Episode 17: The Prophet
When religious leaders sent out from Jerusalem confront John the Baptizer with the question “Who are you?” John states emphatically that he is not the Christ, the Messiah. The leaders then ask him specifically whether he is Elijah or “the Prophet,” two other anticipated messengers from God. John gives negative answer to both questions.
The people Jesus fed in the region on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee remark, “This one truly is the Prophet, the one coming to the world.” (6:14) This one whom God will send, known only as “The Prophet,” is expected by the people in Judea and in Galilee.
In the Old Testament
In the book of Deuteronomy the instructions of the Lord are given once again, this time to the generation who will enter the land which God promised Abraham in Genesis. Among these instructions is a promise.
I will raise up a prophet from among their brothers,
one just like you; I will place my words in his mouth
so that he will speak to them whatever I command him
to speak; any person who does not obey whatever that
prophet speaks in my name, I will hold that one
accountable. (Deuteronomy 18:18-19)
This anticipation in the 1st Century that one day God would send a prophet like Moses forms one element in the expectations surrounding the return of God’s reign and independence from the Roman empire. Throughout the long history of Old Testament prophets, none had yet come who was recognized to be this promised prophet.
In the New Testament
The expectation for the prophet like Moses is reflected by several individuals in the Gospel of John and in Acts. After being found by Jesus and told to follow, Philip went and found Nathanael. “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the Law and the Prophets, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.” (1:45) After Peter and John heal the lame man who is sitting by the Temple gate called Beautiful in the name of Jesus, Peter speaks to the crowd. He describes a “period of restoration” which the Jewish people were awaiting. He indicates Jesus has begun this event and brings Moses’ words as his support. “The Lord our God will raise up a prophet for you from among your brothers just like me” (Acts 3:22). Later, Stephen, the deacon, is called before the religious leaders. In his account of Jesus' life, he recounts Moses’ life and deeds, including the promise of a Prophet whom God will raise up (Acts 7:37).
During the Festival of Booths that followed feeding the crowd mentioned earlier, Jesus stands up on the Temple grounds and invites those who are thirsty to come to him and have their thirst satisfied. This invitation echoes the opening to Isaiah 55 which calls the people to “Seek the Lord, while he may be found and call on him, while he is near to you.” (55:6) In response, one group wants to identify Jesus as “the Prophet.” Others call him the Messiah. A third group dismisses him because he doesn’t seem to fit the qualification of being from Bethlehem, since Jesus is identified as a Galilean. (John 7:37-42)
During this Festival, the Pharisees send some of their assistants to escort Jesus personally to where they are assembled. These men return without Jesus. Their response provides insight for why the crowd identified Jesus as the Prophet. “Never has anyone spoken like this man.” (7:47) These assistants, who have heard plenty of religious speech, have never heard anyone speak with the type of authority the words of Jesus held for them. In Deuteronomy it was said of The Prophet, “I will place my words in his mouth so that he will speak to them whatever I command him to speak;” and being familiar with the Scriptures, these assistants were also aware of what followed, “any person who does not obey whatever that prophet speaks in my name, I will hold that one accountable.” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19) After this report by their assistants, these religious leaders join with the third group by dismissing Jesus as the Prophet since he is from Galilee. (John 7:52)
After this incident, direct references to Jesus as “the Prophet” cease. However, since the Prophet was to speak whatever God commands him to speak, several other passages describe this element of Jesus’ words, mostly through negative comparisons.
The crowd asks Jesus, “Who are You?”, the same question John the Baptizer was asked (8:25, 1:19) In response, Jesus affirms all he has said “from the beginning” an echo of The Word at the Beginning with God.
I have many things to say and judge concerning you,
but the one who sent me is true, and whatever I have
heard from him I speak to the world. (8:26)
Following Jesus’ response, the gospel indicates that many believed him, or in the words of Deuteronomy 18:15, “they listened to him.” However, by the end of the confrontation, those listening to his words ask a question that indicates they no longer consider him “The Prophet.”
You are not greater than our father Abraham
or the prophets who all died, are you?
Who are you trying to be? (8:53)
In the discussion with the man born blind who now sees, the Pharisees reject Jesus’ status as “The Prophet” when they say,
“YOU are a follower of that man, WE are followers
of Moses; We know that God has spoken to Moses,
but we don’t even know where this man came
One qualifier for The Prophet’s statements is that they are fulfilled. Two brief descriptions in John 2 affirm this reality for the words of Jesus. Following the activity of Jesus to rid the Temple grounds of those conducting business, the disciples remembered a prophetic statement from Psalm 69 concerning Jesus’ enthusiasm for the Temple. (2:17) After the religious leaders confront Jesus and ask for a sign, the gospel records
Therefore when Jesus was raised from the dead
his disciples remembered that he had said these
things and they believed the holy writings and
the words that Jesus spoke. (2:22)
The words of Jesus are demonstrated to be accurate and not those of one merely presuming to be a prophet of God.
Although we are not as familiar in our century with the expectation for a Prophet like Moses, it is evident first century Judeans were. Many titles are ascribed to Jesus: Messiah, Prophet, King of Israel, Son of God. Our modern tendency is to reduce these to a single category. The reality is that Jesus encompassed all of them, and yet he was so much more than any single title could contain. Perhaps we should stop trying to categorize Jesus. Perhaps, we should be more willing to allow Jesus to exceed our expectations–or else be less surprised when he does so.
TAKE 5 MINUTES MORE
Much of our time is spent seeking to balance the various activities in our life. We spend countless energy working to compensate for an overuse of time in one area by devoting more time to the area we have neglected only to find ourselves at the other end of the pendulum swing. The same process occurs when we consider full humanity and full deity of Jesus. Our thoughts toward Jesus move back and forth between his divinity and humanity. We often seek to avoid the complexity of Jesus’ identity and oversimplify our characterization of him.
When it comes to various portrayals of Jesus, we frequently place the large, inked stamp stating “GOD” or “MESSIAH” on the description rather than learning from the other descriptions provided throughout the Bible: Prophet, Teacher, Wonder Worker, King of Israel.
• What “go to” title do you prefer to assign to Jesus?
• How does the human preference for oversimplification prevent you from understanding the overwhelming excellence of Jesus?
Take a moment to write down your response(s) to these two questions. Share this idea with a friend in your discussion this week.