This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.
Who is this “the Prophet”? This was the one Moses promised in Deuteronomy 18 the Lord would raise up. As he said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear.” The early Church understood Jesus as the fulfillment of this prophecy. There are two allusions to it in Acts, and this week’s Laetare Gospel clearly invokes the prophecy, talking about Jesus as the “Prophet who is to come.” Finally, the Lord’s words at the Transfiguration, testified by Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John, “listen to [Jesus]” could be seen as God’s affirmation that His Son, Whom “you shall hear,” is the Prophet.
Now, what of this Prophet? Why was he needed? What was the context of Moses’ words about him? Moses’ words in full are, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, according to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.’”
Moses was referring to the time just after God gave the Ten Commandments. Horeb was full of lightning flashes, thunder, the sound of trumpets, and it was smoking. Israel begged that only Moses go into the “thick darkness where God was.”
So, Israel would rather have Moses speak to them than God. God is terror-inducing. God is a destabilizing “thick darkness.” Read Psalm 18 and you learn this is the “dying” part of our baptism! “He made darkness His secret place; His canopy around Him was dark waters. And thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him, His thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire….He sent from above, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.” (“Drawn from waters” was the name of Moses actually, which, if Jesus is the prophet like Moses, makes Moses’ rescue from the Nile a type of Jesus’ baptism, and ours. We are drawn out of the waters of the wrath of God’s thick darkness, in Christ.)
Jesus fulfills Moses’ role of speaking on behalf of God. Rather than facing God face to face, we face Jesus. Jesus is the face of God, or as Jesus led Philip to learn soon, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Nothing in Scripture is accidental! Philip must have been the theological type, and Jesus pushed him into the more sublime aspects of His nature.)
In any event, this truth that only through Christ do we truly see the Father leads us to Martin Luther’s comment, something to the effect of, “He who will not seek God through Christ will find the devil.”
Now, here we have to introduce some subtle theology. On one hand, in Israel’s case, if they would have sought God outside of Moses, they would have found a fearful God of thunder and lightning. This is why they begged for Moses to assume the role of Prophet, the “face of God” for them so they could avoid the terror. Jesus assumes this role for us.
So why does Luther say you find the devil outside of Christ? Is it God’s wrath or the devil you find outside of Christ?
To answer this question, simply look to the Old Testament episode of David doing a census. Look at these two accounts of it, one from II Samuel, and one from I Chronicles.
“Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.” (I Chronicles 21: 1)
“Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’” (II Samuel 24: 1)
So, is it the wrath of God or Satan? The only way to understand this is to understand Satan as an instrument of God’s wrath. Satan is not some independent actor doing His own thing, frustrating God’s plans. No, he’s a tool in God’s toolkit. Either God’s almighty or He’s not. If He’s not, then yes, we could say Satan roams around doing as he wills. But God is almighty, therefore we understand Satan to be under God’s management.
This goes hand in hand with the truth that God works all things for the good of those who love Him. Satan attained his power in the earth because of Adam, and this displeased God, but God didn’t resign His authority on account of this.
In any event, that’s a bit of a detour from the bigger point. If you seek God outside of Christ, you will find God’s wrath and the devil, which is to say, you will find the “deep darkness,” the accusation of your sin, His wrath, His abandonment, and fear. Is it God’s wrath? Is it the devil? Um, I don’t care – I just don’t want to face it!
But how many would seek God outside of Christ, and His ordained means through the Church. And then they wonder why they live in fear, or doubt, or why God seems to fail them all the time. They haven’t come to Jesus, the Prophet, the one like Moses, Who speaks to them instead of God.
At the Transfiguration, the apostles fell down on their faces when they heard the Lord in His naked glory. They were terrified. And then Jesus – just Jesus – spoke to them saying, “Stand up.” If you’re wondering why we stand up at the Gospel, there’s your answer. It’s because of Jesus the Prophet. At the announcement of the Gospel – the Voice of God – we should run for the doors in terror, or fall on our faces. We don’t. We stand.