A Jewish Prophet or a Preacher of Christ: Which?
The Lord has seen fit to make a tremendous difference between the messages given to the prophets in the Old Testament and those communicated to His servants in New Testament Times. Every believer in our Lord Jesus Christ should certainly expect this, for the coming of Christ into the world has made a change that affects every human being: 'that was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man' (John 1:9 NASB). This does not mean that everyone is inwardly enlightened by the fact of Christ's coming, but He is the light that now shines upon all mankind, and the blessing of this is available to all. Therefore, the messages given to New Testament servants of the Lord are intended to make this marvellous fact as plain as possible to every hearer, so that they might be inwardly enlightened too.
We are not to suppose, however, that we may ignore the Old Testament and its many God-given prophecies. But God intends us to learn how to distinguish between the many comparisons and contrasts that are all intended to teach us seriously important lessons. Let us therefore consider first
Old Testament Prophets
Samuel was an outstanding prophet of the Lord chosen while very young. Though he feared at this early age to give Eli the solemn message of judgment from God against his sons, yet Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him (1 Samuel 3:18). God had spoken audibly to Samuel, as He often did to prophets after this, and Samuel must speak fully, but only what had been given him to speak. Later Samuel brought messages of solemn warning and reproof to Israel (1 Sam. 8:10-18; 12:1-17), in the latter case having his words backed up by asking God to send thunder and rain to impress the truth on the people. As to comparison, New Testament servants must surely give the full truth of God, holding nothing back that is consistent with God's message today. Yet there is great contrast too. God speaks today to His servants, not audibly, but by the written Word of God, which, now that we have the New Testament, is complete. Samuel was told to appoint a king over Israel because of Israel's determination to have one. Nothing like this is told to any New Testament servant. In fact, Israel as a nation has been set aside by God because of their rejection of Christ, God's true King, and God is rather today seeking to awaken people from among all nations to receive Christ in living faith while He is rejected by the world. Nor are God's servants today given orders to bring miraculous signs from God to back up their messages. Rather, since the Spirit of God has come to apply the message to the hearers, and the servant must depend on this power rather than on outward signs.
Elijah was an usual prophet who suddenly appeared on the scene when Israel had descended to a state of lowest moral decadence under Ahab, the most wicked king that reigned in Israel. Elijah had prayed earnestly that it might not rain, we are told in James 6:17. He simply told Ahab that it would not rain until Elijah gave further word (1 Kings 17:1), and it did not rain for three years and six months. He prayed later, and the rain came, but not before he had prepared a sacrifice before Ahab and all the people upon which the fire of God had fallen to consume it and the altar and even dust and water (1 Kings 18:31-38). Later Elijah met Ahab when Ahab had got rid of Naboth so as to steal his vineyard, and pronounced solemn judgment against him, saying that in the place the dogs had licked the blood of Naboth, there they would lick the blood of Ahab (1 Kings 21:17-24). When later on another king sent soldiers to arrest Elijah and they spoke arrogantly to him, he commanded fire to come down from heaven and consume them, and two companies of fifty each were thus destroyed (2 Kings 1:9-12). Notice, in the case of Elijah, we do not hear of him preaching against the many sins of Israel, but only acting for God in judgment against sin that was evident.
Is a Christian preacher to follow Elijah's example? Certainly he is to have no less abhorrence of evil than Elijah did; and Elijah is a good example so far as prayer is concerned (James 5:17-18). But when James and John asked the Lord if they should command fire to come down from heaven (as Elijah did) to devour some Samaritans, the Lord rebuked them, saying, You do not know what kind of spirit you are of, for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them (Luke 9:54-56). Although the law required judgment of sin, and Elijah pressed this fact seriously upon Israel, even to the point of bringing God's judgment down upon their heads, yet the Lord Jesus insists that He Himself had not come to carry out the sentence of law against men, but rather had come to save them. If this is the very reason for His coming, then it is clear that the message of His saving grace is the prime message of His servants today.
Elisha was a much different type of prophet than Elijah. Not that he was opposed to Elijah or to his ministry; rather he was thoroughly devoted to him, and he received a double portion of Elijah's spirit when Elijah was taken to heaven (2 Kings 2:9-12). But his ministry is typical of that of the Lord Jesus in the present day, now that Christ has ascended to heaven, but works through His servants. God worked miracles through him, but his miracles were nearly all miracles of grace, not of judgment, apart from two exceptional cases (2 Kings 2:23-24; 5:27). Consider Naaman, a Gentile, being healed of leprosy (2 Kings 5), and various other cases from chapter 2 to 7 of 2 Kings.
It is well for us today to think of this exceptional ministry of Elisha, even when under the dispensation of law, for it shows what God really delighted in , even before Christ came to reveal the fullness of the grace of God in truth.
Samuel, Elijah and Elisha have special interest for us because their histories are given in some real measure. Daniel and Jonah could be added to these, but others of the prophets mainly give their ;message, without our knowing much about their histories. Isaiah, whose prophecy is the longest of all, has messages of both stern reproof against Israel particularly, and of wonderful promise of future blessing. He begins by writing, Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth; For the Lord speaks, Sons I have reared and brought up, but they revolted against Me (chapter 1:2). We need not go into all the chapters that deal with exposure of Israel's many sins, but this is the main burden of the first 39 chapters of the book. We now too that not only Isaiah denounced the guilt of the nation Israel, but many others of the prophets did the same. Israel was still under law, therefore they needed to be faced with the facts of their having despised and broken the law. God specially denounced the hypocrisy of His people in pretending to keep the law while they were far from Him in heart. They would bring multitudes of offerings to God (chapters 1:10-11), supposing this would cover their sins, but He wanted them to know that He saw through all their deceitful actions and discerned the thoughts and intents of their hearts.
However, this was not Isaiah's only message. In chapter 40 he begins a prophecy of deepest comfort and blessing for Israel, but not Israel as in the flesh and walking in their own way, but with the flesh reduced to nothing (vv. 6-87). Here was a marvellous promise concerning the future. But it focuses on the voice of one crying in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God (verse 3-NKJV). How wonderful a prophecy is this of only a voice, which was John the Baptist (John 1:23), announcing the coming of the One who is both Lord and God. Well might John say of the Lord Jesus, I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God (John 1:34).
After exposing Israel's guilt, Isaiah then promises the coming of the only One who can possibly meet that guilt and change Israel's condition. Isaiah also gives the exquisitely beautiful prophecy of the rejection and death of Christ as the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the nation (Isaiah 53), of His burial, then of His exaltation in resurrection (vv. 9-12).
These things are consistent with the messages generally given by all the prophets in the Old Testament. It was necessary that God should use theses men to press upon Israel the seriousness of their sins in practical defiance of the law of God which they had engaged themselves to keep.
However, passing by many other prophets of the Old Testament, let us now consider some
New Testament Servants of God
John The Baptist
In the New Testament John the Baptist was given a singularly special place, for he appeared in public before the Lord Jesus did, to prepare the way for Him. He did not therefore have the complete message of Christianity, but spoke similarly to Old Testament prophet sin censoring the sin of Israel and calling people to repentance with a view to having to meet their Messiah (Matt. 3:1-12). While we can honour and seek to imitate John's faith and devotedness to the Lord, yet no-one has his position today, and we do not have the same message to give as he.
The Disciples While the Lord was on Earth
Before the death and resurrection of Christ, the message given to the disciples was not the same as it was later. When the Lord sent them out to preach, he told them, Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter into any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matt. 10:5-6). At this time they were told to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. They were not even to take personal provisions with them but to depend on the people of Israel for this support.
Consistently with most messages in the Old Testament, the message of the disciples was intended only for Israel, because Israel were the chosen people of God, and God would give them first opportunity to hear of Christ, who already come to their own country.
But the Lord Jesus changed this decisively on the night of His betrayal, when He was ready to go to the cross of Calvary. In Luke 22:35 we hear Him saying, When I sent you without purse and bag and sandals, ye did not lack anything, did you? And they said, No, nothing. And He said to them, But now, let him who has purse take it along, likewise also a bag, and let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one.
What is the reason for this change? Israel had fully rejected their Messiah and He was submitting to the fact of His being rejected. Now that He was to be crucified, the gospel was to be carried far more widely than they had carried it, as in Luke 24:47, after His being raised again. He tells these same disciples that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles
Paul, one of the most zealous of all Jews for his Jewish religion, was converted through the Lord Jesus speaking directly to him from heaven, and was a totally changed man. No longer was he zealous for his religion, but had his heart expanded to desire the great blessing of Gentiles as well as Jews, blessing that could not be found under law, but only in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus.
God chose this man to display in him specially what the message of God is for every preacher of the gospel today. Did God say anything about Paul's exposing and denouncing the sins of the people, the rulers, the prominent men of our day? Did He call upon Paul to be the same kind of prophet as Hosea, Joel or Amos, giving the same kind of message? Not at all! What was the burden of Paul's preaching to the Gentiles? He tells us himself in Ephesians 3:8-11: 'To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ: to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in heavenly places, according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord' (NKJV).
The nations are in a totally different position than Israel was. Israel had been chosen by God to be put under His law with their full agreement. They were therefore separated as a sample of all mankind, and their failure under law is proof that we (all Gentiles) also are failures (Rom. 3:19). Now God is bringing in the remedy, the only remedy for our lost condition. Should the Lord's servant then try to correct the many wrongs that he sees in the world? Should he demand that governments, those people in authority and people generally should change their habits of evil living? Is this the message that God gives His servants to convey to a world already sunk in the mire of wickedness?
No! If we do this, people may flatter us and tell us how right we are, an go on living in the same way. If they do have any twinges of conscience and try to change, they will find themselves powerless to do so. It is true they must face the fact that they are sinners, but the only true relief they will have is in confessing their sin to the Lord Jesus and trusting Him as living, faithful, gracious Saviour. This must be a personal transaction of the individual with his or her Lord, and only this can change the attitude and actions of any human being. Paul therefore preached the unsearchable riches of Christ. Such riches cannot be known by mere human searching, but by receiving the revelation of God's grace as it is made known in the person of the Lord Jesus.
What are we preaching today? Are wasting our time and spiritual gifts in attempting to improve an alarming moral condition of the world around us? Supposing we in some degree are able to accomplish this, what have we done? We have likely only succeeded in making people feel more smug and self satisfied in their self-improvement while they are still on their way to hell!
God is offering in Christ a complete deliverance from the guilt and bondage of sin and an eternal inheritance in heaven, rather than any earthly security. Do we believe the Word of God in this matter? Are we preaching Christ with the fervency of deep desire that others may know the truth of eternal forgiveness, eternal justification, eternal life, eternal glory with Christ?
Old Testament prophets promised that Christ would come. Now that He has come, we have no reason to revert back to preaching in the way they did. We are to preach rather, not merely of future promise, but of accomplished fact. We know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life (1 John 5:20). Eternal life is available now for every person who will receive it by receiving Christ as a personal Saviour. This will not only change a person's conduct: it will affect his inmost being in giving him a living faith in the Son of the living God. This is the root of the matter, and only the knowledge of the Lord Jesus can meet this root.
Which Will We Chose?
Can we even think of deciding to choose between preaching Christ and following the example of the Old Testament prophets in exposing and denouncing the wickedness of the world? Those prophets themselves-God's true servants in their day-would be foremost in reproving us for trying to follow their example in such work. Why? Because they also prophesied of the coming of the Lord Jesus and of His complete victory over evil and His grace toward repentant sinners. Once they know of the accomplishment of those promises, they would never think of again raising their voices in their previous denouncements. They will find the deepest pleasure in the person of the Lord Jesus and would surely be glad to hear Him preached as Paul preached Him. Let us resolutely keep our minds set on the glory of our blessed Lord, and be delighted in preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ.