PROPHECY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
A. The prophet Joel prophesied that one day God would pour out his Spirit on all God’s people —something Moses had desired all along (Nu. 11:29)—and that when this happened, spiritual gifts of a prophetic nature would be made available to the saints on a less specialized basis (Jo. 2:28–29). Peter cited this passage to explain the outpouring of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Ac. 2:16–21).
Acts 2:14-21 (NIV)
14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 17 “‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. 19 I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 20 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. 21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’
Numbers 11:29 (NIV)
But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”
B. The day had come, therefore, when God’s Spirit would enable all of God’s people to prophesy in some sense. However, what did this actually mean in practical terms? Would all of God’s people function in the prophetic office as defined in the Old Testament? Would all of them be commissioned by God to foretell future events with accuracy? Would all be called to the same high standards of the Old Testament prophet?
C. On the one hand, it appears that in some more rare instances certain individuals may still be called to a prophetic office that more closely approximates the Old Testament standard (Ac. 11:27–28, 13:1, 15:32, 21:10–11; Eph. 4:11), with the exception that prophetic words delivered by such ministers are never to be touted as Scripture. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, those in the office of post-Pentecost prophet must testify only to the God of Israel and in the name of the God of Israel, who is now made known in Messiah Jesus. Furthermore, they must never use their influence to turn people away from the one true God or to unbiblical doctrines. Like the prophets of the Old Testament, they may be called at times to deliver words related to future events, those that provide counsel of some sort, and others that apply more on a corporate level. However, also like the Old Testament prophets, their primary function is to regularly call the people of God to wholeheartedly obey the stipulations of God’s covenant with them – in our case, the New Covenant. It is fair to assume that God’s standard for ministers entrusted with this kind of authority more closely approximates the high standards for prophets in the Old Testament.
Acts 11:27-30 (NIV)
27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) (Luke showing that Agabus was a true prophet, cf. Deut. 18). 29 The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.
D. On the other hand, the New Testament is also clear that following the day of Pentecost, prophetic gifts are no longer confined strictly to a special class of prophets. All believers have the capacity to hear Jesus’ voice through the Spirit on some level, and are admonished to eagerly desire spiritual gifts of a prophetic nature for the purpose of encouraging and edifying other members of the Body of Christ. Prophetic words are meant by God to help us “fight the good fight,” and cling more tightly to faith and a good conscience before God.
John 10:1-5 (NIV)
1 “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”
1 Corinthians 14:1-5 (ESV)
1 Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. 2 For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. 3 On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. 4 The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. 5 Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.
1 Timothy 1:18-19 (NIV)
18 Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by following them you may fight the good fight, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience.
E. We need to demystify the prophetic. It really is a simple concept. Prayer is us speaking to God. Prophecy is God speaking to us. Prophecy simply means hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit and receiving communications from our Maker. Sometimes we speak these out to others, sometimes not. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who loves to lead His sheep by His voice. He speaks to us personally and through others to strengthen us in faith, love, and righteousness as we run the race toward the New Jerusalem.
F. Prophetic words typically come in the form of a light inner impression, a picture in the mind’s eye or vision, an inward “knowing,” a small whisper in our hearts, a dream in the night, etc. Sometimes God even surrounds us with recurring numbers (e.g. story of woman in Kansas City, and life verses). They do not carry the same weight as the words delivered by the Old Testament prophets to the nation of Israel. However, they are nevertheless prophetic in nature.
G. Because the saints “know in part and prophesy in part” (1 Cor. 13:9), prophecy is portrayed in the New Testament as more of an art than a science. On the one hand, because the Holy Spirit lives in God’s people and is genuinely involved in the process of prophesying on some level, and because prophetic words are meant to strengthen us in our faith, we must not treat “lower-level” utterances with contempt. Rather, should value them even if they seem small and don’t feel overly “dramatic.”
1 Thessalonians 5:19 (NIV)
Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;
H. On the other hand, because these Spirit-induced impressions are being communicated to and through weak human vessels, we must also approach such words with spiritual discernment. We must “test everything” and “hold on to the good,” letting God blow away any chaff that may be mixed in the word.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 (NIV)
19 Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good.
I. All words that clearly contradict sound biblical teaching are to be immediately discarded.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 (NIV)
1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.
J. We do learn from the New Testament that while all of God’s people can hear the Spirit’s voice, the Holy Spirit does gift some in the area of prophecy more than others. This doesn’t mean that they are necessarily a “big-P” prophet like Agabus. But they do walk in a prophetic grace not common to all either. They are more toward the middle of the spectrum.
1 Corinthians 12:7-11 (NIV)
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
Romans 12:6-8 (NIV)
6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
K. Most prophetic words involve the three-fold process of trying to accurately receive, interpret, and apply the word with care and sensitivity. We grow in our maturity in and stewardship of the prophetic over time.