You may have heard that Jesus was a teacher who performed miracles and claimed to be sent by God. You may have also heard him being called a prophet. Jesus was indeed a prophet, meaning that, like other biblical prophets, he delivered a message from God, urging his listeners to turn from wrongdoing and embrace God’s forgiveness.
When many people think of prophecy, they imagine a mysterious sage like Nostradamus, a medieval French astrologer who claimed to predict the future. That is not exactly what we mean by Jesus being a prophet. Jesus made some statements concerning the future, but this was not his main focus. He did, for instance, predict the destruction of the Temple which occurred in 70 CE, almost forty years later (Mark 13:1–2, Luke 21:20, 24).
However, Scripture defines a “prophet” more broadly as a messenger sent by God, someone entrusted with God’s own words (Exodus 4:15–16). While many ancient societies attempted to discover a deity’s wishes through elaborate rituals such as examining the entrails of dead animals, the God of Israel sent prophets to give his people a specific message. This method was more direct—and certainly much cleaner! Sometimes this message included a future prediction, but more often it was a call to repent (turn from wrongdoing) or a promise of hope.
In this sense, Yeshua was a prophet squarely within the tradition of biblical prophecy. A central part of his message was urging people to repent (Mark 1:15) and announcing God’s forgiveness (John 3:16-18). Like the prophets of the Hebrew Bible, he had good news and bad news. The bad news was that each of us has sinned, going our own way instead of living life to love God and love people; the good news was that anyone who admits his or her wrongdoing and believes in Yeshua is forgiven.
Nevertheless, Yeshua was not just another prophet; he was the supreme prophet who surpassed all others. This is a bold claim for us to make, but it is not without warrant. The greatest prophet, or messenger of God, in the Hebrew Bible was Moses. However, even he said that God would send Israel a prophet like himself, whom God would know “face-to-face” and who would do wonders in his name (Deuteronomy 18:15-19, 34:10-12). One ancient Jewish commentary on the biblical book of Ecclesiastes cites several parallels between the life of Moses and that of the Messiah, concluding that “like the first redeemer, so the last redeemer.”1 This indicates that for centuries Jewish people have understood this passage in Deuteronomy to speak of a coming prophet and savior who would be like Moses.2
With great miracles, Moses liberated the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and communicated God’s instruction. Yeshua came to rescue us from an even more dire predicament: slavery to sin (John 8:34–36). We have all sinned, and our wrongdoing keeps us from enjoying the loving relationship with God we were meant to have. In a sense, we are in bondage, unable to live the upright life we desire. In our personal relations, we unintentionally say the wrong thing, or nothing at all. In light of the suffering in the world, we feel helpless, unsure how to help or simply grieved by its magnitude.
Yeshua died to pay the penalty of our wrongdoing and liberate us to live the lives we were made for. Just as Israel’s redemption from Egypt was accompanied by great signs such as the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 7:3–5; 14:21–22), so too was Yeshua’s redemptive work marked by a great sign: his coming back to life on the third day.
Through Moses, God communicated to the Jewish people guidelines for how they were to live as his people. Through Jesus’ life and death, God changes the hearts of those who believe in him, empowering them to live rightly and restoring relationship with them (Jeremiah 31:31–34; 1 Peter 1:3). So yes, Jesus was a prophet, albeit one with a unique role and message. He was the prophet not only like, but also greater than Moses, saving those who trust in him and drawing them into relationship with God.
- Mekhilta de Rab Kahana 5.8, Qohelet Rabbah on 1:9. cf. Song of Solomon Rabbah 2.9.3.
- In contrast, Jewish commentators since the medieval period have affirmed Moses’ incomparability as a prophet. Maimonides, for instance, interpreted Deuteronomy 34:10-12 to mean that there would never be a prophet like Moses, rather than that such a prophet had simply not yet appeared when the ending of Deuteronomy was written. Maimonides, Letter to Yemen, Chapter X. Available here.