Now when Jesus came into the parts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?”
And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:13-14).
Prophets played a critical role in Jewish life and religion. Moses spoke with God “face to face” and provided instruction (the Law, torah) to (Exodus 31:18, 33:11); Samuel judged Israel as God directed him (1 Samuel 3:1-8:22); when Israel served other gods, God raised up Elijah to show His power (1 Kings 17:1-2 Kings 2:11). The writing prophets proclaimed God’s warnings in word, deed, and through visions.
Prophets were not walking horoscopes; they were not like Nostradamus. They instead declare YHWH’s message to Israel, generally telling Israel to stop sinning or else (e.g. 2 Kings 17:13). Prophets speak of the “latter days” to show God’s love and faithfulness to Israel despite their sin and to prepare them for the future.
God does nothing without first revealing it to the prophets (Amos 3:7): one such prediction involved a prophet like Moses coming to Israel (Deuteronomy 18:15-19). Thus Jesus was supposed to be a prophet and His prophecies are important.
Jesus deliberately styles Himself after the prophets of old and then goes beyond them (Matthew 5:17-18). Moses delivered God’s Law to Israel; Jesus proclaims the Gospel of the Kingdom by His own authority (Exodus 20:1-Deuteronomy 33:29, Matthew 4:17, 23, 5:3-7:29). In Moses’ day, God fed Israel with manna; Jesus miraculously feeds thousands, calling Himself the Bread of Life (Exodus 16:1-36, Matthew 14:13-21, 15:32-39, John 6:1-69). Elijah and Elisha raise the dead sons of widows and perform other signs; Jesus raises the son of the widow of Nain, casts out demons, heals the sick, and gives sight to the blind (1 Kings 17:1-2 Kings 7:20, Matthew 4:23-25, 11:4, Luke 7:11-17, John 9:1-41). Jesus styles His teaching, both in form and in substance, in terms of the “writing” prophets (Matthew 21:33-46, 23:1-36, 24:1-36). It’s not surprising to see the Jewish people considering Jesus as a prophet like Elijah or Jeremiah (Matthew 16:13-14)!
Jesus’ teachings remain critical. The prophets had spoken of the coming Messiah, His Kingdom, and a new covenant; how that King would rule and that covenant would work was not made clear. Jesus, as the prophet like Moses, fulfilled all of what had been said in the past while pointing to the way forward: Moses might have seen God as face to face, but Jesus is God in the flesh, the embodiment of God’s character (Deuteronomy 34:10-12, Matthew 4:23-25, 11:27, John 1:1-18).
In Jesus and His Kingdom, YHWH not only fulfills all He promised to Israel, but also fulfills all He promised to the Patriarchs, all the way back to Adam. The Israel of God would now be centered around Jesus and His Kingdom, in which God would continue t work with His people (John 6:22-71, Acts 2:14-36, 3:17-26, Romans 8:9-25).
Jesus prophesies what God purposed in Him: He would live, die, rise from the dead, ascend, reign as Lord in heaven until the day of His return, and judge the world so that all may reach their eternal destinies (Matthew 16:21-22, 24:37-25:46, John 14:1-16:33). Likewise, Jesus also proclaims God’s judgment on Israel for rejecting their Messiah: those whom they hate will come and destroy their holy city and Temple as Daniel was told (Daniel 9:24-27, Matthew 24:1-36 / Mark 13:1-23 / Luke 21:5-28, Luke 19:41-44).
When the Romans destroyed Jerusalem 40 years later, Jesus was proven right. No other prophet claimed to speak about this; Biblical Pharisees, later styled rabbis, established what would become modern Judaism by attempting to re-apply the message of the prophets from the first exile to the “second” one. Yet 1,950 years have passed and there still is no temple in Jerusalem; all that time it has been impossible to observe the Law of Moses as written. Could there be a more powerful declaration of how God has made Jesus’ predictions stand and has re-centered Israel around Him and the covenant and Kingdom established in His blood?
Therefore, through Jesus the Prophet God has made known what He was doing, is doing, and will do in His Kingdom.
Many in Christianity say or feel that “Jesus was born to die.” Jesus did die for our sins, and this was expected from the beginning (John 1:29), but Scripture never says Jesus was born to die, and for good reason: Jesus’ life and ministry are just as important as His death. What Jesus said during His life paved the way for salvation in His death and resurrection; God would not be true to Himself if He did not reveal His plan through His prophet (Amos 3:7).
In Revelation 1:12-18 Jesus appears to John as the Son of God and the Son of Man, but He does so to prophesy, to declare in visions what is and what will be, from Jesus’ victory over the pagan Roman authorities to a beautiful picture of life in the resurrection after the final day (Revelation 4:1-22:6). Jesus is not “just” a prophet, but Jesus must be a prophet, the most important of all time, so we may know how God fulfills all His purposes in and through Him. Let us serve Jesus as Lord, the Son of God and Son of Man, and live according to all He taught!
Ethan R. Longhenry