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Jesus as "Prophet": Part VI

This paper has attempted to study Jesus as prophet, it has challenged the interpretation of Jesus provided by Rudolph Bultmann and the Jesus Seminar, and highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of various streams of scholarship that see Jesus as an apocalyptic, social, or charismatic prophet. Of the scholars mentioned it seems that Tom Wright does the best job of holding the various streams together. Following his lead, and refusing to create a false dichotomy between the apocalyptic and the social (and the charismatic), this section will highlight essential elements of the prophetic that should be present if it is to be exercised appropriately today. It will then conclude with a word on Jesus as “more than a prophet”.
Synthesis: Twelve Elements Essential to the Prophetic
Based upon the positions surveyed in this paper, twelve elements are essential to the contemporary prophetic movement.
One: The contemporary prophetic movements must be grounded in biblical eschatology. Prophecy is fundamentally concerned with a memory of the past, an awareness of God's future, and an understanding of what time it is right now. Apart from this eschatological foundation, prophetic movements are bound to drift off into arbitrary, and often largely inconsequential, activities.
Two: Closely related to the first point, the contemporary prophetic movement must be thoroughly apocalyptic. Here apocalyptic must be understood as that which invests current events with their theological significance. In a way this understanding of apocalyptic ties in well with contemporary charismatic prophetic movements that emphasise the role that prophesy has in speaking into the life of individuals. However, it challenges contemporary movements (which focus primarily upon speaking prophetically to individuals) to address larger social issues and institutions.
Three: Closely related to a foundation in eschatology and apocalyptic, the contemporary prophetic movement must be thoroughly rooted within the Christian Scriptures. Contemporary prophets must also be teachers of the Word, offering new or forgotten readings that counter interpretations of Scripture that either support, or are apathetic toward, contemporary structures of violent power.
Four: Thus, contemporary prophetic movements must by actively, subversively, and radically political. The political nature of Jesus, and all the biblical prophets, is inescapable, and contemporary prophetic movements cannot simply retreat into self-gratifying religious communities, nor can they simply affirm the state authorities, as if they are God's chosen leaders. The contemporary prophetic movement must maintain a critical distance from political parties, while actively engaging society.
Five: As socially subversive groups, contemporary prophetic movements must be restoration movements. This means that they must live in radical solidarity with those on the margins of society, they must turn the tables of the socially acceptable religious order that perpetuates cycles of exile and declare forgiveness to sinners, freedom to captives, and sight to the blind. In this regard, the miraculous elements often associated with the contemporary charismatic prophetic movement must be restored into an intimate relationship with the proclamation of forgiveness and the end of exile. Too often contemporary miracles are simply seen as necessary for the betterment and gratification of the one receiving the healing, yet miracles removed from their eschatological and radical sociological significance are miracles divorced from their true purpose.
Six: This also means that contemporary prophetic movements must issue a call for repentance and warn the powers that be that the risk facing the judgement of a God who sides with the oppressed and against the oppressors. The contemporary prophetic movement must be able speak specifically about certain events, and name specific institutions, and even specific individuals who perpetuate cycles of exile, and call them to repentance. Just as Jesus spoke critically of the religious leaders and the temple institution, so also a large part of this contemporary call to repentance and warnings of judgement must be directed toward Western Christians and the Western Church.
Seven: However, the contemporary prophetic movement cannot avoid the fact that the ultimate enemy of God's desire for reconciliation is not a human institution or construct but a spiritual being — Satan. This realisation will also help prevent the contemporary prophetic movement from demonising any humans, even if that contemporary human engages in more violent and cruel practices than the Caesars of Jesus' day. Thus, the contemporary prophetic movement must learn to engage in spiritual warfare, and engage in such activities as intercessory prayer. The contemporary charismatic prophetic movement has already made several important steps in this regard, although it often become so focused on this element that is loses track of point six.
Eight: Members of contemporary prophetic movements must embody a cruciform lifestyle defined by suffering love. This notion counters much of the self-gratification that exists within contemporary charismatic prophetic movements. Contrary to popular teaching following Jesus does not mean the removal of suffering; it means loving others deeply enough to enter into their suffering so that that suffering can be overcome. Thus, it should come as no surprise that among the Beatitudes that are to function as the identity markers of the people of God, Jesus says those who are persecuted are blessed, for the prophets were also persecuted for the same reasons. This love is also a love for oppressors, not just for the oppressed, and this love of enemies manifests itself through the refusal to resort to violence.
Nine: Members of contemporary prophetic communities must be energised by a hope that flourishes in the midst of suffering. This hope is solidly grounded in eschatology — in the memory of what God has done in Jesus Christ, what the Spirit has done since Pentecost, and what the Father will do when the kingdom is consummated. It is this hopeful energising that should separate the contemporary prophetic movement from most of the scholars surveyed in this paper. Faith in the resurrection, and in the inauguration of the new creation, can be the only lasting foundation for any Christian prophetic word or act that is performed today. This hope also motivates the Christian love for enemies for it believes that enemies can be transformed into friends.
Ten: All of this should lead the contemporary prophetic movement to pursue deeper intimacy with God as Father. This emphasis has been one of the greatest strengths of contemporary charismatic prophetic movements, and it should be encouraged. Furthermore, it should be expanded so that God is not only seen as my Father but as Father of all people and all creation and especially as the loving Father of the poor and the oppressed.
Eleven: All of this requires the contemporary prophetic movement to espouse a radical dependence upon the Spirit of God. It is by being in Christ, and by being indwelt by the Spirit of Christ, that the Church is empowered to live as a prophetic community. Within our pragmatic and efficient culture the notion of dependence is often downplayed as we seek more effective and successful means of engaging with those around us. However, the contemporary prophetic movement must be cautious of techniques and approaches that appeal to us as Westerners, and it must learn to listen to the Spirit who acts in surprisingly new ways, and even leads us where we have no desire to be led.
Twelve: Therefore, the contemporary prophetic movement must espouse a holistic approach to mission and the proclamation of the good news of the story of Jesus' Lordship. This means that the contemporary prophetic movement must be constantly flowing out to all people, to all sectors of society, and to all parts of the world, proclaiming the entire Christian story embodied in the canon of Scripture and the prophetic traditions of the Church.
Jesus as more than a Prophet
This paper has sought to study Jesus as a prophet by integrating insights from various streams of scholarship. Although the purpose of this study was to examine what implications this has for our contemporary understanding of prophecy it seems appropriate to conclude with a final word about Jesus. It is in this final section that we pick up our opening question taken from Mark's gospel when Jesus, after being told that the crowds tended to think of him as a prophet, asks his disciples: Who do you say that I am?
Most of the scholars examined in this paper paint a picture of Jesus as prophet that largely diverges from the Christ of faith. Thus, those who belong to the Jesus Seminar tend to see Jesus as less than a prophet. Those who belong to the apocalyptic prophetic stream tend to see Jesus as only a prophet, and a failed one at that. Those who belong to the social prophetic stream also tend to see Jesus as only a prophet, but Jesus was an excellent prophet from this perspective. Finally, those who belong to the charismatic prophetic stream also tend to see Jesus as only a prophet, although what sort of prophet Jesus was remains rather vague.
However, some of the scholars mentioned in this paper — Tom Wright, James Dunn, Ben Witherington, Mortimer Arias, and Walter Brueggemann — see Jesus as a prophet, but they also see Jesus as more than a prophet. This papers agrees with these scholars and with the disciples in Mark who declare that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, and it also affirms the salvific death and glorious resurrection of Jesus. It is faith in the divinity of Jesus that provides Christian prophetic movements with the assurance that they are acting as agents of God's new creation, and not just simply participating in a long line of mostly misguided apocalypticists, or failed social radicals.
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