“Prophet” Jesus in the Gospels

 

One title that the New Testament gives to Jesus is “prophet,” using it in its Old Testament sense. A prophet in the Old Testament is someone who has had a revelation from God and speaks for Him. What is significant about the fact that the New Testament calls Jesus a “prophet” is that this title is used in the Old Testament, and accordingly in the New Testament, for human beings only. Judaism does not accept that anyone other than God, including prophets, can have divine attributes anyway.

Significantly, the Gospels tell us that not only did people call Jesus a “prophet,” but he also used this title for himself. In one instance, Jesus complained that a prophet is mistreated in his hometown and by his family and relatives, in a clear reference to how he was treated by people (also Matt. 13:55-58; Luke 4:22-24; John 4:44):

And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offence at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. (Mark 6:2-5)

In this dialogue with his disciples as well, Jesus likens himself to a prophet:

Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. (Matt. 10:40-41)

Luke reports a third incident in which Jesus called himself a prophet:

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (Luke 13:31-34)

Jesus’ disciples also called him a “prophet,” as in this dialogue with two of them who did not realize that they were speaking to Jesus after his resurrection:

Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.” (Luke 24:18-19)

Peter is also reported to have identified the prophet whose coming was predicted by Moses with Jesus:

That times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. Moses said, “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.” (Acts 3:20-22)

This passage is from the Book of Acts, so not only the Gospels call Jesus a “prophet.” The prophecy of Moses that is quoted above is from Deuteronomy 18:15.

People also thought that Jesus was a “prophet.” This is one incident in which people speculated that Jesus was a prophet (also Matt. 16:13-14; Luke 9:18-19):

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” (Mark 8:27-28)

A similar uncertainty about what prophet Jesus was is reported by Mark and Luke (9:7-8):

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” (Mark 6:14-15)

There are several incidents in which people declared with certainty that Jesus was a prophet, and some of these are quoted below:

And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matt. 21:10-11)

And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet. (Matt. 21:46)

Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” (Luke 7:14-16)

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39)

Interestingly, even the Gospel of John which, as we will later see, differs from the Synoptics in clearly treating Jesus as a god from eternity reports a number of incidents in which people called Jesus a prophet (John 4:17-19, 6:12-14, 7:39-40, 7:50-52, 9:16-17).

All these references point to how Jesus introduced himself and how he was seen by people: a prophet sent by God. This is how he is presented in the Qur’an. Jesus’ divine image is a later development that the historical Jesus had no hand in and even forewarned against, as we shall see later.

I should mention that other titles that confirm Jesus’ human nature are also applied to him in the Gospels. One particularly significant title is “servant,” which was discussed earlier. Another title that clearly implies that Jesus was a human being is “rabbi” or “teacher” (e.g. Mark 9:5; Matt. 26:25).

          

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