The “promised prophet” of Deuteronomy 18: Jesus Christ or Mohammed?

Islam claims to respect Jesus Christ as a true prophet of God. In the Koran in Sura 2:136 we read Say: We believe in Allah and (in) that which had been revealed to us, and (in) that which was revealed to Ibrahim [Abraham] and Ismail [Ishmael] and Ishaq [Isaac] and Yaqoub [Jacob] and the tribes, and (in) that which was given to Musa [Moses] and Isa [Jesus], and (in) that which was given to the prophets from their Lord, we do not make any distinction between any of them, and to Him do we submit”.

On this Islamic website

we read these quotes –

Imam Bukhari(d.256/834)and Imam Muslim(d.261/839) have narrated that the prophet [Mohammed] said,

Both in this world and in the hereafter, I am the nearest of all the people to Jesus, the son of Maryam (Mary). The prophets are paternal brothers, their mothers are different but their religion is one.”

In the Bible, in Deuteronomy chapter 18, God through His then prophet Moses, makes a specific promise that a very special and important prophet would at a future date appear on earth. Islam claims that this “promised prophet” was Mohammed and not Jesus Christ and actually seeks to use the Bible to substantiate their claim.

On another Islamic website [Islam Guide] and on this link we find a section headed ‘Biblical Prophecies on the Advent of Mohammed the Prophet of Islam’. In this section the article identifies 3 characteristics that the“promised prophet” will possess and having given their understanding of the person who possessed these 3 characteristics they state in conclusion – “whoever believes in the Bible must believe in what this prophet says and this prophet is the Prophet Mohammed”.

Let me first deal quickly with 2 of the stated characteristics. The first characteristic of the “promised prophet” that was identified on the website was that “he will be like Moses”. Moses was a prophet, a spokesman for God. Moses was also the one who delivered God’s people from slavery and bondage. I would agree that the “promised prophet” would possess this characteristic.

Another characteristic of the “promised prophet” that was identified on the website was that “God will put His words in to the mouth of this prophet and that he will declare what God commands him”. Once again I would agree that the “promised prophet”would possess this characteristic.

However, when it comes to the third characteristic of the “promised prophet” that was identified on the website, this is where they and I disagree radically.

On the website the remaining characteristic of the “promised prophet” was identified as follows – “He will come from the brothers of the Israelites, i.e. the Ishmaelites”. According to the website the “promised prophet” would come through the line of Abraham and Ishmael and not through the line of Abraham and Isaac. This is how they explain it on their website – Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac (Genesis 21).  Ishmael became the grandfather of the Arab nation, and Isaac became the grandfather of the Jewish nation.  The prophet spoken of was not to come from among the Jews themselves, but from among their brothers, i.e. the Ishmaelites.  Muhammad, a descendant of Ishmael, is indeed this prophet”. How do they justify such a claim?

Early in the article they quote the following verses from Deuteronomy chapter 18 – “I raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account” (Deuteronomy 18:18-19). In these verses Moses is recounting what God said to him about the “promised prophet” and because of the expression “from among their brothers” Islam concludes that the “promised prophet” will not come from the Israelites but from “their brothers” the Ishmaelites.

When studying the Bible the rule is that when considering a topic or subject ALL relevant verses must be considered in order to get ‘the full picture’. It is very unsafe to base a judgment on a few isolated verses as other verses relating to the topic often add to our full and complete understanding.  Paul, when writing to the Corinthians stated in 1st Corinthians 2:13 “we speak not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth but which the Holy Spirit teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual”. The Holy Spirit inspired God’s Word and He teaches God’s people the spiritual truths [“spiritual things”] that are contained in the Word He inspired [see John 14:16-17 & 26].

Bearing this principle in mind it is very interesting to note that the verses 18-19 of Deuteronomy 18 that are quoted on the Islamic website are not the first reference in the chapter to the coming of the “promised prophet”. A few verses earlier, in verse 15 we read what Moses actually said to the gathering of the tribes of Israel, the Israelites, who were assembled before him. This is what Moses said to the Israelites “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst OF THEE, of they brethren, like unto me, unto him YE shall hearken”.

From this verse we learn that the future “promised prophet” that God would send would come from the line of the brethren assembled before Moses – “the midst OF THEE” – and the brethren assembled before Moses were of the line of Abraham and Isaac – they were the Israelites and not the Ishmaelites.

The claim on the Islamic website that “whoever believes in the Bible must believe in what this prophet says and this prophet is the Prophet Mohammed” is shown from the Bible itself to be a false interpretation of what Deuteronomy 18 teaches.

Another argument advanced on the Islamic website to supposedly prove as they phrase it “that Jesus Christ is not the prophet mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:18” reads like this –

Also, one notices from the Gospel of John that the Jews were waiting for the fulfillment of three distinct prophecies.  The first was the coming of Christ.  The second was the coming of Elijah.  The third was the coming of the Prophet.  This is obvious from the three questions that were posed to John the Baptist: “Now this was John’s testimony, when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.  He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.”  They asked him, “Then who are you?  Are you Elijah?”  He said, “I am not.”  “Are you the Prophet?”  He answered, “No.” (John 1:19-21).  If we look in a Bible with cross-references, we will find in the marginal notes where the words “the Prophet” occur inJohn 1:21, that these words refer to the prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15 and 18:18.2 We conclude from this that Jesus Christ is not the prophet mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:18.

It takes quite a measure of convoluted thinking, coloured I suspect by a large dose of pre-determined conviction and belief, to draw the conclusion “that Jesus Christ is not the prophet mentioned in Deuteronomy 18:18” from this portion of God’s Word found inJohn 1:19-21.

What we can safely conclude from this portion of scripture is that John the Baptist rejected any notion that he was either ‘The Christ’, ‘The Prophet’ or some kind of ‘reappearance or reincarnation of Elijah’.

Does the Bible itself give us any information that would help us identify anyone who would be the answer to the questions put to John the Baptist by the Jews of Jerusalem?

Let me first deal with their question to John – ‘Are you Elijah?’ The Jews no doubt had passages from Malachi 3:1 and 4:5-6 in mind. Malachi 3:1 reads “Behold I will send my messenger and he shall prepare the way before me; and the Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant whom ye delight in; behold he shall come saith the Lord of hosts”.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary states ‘though some have taken “my messenger” as the writer of this book or as an angel it seems best to see him as a future prophet. Jesus explicitly identifies this person as John the Baptist (Matthew 11:7-10). The fact that this messenger will prepare His way harmonises with Isaiah 40:3’- and also with John’s own words in John 1:23 “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet, Isaiah”.

In Malachi 4:5-6 we read “Behold I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord”. And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children and then heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse”.

In Luke 1 we read of the angelic announcement of the forthcoming birth of John the Baptist and the angel said to John’s father, Zacharias “Fear not Zacharias; for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John…And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord, their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children” [Luke 1:13, 16-17].

The Bible Knowledge Commentary states ‘Before John the Baptist was born an angel of the Lord predicted that he would minister “in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). This would seem to put together the two prophecies (Malachi 3:1 and 4:5-6) and to see John as fulfilling both of them.

Reference was made earlier to what Jesus said in Matthew 11:7-10 and extracts from those verses read “Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John…this is he of whom it is written, Behold I send my messenger before thy face who shall prepare thy way before thee”. It is then very enlightening to read what Jesus goes on to say in verses 13-15 “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye will receive it, this is Elijah who was to come. He that hath ears to hear let him hear”.

The disciples also raised this question of ‘the coming of Elijah’ with the Lord in Matthew 17. The Lord Jesus had just been transfigured and during that marvellous event He had been in conversation with Moses and Elijah [see Matthew 17:2-4]. We then read in verse 10 “And his disciples asked him saying, why then say the scribes that Elijah must come first?” In the context of what we are considering the next verses [11-13] are very significant – “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elijah truly shall first come and restore all things, But I say unto you that Elijah is already come and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they desired. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spoke unto them of John the Baptist”.

John the Baptist was not literally a reappearance or reincarnation of Elijah but in the light of the scriptures quoted, particularly those words of the angelic messenger to Zacharias and the words of the Lord Jesus Christ to His disciples, he certainly was the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies of Malachi 3:1 and 4:5-6 that were the basis of the question put to John by the Jews of Jerusalem in John 1:21.

I want now to deal with the statement made by John – “ I am not the Christ”. Does the Bible itself give us any information that clearly reveals the identity of “the Christ”? Before answering this I just want to point out that the Greek translated as “the Christ” [God’s anointed one] equates to the Hebrew term for “Messiah”.

Following on from the questioning of John the Baptist by the Jews of Jerusalem, in a not too dissimilar vein, we read in Matthew 16:13 “When Jesus came into the borders of Caesarea Philippi he asked his disciples saying, who do men say that I, the Son of man, am?” Their reply is recorded in verse 14 “And they said, some say that thou art John the Baptist [John had already been killed by this time] some, Elijah [no doubt these people thought Jesus was the fulfilment of the prophecies in Malachi] and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets”.  Jesus presses the questioning in verse 15 and we read in verse 16 “And Simon Peter answered and said, thou art THE CHRIST, the Son of the living God”.

Did Jesus, as John the Baptist had earlier done concerning himself, reject this identification of Himself as “the Christ”? He did not and He went on to say to Peter in verse 17 “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed it [the truth that He was “the Christ”] but my Father who is in heaven”. Recognition of who Jesus Christ really is only comes as a gracious gift from God Himself and Jesus Himself by this statement to Peter acknowledged that He truly was “the Christ”.

In John 4:5-29 we have the account of the Lord’s meeting with the woman at the well. Towards the end of their encounter we read in verse 25 “The woman saith unto him, I know that Messiah, who is called Christ, when he is come, he will tell us all things”.The Lord leaves her and us in no doubt Who He is with His reply in verse 26 “Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he”.

Jesus Christ plainly declared Himself to be “the Christ” and “Messiah”, God’s ‘anointed one’ and that makes sense of what He said early in His ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth. We read in Luke 4 that after the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him“he found the place where it is written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel…And he closed the book…And he began to say unto them, this day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” [verses 17-18, 20-21].

Finally I want to deal with the question put to John – “ Art thou that prophet” to which his reply was “No” [John 1:21]. The Islamic website quite rightly acknowledged that reliable Bibles note that the reference to “that prophet” refers back to the “promised prophet” of Deuteronomy 18. Does the Bible itself give us any information that clearly reveals the identity of “that prophet”?

In John 1:43 we read of the calling of Philip to be a disciple and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. In verse 45 we then read, “Philip findeth Nathaneal and saith unto him, we have found him of whom Moses in the law and the prophets did write, Jesus ofNazareth, the son of Joseph”. Philip was in no doubt about the real identity of Jesus; He was “that prophet” spoken of and written about by Moses [in Deuteronomy 18].

In John chapter 6 we read at the start of the chapter of the miracle of the feeding of the 5000 with the five barley loaves and two fishes. Having fed the crowd we read “When they were filled, he [Jesus} said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain that nothing be lost. Therefore they gathered them together and filled twelve baskets…Then those men when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth THAT PROPHET that should come into the world” [verses 12-14].

In Acts chapter 3, following the healing of the lame man at the gate called Beautiful, the apostle Peter began to preach to the Jews and recounted to them the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord in verse 15. To emphasise just exactly who Jesus Christ was he said, “For Moses truly said unto the fathers, a prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren like unto me [the “promised prophet” of Deuteronomy 18]; him shall ye hear in all things whatever he shall say unto you…and all the prophets from Samuel and those who followed, as many as have spoken have likewise foretold of THESE DAYS”. The “days” that Peter was speaking of related to the life and times of the One he had just been preaching about, the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, to summarise, John the Baptist, although not being a literal reappearance or reincarnation of Elijah [hence his denial of being Elijah] was nevertheless the fulfilment of the relevant prophecies in Malachi. Then the Bible clearly identifies both “the Christ” or “Messiah”and the “promised prophet” of Deuteronomy 18 as being the Lord Jesus Christ. 

The statement on the Islamic website that “whoever believes in the Bible must believe in what this prophet says and this prophet is the Prophet Mohammed” is clearly rejected by the divine truths contained in the Bible itself.

Then what of Mohammed – was he a “promised prophet”? Perhaps these words of God’s true “promised prophet” and “Christ”, the Lord Jesus Christ, speak in answer to that question – “And many false prophets shall rise and shall deceive many” [Matthew 24:11].

Cecil Andrews – ‘Take Heed’ Ministries – 22nd March 2008