Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church 2

If Jesus was prophetic (and he was) then the church that follows him is prophetic (and it isn’t always what it should be). But what does it mean to be “prophetic”? For some today it means little more than being critical of social sins. Many say we have to be careful not to lose our prophetic stance in our world. But is that what Luke would have meant? Hardly. That is why we need Luke Timothy Johnson’s new book Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church.

What do you think it means to be prophetic today? What can we learn from Johnson’s sketch in this post today? Fill in the blank: We are prophetic when we _______ ?

I want to suggest that Johnson’s ideas can be reduced to these features of what makes something prophetic:

1. Story fulfilled. This theme, so important for understanding gospel itself (see my King Jesus Gospel), works itself out in Luke-Acts with nuance pervasively. E.g., Luke often sounds like the Septuagint and readers can “hear” the Bible. Luke applies this to the Story of the Church as well as to Jesus — showing this theme as something that connects the two books. The speeches in Luke-Acts point to fulfillment of the Story. And within Luke-Acts there are all kinds of examples of something coming up and then later being “fulfilled” within Luke-Acts.  Example: shaking dust of feet in Luke 10:10-11 and Acts 13:51.

2. Prototypes fulfilled in Jesus and continued in the church. Johnson’s study of the term “prophet” shows that the term refers to the old prophets, to John, to Jesus, and to church prophets. For Luke-Acts, Jesus especially has to be connected to Elijah and Elisha: note Luke 4:25-27; 7:1-15; 9:28-36.

3. Signs and wonders. This is where how we use “prophetic stance” and how Luke uses prophetic ideas diverge most. A strong connection in Luke-Acts is made between a prophet and one who does “signs and wonders.” In Acts 2, at Pentecost, Joel is quoted and the evidence of fulfillment is signs and wonders. Signs and wonders indicate the prophetic presence of God. Thus, Jesus at 2:22, 33. Thus, Peter and John, Stephen, Barnabas and Paul, Philip, Paul alone … it’s all over the place.

4. Moses. And then Moses. Jesus and Moses is indicated in that “signs and wonders” theme and in other ways, but Johnson examines Acts 7′s speech of Stephen and shows how “Mosaic” Jesus is and how “Jesuanic” Moses is. The two mutually interpret each others.

And here are five characteristics Johnson finds in Israel’s prophets, and each gets a chp in what follows in the book:

1. Led by the Spirit of God.

2. Spoke God’s Word to humans.

3. Embodied God’s Word (symbolic actions of the prophets).

4. Enacted God’s vision.

5. Bore witness in the face of opposition.

Now we are back to our questions: When we say someone has a prophetic voice, is this what we mean?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/ Chris Jefferies

    I can only write about what *I* mean by the terms prophet and prophecy. Consensus may not be a useful tool in defining something; we may all read the same passages and draw different conclusions.

    Having said that, in my opinion Johnson’s five characteristics cover it pretty well for both old covenant and new covenant purposes.

    I’ve been digging into Ezekiel 37 recently, trying to understand how his experience in the valley of dry bones spoke then and today. http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/2011/11/valley-of-dry-bones-index.html

    The experience has helped me personally grapple with the principles behind prophecy in a deeper way than before.

    I believe we still need to understand prophecy better, theologically and experientially. It’s essential for the well-being of the church. If the Almighty speaks and we don’t hear how will we move forward? And if we don’t understand prophecy and the prophetic how will we hear?

  • http://jesus.scilla.org.uk/ Chris Jefferies

    I meant to add an answer to your question… We are prophetic when we hear from the Holy Spirit and share what he says with others.

    That’s my current working definition, very interested to hear how others here respond.

  • Krista Mournet

    Being more of a Hebrew Bible person, I appreciate the special mention of Moses as a prophetic archetype for Jesus; this is borne out not only in Luke/Acts, but in Matthew, in which Jesus the law-giver presents a new kind of Torah in his Sermon on the Mount.

    One of my favorite descriptions of a prophet comes from Walter Brueggemann in his Prophetic Imagination, who says the hallmark of the prophetic voice is that it BOTH energizes and enervates. It not only upsets people, it motivates them to positive change and action.

  • Georges Boujakly

    One thing being prophetic means to me: When we speak the truth in love to our own people, the people of God, we are being prophetic. Often the audience of prophetic proclamation in Scripture is the errant and faithful people of God.

  • T

    I’d say all of these are valid dimensions to the prophetic, and likely a couple more besides. I really like this: “Signs and wonders indicate the prophetic presence of God.” This is so difficult because there are many Christians, I suspect many who visit this blog, who believe or want to believe that the Church ought to be more active in these things, but are also totally put off from various weirdness that they’ve seen in people or camps of the faith that claim to be doing so. I don’t even know how to be helpful to such folks other than to say that I started at that same place, and have seen God do many wonderful things, and that I am also routinely offended or embarrassed by weirdness (both for legitimate and illegitimate reasons), and I am willing to be as helpful as I can be to people who want to discuss such things.

    I just know that it is hard to keep reading about all the healings, prophetic work, and other works of power by the Spirit that is all over the NT, and simultaneously be governed by the rather inexplicable teaching that all that is off the table for us.

  • Amos Paul

    T,

    Exactly. But to push further, I think that the ‘evidence for God’s prophetic presence’ is incredibly important because signs & wonders are, just that–sigss. They *show us* something. They aren’t a mere ends in themselves. They are pointers towards Christ, or, the Word incarnae fulfilled.

    So many people both ‘for’ and ‘against’ signs & wonders seem to miss what their role/purpose is.

  • T

    Amos,

    Yes, they are signs, and with loads of substance that is meaningful. Todd Hunter once said something to the effect of, “If all Jesus wanted to prove was that he could do miracles, or had the power of God with him, he could have done back-flips on a donkey.” The point, of course, is that the “signs” are not merely signs that Jesus is the Christ, but also signs of what God and his kingdom are about, and for whom, etc.

  • Amos Paul

    T,

    I guess if a mere demonstration of arbitrary power is enough to point somebody to the Word incarnae rather than a fully restorative and redemptive experience of the goodness of the Lord–then I may simply have a fundamental disagreement with that person over what demonstrating the fulfillment of the Word incarnae *means*. ;)

    Not that I’m denying the utility of Todd Hunter’s statement, anyway. I’vee been meaning to check out more of his material but never gotten around to it.

  • Richard

    @ 5-8

    For me some of the reluctance to emphasize “signs and wonders” as you’ve mentioned here is exactly because of the overemphasis and intense desire for many for sensational “signs and wonders” as opposed to mundane signs. I really think the translators do an injustice at times when they translate “works/ergon” as “miracles.” The word seems to speak directly to traditional and mundane acts of mercy and piety for the vulnerable among us but we translate it to mean raising the dead and healing the sick. Couple that with Paul’s insistence to the Corinthians that the sensational gifts are nothing compared to faith, hope, and love in and I’m okay with saying and teaching “the Spirit sometimes moves in exceptional and sensational ways but as often or more often he moves through our hand and feet in ordinary ways that are extraordinary compared to the world around us”

    my two cents

  • T

    Richard,

    Yes, I am a big fan of keeping love as our highest goal. That said, I think we need to think about these things in a more integrated way. For instance, the vast majority of the “signs” Jesus performed were healings, which are pretty loving, especially if you’re the one that’s being healed. Also, while Paul clearly gives love top billing, he also tells the Corinthians to “eagerly desire” spiritual gifts, and that he is glad that he speaks in tongues more than everyone in Corinth. He loves tongues, but prefers prophecy, because it builds up the whole church and not just the speaker. So Paul loves prophesy, would love for all the Corinthians to prophesy, because he loves the church. So, we need more integration of these things, rather than thinking “this not that.”

    I will say that

  • T

    Sorry; I thought the last line was deleted.

  • Ramsay Harik

    With all due respect to Luke Johnson, my beloved teacher at Indiana way back in the 80′s, not to highlight the social justice dimension of the prophet’s job is a major oversight. (I suspect the fault is the blogger’s, not Johnson’s). The Hebrew prophets were all of those things listed above, but their most historically revolutionary and lasting contribution was in their speaking truth to power. Their zeal was for Yahweh, but inseparable from that was the burning compulsion to proclaim Yahweh’s vision of the just society. Today this prophetic voice is needed more than ever; to bury it in distractions like “signs and wonders” is at best a shirking of responsibility.

  • T

    Ramsey,

    I’m all for saying, as I think Jesus modeled, that prophets of God care deeply about the suffering of the poor and the lack of concern by their neighbors. That said, to call signs and wonders (especially if we include healing under that label) a distraction is to call most of the actions that the gospel writers highlight (let alone Acts or the Exodus) a distraction. If signs and wonders are a just a distraction, then Jesus was really, really into distracting people, and the gospel writers fell for it–hook, line and sinker. You don’t have to put down Jesus’ works to elevate justice concerns of the prophets.

  • T

    Sorry, that should have been “Ramsay.” Kickin’ out the typos today . . .

  • Ramsay Harik

    Well put, T. I guess when I think of “signs and wonders” I think of those christological stories, such as the birth narrative and the Cana wedding, whose intent is to shore up ontological claims about Jesus (to say nothing of the Hebrew Bible miracle stories of even less historical veracity). Healings and personal transformations are certainly wonders, though, and are signs of the dawning of the Kingdom of God. Plenty of room for it all in our understanding of “prophetic”; my point is simply that we must keep the social justice component front and center, not just because my politics lean that way, but because Jesus clearly does.


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