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The Spirit as the Spirit of Prophecy

Notes Outline
THE ORACLES OF GOD: SCRIPTURE’S PROPHETIC NARRATIVE
THE SPIRIT AND THE PROPHETS
JESUS, THE DISCIPLES AND THE prophetic WITNESS OF THE GOSPEL

THE ORACLES OF GOD: SCRIPTURE’S PROPHETIC NARRATIVE

    1. The Word and the Spirit: Throughout Scripture there’s an intricate relation between the Spirit of God and His Word. This is seen, for instance, concerning creation.

6 By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. 9 For he himself spoke and it came to pass. He himself commanded and it stood firm. (Psalm 33:6, 9 LEB) 

4 The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of Shaddai gives life to me. (Job 33:4 LEB) 

    1. God speaks and things are to happen according to His will. In the end, despite the opposition of the powers in heaven and the rebellion of men on earth, by the Word of the Lord and the power of His Spirit, His eternal purpose will come to fruition.

28 Therefore say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh: “None of my words will be prolonged any longer that I speak as a word, and it will be fulfilled!”’ declares the Lord Yahweh. (Ezekiel 12:28 LEB) 

21 Many plans are in the heart of a man, but the purpose of Yahweh will be established. (Proverbs 19:21 LEB) 

    1. The God who spoke the world into existence also drives history and redemption by the Word of His covenant-promise. In His dealings with the sons of men God has anchored himself to humanity in the most radical way by establishing a promise to a man and his descendants, the people Israel. As the late Jewish theologian Michael Wyschogrod said, Israel “is the carnal anchor that God has sunk into the soil of creation” (Body of Faith, 256). 

17 Now the Lord had said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do (prophetic), 18 since Abraham is to become a great and populous nation and all the nations of the earth are to bless themselves by him? Genesis 18:17–18 JPS) 

18 All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, because you have obeyed My command.” (Genesis 22:18 JPS) 

    1. This future-oriented promise is the foundation of God’s prophetic oracle, and what drives history to its final consummation at the Day of the Lord. It’s also the basis for Israel’s calling and accountability before Him. 

5 Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine, 6 but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (mediating the knowledge of God to the world).’ (Exodus 19:5–6 JPS) 

1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz prophesied concerning Judah and Jerusalem. 2 In the days to come, The Mount of the Lord’s House Shall stand firm above the mountains And tower above the hills; And all the nations Shall gaze on it with joy. 3 And the many peoples shall go and say: “Come, Let us go up to the Mount of the Lord, To the House of the God of Jacob; That He may instruct us in His ways, And that we may walk in His paths.” For instruction shall come forth from Zion, The word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 

5 O House of Jacob! Come, let us walk By the light of the Lord. 6 For you have forsaken the ways of your people, O House of Jacob! […] 10 Go deep into the rock, Bury yourselves in the ground, Before the terror of the Lord And His dread majesty! 11 Man’s haughty look shall be brought low, And the pride of mortals shall be humbled. None but the Lord shall be Exalted in that day. 12 For the Lord of Hosts has ready a day Against all that is proud and arrogant, Against all that is lofty—so that it is brought low: (Isaiah 2:1–12 JPS) 

    1. Jewish prophets were entrusted with the oracles God: The stewardship of God’s words around this covenant-prophetic narrative has been historically given to the Jewish people. 

19 He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and his ordinances to Israel. 20 He has not done so for any nation, and they do not know his ordinances. Praise Yah. (Psalm 147:19–20 LEB) 

8 He is ever mindful of His covenant, the promise He gave for a thousand generations (a statement of permanence), 9 that He made with Abraham, swore to Isaac, 10 and confirmed in a decree for Jacob, for Israel, as an eternal covenant, […] 14 He allowed no one to oppress them; He reproved kings on their account, 15 “Do not touch My anointed ones; do not harm My prophets.” (Psalm 105:8–15 JPS) 

6 Thus said the Lord, the King of Israel, Their Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts: I am the first and I am the last, And there is no god but Me. 7 Who like Me can announce, Can foretell it—and match Me thereby? Even as I told the future to an ancient people, So let him foretell coming events to them. 8 Do not be frightened, do not be shaken! Have I not from of old predicted to you? I foretold, and you are My witnesses. (Isaiah 44:6–8 JPS) 

1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? 2 Much, in every way. For in the first place the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. […] 9:4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5 to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 3:1–2, 9:4-5 NRSV)

THE SPIRIT AND THE PROPHETS

    1. Moses (Num. 11:17), the judges (Jdg. 3:10), King David (Psa. 51:11), and the whole line of prophets that followed, they were all moved by the Spirit of the Lord in leading the assembly of Israel (cf. Isa. 63:9-15). This created such a link between the Spirit and the prophets that in the Jewish tradition He came to be known as “the Spirit of prophecy”.   

9 And the darkness left the eyes of Isaac, and he saw the two sons of Jacob, Levi, and Judah, and he said: ‘Are these thy sons, my son? for they are like thee.’ […] 12 And the spirit of prophecy came down into his mouth, and he took Levi by his right hand and Judah by his left. 13 And he turned to Levi first, and began to bless him first, and said unto him: May the God of all, the very Lord of all the ages, bless thee and thy children throughout all the ages. (Jubilees 31:9-13) 

25 And Mosheh went forth, and told the people the words of the Lord, and gathered together seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle. And the Lord was revealed in the Cloud, and spake with him, and he made enlargement of the Spirit that was upon him, and imparted to the seventy men, the elders; and it came to pass that when the Spirit of prophecy rested upon them they prophesied, and ceased not. […] 29 I would that all the people of the Lord did prophesy, and that the Lord would confer the Spirit of prophecy upon them. (Targum Onkelos Numbers 11:25-29) 

    1. In this light, the Spirit of prophecy was to play the central role in keeping the people accountable to the covenant, and therefore in righteous relationship with their God. Thus, more than often the prophetic word became a call to “repent!”, in view of disciplinary judgment.

11 For great is the day of the Lord, Most terrible—who can endure it? 12 “Yet even now”—says the Lord—“Turn back to Me with all your hearts, And with fasting, weeping, and lamenting.” 13 Rend your hearts Rather than your garments, And turn back to the Lord your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in kindness, And renouncing punishment. (Joel 2:11–13) 

31 Cast away all the transgressions by which you have offended, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit, that you may not die, O House of Israel. 32 For it is not My desire that anyone shall die—declares the Lord God. Repent, therefore, and live! (Ezekiel 18:31–32 JPS) 

    1. However, that message was typically met with severe opposition. Thus, a foundational work of the prophetic Spirit was to embolden and strengthen the messenger unto a faithful witness. 

4 The Lord God gave me a skilled tongue, To know how to speak timely words to the weary. Morning by morning, He rouses, He rouses my ear To give heed like disciples. 5 The Lord God opened my ears, And I did not disobey, I did not run away. 6 I offered my back to the floggers, And my cheeks to those who tore out my hair. I did not hide my face From insult and spittle. 7 But the Lord God will help me— Therefore I feel no disgrace; Therefore I have set my face like flint, And I know I shall not be shamed. (Isaiah 50:4–7 JPS) 

8 Have no fear of them, For I am with you to deliver you —declares the Lord. 9 The Lord put out His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: Herewith I put My words into your mouth. (Jeremiah 1:8–9 JPS) 

7 But the House of Israel will refuse to listen to you, for they refuse to listen to Me; for the whole House of Israel are brazen of forehead and stubborn of heart. 8 But I will make your face as hard as theirs, and your forehead as brazen as theirs. 9 I will make your forehead like adamant, harder than flint. Do not fear them, and do not be dismayed by them, though they are a rebellious breed.” (Ezekiel 3:7–9 JPS) 

    1. The prophets and those responsive to their message would constitute a righteous remnant living with a posture of trembling and obedience in view of giving an account before the Lord. The life of that prophetic remnant was to be a provocation and example to the rest of the nation. Jesus and the early disciples functioned according to that prophetic tradition:

The early followers of Jesus did not see themselves as “Christians” so much as penitent Jews who were calling their own people to follow them in a previously existing religious model. That model is penitential theology, as expressed in prayer, which developed from such biblical texts as Deuteronomy 4, Deuteronomy 30, Nehemiah 9, and Daniel 9, and flourished in the ministry of John the Baptist. John the Baptist and Jesus, among others in Second Temple Judaism, viewed themselves as standing in the line of beleaguered Jewish prophets sent by God to challenge Israel’s lack of loyalty to the covenant. (In Turner, Israel’s Last Prophet, 7)

JESUS, THE DISCIPLES AND THE prophetic WITNESS OF THE GOSPEL

  1. At the time of Jesus, the intensity of the prophetic witness came to a head in His own ministry and that of John the Baptist. Following along the trajectory of their predecessors, they came preaching a message of repentance corresponding to the eschatological urgency of God’s coming Kingdom and the Day of judgment. It was a gospel rooted in the prophetic tradition. 

14 And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the gospel!” (Mark 1:14–15 LEB) 

41 The people of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here! (Matthew 12:41 LEB) 

3 A voice is calling in the wilderness, “Clear the way of Yahweh! Make a highway smooth in the desert for our God! […] 5 And the glory of Yahweh shall be revealed, and all humankind together shall see it, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.” […] 9 Get yourself up to a high mountain, Zion, bringer of good news! Lift up your voice with strength, Jerusalem, bringer of good news! Lift it up; you must not fear! Say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 Look! The Lord Yahweh comes with strength, and his arm rules for him. Look! His reward is with him, and his recompense in his presence. (Isaiah 40:3–10 LEB) 

  1. The faithfulness of Jesus and the sobriety of His prophetic message led to a violent death as a martyr-prophet. Significantly, this dying of the ultimate Jewish prophet served as an appeal to God for mercy and forgiveness toward His people. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus carried the prophetic burden for the chosen people.

33 Nevertheless, it is necessary for me to be on the way today and tomorrow and on the next day, because it is not possible for a prophet to perish outside Jerusalem. 34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How many times I wanted to gather your children together the way a hen gathers her own brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house has been left to you! And I tell you, you will never see me until the time will come when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ (Lu 13:33–35 LEB) 

33 And when they came to the place that is called “The Skull,” there they crucified him, and the criminals, the one on his right and the other on his left. 34 But Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:33–34 LEB) 

14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb 9:14 LEB) 

19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man, the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one, the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19 LEB)

The obedience of the martyr is effective for the relationship between God and God’s people, not the shedding of blood per se. Sacrificial imagery is interpretive. Martyr ideology is a development of the covenant theology of Deuteronomy: the people’s return to obedience effects the reversal of the covenant curses (Deut. 30:1-5), using the imagery of the Levitical sacrificial system (both because it provides a means for describing reconciliation with God and because of the similarities between the ritual violence of sacrifice and the fate of Jewish martyrs). The signal difference is that, now, it is the representative obedience of the martyrs that brings a return of covenant blessings to the larger, disobedient nation. (David deSilva, Jewish Martyrology and the Death of Jesus, lecture) 

  1. Jesus therefore called His followers to imitate the prophets:

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10–12 NIV)

  1. The apostolic mission was consequently dictated by the same prophetic tradition as they sought to provoke their brethren, especially because of the responsibility they carried in relation to the other nations.

22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You will listen to him in everything that he says to you. […] 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God ordained with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring all the nations of the earth will be blessed.’ 26 God, after he had raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning each of you back from your wickedness!” (Acts 3:22–26 LEB) 

10 Brothers, take as an example of perseverance and endurance the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. (James 5:10 LEB) 

  1. The apostle Paul, the messenger-prophet to the nations, embraced the same pattern of life both for him and the gentile disciples he was responsible for.  

5 Our gospel did not come to you with word only, but also with power and with the Holy Spirit and with much certainty… 6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all those who believe in Macedonia and in Achaia, 8 for from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth […] so that we have no need to say anything. 9 For they themselves report about us, what sort of welcome we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, 10 and to await his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, the one who delivers us from the coming wrath. (1 Thes 1:5–10 LEB) 

14 For you became imitators, brothers, of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus, because you also suffered the same things at the hands of your own people, just as they themselves did also at the hands of the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and who persecuted us, and who are not pleasing to God and are opposed to all people. (1 Thes 2:14–15 LEB)

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings on behalf of you, and I fill up in my flesh what is lacking of the afflictions of Christ, on behalf of his body which is the church, 25 of which I became a minister, according to God’s stewardship which was given to me for you, to complete the word of God . (Colossians 1:24–25 LEB) 

  1. In these sobering times we are compelled to follow the same pattern of life, we are called to uphold “the testimony of Jesus” which “is the Spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). 

10 And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, because the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, the one who accuses them before our God day and night. 11 And they conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives until death. (Revelation 12:10–11 LEB) 

APPENDIX: Five functions of the Spirit of prophecy in Judaism

  1. The Spirit gives charismatic revelation and guidance to people through visionary experiences, dreams, hearing of words, or some combination of these.
  2. The Spirit gives charismatic wisdom and understanding to people to interpret dreams or to rule wisely either conspicuously or inconspicuously.
  3. The Spirit inspires people to give immediate prophetic or oracular speech, the extreme form of which being ecstatic or mantic prophecy where the Spirit completely displaces the speaker’s natural faculties.
  4. The Spirit inspires people to give immediate charismatic praise and worship typically (but not necessarily) addressed to God.
  5. The Spirit grants people supernatural strength and power to overcome enemies or to perform miraculous deeds (such as dividing the waters as in the case of Elisha).