Jesus is a prophet.
In various ways, this truth is affirmed by liberal scholars, Muslim clerics, and evangelical Christians alike. So what makes the difference? If you believe that Jesus is God incarnate and the only way to eternal life, as the New Testament teaches, then Jesus’s status as prophet is fundamentally different from those of other religions. How, though, do we describe that difference?
One way is to point out that Jesus isn’t only a prophet; he’s also a priest and a king. But another way is to look at how Scripture speaks of Jesus as a prophet. In this approach, Jesus isn’t a prophet of our own making, as liberal scholars would have him; or a prophet like the other prophets, as the Qur’an presents him—he’s a prophet like Moses, and One whose ministry is unlike any other (Deut. 18:15–22).
But what does that mean—to be a prophet like Moses? To answer, we must begin in Deuteronomy 18 and see how Christ fulfills the words of Moses.
Prophet Like Moses
In Deuteronomy 18, Moses makes a prediction: “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen” (Deut. 18:15).
When Moses died, he left behind a body of writing we call the Pentateuch. Sometime later, an editor added these inspired words to the end of Deuteronomy:
And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the LORD sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel. (Deut. 34:10–12)
From this retrospective, the anticipation of a prophet like Moses only grew.
Jesus’s status as prophet is fundamentally different from those of other religions.
Just as God gave Moses a vision of heaven that became a pattern for the tabernacle (see Ex. 25:9, 40), he also gave Moses a vision of the Prophet who would lead Israel on a new exodus. Indeed, this is the pattern we find in Moses. He’s not just a spokesman for God, as Aaron was for Moses (Ex. 7:1), nor was he one who received dreams and visions from God like other prophets (Num. 12:6–8). Rather, Moses was a prophet who spoke face to face with Yahweh (Deut. 34:12; cf. Num. 12:8).
In this unique position, Moses is recognized as a deliverer (Ex. 3:7–10), covenant mediator (Ex. 34:27), priest (Ps. 99:6), and ruler (Ex. 2:13–14; Acts 7:27). Moses’s larger-than-life status as prophet was designed by God as a template from which all other prophets would be measured.
But of course, Jesus would do more than bring a message from God. He would bring God to his people and his people to God.
Looking for and Listening to the Prophet
The rest of the Old Testament details the role of prophets in Israel. As the Lord says in Jeremiah 7:25, “From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day.” Yet, despite their ongoing ministries, none is called the Prophet—not until we get to John the Baptist and Jesus.
John is the first prophet since Malachi, which raises several questions for the Pharisees: “Are you Elijah? . . . Are you the Prophet? . . . What do you say about yourself?” (John 1:21–22). John’s answer is clear: Jesus, not I, is the one of whom the Law of Moses and the prophets wrote (John 1:45). Indeed, according to the Samaritan woman, he is “a prophet” (John 4:19)—and soon the people confess, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14).
Though the manifold identity of Jesus remained uncertain until his death and resurrection (John 7:40–41), it wasn’t long before his followers saw him as the Prophet like Moses. Citing Deuteronomy 18, Peter declares:
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. And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.” (Acts 3:22–23)
Peter’s words reveal the chief significance of Jesus’s prophetic office—only his word brings salvation. Those who listen to him will be saved; those who don’t will be destroyed. Jesus isn’t just another prophet; he’s the prophet like Moses whose words offer life and invite people to follow him out of death into life.
Those who listen to Jesus will be saved; those who don’t will be destroyed.
Appropriately, Luke identifies Jesus’s new exodus when Jesus is seen speaking with Moses and Elijah about “his departure [Greek, exodon], which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). In the same context, the Father says to Peter: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him” (Luke 9:35). This last imperative identifies Jesus as the prophet like Moses, whose words must be heard, believed, and obeyed if one wants to be saved (Deut. 18:15).
What It Means
This is the message for us today: Jesus’s prophetic words bring forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. We must listen to him, because his words are the full and final revelation from God (Heb. 1:1–2:4). Yet Jesus does more than simply reveal truths from God. He is God incarnate (John 1:1–5), the Word made flesh (John 1:14), and his message of grace is even greater than that of Moses (John 1:14–18).
Jesus does more than simply reveal truths from God. He is God incarnate
Jesus is a prophet who calls us to follow him from death to life, just as Israel followed Moses through the Red Sea and was baptized into his name (1 Cor. 10:2). And yet he’s greater than Moses because his salvation does more than point to another; it points to himself. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6) and today his words still offer life to all who will listen (Eph. 2:17).
Therefore, when we consider what it means for Jesus to be a prophet, we must understand how the whole Bible presents him as the Prophet like Moses. In this way, we discover that any other presentation of Christ as merely a prophetic teacher isn’t only sub-Christian, but also non-saving. For only when we hear Christ’s voice as the incarnate Lord do we recognize who he is and how his words grant life.
Just as Moses delivered the people of Israel from Egypt to receive God’s Word at Sinai, so Jesus has delivered his people from death in order to inscribe his law on their hearts. Truly, there is no prophet like him. And for that reason, in a world filled with competing prophets, we must listen to him above all others.
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