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Sunday, January 23, 2011

If There Is A Prophet




Is Jesus a prophet? Is Jesus the prophet? Those are questions not often asked. The answer is one many people assume as yes, but this is not a determination based on understanding. This answer from non Christian theists is of no concern. However, when brothers and sisters in the faith that is in Christ Jesus reply in a similar manner it is cause for concern. The effect of these misplaced claims on the church  is evident. It reveals an erosion of confidence and boldness in her proclamation of the faith in accordance with the scriptures. The claims and fulfillment of Jesus’ words stand as radically different from anything in history. So, why do some Christians claim Jesus as a prophet? the prophet? or another prophet like so many others?

How do we determine who is a prophet? How do we determine if Jesus is a prophet or the prophet? It is God who determines that for us. The account in Numbers 12 is vital to the first question: Was Jesus a prophet?

"If her father had put spit in her face would she not bear her shame for seven days?"

This statement shows the anger of God towards Miriam and Aaron when He struck her with leprosy. These are God's words to Moses and Aaron. These words are no less harder than what incurred the judgment of God: Miriam and Aaron had spoken against Moses, the servant of God. They pleaded with Him to heal Miriam. God would not relent. The matter of Miriam being the target of his anger is not the focus of this article. What is significant in the Numbers 12 passage is that Miriam and Aaron were not afraid to speak against Moses. Subsequently, God revealed to them how He communicates with a prophet and that God regarded Moses as something other than a prophet with whom He communicated his words mouth to mouth and not as a prophet. First, lets look briefly at prophets and some ancient tactics from Numbers 12.

The prophets of old

The Old Testament scriptures are the best source to determine whether messenger and message were from God. Some prophets such as Jonah who preached to Ninevah, were sent by God to those who were not his people. They did not necessarily like the message. Rather than being accepted or embraced they were rejected, persecuted and killed.

There were also imposter prophets. False prophets mimicked the prophets and prefaced their false message with, Thus saith the Lord. False prophets were a frustration to Jeremiah. They followed Jeremiah's delivery of his prophetic messages to Israel with their own false message. God made it clear to Jeremiah those were not his prophets (Jeremiah 23). He did not send them. Sometimes those who presumed themselves prophets did so with some help. People declared and accepted messengers as prophets of God simply because they loved, as Jeremiah records, their smooth words.

Ancient tactics

Two tactics common in discussions regarding prophets are diminishment and association. For example, the belief statement god is everything and god is everywhere is an example of diminishment. It says a lot as much as it says nothing. It does nothing to direct the seeker towards God. It tells the seeker God, the Transcendent Creator is as much in him or next to him as he is in the form of the stick or the rock he just kicked down the road. There is no focus on God. Diminishment makes no distinction between Creator and creation or the living from the lifeless and inanimate for the seeker. Similarly, there is no attempt to define and qualify a prophet because diminishment tactics have no source of authority beyond the individual who makes the claims.

The phrase, All the prophets including Moses, Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha is an example of association. Without commenting on the veracity or applicability of the term prophet to Moses, Mohammed or Buddha it is the application of this term to Jesus which raises questions. Christians often accept the association application of prophet to Jesus by other Christians as readily as from people of other beliefs outside of the Judeo-Christian biblical tradition. This tactic of association has the unwitting (by Christians, at least) effect of casting Jesus in a role neither He nor the apostles ever claimed. However, well-intentioned this association by Christians and non Christians to honor and present Jesus in the tradition and succession of prophets from Noah to Abraham to Moses, Isaiah and Jeremiah it is a diminishment of Jesus. It produces the desired result for those who wish to elevate their prophet with one perceived and regarded (like Jesus) as a prophet through a Christian interpretation of scripture primarily. The intended purpose of this tactic is simple: Association of one's prophet with one regarded and renowned as a great prophet makes one's prophet great by association.

These ancient tactics date back to Miriam and Aaron's murmur against Moses.
They diminished the relationship and failed to see a distinction
between themselves and God and God and Moses and
simultaneously exalted themselves because of their association with
Moses.

These tactics continue to be used today. They muddle and distort what constitutes a prophet and confuse Christians who desire to be confident in sharing their faith with conviction and understanding..

The Deuteronomy 18 pronouncement

How is it Christians come to declare Jesus as A prophet: The oneness of God on the basis of Deuteronomy 18? The passage is also a proof text for other theists outside the Judeo-Christian tradition who hold little regard for the Old Testament scriptures to support their own claims concerning their prophet. While a Christian view of Jesus as prophet may not be a gross mishandling of scripture or the endangerment of the Christian's salvation it merits more than merely navigating around these negative and dangerous realities. It is just as important Christians build their confidence and joy in the greater glory of Jesus, not as another prophet or a special prophet, but as Lord and Savior. He is so much more radical, bold and immensely different than any other single individual in the history of the world.

After the Levitical priesthood was established of those who ministered before the Lord and led Israel in their sacrifice to God, one need  remained to be filled:  Someone to take up as a spokesman of God like Moses in Israel. This is the background context for the pronouncement to Israel through Moses that God would raise up a prophet like Moses.

1.     The prophet was to be from among their brethren, an Israelite. A contrast to the sorcerers and the people who listened to them in the land Israel was about to conquer.
2.     The prophet was to speak as God gave him the message. He was not to conjure up a message of his own like the diviners of the land.
3.     The prophet was to be obeyed no less than Moses.
4.     The test the people were to apply to anyone who professed himself a prophet of God was whether his words came to pass.

This Deuteronomy 18 singular noun reference term of prophet holds equally true for every Old Testament prophet. All were Israelites, they spoke what God said, they expected obedience not for themselves, but for their message as being from God. Their words came to pass invariably. Yes, these same particulars concerning prophets hold true of Jesus just as well. However, this truth does not establish or prove Jesus was a prophet in the general sense or the prophet in the specific sense.

The perception of prophet in the New Testament

The only indirect reference by Jesus of himself as a prophet in Matthew 13:57 reflects the popular perception concerning prophets in Israel. Jesus found an affinity with the prophets who were rejected in their own hometown and household, were persecuted and killed by Israel.

The people answered their own perceptions Who is this saying This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee. (Matthew 21:11) The chief priests and Pharisees held Jesus to be a/the prophet (John 6:14) on the basis of either/and/or Deuteronomy 18 and Malachi 4. The Samaritan woman (John 4) stated to Jesus that she perceived him to be a prophet.

John answered the people's questions clearly and without hesitation that he was not the prophet. This question suggests the people (and their leaders) believed in expectations of a (singular) prophet who was to come. John's response suggests he himself may possibly have held a similar belief. This inquiry by Israel may be per their understanding of Deuteronomy 18 or, as regards John, their imminent expectant fulfillment of the words of the prophet Malachi. Jesus applied his interpretation of the Malachi prophecy to John.  John saw himself as a fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy yet it does not seem he saw himself as the fulfillment of the Malachi 4 prophecy.

4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Yahweh comes.
4:6 He will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse.”

Jesus' testimony of John was that John was more than a prophet. John's mission was short, but immensely important: To make ready the way of the Lord, make his ways straight.

But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and much more than a prophet.  For this is he, of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’*  Most certainly I tell you, among those who are born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptizer; yet he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.   From the days of John the Baptizer until now, the Kingdom of Heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. If you are willing to receive it, this is Elijah, who is to come.   Matthew 11:9-14

The explanation of the scriptures by Jesus

Jesus, with masterful brevity, distinguished himself apart from the prophets to the men on the road to Emmaus.

He said to them, “Foolish men, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Didn’t the Christ have to suffer these things and to enter into his glory?” Beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he explained to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.  Luke 24:25-27

The NT interpretation and application of the Deuteronomy 18

The proclamations by the apostle Peter in Acts 3:19-26 and Stephen in Acts 7:35-39, 51-53 are the only two instances where the Deuteronomy 18 passage is quoted in the New Testament. The passage quotations are framed within references in the plural form to the prophets. Peter marks the beginning of this succession of prophets with Samuel and those who followed after.

If Peter's preaching was informative Stephen's preaching is accusative. Stephen is as unrelenting as was God towards Miriam's murmur against Moses. Stephen put the same guiltiness of refusal, disobedience and rejection of the people towards Moses on his own audience. Stephen's fate, like that of the prophets, was sealed. His audience killed him.

3:19 “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, so that there may come times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, 3:20 and that he may send Christ Jesus, who was ordained for you before, 3:21 whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God spoke long ago by the mouth of his holy prophets. 3:22 For Moses indeed said to the fathers, ‘The Lord God will raise up a prophet for you from among your brothers, like me. You shall listen to him in all things whatever he says to you. 3:23 It will be, that every soul that will not listen to that prophet will be utterly destroyed from among the people.’* 3:24 Yes, and all the prophets from Samuel and those who followed after, as many as have spoken, they also told of these days. 3:25 You are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘In your seed will all the families of the earth be blessed.’* 3:26 God, having raised up his servant, Jesus, sent him to you first, to bless you, in turning away everyone of you from your wickedness.”


 7:35 “This Moses, whom they refused, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—God has sent him as both a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. 7:36 This man led them out, having worked wonders and signs in Egypt, in the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. 7:37 This is that Moses, who said to the children of Israel, ‘The Lord our God will raise up a prophet for you from among your brothers, like me.** 7:38 This is he who was in the assembly in the wilderness with the angel that spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, who received living oracles to give to us, 7:39 to whom our fathers wouldn’t be obedient, but rejected him, and turned back in their hearts to Egypt,

7:51 “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit! As your fathers did, so you do. 7:52 Which of the prophets didn’t your fathers persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, of whom you have now become betrayers and murderers. 7:53 You received the law as it was ordained by angels, and didn’t keep it!”


Peter and Stephen interpret and apply the singular noun prophet in their preaching to the succession of prophets. Both men focus, interpret and apply a second word to Jesus. It is the verb raise. The sense of the primary verb "raise" used in the passage would likely and could properly be understood as in raising a child, for example Hannah raising up her son Samuel to dedicate him to the Lord. However, Peter and Stephen relate a secondary use of the verb raise to the resurrection of Jesus.

The Acts passages represent the Bible response to the question: Is Jesus the prophet of Deuteronomy 18?

Note: The apostle Paul teaching in the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia made a similar interpretation and application of the Old Testament prophecy of Psalm 2 (Acts 13:26-34) between the words begotten and raised. Those who reject the deity of Jesus cite Psalm 2 focus on the term begotten as proof Jesus was created. However, the apostle Paul through inspiration of the Holy Spirit declares God fulfilled his promise concerning his begotten Son when he raised up Jesus from the dead.

Having examined the Deuteronomy 18 passage in the light of Acts 3 and 7 and glanced briefly at certain ancient tactics in Numbers 12 lets examine what God said to Miriam and Aaron as to how he communicates with a prophet.

Numbers 12: The definition of a prophet

He said, “Hear now my words. If there is a prophet among you, I Yahweh will make myself known to him in a vision. I will speak with him in a dream. 12:7My servant Moses is not so. He is faithful in all my house. 12:8 With him I will speak mouth to mouth, even plainly, and not in riddles; and he shall see Yahweh’s form. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant, against Moses?”

God defined in the Numbers 12 passage to Miriam and Aaron that visions and dreams is the way he communicates with his prophets. This is not the way God communicated with his servant Moses. This is equally true of Jesus:

There were no visions and dreams for Jesus.
Equality between Father and Son precluded the need
for visions and dreams.

Christians as more than prophets

We are, as Jesus said of John, more than prophets. Like Jesus and the prophets we know the treatment faithful prophets can expect from the world. Yet, like Jesus, we are not prophets. We do not receive visions and dreams, but whatever we declare as is written in the God-inspired scriptures will come to pass. It is vital for the church that the saints in Christ understand the Deuteronomy 18 passage as it pertains to the succession of prophets. The scriptures, Numbers 12 and Acts 3 and 7, specifically, represent an explanation, interpretation and application of the Deuteronomy 18 passage concerning prophets both in the singular and the plural sense. The testimony of Jesus concerning the prophets was to exalt their work and to identify with their suffering, persecution and death. Well-intentioned application of this passage to Jesus as tolerance gestures in interfaith discussions is a misplaced acquiescence. It reveals an erosion of Christian confidence and boldness to proclaim Jesus as Lord and Savior.

The early church (see I Corinthians 14:29,30) was fully dependent for her message and guidance from men and women who had received the gift of prophecy through the Holy Spirit. We have the full, written revelation of God as declared by the prophets, Jesus and apostles for our obedience. It is not for us to choose either a perceived hard message such as No one comes to the Father, except through me or soft message such as Love one another. Teach and preach, being not ashamed, the full counsel of God. We, like the prophets, are sent by the Living God to proclaim the gospel of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. This is our confidence and our boldness in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

Numbers 12 reveals God communicated with his prophets through visions and dreams. It was a succession of prophets God raised up, per Deuteronomy 18, to speak to Israel on behalf of God after the death of Moses. This succession of prophets began with Samuel.  The Deuteronomy 18 passage is interpretated and applied by the apostle Peter and Stephen to the prophets, not a singular prophet.

Jesus did not receive communication from the Father through visions and dreams. The equality between Father and Son meant the Son had complete knowledge of the will of the Father. He had no need for the Father to communicate with him through visions and dreams or any other means. Christians rejoice, not in Jesus as a prophet or any other prophet, but in Jesus as Lord and Savior risen from the dead.

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