We have studied the lives of many of the people who the Old Testament was written about or by, and now having seen faith in the lives of “Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel,” we have come to “the prophets.” Who were these men? What was their message? Why are they included as a group in this list of the faithful?
Just as the writer of Hebrews did not have the time or the words to describe all of these and their faith, so to it would be a daunting task to try and list and describe every prophet mentioned in the Scriptures. Men like Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, and all the others – some listed as “major prophets,” some as “minor,” not to differentiate between their messages but only the length and placement in history of their ministry and works. Some were embraced and listened to and sought for counsel, others were rejected and mocked and even killed for speaking the truth of God’s Word.
Truly we do not have time in this venue to examine closely all the prophets and their ministries so instead I want to spend a few minutes taking a look at what Jesus had to say about the prophets. Jesus, as a prophet Himself, not only spoke prophetically but also fulfilled prophecy. Let us see how He related to these men of faith. The Book of Matthew gives us more evidence of Jesus as the Messiah in direct fulfillment to prophecy than any other New Testament book, so let us start there.
The Law and the Prophets
For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. – Matthew 11:13
Jesus referred to all the prophets as those who spoke forth the Word of God up until John the Baptist. It is not that John was the last prophet, but certainly he was the last Old Testament prophet. With the coming of the Messiah, which John foretold and for whom he prepared the way, the main focus of the ministry of the prophets had been accomplished.
They preached the revealed Word of God to His people and the world in order to point them to the coming promised Savior. They presented Christ in prophesy, veiled in types and shadows. The ministry of John ended as Christ was revealed fully and finally to His people. Luke 16:16 refers to the change by noting that the prophets and law were until John but then came the preaching of the kingdom of God. It is not that the prophets were not part of the kingdom or did not allude to the kingdom, but there was a change from the Old to the New Covenants in the message and the messengers.
In the Old we have promised a Savior who is coming, yet to be revealed. In the New, the veil is taken away and the Messiah is seen coming in the flesh, God with us. That to which the prophets and law pointed had come in the Person of Christ.
Perhaps one of the most thorough comparisons in the Bible between the Old and New Covenants in this regard (other than the Book of Hebrews) is found in 2 Corinthians 3. In this chapter we are shown the glory of the New Covenant. The Old was glorious. The work and lives and ministry of the prophets was ordained of God for His purposes and was a glorious thing. But the New, the self revelation of God through His Son, that is even more glorious. The prophets spoke of the glory to come, the apostles show us in the New Covenant the glory that is now here.
So we find that the prophets were men of faith, men who believed God and obeyed Him. They were used to give us the Word of God in the Old Testament and along with the Apostles, they form the very foundation of the church, of which Christ is the cornerstone. They are not just men of faith, they are foundational to the faith itself (Ephesians 2:20).
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. – Matthew 5:17
As Jesus took up where the prophets left off, so to speak, He tells us plainly that He did not come to undo what they had done. This is important. Why? Because there is a disease in the church today that is trying to kill her! It is this dangerous and horrible idea that the Old Testament is not for Christians today. Some will misapply the statement that we are under grace, not law. Others say that the New Testament alone contains what the church needs to operate and succeed. Some reject the Old Testament as nothing more than a history book, not relevant to their faith.
However, the Bible is the Bible, it is One Book, comprised of 66 Books, containing the Old and New Testaments. It starts at Genesis and ends with Revelation. And it is all the Word of God, God-breathed Scripture that is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). While Paul says that we are under grace and not law, he never meant that to be taken that the Old Testament is useless and irrelevant to the believer today. He could never have thought such.
Think about it. When Jesus preached and ministered and the church was birthed at Pentecost, the only Bible they had was the Old Testament as the New was yet to be recorded for us.
So while Jesus challenged the teachers of His day and the traditions of men, He never intended to destroy the law or prophets. No! He came to fulfill them. This means not only that He is the fulfillment of prophecy, but that also He came to keep the whole law perfectly in our stead. This speaks to the righteousness imputed to us by faith when we are justified. Jesus obeyed all the law and kept everything the prophets said.
He did not come to undo what they had founded, but to finish the work, to lay the rest of the foundation, and to prove that indeed the Old Testament is not irrelevant or useless because the Old Testament testifies on every page one simple truth – He is. Just as God identifies Himself as “I AM”, so to the Old and New Testament reveals to us Christ. He is. He fulfills the Word, He is the Living Word, He is why the Bible was written. To cut the first 39 Books of that revelation off and toss it away is to reject the truth that all Scripture is given by inspiration.
Jesus is the climax of the Word of God. Its every page points us to Him. He is the substance that has cast the shadows of the Old Testament. He is the focus of every lesson, every story, every parable, and every Word. The prophets are not contained in the Hall of Faith simply because they trusted Christ. There is more to it than that. The prophets laid the foundation for the work that He would accomplish, they gave us the Word of God that He would fulfill and keep on our behalf.
On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. – Matthew 22:40
Jesus not only fulfilled the law and prophets, but He also tells us specifically what they all mean. Even if we get lost in trying to figure out the application and interpretation of prophesy we can be sure of this one thing, everything that has been given to us in the law and prophets hangs on the two greatest commandments. This is the plumb line that we can use for determining what a prophesy or passage means as it is recorded in the pages of Scripture. What are these two greatest commandments?
When the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
All of the law, all of the prophets hang on these two things. All of the Old Testament can be placed in one of these two categories. Simply put, here is what the Bible teaches us – to love God with all we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
We see this even from the Ten Commandments. The first four tell us how we are to love God. The second six tell us how we are to love our fellow man. All of the Word of God hangs then on this principle of love – absolute, unconditional, unfeigned love for God and others.
Sadly, many use the law and prophets to preach a word of death and destruction and hate. How many “hate groups” use Scripture to try and defend their positions? But they cannot. Ultimately, Jesus by His own authority and in His own Words tells us that all the law and all the prophets depend upon and point to these two great truths about God and others – we are to love.
At times this may seem overly simplistic, but then the Word of God and the gospel is simple. Not cheap. Not easy. But simple. And if anyone ever tells you that it is easy they do not know what they are talking about. Following Christ is not easy. Loving God is not easy. Loving others is not easy. It is not natural for us as sinners to love anyone other than ourselves. Thankfully we are not “natural” men and women if we have been redeemed, regenerated by the power of the Spirit, and enabled to love because God is love.
So as Jesus related to the ministry and faith of the prophets, it was to use them to point to Himself, so that we might love Him and love each other without fail. If we can read the prophets and not grow in our love for Christ then we may be seeing the words on the page but we are failing to hear what they are saying. Look for Jesus on every page – as the Bible was given to us to reveal Him in all of His glory.