Need Prophets more than Prophecy
August 2013, by Norman Scott Edwards
This writer can still remember the excitement he felt when he first heard a preacher explain that the Bible was a prophetic book, and we could understand the events of our time in advance by reading it. The preacher explained that the prophecies of the Bible were complicated and often symbolic. He also said a firm grasp of world history was necessary to properly distinguish the fulfilled prophecies from the ones in the future. This task obviously exceeded the capability of fledgling Christians, so I needed to get his booklet on the subject. And so many others have had a similar experience, and were excited to take in the book, video or seminar where the future events of prophecy were all explained for them.
This first encounter is generally most exciting—because one feels that one really knows exactly what is going to happen. But if one reads more widely, sees how many conflicting prophetic interpretations are available, and sees how many such interpretations have failed over the centuries, the excitement wears off.
The approach of some is to ignore Bible prophecy altogether. But the prophetic book of Revelation pronounces a blessing on those who read it (Rev 1:3), and Christ told us to live by "every word of God" (Luke 4;4). So why should we read Bible prophecy if we cannot put it together and figure out what it all means? Because prophecy gives us a clear general understanding that God will judge the world through Christ (Rom 2:16; 2Tim 4:1), and good will be rewarded and evil punished. It shows how God thinks, works and judges. When we need to know what is about to happen, God will show us through direct revelation and through the right Scriptures at the right time.
Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).
The entire New Testament is like this. There are no long expositions or charts of Old Testament prophecy explaining how they all fit together. Rather there are numerous references to a few verses showing how they apply to a specific situation as revealed by the Holy Spirit. The New Testament teaching of God continuing to work through prophets in the Church is overwhelming. A few verses, such as the beginning of Hebrews 1:1-2, have caused some believers to think that there are no more prophets:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds (Heb 1:1-2).
But these verses simply accurately state the greatness of Christ's teaching compared to those of the prophets. Christ's righteous teaching and words of eternal life are so much more important than knowing what kingdom will arise or be defeated. Christ is "heir to all things" and we indeed can be "joint heirs" with Him (Rom 8:17). These verses do not contradict the numerous other statements of the New Testament telling us about Christian prophets, their prophecies and the need for on-going prophecies in the Church.
If you are unsure about this, please read the following scriptures to remove all doubt! Many religious groups have doctrines based upon just one or a few verses in the Bible. There are over 40 separate passages about prophets and their prophecies in the New Testament—so many that one might easily get tired of reading them! We have left out verses about the Old Testament prophets and New Testament false prophets to keep the list shorter. If we want God to show us what will happen in the future, we need to "desire earnestly to prophesy" (1Cor 14:39). It is a New Testament teaching we must not ignore!
John 16:13 "However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come."
Acts 2:15-18 "For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: 'And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy."
Acts 8:29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot."
Acts 9:10-12 Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." So the Lord said to him, "Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying. And in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight."
Acts 10:1-3 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, "Cornelius!"
Acts 10:10-20 Then he became very hungry and wanted to eat; but while they made ready, he fell into a trance and saw heaven opened and an object like a great sheet bound at the four corners, descending to him and let down to the earth. In it were all kinds of four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And a voice came to him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." But Peter said, "Not so, Lord! For I have never eaten anything common or unclean." And a voice spoke to him again the second time, "What God has cleansed you must not call common." This was done three times. And the object was taken up into heaven again. Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them."
The above pair of prophetic visions were so important, their story is completely retold in Acts 11:4-14.
Acts 11:27-29 And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.
Acts 12:8-9 Then the angel said to him, "Gird yourself and tie on your sandals"; and so he did. And he said to him, "Put on your garment and follow me." So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.
Acts 13:1 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
Acts 15:32 Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words.
Acts 16:9-10 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.
Acts 18:9-10 Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city."
Acts 19:5-7 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. Now the men were about twelve in all.
Acts 20:23 "except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me.
Acts 21:8-9 On the next day we who were Paul's companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.
Rom 12:4-6 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith;
1Cor 11:4-5 Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonors his head. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, for that is one and the same as if her head were shaved.
1Cor 12:7-10 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
1Cor 12:28-29 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?
1Cor 13:2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
1Cor 13:8-9 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part.
1Cor 14:1,3-6 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.... But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church. I wish you all spoke with tongues, but even more that you prophesied; for he who prophesies is greater than he who speaks with tongues, unless indeed he interprets, that the church may receive edification. But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching?
1Cor 14:22 Therefore tongues are for a sign, not to those who believe but to unbelievers; but prophesying is not for unbelievers but for those who believe. Therefore if the whole church comes together in one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those who are uninformed or unbelievers, will they not say that you are out of your mind? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an uninformed person comes in, he is convinced by all, he is convicted by all.
1Cor 14:26 How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.
1Cor 14:29-32 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.
1Cor 14:37-39 If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord. But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues.
2Cor 12:1-2, 7 It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast. I [Paul] will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago — whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows — such a one was caught up to the third heaven.... And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.
Gal 1:12 For I [Paul] neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Eph 1:17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him,
Eph 2:19-20 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone,
Eph 3:3-5 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets:
Eph 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,
1Th 5:19-21 Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.
1Tim 1:18 This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare,
1Tim 4:14 Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership.
2Tim 3:1-2, 5 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be... lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
Do people today have faith that God is able to prophecy through people in their congregations?
1Jo 4:1-2 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,
Note: If there were no true prophets, there would be no need to "test the spirits"—because every prophet would be a "false prophet". But because there are both true prophets and false prophets, we need to "test the spirits".
Rev 1:1-3 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants — things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw. Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near.
The last book of the Bible is a prophecy inspired by Christ, given to the apostle and prophet named John.
Rev 10:7 But in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets.
There is no Old Testament prophecy about a "seventh angel" and very little about a "mystery of God".
Rev 10:10-11 Then I took the little book out of the angel's hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter. And he said to me, "You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues, and kings."
Here an angel is commanding John (or some end-time fulfillment of him) to prophesy. It does not say what he is to prophesy, but it will be given to the prophets when they need it. Similarly, there are two specific prophets, the "two witnesses", prophesied to come in the future at the time of the end. Prophets are found throughout the history of the church.
Rev 11:3, 6, 10, 18 "And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth."... These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire.... And those who dwell on the earth will rejoice over them, make merry, and send gifts to one another, because these two prophets tormented those who dwell on the earth.... The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged, And that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, And those who fear Your name, small and great, And should destroy those who destroy the earth."
Rev 16:6 "For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, And You have given them blood to drink. For it is their just due."
Rev 18:19-20 "They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, 'Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.' Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her!"
Rev 18:23-24 "The light of a lamp shall not shine in you anymore, and the voice of bridegroom and bride shall not be heard in you anymore. For your merchants were the great men of the earth, for by your sorcery all the nations were deceived. And in her was found the blood of prophets and saints, and of all who were slain on the earth."
Rev 19:10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."
Rev 22:7-10 "Behold, I am coming quickly! Blessed is he who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book." Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, "See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God." And he said to me, "Do not seal the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is at hand.
Rev 22:18-19 For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.
Where Are the Prophets today?
Many have said, "If God is still providing prophets to the church, where are they?" My church—even my whole denomination—does not recognize any." Our national leaders do not recognize any either. That is "business as usual" when it comes to prophets. We must remember that God sends prophets to speak His messages and do His work, which often conflicts with the purposes of political and religious leaders. Political and religious groups tend to only allow teachers and preachers who are educated in their schools or approved by their management. Yes, God might choose to give one of them the gift of prophecy, but since most such groups and their schools do not seek out prophetic gifts, they rarely receive them. Notice these important passages:
Matt 23:37-39 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! "See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' "
Matt 21:24-27 But Jesus answered and said to them, "I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: The baptism of John — where was it from? From heaven or from men?" And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, 'From heaven,' He will say to us, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From men,' we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet." So they answered Jesus and said, "We do not know." And He said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."
If there was no prophet greater than John the Baptist (Matt 11:9-11) and if the leaders of his day refused to recognize him, what makes us think that the leaders of our day will recognize any true prophets today? This writer has met people whom he believes have the gift of prophecy, but they are often in small congregations or keep a "low profile" in larger ones. In most cases, they have said or done things in conflict with popular or leader's opinions, so are not held in high esteem by the brethren.
As an example, throughout the New Testament, the leaders and most of the common people were looking for a Messiah who would establish a physical kingdom apart from the Roman power. Even after Christ's death and resurrection, his own disciples where still asking about this (Acts 1:6-8). That was their prophetic interpretation. So of course, the teaching of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, which was from God, did not fit in with the doctrine of the day. And so today's prophetic interpretations have detailed descriptions of "the rapture" or a "place of safety", the "beast" and his "mark", the "battle of Armageddon" "Christ's return", etc. God knows more than today's prophetic interpreters. So when He speaks through prophets today, He will probably not always agree with popular prophetic interpretations.
While the Bible teaches us to listen to prophets in meetings of brethren (1Cor 14:29), the overwhelming teaching is not to seek out prophets to hear, but to "desire to prophecy"(1Cor 14:1, 24-25, 39; 12:31; 1Th 5:20; 1Ti 4:14). While there is no guarantee that anyone will receive any particular spiritual gifts, desiring them certainly means they are worth praying for. We can pray to receive the gift of prophecy. We should be willing to pray for it over a long period of time—just as we might pray for family members, a better job, a new home, etc. We should pray about using it for good, not for selfish reasons. We do not want people to say, "Look at him, he's spiritual" or "Look at her, she's a prophetess." We should pray for strength to withstand the persecution the gift of prophecy usually brings on.
Sometimes, we may not feel that we are righteous enough to receive the gift of prophecy. Do not worry. Nobody is "righteous enough" to receive it. It is an undeserved gift from God! If we do have unrighteousness in our lives, we need to repent, seek forgiveness and overcome—whether we receive the gift of prophecy or not. It is not something that one has to "work up" or "get the right feeling to receive." Whether it is a dream, a vision, a voice or an overwhelming feeling, most people know when God has clearly spoken to them. The prophets of the Bible were completely honest about what they saw or heard, and were very careful not to add to it, take away form it, or confuse their own interpretation and feelings with what God gave them. Sometimes, they had to be content not to understand it (Dan 12:8-9). One can always judge by making accurate records of revelations and then seeing if they come to pass as understood.
As the time of the end approaches, we need more prophets, not less. Local prophets can help each person and each group survive and be a powerful witness in the tribulations to come. The gift of prophecy is not vulnerable to electronic surveillance, network failures, police action, restrictive laws or religious censorship. It works in any language, custom or culture. It works no matter what other nations and churches do.
Matt 7:7-8 "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened."
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