One of the interesting things about prophetic office is that often the prophet is not merely someone who speaks God’s mind about past, present or future. Sometimes the prophet is also prophetic in their person and life. Abraham, for instance, does not simply hold the office of prophet. His life story is kind of advance narrative of the story of the nation of Israel. Being called of God, going down into Egypt (and getting into trouble with Pharaoh), coming up from Egypt and receiving the covenant, only to eventually go back and repeat the mistake (as Israel did, and wandered the desert for 40 years).
John the Baptist was this kind of prophet. For not only does he speak the mind of God that the people of God should repent by re-enacting their deliverance from Egypt in baptism, but John himself represents a line of demarcation in history. Jesus said John marks the close of the Old Testament canon and the opening of a new phase in God’s dealing with His people, “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.” That is, the old order of how God spoke to His people lasted until John. John is the beginning of a new order. From John onward the prophetic is incarnate. The message of the prophet is not just what they say, and more than how their lives play out. It is who they actually are.
In that sense John was unique. He was a prophet as of old, but also a shadow of the new. Jesus affirmed, “And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear.” Jesus is not affirming reincarnation. He is saying that John embodied the prophesy of Malachi 4:5–6, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” That is who John was. John is Malachi 4:5-6 fulfilled in a person. Jesus, who comes after John, is prophesy incarnate too, but much more than just prophesy. Jesus is God’s message to His people. His words, His life, and all He did in His life – it all speaks to us of God’s character and will. Jesus is the message. Not just the words He spoke (as John 3:16), but all He spoke and all He did. Including the miracles and signs and wonders. Including the suffering and crucifixion and the resurrection. All of Him is God’s message to all His people.
The direct application is seen in our life goal as Christians. We are to be like Jesus. We are to emulate Him in how we live our lives. In fact, the whole point of having the Holy Spirit poured out upon us from Pentecost onward was that we might embody God’s message to a lost world, and all the lost people in it. Christians really don’t have a choice in the matter. We are more than prophets. All who belong to God through Jesus literally are God’s message to a lost and hurting world.
The question then is, “Is God accurately reflected in us (so people can see Him), or are we distorting His message so much as to make it indecipherable?”
It is a question we should ask ourselves often.
It costs something to be a true Christian. Let that never be forgotten. To be a mere nominal Christian, and go to church is cheap and easy work. But to hear Christ’s voice, follow Christ, believe in Christ and confess Christ, requires much self-denial.J.C. Ryle
When was the last time you picked up a new spiritual discipline, so that you might reflect God’s holiness better than ever before? Is today that day?