Prophetic Ministry of Christ - A Biblical Truth
by Archbishop Dmitri
Moses foretold the prophetic office of the Saviour. In fact, it was he that placed Christ is the same line of prophets of Israel, of which he was the first. "The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken." (Dt. 18:15) The Apostle Peter, in his sermon to the people in the temple, declared that it was to Jesus, whom they had denied before Pilate, that this prophecy referred. (Acts 3:22,23)
Jesus declared before Pilate the purpose of His coming. "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth." (On. 18:37) In other words, He was identifying His own mission in this way with that of the prophets. He was often called prophet and master and never rejected this name for Himself.
At the time of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, "the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth." (Mt. 21:11) When He raised the widow's son from the dead, "there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us." (Lk. 7:16)
On the road to Emmaus, when Jesus met the two disciples who at first did not recognize Him, they asked Him if He was only a stranger since He did not seem to know of the things that had been happening in the city. When He said, "What things?" they said, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people." (Lk. 24:19)
He actually called Himself a prophet, although usually in the third person. For example, "Nevertheless, I must walk today and tomorrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem." (Lk. 13:33)
There are many cases in the Gospels in which He allowed Himself to called Master. One of the most notable was the occasion on which a young man said to Him, "Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?" (Mk. 10:i7) Notice that the Lord did not reject the name "Master," but He did ask why the young man had called Him "good," knowing that he really did not know who He was. Finally, Jesus called Himself "Master," in an unequivocal way: "Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ." (Mt. 23:10)
The Holy Fathers of the Church have not only taught that Jesus Christ was the great Prophet and Teacher, but they also have shown that this prophetic ministry of His was an essential part of His whole work. In other words, before He entered into His high priestly ministry, He set for Himself the task of rescuing mankind from idolatry and godlessness. In order to accomplish this, He revealed the truth about God and about man.
The Apostles give testimony to Jesus' having revealed this truth. For example. St. John in his First Epistle writes: "And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ." (5:20)
The following paragraph from St. Athanasius is typical of the teaching of the Fathers concerning Jesus Christ as Prophet and Teacher.
"When the madness of idolatry and irreligion filled the world and the knowledge of God was hidden, whose part was it to teach the world about the Father? Man's would you say? but men cannot run everywhere over the world, nor would their words carry sufficient weight if they did, nor would they be, unaided, a match for the evil spirits. Moreover, since even the best of men were confused and blinded by evil, how could they convert the souls and minds of others? You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself. Perhaps you will say, then, that creation was enough to teach men about the Father. But if that had been so, such great evils would never have occurred. Creation was there all the time, but it did not prevent men from wallowing in error. Once more, then, it was the Word of God, Who sees all that is in man and moves all things in creation, Who alone could meet the needs of the situation. It was His part and His alone, Whose ordering of the universe reveals the Father, to renew the same teaching-and through His actions done in that body which He had taken to Himself, as it were on man's own level, He teaches those who would not learn by other means to know Himself, the Word of God, and through Him the Father." (The Incarnation of the Word of God, n. 14)
Jesus' earthly ministry as prophet opens with the exhortation to repent and the proclamation that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Mt. 4:17) The essence of the preaching of His Forerunner, John the Baptist, had been the same: "Repent ye; for the kingdom of God is at hand." (Mt. 3:2) Jesus received John's baptism in order "to fulfil all righteousness." (Mt. 3:15) In other words, it was to fulfill everything that the Law required and to show that He was the one to whom John had referred as the mightier one who was to come after Him. Jesus in fact brought the Kingdom of Heaven to mankind, because He baptized with the Holy Spirit. (Mt. 3:11)
Jesus' prophetic and teaching ministry began at His baptism when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. He was then about thirty years of age (Lk. 3:23), and He traveled throughout Judah "preaching the gospel of the kingdom." (Mt. 9:35) Afterwards, the disciples whom He had chosen (Lk. 6:13), prepared, invested "with power from on high" (Lk. 24:49), and sent "to preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk. 16:15), carried His teachings throughout the world and taught them to all peoples (Rm. 10:18). They passed them on by word of mouth and in writing to the Church for all times. (II Th. 2:15)
The Kingdom of God, both as the ultimate vocation and destination of man, and as having already been initiated in this world, remained central in the teaching of Jesus from the first days until the end of His earthly life. Knowledge of God and attainment of the Kingdom are the basic themes of His ministry and everything else that He said refers to them.
Since St. John teaches that "no man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him [or, made Him known]" (Jn. 1:18), it is then the revelation of God that must be pointed to as the first purpose of Christ's coming into the world and of His teaching. Even though He mentioned the names of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit together only at the end (Mt. 28:19), His teachings about God the Father, about Himself and about the Holy Spirit can lead to no other conclusion than the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the One God in Three Persons.
Concerning God the Father, He taught that the Father is the most perfect and highest Spirit. "Be ye ...perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect." (Mt. 5:48) "God is a Spirit..." (Jn. 4:24)
By repeating a formula familiar to the Jews, Jesus taught that God is one: "Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God is one Lord." (Mk. 12:29)
That God is a Trinity of Persons, we know from Matthew 28:29, referred to above.
He is self-existent: "The Father hath life in Himself..." (Jn. 5:26)
He is present everywhere, as we understand from what Jesus said about the Father's being worshipped in spirit. (Jn. 4:23)
He is uniquely good: "There is none good but one, that is, God." (Mt. 19:17)
He is omnipotent or all-powerful: "With God all things are possible." (Mt. 19:26)
He knows all His creatures, especially man, and takes care of them; thus, we know of the providence and omniscience of God. "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?" (Lk. 12:6) "Your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things." (Mt. 6:32)
With regard to Himself, He taught that He is the only-begotten Son of God and One with the Father, who came into the world to reconcile and reunite man with God: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (Jn.3:16) "That they all may be one; as thou, Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us..." (Jn.17:21)
He foretold His saving sufferings, His death and resurrection: "From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto His disciples, how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again on the third day." (Mt. 16:21) He would undergo all of this on behalf of all men: "For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Mk. 10:45)
Concerning the Holy Spirit, Jesus taught that He is the Comforter, who will teach His disciples all things, and that He would be sent by the Father in Jesus' name: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." (Jn. 14:26; cf. Lk. 12:12) He is the Spirit of Truth, who dwells in those who believe. (Jn.14:17) He proceeds from the Father: "But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me." (Jn. 15:26)
It is important to note in the verse from John cited above the joint action of the three Persons of the Trinity. Jesus sends the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father; the Holy Spirit will testify of Jesus.
The Law: Old and New
There is, however, a basic difference between the Lord Jesus Christ and the prophets of the Old Testament: the Word of the Lord came to them; He was the Word. They taught about Him, and He was the fulfillment of what they taught. All of them spoke once in their lifetime; He as the eternal Prophet speaks eternally in His Church.
Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets, and then by giving a new law, He in fact replaced the old law. Jeremiah foretold this: "Behold the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt..." (31:31,32)
In the eighth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, this passage from Jeremiah is quoted and introduced by this declaration: "But now hath He [Jesus Christ] obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises..." (8:6) The author goes on to show that the old law was replaced by Christ's new law: "In that He saith, A new covenant, He hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away." (v. 13)
Principal Elements Distinguishing the New Law From the Old
In order to distinguish between the new law and the old, let us first take what Jesus taught about Himself.
He was the Messiah promised to Israel from antiquity. "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me." (Jn. 5:39; cf. Lk. 24:27)
He was the only begotten Son of God who became incarnate for our salvation. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (Jn. 3:16)
The response on man's part imposed by these facts is just as clearly indicated by Him.
One must believe in Him in order to be saved. "Ye believe in God, believe also in me." (Jn. 14:1) "He that believeth on me hath everlasting life." (Jn. 6:47; cf. Jn. 6:29).
One must love Him and keep His commandments. "Continue ye in my love." (Jn. 15: 9) "If ye love me, keep my commandments." (Jn. 14: 15)
One must worship Him as he does the Father. "That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent Him." (Jn. 5: 23)
Second, Jesus replaced the ritual requirements of the old law with the Holy Mysteries.
St. Paul shows that the Baptism which Jesus declared necessary for salvation (see Mk. 16: 16 and Jn. 3: 5) replaces circumcision. "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through faith of the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead." (Col. 2: 11,12)
The Eucharist which Christ instituted takes the place of the sacrifices and oblations of the Old Testament. "This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." (Mt. 26:28; cf. I Cor. 11: 25)
Christ taught the indissolubility of marriage. In the Old Testament, divorce was permitted to the Jews "because of the hardness of their hearts." "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." (Mt. 19: 6; cf. Mk. 10: 2-9)
Christ changed the Old Testament priesthood. (see Lk. 6: 13; Eph. 4: 11) In Hebrews, we read: "For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law." (7: 12)
As we look at each of these distinctions between the old law and the new law, in no instance can we find an abolition of the old law but its fulfillment. In this way the new law supercedes it.
The Work of Christ
The prophetic ministry of Jesus Christ is what He Himself called His work. This work includes all those things that He taught and did before He entered into His priestly ministry, when He gave His life on the cross for the sins of the world.
However, it is impossible to establish exact boundaries between the ministries of Christ. The prophetic ministry is not without its sacrificial side, since His taking upon Himself the sins of the world begins with the Incarnation. He accepted for Himself the life of fallen man, and lived the consequences of the fall, without, of course, sinning Himself. This emptying of Himself, this "taking the form of a servant," this humiliation, is sacrificial too.
The body of what Christ taught about God, about His own role as the Redeemer, about man and about man's relationship both to God and to his fellowman, is often called the new law, as noted above.
From this, we must conclude that both the link between the old and new laws and their differences are equally important. Jesus' teaching was the fulfillment of all the promises to the Hebrew people as well as the perfection of God's revelation to man.
According to St. Paul, the law of Moses prepared the way for man to receive the fullness of God's revelation: "The law was our school master to bring us unto Christ." (Gal. 3: 24) In Hebrews, He describes the events of the history of God's people and their moral precepts as a shadow of good things to come, and the Gospel as the very image of those things. (Hb. 10: 1) Thus, the Old Testament is filled with promises, prophecies and types; in the New Testament, we find the record of the fulfillment and accomplishment of them all.
In matters of doctrine, certain truths that are only hinted at or partially disclosed in the Old Testament, are revealed clearly and fully in the New. For example, the Hebrew writers made numerous references to the Word of God as well as to His Spirit. Thus, Psalm 32L33]: 6 contains this statement concerning the creation: "By the Word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath [Spirit] of His mouth."
Yet, the full doctrine of the Holy Trinity is understood only after the Incarnation of the Word. The Incarnation itself as well as the Redemption and the Regeneration are foretold in the Old Testament; but their full meaning, their universal and spiritual implications, become clear in the teachings and in the works of the Saviour.
Again, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and His sanctifying grace figure in a number of the prophecies; the Holy Spirit did descend upon the disciples at Pentecost, fifty days after the Resurrection, and He has been in the Church guiding her and sanctifying her members ever since.
In regard to man's moral behavior, Jesus reveals God's absolute demands on him in terms of love and purity of heart. Man's legalistic understanding of God's commandments is replaced by a law of unselfish love and generosity. The Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7) contains an extensive exposition of God's moral truths and the virtues expected of man: generosity, forgiveness of offenses, love of one's enemies, self-denial, humility, filial love for God as an infinitely good Father, purity of body and soul, love of Christians for each other, etc. Christ's actions and His judgments in particular situations reveal a view of life that is not at all consistent with the moral values and standards of this world, and they frequently amazed not only the multitudes but even His disciples.
St. Gregory the Theologian, in a Sermon at Pascha, summarizes this new moral law in these terms: "The law forbids the commiting of sins and makes us liable for the causes almost as much as the acts. The law says: Thou shalt not commit adultery (Mt. 5: 27), but you, refrain even from the desire; let not passion be kindled in you by a curious and attentive look. It is said in the law: Thou shalt not kill (v. 21); but you, not only do not take revenge, but give yourselves to the one who strikes you. How much wiser is the second than the first! ...The law says: woe unto them that join house to house, that lay field to field (Is. 5:8) , vexing the poor and needy (Ez. 22:29); but you, be ready to give even that which you have acquired justly, and deprive yourselves in favor of the poor, so as to take upon yourselves the Cross freely and enrich yourself with the invisible."
In the new law, higher and purer motivation is given to man for keeping and doing God's will. The literal understanding of the old law made the hope of receiving temporal rewards the incentive for observing it. (Ex. 20:21; Lev. 26:3,4; Dt. 28:1-9) For those who observe those things which the Lord Jesus Christ commanded, the reward is eternal life, but the foundation for doing God's will is man's response to His love.
St. John Chrysostom says: "Here is promised, not a land flowing with milk and honey, not a great old age, nor many children, nor bread and wine, nor herds of sheep and bulls, but heaven and heavenly goods, adoption and brotherhood with the Only-begotten, part in the inheritance, in glory and in the Kingdom, and infinite other rewards." (On Matthew, Homily 16)
The Lord said: "If ye love me, keep my commandments." (Jn. 14:15) And the Apostle James wrote: "Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him...Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which He hath promised to them that love Him?" (Jas. 1:12: 2:5)
Another aspect of the law of Moses which has no parallel in Christ's law is its connection with the civil law. Death or some other punishment was threatened for violation of almost every one of the Ten Commandments, so that man was moved by fear to keep them. Thus, according to St. Paul, the Jews found themselves under a "yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1), and were guided by a "spirit of bondage ...to fear" (Rm. 8:15).
On the contrary, it is above all by love that the evangelical law, purely moral and religious, moves man to do good. (Jn. 3:16,17; 15:9; 13:15) "Ye have received the spirit of adoption whereby we cry, Abba, Father." (Rm. 8:15) "Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ." (Gal. 4:7)
The law was given to the Jews, and it was through them that God prepared the salvation of the whole world. In Isaiah's prophecy (49:6), the Father speaks to His Son: "I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the ends of the earth." After the birth of the Saviour, when He was presented in the temple, the righteous Simeon took Him in his arms and called Him, "a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of [Gods] people Israel." (Lk.2:32)
Thus Jesus taught that His message was for all people. "and other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold and one shepherd." (Jn. 10: 16) He specifically sent His disciples to "go into all the world and preach the Gospel..." (Mt. 28:18,19)
Further, this Gospel was not for one time and one place, but for all generations, "even unto the end of the world." (Mt. 28:20) The fact is that God wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. (I Tm. 2:4) The universality of the Christian faith, its being for all peoples and for all time, and to which the believer must give himself wholly, make it the catholic faith. [This latter term, catholic, was apparently in use even in apostolic times. St. Ignatius calls the Church "catholic" in his Epistle to the Smyr neans. (viii)]
From The Doctrine Of Christ, A LAYMAN'S HANDBOOK By Archbishop Dmitri