Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Acts 3:22-24; 7:37; Luke 24:19; John 5:27; Ezekiel 1:26; 2:1,3, 6,8.
These passages, to which many more could be added, touch upon the first of those designations of which we have made mention above, namely, Jesus as Prophet. If we look at that carefully and thoughtfully, it is capable of leading us into a wonderful knowledge and revelation of the Lord Jesus; that is, if the Holy Spirit opens our eyes. Those two who were on the Emmaus road made a statement which was more full and more true than they had any idea of, "...which was a prophet...". Yet in the same story we read that their eyes were restrained, so they did not know Him. It is quite clear from their conduct and their state of mind and heart that, although they believed that Jesus of Nazareth was a Prophet, they had not really seen what that meant or how true and how wonderful that was. But very soon He began to take up the Scriptures (with the prophet's [messages]), and their hearts began to burn as they began to see that He was more of a Prophet than they had ever thought.
Something of the wonder of Him of whom they had spoken as "a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people" began to break upon them. They found a Christ even when it seemed that they had lost Him; and when at length in the breaking of bread their eyes were opened and they knew Him, it was an altogether greater, more wonderful vision of Him than they had ever known. He had been to them a Prophet, mighty in word and deed. Now He, all unknown to them as to who He was at the moment, made them see something more of that which they had known in a way, and then, when they had seen something more of His greatness and His glory, He by an act said, "I am He!" To put that in another way, it was just like this: Jesus of Nazareth was a Prophet to them; yes, a great Prophet. Now this One has shown how much greater as a Prophet He is than ever they knew, and whereas they thought they had lost Him, they found they had a greater One than they knew. That is the upshot of it all.
We begin in this way in order that our hearts may be led to prayer. We have had some conception of, and faith in the Lord Jesus; we believe that we have known Him; we would strongly make our attestation concerning Him; we would be ready to say of Him, "A Prophet mighty in deed and in word before God and all the people". Yet there is something more than that for us. There is something more in Him than we have ever seen, and our eyes are still very largely restrained. Seeing that that is what happened once, who shall say that it has not happened many times? Seeing that we have such a concrete example of what can happen, should we not come at once to prayer, our hearts saying, "O Lord, I have seen Thee, I have known Thee, I have believed Thee; but it is clear that many who have gone that far have made discoveries far beyond anything that they knew; let it be like that with me, today." He is a Prophet; but what a Prophet - what there is yet to be revealed as to who Jesus of Nazareth really is!
There is a vast amount of technique connected with the Prophet, all of very great value, beyond our power of handling, but there are some things which it is necessary for us to recognise at once as we approach the Lord Jesus as revealed to us in the Word of God in the capacity of prophet. It might be thought that when you come to the Scriptures it is not quite correct to put things in that order - Prophet, Priest and King. You might agree to the last two, but question whether it is quite correct to put the Prophet first. It is upon that very point that we rest, for one of the most significant things in this threefold unveiling of Christ (it is correct to put it in that order) the Prophet, and the functions of the Prophet, precede that of the Priest and the King, but do not stop when the Priest and the King come in.
We go back as far as Abraham, with all that we know about Abraham as the father of the faithful, the father of Israel, and we are surprised to be told that Abraham was a prophet. You will remember that a certain ruler got into trouble over Abraham and found himself under judgement, and he enquired as to how he might be delivered from that judgement. The Word of the Lord to him was that Abraham was a prophet and he should pray for him. Perhaps we have not seen Abraham as a prophet, but I am quite sure we shall see how truly Abraham was a prophet before we get very far.
Then Moses was a prophet. We have thought of him as the lawgiver, the one who delivered Israel from Egypt, constituted the nation and led them through the wilderness. We have not always thought of Moses in the capacity of a prophet, and yet here in these Scriptures to which we have referred it is quite patent that the Lord regarded him as a prophet. "A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up from among your brethren like unto me", are the words of Moses. That was before the priest came in in any official capacity.
It goes back much further than that. It goes right back into the bosom of God in eternity, but we want for the moment to notice it in relation to the others.
You will see that when the priestly and the kingly failed, it was then that the prophet came again into evidence. The prophet, so to speak, took command. The priestly did fail from time to time in Israel, and all that the priesthood stood for failed and fell into disrepute, and a state came into being quite contrary to all that. Then it was that the prophet rose up and took charge. So it was when the kingly failed. Yes, even when David, the greatest of the kings failed, the prophet came into evidence and took charge. It was one of those painful, sad things. You notice that when David numbered Israel and sinned in so doing, the Lord spoke to the prophet Gad and told him to go to David. David had to communicate with the Lord through the prophet, and it says in that story that David was afraid to go to the tabernacle because of the angel with the drawn sword. David was a man who had worn the priestly vesture, who had enquired of the Lord with the robe of the ephod, to whom the Lord communicated His mind; the great king. He sinned, and now had no way through personally and directly to the Lord, and the prophet had to come in and govern the situation until all was put right again.
All this indicates how the function of the prophet takes priority over all else. Therefore, we are led to ask: What is the central, essential function of the prophet? For what does the prophet stand? We put it into one sentence. The function of the prophet is to satisfy God as to His thoughts concerning men. You probably think that is surely and essentially the function of the priest. That is true, but not so completely as in the prophet.
When you pass your eye over the whole of prophetic ministry or function in the Word of God, you find that three things constitute it:
1. Personal Representation
The first is personal representation. The prophet always stands as a personal representative of God. God is bound up with him. God is associated with him, and he is there as God, possessing God's thoughts and intentions concerning men. If Moses were a prophet, then remember that God went a very long way in his case when He said that he should be as God unto the people. The prophet always stood in that capacity. That is why to touch a prophet of the Lord was to touch God immediately. Therefore, "He rebuked kings for their sakes, saying, Touch not Mine anointed and do My prophets no harm", for the anointing is God having committed Himself. To touch the prophet is to touch God.
2. Divine Utterance
The prophet's word was always, "Thus saith the Lord". Again look at Moses, and see how often you have such a phrase as this, "As the Lord spake unto Moses". It was Divine utterance, God's thoughts in expression, God Himself speaking.
3. According to God's Mind
Things under the prophet were constituted according to God's mind, and if they deviated or departed from that Divine constitution, the prophet's function was to call back to that, to have everything among the Lord's people so constituted as to be an expression of the mind of God.
That sets forth the function of the prophet, but it is possible to get still more inward. When you have said that, there is a heart of things that has not yet been touched and we have to ask this further question: What is the innermost reality of the prophet? The answer is that it is man as God intends him to be. That is what the prophet stands for in himself and in his ministry; man. You can leave it with the one word if you like, man; but, of course, man as God means him to be. Hence you find this title, which is essentially and specifically the title of the prophet: son of man. It immediately designates Jesus of Nazareth a prophet. It is not the title of the priest, it is not the title of the king, it belongs to the prophet. It is a title that is wider than Israel, and wider than that of Messiah, and it is significant to notice that it was given to the Lord on the grounds of Israel's rejection of Him.
In Luke 9:18-22 you have the Lord Jesus saying to the disciples, "Whom do men say that I am?" They give various answers, and then He directs the question to them, "But whom say ye that I am?" They say, "Thou art the Christ of God." All that they knew concerning men's opinion of Him fell short of a recognition of who He really was, and spelled the blindness of Israel regarding Him, blindness brought about through pride and prejudice. Then there broke forth this, "Thou art the Christ". Now note: "See that thou tell no man. The Son of Man must suffer many things and be lifted up." The meaning of the title 'Son of Man' is clearly because of His rejection by Israel in blindness. It goes right over all the bounds of Israel. It goes right beyond Messiah-ship which belongs to Israel. The Son of Man is racial; it embraces the race.
It was exactly the same way in the case of Ezekiel. It was when the glory had gone from Jerusalem and the prophet was seeing the glory far away from Jerusalem, that this title came in, 'son of man'. What did that prophet see above the throne? Not the Messiah of Israel now, not Israel's King now, but the likeness of a Man, and in connection with the Man in the throne the address was 'Son of Man'. It is beyond Israel, something much greater. The heart of the prophet is man, God's thought concerning man.
Well then, if man is in view, you begin with the Divine design, and you go right back to the counsels of the Godhead before creation. In the Godhead there is this projecting of purpose and intention, "Let Us make man". Man is a Divine conception, "in Our image, after Our likeness" (Gen. 1:26). The Divine intention is concerning a special kind of creation called "man"; man to be an expression of God; man who is to serve God in His intent to manifest Himself; man the creation to answer to a desire found in the heart of God, a thought found in the mind of God to show Himself.
It is a great thing to get right back to the beginnings, because it gives you all the wonder, the glory, the strength, and everything that is so amazing about the Gospel. The Gospel has become shrunken and shrivelled, and pulled down to such a small level. It is a great thing to be saved from sin and from misery because of sin, and from the judgement and penalty of sin. It is a great thing to have the peace of God in your heart through sins forgiven. It is a great thing to know you are not going to hell but you are going to heaven; but with all that that may mean, it is a very imperfect Gospel in the light of what the Gospel really is. You go right back to the first thoughts of God as they are disclosed to us, and you will find His thought and intent in these words: "Let Us make man in Our image after Our likeness." Why do we have an image and a likeness? To project ourselves and to express ourselves. The simplest form nowadays of an image or a likeness is in order that when the person is out of sight, he or she may still be present, may still be seen. God intended to reveal and manifest Himself, and the vehicle chosen was a special creation, man. It was not reproducing Deity, but Divine likeness; moral and spiritual.
Now let us make a parenthesis and see the significance of that passage in Deuteronomy 18. It was ever God's thought that He should express Himself in all that He is, so that He could be seen, and, being seen, could be enjoyed and worshipped and that men should be able to dwell in His presence. When you come to Deuteronomy 18 you come into the realm where man has lost that capacity for enjoying God. God is no longer (to use the word reverently) "companionable," but awful and terrible; "God the all-terrible". He appeared like that in Horeb, and the people asked that it should not happen again. They begged that it should not be repeated lest they died. Did God ever intend the manifestation of Himself to end like that? No! Then you notice what happened. It was because of that that the Lord said, "I will raise up unto thee a Prophet" (verse 15). What is the Prophet for? That they may see God and not die; that they might know God and not perish; that God may be manifested and they may live and have fellowship with Him. That is Jesus Christ: "Jesus... My Prophet". The whole Gospel is comprehended in that.
That is what we have previously called the downward bend in the line of Divine intention. That line comes up again. The day is coming when man, who could only see God in that way of the Prophet, will see Him face to face in unveiled glory and enjoy His presence, because of the prophetic ministry and Person of the Lord Jesus, that He may bring us to God.
That is advancing a little. We have spoken of the Divine design, man; an expression, a manifestation of God, or in whom and by whom God manifests Himself. That was the intention, "Let Us make man...". The failure of man is recognised everywhere in that he did not conform to the Divine thought, and man as we know him is no manifestation of God. He is the manifestation of anything but God, and the more we know of him, the more we know how utterly unlike God he is in the depths of his being. But then there is the universal triumph of Jesus of Nazareth, who becomes the universal representation and pattern of man according to God's thought. In His incarnation, His life here on the earth as Man was subjected to every test of trial and temptation and all the fires that could be kindled upon Him. His Manhood passed through unscathed, unsullied, and God took that Manhood to heaven. Stephen sees the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. Saul sees Jesus of Nazareth in a glory above the brightness of the sun. John sees Him, and because of His glory falls down on his face as one dead. This is God's Man in representation and pattern.
Into that so much is gathered. First of all - and you need to go back to John's Gospel for this, for there you have it set forth in a peculiarly rich and direct way - into the Son of Man there is gathered God's standard for man. That is what John sets forth. That repeated utterance on His lips, "I am", brings everything to the Lord Jesus. All the way through John's Gospel it is a matter of bringing everything to Himself. He brings God the Father to Himself, and He says so definitely and strongly that even God the Father will do nothing apart from Him, "hath committed all things unto Him". No man can come to the Father apart from Him, only through Him; no one can know the Father, only by Him. He is the sum of everything in man's concern and interest in relation to God, and God has willed it so. That is, of course, what Israel would not have; that is why they cast Him out. He got in Israel's way before God. Their charge was that He made Himself equal with God.
The remarkable thing is that all this is summed up in this particular designation, and it is strange that it comes in John. You are not surprised to find it in Luke, but in John 5:27 you find: "...because He is the Son of man". It does not say the Son of God, but the Son of Man. The margin says, "a Son of man". The point there is the nature of the Son of God and His function, His office. God has gathered first of all into a Representative, into One who satisfies Him as to His thoughts for man, His standard for man. And there can be no acceptance of any man or any part of the human race that does not take its character from Jesus Christ.
Now you could open up all that Paul has to say about what we get by faith in Jesus Christ, and then all that he has to say about the Holy Spirit's operation in us in relation to Jesus Christ to conform us to His image, and you can see the course of things. It is a universal expression of Jesus Christ in all men who will ever be accepted of God and abide with God eternally. On the other hand, it means that where Jesus Christ is not, eventually that will cease to have a place in God's realm, in God's Kingdom. It is only what is of Christ that comes into the Kingdom of God, the realm of God, and abides. Christ is God's standard.
That explains everything for you and for me. Does it not interpret for us those mysterious activities of God in our lives and in the lives of so many of His people, those apparent contradictions? Here is one who seems so pre-eminently useful, so tremendously active for the Lord, who could be so greatly used and could do so much, and that one is taken right out of it all and shut up in apparent inactivity, where none or very little of that is getting out, and all that work is stopped, and the life seems to be imprisoned. Then the enemy is always there to prompt questions and give explanations which are diabolical and evil, intended to destroy the faith and to bring under condemnation. What is the answer? God is far more concerned with producing the image of His Son than He is with our being busy, our being full of activity in an outward way, even for Him.
This is one of the perils in Christian service, that so often our work, our teaching, our words go a long way ahead of what we are. We are saying things, and those things are not true in our own being. We are teaching things, and those things have not yet been wrought into us. We are giving ourselves to a realm of objective activity for the Lord, and looking after other men's vineyards, and our own is running to waste. That is a false position, and God says, "Stop, come away from it all, I have got to bring you abreast of those things you are saying. Ministry is not things said. Ministry is what you are, and everything said comes out of what you are, and the only ministry, the only thing that satisfies Me is Christ! The measure of value in My sight is not the amount of things said or the amount of things done, it is the amount of Christ that is there at the heart of everything. It is the measure of Christ."
All our sufferings, even though they be chastening, even though they be the rebuke of the Lord, even though they be (if you like to call it) punishment, all the mysterious providences of God, all those inexplicable handlings of us by Him, have one object. Believe it; it will rescue you from despair. It is the greatest object in God's universe, and that is: God expressing Himself in Christ in us.
The Prophet is a Representation of God.
Conformity to the image of His Son is an expression of God. It takes precedence over everything. It is God's supreme thought, "Let Us make man...". I wonder how many of us have realised that God has started that process all over again. Jeremiah's visit to the potter's house has a far wider application than Israel. It is racial. The vessel which he made was marred in his hands, and he made it again into another vessel. What did God say when He took this clay into His hands? "Let Us make man...". He is making the New Man in Christ, the New Man according to Christ. He is making man after His own image and in His own likeness. Presently service such as we have never contemplated will be entered upon. There may be work to be done here, but mark you, God will govern all our work and our activity here by this thought of increasing Christ in us. Any service for God which does not have that reaction upon ourselves to bring us into greater Christ-likeness, is false service. Service must come out of what there is of Christ, and must result in the increase of Christ, otherwise it is not service to God.
So it may be that some, because the service is increasing Christ, are allowed to do it. Others are taken out of it, because that is the way in which the Lord will get a greater increase of Christ in them than allowing them to do it. But, whether it be service or no service, here the governing factor is that making according to Christ which shall eventually issue in: "His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face."
"Let it not happen again," said Israel. Ah, but they shall see His face. What has happened? Who sees His face and lives? Jesus of Nazareth is looking fully into the face of God as a Man. He is God's Son, but as Man He is there in the unveiled presence of the infinite God. You and I are being brought through grace to the place where we can abide in the infinite glory, the infinite majesty, where we can see His face and live, and not only live, but serve Him. That is what God is doing with us.
At present we see the glory of God in the face of Jesus. That glory will be without a veil one day, and we shall behold Him as He is. "Now we see through a glass, darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12). It is necessary; we could not bear it otherwise. If we had the slightest glimmer and glimpse of the Lord Jesus it would be impossible for this humanity to bear it. Paul carried the effect of that to his death in his eyes that were affected. It is said of some that they would have plucked out their very eyes for Paul. He said, "See how large letters I have written to you..." (Gal. 6:11). Where did that come from? Just a little unveiling, a flash of the glory. Our destiny is to abide in glory, to dwell in it, and to live and to serve. That is our destiny in Christ. He is preparing us for that. That is the meaning of the Prophet.
We have not seen Jesus yet as a Prophet. There is that seeing of Him which is calculated to transfigure us into the same image, from one degree of glory to another. Into Jesus God has gathered His standard in relation to which He is carrying on His work in this world.
The Lord give us grace to recognise His end in the moulding, in all the perplexing experiences, and let Him do the thing upon which His heart is set, for He has not forsaken His original intention. He has said yet again, with fresh intention, in infinite grace, "Let Us make man... let Us make again after Our own image, in Our own likeness, for the expression of Ourselves."