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?