Prophecy, a simple description
Part 7 in the series on The Supernatural in the Church
© 2013, 2015
This article will only be a short survey of the subject, but it may be a good starting point for discussion and prayer. :-) You may not agree with what I say here—and that’s okay. The important thing is that you are inspired (or provoked) to seek God for HIS wisdom on this matter and read what the Bible says about it.
Are things such as prophecy for today or just for days gone by?
Let’s start by addressing the thought / teaching that the gifts (such as prophecy and tongues) passed away when the first apostles passed away. The most commonly used Scripture to promote this idea is found in 1 Corinthians 13. Let me quote the snippet they use here:
Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. 1 Cor. 13:8-10 RSV
Their argument is that “the perfect” has come, and so now the “imperfect” has passed away. They say that the Bible is “the perfect” thing to which these verses apply and prophecy, tongues, and words of knowledge are the “imperfect” things that have passed away. Their reasoning is that the gifts were needed in the days of the first church, like a scaffolding from which the Church was built—and once it was finished, the scaffolding was no longer needed. If you only read those verses and then hear their interpretation of them, it’s pretty convincing, isn’t it?
Dear reader . . . I pray you hunger and thirst for God enough to want to know Him (and His word) for yourself. I invite you to open your Bible and read the whole chapter from which the above is quoted.
Paul, the writer of these words, is talking about the supreme value of love. He speaks about prophecy, tongues, and knowledge (in light of the higher value of love). He then speaks about the day when Jesus, THE Perfect One, comes for us and we see Him face to face.
Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.—1 Corinthians 13:8-12, RSV
When we are able to gaze into the face of Jesus, face to face, there will be no need of prophecy, of tongues, of miracles that point the way to Him. Until then, God is still adding living stones to His Church, we who yet live here are in an imperfect world, and we need the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Some would tell us to live by the saying "What Would Jesus Do?" Certainly, Christians should seek to live Christlike lives . . . but the question in and of itself implies that we have no current connection to Jesus Christ other than the Bible. That same Bible tells me that Jesus sent His Spirit to live in us and to guide us. Jesus said,
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you." – John 14:16-17 NASB
Paul said to the Colossians:
“Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:25-27 NASB
The whole book of 1 Corinthians (which gives instruction on receiving the Holy Spirit, and the spiritual gifts) is written
“To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours . . . ” (1 Cor. 1:2)
In the book of Acts, Peter the apostle said:
“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:38-39, NIV
From the Holy Spirit: the gift of prophecy and ministry of prophecy
Many people confuse a supernatural “gift” with a call to MINISTRY in that gift, but the two things aren’t necessarily synonymous.
Any of us might find ourselves in a situation where we are used to guide someone who is lost, or we may be able to see a lesson in nature and be able to wisely apply it to life. But does that make us all pastors or teachers? No. Those who are truly called as pastors and teachers will “shepherd” and give lessons in whatever situation or place they find themselves. It’s who they are called to BE, not just a “work” they do.
The same applies when comparing a situational gift of prophecy and someone being called as a prophet. You may be in the right place at the right time—and God may impart a word of prophecy to you for a specific event or situation, but that doesn’t mean you are called to be a prophet. Being a prophet is something that a person is called to be over a lifetime, it’s an outflow of who they are (if you’ll excuse the expression) “wired” to be.
Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, “prophesied” the day that her cousin Mary (the mother of Jesus) came to visit her but Elizabeth wasn’t a prophet. People such as Jeremiah and John the Baptist were called to be prophets.
What would be a Biblical description of prophecy?
Many people think prophecy is when someone foretells the future—but this is a limitation. True prophecy is much more than that. Although there are accounts in the Bible where prophets foretold future events, many times their ministry involved proclaiming God’s wisdom in the midst of events or exposing secret sins and agendas. At times it involved offering the choices God was putting forward: If you do this, the Lord will do that. Other times God was declaring His plans (regardless of man’s plans). In all cases, it was used to point people to the Lord, to help them depart from their own ways and follow after him.
The one who imparts true prophecy is the Holy Spirit—and He will always point us back to the Lord.
In book of Revelation, John encountered an angel who spoke the words of God to him and he says:
Then the angel said to me, “Write the following: Blessed are those who are invited to the banquet at the wedding celebration of the Lamb!” He also said to me, “These are the true words of God.” So I threw myself down at his feet to worship him, but he said, “Do not do this! I am only a fellow servant with you and your brothers and sisters who hold to the testimony about Jesus. Worship God, for the testimony about Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 19:9-10, NET
“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me." [Jesus Speaking about the Holy Spirit] John 15:26, NIV
Prophecy should neither be forbidden nor the object of frenzy in the church. It is intended (as are all the other gifts of the Lord such as teaching, preaching, pastoring, healing) for the building up of the Body not as a show in the center ring of a circus.
Let love be your highest goal! But you should also desire the special abilities the Spirit gives—especially the ability to prophesy. For if you have the ability to speak in tongues, you will be talking only to God, since people won’t be able to understand you. You will be speaking by the power of the Spirit, but it will all be mysterious. But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them. A person who speaks in tongues is strengthened personally, but one who speaks a word of prophecy strengthens the entire church. 1 Cor. 14:1-4 NLT
And . . .
“Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you. . . .
Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said. But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop. In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged. Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people. 1 Cor. 14:26-33 NLT
False prophecy is something disguised as wisdom or guidance that will rabbit trail (detour) people away from Jesus.
The world would classify the following under the category of “prophecy”: divination, fortune telling, soothsaying, astrology, directives from familiar spirits (a.k.a. spirit guides), or guidance from mediums, psychics, sorcerers, necromancers, or spiritualists. The Bible says such things are FALSE prophecy, an abomination that defiles people. (Deut. 18:19-14, Lev. 19:26, Lev. 19:31)
If they don't repent, false prophets and those who seek their guidance will all be punished for their sins. Ezekiel 14:10,
Are there some people who can speak an actual spiritual truth as a “prophecy” yet not be walking with God (or are agents of the devil)? Yes.
Old Testament examples of this would be the witch whom King Saul consulted (1 Sam. 28 and 1 Chronicles 10:13) and Balaam who spoke prophetic words of blessing despite his intent to curse God's people for the sake of money (Numbers 22-24, Deut. 23:5, Neh.13:2). Scripture specifically lists Balaam as an example of those for whom punishment is reserved (2 Peter 2:12-16, Jude 1:11, Rev.2:14).
New Testament examples would be:
Once when he was in the synagogue, a man possessed by a demon—an evil spirit—began shouting at Jesus, 34 “Go away! Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” 35 Jesus cut him short. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered. At that, the demon threw the man to the floor as the crowd watched; then it came out of him without hurting him further. Luke 4:33-35 NLT (also found in Matthew 7)
Here is an example of a “fortune teller” speaking the truth, but being used to draw attention away from the message.
16 As we were on our way to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who was possessed by a spirit of divination [claiming to foretell future events and to discover hidden knowledge], and she brought her owners much gain by her fortunetelling.
17 She kept following Paul and [the rest of] us, shouting loudly, These men are the servants of the Most High God! They announce to you the way of salvation!
18 And she did this for many days. Then Paul, being sorely annoyed and worn out, turned and said to the spirit within her, I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her! And it came out that very moment. Acts 16:16-18 AMP
In the past few decades (in my opinion) there has been WAY too much emphasis on personal prophecy (for direction). It reduces the person speaking to the status of a psychic or fortune teller. While people will FLOCK to meetings where these things are said to be happening . . . I think that the Lord is grieved by the fact that so many people will repeatedly seek a prophet—instead of seeking HIM. It puts the “prophet” in the place of the Lord and this:
is a terrible temptation to manipulate others.
appeals to people who don’t want to seek the Lord for themselves (so they can disobey whatever parts they find displeasing and pretend they didn’t sin—the way the children of Israel did with Moses, or Saul did with Samuel).
The gifts (including prophecy) are available today. Paul the apostle said to desire to prophecy (1 Cor. 14:1-5) . . . but as something that springs from a heart focused on the Lord, something that will build up the Body of Christ. Receiving a word of prophecy doesn’t make you a prophet. False prophecy directs attention away from the Lord.
This has been Part 7 in the series on Prophecies, Visions, Dreams, Angels, (and Miracles)
The next article will be about "Prophetic Words" (which are given to individuals or groups of people).
© Terry L. Craig 2013, 2015
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Scriptures marked NIV are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Scriptures marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
Scriptures marked AMP are taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture quotations marked RSV are taken from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NASB are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture quotations marked NET are taken from the New English Translation NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
Terry L. Craig is a follower of Christ, a Bible nerd, and a comparative thinker who likes to engage people and get them thinking about why they believe what they believe. She's an author, an indie publisher, and occasional speaker.
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