Archive for January, 2008

There has been some reaction to a post concerning the purpose and significance of miracles in Jesus’ life.  Specifically, a friend from a former life asked, “Do you think his miracles demonstrated that he was the ultimate fulfillment of Deut 18:15 in light of Deut 34:10-12 and John 6:14?”  I was prompted to organize some thoughts with reference to the very seminal passage in Deut 18:15-22, and specifically to the issue of what God meant by the phrase “like [Moses]” in 18:15 & 18.  

I very much appreciate the terminology of the question; I would concur that Jesus was indeed the “ultimate  fulfillment” of Deut 18:15-20, but I don’t believe He was the sole fulfillment of that promise. Those verses are part of Moses’ reply to the very reasonable concern of the people after he prohibited them from employing the pagan soothsayers in the land to which they were going.  That generation of Israelites had never been without Moses as their leader and as God’s voice to them, but now he was to be taken; how were they to know God’s purposes?  The answer is that God would raise up a prophetic voice whenever they needed to hear from Him.  That is, the standard way in which God would reveal Himself to His people was through a prophet, and that prophet would be “like” Moses (:15 & :18).  Thus the promise is primarily generic.  That is, the term “a prophet” in Deut 18:15-20 does not refer in the first instance to any specific prophet; it is a promise that God would not leave them without a prophetic voice when He had a message they needed to hear, and thus they would have no excuse when they chose to go to the ear-tickling soothsayers (cf. 2 Kgs 1:1-3).  It is instructive in this regard that Israel seems to have understood that when “the heavens are as brass,” when God is not speaking through a prophetic voice, the people are to know that they are under judgment. It is foreboding to read that “the word of the Lord was rare” in the days of the Judges (1 Sam 3:1; cf. Prv 29:18). The issue to which that forces me, of course, is what is meant by the twice repeated assurance that the promised prophet would be “like” Moses (:15 & :18).  It is my persuasion that God’s point in that phrase (“like unto me/you” referring in both instances to Moses) is quite narrow but unspeakably important, to wit: God is promising that just as He vindicated Moses’ claim to be a prophet by means of miracles (Ex 4:1-9 – a passage which is absolutely seminal and definitional to this issue in Scripture), so He would vindicate those prophets whom He called in days to come.  Later prophets were not “like Moses” in dignity, in the seminal and strategic role they would play in the history of God’s covenant nation, in the magnitude and number of the miracles they wrought, in the world-wide notoriety which accrued to them, or in the measure of intimacy which they had personally enjoyed with Yahweh.  Thus the distinction between Moses and all other prophets appealed to by Yahweh in His rebuke of Moses’ siblings (Num 12:6-8 ) and acknowledged in the closing sentences of the Torah (Deut 34:10).  

But throughout Scripture the way in which God vindicates a man’s claim to be a divine spokesman is by means of miracle (Ex 4:1-9; Jos 3:7;1 Sam 12:16-18; Jn 3:2; Ac 2:22; 2 Cor 12:12; Heb 2:3,4). It is my persuasion that the prophets all performed miracles (of the first order!); indeed, it was by means of objective and undeniable miracle-signs that their authority was established. In this regard, I realize that miracles are not recorded in the narrative of the lives of many of the prophets.  But in the case of most of the biblical prophets, we have virtually no biographical narrative of their lives; thus the fact that miracles are not recorded is not compelling evidence that miracles were not performed. On the other hand, when the biblical record does include biographical data, miracles often play a very important role in the prophet’s life.  Furthermore, I know of no other explanation for the fact that the authority of the prophets was so immediately recognized by their contemporaries, even in those not infrequent cases when the prophet and his message were much despised.  

But if the descriptive phrase “like [Moses]” refers to the fact that God would use miracles to vindicate every prophet’s claim to be God’s voice, why the question which is articulated and answered in Deut 18:20-22?  The Scriptures are clear that miracle-signs are not the only test of a man’s claim to be a prophet.  I would argue that those miracle-signs are the only positive qualifier, but that there are several negative disqualifiers to be found in Scripture (e.g., a message inconsistent with that which God had earlier revealed, the use of oracular devices, speaking in the name of gods other than Yahweh).  Further, if one of those negative disqualifiers was discovered in the life of a man able to do sign-miracles, it negated the vindicating force of the miracles and demonstrated the man to be a false prophet, worthy of death (Deut 13:1-5).  This is the force of Deut 18:20-22, which speaks not of qualifying a prophetic claimant, but of disqualifying him.  Predictive prophecies would not suffice as the sole, or even primary, means of vindication, but they would function as one of those disqualifiers.  This plays out specifically in the contest between Jeremiah and Hannaniah in Jer 28.  (Note especially the abrupt finality of 28:17.)  I would summarize the force of Deut 18:15-22 as follows:   

In light of God’s interdict upon any consort with the pagan magicians of Canaan, be assured that God will raise up a prophet when He has a revelatory message to communicate, and that that prophet will in every case be like Moses in this particular – he will demonstrate his claim to be a prophet by means of sign-miracles.  You are to heed the voice of that prophet as you would heed the voice of God Himself, because that prophet is speaking words given him by God.  God will hold you accountable if you do not heed His word spoken through His prophets.  On the other hand, the prophet who foretells that which does not occur is to be rejected, no matter his ability to do miracles.  Thus will God provide Himself a means of speaking with authority and assurance to His people, and of disqualifying that prophet who by reason of carelessness or apostasy squanders the goodness of God and disqualifies himself for the office of prophet. 

Finally, it seems clear that the promise of Deut 18:15-20 was taken by the Jewish people to include the anticipation of a final and climactic fulfillment in a single great end-time “prophet.”  This hope is reflected in the question asked of John the Baptist in Jn 1:21 (“Are you the prophet?”) and in the response of many to Jesus feeding of 5000 in John 6:14 (“This is truly the prophet who is to come into the world.”)  Further, many would argue that when Peter cites Deut 18 in Ac 3:22-23, he is insisting that Jesus is the fulfillment of that OT passage.  (I would demur at this point.  It seems to me that the context, specifically the reference in 3:24, indicates that Peter’s point in citing Deut 18 is that God has provided prophetic voices just as He promised in the days of Moses, that all of those prophets have foretold and anticipated the coming of Messiah, and that Peter’s auditors are the people who most closely identify with that succession of prophets.) Given that anticipation reflected by the Jews of the 1st century, is it not reasonable for the Christian to take Deut 18:15-20 as a foretelling of Jesus the Christ?   

I would concur that Jesus was the apogee of the succession of prophets, that their ministries and messages ultimately focused on Messiah, and thus that Jesus of Nazareth, the very Word of God, was the ultimate fulfillment of the promise of Deut 18:15-18.  But as before, if He is the sole fulfillment, if Moses meant nothing more than that in 1400 years God was going to raise up another prophet “like unto Moses,” then the concern being addressed in the historical context of Deut 18 is left entirely unaddressed; the generation faced with the dilemma of losing Moses on the one hand and being denied access to pagan religious practitioners on the other are given no help whatever.  Further, the means by which the false prophet can be disqualified in 18:20-22 must also refer to Christ, which is certainly problematic.  And finally, there is disturbing dissonance between the argument of Hebrews that Jesus is “better than Moses” and the promise of Deuteronomy that God would raise up this prophet who was gloriously to be identified as “like unto Moses.” 

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The child of God is much advantaged to come to grips with the life lived by his Savior.  I would suggest that the insights to be listed here are essential to a proper understanding of that most wonderful of all lives, and thus that the believer is well advised to consciously and deliberately include these realities in his conception of that life.

#10 – The prospect of the cross was horrifying to Jesus.  Early in His ministry He could anticipate the cross with some measure of equanimity (Jn 4:34), but as it drew near it filled Him with terror (cf. Jn 12:23-38).  Indeed, probably the most severe temptation faced by Jesus during His lifetime was the temptation to turn back from the cross (Mt  4:8, 9; 16:22, 23). This temptation is most graphically seen in the Lord’s Gethsemane experience (Lk 22:41, 42, cf. :43, 44).  However, that which so terrified Him was not the physical sufferings of crucifixion (as awful as those physical sufferings were); rather, He was filled with dread at the prospect of being made the sin-sacrifice for men, of being judicially forsaken by the Father (Mk 15:34).  Furthermore, in that temptation and during all the period of His mortality, Jesus had no more spiritual resources than you and I have; He was submissive to the Father, dependent upon the Spirit, obedient to the Scripture and sustained by prayer (Heb 5:7).  It was thus that He “learned obedience” and was qualified to be the believer’s high priest (Heb 5:8-9)

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The child of God is much advantaged to come to grips with the life lived by his Savior.  I would suggest that the insights to be listed here are essential to a proper understanding of that most wonderful of all lives, and thus that the believer is well advised to consciously and deliberately include these realities in his conception of that life. 

#9 – Throughout His ministry, but especially as His Passion approached, Jesus demonstrated Himself to be “wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove” (Mt 10:16).  In at least three specific and identifiable ways, Jesus orchestrated the events of His passion so that it would unfold precisely how and when the Father intended.

a. By means of the raising of Lazarus (Jn 11:45-57) and then the route He took from the village of Ephraim (Jn 11:54) to Jerusalem (Lk 17:11), Jesus set the stage for the Triumphal Entry, exciting the city about His arrival (Jn 11:55, 56), and then alerting them as to the moment of His arrival (Jn 12:12).

b. By means of the second cleansing of the Temple on Monday of the passion week, Jesus deliberately galvanized Pharisaic and Sadducean hostility; once those two sects had united in their murderous hatred of Jesus, it took them only five days to get Him on a cross.

c.  By means of His carefully maintained popularity with the masses, Jesus insured that the Sanhedrinists would have to involve the Romans in His execution, and thus that He would die not by stoning but by being “lifted up” in crucifixion (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32-34; 18:32).

(Insight #10 will be posted soon!) 

Read Full Post »

The child of God is much advantaged to come to grips with the life lived by his Savior.  I would suggest that the insights to be listed here are essential to a proper understanding of that most wonderful of all lives, and thus that the believer is well advised to consciously and deliberately include these realities in his conception of that life. 

#8 – Jesus remained a wildly popular folk-hero–the object of almost universal popular fascination–until the last week of His mortal life.  Indeed, that popularity crescendoed until it imploded climatically on Tuesday of the Passion Week.  This enduring and increasing popular fascination impacted Jesus’ ministry in three very important ways:   
a. It deceived the apostles and disciples of Jesus, persuading them that in fact Jesus’ claims were being broadly accepted, and thus making it difficult for those disciples to accept His prediction that He would die at the hands of the leaders of Israel.   

b. It enabled Jesus to escape the murderous hatred of His official enemies; they longed to take Him, but they could not because they “feared the multitude” (Mt 26:5; Mk 14:5; Lk 22:2).           
The dynamic here is somewhat distinctive to the Roman Empire and thus demands some explanation.  Every Roman governor had two basic duties: collect the taxes and keep the peace.  Although the Romans did not allow the Jews to exercise capital punishment [Jn 18:31], the officers in Judea had learned to look the other way if the Jews were to spirit away some inconsequential offender and put him to death [a la Stephen, Ac 6, 7]. Because Jesus was so wildly popular, the Jewish authorities could not simply seize him and stone Him.  They were fearful that if they were to do so there would be riots; if there were riots the Romans would find and severely punish those responsible.  Thus …

c.  It forced Jesus’ enemies to involve the Romans in the execution of Jesus.  Further, those enemies worked hard to get Him on the cross before the town woke up on Friday.  (Remember that what Jesus’ enemies, as well as the Romans, had ringing in their ears was Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of the passion week.)  However, when the town did awake, the Sanhedrinists were amazed and delighted that the populace had suddenly turned against Jesus (see a. above).

(Insight #9 will be posted soon!)


Read Full Post »

The child of God is much advantaged to come to grips with the life lived by his Savior.  I would suggest that the insights to be listed here are essential to a proper understanding of that most wonderful of all lives, and thus that the believer is well advised to consciously and deliberately include these realities in his conception of that life. 


#7 – Although Jesus came to die, He never spoke explicitly of His death until almost three years into His three and one half year ministry.  He hinted at the idea obliquely just once – the reference to the temple to be rebuilt in three days; but John states that His disciples did not understand this until after Jesus’ resurrection (Jn 2:19-21). Indeed, Jesus claimed to be Messiah, and according to the Hebrew Scriptures the Kingdom to be established by the Messiah is an eternal kingdom (Dan 2:44); it seemed to those who accepted Jesus’ claims that there is no room for a dying Messiah in that. When Jesus finally contrived to get the twelve to a place called Caesarea Philippi and for the first time told them that He was going to die (Mt 16:21), those disciples were scandalized (:22).  Although Jesus foretold His death and resurrection at least four more times after Caesarea Philippi, nobody was willing to believe those words, especially the apostles (Lk 18:31-33, cf. :34). (The one possible exception: Mary, sister of Lazarus; cf Jn 12:7.) This unwillingness to accept Jesus’ plain and oft-repeated predictions of His death and resurrection seems to have been a function of two influences: first, the apostles were crippled by the popular rabbinic misperception of the Messianic hope, which had little or no room for a suffering or dying Messiah; second, the apostles were greedy for the chief places in the kingdom which Jesus had promised them, and they didn’t want to hear about suffering by Him or by them.

(Insight #8 will be posted soon!)

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