Have you ever stopped to think about the meaning of the word ‘Christ’? We think of it as a name, but it is actually a title, just as ‘Caesar’ or ‘King’ are titles. The word ‘Christ’ is derived from the Greek word meaning ‘the anointed one’. The Hebrew equivalent is ‘Messiah’.
Anointing was a process by which a person was installed into an office. It involved pouring oil on the head, a procedure used to this day at coronations in Britain.
In the Old Testament, there were three offices into which people were installed by anointing – prophets, priests and kings. We believe the biblical term ‘Christ’ is designed to turn our thoughts in that direction.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks: ‘What offices does Christ execute as our Redeemer?’ (Q.23). The answer is: ‘Christ as our Redeemer executes the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both in his estate of humiliation and exaltation’.
We will consider these three offices in three articles. This month we will consider Christ’s prophetic office.
Prophets true and false
What is a prophet? Deuteronomy 18 is helpful. Verses 14-22 speak about a particular prophet who was to come, but they also give what we might call a ‘job description’ for a prophet.
A question of great importance was, and still is: ‘How do people get a message from God that is reliable?’ The heathen nations used sorcery and divination (v.14) but the Lord said that the people were not to go down that route.
God would speak to his people by special individuals – prophets. In verses 18 and 19 we have four important things about prophets.
First, they would be raised up by God. Second, they would be given God’s words by the Lord himself. Third, the prophet would faithfully tell the people all that God had said. Fourth, the people would be accountable for the message they heard through the prophet.
It is worth noting that false prophets could be expected. They might make eloquent predictions, but their words would be tested.
If what they prophesied did not come to pass, the people were to ignore what they said (v.21).
However, that was not the end of it – the false prophet must be put to death (v.20). One did not lightly claim to speak for God. We wish that today’s so-called prophets would take note of that!
The words of God
A prophet, then, is one who speaks to people on behalf of God. Let us see how these words apply to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Peter refers to Jesus as a prophet in Acts 3:22. Christ was and still is a prophet. In answer to the question: ‘How does Christ execute the office of a prophet?’ (Q.24), The Shorter Catechism gives the answer: ‘Christ executes the office of a prophet in revealing to us by his word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation’.
Following the outline we have already seen, first, Jesus was certainly raised up by God. He said on several occasions that he was sent from God – he did not come independently (John 7:29; 8:42).
Second, Jesus was given the words of God. This is an aspect of his humiliation. He was the Word of God. He spoke and the whole creation came into being – yet on earth he never spoke independently, but only what God the Father gave to him (John 7:16; 12:49).
Third, he faithfully delivered God’s words to the people. Much of his ministry was teaching, including several major discourses – from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) to the Upper Room Discourse (John 14-16).
He also taught his disciples many things between his resurrection and ascension (Acts 1:1-3).
Does Jesus still speak today? Certainly, he speaks through his Word. Some claim that the Lord speaks to them directly, but this creates a huge problem.
How can we be sure that the Lord is speaking and not just our own imagination? We cannot. We are not infallible. The Scriptures are the only sure means of divine revelation.
If someone claims that God speaks to them, and what was supposedly given is in the Bible, then the revelation is superfluous – it has already been given.
If it is not in the Bible, however, it is forbidden, for we are not to add to Scripture (Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:18-19). The Bible and only the Bible is the word of Christ for us today. And in the Bible he speaks of many things.
He speaks to us about God. How can we know what God is like? Jesus was the embodiment of God (Colossians 2:9). He who saw Jesus, saw God (John 14:9).
But he also teaches us many things about God, such as his holiness (John 17:11), his power and his goodness (Mark 14:36; 19:18). If we are to come in contact with such a God, then we have a problem.
Because if God is holy, we need to be holy, and we are not. But Jesus speaks to us about this too.
He speaks of our need to repent. When the Lord Jesus Christ began his public ministry his first words were a call to repentance (Matthew 4:17). That same call goes out to us today (Acts 17:30). We need to change, and Christ commands us to repent and change our ways.
He speaks to us of a kingdom. Jesus’ call to repentance was uttered in the context of a kingdom – ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’ (Matthew 4:17).
The kingdom is the place where God reigns – where his will is done. The Sermon on the Mount lays out the principles of ‘kingdom living’. It shows how the subjects of the kingdom should behave.
The standards are high – too high for us by nature. How can anyone possibly live up to them?
Putting these things together: a just and holy God; a call to change; and kingdom-principles that are beyond our reach, we see that we are in deep trouble. We need help, and praise God, help is available.
For Jesus also speaks about his ministry of saving sinners. He speaks of the necessity of his death (Matthew 16:21). He speaks of the need of the new birth (John 3:3). He speaks of forgiveness (Luke 24:47).
These things are to be preached to everyone (Mark 16:15). The question is, do we hear? Will we respond?
The fourth thing we saw with regard to a prophet is that those who hear the prophet’s words are accountable for what they hear. Our response is not optional.
If someone gives us financial advice or some tips about cooking, we have the option of disregarding the advice. But with Christ’s Word we do not have that option – we ignore it to our eternal loss.
Whether the Word comes to us through reading the Bible or hearing the preaching, we are receiving a message that demands a response. We are not equating today’s preachers with prophets. There is only one prophet – Christ.
But when his Word is proclaimed, the speakers are bringing a message from him for which the hearers are accountable.
How do we receive the message of our great Prophet? When Christ says: ‘Repent’, our response is not optional. God commands everyone to repent (Acts 17:30).
When Christ says: ‘The work of God [i.e. what God requires] is to believe in the one he has sent’ (John 6:29), our response is not optional.
Do not hear his Word as a rebel. Be like Jeremiah, who said that when God’s words came to him they were his joy and his heart’s delight (Jeremiah 15:16).
As believers we need to keep responding to Christ’s Word. Every time we read the Scriptures or hear the Word we should do so with a view to responding to them.
The question in our minds should be: ‘What will I hear that will make me a better Christian? What will there be that I can obey? What is there here that will conform me more to Christ’s likeness?’
How privileged we are to have God speak to us! How gracious of him to deign to communicate with sinful creatures!
And he does not just speak to us from a distance – he comes to us in the person of his Son. He shows us the way of salvation, and describes how we may please him.
Praise God for our great Prophet!