An adequate presentation of the gospel must reveal Christ in all His fullness as Sacrifice, Power-giver, and Coming King. Theologians and preachers must emphasize equally the blood of Christ, the transforming power of Christ, and the coming kingship of Christ.
I. Christ's Three Ministries
Our Lord's three ministries are His earthly ministry, His heavenly ministry, and His new earthly ministry. Our Saviour had an earthly ministry in the past; He has a heavenly ministry at the present; He will have a new earthly ministry in the future.
1. Work of Christ's Earthly Ministry. The outstanding work Christ performed during His earthly ministry is that He provided the basis for salvation through His perfect obedience, His sacrificial death, and His glorious resurrection. Christ's earthly ministry makes possible His heavenly and new earthly ministries. Jesus could not save men from the power of sin and the presence of sin until He had made it possible for them to be saved from the penalty of sin.
2. Work of His Heavenly Ministry. Through His heavenly ministry, our Lord makes possible the application of salvation. The application of salvation is made possible by means of His power and presence, the Holy Spirit, through which He dwells within the believer. Through His power, Christ transforms the trustful, surrendered, obedient believer into His moral likeness. This is the work Christ is performing today during His heavenly ministry.
God plans for every believer to be conformed to the image of His Son. God intends for new creatures in Christ Jesus to be moral reflections of His Son, who is the Beginning of the new creation. Through resurrection to immortality, believers will share in Christ's physical likeness. Through transformation of character and reformation of conduct today, they share in His moral likeness. Man's character change must precede his physical change. One must have a Christlike mind before he can have a Christlike body. One must partake of the benefits of Christ's earthly ministry (His sacrifice) and heavenly ministry (His indwelling power) before he can partake of the benefits of His new earthly ministry (resurrection to immortality and glory).
3. Work of His New Earthly Ministry. In His new earthly ministry, Christ will make possible the consummation of salvation in the lives of glorified saints. When Jesus returns, He will transform the believer's body from mortality to immortality. The true Church will be completed, assembled, and glorified with Christ. Our planet will experience a redemptive transformation. The earth will be restored to its original Edenic purity and will become the eternal paradise of God.
II. Three Pictures of Christ
The three ministries of Christ present three pictures of our glorious Lord. In His earthly ministry, He was the suffering Sacrifice; in His heavenly ministry, He is Intercessor and transforming Lord; in His new earthly ministry, He will be the King of kings, reigning on His throne of glory. In His earthly ministry, we see Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, on the cross and beside the empty tomb. In His heavenly ministry, we see a picture of Jesus at God's right hand. In His new earthly ministry, we see the King on His throne.
1. Three Appearings. The threefold ministry of Christ is described in Hebrews 9 by the threefold occurrence of the word "appear." Hebrews 9:26 refers to His earthly ministry: "Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." Hebrews 9:24 describes His heavenly ministry: "Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us." Hebrews 9:28 refers to His new earthly ministry: "Unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation." Christ's first appearing was as a sacrifice for sin. His second appearing is in heaven in the presence of God as Advocate and Intercessor. His third appearing will be His second coming, when He returns to earth.
2. Three Shepherds. The threefold ministry of Christ is pictured in the New Testament by three adjectives which describe Him as Shepherd.
Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10:11). In His earthly ministry, He showed Himself as the Good Shepherd when He gave Himself in sacrificial death for His sheep.
The benediction recorded in Hebrews 13:20, 21 presents Jesus as the Great Shepherd in His heavenly ministry today: "Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." The risen Christ is the Great Shepherd who, through His Spirit, works in the lives of believers. He transforms them into His likeness and produces in their lives that which is well pleasing in God's sight. Notice that Christ's work as Good Shepherd was external to the Christian. He did something for the Christian. His work as Great Shepherd, on the other hand, is internal within the Christian. Today, He does something in the Christian. As Good Shepherd, Jesus created the proper legal relationship between the believer and God; as Great Shepherd, He makes possible the proper vital relationship. Through Him, Christians have a living contact with God.
In His future new earthly ministry, Jesus is described as Chief Shepherd. "When the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away" (1 Pet. 5:4).
III. Threefold Salvation
The gospel of salvation, centered in the person and work of Christ, can readily be designated "The Threefold Gospel." The sinner's salvation is dependent upon Christ's work in His three ministries. The threefold ministry of Christ results in the threefold salvation of the believer. In Christian experience, there is a past salvation, which is an accomplished fact; there is a present salvation, which is a progressive process; and there is a future salvation, which is a promised hope. Therefore, the believer can truthfully say, "I have been saved, I am being saved, and I shall be saved."
1. Salvation From Penalty of Sin. Through His sacrificial death, Jesus has saved us from the penalty of sin. He paid the wages of sin for us. He removed our guilt and condemnation. When the sinner accepts the sacrifice of Christ through conversion, he is saved from the penalty of sin. He has therefore now no condemnation (Rom. 8:1); he is justified before God.
2. Salvation From Power of Sin. When Christ dwells in our lives through His power, He progressively saves us from the power of sin. The power of sin is the influence that sin and a sinful habit exert upon the sinner. The power of Christ counterbalances the power of self, the carnal mind. By walking in the Spirit, the believer does not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). Only the power of Christ can liberate from the power of sin. As one surrenders himself to Christ's transforming power and lives in trustful obedience to Him as Lord, he is progressively saved from the power of sin.
3. Salvation From Presence of Sin. The presence of sin is the evidence of sin in one's environment. When Christ returns to earth and begins His new earthly ministry, He will save us from the presence of sin. All evidence of sin eventually will be removed; sinners will be destroyed. He will transform our environment, this planet, so that "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea."
IV. Threefold Relationships
The earthly ministry of Christ was characterized by what He did for us. Christ died for sinners. The heavenly ministry of Christ is indicated by what He does in us. Christ dwells in believers through His transforming power. The new earthly ministry of Christ will be characterized by what He will do to us and with us. Christ will change believers' bodies and make glorified saints joint-heirs with Him.
What Christ did for us in His crucifixion and resurrection is external to us. What He is doing in us through His transforming power is internal within us. What Christ is going to do to us and with us in God's glorious tomorrow will be eternal for us.
The work of Christ's earthly ministry makes possible our change of standing before God, our justification. The work of Christ's heavenly ministry makes possible transformation of our character and reformation of our conduct. The work of Christ's new earthly ministry will result in the redemption of our bodies from mortality to immortality. His three ministries can be summarized by the words: justification, transformation, and glorification.
When the believer accepts the benefits of Christ's earthly ministry through repentance, faith, and baptism, he enters into Christ. (Gal. 3:27.) He is in Christ; he has a new standing before God. When he enters into the benefits of Christ's heavenly ministry and permits Christ to transform his life, Christ is in the believer. When the believer takes part in the results of Christ's new earthly ministry through resurrection to immortality, he will be with Christ.
Christ, the sacrificed Lamb, brings peace with God. "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom. 5:1). Christ, the indwelling Lord, gives the peace of God, a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22; Phil. 4:7). Peace with God refers to a divine-human relationship in which all enmity is removed. Peace of God refers to inner calm and poise. Christ, the coming King, will bring peace among nations. (Micah 4:3.)
(Adapted from Systematic Theology, by Alva Huffer, published by Church of God General Conference, Oregon, Illinois 61061, U.S.A.)
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