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Jesus as Prophet
Jesus as Prophet

Jesus’ Prophetic Lineage

Friday, January 27, 2023

CAC teacher Brian McLaren says that we understand Jesus more clearly when we consider him through the lineage of his Jewish faith and the Hebrew prophets:  

What seems to have happened in Christian history is that we have tried to understand Jesus primarily through his descendants, meaning when we want to understand Jesus, we say, “What did Paul say about Jesus? What did Augustine say about Jesus? What did Aquinas say about Jesus? What did Martin Luther or John Calvin or John Wesley say about Jesus?” We try to understand Jesus by studying what people said after his life. I think it would be much better for us to understand Jesus forwards in the sense of, “Look at his ancestors; look at the lineage into which he came.” Does that make sense? Place Jesus in the context of his history and his story.  

When we do that, we understand that for Jesus growing up as a Jew, he was entering into a realm of people like patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and the people who gave birth to a new people. Of course, we should add Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel and the others.… Then come these other figures called prophets. Moses really is seen as the first prophet and then there are many, many others, Amos maybe being almost a prototypical prophet. These are people who have some experience of listening to God and then speaking for God. They generally are confronting oppression and injustice and proclaiming liberation and warning and promise and imagination. [1] 

Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish scholar of the New Testament, names ways Jesus’ life and actions echoed those of prophets familiar to her from her religious upbringing:  

Jesus fusses at priests, just like Amos. Jesus tells parables, just like the prophet Nathan and a number of rabbis whose stories appear in postbiblical Jewish sources. Jesus heals and raises the dead; so too Elijah and Elisha. Jesus survives when children around him are slaughtered, just like Moses. I didn’t have to read Matthew 2–7 to know that the rescued baby would take a trip to Egypt, cross water in a life-changing experience, face temptation in the wilderness, ascend a mountain, and deliver comments on the Law—the pattern was already established in Shemot, the book of Exodus. [2] 

In spite of many similarities between Jesus and the Jewish prophets, Levine stresses that the Gospel writers view Jesus as more than a prophet:  

Although Jesus himself may be perceived as heir to the legacy of Amos and Jeremiah, the Gospels present him as more than a prophet. He is, according to the Evangelists, the Son of God, who adds something new to the prophetic concern for justice. He goes well beyond the role of Isaiah and Micah, who seek what is called in Hebrew t’shuvah, return and repentance. Jesus of the Gospels seeks something new, specifically, following him. He is important not only because of what he says, but also because of who he is. [3] 


[1] Adapted from Brian D. McLaren, “Jesus as Prophet,” July 2022, CAC Living School curriculum. Unpublished material. 

[2] Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 3. 

[3] Levine, The Misunderstood Jew, 110. 

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Benjamin Yazza, Untitled 8, 13, and 7. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge imageJesus used the mystery and variety of the natural world to teach us. 

Story from Our Community:

As I look back over my 70 years, paradoxically many of the most peaceful times of my life were when I reached the end of my strength, when I had no strategies whatsoever left to “fix” things. It was when my teenage son went into a deep depression requiring hospitalization; when my second marriage fell apart; when I required major surgery but had no health insurance. In the times when I felt completely empty and keenly aware of my lack of any power or control, I found strength and peace in throwing myself in Jesus’ arms. Finding real power through weakness rings absolutely true for me. —Jo S. 

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