Although he lived in the 1st century, Jesus is still one of the most influential individuals in the history of humankind and the most influential individual in terms of Christianity, leaving his teachings to travel through time and space, being transmitted from generation to generation. This essay discusses about Jesus as a prophet and as a religious reformer, correlating these attributes of Jesus with Christology.
Jesus the Prophet
Jesus communicated with his contemporary through “poetic teaching, paradoxes and hyperboles”, transcending them from their quotidian human concerns related to politics, social welfare, oppressions, etc., to a world of infinite grace, open to everybody, with no boundary regarding the love for the others, above any human rivalry. Moreover, Jesus communicated to the people of his time through his deeds, curing people with various handicaps and disabilities, such as lames, blind people, forgiving the sinners and promising them the after-life, indicating the qualities of a savior.
Two attributes emerge from Jesus’ behavior in relation to his peers: (1) he was a good orator, developing a persuasive communication for transmitting information regarding Christian religion and its values (kindness, mercy, non-violence, love for the close ones and for the foreigners, as opposed to the dogmas of other religions of the time that promoted violence for the foreigners); (2) he was a curer, having unordinary powers to heal people, acts that were considered as miracles.
Bible.org defines the prophets as individuals sent by the Lord to guide people back to him, while Eastham, reflecting at the identity of the prophet, states that this is a divine transcendent, from another world, although acting in direct relation with the world, who teaches or interprets of the will of God. Therefore, based on these two definitions, a prophet is a human send by God for directing and guiding people into doing his will and following his teachings.
In accordance to his deeds and words, Jesus Christ presumably followed God’s Word and delivered it to humans, in order to determine them to follow it. As such, the qualities of a good orator and a persuasive communicator are required attributes for fulfilling God’s mission as a prophet.
However, Edward Brown observes that there should be made a differentiation between what is understood today as a prophet and how was the concept prophet perceived in the 1st century, when this term was connected to the Biblical reference, based on the Old Testament, which defined prophets as individuals who could predict the future. Jesus did predict various events, such as Judah’s betrayal with a kiss or Peter’s denial of knowing Jesus, fulminating with his crucifixion and rising up from the death the third day, according to the scriptures (sursa).
Jesus’ teachings were the same for everybody: Jews, non-Jews, women, men, children, disabled, etc., indicating his equal love for everybody, treating everybody in the same way, without biases of any kind, preaching like this, non-verbally, one of the values of the Christian religion: the love for humans and the equality between individuals. This made him a follower of his own prophecy, for a prophet must be a model for the ones whom he teaches.
The fact that Jesus was considered a prophet because of his abilities to predict the future, relating to the Old Testament understanding of prophecy, was in close relation to the attribution of religious reformer, because according to OT, prophets were primarily religious reformers. His work of reforming religion implied criticizing the religion existent in his time, by proposing the alternative. As such, in the first century, when Jesus lived, religion was characterized by a great diversity, such as the Sadducees, Pharisees, Hellenists and a tremendous variety of sects such as Samaritans, Essenes, Zealots or Nazarenes. Moreover, as the social sphere of Jews was heavily influenced by the dominating Roman Empire, its influence also reached the religious area, applying its religion model, which was directly related and influenced by politics and politics directly related and influenced by religion.
Jesus prophecy criticized this religious form, proposing God’s Kingdom as the solution for Salvation, as a pure alternative to living God’s Word, without interfering with politics, political strategies and military tactics, which were elements of the political strategies. In fact, the religion that Jesus preached to his listeners and followers was totally opposite to militaristic style, teaching the returning of love and kindness to hate and persecution, loving God above all.
Not only was Jesus a prophet, but he was the son of God and the Messiah, which make him the supreme Prophet and Teacher, with a dual nature: human, being the embodiment of life and divine, holding the Truth and revealing it to the people of his time. As related to Christology, Jesus is worshiped both a the son of God and as the son of Man, due to his capacity of transcending with kindness, love, prophecy and power to heal (human and divine abilities) through his dual nature.
As related to Christology, a question is to be raised regarding why was Jesus a part of the holy trinity. Jesus’ attribute of being a prophet did not placed him in the holy trinity, nor his religious reformer position. Instead, being the son of God
Jesus the Religious Reformer
Discussing about religious reformation, there should be better understood the concept of reformation. McMahon elaborates on the reformation stating that reformation was a political, social and religious movement that established the primacy of the literal sense of the Scripture and it settled the autonomy of one individual believer, based on the personal interpretation of the Scripture. Therefore, this theory suggests that religious reformation has social and political implications and extrapolating, this implies that Jesus religious reformation included social and political reformation. Analyzing the facts, Jesus’ religious reformation included social reformation, since it proposed a new lifestyle for the believers, in which they would live in peace and harmony, loving their neighbors as they loved themselves, responding to violence, oppression and hate with love, extending the Kingdom of peace to infinity. It also included a political reformation, although an indirect one, considering the fact that previous to his teachings, the religious life was interconnected with the political life and by reforming the religion, the politics would implicitly be reformed as well.
Besides his oratory and persuasive skills, besides his ability to heal people from various ailments, besides his power to predict the future, Jesus also had strategies in reforming the religion. As such, it is considered that the election of the twelve apostles was a strategy designed for reforming Israel, teaching them the Word of God for helping him to further transmit it to people.
In his role as a prophet and as a religious reformer, Jesus advocated the end of the an old religion, based on political influence, oppression, cultic sacrifices, etc., and the beginning of a new religious era, of a New Jerusalem, a new form of divination and religious worship, which motivated him to inform people about God’s plan to terminate values such as sin, imperfection and create new values that would establish a new world order, based on goodness and peace that would dominate humans’ behavior and the entire world.
Further discussion should cover the Christological approach on the idea that Jesus was a religious reformer. Brown treats the Christology from a scholarly liberalism perspective, which recognizes the Christology as part of the New Testament, where Jesus is perceived as a moralizer and social reformer. McMahon also reflects at Jesus’ role of social reformer, as he perceives Jesus’ critique of religious practice as a moralizer attitude towards the Mosaic Law and towards living in religious spirit. Therefore, Jesus’ main concern is the moral living of the Jews and for achieving this goal, changes must be made, so that he becomes a social reformer. Because his messianic mission is to preach God’s Word, Jesus proclaims a new religion for reaching social reformation.
The fact that Jesus was a prophet and a reformer of the religion of his time was correlated to the perception about prophecy and religious reform of that time. He was considered a prophet because he could tell the future and because of his persuasive abilities of communicating God’s Word. He was a reformer of the religion of his time because he preached for new values, replacing hate with love and violence with turning the other cheek, defining other human moral standards, which were to be achieved through religion. Jesus’ dual nature, divine and human, include these two attributes (prophet and religious reformer), defining the Christology included in the New Testament.
Bible.org. Chapter Three What is a Prophet? (n.d.) Accessed on 4 October 2013, https://bible.org/seriespage/chapter-three-what-prophet.
Brown, Raymond, Edward. An introduction to new testament Christology. New York: Associated Supplicants of the U.S. 1994.
Eastham, Mary. “Shaman, Prophet, Sage: Deepening the Meaning of Spirituality and Social Justice for Teachers’ Practice” New Zealand Journal of Teachers’ Work. Vol. 3, no. 2 (2006): 97 – 107.
Fasching, Darrell, J., deChant, Dell & Lantigua, David, M. Comparative religious ethics: A Narrative Approach to Global Ethics. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. 2011.
Liew, Kevin. 2004. “Was Jesus Primary a Religious Prophet or Social Activist?” Australian Journal of Theology 3, (2004): 1-3.
McMahon, Christopher. Jesus Our Salvation: An Introduction to Christology. Minnesota: Christian Brothers Publications. 2007.
Simao, Hugo Passos. Jesus Christ, the Liberator. Theo 275. 2009.
Tofana, Stelian. “Jesus ‘The Prophet’ in the Witness and Belief of His Contemporaries According to the Fourth Gospel-a Johannine Theological Perspective”, Sacra Scripta. Vol 7, no. 1 (2009): 98.
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Woods, Laurie. Jesus at Home in Judaism. Accessed on 4 October, 2013. Retrieved from http://dlibrary.acu.edu.au/staffhome/gehall/fcf-woods.pdf. N.d.