D. Kelly Ogden is a professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University.
Some Bible scholars claim that predictive prophecy does not exist. Here is one example of such a claim: “So far as we can determine, when [the prophets’ writings are] studied in their contexts apart from dogmatic preconviction, no prophet leaped across the centuries and foresaw the specific person Jesus of Nazareth. It is a plain violation of historical context to think that they did so and in practice those who interpret the prophets as predictors of Jesus obscure the settings in which the prophets functioned” (Norman K. Gottwald, A Light to the Nations – An Introduction to the Old Testament. New York: Harper and Row, 1959, 275).
Contrary to that theory of men, the prophets themselves have unequivocally spoken. Jacob, Nephi’s brother, wrote that “we knew of Christ, and we had a hope of his glory many hundred years before his coming: and not only we ourselves had a hope of his glory, but also all the holy prophets which were before us . . . none of the prophets have written, nor prophesied, save they have spoken concerning this Christ” (Jacob 4:4; 7:11).
Abinadi asked “did not Moses prophesy unto them concerning the coming of the Messiah, and that God should redeem his people? Yea, and even all the prophets who have prophesied ever since the world began—have they not spoken more or less concerning these things?” (Mosiah 13:33).
Nephi, son of Helaman, later proclaimed that “there have been many prophets that have testified these things,” and he proceeded to list examples: Moses, Abraham, Zenos, Zenock, Ezias, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lehi, and Nephi “and also almost all of our fathers, even down to this time; yea, they have testified of the coming of Christ, and have looked forward, and have rejoiced in his day which is to come” (Helaman 8:13-22).
In the Jerusalem temple courtyard Peter boldly bore witness that “all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days” (Acts 3:24). And even Jewish rabbinical writings affirm that “all of the prophets prophesied only concerning the days of the Messiah” (Talmud, Sanhedrin 99a).
The scriptures teach that one of the significant and essential roles of a prophet is to testify of the Lord Jesus Christ; in fact, John wrote that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). In other words, testifying of Jesus is what prophecy is all about. There is no greater witness that the prophets could proclaim than that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. In fact, Joseph Smith was asked, “What are the fundamental principles of your religion?” He answered, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 121, emphasis added.)
The testimony of Jesus is, of course, available to all the Saints—through the gift of the Holy Ghost. As Moses exclaimed, “would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29). Though all members of God’s Kingdom can and should obtain a testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy, yet our particular focus here is on the witness of those formally called and ordained as prophets to the Church of God and to the whole world. The testimony of Jesus is clearly evident in the extant writings of these prophets over the ages.
Old Testament Prophets Bear Witness of Christ
Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden and sometime later learned the purpose of offering sacrifices unto the Lord: “This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father . . . Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore” (Moses 5:6-8). Adam and Eve also learned that as they had fallen, they could be redeemed. Because of their transgression and subsequent fall into mortality, they could have children, and know good and evil, and experience the “joy of our redemption” and the potential of eternal life provided by the sacrifice of the Son of God (see Moses 5:9-11).
Lehi later taught what Adam knew from the beginning: “Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy. And the Messiah cometh in the fulness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall” (2 Nephi 2:25-26).
Enoch was one of the privileged seers who saw the whole panorama of history from beginning to end. “I saw the Lord; and he stood before my face, and he talked with me, even as a man talketh one with another, face to face; and he said unto me: Look, and I will show unto thee the world for the space of many generations. . . . And behold, Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, even in the flesh; and his soul rejoiced, saying: The Righteous is lifted up, and the Lamb is slain from the foundation of the world. . . . and he looked and beheld the Son of Man lifted up on the cross, after the manner of men. . . . And Enoch beheld the Son of Man ascend up unto the Father. . . . And it came to pass that Enoch saw the day of the coming of the Son of Man, in the last days, to dwell on the earth in righteousness for the space of a thousand years” (Moses 7:4, 47, 55, 59, 65).
A New Testament writer later added: “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints” (Jude 1:14).
Noah preached the gospel of Jesus Christ to a corrupt world and warned them that rejection would be answered with a cataclysm unparalleled in history. Said Noah, “Believe and repent of your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, even as our fathers, and ye shall receive the Holy Ghost . . . and if ye do not this, the floods will come in upon you” (Moses 8:24). The people rejected more than Noah and his prediction of dramatic meteorological changes; they rejected Christ, their only hope for salvation.
Abraham is another of those who learned directly from Jehovah:
“I, Abraham, talked with the Lord, face to face, as one man talketh with another; and he told me of the works which his hands had made” (Abraham 3:11). Later in life Abraham was supremely tested when the Lord required him to take his promised son, Isaac, and offer him up as a sacrifice. Abraham responded. The patriarch came to understand that his trial was “a similitude of God and his Only Begotten Son” (Jacob 4:5). That Eternal Sacrifice was the most glorious message the world had ever heard. Said Jesus to Jews in the inner court of the Temple, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad” (John 8:56; see also Helaman 8:17).
Joseph was Abraham’s great-grandson, and he perpetuated his ancestor’s trust in the promises of the Lord concerning their seed. Joseph knew that the Messiah would come, as prophesied, in the meridian of time but also in the fulness of time: “and a branch shall be broken off, and shall be carried into a far country; nevertheless they shall be remembered in the covenants of the Lord, when the Messiah cometh; for he shall be made manifest unto them in the latter days, in the Spirit of power; and shall bring them out of darkness into light” (JST Genesis 50:25; see also 2 Nephi 3:5).
Moses was a type of the Messiah, being a great law-giver and a great deliverer. After the Israelites’ deliverance from the Egyptian armies at the Red Sea, Moses sang these words in a song of praise and triumph: “The LORD is my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he is my God” (Exodus 15:2).
The word “salvation” in Hebrew is yeshua, which is the very name by which the Messiah would be known in mortality. Yeshua, besides being translated in English as a common noun “salvation” is also translated as the name “Jesus.” Moses knew Christ personally. “When Moses was caught up into an exceedingly high mountain . . . he saw God face to face, and he talked with him, and the glory of God was upon Moses” (Moses 1:1-2). Moses recorded a prophecy of the Messiah to come: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken” (Deuteronomy 18:15). Fulfillment of that prophecy, the coming of the Son of God in the flesh, is recorded in 3 Nephi 20:23-24 and in Acts 3:22-23. Moses also raised up a type of the Savior in the wilderness, that whoever would look upon it (i.e., whoever would believe in Him) would be healed and live (Numbers 21:8-9). Moses knew that the Lord would be lifted up on the cross in order to draw all men to him and offer them healing and eternal life.
A later Nephi recorded and bore testimony of “the words which were spoken by this man, Moses, who had such great power given unto him, yea, the words which he hath spoken concerning the coming of the Messiah. Yea, did he not bear record that the Son of God should come? And as he lifted up the brazen serpent in the wilderness, even so shall he be lifted up who should come. And as many as should look upon that serpent should live, even so as many as should look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit, might live, even unto that life which is eternal” (Helaman 8:13-15; see also Alma 33:19-20; 2 Nephi 25:20; and John 3:14). Besides the serpent raised on a pole, the prophet taught Israel about the passover lamb, the manna from heaven, water from the rock, blood of the covenant, atoning sacrifice for the people, sacrificial offerings of blemishless animals, and firstborn who were hallowed for divine service—all of which were types and shadows of the coming Messiah (cf. Hebrews 9, 10).
Isaiah’s testimony of Christ was commended by Nephi to his brethren and to all those who want to come to a knowledge of who their Redeemer is: “I did read many things unto them which were written in the books of Moses; but that I might more fully persuade them to believe in the Lord their Redeemer I did read unto them that which was written by the prophet Isaiah” (1 Nephi 19:23). “And now I, Nephi, write more of the words of Isaiah, for my soul delighteth in his words. . . . for he verily saw my Redeemer, even as I have seen him” (2 Nephi 11:2).
Some of the most jubilant exclamations of prophecy in all of scripture about the coming of the Messiah are found in the writings of Isaiah: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end” (Isaiah 9:6-7). Possibly the most articulate and poignant of all prophetic descriptions of the coming Messiah is that recorded in Isaiah 53. We reverently ponder the combined meaning of all the adjectives Isaiah used to describe him: stricken, smitten, afflicted, wounded, bruised, and oppressed. The prophet defied the later popular expectation of a bigger-than-life political deliverer when he wrote that the Messiah would be “cut off out of the land of the living” (Isaiah 53:8).
Book of Mormon Prophets Bear Witness of Christ
During the final centuries of the Old Testament record, there were also prophets of God in the western hemisphere who bore fervent testimony of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Lehi followed a long line of Old Testament prophets who plainly testified that the Son of God was the promised Messiah. Lehi’s son, Nephi, recorded his father’s witness: “Yea, even six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews—even a Messiah, or, in other words, a Savior of the world. And he [Lehi] also spake concerning the prophets, how great a number had testified of these things, concerning this Messiah, of whom he had spoken, or this Redeemer of the world. Wherefore, all mankind were in a lost and in a fallen state, and ever would be save they should rely on this Redeemer” (1 Nephi 10:4-6).
Nephi wrote that he, too, wanted to hear and see and understand the same vision, and testified that “the Son of God was the Messiah who should come” (v. 17). Father Lehi’s testimony was pure and unequivocal: “redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah. . . . Wherefore, how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah, who layeth down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit, that he may bring to pass the resurrection of the dead” (2 Nephi 2:6, 8).
Nephi echoed the teachings of his father and bore his own personal testimony when he described the things in which he delighted: “Behold, my soul delighteth in proving unto my people the truth of the coming of Christ; . . . all things which have been given of God from the beginning of the world, unto man, are the typifying of him. . . . And my soul delighteth in proving unto my people that save Christ should come all men must perish. . . . For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
. . . And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we preach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, and we write according to our prophecies, that our children may know to what source they may look for a remission of their sins” (2 Nephi 11:4, 6; 25:19, 26).
One of the reasons Nephi had come to know and love the Savior was a vision he had seen of the virgin who conceived and bore a son, wherein his angelic guide said to him: “Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!” (1 Nephi 11:18-21), and Nephi further saw that “the Son of the everlasting God was judged of the world” and “lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world” (verses 32-33).
Jacob, son of Lehi and brother of Nephi, understood the very points of the doctrine of Christ, and gave profound explanations of the Atonement. “For as death hath passed upon all men, to fulfil the merciful plan of the great Creator, there must needs be a power of resurrection, and the resurrection must needs come unto man by reason of the fall; and the fall came by reason of transgression; and because man became fallen they were cut off from the presence of the Lord. Wherefore, it must needs be an infinite atonement . . . O how great the holiness of our God! . . . for behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature, both men, women, and children, who belong to the family of Adam. And he suffereth this that the resurrection might pass upon all men, that all might stand before him at the great and judgment day” (2 Nephi 9:6-7, 20-22). “Wherefore, beloved brethren, be reconciled unto him through the atonement of Christ, his Only Begotten Son, and ye may obtain a resurrection, according to the power of the resurrection which is in Christ . . . And now, beloved, marvel not that I tell you these things; for why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him . . . ?” (Jacob 4:11-12).
Abinadi is the prophet who proclaimed that Moses and all the prophets have prophesied of the Messiah (Mosiah 13:33). “Have they not said that God himself should come down among the children of men, and take upon him the form of man, and go forth in mighty power upon the face of the earth? Yea, and have they not said also that he should bring to pass the resurrection of the dead, and that he, himself, should be oppressed and afflicted?” (verses 34-35). After quoting Isaiah (53) Abinadi added his own witness: “I would that ye should understand that God himself [meaning Jesus Christ] shall come down among the children of men, and shall redeem his people. And because he dwelleth in the flesh he shall be called the Son of God” (Mosiah 15:1-2). Abinadi further encouraged his hearers to do what he was doing: “Teach them that redemption cometh through Christ the Lord” (16:15).
Alma heeded the words of Abinadi. He, too, boldly declared the most important part of his testimony: “I say unto you, that I know of myself that whatsoever I shall say unto you, concerning that which is to come, is true; and I say unto you, that I know that Jesus Christ shall come, yea, the Son, the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, and mercy, and truth. And behold, it is he that cometh to take away the sins of the world” (Alma 5:48). Having thus testified, Alma counseled others to “believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day” (Alma 33:22). Alma’s missionary companion, Amulek, reaffirmed the same testimony: “My brethren, I think that it is impossible that ye should be ignorant of the things which have been spoken concerning the coming of Christ, who is taught by us to be the Son of God” (Alma 34:2).
New Testament Prophets Bear Witness of Christ
John the Baptist was heralded as a new prophet in the land of Judah, following a long famine of hearing the word of the Lord. John testified that he was only a forerunner, the voice of one crying in the wilderness to prepare the way for the Holy One who was coming to fulfill his mission. Missing in the New Testament but recorded in modern scripture is the testimony of the Baptist regarding the Redeemer of the world: “I, John, bear record that I beheld his glory, as the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, even the Spirit of truth, which came and dwelt in the flesh, and dwelt among us . . . [and] he was called the Son of God” (D&C 93:11, 14; see also John 1:34).
Peter was the chief of the apostles and testified on several occasions that he knew who Jesus was. As Isaiah had prophesied (53:2), the Messiah would not come as a bigger-than-life political deliverer as most expected. His physical appearance was not so distinctive and overpowering that people would instantly recognize his divinity; he came as a mortal man. Even the apostles had to watch and pray and seek the Spirit to know who Jesus was. When the truth was revealed to Peter, he boldly declared his witness: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). And when many of the multitude in Galilee rejected him and stopped following him, Jesus asked the twelve, “Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:69).
John the beloved apostle also testified of Christ; it was still essential to hear the prophetic witness even when the Savior was on the earth. John wrote that Jesus performed many signs and wonders, and “these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:30-31). It was John who wrote one of the simplest and most sublime explanations for the Lord’s mortal mission: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, was brought to a knowledge of Christ in an abrupt and dramatic way en route to Damascus. After his baptism and receipt of the Holy Ghost, Paul worshipped with the Saints in Damascus, and “straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God” (Acts 9:17-20). With undaunting courage and indomitable energy he spent the next thirty years preaching about the Lord Jesus. In Macedonia Paul “was pressed in the spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus was Christ” (Acts 18:5).
To the Romans Paul wrote of the gospel of Jesus Christ “(which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power” (Romans 1:1-4). To the Hebrews Paul wrote that “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds, who . . . when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:1-3).
Latter-day Prophets Bear Witness of Christ
With a host of prophetic witnesses throughout the ages, one might suppose (and some do suppose) that there is no further need of witnesses to the great truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world. Actually there can be no end to that testimony. As with God’s work, so the witness of it is one eternal round. In these latter days the clear sound of the trump, the witness of Christ, is needed as much as in any previous period of the world. “I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven” (D&C 1:17). And the first words of God the Father from heaven were: “This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Joseph Smith—History 1:17).
Joseph Smith later wrote, “we, the elders of the church, have heard and bear witness to the words of the glorious Majesty on high . . . By these things we know that there is a God in heaven . . . Wherefore, the Almighty God gave his Only Begotten Son, as it is written in those scriptures which have been given of him. He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them. He was crucified, died, and rose again the third day; And ascended into heaven, to sit down on the right hand of the Father” (D&C 20:16-17, 21-24).
Before Joseph Smith sealed his witness in blood, he uttered this great capstone of prophetic testimony of Jesus: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father” (D&C 76:22-23).
The successors of Joseph Smith continue to testify concerning the life and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ and the essential nature of his atoning sacrifice to the eternal hope of every human soul. The testimony of one more of the latter-day prophets will stand as representative of all.
President Harold B. Lee declared: “Fifty years ago or more, when I was a missionary, our greatest responsibility was to defend the truth that the Prophet Joseph Smith was divinely called and inspired and that the Book of Mormon was indeed the word of God. But even at that time there were unmistakable evidences that there was coming into the religious world actually a question about the Bible and about the divine calling of the Master himself.
“Now fifty years later, our greatest responsibility and anxiety is to defend the divine mission of our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, for all about us, even among those who claim to be professors of the Christian faith, [there are those who] are not willing to stand squarely in defense of the great truth that our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, was indeed the Son of God. So tonight it would seem to me that the most important thing I could say to you is to try to strengthen your faith and increase your courage and your understanding of the place of the Master in the great Plan of Salvation” (LDSSA Fireside, Fine Arts Center, Logan, Utah, October 10, 1971).
And thus we see that the spirit and purpose of the prophets is to bear testimony of Jesus. The prophets in all ages and in all places have uttered a multitude of prophecies about the coming of the Son of God in the flesh; they have foreseen and recorded numerous details about events during his mortal life; they have foreshadowed and explained in marvelous clarity the meaning of his atoning sacrifice and resurrection from the dead; and they have predicted his imminent return to the earth to create a new world of peace and progress preparatory to its final change to celestial glory. From the beginning of the foundational scripture we call the Old Testament right up to the most recent recorded witness of the latter-day prophets we see that the subject of supreme interest and importance is the testimony of Jesus Christ.