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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Prophet

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PROPHET

I. The Messiah a prophet.—1. Our Lord’s redemptive work is usually divided into the threefold—prophetic, priestly, and kingly functions; and for this there is ancient precedent. Eusebius (Historia Ecclesiastica i. 3) speaks of Him as ‘the only High Priest of all men, the only King of all creation, and the Father’s only supreme Prophet of prophets’ (see also Ambrose on Ps 118:79, and Cassiodorus on Psalms 132:2). The Church has rightly felt that the unction bestowed on Jesus as the Messiah separated and endowed Him to these offices. She recognized that the old dispensation was established and preserved by those who were anointed to be prophets, priests, and kings, and she believed that each of these offices found its perfection in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. When, therefore, we dwell separately on any one of these three vocations of the Messiah (as we do in this article), we must remember that we are necessarily taking a partial view of His Person; for to hold that He is only a prophet, is to fall into a heresy that has ever faced the Church.

Early in the Church’s history the Gnostic Ebionites rejected the Catholic doctrine of Christ’s Person, but felt no difficulty in believing Him to be an inspired prophet of the highest order. They regarded Him as one of the προφῆται ἀληθείας, and as superior to προφῆται συνέσεως οὐκ ἀληθείας; and, as such, placed Him in line with Adam, Enoch, Noah, etc. etc., upon all of whom had rested the pre-existent Christ; and in their Gospel we find the following words ascribed to Him: ‘I am he concerning whom Moses prophesied, saying, A prophet shall the Lord God raise unto you, like unto me’ (Clem. Hom. iii. 53; cf. Dorner, Hist. of Person of Christ, i. i. 208 ff.); but they refused to accept the Church’s teaching as to His Deity. Similarly, the Mohammedan Koran says: ‘The Messiah, the son of Mary, is only a prophet’ (v. 79, also iv. 160 and xix. 30); and the Racovian Catechism (a.d. 1605) of the Socinians (§ 5) accepts and accentuates the prophetic aspect of His work.

2. But while the Church thus early classified the redemptive activities of our Lord under this threefold division, it must not be assumed that the Jews of His own time had reached this full conception. It is clear from our Gospels that His contemporaries did not regard the ‘coming prophet’ as one with the coming Messiah; for when the multitude were astonished at Jesus’ discourse at the Feast of Tabernacles, and were divided in opinion regarding Him, some saying, ‘This is of a truth the Prophet,’ and others, ‘This is the Christ’ (John 7:40), none declared Him to be the Christ, and therefore the Prophet.

A similar distinction is found in their view of the Baptist (John 1:21). The only exception in the Gospels is the words of the woman of Samaria: ‘Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.… When Christ is come, he will declare unto us all things’ (John 4:19; John 4:25). But probably the Samaritans generally had small reason to expect the coming of a kingly Messiah (see Westcott, Study of the Gospels, note 2, ch. 2; Stanton, Jewish and Christian Messiah, pp. 126, 293).

3. Nor does this separation of the offices of ‘the Prophet’ and ‘the Messiah’ seem to be due to any special obtuseness on the part of our Lord’s contemporaries; the OT prophets themselves appear also to have been unable to rise above it. Isaiah, prophesying during the monarchy, pictures the Messiah as a Davidic king, and foretells the outpouring of a fuller revelation during His reign, predicting that then the God of Jacob would teach Israel His way (Isaiah 2:3), and then Israel’s teacher(s) would not be hidden any more, but the people would see their teacher(s), and hear a word behind them saying, ‘This is the way’ (Isaiah 30:20); but he does not unite these kingly and prophetic endowments in the one person of the Christ. Fuller light of truth is to be a mark of the Messianic reign, but Isaiah does not recognize the Messiah as the organ of the revelation.

The fullest references to a coming prophet are found in Deutero-Isaiah; and here He is clearly identified with ‘the Servant of the Lord.’ There enters largely into the prophet’s conception of this great Personality the idea of His being an anointed revealer of truth. Jehovah makes ‘his mouth like a sharp sword’ (Isaiah 49:2), and ‘puts his spirit upon him, so that he shall bring forth judgment to the Gentiles’ (Isaiah 42:1, also Isaiah 59:21, Isaiah 61:1). But, clear as is our identification of ‘the Servant’ with Jesus, we yet know that this union of ‘the Suffering One’ with the Messianic King has ever been the great stumbling-block to Israel. The truth appears to be: the prophets of Israel, influenced by the national circumstances and needs of their own day, predicted under the Spirit’s influence, now a coming king, now a prophet, now a priestly sufferer with prophetic functions; and these parallel lines of yearning thought found together their satisfaction in the Person of Jesus.

The Book of Malachi closes with a prediction of the return of Elijah (Malachi 4:5), and Israel’s prophetic expectations centred thenceforth chiefly in him.

4. With the silence of prophecy, there came to Israel a deep yearning for the living voice of Jehovah. This was a characteristic of the Maccabaean age, when the anticipation of a coming prophet overshadows that of the Messiah (1 Maccabees 4:46; 1 Maccabees 14:41; 1 Maccabees 9:27, also Sirach 48:10).

The same longing is found in Psalms 74:9 ‘We see not our signs, there is no more any prophet, neither is there among us any that knoweth how long.’ This Psalm is therefore thought to belong to the Maccabaean period; on the other hand, similar complaints are found in the writings of the Exile (Lamentations 2:9, Ezekiel 7:26).

The Apocalyptic literature is mostly silent on the point. But in the Book of Enoch (Simil. 45:3–6) the Son of Man is portrayed as revealing ‘all the treasures of that which is hidden, and there are seen an inexhaustible fountain of righteousness, and round about many fountains of wisdom.’ These promises of fuller revelation presumably imply a personal agent for its dissemination. The prophetic gift is advanced in the Test. of the XII. Patriarchs (Levi 8:15) as an implicit claim of John Hyrcanus to the Messiahship; and he alone was said by the Jews to have held the threefold office (Josephus BJ i. ii. 8).

5. If the abeyance of prophecy added to the gloom of Israel during the interval between the time that the last OT prophet delivered his message and the beginning of the Christian era, the coming of Christ was heralded by an outburst of the prophetic gift. It is recorded as first appearing in the priestly house of Zacharias (Luke 1:41; Luke 1:67); it was granted to the Virgin, to Simeon, and to Anna (Luke 2:25; Luke 2:36), and reached its most notable height in the person of John the Baptist. The nation, galled by a foreign yoke, and meditating on the predictions found in their sacred books, and, above all, picturing the return of Elijah as a herald of emancipation, ‘mused in their heart’ whether the Baptist were himself the Messiah, or Elijah, or the Prophet, or one of the old prophets returned (Luke 3:15, John 1:20 ff.). But John, realizing himself to be only a forerunner, and wishing to turn the thoughts of the people from himself to Jesus, refused to be anything save an impersonal voice crying in the wilderness. Fittingly thus was the world’s supreme Prophet ushered upon His prophetic career by a volume of reawakened prophecy.

6. Whatever difficulty His contemporaries felt in acknowledging His Messiahship, they had none in recognizing Him as a prophet. Both at the commencement and at the close of His career, this was the popular view of His ministry. As soon as He became known, the general judgment was pronounced that ‘a great prophet had arisen, and that God had visited his people’ (Luke 7:16); and when at the close of His ministry He allowed the populace openly to express their feelings regarding Him, they, in answer to the question ‘Who is this?’ replied, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth’ (Matthew 21:11; also Mark 6:15, Matthew 21:46, Luke 24:19, John 4:19; John 6:14; John 7:40; John 9:17). Indeed, only those who were biassed by ecclesiastical bigotry could have concluded otherwise, for His miracles of mercy were external credentials recalling the powers of Moses and Elijah; and the authoritative tone of His teaching showed that He claimed for Himself at least the position of a God-sent teacher.

7. But not only was the title generally given to Him; He also claimed it for Himself. Thus He opened His ministry in His native village by reading in the synagogue the words of Isaiah (61:1), ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor,’ and commenced His discourse upon them by saying, ‘To-day hath this scripture been fulfilled in your ears’ (Luke 4:18; Luke 4:21). Later in His ministry, when His death was imminent, He openly placed Himself in line with the ancient prophets of Israel, foretelling that, similarly to them, He could not perish out of Jerusalem (Matthew 23:29 ff., Luke 13:33); and when He used, in the parable of the Vineyard, the familiar OT figure of the Kingdom of God, He deliberately made Himself the last of the long line of God’s martyr messengers to His people; and told the Jews that, notwithstanding the fact that they had ‘shamefully handled’ His predecessors the prophets; yet He had been sent to them by God with a final call to repentance.

II. Jesus had the essential marks of a prophet.—When we turn to the records of the life of Jesus, we find predicated of Him every characteristic that marked the Hebrew prophets. 1. If Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were all introduced to their prophetic career by a vision granted and a voice heard (Isaiah 6:1-8, Jeremiah 1:4-10, Ezekiel 3:10-14), so Jesus commenced His ministry by receiving at His baptism a vision from heaven and by hearing His Father’s voice.

The Gospel according to the Hebrews gives the words then spoken to Him in a form different from that given by the Evangelists, and interesting in the present connexion. We read: ‘It came to pass when our Lord had ascended out of the water, the whole fountain of the Holy Spirit came down and rested upon him and said unto him, “My Son, in all the prophets I was looking for thee, that thou mightest come and that I might rest in thee. For thou art my rest, thou art my firstborn Son who reignest to eternity.” ’ This form shows how strong was the belief in the earliest days of the Church that Jesus at His baptism was anointed specially to the office of Prophet.

2. The OT prophets were men of God. This title, doubtless, was frequently used, as conveying little more than a customary appellation of those holding the office; yet the fact of its having been chosen as a title shows the underlying conviction, on the part of the nation, that sanctity of character was a necessary condition of receiving communications from Jehovah; and it thus suggests not only the Divine purport of their message, but also the personal religiousness of the prophets. Isaiah felt that, in order to hold intercourse with God, personal holiness was requisite (Isaiah 6:5); and indeed so fully was this felt that the prophetic state was looked upon as closely related to communion with God in prayer; and the expression which was generally used in the OT for the answering of prayer was frequently applied to prophetic revelation (עָנָה Micah 3:7, Habakkuk 2:1 ff., Jeremiah 23:35. See Oehler, OT Theol. ii. 336).

That Jesus bore this characteristic of the prophetic office needs no showing. He, the one sinless Man, whose whole life was lived in conscious communication, full and continuous, with His Father, must necessarily, as regards the fitness of holiness, be the very Prophet of prophets. His perfect sinlessness rendered possible uninterrupted fellowship with God, and guaranteed the perfection of the message He delivered. The pre-eminence of that message rests on the fact that whereas ‘God of old times spake unto the fathers in the prophets, he hath in these last times spoken unto us in his Son’ (Hebrews 1:1).

3. Further, as men of God, the message of the prophets was one of moral import. They, as Micah (Micah 3:8), could say, ‘I am full of power to declare unto Jacob his transgressions and to Israel his sins.’ The greater prophets had developed far beyond the earlier prophets and still earlier seers, who used their gifts to reveal matters of mere personal interest: their message to the individual or to the nation was filled, as occasion required, with moral teachings; rebuking sin, calling to repentance, and threatening Divine judgment.

It is evident that Jesus fulfilled this characteristic continuously and perfectly. For not only did He, like the prophets before Him, utter words pregnant with moral enlightenment but also by His every word and act He constantly manifested the perfection of moral being. Being Himself the revelation of God, His whole incarnate life was a continuous teaching of infinite moral import.

4. The prophets were conscious of being recipients of direct communications from Jehovah. In Amos (Amos 3:7) it is said, ‘The Lord God docth nothing without revealing his counsel to his servants the prophets’; and in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 23:22) we are told that the prophet stands in ‘the counsel of Jehovah.’ God spoke to them, and they received His words into their hearts and heard them with their ears (Ezekiel 3:10). It might seem that here is a characteristic of the prophetic office that is not applicable to Christ. It might be thought that as He is very and eternal God, He required no revelation, having in Himself all the fulness of Divine knowledge, and that therefore when He taught, He taught not what He had received, but what was intrinsically His own. A careful study, however, of the Gospel of St. John, where naturally we seek for light on the mystery of His Person, as it is the Gospel of His self-manifestation, leads us to conclude otherwise. In a remarkable number of passages Jesus speaks of receiving from the Father the truths He disclosed. He says, ‘I speak to the world those things which I have heard’; ‘as my Father hath taught me, I speak.’ ‘I have given unto them the words which Thou gavest me’; ‘I spake not from myself, but the Father which sent me, He hath given me a commandment what I should say’ (John 8:26; John 8:28; John 8:38; John 8:40; John 12:49; John 15:15; John 17:8; John 17:14).

In such words Jesus seems clearly to teach that His supernatural knowledge was a gift given to Him from the Father, ‘administered to Him in His human nature on some economic principle,’ so that He might be fitted perfectly to perform the functions of Teacher and Prophet to the Church. In emptying Himself of His glory in the Incarnation, He appears so to have self-limited His Divine Powers as to have been dependent upon His Father for supernatural illumination: while the reception by Him of that revelation must have been perfect through the complete sympathy that essentially existed between Him and His Father. Like the prophets of old, He received communications from God: but in virtue of His Divine Personality He perfectly heard and faithfully expressed every thought revealed to Him. (See, especially, a valuable charge by O’Brien, Bp. of Ossory, 1865 (Macmillan); and A. B. Davidson, Biblical Essays, p. 179).

5. A further characteristic of prophecy was its power of prediction. The apologetic use of prophecy in the past no doubt led to a too exclusive consideration of this aspect of the prophetic books; and the Church has gained much by regarding the prophets as men inspired by Jehovah with special moral messages to the age in which they lived. But it is not less one-sided so to over-emphasize this aspect of their work as to exclude their undoubted predictive powers. The writings of the Hebrew prophets are saturated with prediction. They foresee and announce as much of the secret purposes of Jehovah as was needful for His people to know. And the power of Jehovah to reveal to them the future raises Him, in the eyes of Israel, at once above the heathen gods, and proves to them that He is the true God (Isaiah 41:21-28; Isaiah 42:9; Isaiah 43:9-13; Isaiah 44:25 ff; Isaiah 48:3-7). No doubt their predictions usually announced the general results rather than detailed accounts of Jehovah’s future dealings; nevertheless their predictions were clear unveilings of coming events. So that it may be said that a teacher without the power of foretelling would be no prophet (Deuteronomy 18:21-22), for the prophet has ‘his face to the future,’ and can see more or less clearly, by the inspiration granted to him, the results that God’s love and righteousness are about to accomplish.

Now, full of prediction as are the writings of the prophets, the sayings of Jesus are even more so. With clear vision He was able to follow throughout future time the workings of the principles He taught, and was able to state as a matter of certain knowledge that their adoption would be universal. With an unparalleled insight He disclosed to the world the mysteries of eternity. He drew back the curtain not only from coming events of time, but with equal certainty from the hidden secrets of the invisible world. Hades, heaven, hell are all open to Him. And with a calm boldness, found only with absolute certainty, He tells us of Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19), of the many stripes and the few (Luke 12:47), and of the principles upon which the Final Judgment will be carried out (Matthew 25:40).

If the Hebrew prophets received at times illumination which revealed to them glimpses of coming events, Jesus was at all times able to reveal hidden things of the future with as much certainty as He could speak of the things clearly seen in the present.

In addition to the predictions of general events, there is also found, but less frequently, among the Hebrew prophets, the power of foretelling particular events to individuals. Thus Micaiah foretells the death of Ahab (1 Kings 22), and Jeremiah the death of Hananiah (Jeremiah 28:16). Here also Jesus surpasses them. With a certainty and clearness far beyond theirs, He was able to announce particular coming events to His disciples. Following the Gospel narrative, we find that the treachery of Judas was open to Him for long (John 6:70 f.). The fall of Peter and his final martyrdom, and the prolonged life of John, were all equally clear (Luke 22:31, John 21:18; John 21:22).

Allied to His knowledge of the future of individuals was His unerring insight into character. This gift was partially granted to the prophets, and may in a measure account for their predictions. It may have been insight into character that enabled Micaiah to predict the coming cowardice of Zedekiah (1 Kings 22:25), and it certainly seems to have been this that gave Elisha power to read the future of Hazael (2 Kings 8:12). Similarly, only in an infinitely greater degree, Jesus read the inner depths of those around Him. At once He saw the guilelessness of Nathanael (John 1:47) and the strength of Peter (John 1:42), and was able to read the thoughts of Simon the Pharisee while Simon was misreading His (Luke 7:39-40). The records of His life show repeated instances that exemplify the statement of John, ‘He knew all men … he knew what was in man’ (John 2:24-25).

6. As a final mark of His fulfilment of the prophetic office, His fate, must be mentioned. In His own Person He gathered together every insult and cruelty that had been shown in the past to the messengers of God. And if it seems strange that Israel, which more than all other nations had spiritual instincts, should have habitually rejected those sent to them with the very message they above all should have received, and if it be stranger still that they should have crucified the Messiah whom they so passionately desired, it must be remembered that mankind at all times has been unable to receive, with patience, rebukes that shattered its self-conceit and truth that attacked its vested interests. New light ever discloses ignorance, reveals the inadequacy of much that is thought perfect, and shows the sinfulness of much that is looked upon as innocent. And thus it follows that the fuller the new light, the greater the hatred and opposition its bearer will have to endure at the hands of those who fail to recognize its truth. If, then, the preaching of Isaiah raised the gibes of the drunkards of Ephraim, and if the unwelcome predictions of Jeremiah led to bitterest persecution, is it any wonder that the clear light of the revelation of Jesus infuriated ‘the blind Pharisee,’ and ended in His cruel mockings and death?

III. Jesus is above all other prophets.—But while Jesus fulfils every prophetic characteristic perfectly, and is thus the world’s Supreme Prophet, it is also evident, from this very perfection, that He is essentially distinct from all others who bore the title. For not only is there found in Him a man called of God to receive communications from heaven and to give them forth, when received, to his fellow-men, but in Him we have God revealing Himself directly to His creatures. As the personal, uttered ‘Word of God’ (λόγος προφορικός), He manifests Himself (that is, He manifests God) to mankind. And if the essence of the prophetic office consists in revealing the Almighty to His children, then, clearly, He alone is the one perfect Prophet, who from His very nature must have (1) constantly, (2) completely, (3) infallibly, and (4) finally revealed all that mankind may know of their Creator.

1. His revelation was constant. OT prophets, receiving their revelation only at such times as Jehovah desired to reveal His will, could exercise their functions only intermittently; whereas Jesus, living in uninterrupted communion with His Father, was in receipt of a constant revelation of the purposes and will of God. Indeed, even in His hours of silence, He must be thought of as fulfilling His prophetic office. His every act was a message, and His miracles, not less than His parables, were revelations to teach men of His Father. His spontaneous lovingkindness, as exhibited to the sinful and the suffering, revealed even more powerfully than His words the fact that ‘God is Love’; the beauty of His sinless life, not less than the depth of His matchless utterances, ever taught men this, the central truth of His message. Jesus, simply by being what He was, constantly delivered His prophetic message to the world.

2. His revelation was complete. The OT prophets could be recipients of only a partial revelation. As their writings are studied, it is seen how gradually God revealed His truth through them. Their knowledge of God is seen to develop, through progressive stages, from little to fuller light; prophet after prophet being sent to add his quota of truth, each being granted that amount of illumination necessary to enable him to advance the hopes and knowledge of Israel beyond the stage already reached. With Jesus it was far otherwise. He came to raise the spiritual wisdom and knowledge of men, once and for all, to the highest point attainable by them on earth. And if we find Him, at any time during His ministry, withholding truth which He might have revealed, we know that the cause of such reserve is to be found, not in His inability to declare, but in His hearers’ inability to receive (John 16:12).

3. His revelation was infallible. Great as was the usefulness of the prophets to God’s chosen people, yet it is clear that in them they had no infallible guides. They had to distinguish between ‘the false prophets’ and those who truly represented Jehovah. For succeeding generations it may have been comparatively easy to separate them, for time would demonstrate, by events, the correctness or incorrectness of prophetic utterances; but not so for contemporaries. The false prophets were not as a class mere impostors trading on the religious feelings of the people, but rather they were men who, prophets by profession, lacked the spiritual discernment to interpret the mind of Jehovah. Their messages therefore rose no higher than current spiritual ideas. The people of Israel thus had constant need of spiritual discernment on their part to select the true and to reject the untrue in messages proffered to them, which claimed to come from Jehovah. But when experience had marked out to them a prophet as a true revealer of Jehovah’s will, they were not even then certain of receiving infallible guidance. The true prophet might at times confuse his own natural judgment with the voice of God. Thus Samuel at first mistook Eliab for the Lord’s anointed (1 Samuel 16:6); and Nathan too hastily sanctioned the project of David to build a temple (2 Samuel 7:1 ff.).

But the revelation of Jesus comes to us with infallible certainty. He does not, indeed, reveal everything; for on earth He was not omniscient. He distinctly told His disciples that there was at all events one thing He did not know (Mark 13:32). Thus He willingly limited His knowledge while on earth; and it is well for us to remember that He Himself was aware of the limitation, for He knew that He did not know. But this self-limitation in no way weakened His claim to infallibility in all He taught. Ignorance is one thing, error quite another. And being the Son of God, and so the perfect recipient of all that the Father willed to teach Him during His state of humiliation, He knew perfectly all He knew. Similarly, if He did not foresee everything, yet what He did foresee, that He foresaw perfectly. Very remarkable is the calm certainty of conviction with which He claims infallibility. The tone of authority in His utterances, the repeated ‘I say unto you’ astounded the multitude (Matthew 7:29); while the claim itself could not have been more strongly put forth than in His words, ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away; but my words shall not pass away’ (Mark 13:31).

It is here especially that He stands pre-eminent. Throughout the whole course of His utterances there can be found no hesitation due to a possible conflict between His own judgment and His Father’s will, but rather a claim in unmistakable language to absolute infallibility as a Teacher. In truth, His consciousness told Him that He could not be wrong, for He knew where He had received that which He taught. The words which He spake were not His own, but the Father’s who sent Him. He spake that which He had seen with the Father,—that Father who was ever with Him (John 14:24; John 14:10; John 8:38). He knew, as none else could know, the truth regarding ‘the heavenly things,’ for He was ‘the Son of Man, who had come down from heaven’ (John 3:12-13). He is the one infallible Teacher of our race.

Jesus, in His interview with Nicodemus, draws a distinction between ‘earthly things’ (τὰ ἐπίγεια) and ‘heavenly things’ (τὰ ἐπουρανια). The former are spiritual truths within the range of human spiritual knowledge; the latter, spiritual truths which man can learn only by a revelation granted from God. Of these latter, Jesus is the one infallible revealer (see Adamson, Mind in Christ, p. 77 ff.).

4. His revelation is final. If the message of Jesus is thus complete and infallible, it is necessarily final. No doubt, the prophetic office of Christ is still an activity in the love of God for us; and the Church has ever the presence of the Holy Spirit leading her into fuller truth; nevertheless, the message that Jesus brought was complete in itself, and therefore final. For the office of the Holy Spirit is not to teach men something new, something outside that message, but rather to disclose truths which, though hitherto unrecognized, were implicit in His teaching. The Apostolic Church was furnished with prophets, and in a true sense prophets have appeared at intervals throughout the Christian era, and doubtless will yet appear; but, no matter how new their message may seem to the men of their own day, they are, unless they are false prophets, in reality only ‘taking of the things of Christ, and declaring them’ to His people (John 14:26; John 16:14-15).

IV. Christ’s prophetic utterances.—When considering the prophetic utterances of Jesus, we must not confine ourselves to His predictions alone. If, as we have seen, foretelling is an essential element of prophecy, it is evident that forthtelling is no less so. The OT prophets not only foretold coming events, but also were the religious teachers of their own age; each in turn adding to the moral and religious knowledge of the nation. So Jesus, speaking as the world’s Prophet, not only revealed the future, but once and for ever delivered potentially all truth to the world. The prophetic utterances of Jesus, therefore, include not only His predictions but all His teachings, and, as such, come within the scope of this article. As, however, His teaching is dealt with in a separate article, it is sufficient to refer the reader to the latter, and only to add some general remarks on the subject.

A. Didactic utterances.—1. The moral teaching of Christ concerned itself with general principles rather than with precepts. The Sermon on the Mount, which contains the chief elements of His ethical teaching, is not a code of injunctions, but a declaration of the fundamental principles that underlie His Kingdom; and the particular instances of right conduct mentioned in that discourse are not commandments, but illustrations of these principles. When He teaches His disciples regarding righteousness and sin, He avoids laying down laws regarding special acts, but goes at once to the very heart of moral distinctions, revealing the general principles which rule all special cases. Thus He solved all questions of meat by a single sentence, which ‘made all meats clean’ (Mark 7:19 Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885 ); and He answered all questions of casuistry regarding Sabbath observance by pointing out the beneficent principle which led to its institution. In a word, He reduced all right action, whether towards God or towards man, to a fulfilling, and all wrong action to an outraging, of the one all-embracing commandment of Love. And thus His teaching finds its application in every act in every age.

There is but one exception recorded in our Gospels,—that in reference to divorce (Mark 10:11-12, cf. Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9). In this case He gives a concise and direct precept; but a precept, obedience to which purifies the human race at its source.

2. But Jesus not only revealed the true principles underlying all sin and righteousness, He also taught that in Himself, and particularly in Himself dying, was to be found the true atonement for sin. As soon as He was able to teach His disciples, even if it were in dark words, regarding His coming death, He connected that ‘death with the world’s salvation. Comparatively early in His ministry He announced that He would give His body ‘for the life of the world’ (John 6:51); later, He told them that, as the Good Shepherd, He would ‘lay down his life for the sheep’ (John 10:15); and as the fatal result of His ministry drew nearer, He declared, with still greater clearness, that He would give ‘his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). It is clear, then, that Jesus explicitly taught that His death was in the highest sense sacrificial; that there was a necessary connexion between that death and man’s salvation.

It is true that Jesus does not explain how His death wrought the Atonement, and that we must turn to the Epistles for this knowledge; but we may with confidence assume that the early Church derived its light on the matter from Jesus Himself; for St. Luke (Luke 24:47) tells us that among the truths taught the disciples by Jesus during the forty days were those regarding His ‘death’ and ‘repentance and remission of sins.’ Therefore the developed doctrine of the Atonement, as found in the writings of the early Church, are not mere subjective theorizings, but are based on the teaching of the risen Lord.

3. Jesus in His teaching taught the absolute value of the individual. The prophets of Israel felt the majesty of their nation as the chosen people of God, and dwelt upon Jehovah’s Fatherly care of the Jewish race; but not until the preaching of Jeremiah was the Fatherhood of God over the individual brought into prominence. It was Jesus who first fully revealed the infinite value of the single soul. He insisted frequently on the madness of risking its loss, even if thereby the gain should be ‘the whole world’; and He warned men that it were better that they should miserably perish than that they should cause to stumble even one of God’s ‘little ones’ (Mark 8:36; Mark 9:42).

4. But His teaching was also social. The individual who was so precious in his Father’s sight was not to be left unsupported in isolation. Wide and manifold as are the meanings of ‘Kingdom of God’ as established by Jesus, it is certain that underlying all else is the thought of its members united in love by a common life. This is essential to the very idea of a kingdom. And in it is ideally presented the thought of a spiritual nation composed of spiritual individuals.

The Kingdom of heaven from its spiritual nature, and as a Kingdom of ideas and principles, rather than of codified laws, is necessarily invisible, save as to its results. But man ever wants the outward or concrete; and Jesus therefore not only founded the Kingdom of God, but established a Church (Matthew 16:18; Matthew 18:17); the latter being an embodiment of the idea of the former, visibly presenting to the world its truths. The Kingdom is thus, in the teaching of Jesus, much wider and more fundamental than the Church.

5. When we pass from the ethical to the spiritual side of the didactic prophecies of Jesus, we enter upon an unparalleled field of revelation. As we have seen, He alone among men—and that because He was more than man—could disclose ‘the heavenly things’ (John 3:12) to the world. When, therefore, He speaks of the nature and acts of God, our attitude is that of reverent humble reception; and our activities are to be exercised rather in the devout investigation of the meaning of His words than in the questioning of their truth.

When we turn to the teaching itself, we find little regarding the essential nature of God. It was His method rather to describe how God acts than to define what God is. Indeed, the only statement approaching to an abstract definition of His Being is found in His words to the woman of Samaria, ‘God is Spirit’ (John 4:24).

The titles chiefly used by Jesus to describe the character of God are ‘King’ (Matthew 5:35; Matthew 18:23; Matthew 22:2) and ‘Father.’ God is Father: in a unique sense in relation to Himself (Matthew 10:32; Matthew 11:27, John 5:17; John 10:30 etc.); in a special sense of His disciples (Matthew 5:16, Luke 12:32 etc.); and in a general sense of mankind (Matthew 5:45, Luke 15:11 ff.).

Further, His teaching concerning God reveals the doctrine of the Trinity. His own Deity, and the Deity and Personality of the Holy Spirit are plainly taught by Him; and the three Persons of the Godhead are with equal emphasis combined in the formula for baptism (Matthew 28:19).

There seems no reason sufficiently weighty to cause us to regard this latter verse as an amplification of the actual words of Jesus, after the Church had grasped fully the theological doctrine of the Trinity. Rather it appears necessary to assume that some such statement must have been made by Him in order that this belief, which is found so distinctly stated in the earliest Epistles of St. Paul, may be accounted for (see Sanday in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible , vol. ii. p. 624).

6. Christ as Prophet chiefly revealed God by revealing Himself. It is customary to emphasize as His prime revelation of God, His teaching regarding the Fatherhood of the Almighty; but rather would we emphasize His revelation of Himself as His chief prophetic work. He stood before men, and said not, ‘I will teach you about God,’ but, ‘I will teach you about Myself, and then you will know God.’ Throughout the Gospel of St. John this self-manifestation of Jesus is the one central subject. His ministry, in that Gospel, commences with His convincing self-revelation to Peter and John, Andrew and Philip, and Nathanael (ch. 1); His first miracle ‘manifested forth his glory’ (John 2:11); He closes His interview with Nicodemus by declaring His mission as a bearer from heaven of spiritual truths (John 3:12-13); the highest point in ch. 4 is the declaration to the woman of Samaria, ‘I that speak unto thee am he’ (John 4:26); in ch. 5 He declares His oneness in power with the Father by saying, ‘What things soever the Father doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise’ (John 5:19); the teaching of ch. 6 centres round the self-revelation of ‘I am the bread of life’ (John 6:48); at the Feast of Tabernacles He cried concerning Himself, ‘If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink’ (John 7:37); in ch. 8 He asserts His own pre-existence, saying, ‘Before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8:58); while the lengthy account of the cure of the blind man reaches its climax in the declaration, ‘Thou hast both seen him, and it is he that talketh with thee’ (John 9:37). Every section of the Gospel up to this point culminates and finds its reason in a self-revelation of Jesus made to an individual or to a few chosen ones (John 2:2) who were capable, by reason of their sincerity, of receiving it; while the succeeding chapters record a similar revelation granted to groups of listeners and disciples. He is ‘the Good Shepherd ‘; ‘the Door’; ‘one with the Father’; ‘the Resurrection’ … (John 10:7; John 10:11; John 10:30, John 11:25 …). Clearer and clearer grows the revelation of Himself, until at last the real fulness and power, humility and truth of His self-disclosure are seen in the words, ‘He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father’ (John 14:9, John 12:45); that is to say, ‘I have revealed God while I revealed Myself.’ It is this that makes Him in Himself, as also in His deeds and words, the Supreme Prophet, as forthteller of the truth of God.

B. Christ’s predictions.—The predictive element enters very largely into the utterances of Christ. Not only do the Gospels contain prophecies spoken with the express intention of revealing the future to the disciples, such as those relating to His own death and the destruction of Jerusalem, but also numerous prophecies which occur incidentally. An example of the latter is found in His rebuke to those that ‘troubled’ Mary because of her costly offering; a rebuke that foretells the universality of His Kingdom and the perpetual memorial of her deed (Mark 14:9).

If the Gospels be studied with a view to noting those sayings of Jesus which are predictive, surprise will be felt at their number. It will be seen that the parables grouped in Matthew 13 are predictions of the history of the Kingdom; that His promises not only exhibit His love and power, but also are fore-tellings of His future action (e.g. Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:20). It will be found that His miracles are often prefaced by announcements beforehand of the cure to be wrought (e.g. Luke 8:50, John 11:11); that His discourse in John 6 is based on a prediction of His own sacrificial death, and that in John 14-16 on His foreknowledge of the Holy Spirit’s descent. And, further, even in His High-Priestly prayer He shows knowledge of the future by pleading for those whom He foresees as His disciples in the coming age (John 17:20); and, if His first recorded word during His ministry is a prophecy of the immediate advent of the Kingdom (Mark 1:15), His last is a prophecy of its spread to the uttermost part of the world (Acts 1:8). His words are saturated with prediction.

The predictions of Jesus may be classified as follows: Those referring (1) to individuals, (2) to His Kingdom, (3) to the material world, (4) to His own career, (5) to the destruction of Jerusalem, (6) to the Parousia and the consummation of the age.

1. As His predictions regarding individuals present no special difficulties, it will be sufficient simply to mention them. In giving Simon the name of Peter (John 1:42), Jesus not only revealed his character, but foretold his pre-eminence; a prediction justified at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:18). On this latter occasion He foretold that the Apostle would become the porter of the Church, and the Acts of the Apostles records the fulfilment. Jesus also predicted his fall and restoration (Luke 22:31, Mark 14:30), and finally announced in hidden language the death by which he should ultimately glorify God (John 21:18). At this time He also used words which obscurely foretold to the Apostle John a prolonged life (John 21:22). From an early period in His ministry Jesus read the heart of Judas (John 6:64; John 13:18), shortly after the Transfiguration He announced His coming betrayal (Mark 9:31), in the Upper Room He declared that the betrayer was one of the Twelve (Mark 14:18), and finally by the sign of the given sop He marked Judas as the traitor (John 13:26). To Nathanael He foretold that he would see ‘heaven opened’ (John 1:51); to Caiaphas, that he would see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62); to James and John, that they would be baptized with His baptism (Mark 10:39); and to all the Apostles, that they would be persecuted like Himself, excommunicated, and in peril of death (John 15:20; John 16:2), that they would forsake Him in the hour of His greatest need (Mark 14:27), but that after His death they would do even greater works than He Himself had done (John 14:12), and ultimately would sit upon twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28, Luke 22:30).

2. Predictions regarding the Kingdom.—The position of Jesus in reference to the idea of the Kingdom of God is partly that of a fulfiller and partly that of a foreteller. He established during His ministry the Kingdom in its simplest stage, and so far fulfilled what the OT prophets had foretold; but having established it, He made it the subject of His own predictions, projected it into the future, with the OT limitations removed, revealed its struggles throughout time, and announced its ultimate victory.

That Jesus did establish the Kingdom of God during His lifetime can hardly be doubted. To make it entirely future, as some do, seems impossible in the face of such passages as ‘The kingdom of God is among you’ (or ‘within you,’ ἐγτὸς ὑμῶν, Luke 17:21; see art. Ideas (Leading), vol. i. p. 770b); ‘The—kingdom of God is come upon you’ (ἐθʼ ὑμᾶς, Matthew 12:28); ‘From the days of John the Baptist the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence’ (Matthew 11:12, see Wendt’s Teaching of Jesus, vol. i. p. 364 ff.).

In the parable of the Sower (Matthew 13, see also Luke 14:18 ff.) He foretold the different classes of people that would become its subjects, and the varied reception they would give to its claims; and in the parables of the Tares and the Draw-net (Matthew 13), the presence within it of unworthy members. He marked out for it a long career of struggle with evil, within,—false prophets deceiving (Matthew 7:15; Matthew 7:22), without,—malignant foes opposing (Matthew 10:16; Matthew 10:33, Luke 21:12, John 15:20; John 16:2); but He promised the support of His abiding presence (Matthew 28:20), and guaranteed its invincibility (Matthew 16:18).

Though its beginning is unobserved (Luke 17:20), yet He predicted, in the parable of the Seed Growing Secretly (Mark 4:26), its reaching through steady growth its consummation; in the parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31), its universal extension as a visible society; and in that of the Leaven, its gradually acquired power over the hearts of men (Matthew 13:33). No longer will its bounds be confined to the Chosen Race, for adherents from every quarter of the globe will enter it (Matthew 8:11), humanity becoming one flock under one Shepherd (John 10:16); and towards this great end it will itself work, for it will evangelize the world before His return (Matthew 28:19; Matthew 24:14). And when He comes in the clouds, its struggles will cease, and He will gather its members to that heavenly feast which will celebrate His marriage with His bride, and then, purged from evil, it will enter upon its career of eternal glory (Matthew 24:31, Matthew 22:1 ff., Matthew 25:1 ff., Matthew 13:41, Matthew 25:34).

3. Predictions regarding the material world.—A renewal of the face of nature enters largely into the prophecies of the OT (Isaiah 11:6-9; Isaiah 30:23 ff., Isaiah 35; Isa_65:17, Hosea 2:21 f., Ezekiel 34:25; Ezekiel 34:28), and reappears in wider form in the Epistle to the Romans (Romans 8:21), where St. Paul predicts the delivery of creation from the bondage of corruption; and in the Apocalypse (Revelation 21:1), where a new heaven and a new earth are foretold (see also 2 Peter 3:13). Nor can the Church look forward to any less comprehensive issue, believing as she does in the Incarnation which for ever glorifies matter by its union with the Godhead. The comparative silence of Jesus upon this subject is remarkable. He cannot be said to have alluded to it except in two passages, neither of which is of certain interpretation. The one is in the Sermon on the Mount, where we read, ‘The meek shall inherit the earth’ (Matthew 5:5). These words may mean no more than that meekness here on earth wins more than self-assertion; but, seeing that the meek do not, as yet at all events, receive their due, the words more probably may be eschatological in reference, and predict their ultimate recognition on a renewed earth. In the other passage Jesus promises His Apostles that ‘in the regeneration’ they shall sit upon twelve thrones (Matthew 19:28). But here again there is uncertainty of interpretation; for, while He calls the culmination of the Kingdom of Grace in the Kingdom of Glory ‘the regeneration,’ He leaves it uncertain whether that regeneration concerns merely the whole body of the redeemed (cf. Briggs, Mess. of Gospel, pp. 228, 315), or whether it includes, as seems more probable, the physical transformation of nature (cf. Schwartzkopff, Proph. of Christ, pp. 219, 232).* [Note: Jesus tells us that not only the brute creation (Matthew 10:29; Matthew 6:26), but even the vegetable kingdom is under the Father’s care (Matthew 6:30).]

4. Predictions regarding Himself.—We find in the Gospels frequent predictions by Jesus of His death, and almost invariably in connexion with them allusions to His resurrection. There may be difficulty in deciding as to when He Himself first became conscious of the fatal end to His ministry, but there can be no doubt that as soon as He realized His death as imminent, He must have realized His resurrection as certain. To suppose Him to have recognized Himself as the true Messiah and then to have regarded His death as the end of all, is to suppose the impossible. Living as He lived in uninterrupted communion with the Father, He must have been conscious of the indestructibility of the Divine life that was His, and of the eternal value of His Person and work (cf. Schwartzkopff, Proph. of Christ, pp. 64, 147). And if a dead Messiah was a contradiction in terms to any one holding Messianic hopes, how much more was it so to the Messiah Himself?

It was not until after the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi (see Matthew 16:21 ‘From that time forth …’) that Jesus plainly foretold His death; but having done so, He repeated the warning three times at short intervals, each time adding more definiteness to the prediction. (1) He outlined the Passion, foretelling the Sanhedrin’s rejection of Him, His death, and resurrection (Mark 8:31); (2) after the Transfiguration, where the highest point of His ministry was reached, He repeated the prediction, adding the fact of the betrayal (Mark 9:31); (3) on the journey to Jerusalem He foretold in very full detail the sufferings that awaited Him (Mark 10:33), enumerating in their actual order the stages of contumely through which He was to pass. The betrayal, the judicial condemnation, the delivery to the Roman power, the mocking and spitting, the killing (Matthew 20:19 ‘crucifying’), and, finally, the resurrection, all in turn are mentioned (cf. Swete’s St. Mark, l.c.). See, further, art. Announcements of Death.

It is assumed by some that Jesus commenced His ministry with


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Prophet'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/p/prophet.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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