Lesson Three - According to Luke
What is a Prophet?
In the simplest terms a prophet is one who fore-tells and forth-tells. Fore-telling means that prophets are given visions of the future by God. They are able to see both the rise and fall of nations, as well as God’s judgment upon God’s people when they stray, and restoration of God’s people when they repent. Forth-telling means that they are called by God to remind the people of their covenant obligations such as caring for the poor and marginalized, worshipping only God and being faithful to God’s Law.
Jesus’ identity as Prophet
Jesus begins his ministry by identifying with the prophetic vocation in two ways. The first is that he makes a direct connection with Isaiah when he declares that he, Jesus will fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. This happens in the Nazareth synagogue when Jesus reads Isaiah 61, then declares that he is the prophet who will bring sight to the blind, freedom to the oppressed, preach good news to the poor and usher in the Jubilee year. In essence Jesus is saying, look at me, I am the new Isaiah. The second way in which Jesus claims the prophetic title is in his willingness to be rejected (which is the mark of all true prophets) by his own people. At the same time, he links himself to both Elijah and Elisha and their ministry to outsiders.
Jesus and Prophetic Teaching
Unlike traditional teachers, prophets offered more than insight. They offered teaching that came directly from God. Their teaching was authoritative and transformative. We are told in Luke 4 that this was true of Jesus. Luke tells us that the people “…were astonished at his teaching, and his word was with authority.” This authority was then shown to be transformative when he uses it to drive out demons. The people respond with “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits and they come out.” In other words, he has “the word” of the prophet which is directly connected with God’s power. An additional aspect of his teaching relates to the forth-telling aspect of the prophet. Luke contains many stories of Jesus’ care for the poor and marginalized which are not contained in the other Gospels (Good Samaritan, two Rich man stories, the Prodigal Son) as well as stories about greed and humility. In these stories he echoes many of the minor prophets such as Amos and Joel. Finally, he echoes Isiah’s vision that all nations would be invited into the Kingdom of God (Luke 24:47)
Jesus and Prophetic Knowledge
Throughout the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is shown to have the ability to read the minds of others and to predict the future. He reads the minds of others (Luke 2:35; 5:22; 7:39; 11:17), predicts his own death (9:22, 44; 13:31-33) which occurs in Luke 24:6-8. There are also other predictions what will only come true in the Book of Acts.
Others Point to Jesus as Prophet
There are several other characters that offer prophetic insight…which ultimately point to Jesus as prophet. Simeon (echoing Isaiah) declares that Jesus will be “destined for the rising and falling of many in Israel.” Jesus will also, again according to Simeon, be “a light to the Gentiles and glory to his people.” Anna also sees in Jesus the one who will “redeem Israel”.
Jesus as a different kind of Prophet
What makes Jesus a different kind of prophet is first, that he not only predicts what will happen (as well he calls people to obedience) but he fulfills in himself what was predicted. He carries out the sacrifice by willingly going to the cross in order to accomplish what he predicted at the opening of his ministry. Second, Jesus is different in that he is raised to life; he is resurrected so that his mission and ministry can continue through the Holy Spirit (which by the way is who empowers all prophets). Third, in the Book of Acts he will pass on his prophetic mantle through the Spirit to the church so that prophecy becomes one of the Spiritual gifts.