In one sense John the Baptist was the last prophet. John the Baptist stood on the threshold between the Old and the New Testament, and was the last prophet in the sense of the Old Testament. Prophets were sent by God to speak His words to the people of Israel. Specifically, they were sent to prepare the way of the Messiah and to prepare the people of Israel for the coming of the Messiah.
This certainly applies to John the Baptist. In Matthew 3:1-3 he is introduced in this way: “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'”
Jesus confirmed that John was a prophet. And not just any prophet, but the greatest of them all. He said: “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:9-11).
Immediately after John’s ministry, Jesus appeared. This meant that Old Testament prophecy had ended. The shadows passed. The sun had come. John was the last prophet.
Jesus as a prophet
However, this statement can be qualified in two ways. First, it can be said that Jesus was a prophet as well. Deuteronomy 18:15 says “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers. It is to him you shall listen.” This is a prophecy about the Messiah, as is confirmed by Stephen in Acts 7:37. It calls the Messiah – Jesus – a prophet. Several people in the New Testament are talking about Jesus as a prophet, e.g. the Samaritan women (John 4:19) and the men on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:19). They are not mistaken, because Jesus also refers to Himself as a prophet. E.g. “But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household'” (Matthew 13:57).
New Testament prophets
Second, there are also New Testament prophets. Agabus is mentioned as a New Testament prophets (Acts 21:10). Paul confirms that there are prophets in the church. “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers” (1 Corinthians 12:28). There is a lot of discussion about what the roles was of prophets in the church. However, it is clear that it is a very different ministry from the prophets in the Old Testament. So, if we understand prophets to be God’s servants called by God to prepare the way of the Messiah through prophesying, John the Baptist indeed is the last prophet.
Given the high praise that Jesus gives to John the Baptist, it is stunning that He adds: “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). This makes us realise how priviliged we are that we are not dependent on prophecies about the Messiah. But that we have seen God’s glory in Christ. That we know the Messiah. That we have received forgiveness of sins in Him. And that God sent his Holy Spirit to live in us. We possess a fulness of God’s grace that the Old Testament prophets, even John the Baptist, did not possess!