The other day I got stopped by a Muslim evangelist in town offering me a copy of the Quran. I politely said no thanks and explained that I had a copy but also that I knew Jesus as Lord and Saviour. He then sought to engage me in conversation. There were some fascinating observations I could make about how to engage and not engage in evangelism, some things the young man did well that those of us who do street evangelism could learn from ourselves and some things he did badly but that I suspect we can fall into. He also told me some things that supposed Christians had said to him in response which would sadden most of us.
However, those discussions are for another day. Rather, what I want to pick up on is the central thesis of his argument and something he asked me to do, which I was, for reasons I’ll explain, quite happy to agree to. He asked me to read the New Testament and look at Jesus through “the prophet lens.” What he meant by this is that Jesus is recognised as a prophet by Muslims and he believed that this makes better sense that trying to see Jesus as God. He thinks that the New Testament will make better sense to me if I read it that way. I said that I was happy to read it through that lens but in return, I asked him to read it through a different lens and see what happened. I’ll tell you what that lens is later.
Why was I happy to respond to his invitation positively? Well, very simply because it’s actually something that I am already doing and every Christian should be doing. Why? Well because we do believe that Jesus is the prophet. Note, that I’m not just saying he was a prophet, I’m saying that he is The Prophet. In other words, there was a promise back in Deuteronomy 18:15-18, that God would raise up a prophet from among the people, someone like them, to speak to them from God. This was, a promise for each generation, but I want to suggest, that like so many of the Old Testament promises, that there was greater fulfilment to come. Similarly, there are prophets, priests and kings for each generation. However, when we get to Jesus, he is the promised king and the promised priest as well as prophet. So, why do I say that there is something distinctive about Jesus, not just “a prophet” but “the prophet”. Well right at the end of Deuteronomy, we get these words:
“10 There has never been another prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face. 11 The Lord sent him to perform all the miraculous signs and wonders in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, and all his servants, and his entire land. 12 With mighty power, Moses performed terrifying acts in the sight of all Israel.”
So, whilst in one sense, the promise in Deuteronomy 18 points to all the prophets that come, in another sense they all fall short of being like Moses. There was something distinctive about Moses that would also be distinctive about this future prophet. The point is this, that the Lord knew Moses in a face to face way and so too there would be a relationship with the future prophet of this kind.
Now, because the Bible points to Jesus as The Prophet, I can look through that lens and see how my perspective is shaped, just as I can also look through his words and deeds through the priestly and kingly lenses. I would encourage you to do each of these things.
When I look through the “prophet lens”, I see that:
- Jesus is described as the word of God.
- Jesus comes proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom
- Jesus challenges and rebukes sin but also offers hope
- Jesus is able to predict the future.
All of those things make sense when we think of Jesus as The Prophet. However, there’s a crucial implication from that. If Jesus is The Prophet, then it is crucial that we pay attention to everything he said and everything he did, his words and their accompanying signs. One of my challenges back to Muslims is that they must then take seriously the claims of Jesus. The problem is that their immediate response is to claim that the Bible has been altered, a claim that is quickly refutable and becomes a means to avoid the words of Jesus.
So, reading about Jesus through the “prophet lens” is helpful and will get us so far. However, despite what my Muslim friend suggested, actually, it doesn’t offer a perfect fit, it will still leave us with questions. It is clear, as we read through the New Testament that whilst Jesus identifies as the prophet, like and promised by Moses, that he acts and speaks in an authoritative way that goes beyond being a prophet. Jesus comes across as being more than a prophet like Moses, more that a priest like Aaron and more than a king like David. That’s partly because he isn’t just one of those things but all of those things. However, it’s also that by being all of those things, it seems that the sum total is greater than the parts. Moreover, given that those roles of prophet, priest and king were not meant to be combined under one person, on what basis can they combined in Jesus.
And that’s why we need a different lens. One of the primary ways in which Jesus is identified and identifies himself in the Gospels, see especially John’s Gospel is as “The Son.” It is understood by his hearers that whilst there is a sense in which Adam, Israel and humans generally are sons of God that Jesus’ claim to be “The Son” is on a different level. It’s this that proves to be a stumbling block, that offends them but it is this that also enables us to piece the whole picture together to see who Jesus is.
So, I encouraged my new friend to read the Bible through that lens, what does it mean if Jesus is “The Son”. I hope to meet him again sometime and talk more. I’d encouraged you to consider what it means to read the New Testament through the Son lens.