Category Archives: Jesus the prophet

Jesus As Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd & Teacher

by Scott

I’m in the early days of a series on the ministry gifts of Ephesians 4. In my own studies of Scripture, I am convinced of the necessity of all five of these giftings to help equip the body of Christ to accomplish all that God desires. Yes, that means I believe both the ministries of apostle and prophet still exist today, actually are needed today.

Now, I do realise such is a loaded proposition (I am already beginning to dodge the stones left and right). But I am slowly working my way forward as I share why I believe Jesus still desires to gift people in these ministries. In simple form, I listed these 4 points:

  • Jesus, Himself, functioned in all five of these ministries.
  • The Holy Spirit also functions in all five of these ministries
  • The body of Christ, empowered by the Spirit of Christ, is now called to be all of Christ in all of the earth.
  • Therefore, Christ’s desire is to continue to gift people in such ministry roles. Continue reading

Seeing, Eating, Working like Jesus

By Marv

Jesus’ prophetic conversation with the “woman at the well” (John 4) served as the proximate means, or at least the occasion, of the unveiling of the eyes of her heart (2 Cor. 3:15). The late John Wimber made frequent use of this account in calling Christians to understand and practice “power evangelism.” During my seminary days—pre-Continuationist, to be sure—such usage of the text was heavily criticized as misuse.

Down the hallway, at the same time John 4:35 was extolled as an important missions verse:

Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.

At the time I didn’t make the connection, that Christ Himself is here calling us to what Wimber called “Power Evangelism”—otherwise known as the ordinary procedure of God working through the Body of Christ to effect His works.

Jesus’ words here show us clearly that Wimber’s use of the passage was entirely correct, since He is calling us to see as He saw, eat as He ate, and work, as He worked, the works the Father had given Him to accomplish.

When Jesus told his nonplussed disciples: “lift up your eyes,” he was hardly telling them to pay more attention to their physical surroundings, lest they miss an opportunity to witness. Jesus was calling them to follow His example in how He operated. Now the second Person of the Godhead has omniscience in Himself. But Jesus was not asking His disciples to exercise their own omniscience. He constantly operated according to resources available (or that would become available) to his disciples, and to us his disciples, since He was anointed with the Holy Spirit.

His intention, the Father’s Plan, was for the church to carry on Jesus’ operating ministry after His departure from the earth. This is crystal clear from John 14:12:

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.

Why this is true is because of Christ’s sending the Holy Spirit to anoint His Body as He Himself was anointed. The Holy Spirit has a speaking, communicational function from Christ, and ultimately the Father, toward us:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)

Jesus, anointed as He was, perceived information through the Holy Spirit, so as to possess and employ knowledge beyond what his physical senses could tell Him:

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; (Isaiah 11:2-4)

He saw what the disciples could not, that the woman bringing her jar to the well was elect of God and that her moment of conversion had come, that Jesus would be the messenger, and that the method would be prophetic exposure of her sinful life.

This is not alien to the expected experience of the church. Far from it. The apostle Paul urged the Corinthians to prophesy, with expectation of similar results:

But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all,the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. (1 Cor. 14:24-25)

It was lunch time and the disciples brought back food from the village, but Jesus enigmatically said to them: “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (v. 32). They didn’t get it, of course.  He explained: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (v. 34).

He had been down this road before:

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Not just every word of Scripture (since when Jesus quoted that verse, He was constrained by a direct instruction through the Holy Spirit and not by a written Bible verse), but every word communicated by the Father to His anointed worker. Just as He is calling His disciples to see as He saw, He called them to hear as He heard—and so do the work of the Father.

And this is how we work as he worked. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). It calls for us to be in that ongoing state of open communication with Christ and the Father through the Holy Spirit by which He works through us those “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

 

Reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated: a humble response to Dean Gonzales

by Marv

What I liked best about The Cessation of Special Revelation: A Humble Argument for the Cessation of NT Prophecy and Tongues,  a blog series posted last year by Dr. Robert R. Gonzales, Jr., Dean of Reformed Baptist Seminary is the refreshing way that it takes the “humble” part seriously.  Dean Gonzales comports himself as a gentleman throughout, without the faintest whiff of ad hominem.  He also approaches the subject as a scholar, concentrating his argument on how best to understand the relevant scriptural texts.  In this he takes on Wayne Grudem’s position on prophecy, as laid out in The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today. The fact that he chooses a worthy interlocutor such as Dr. Grudem is commendable.  As a whole Dean Gonzales takes an approach that ought to be widely emulated.

He is also clear.  He lays out his main thesis in a form of a syllogism, and backs it up with scriptural citation and logical discussion.  The syllogism reads as follows:

Major Premise: All pre-parousia divinely authoritative special revelation has been completed and has, therefore, ceased.
Minor Premise: NT prophecy and tongues are forms of pre-parousia divinely authoritative special revelation.
Conclusion: Therefore, tongues and prophecy have ceased.

Appreciative as I am of his approach, I am not, however, convinced by his argument.  It is a variation of a fairly conventional one, tying the term of charismata to that of the Canon.  In fact I have to object to his references to “scriptural-quality revelation.”  The Bible ascribes, I think, unique attributes to itself.  There is no other revelation, never has been, of equal “quality” to that of Scripture.

This is why the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, to which both Dean Gonzales and Reformed Baptist Seminary ascribe states that:

“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.”

In multiple places Dean Gonzales makes reference to oral prophecy in the early New Testament church as “canonical.”  If this is so, I cannot see how to avoid the conclusion that not only the Holy Scripture, but also every genuine prophecy ever uttered would constitute the Canon.  The Confession, at least, would seem to limit canonicity to those prophecies that the Holy Spirit saw fit to inscripturate.

Similarly, the Bible warrants application of the term inspiration to the Scriptures, the written product of the Holy Spirit’s work.  Whether we are justified in using “inspired” for other manifestations of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7) is not readily obvious, to me at least, and his doing so tends to give Dr. Gonzales’ argument a certain circularity, assuming facts not in evidence.

Again, to the Confession, the Bible is the only “infallible” rule.  Contrary to the dean’s assertion or assumption and (perhaps) even Dr. Grudem’s understanding, even Old Testament oral prophecy was not “infallible” in the way that the Scriptures are.

If OT era prophecy were infallible, how could there be false prophecies?  I find it odd that verses such as Deut. 18:22 are often cited to suggest that OT era oral prophecy was inerrant or infallible, when it demonstrates precisely the opposite:

“When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”

We are never similarly warned to watch out for “false Scriptures.”  In both the OT and the NT era, “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (1 Cor. 14:32).  The Word of the Lord came to the prophet (Gen. 15:1, 1 Sam. 15:10, 2 Sam. 7:4).  In this last reference, Nathan received the Word of the Lord precisely because Nathan the prophet had spoken presumptuously to David earlier in the day (2 Sam. 7:3).  There is no great intertestamental shift involved that would allow for similarly presumptuous utterances in the NT era, such as the instructions to Paul not to go to Jerusalem, which he sees fit to ignore (Acts 21:4).

The OT prophet was responsible to report the Word of the Lord accurately, though he could fail to do so.  The Scriptures, on the other hand, by being theopneustos are guaranteedcertified to be the Word of the Lord.  They are thus of a quality above and beyond that of oral prophecy, in any era.  This is why Peter specifies “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Pet 1:20, emphasis mine).  The distinction of two levels of prophecy: “Scripture-quality” and otherwise, does not originate with Dr. Grudem, but is apostolic.

Now, one specific line of argument calls for special mention.  In his part seven he makes a point about the word “mystery” (μυστήριον), which at first blush gives an impression of decisiveness and may in fact be persuasive to many people.  Yet I’m afraid it does not hold up to scrutiny.

As he makes the point succinctly, I will simply quote him:

What I really want to call your attention to is the fact that according to 13:2 and 14:2 both prophecy and tongues reveal “mysteries.” The term “mysteries” is not referring to garbled nonsense. That term translates the same Greek word that Paul used in Ephesians 3 to speak of the canonical-level NT special revelation uttered by apostles and prophets. And according to these passages in 1 Corinthians, these “mysteries” are “known” through the gift of prophecy (13:2) and they are “spoken” through the gift of tongues (14:2).

This argument fails in at least three ways:

1.  In bringing in Ephesians 3:3-9, Dean Gonzales commits a neat little fallacy known as “illegitimate totality transfer.”  The red flag that should tip us off to this is his phrase “the same Greek word that Paul used…to speak of…”  This is meant to imply that the Eph. 3 passage provides us the definition of the term μυστήριον, that is, that it refers to “canonical-level NT special revelation uttered by apostles and prophets.”  But this semantic information is not carried by the single noun μυστήριον, but by an entire descriptive clause: “which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (v. 4).  This is not even a description of what a “mystery” in general is but specifically what Paul there calls “the mystery of Christ.”

The word “mystery” (μυστήριον) essentially denotes a “secret.”  The term was well known in the Greco-Roman world due to the plethora of “mystery religions” in which as part of the initiation, certain items of secret knowledge were imparted to the novice.  The practice has survived to this day in the arcana of societies such as the Freemasons, who possess a convoluted mythology which members are forbidden to reveal to outsiders.

Dean Gonzales simply overloads the word with extraneous meaning, as if he had reached into Eph. 3 with sticky fingers and pulled away half the context along with the noun.  Looking elsewhere, we come away with a more Ockham-friendly understanding that what μυστήριον conveys is the concept “secret” or something unknown or whose meaning is not easy to discern.

“As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.” (Rev. 1:20)

“But the angel said to me, “Why do you marvel? I will tell you the mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns that carries her.” (Rev. 17:7)

In these two cases the “mystery” is the secret to what the visionary imagery symbolizes.  John saw some strange things, knew they meant something, but did not know what they meant, needed to have someone decipher them.

2.  This is what is happening in 1 Cor. 14:2.  Paul is pointing out that a message given in a tongue sounds strange to the hearers, who know it means something, but do not know what it means, and cannot know unless there is someone who can decipher them.

Paul gives us no excuse for not understanding this, because he restates his point multiple times. Verse 2 alone makes Paul’s meaning clear: the problem with one giving a message in tongues in the church assembly, the problem is “no one understands him.” Then he restates his point: “but he utters mysteries in the Spirit.”

Dean Gonzales states that by “mystery” Paul is “not referring to garbled nonsense,” but the issue is not nonsense versus meaningfulness, but meaning that is hidden versus meaning that is known. That by “mystery” here Paul means a message with hidden meaning (due to being in a foreign language) is evident from the many ways he says it:

“…speaks not to men but to God” (2)

“no one understands” (2)

“speech that is not intelligible” (9)

“speaking into the air” (9)

“I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me.” (11)

“when he does not know what you are saying?” (16)

In short, the meaning of the word “mystery” in 1 Cor. 14:2 is made so abundantly clear within the context of the chapter itself, that giving preference to examples in remote context, theologically rich though they be, does not make exegetical sense.

3.  In 1 Cor. 13:2, Paul is talking about prophecy, not tongues, and so the concept of unintelligibility is not the issue.  Indeed, here he is making reference to “secrets” in the sense of deep, hidden, unrevealed knowledge.  This is clear because of his parallel of “all mysteries” and “all knowledge”:

“And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…”

But does this verse justify Dean Gonzales assertion that “Paul portrays NT prophecy as a revelatory gift by which the one who possess the gift comes to understand ‘all mysteries’”?  That Dean Gonzales would make such a claim is rather surprising in view of the fact that he knows perfectly well that in verses 13:1-3 Paul is engaging in hyperbole.  He argues as much within this very discussion: “Paul’s reference to the “tongues … of angels” may simply be a form of hyperbole.”  Indeed, it is clearly hyperbole to suggest that any mortal human being would “understand all mysteries and all knowledge.”  This is a hypothetical gift of prophecy taken to the nth degree, not any reasonable expectation of what a given prophecy from a given church member would entail on a given Sunday.

Dean Gonzales then is very seriously overstating the nature of oral prophecy in the New Testament church.  It may well be opening up secrets of a sort.  Paul says as much in 1 Cor. 14:24-25:

“But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.”

But these secrets are not theological or doctrinal truths, hidden in the recesses of God’s eternal plan, things which, once revealed, find their place in God’s Canon, as a “prophecy of Scripture,” alongside the writings of Moses, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, and John.  They are individual details of a particular person’s life, revealed to that person, through the Holy Spirit for “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Cor. 14:3) or else to convict regarding “concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).

This is what Jesus does in John 4:17 when he says to the Samaritan woman:

“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

To which she replies:

“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.”

Jesus’ words to her, while perfectly true, and divinely authoritative, were for her specifically, not for the Canon, even though a few of the details occur as recorded speech within a canonical gospel.  Jesus told her more, things which are not reported by John, since the woman says Jesus “told me all that I ever did.”  They are important for her, but not “canonical” for the people of God.

On another occasion when Jesus gave a prophecy, he revealed future secrets of Peter’s life, but when asked about John’s life, Jesus said “what is that to you?”

Yet these are acts by which Jesus, prophesying through the Holy Spirit, spoke faith-enhancing words to individuals, none of which constituted temporary stand-ins for Scripture, the Canon being as yet incomplete.  Even these were not in the same class as Scripture, not “canonical.”

This brings us to the main problem with Dean Gonzales’ conclusion that prophecy ceased as the Canon closed: it contradicts the express teaching of Jesus.  Jesus prophesied, and intending that His church also would prophesy, He sent the Holy Spirit:

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:11-12)

“Whoever believes in” Jesus, is considerably broader than just those living prior to the close of the Canon.  Indeed, it has nothing to do with the Canon.

And Jesus did just as He said, pouring out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, with the promise:

I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18)

The difference between OT era and NT era is not thus “canonical” versus “non-canonical”: there has always been this distinction.  It is not “infallible” versus “fallable,” since a prophet could always (though should never) speak presumptuously.  The significant difference, post Pentecost, is what we may call the “democratization” of prophecy.  In pouring the Spirit on “all flesh” so that even the most humble believer may prophesy, prophecy is no longer tied to the theocratic functioning of the nation of Israel.  While the prophet still has responsibility to speak the revelation accurately, there is, in the church, no death penalty for failure to do so.  In fact we are explicitly told “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1).  Our instruction is to “test everything” and “hold fast what is good” (1 Thes. 5:21).

“Good,” the apostle calls it, to which we may “hold fast.” This is not something to be rejected, but among the good works which we are told to stir up (Heb. 10:24) not to douse (1 Thes. 5:19).

That is the importance of Cessationist arguments such as Dean Gonzales’, to which, I respond, I hope, with equal respect and gentleness, yet with conviction that it does not teach what the Lord and the apostles in fact taught regarding prophecy and tongues.  To teach that prophecy and tongues have ceased in the Body of Christ, if in fact they have not ceased, is to discourage our brothers and sisters from the good that Our Lord has intended them to do.  Therefore, any argument that they have ceased had better be significantly more decisive than the one we have been examining.

Not Centred in the Old Testament Prophet

by Scott

Of course, there is plenty of discussion, still today, on whether or not prophecy and prophets still exist. Here at To Be Continued, we are convinced that these ministry gifts have continued throughout the new covenant, Messianic age. Why? Simply we are told that the ‘last days’ would be marked by the whole body being Spirit-indwelt and the fruit of such would be prophecy for male and female, young and old (see Acts 2:17-18). I share more detailed thoughts here.

But what I find when one discusses the nature of the prophet and prophecy is that so many people direct their understanding of such mainly into the words of the Old Testament. Ok, let me start off by dealing with any accusations that I am saying the Old Testament is irrelevant and not important for today. That is, by no means, what I am saying. But what I am convinced of is that the Old Testament words are no longer the full and final revelation with regards to the ministry of the prophet or the gift of prophecy, nor being the final words on anything with regards to our faith.

This is the bigger picture now: We no longer read the Old Testament in and of itself as the full and final statement on God’s revelation. To do so would be detrimental to our faith that is centred in Christ. Rather Christ and the New Testament stand as the great revelation of God’s purpose and plans for His people and the whole cosmos.

Can we imagine what might happen if we centred our faith in the Old Testament? Though this example is quite overdone, if we simply read the Old Testament without the lens of the New Testament to shed greater light on the text, some might end up herding large animals into our church gatherings ready to sacrifice them. Yes, absurd, but nonetheless something to think about in an extreme way of not allowing the New Testament be that which it is – both the great interpreter of the old covenant revelation and that which even supersedes the old covenant revelation.

And, if we didn’t read the Old Testament through the greater revelatory lens of the New Testament, there might a whole host of other requirements we might be prone to lay upon the people of God. For example, circumcision of our sons. They did try that one a while back. Paul had some interesting words for those Galatians. Or how about some of the commands in Deuteronomy or Joshua on the dealings with the Canaanite peoples of that day. I’m glad I have the words of Jesus calling us to love our enemies (Matt 5:43-48) and Paul’s words that help us realise that our waging of war is actually against spiritual dark forces and not so much flesh and blood (Eph 6:10-12). Unfortunately, in church history, some have used those words of the Old Testament to justify attack on our enemies.

And the list could go on and on if we were to speak of particular laws, commands and even foreshadowings of greater things to come. And I’m sure we are aware of plenty of people who have been entrapped by such words. I know I’ve been there myself. Yet, instead, we read a kind of summary statement of the better nature of Christ and the new covenant in these words:

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Heb 8:6)

So, when it comes to the ministry of the prophet and the nature of prophecy, why can we get so entangled in deeply embedding our understanding within the Old Testament framework. Again, I believe we can definitely learn aspects of the nature of the prophetic ministry from the Old Testament, and we definitely draw upon those powerful words of the Old Testament. But we do not centre our understanding in the Old Testament any longer. I believe such can be detrimental to our understanding of anything with regards to our faith, whether we would identify such as an essential or a non-essential.

So, where do we centre the ministry of the prophet and gift of prophecy? In Christ Himself, of course! It is Jesus who stands as the great prophet, for He spoke the very words of God (see John 3:34) and, even more, we see Jesus was the very Word of God made flesh (John 1:1). Thus, He now becomes central. And, so, we recognise a major shift has take place from the Old Testament to the New.

For some, this might be seem as ammunition to up the ante and expectation of the prophetic. And I understand, knowing Christ is the great prophet of God, the very Word of God. But, when we read the pages of the Gospels, do we not see all over the pages that even the practical nature of prophecy has changed. We might even say there is a stark contrast between the ministry of someone like John the Baptist and Jesus within those same Gospel pages. One functions more in line with old covenant prophets. One functions in line with the new covenant age that is being ushered in.

So, whereas it seems that some people’s favourite words about prophets are centred in places like Deut 13:1-5, or a few chapters later in Deut 18:15-22 (esp. vs20), not to mention that the greater prophet of Deut 18:15-18 has now come, we need to shift towards the Gospels being the place where we found the greater part of our theology on prophets and prophecy. We start with that One who spoke the very words of God and was the Word of God Himself. If anything, though I am adamant that grace is found throughout the pages of the Old Testament, the gracious nature of the prophetic is now busting at the seams (see Luke 4:16-22).

And, now, with Christ as our foundation in this ministry, we can faithfully move forward into the rest of the New Testament with a proper launching point, not to mention that we can now properly read the Old Testament through the lens of the ministry of Christ. Reading the words and viewing the life of the Son of God as portrayed in the Gospels asks us to rethink passages in the Old Testament, whether in Deuteronomy or 2 Samuel or Zechariah, etc.

Now granted, as we move forward into the great teaching of the New Testament, there is not an extreme amount of teaching and practical instruction on prophecy. Or, to state it better, the teaching that is there isn’t given to us as a perfectly laid out car instruction manual answering every question and query. But, the New Testament has a good deal with which to help us. We can start by reading the pages of the early church in Acts, watching the prophetic take place, not simply through apostles, but through the wider church as well. For remember, Peter’s quoting of Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2:17-18 is a proclamation that we have moved into an era of the whole body of Christ carrying a prophetic ministry. No, not all are prophets. But a Spirit-indwelt and Spirit-empowered people can now participate in living prophetic lives and speaking forth prophetic words that point to the purposes and heart of God.

And, of course, we have the instructive words of 1 Corinthians 14, where we are stirred with words such as these:

Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Cor 14:1)

Then we find a smattering of other instructive words throughout the New Testament on this ministry gift, such as Rom 12:6; Eph 4:11-13 1 Tim 1:18-19; 1 Tim 4:14; and Rev 19:10.

Ever since that day when God became incarnate flesh, the Son of God being declared the great prophet of the ages, a major shift has taken place in not only the ministry of the prophet and the gift of prophecy, but in all things pertaining to our faith. This is what we proclaim for a new covenant that was enacted on better promises. So, let us, no doubt, learn about the prophetic from the words and teachings of the Old Testament. But let us centre our understanding of such in its proper place, that being Christ and the New Testament teaching.