The Priest, King, Prophet Cycle

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Above: My last teaching trip to India

I’m a big proponent of the Priest, King, Prophet cycle taught by James B. Jordan. To put it simply, the ‘Priest’ stage can be viewed as a childhood stage; the ‘King’ stage is the adult stage; and the ‘Prophet’ stage is the elder stage.

We can see these stages throughout Jewish history (before Jesus) and throughout Church history. The cycle repeats itself over and over and will again. This theory is nothing to burn at the stake over, but it is interesting to see and use to plan for the future of missions and the Great Commission.

In Jewish history we can see the priestly stage from Moses to David; the kingly stage from David to Elijah; the prophetic stage from Elijah to John the Baptist.

The Western Church has been in the prophetic stage since the Reformation. The Western priestly stage can be seen as the first few hundred years or so of the Church, when the Church was learning how to be the Church. The kingly stage can be seen as Western Christendom, when the Church actually ruled.

The Asian Church, today, is in the priestly stage. The elders of the Western Church need to come and teach the young Christians and churches in the eastern world.

In the future we can expect to see the Asian Church grow to its kingly stage, and then its prophetic stage. Perhaps in the future, the Asian elders will lead the Church to the completion of the Great Commission worldwide. Or perhaps, we’ll see the cycle repeat with a different group of people.

Christendom is not a bad thing if the kings rule righteously. If the kings become corrupt, God will send prophets to shut them down. If the kings rule well, the prophets will come and give more power to them. We have not seen that happen yet in our history, before Jesus or after.

I believe the Great Commission will be completed (the discipling of all nations) and it will happen through the Priest, King, Prophet cycle.

Take Over the World for the Glory of God

babelRight at the beginning of creation, humanity received from God what could easily be called our first “Great Commission”.

God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
~Genesis 1:28 NASB

“Take over the world for the glory of God” is basically what we’re commanded to do.

Skip ahead to Babel and read what the people’s two reasons were for building the tower:

They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”
~Genesis 11:4 NASB

They wanted to make for themselves a name (above God’s name and for their own glory), and they did not want to be scattered abroad; which is exactly what they were commanded to do: “…fill the earth, and subdue it”.

So, God scattered them. God scattered them by using different languages to cause division.

Right after the Babel story we are introduced to Abram, later to be named Abraham, the father of many. Starting with Abraham, God enters into a covenant with the Hebrew people, and for many hundreds of years, deals only with these people.

Did the Church exist in the Old Testament, or was that some different dispensation? Absolutely the Church existed in the Old Testament. Israel was the Old Testament Church; they were also of the same ethnicity. All those who were saved in the Old Testament were saved by the person and work of Jesus Christ. The animal sacrifices and the temple were types and shadows.

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship.
~Hebrews 10:1 NLT

Now we can jump ahead to Pentecost.

At the beginning of the book of Acts, Jesus gives the Great Commission.

“…but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”
~Acts 1:8 NASB

And this is what happened when they were filled with the Holy Spirit:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language.
~Acts 2:1-6 NASB

The miracle of Pentecost was not that they spoke with other tongues. The miracle of Pentecost was that all the people present, from “every nation under heaven”, heard “the mighty deeds of God” (Acts 2:11) spoken to them in their own languages.

At Pentecost God used different languages to bring the people together.

At Pentecost God did the reverse of what He did at Babel.

Where as before God was only dealing with the Jewish people, now God was opening His arms to the gentiles as well.

The miracle of Pentecost was not that God was creating the Church in some new dispensation. The miracle of Pentecost was that God was taking the gentile nations and grafting them into the Church, which already existed as Israel, the true Israel.

Now reread the Great Commission as stated in Matthew:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
~Matthew 28:18-20 NASB

“Take over the world for the glory of God.”

The Three Part Great Commission

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We can assign three parts to the Great Commission.

1) Preach the Gospel as a witness to all the nations.

2) Make individual disciples in each nation.

3) Make whole nations disciples.

I think many christians would read #1 and stop there. I’ve had christians declare to me that the end is near because the gospel has been preached throughout the whole world, and Jesus said, “(T)his gospel…will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

I would argue against that reasoning, firstly and simply because, the Great Commission, as given to us in Matthew 28:18-20, does not say “go and preach the gospel as a witness to all nations.” It says to “go and make disciples of all nations.” There is a large difference between getting the gospel out there to be heard (a witness) and getting whole nations of people to conform their entire lives to it (discipleship).

Secondly, I would argue that, with the statement Jesus made in Matthew 24, He was not referring to the Great Commission, nor was He referring to the end of the world. Again, His wording did not imply the fullness of the Great Commission when He referred to the gospel as going out as a witness to all nations; that is part of the Great Commission, yes, but only the first part. Also, when Jesus used the word “world” in vs 14 (through the Holy Spirit inspired author), He used the Greek word oikoumené, which means “the portion of the earth inhabited by the Greeks, in distinction from the lands of the barbarians”; so arguably, He was referring to the Roman Empire only, not the entire planet 2000 years into the future.

The conversation in Matthew 24 between Jesus and the disciples was about the destruction of the temple, or more broadly, the end of the Judaic age, temple sacrifice, and the Mosaic priesthood. When Jesus said the gospel would go out to all the Roman Empire and then the end would come, I would argue that He was primarily thinking about all the Jews scattered throughout the empire at that time. Jesus wanted the Jews to hear the gospel before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. He wanted them to understand what was happening and why the temple was destroyed. It was destroyed because there was no longer any need for it and because judgment had come on the unbelieving Jews. The “end” which Jesus referred to is that destruction and judgement.

So, back to the Great Commission. Jesus said that all authority has been given to Him, and that is the reason we are to go out and make disciples of all nations. He did not say, “People are dying and going to hell, so go and preach to as many as possible and then I’ll come back”. Jesus is king, and we are to declare that fact to the world, and teach people how to serve the king. To do this, we have to do all three parts of the Great Commission. We can’t stop after #1 thinking we’ve finished the job. The bible does not teach that or allow it.