The largest Old Testament passage on the coming Messiah in the role of a prophet is Deuteronomy 18:15-19. There God promised, through Moses, that he would raise up a prophet from among the Jewish people who would be like Moses. This declaration led many to inquire who this prophet like Moses would be. Many Jewish commentators answered that it was Joshua, the son of Nun. Joshua was indeed a man full of wisdom, but Deuteronomy 34:9-12, almost as if it had anticipated this identification of Joshua with that prophet who was to arise and be like Moses, effectively closed the door on that equation by saying, "Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him But no prophet arose in Israel like unto Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face For no one had ever known the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel" (author's translation).
When Jesus began to perform his miracles, the crowds of that first Christian century exclaimed, "Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world" ( John 6:14 ). The Samaritan woman recognized Jesus as the Messiah and the Prophet who would come ( John 4:19 John 4:25 ). This identification is also in accord with what Jesus told the Pharisees in John 5:46-47: "If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?" Of all the places that Jesus could have been referring to in Moses' writings, none would be a more obvious candidate for a messianic reference than Deuteronomy 18:15-19, where the Messiah would function as the prophetic teacher. Other New Testament passages where Jesus is recognized as a "Prophet" include Mark 6:15; Luke 7:16; 24:19 [parallel to Matt 21:11]; John 7:40; 9:17.
The characteristics of the prophet that Moses announced in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 are: (1) that he would be an Israelite; (2) that he would be like Moses; and (3) that he would be authorized to declare the word of God with authority. The key interpretive crux, however, is whether the term nabi [ayib"n], "prophet, " is a collective singular or a simple singular. Does it refer to the institution of the prophetic order, or to an individual prophet? Jewish and most recent commentators regard the term "prophet" in Deuteronomy 18:15-19 as a collective and generic term. This, of course, must be admitted, for the context of Deuteronomy 17-18 speaks of classes or groups of leaders such as the priests and Levites. However, most of the previous Old Testament messianic prophecies are generic and collective in nature. And the context definitely favors an individual prophet in that the prophet is not only represented as coming out of Israel, but is compared to the individual Moses. Presumably, therefore, he too will be an individual. Therefore, this passage at once provides for a whole order, or institution of prophets, while it incorporates within that same seminal thought the provision for one who would be the representative of all of prophets par excellence. However, unlike the institution of the priesthood, which was transmitted to each successor through the Aaronic family within the tribe of Levi, the prophetic office of Moses was not transmitted to its successors. That prophet would need to be directly summoned by Yahweh. Thus, in accordance with the general prophetic principle, the divine instruction given to Moses was left incomplete by him until it could be completed by a prophet greater than himself in the messianic era.
Within the term "prophet, " three different functions are embraced, all of which were exercised by Moses. The first is teacher ( Deut 4:5 ; 31:22 ; 2 Kings 4:22-23 ). A prophet was charged with more than merely delivering the oracles of God to the people; he was to teach them how to live and how to bring their lives into conformity with that revelation. He taught the people in "parables" and uttered "hidden things, things from of old" ( Psalm 78:2 ). Matthew concluded that this prediction was fulfilled after he recorded that long chapter of the parables of Jesus ( Matt 13:35 ). On Jesus rested "The Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord" ( Isa 11:1-2 ). Thus he would "teach us [God's] ways, so that we may walk in his paths" ( Isa 2:3b ). Even Jesus' enemies complimented him, even if it might have been somewhat sarcastic ( Mark 12:14 ): "Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth." Jesus, like Moses, gave the law once again as he proclaimed the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). The words Jesus spoke were spirit and life ( John 6:63 ), to instruct all in the way that everyone should go.
The second function of a prophet was that of foretelling the future. Christ's predictions bear a striking similarity to Moses' predictions, for both spoke of Israel's dispersion, her spiritual apostasy, and the dreadful calamities that were to come on her during the time that she became subservient to the Gentiles (cf. Deut. 28-29 and Deut 31:19-21 ; with Matt 21:28-45 ; 23:37-39 ; 24:4-31 ).
We need only look at one prediction to illustrate the credibility of Jesus as a prophet whose word came to pass: the destruction of the temple. In Matthew 24:2, Jesus predicted that the temple would be destroyed. And the Jews knew that it was vain to look for the Messiah while there was no temple, for Haggai 2:1-9 and Malachi 3:1 had told them that Messiah would come to his temple when he came. Thus it had happened several items in history that the Jewish people have attempted in vain, during the reigns of Adrian, Constantine, and especially under Julian, to restore the temple. The ruins continue to stand as a mute testimony to the predictive abilities and the veracity of Jesus as a Prophet.
Jesus not only made predictions concerning individuals ( John 1:42 ), but also concerning the kingdom of God ( Matt 11:12 ; Luke 17:21 ) and the material world ( Matt 5:5 ; 19:28 ); regarding himself ( Matt 16:21 ; Mark 8:31 ; 9:31 ; 10:33 ); regarding the destruction of Jerusalem ( Luke 19:41-44 ; 21:24 ); and regarding his parousia ( Matt 26:64 ; Mark 14:62 ; Luke 22:69 ). Just as Moses not only spoke of Israel's scattering, but their future blessing as well, so did Christ when he spoke of a time when the fig tree would blossom again ( Matt 24:32-33 ). Christ's predictive utterances were greater than all other prophetic announcements, for his revelation was not intermittent, but constant; his revelation was not partial, but complete; his revelation was final in that everything previously announced led up to this one grand disclosure.
The third function of a prophet was to be a judge. Just as Moses judged Israel so Christ fulfills the same function in his prophetic role. "Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son" ( John 5:22 ). While Christ is currently judge and arbitrator of everything in the body of Christ, yet one day he will assume this task when he comes again and sits on the judgment seat to judge everything and everyone ( Dan 12 ; Matt 25 ; 2 Cor 5:10 ; Rev 22:12 ).
The prophetic office of Christ did not cease when he ascended into heaven, for the role of prophet continues to belong to his essential activities even now. He continues his prophetic work through his church ( Mark 16:20 ). And the Spirit of Jesus continues to work with his messengers.
Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.
Bibliography. D. E. Aune, The Messiah: Developments in Early Judaism and Christianity, pp. 404-22; D. Baron, Rays of Messiah's Glory: Christ in the Old Testament; C. A. Briggs, Messianic Prophecy: The Prediction of the Fulfillment of Redemption Through the Messiah; C. T. P. Grierson, A Dictionary of Christ and Gospels, pp. 431-44; H. M. Teeple, The Mosaic Eschatological Prophet.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Prophet, Christ as'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".