Jesus as Prophet

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When our Lord came to earth all those Christmases ago, He came with a mission: to redeem all mankind. But He came not just as the Son of God and the Son of Man; He came in a three-fold capacity: Prophet, Priest and King. Over the course of the next three posts, we’ll take a look at Jesus in each of those capacities.

By way of a general introduction, the idea of Jesus as prophet surprises people. They don’t think of Him in that way. And yet, if you think about it, Jesus Christ is the perfect prophet. The Israelites anointed their prophets with oil as a way of showing that the Spirit of God rested on them. Jesus Christ is known as “the anointed One,” in whom the Holy Spirit dwelt. And He Himself claimed to be a prophet:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18, 19 TNIV)

That’s Jesus, reading the words of another prophet, Isaiah, and applying them to Himself. By definition, a Biblical prophet is a messenger sent by God, who speaks for God. He calls people to conversion, and may also foretell the future. Prophets often are killed for their message.

Jesus fits this description perfectly. He is the Word of God in the flesh. He called the world to turn from sin and return to the Father and was put to death for it. In Scripture Jesus is presented as a prophet. Crowds identified him as “Jesus the prophet” (Matthew 21:11). He spoke of himself as a prophet: “No prophet is accepted in his own native place” (Luke 4:24). He foretold his passion and resurrection.

A priest is a mediator who acts as a bridge between God and man. He offers sacrifices to God on behalf of all the people he represents. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the Jewish high priest went into the Holy of Holies in the Temple and there he offered sacrifice to God to make up for his sins and the sins of the people.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews compared Jesus to Melchizedek, the mysterious priest in the Old Testament who blessed Abraham. Jesus is the greatest high priest. Because he is both divine and human, Jesus is the perfect mediator. He is not only the perfect priest, holy and sinless, but the perfect sacrifice. The sacrifice of Jesus need never be made again.

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:12 TNIV)

Jesus continues his role as priest to this very day.

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. (Hebrews 7:25 TNIV)

A king is one who has supreme authority over a territory. When the Jewish people were ruled by kings, they became a nation. But since the destruction of Jerusalem, they have been looking for a Messiah to come, who would again make them great.

In all four Gospels, Jesus is referred to as a King. Gabriel announced to Mary that the Lord God would give her Son the throne of David his father, and He would rule over the house of Jacob forever. The Magi looked for a newborn king of the Jews. When Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time, crowds hailed him as a king. He was arrested for claiming to be a king, and the soldiers mocked him as one. When Pilate asked if he were king of the Jews, Jesus replied, “You say so,” and he clarified, “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36). The charge written against Jesus was “Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Jesus announced the kingdom of God. His mission was to have God reign in the hearts of all and to have peace and justice in the world.

A prophet like Moses

In the book of Deuteronomy, we read Moses’ farewell speech. His time was almost up as leader of Israel, and like many “last words,” this great leader wanted to repeat what he thought was important for his people to remember.

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your own people. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.” The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their people, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. (Deuteronomy 18:15 – 19 TNIV)

The people of God needed to know that God wouldn’t be abandoning them just because Moses was dying. Moses would soon depart this world, but God would see to it that there would be a continuation of His divine Word being revealed to Israel. The promise of this “replacement prophet” comes right after this:

The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the Lord your God has not permitted you to do so. (Deuteronomy 18:14 TNIV)

God knows people, that’s for sure. He knows man’s need to know more than he should. And He knows how easily His people get distracted by the shiny objects of sorcery and divination. It’s no different today; Christians are notoriously dull witted when it comes to recognizing false teaching. God’s people – us too – also need to be led. The way in which the Lord would lead His people would be through His servants, the prophets. Just as Moses was the divine intermediary at Mount Horeb, so he would be replaced by others who would fulfill the same role.

And God’s people needed to listen and pay attention to these men because unlike those practitioners of sorcery and divination, God’s prophets would speak only the truth. That’s the essential reason for this admonition. But there is a secondary reason. God’s people were being prepared to accept and listen to His final messenger, Jesus Christ. Until He came, though, Israel was treated to long parade of prophets. You know some of them – Isaiah, Jeremiah, Samuel, Nathan, Amos – but there were many others, whose names we don’t know. Some were charlatans. But many were truly great men of God. Still, we have these verses to contend when, and it’s not an unimportant one:

Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (Deuteronomy 34:10 – 12 TNIV)

Outstanding prophets came and went. They preached the Word of the Lord honestly and sincerely. But not one – not a single one of them – knew the Lord as intimately as Moses. From the time of Moses’ death to the end of the Old Testament, the people of God heard the truth from outstanding men, but they repeatedly looked for that one special prophet from God. The one like Moses, yet more than Moses. This quest for the “perfect prophet” explains this exchange in John’s Gospel:

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” (John 1:19 – 21 TNIV)

Say what you want about the lukewarmness of the average Jew of Jesus’ day, they were at least looking for the fulfillment of a promise made to Moses in generations past. They never gave up on the Word of the Lord to him.

Jesus: the last prophet

It’s funny, and not a little sad, that these people who sought after and longed for God’s prophets should miss Him altogether. But that’s human nature. We always miss the forest for the trees. Jesus was the ultimate prophet. His exaltation – from the resurrection to the Second Coming – is foreshadowed in the events of Luke 9, in an event we call the Transfiguration:

As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.) While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” (Luke 9:29 – 35 TNIV)

Jesus took Peter, James, and John up into secluded spot on a mountain to pray. While He prayed, the “appearance” of our Lord’s face changed. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ face shone with the brightness of the sun. Mark’s description is a little homey:

His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. (Mark 9:3 TNIV)

We aren’t told how or why this metamorphosis took place. We can only surmise that it was for the benefit of the three disciples who accompanied Jesus to pray. They needed to see this – they needed to see a glimpse of Jesus the way He really was. The transfiguration didn’t prove the deity of Jesus, but rather His humanity. Our Lord came to earth – “veiled in flesh the Godhead see,” says the Christmas carol. But the fact is, the transfiguration is the goal of mankind. When Peter, James, and John saw the transfiguration of Jesus, they were seeing what will take place the day we are translated.

For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17 TNIV)

Two men who appeared with Jesus were themselves prophets: Moses and Elijah. Why those two? God was making a connection between Jesus, His last prophet, to Moses and Elijah, the greatest prophets of the previous dispensation. Moses represented the old way of the Law, and Elijah represented the passing parade of prophets that came after Moses. Who knew what they spoke about that day. We’d love to know. Perhaps they spoke about the glory of what Jesus was about to go through in God the Father’s great plan of redemption. They may have spoken about the Gospel – the Good News. Paul understood the connection between Moses, Elijah, and Jesus:

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. (Romans 3:21 TNIV)

The Law and the prophets revealed that the ONLY way of salvation is through a righteousness we lay hold of through our faith in the work of Jesus. Jesus Christ came to proclaim God’s Word; He came to replace Moses and Elijah, and all the other prophets. They had their place, but He is the final, perfect prophet.

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