When you think of prophecy or prophets, several names might come to mind. Maybe you think of Nostradamus, or Uri Gellar, or Jeane Dixon. It was Jeane Dixon that predicted that Kennedy would be elected and then later assassinated. She did that four years before it happened. She was also Nancy Reagan’s much publicized astrologer during the Reagan presidency. You might think of horoscopes, palm readers, fortune cookies, or fortune telling. Is this prophecy? Is there any harm in reading my horoscope? Do people who claim to predict the future have the gift of prophecy? Is prophecy the same as prophesy? Paul uses both words. Confused? We need to look at it in the context of Scripture.
Prophesy comes from the Greek word pro that means in front of, prior or forth, and phemi that means to show or make known one’s thoughts. So then prophesy literally means speaking forth the mind and counsel of God, to set forth matters of divine teaching by special ability. Prophesy is simply forth telling for another. A prophet would then be someone who proclaims a divine message or a person gifted in the exposition of the truth.
If you look at the Old Testament, we have many examples of prophecy and prophesy. For example, Exodus 4:14-16, 7:1 tells the story of Moses and Aaron. The Old Testament includes many writings that are of a prophetic nature. There are the prophecies of Daniel, Isaiah, and Ezekiel. Then there the minor prophecies of men like Zephaniah, Haggai, and Nahum. These prophets received a revelation from God Himself in a dream, vision, or verbally, but the message of O.T. prophets was generally reformative in nature. In other words, they spoke the truths of God with a goal to change the direction of the people based on what was going on at the time. For example in Micah 2:3 it says, “Therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am planning against this family a calamity From which you cannot remove your necks; And you will not walk haughtily, For it will be an evil time.” The prophecy Micah proclaims is judgment upon that particular family for the behavior they were engaged in. The goal was to get people to see the need for repentance before God, to see the paths of holiness found only in a loving God.
O.T. prophets instructed, warned, exhorted, promised, and rebuked. They emphasized moral duty, promoted righteousness, pronounced impending terror and doom on the unrighteous, and repeated God’s promises for the future. These prophets of old did speak of future events, but the emphasis was generally determined by the conditions the people were currently in. Speaking of Assyria, Nahum 2:13 says, “Behold, I am against you,’ declares the LORD of hosts. “I will burn up her chariots in smoke, a sword will devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the land, and no longer will the voice of your messengers be heard.” Zephaniah 1:4 says, “So I will stretch out My hand against Judah and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will cut off the remnant of Baal from this place, and the names of the idolatrous priests along with the priests.” So O.T. prophets spoke of current and future events.
Now let’s look at some New Testament prophesy. The gospels mention many prophets, but they refer to O.T. prophets or prophecy or refer to Jesus Himself. The first mention of a N.T. prophet is in Acts: “Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius.” (Acts 11:27-28) In Acts 21:11, Agabus, “Took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.” Even though Agabus speaks about the future, most N.T. prophets are not like him. In the first century and before, there were men of God that received special revelation from God that were able to say, “This is what the Lord says.”
But since the Scriptures are complete, are there still messages received from God that are a special revelation? Let’s look at some biblical facts about prophesy. Remember that Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:20 that the foundation of the church is built on the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone. Apostles are N.T. people. If Paul was talking about O.T. prophets, he would have said that foundation was built on prophets and apostles. Besides that, Paul mentions prophets again in Ephesians 3:5 and 4:11. Paul told the Thessalonian church not to despise prophesying. 2 Peter 1:20-21 says, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” The clearest definition of a prophet is found in 1 Corinthians 14:3: “But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.”
Edification is the act of one who promotes another’s growth in Christian wisdom, piety, happiness, holiness. Exhortation is admonition and encouragement. Consolation is any address, whether made for the purpose of persuading, or of arousing and stimulating, or of calming and consoling. 1 Corinthians 13:2 indicates that a prophet has a deep and enlarged understanding of the mysteries of Scripture. When you look at all four passages that mention spiritual gifts, prophecy is the only one mentioned in each passage.
We know that God put prophets in place, but let’s look at why He did so. According to Ephesians 4:11-16, He did it for the equipping of the saints to do the work of service. Equipping here means to furnish. When soldiers prepare to deploy to Iraq, they’re outfitted with all the gear they’ll need for their tour there. Part of the prophet’s responsibility is to outfit the saint to do the work of service. Work means that which one undertakes to do, an enterprise or undertaking, anything accomplished by hand, art, industry, or mind. Work covers a lot of things. The prophet is one that accurately handles the Word of God in a manner that makes is applicable for the audience that is receiving it. you can do that in church, Sunday School, Bible study, a community group, or one on one. Prophesy can be exercised in a number of ways.
So how long is this prophesying going to go on? According to Ephesians 4:13 this prophesying is to be done until, “We all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 13:9-10: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.” Until we are all in unity of the faith, until we measure up to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, until the perfect comes. Bible scholars have disagreed for years as to whom or what the perfect is. Some say it is the Word of God, but this doesn’t fit with the context of what Paul is saying to the Corinthians. The measure and stature of Christ lines up with Matthew 5:48 says, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Acts 2:17 which is a quote of Joel 2:28 says, “AND IT SHALL BE IN THE LAST DAYS,’ God says, ‘THAT I WILL POUR FORTH OF MY SPIRIT ON ALL MANKIND; AND YOUR SONS AND YOUR DAUGHTERS SHALL PROPHESY, AND YOUR YOUNG MEN SHALL SEE VISIONS, AND YOUR OLD MEN SHALL DREAM DREAMS.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” Before the perfect we see dimly, but after the perfect we will see face to face. Before the perfect, we know in part, after the perfect, we will know fully. Here’s a thought, since we have the complete Scriptures, why don’t we see fully? Why are we still seeing dimly?
Some say this is the second coming of Christ, but even after Christ takes the church to heaven, there will still be prophesying. Revelation 11:13 says, “And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” That’s just one example. When you put all of the Scriptures together, the only time the church will reach a state of completion is in heaven. No matter how much we mature on this earth, we’re still hampered by our sinful minds and our inability to fully understand the Word. Paul exhorts us in 1 Corinthians 14:1 to, “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” Prophesy is plural here. The church is to desire that they be saturated with Christians who have the gift of prophesy – the supernatural ability to deliver the Word of God in a manner that is applicable for every circumstance.
For everything good the Lord, does, there is always counterfeits out there. Listen to these warnings about false prophets:
- Ezekiel 13:3: “Thus says the Lord GOD, Woe to the foolish prophets who are following their own spirit and have seen nothing.”
- 2 Peter 2:1: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.”
- 1 John 4:1: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
What about you? Do you have the gift of prophecy? How can you exercise it? Well, you can certainly preach, teach, evangelize, exhort, and comfort. There are lots of ways to prophesize. I think this is by far, the most prevalent gift in the church today. It is alive and well and is our primary gift to proclaim the truth of God’s Word.
How do you know if you have this gift? You’ll be drawn to it – you may be doing it already. You’ll have ability in this area. Other people will notice if you have this gift.
You need to know your spiritual gifts it directs you to God’s specific will for your life. It helps set priorities for your life and helps you accept your place in the body of Christ. Knowing your spiritual gift can identify areas of training and devotion.