There has been much development in the understanding and application of the term, ‘prophet,’ and in the relevance of the spiritual gift of prophecy. In the list of the five foundational ministries of the Church, the primary fivefold gifts Christ gave to His Church with the coming of the Spirit – Prophet is listed second. The five are known as APEST and are: Apostle – Prophet – Evangelist – Shepherd – Teacher (Ephesians 4:7-16). It is also recognised to be one of the most important spiritual gifts given by the Spirit.
The Bible is rich with examples, both in the Old Testament and in the New, of prophets prophesying and the prophetic gift in operation. In fact, the Scriptures themselves are God’s inspired word. According to 2 Peter 1:20-21, ‘Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, 21or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God.’ ‘All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God…’ (2 Timothy 3:16).
It is important to state that there is a difference between the prophetic words contained in our Bibles, the canonical word of God, and that given today by a prophet or through the operation of the spiritual gift. Scripture is infallible – prophecies today are fallible.
We cannot put on a par a prophesy given today with God’s word. I cannot overstate this truth. Nevertheless, the prophet and the prophetic gift are incredibly important and helpful to the church. May God raise up many more mature, inspired and effective prophets in today’s Church. In Jesus’ name. Amen
In Hebrew, the word that traditionally translates as prophet is na(v)bi, which means ‘spokesperson.’ In the Jewish TaNaKh – what the Jews call the OT – one section is called the Nevi’im – Prophets are Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the 12 prophets.
Fully a third of the TaNaKh is devoted to books about prophetic experience. These include a separate book of ‘minor’ prophets known as The Twelve Prophets (Trei-Assar). Ketuvim – Writings includes the Books of Truth: Psalms, Proverbs, Job; Five Scrolls: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther; and the rest of the Writings: Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah, 1 and 2 Chronicles.
In the New Testament – the ultimate Prophet is the Lord Jesus Himself. He was a fearless prophet declaring God’s word with wisdom, understanding, discernment, might, true knowledge in the fear of the Lord. He ministered in power with mighty signs and wonders supporting His ministry, while also speaking prophetically with tenderness, grace, humility and love.
The verb ‘prophecy’ means ‘to speak before;’ it is from the Greek pro, before, and phemi, to speak. The gift includes both the idea of foretelling – predicting the future, and forthtelling – declaring God’s prophetic perspective derived from His word.
A prophet was God’s human mouthpiece: he or she was sanctioned by God to speak on His behalf and gave His message. Sometimes that message was regarding the future. Other times it concerned the present, even the past, or it was simply the exposition of doctrinal truth – but it was always God’s message spoken forth.
Conditional and Unconditional Prophesies
There are two basic elements to prophesy – those based on God’s unconditional promises, and those based on His conditional promises:
- The conditional: if you will obey God, hold yourself accountable to Him and follow His way – then such and such will happen in the future. A really good example of this is 2 Chronicles 15. In it the prophet Azariah is sent by the Spirit of God to King Asa to tell him:
- 2a – God will stay with the nation as long as they stay with Him
- 2b – When you seek Him, you will find Him as long you do not abandon Him
- 7 – You be strong and courageous for then your work will be rewarded
As a result of Azariah’s faithful prophetic ministry – a spiritual revival took place. It resulted in…
- 11 – the people sacrificing to God
- 12 – them entering into a renewal of the covenant to worship and serve the Lord
- 13 – agreeing to obey a stipulation of the Law of Moses
- 15a – the people being joyful because they earnestly sought the Lord, and found Him
- 15b – God giving them rest from their enemies.
- The unconditional: because of what God has said in His word, His covenant promise – then God will bring such and such to pass…
- The Messianic promises in the OT are unconditional promising that the future Messiah will come
- The promises of the outpouring of the Spirit which took place at Pentecost (Joel 2:28-29)
- The promises in Scripture about Christ’s Second coming are also unconditional – He is coming (Joel 2:30-31)
- The promises of salvation are unconditional based in the atonement and finished work of Christ at Calvary (Joel 2:32). I deliberately referred to the passage in Joel 2 in these last three points to demonstrate how one passage prophetically refers to three elements of God’s unconditional promises.
Forthtelling and Foretelling
Prophecy can be sub-divided into two forms: forthtelling and foretelling:
The much more common forthtelling – being able to give God’s perspective on a situation from His word. It is being able, by the gifting of the Spirit, to speak into a situation, issue or challenge giving a clear biblical perspective which is God’s word into that situation. A great example is again found in 2 Chronicles 15 and the prophet Azariah to King Asa. Azariah was able to reveal – revelation is always a key part of prophecy:
- 3 – for a long time Israel had abandoned the true God, and as a result were without a priest to represent them before God, and teach them God’s Law and ways
- 4 – they were in trouble; however, when they turned to Him and really humbled themselves before Him – they found Him
- 5a – because they had been in rebellion against God disobeying Him, it had caused dark times in the nation when it was even unsafe to travel (Interesting in connection with our own issues today with not being able to travel because of the Covid-19 restrictions)
- 5b – Israel’s rebellion also affected other nations bringing problems on them. Israel’s disobedience to the Lord had a profound impact beyond its borders bringing wars and every kind of problem to the nations
- 8-16 – Azariah’s prophesy encouraged Asa and enabled him to act boldly in doing that which pleased the Lord. This led to a national revival. Asa spiritual reforms included:
- removing idols
- repairing God’s altar ready for sacrifices
- gathering the people together to worship
- sacrificing to Him that which was required
- renewing the covenant with Him
- and deposing pagans and those who had rebelled against Him from public office
- 18 – Azariah’s prophesies also encouraged Asa to give large freewill offerings to God and His work.
A further example of conditional, forthtelling prophesies are found in the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia in the book of Revelation (1:19 – 3:22). Christ prophetically encourages, calls out the good, exposes the hidden bad, and threatens sanctions if the churches do not repent.
Foretelling – being commissioned and set part by God to speak about future events that set out the benefits of conditional promises and also unconditional promises.
Again in Foretelling – God’s conditional promises are important to our discipleship growth. Learning how to obey, hold ourselves accountable for what we do before God and for His people, and follow His way in life are the key milestones in the journey towards spiritual maturity.
A good example of an unconditional prophecy is the one Agabus gave about the coming famine in Judea, and the whole Roman world. Acts 11:27-30, ‘During this time some prophets travelled from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28One of them named Agabus stood up in one of the meetings and predicted by the Spirit that a great famine was coming upon the entire Roman world. (This was fulfilled during the reign of Claudius.) 29So the believers in Antioch decided to send relief to the brothers and sisters in Judea, everyone giving as much as they could. 30This they did, entrusting their gifts to Barnabas and Saul to take to the elders of the church in Jerusalem.’
- Agabus was one of a number of prophets who were recognised as such by the Church
- They travelled together ministering in the prophetic as they went along
- It was during a church meeting that the Spirit spoke
- It was the Spirit who enabled Agabus to give this unconditional prophesy – the famine was coming. The unconditional nature can be supported in that the church prepared to support those affected – no mention is made of them praying for it to be stopped
- The famine was general in its effects, not just impacting God’s people – it would affect the whole Roman world
- The other prophets obviously weighed its veracity or truthfulness and knew the prophecy was of the Lord
- The hearts of the believers were moved to send relief to their brothers and sisters throughout Judea on the weight of the prophecy – the famine hadn’t yet happened. The Church was proactively, in faith, responding to God’s prophetic word
- They carefully chose the best course ensuring that their gifts were both well handled, entrusting them to Saul and Barnabas, and would get to the people who needed them most – administered by the church leaders in Jerusalem.
The resurgence in seeking to understand and develop the foundational ministry of prophet has not been met with universal acclaim. Many argue that there are often misuses of the ministry and gift, with many demonstrating a worrying lack of adherence to Scriptural authority. In the Old Testament there are lots of instances recorded of false prophets giving false prophesies which God had not given to them to speak, nor had He commissioned them to the office.
Today sadly, just like in Old Testament times, there are self-proclaimed prophets who do not adhere to the basic principles of Church discipline and good practice.
However, I firmly believe that God still commissions people to be prophets, and the Spirit still distributes the spiritual gift of prophecy in the Church. It is a wonderful ministry that brings God’s revelatory truth to the Church.
The following are a few good principles to keep in mind about prophesy:
These principles include:
- Christ appoints prophets in His Church (Ephesians 4)
- The Spirit distributes the spiritual gift of prophecy in the church ( 1 Corinthians 12)
- It is a revelatory gift bringing God’s insight and perspective
- Forthtelling is an important component and should not be lost in the desire for predictive, foretelling prophecy
- According to Paul, 1 Corinthians 14:3, prophecy is an excellent gift meant to:
- strengthen or edify others
- encourage them – to exhort them to continue in the faith worshipping and serving the Lord
- bring comfort to God’s people as they hear God’s voice through the prophet
- As such – prophecy should not be dishonouring to Christ by what is being said
- Prophecy should always be in line with what the Bible sets as the parameters for sound doctrine, faithfulness to God’s word, and spiritual integrity
- Allowing one’s prophecies to be assessed and evaluated by other prophets is the Scriptural way to ensure that they are of the Spirit and not inspired in another way (1 Corinthians 14:29)
- And most importantly, being called, gifted and sent by Christ and His Spirit to be a prophet – is something other parts of His Church should be able to recognise in the prophet or the prophetic gift in operation.
Father, thank You for the ministry of the prophet, and the spiritual gift of prophecy. You have blessed the Church by such gifts to it. Enable Telford Elim to raise up Spirit-commissioned and anointed prophets bringing Your revelation, strength, encouragement and comfort. Pour out the Spirit of Prophecy upon the UK Church – we need Your perspective and voice in these days. May Jesus be glorified as we walk in this pathway. Amen