The Gift of Prophecy

 
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Since the publication of his book Les Propheties in 1555, the French seer, Nostradamus, has attracted an almost cult-like following. His many enthusiasts, as well as the popular media, credit him with predicting numerous major world events.

The fascination many people have with Nostradamus illustrates just how many of us are drawn to try to understand the future—and why so many through the years claim to have skills or gifts to discern coming events.

The Bible also contains large segments of prophetic writing. The third section of the Old Testament, referred to as “the Prophets” by Jesus (see Luke 24:44), is dedicated solely to this genre from men such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Three of the Gospel writers—Matthew, Mark and Luke— devote a sizable space to Jesus’ immortal sermon from the Mount of Olives, concerning end-time events. The apostle John dedicates one whole book— Revelation—to a symbolic expansion of the same sermon. Scattered through the other New Testament writings of Paul and Peter are many other prophetic statements.

At the same time, however, Jesus advised extreme caution in an overfascination with prophecy. In His wisdom, He said to His followers, “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority”

(Acts 1:7). The main focus of all Scripture, including prophecy, is to understand the father-heart of God and His desire for us to come into a saving, loving relationship with Him. Any study of the prophetic elements in the Bible must be seen primarily in this light.

The Book of Revelation, for example, begins with the statement, “The revelation of Jesus Christ …” rather than a revelation of events of the future.

The fact remains, however, that God is not an absent landlord.

He has an intense interest in our lives and a deep concern for our wellbeing. As a consequence, He has chosen to share His heart with us and reveal many things to us for our good over the ages.

The first two chapters of the Bible— Genesis 1 and 2—reveal that before sin entered the world, God personally walked with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and talked with them face to face.

The most tragic consequence of sin was that God, in His mercy, chose to limit our access to Him. Despite the intimacy He still longed to have with humanity, He knew the realities of His holiness and glory would terrify and overwhelm us, as demonstrated when He descended on Mount Sinai to meet with Israel (see Exodus 20:18-21).

Clearly, His visitation on that occasion was primarily an overture of intimacy.

This becomes evident when He invites the elders to come up onto the mountain and share a covenant meal with Him (see Exodus 24:9-11). The people, however, clamoured for Moses to be God’s mouthpiece for them and God agreed.

The term the Bible uses for this ministry of Moses is that of a “prophet” (see Deuteronomy 18:15). Prophecy was never restricted to merely foretelling the future. In fact, only a small element of prophecy includes that aspect of the biblical prophet’s work. The greater bulk of work was “for-telling”—being a mouthpiece “for” God to the people.

Included in that dynamic, God often found it necessary to incorporate much “forth-telling”—rebukes, discipline and calls to repentance, which expressed His heart of concern for their ultimate welfare in a redemptive manner.

The nations who surrounded Israel at the time had, in their rebellion against God, turned to the practices of sorcery and divination in their hope to know the future. That put them in direct contact with the author of all deception— Satan himself—the master of lies (see John 8:44). The enemy is a shrewd judge of human character and the inevitable consequences of his malicious schemes enable some of his predictions to have a semblance of truth. Because of this, it became necessary for God to give some guidelines on how to discern the spirit of the prophets.

tests of a prophet

There are four such basic tests:

  • The ultimate outcome of the prophecy (see Deuteronomy 18:17-22)
  • Alignment with other revelations of God’s will (see Isaiah 8:20)
  • The results of the prophet’s life and work (see Matthew 7:15-23)
  • The testimony of the prophet to the biblical account of Jesus’ nature and work (see 1 Peter 1:10-12; Revelation 19:10; 1 John 4:1-3).

Down through the centuries of the Old Testament, there were usually one or two genuinely godly prophets in each generation who met these specifications.

But with the coming of Jesus, the prophetic gift changed radically. “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe”

(Hebrews 1:1-2).

In Jesus, God has shared with us the fullness of all He wanted to reveal to us about Himself. Jesus is “the” prophet to come, one of our brothers, that Moses spoke of under inspiration of the Holy Spirit (see Deuteronomy 18:15). All we need to know about how to prepare for the future and be right with God has been shown to us.

This does not mean God has discontinued His earlier practice of communi cating in a prophetic way with humanity.

But it does mean that the nature of the gift of prophecy has changed radically.

For example, the gift once given to only a privileged few in Old Testament times is now available to every Christian who is filled with the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2:14-18). It was a continuing gift of the Holy Spirit promised to the church from Pentecost onward (see 1 Corinthians 12:7-11). Every Christian in every local congregation is encouraged to ask for the prophetic gift personally (see 1 Corinthians 14:1).

The prophetic sharing of every church member needs to be weighed carefully by spiritually discerning people and some utterances accepted whilst others laid aside (see 1 Corinthians 14:29-32; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21). The Spirit in every person, working in the prophetic realm, was to be subject to the same Spirit working in a similar way in others.

On a congregational level, it seems that such prophetic ministry implied words of strengthening, encouraging and comforting people that bore the hallmark of God’s anointing (see 1 Corinthians 14:3). Particular Christians, however, were blessed with an ongoing consistence and maturity in this ministry that the church at large came to recognise and endorse as trusted and reliable (Acts 21:8-10).

One such manifestation of this New Testament prophetic gift has been demonstrated in more recent times in the godly life and ministry of Ellen White.

We invite you to sample her writings by requesting your free copy of Steps to Christ as advertised on this page.