Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church represents the latest work of New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson. I have been familiar with Johnson’s work for some time as an author, but had not read much of his previous work. This undertaking aspires to examine the prophetic role of Jesus Christ and to see how the first generation of His followers carried on the prophetic tradition as recorded in the Book of Acts.
Johnson begins by describing prophets as “the human beings who speak to their fellow humans from the perspective of God and, by so speaking, enable others to envision a way of being human more in conformity with God’s own vision for the world.” Humans need the disruptive voice of the prophet to challenge the standards and norms of the world that are developed through the comfort of time and normative acceptable behavior. It is the prophet’s voice that awakens the people from lethargy and calls them to a higher standard to which all will one day give an account.
Johnson does a thorough job of developing the foundation of who prophets were and how they could be identified among their contemporaries. He sharpens the focus of this to the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, following Luke’s narrative of Christ and then the transition through the development of the early church and the Gentile mission to Rome and beyond.
The author makes several helpful observations, the most helpful of which was the nature of how Jesus embodied his prophetic ministry. Johnson points to four characteristics of this embodiment that Jesus would have shared in common with other prophets who preceded Him. First was poverty and the sharing of possessions. Jesus spoke to the poor as one of them. His life was marked by homelessness and unemployment, depending upon the faithfulness of His Father through the people to meet His tangible need for daily bread. For Jesus to have spoken to the poor from the posture of wealth would have been disingenuous. Jesus, however, identified fully with those who struggled daily to find “daily bread.”
The second prophetic characteristic Jesus embodied was itinerancy. Jesus didn’t have a home or a base of operation. Neither did he have a local church to serve who would provide his basic needs. On the other hand, the gospel record depicts Jesus as being constantly on the move. One day he is in the city, the next may find Him on the country side. He went to the people, wherever they were, regardless of how He might be received.
Characteristic three is prayer. One of the observations Jesus’ biographers repeatedly make is that He was a man of prayer. As a result of His prayerfulness, we see Jesus described as a man “led by the Spirit.” Certainly prayer and the Spirit’s leadership go hand in hand, for one does not usually find one without the other. Each significant move in Jesus ministry is marked by prayer, which is consistent with prophetic ministry throughout Old Testament history.
The final marker of prophetic embodiment is servant leadership. Many of the miracles demonstrate Jesus’ servant leadership, such as feeding the 5,000. Jesus’ teaching on subjects like humility and passive resistance also underscore his servant spirit. This characteristic is perhaps most clearly revealed during the last supper when He washed the disciple’s feet. Jesus came to “serve, and not be served,” as those who had gone before Him.
Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church is well written and helpful. Each chapter deals with an aspect of the prophetic Jesus, then details how Jesus’ prophetic ministry was carried forward by the early church. Each chapter concludes with a contemporary challenge for today’s church, citing examples of what the prophetic voice of church might look like in modern culture. It’s not written on a popular level, so this book is best suited for pastors and teachers and those who are serious students of the New Testament. It is a wonderful contribution to New Testament studies and will be proudly placed in my library for future reference.