their claim to dominion, erect an image of themselves in the provinces of their empire where they do not personally appear, so man is placed upon earth in God’s image as God’s sovereign emblem. He is really only God’s representative, summoned to maintain and enforce God’s claim to dominion over the earth.” 1Adam’s first office is his royal capacity. He is the lesser king (a viceroy) who represents the higher king, God in heaven. God reigns from his throne in heaven and Adam is set up on earth to reign as he is to subdue and have dominion over the earth. Adam the king was installed as one “crowned with glory and honor” and God had “given him dominion over the works of [his] hands” and has “put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:5-6).
Adam as Priest
In popular interpretations of the Genesis narratives, Adam’s role as a priest is often less noticed despite it being widely accepted among Bible scholars and Biblical theologians. When God creates the garden of Eden, it is a prototype of a Temple.2 Adam is put in the garden to be like the priests in the temple where his two main roles are to work and keep the garden (Genesis 2:15–17). This language of ‘cultivate’ and ‘keep’ uses two Hebrew words that typically refer to the priestly role of serving or guarding in the tabernacle.4 Meredith Kline summarizes
“Priesthood is man’s primary office. It was with the priestly experience of beholding the Glory of the Creator in his Edenic sanctuary that human existence began.”
Part of Adam’s role as being crowned with glory and honor is a function of priesthood where Adam mediates God’s glory to creation. He is able to “walk” with God and enter into God’s presence, something that is the role of the priests who enter the tabernacle as the later Tabernacles are God’s divine presence (Lev. 26:12; Deut. 23:15; 2 Sam. 7:6–7).5 Like Adam is crowned with glory, so the Aaronic ephod is for the priests “glory and beauty” (Exodus 28:2, 40). The Septuagint interestingly translates this as “glory and honor,” which is suggestive of potential interpretive connection with Psalm 8. Hebrews 5:4–5 sees priestly investiture as installation of honor and glory. The priest does not honor himself nor glory (ESV: exalt) himself… the implication being that God honors and glorifies the priest in his installation. For Hebrews, this is certainly a connection the earlier usage of Psalm 8 in chapter 2.
Adam as Prophet
The last office of Adam is that of prophet. Unlike the other two aspects of kingship and priesthood, we need to admit from the outset there is less direct exegetical evidence that Adam was a prophet. Our case is much more indirect. Nevertheless, three features may suggest prophetic aspects in the role of Adam.
First, Adam is given the Word of God. Not only is Adam given the word of God, like the later Deuteronomic covenant, the word contains both a blessing and a curse pronouncement depending on whether Adam keeps the command or disobeys. Like a prophet, Adam is the bearer of this covenant witness. In short, prophet’s mediate God’s voice to God’s creation and this is what Adam was called to do in the garden.
Second, one of they key roles of a prophet in the Old Testament is to prosecute the covenant lawsuit of God when God’s people rebel. In this respect, when Adam encountered the serpent he should have executed the judgment of God by wielding the Word of God and expelling the serpent. Later prophets execute judicial functions as they declare the Word of God and bear witness to God’s judgment. It is also possible, the serpent is like a false prophet or witness and Adam should have been the true witness to God and his Word entrusted to him.
Finally, there are connections between Adam and Moses in the Pentateuch. Moses a prophet who had God’s Word in his mouth and talked with God face to face (Deut. 18:15, 18; 34:10). Moses is the mediator who goes up to presence of God, receives the covenant law, and comes back down having a face that shines with glory bringing the word to God’s people. Moses would speak to God face to face as a man with a friend, which may be analogous to Adam’s walking with God in the garden (Ex 33:11). The close association between talking with God and experiencing glory (Ex. 34:29–30) may be suggestive of the glory Adam experienced in the garden.
The purpose of this post was to highlight how Adam is the progenitor of the three-fold offices. Adam is a king in the garden who is given the role of ruling of God’s behalf. Like the priests in the Old Testament, Adam bears the glory of God, enters God’s presence, and keeps God’s Eden-Temple. Finally, like the prophets, Adam is entrusted with God’s Word to mediate it to the whole of creation. Of course, when Adam fails at these roles, we need a Second greater Adam who will not only redeem the offspring of the first Adam, but will take humanity to the end laid out for it at the beginning.
1. Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis, (Trans. John H. Marks; OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961) 60.
2. G.K. Beale Temple and the Church’s Mission (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 2004) 29–80.Michael Morales Who Shall Ascend to the Mountain of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity 2015) 39–74.
3. Beale, Temple, 67. See also Andrew Malone’s God’s Mediators: A Biblical Theology of Priesthood (Downer’s Grove, Ill: Intervarsity, 2017) 47–57 for a helpful discussion on Eden and whether or not Adam and Eve were priests in the garden.
4. Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview. (Overland Park, KS: Two Age Press, 2000) 87. Morales, Who Shall Ascend?, similarly concludes that the kingship of Adam serves the priestly office as Adam is to gather all creation to worship God (233).
5. Morales, Who Shall Ascend?, 52.