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Luke Johnson: Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church

Luke Timothy Johnson, Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church: The Challenge of Luke-Acts to Contemporary Christians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), 198 pages, ISBN 9780802803900.

Luke Timothy Johnson is a first-rate biblical exegete and a Roman Catholic. He takes the reader through Luke and Acts, seeing in both the fulfillment in Jesus of the prophetic in the messianic role of prophet, priest and king. Unlike a majority of scholarship grounded in the modern discipline of critical study of the text and background, Johnson sees Luke and Acts as complementary, in fact amounting to what Luke intended to be a single read, or at least read together. Jesus comes and fulfills the Torah in a way that seems to turn Torah on its head. This is contrary to how the Pharisees do Torah, who Johnson sees as seeking to fulfill it in more of a straightforward way.

A healthy counterbalance to what often passes for prophetic.

The book is strong in both laying out a basic framework for a sound scriptural understanding of the prophetic and how that plays out in Luke and Acts. The book offers helpful applications to the church today. Johnson often comes down hard on his own church. He sees as church as “most of all local congregations within any denomination that actually gather in the name to worship, study, and practice the works of faith” (p. 7).

Johnson sees Jesus’ radical fulfillment of the prophetic in Luke as continuing on in the church in Acts. What Jesus began to do in Luke he continues to do in Acts by the Spirit through the church. And Johnson sees the church’s fulfillment as being even more radical. Jesus began that step toward what was fulfilled later in the church and continues on to this day.

Johnson argues for a prophetic emphasis in both Luke and Acts, which he shows is demonstrated well in the texts themselves. He sees this emphasis grounded in certain prophets of the old covenant: Moses, Elijah, Elisha. Jesus was not like the writing prophets such as Isaiah, but like the prophets who by the Spirit spoke God’s word and embodied, enacted (signs and wonders, etc.) and witnessed to that word, a witness that resulted in suffering. The prophets listed in Luke-Acts is impressive: “Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, John, Simeon, Anna, John, Jesus, and those followers of Jesus through whom the spirit of the resurrected one did signs and wonders” (p. 67). The prophetic word and work is to point to and give something of God’s vision ultimately for the world.

I find the thesis that Luke and Acts underscore the prophetic which is fulfilled in Jesus in calling the church back to its true mission and vocation healthy. Yes, the church is prophetic by nature in its calling and constitution. Johnson sees the Pentecostal/charismatic church as important in keeping alive the manifestations of the Spirit seen in Acts.

The Spirit-empowered witness never departs from the hard road of sacrifice.

Johnson sees Luke’s portrayal of what it means to be prophetic as having grounding in scripture, but also peculiar to Jesus’ own unique fulfillment of it. Jesus fulfills it all in a cruciform (cross-shaped) way, which overturned expectations then, even as it does today. How often we fail to see how the Spirit-empowered witness never departs from the hard road of sacrifice.

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Category: In Depth

About the Author: Ted M. Gossard, MDiv (Grand Rapids Theological Seminary), BTh (Prairie Bible Institute), enjoys teaching, preaching, leading home group, reading and enjoying God's creation. Ted and his family are members of Redeemer Covenant Church (Evangelical Covenant) of Caledonia, Michigan.

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