Posted by: Standing Solus Christus | October 12, 2007

How long had it been since Israel had a prophet? (Lesson 4: Question 1 Answer)

1.  How long had it been since Israel had a prophet in their midst?  Was Israel missing anything by this extended vacancy?

In this question we will be considering an issue that is not explicitly discussed in our text, however as stated in our introductory comments was lying beneath the surface of this exchange.  This is indicative from the initial exchange that occurs in verses 19-21 between the Jews and the Baptist:

19And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

We pointed out above that the period in history our text is recording was one of great anticipation since the prophetic word outside of the Scripture had experienced a period of cessation since Malachi.  This opinion is also expressed by Calvin in his commentary on this text:  “It was now a long time since they had the Prophets; John came suddenly and contrary to expectation; and the minds of all were aroused to expect the Messiah.  Besides, all entertained the belief that the coming of the Messiah was at hand.” 60 It is interesting that our text does not state that the Jews asked John if he was the Messiah they were just asking “Who are you?”  Nonetheless, in his response John the Baptist denies that he was the Christ.  In fact, here the apostle for the first time uses the emphatic “I” with the combination of εγω ουκ ειμι.  This seems to be intended to emphasize the Baptist’s denial that he was not the Christ.  Later in this Gospel, the apostle uses this construction in the “I am” statements made by Christ.  (This is significant due to the fact that this construction was also used in translating the Divine name in Exodus 3:14.)  As stated in our introductory comments, John the Baptist was probably not the first one to claim resumption to the role of prophet during this period.  However, as we know from history and the Scriptures he is the one who breaks the extended vacancy of this office.

Before we move onto the follow up question we would be remiss in our duties if we did not deal with the one exception to this rule.  It has to do with the reports from Luke of prophets and prophetic words uttered about 30 years prior to this event.  We are specifically referring to Mary’s magnificant (Luke 1:46-56), Zechariah’s prophecy (Luke 1:67-80 (quoted above)), Simeon’s prophecy (Luke 2:25-32) and Anna referred to as a “prophetess” (Luke 2:36-38).  At first glance all of these instances appear to be lending credibility to those who would promote a small “p” “gift of prophecy” that is not necessarily comparable to the revelation received through a large “P” office of Prophet that is, as authoritative as Scripture.  Although, we have never been confronted with these texts by the advocates of this view, we must concede that this appears to be a formidable argument.  In the event that advocates of this view were to appeal to these texts for support there is an inherent flaw with employing their support.  This flaw is known as making the exception the rule.  This period is the exception to the rule, since it is associated with the nativity of our Lord.  This was the fullness of time (Gal 4:4) and surely if there is one period in history that was filled with special revelation (i.e. angelic messages and prophecies) this was it.  Therefore, we must conclude that the prophecies associated with the nativity recorded in Luke’s Gospel are not intended to be normative for the life of the Church.  This may, however, be indicative of a forthcoming period of special revelation that will accompany the Second Coming of our Lord. 61 

As we move onto answer the second part of the question it is incumbent upon us to provide a little background prior to offering a response.  To begin we should address the comment made above regarding two levels of special revelation one lesser and one greater, this is far fetched to say the least.  Do we believe in two gods one lesser and one greater?  We have one God who can only speak infallibly, inerrantly and authoritatively irregardless of it being unmediated (i.e. Sinai or Christ Himself) or mediated (i.e. through prophets, apostles or angels).  Relative to our topic at hand with prophets, Geerhardus Vos points out that this meaning is inherent with the Hebrew word ‘nabhi’ translated into English as prophet.  He goes onto state:

…Ex 4:16; 7:1; Jer 1:5-6. From these (passages) we learn that nabhi’ was understood as an appointed regular speaker for a divine superior, whose speech carries the authority of the latter…The prophet’s business lies in the sphere of speaking.  And this speaking is not ordinary speaking, as in ordinary life one man might speak representatively for another.  It is a unique representation conveying divine authority and, in a measure, divine omnipotence, and these are based on divine communication.  Jehovah touches the mouth and puts the words there, and they clearly acquire the effect of divine words. 62 

Thus, we must realize that the claim of the prophet is nothing that should be taken lightly.  The prophet is speaking for God and when God speaks it carries the authority to bind one’s conscience.

Another important item to note before we move on is to understand the prophet’s role in the Old Covenant.  The exodus and wanderings in the wilderness represented the period of the second most significant disclosure of God’s special revelation that has ever been revealed.  The people heard God’s voice, however out of fear they pled for Moses to be the mediator between them and God.  Moses was no ordinary prophet (Deut 34:10-12 and Num 12:5-8), as noted in our previous lessons, he was God’s ordained mediator to deliver the full disclosure of God’s law in the Pentateuch.  The role of all subsequent prophets to the nation of Israel was not to add or take away from this disclosure (Deut 4:2), but to call the people back to covenant fidelity.  Thus, the primary scope of the subsequent prophets was not to reveal new information, but to confront the people with a re-announcement of curses and blessings recorded in the Pentateuch (Deut 27 and 28).  This is not to advocate the idea that there was no new revelation provided (i.e. further refinement and definition on how God’s ultimate promise would unfold), however it was not the primary role.  Therefore, many have called the prophets of the Old Covenant “covenant lawyers” or “covenant enforcement mediators”.  Geerhardus Vos makes this point in the following statement:

The prophets identify this old ideal from which Israel has departed with their own teaching.  Nowhere do they make a distinction between what Jehovah once demanded and what He now demands.  None of the prophets ever betrays that his teaching appears to him in the light of an innovation.  Though they were aware that their teaching marked an advance upon what lay before, yet they never indicate that there was an advance in the principles upheld.  By these constant principles they judge the conduct of Israel. 63 

  Moreover, the utterances and announcements proclaimed by these subsequent prophets were inscripturated and added to the collection of canonical documents.  This would ensure that these words from God would not be forgotten or unknown to subsequent generations.  Thus, at the death of the “last” Old Testament prophet the special revelation for that period was sufficient for that time.  Therefore, we can conclude that Israel during this period of “prophetic cessation” was not missing anything.  The prophets were still speaking to them through the written word until the fullness of time.

Before we conclude it is only right and proper to return to our text and tie it together with the apparent detour we were making above.  We need to clarify that we are not saying that the Old Testament was sufficient for all time.  It even qualifies itself as insufficient for all time and this is evident within the text at hand.  There is an important use of the article here in ο προφητης.  This is a substantive use of the article, which indicates the apostle had a specific prophet in mind.64 Although, John was a prophet (the greatest prophet of the OT according to Christ – Matt 11:11) he is careful to distinguish that he is not “the Prophet” that Moses foretold of in Deuteronomy 18:15-19:

“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’  And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers.  And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.

John the Baptist knew his role and he knew what was coming in redemptive history.  The nation of Israel was anticipating the arrival of the Prophet foretold by Moses and John the Baptist knew this.  Thus, unprovoked he clarifies that he is not this Prophet, but announces that He is with them now.  We know that this promise announced by Moses was fulfilled in Christ (Acts 3:18-26).  The Prophet, par excellence is Christ who is the climax of special revelation.  Just as we do not expect successors to His other offices (i.e. Priest and King) we should not expect there to be successors to this office beyond what has been written.

60 John Calvin (1550) Commentary on the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ According to John (Calvin’s Commentaries, 17; Baker, 2005) 56

61 Geerhardus Vos (1948) Biblical Theology Old Testament and New Testaments (Banner of Truth Trust, 2000) p 304

62 Geerhardus Vos (1948) Biblical Theology Old Testament and New Testaments (Banner of Truth Trust, 2000) p 192-193

63 Geerhardus Vos (1948) Biblical Theology Old Testament and New Testaments (Banner of Truth Trust, 2000) p 284

64 S.M. Baugh, 1 John Reader (Philadelphia: P&R, 1999) 83



  1. But what about the epistles listing prophet as one of the five fold ministry offices?

  2. That is a great question. Please read Lesson 3 Question 9 answer, which is linked in the post above.

    This will help to answer the question, we can finish answering it once you’ve obtained the context for the response.

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