Written by Paul J. Bucknell on June, 18, 2020
Questions on John the Baptist—“The Law and the Prophets”
What does it mean when Jesus said in Matthew 11:13 and Luke 16:16 that the Law and the prophets ended with John Baptist?
Was He saying that NO prophecies or prophets will come after John Baptist? But that isn’t so since we had a number of prophets in the early Christian church, Agabus and the rest - Acts 13.
Or was He referring to the prophecies about Himself found in the Law (Torah) and the book of prophets which ended with John Baptist?
“For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John” (Mat 11:13).
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it” (Luke 16:16).
Law and Prophets in the Old Testament Age
Several questions asked with reference to the “Law and the Prophets” (Luke 16:16) do not appear to overlap.
The “Law and Prophets” is a common New Testament way of describing the Old Testament Bible and its associated covenant—what we commonly call the Old Covenant or Old Testament (same meaning). In Luke 24:44, Jesus uses the rarer threefold description. The Psalms, here, represents the portion of books described as ‘Writings.’
Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
So this designation “Law and Prophets” does not directly dictate the end of the line of prophets but instead is a proper term describing the Old Testament scriptures. It does point out a slight change in how prophets are perceived in the new era.
New Testament Prophets
Was He saying that NO prophecies or prophets will come after John Baptist?
The prophet’s usage of this phrase, Law and Prophets, acknowledges that God appointed prophets to speak His Word during the Old Covenant.
John the Baptist is a key figure in the scriptures—the last prophet before Christ the true prophet (Deut 18:15) would come. Jesus comfortably states that the Old Testament ends with John the Baptist, “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John” (Mat 11:13). This doesn’t mean there would no longer be prophets, however.
The Book of Acts reaffirms this when some believers were baptized with John’s baptism (Acts 19:1-7) rather than in the Name of Jesus (Acts 1:5; 13:24-25). They lacked the anointing of the Holy Spirit and needed to be baptized in the Name of Jesus.
When Jesus died, the New Covenant was put into effect by Jesus’s shedding of blood, just as a will (i.e., covenant) is put into effect by a person’s death (Heb 9:18). Jesus the prophet initiated this new era or covenant as prophesied in Deuteronomy 18:15(-20), “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him.”
The “Law and Prophets” does not preclude no more prophets in the New Testament. Instead, Jesus alluded to the era’s end and the beginning of the New Covenant. Just by stating an era is ending, it does not dictate what the new era will be like.
Prophets in the New Testament Age
This backdrop of the two eras, however, does help us to rightly frame the second question on whether there are existing prophets in the New Testament era. You answer your question with a good observation, “But that isn’t so, since we had a number of prophets in the early Christian church, Agabus and the rest - Acts 13.” The New Testament age demonstrably had prophets.
Prophets in the New Testament in some ways differed from the Old Testament ones. In Ephesians 4, Paul announces the Lord’s appointment of prophets as well as other anointed callings. “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers…” (Eph 4:11).
Some Christians, perhaps due to the excess of some who claim themselves as prophets, reject the presence or need of prophets due to the possession of the Holy Scriptures. But instead of denying New Testament prophets, we should carefully warn others of false prophets as Peter did. “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1). If there are false prophets to avoid, there are true prophets we can benefit from. Christ is The Prophet but His anointing is passed on to the prophets to carry out His purposes. All prophets should be judged by Christ’s teaching.
Paul observed God’s purposes for apostles, prophets, teachers, and evangelists to build up the body of Christ to serve God’s people, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service” (Eph 4:12). That work of edification continues on until Christ returns.
Today, we live under the direction of Jesus Christ, the prophet, priest, and king. We should assume the gift of prophecy continues on as one of the spiritual gifts. “And He gave gifts to men” (Eph 4:8). A person who regularly prophecies can be said to be a prophet or prophetess.
I have gone in length to describe this in my book, Life in the Spirit! Experiencing the Fullness of Christ. It is sufficient here to point out that Christ distributes His prophetic Spirit, in some portion, to some individual believers so that they can serve God’s people. The New Testament prophets, as all those sharing Christ’s anointed Spirit, have special gifts to equip the people of God to build them up.
Prophecies of Jesus
Or was He referring to the prophecies about Himself found in the law (Torah) and the book of prophets which ended with John Baptist?
The Law (the Torah) refers to the first five books of the Old Testament. The term “Book of prophets,” would in this case, include all the other Old Testament Bible books. The term Law and Prophets includes many prophecies about Jesus, but we ought not to think that all of them refer to Jesus’ first coming. Many also point to His return.
The New Testament also includes many prophecies, such as when Jesus pre-announced His death and resurrection. The New Testament prophets prophecies about numerous things besides significant events in which Jesus was directly involved such as a famine. “Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world” (Acts 11:27-29).
John the Baptist served as the last of the Old Testament prophets, Jesus and other prophets—through Jesus’ anointing, continued on the necessary function of a prophet.
- What does the term “the Law and the Prophets” mean?
- What was another term to describe the Old Testament?
- How did the life of John the Baptist overlap with Jesus?
- Were there New Testament prophets? How do we know?
- What are some topics that the NT prophets addressed?
- Do you know of any prophets?
- How are we to judge a prophet’s message?