Deuteronomy is the account of Moses’ teaching of the law to the generation of Israel after their 40-year wilderness wandering. As part of his instruction to Israel, he speaks of a coming prophet: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, ‘Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die’” (Deuteronomy 18:15–16).
In Deuteronomy 18 Moses warns the people against imitating other nations and falling into idolatry (Deuteronomy 18:9). Moses reminds the people of specific practices they should avoid and how God would judge the people who engage in them (Deuteronomy 18:10–12). Israel was to be distinct—holy and blameless—gaining their approval from God and not from other nations (Deuteronomy 18:13). Those nations listened to falsehood and engaged in detestable practices (Deuteronomy 18:14). Israel was not to do that.
In order to ensure that Israel would know God’s direction, He would raise up for Israel a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15a). The context provides some hints as to who this prophet is. This prophet would be one of their countrymen, and they should listen to him (Deuteronomy 18:15b). Moses explains that this was a concession on God’s part. The people were terrified when God appeared at Mount Sinai (in Horeb) and asked that God speak to them through an intermediary (Exodus 20:18–19). God was gracious to the people and commended them for fearing Him (Deuteronomy 18:16–17). Moses recounts how God told him that God would raise up a prophet and put His words in that prophet’s mouth (Deuteronomy 18:18). Anyone who would not listen to the prophet would be accountable to God (Deuteronomy 18:19).
As Israel waited for this prophet, God warned that there would be false prophets who would speak in the name of other gods. Those false prophets would be worthy of death (Deuteronomy 18:20). The people of Israel could recognize false prophets by whether or not their prophecies came to pass (Deuteronomy 18:21).
The reference to “a prophet” in Deuteronomy 18:15–19 could be fulfilled by any of the prophets that God would send to the nation. However, the expectation of the people was clearly that God would send one particular prophet. They looked forward to that. When John the Baptist came, the people asked him if he was the prophet (John 1:21). John explained that he was not the prophet. The One that John was announcing was the Messiah, the prophet for whom the people were waiting (John 1:26–30). Peter connected the role of Messiah with that prophet and affirmed that Jesus was the Expected One (Acts 3:20–26).
While God spoke to Israel through many prophets over the years (Acts 3:24), in the latter days God spoke through His Son (Hebrews 1:1). Jesus is the ultimate Prophet and best epitomizes the prophet in Deuteronomy 18:15–19. He spoke of things to come, announcing His coming kingdom. He revealed and explained His Father (John 1:18; 14:10–11). He provided an incredible panorama of the future and offered a blessing to all who hear and heed His word (Revelation 1:3). All who believe in Him will have eternal life (John 6:47), and no one who believes in Him will be disappointed or disturbed (Isaiah 28:16). This Prophet is trustworthy because He is much more than simply a prophet. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). The people understood that this meant He was God (John 5:18).