1 Thessalonians 5:20 Don’t despise prophecies.
This is understood in two different ways:
- Don’t despise God’s revelation through the Holy Spirit
i.e. the words of godly people around you
- Don’t despise God’s revelation through the Bible
i.e. the words of prophets recorded in the Bible
I feel like I’m caught between two different camps. I follow Bible prophecy scholars, particularly end-timesers. And I also listen to modern “prophets”, who receive specific revelation from God for individuals and nations. For the sake of this discussion, I’ll use a very broad meaning of “prophets”, to encompass all who usually practice prophecy in their ministry – that is, giving spontaneous Holy-Spirit-inspired revelation. This is different to the specific office of the Prophet or Apostle. Most of these “prophets” would not call themselves such but are viewed by others according to this behaviour.
Often, these two groups stand in opposition to each other. Prophecy scholars often denounce the modern “prophets” as all being false prophets. The spirit-filled “prophets” can’t be bothered with this and are turned off by such legalism. They see these prophecy scholars as not being spirit filled. Often modern “prophets” express a poor understanding of Biblical prophecy, particularly end-times.
If all the modern prophets are false prophets, where are the real ones? Even, what would a modern prophet look like? Well, we see that prophets in the Bible do some very weird, unchristian things. They lie naked in the streets, make weird props to enact messages, marry prostitutes, and even sacrifice their kids. Such evidence is used by prophecy scholars to expose false prophets.
1 Samuel 19:24 He also stripped naked and prophesied in front of Samuel like the others and lay down naked all that day and all that night. That’s why they say, “Is Saul also one of the prophets?”
These opposing camps go way back. In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were expert prophecy scholars, “knowing” exactly how the Messiah would appear. But for them, God stopped giving prophecy when the old testament was completed. Meanwhile the Essenes such as John the Baptist, were renowned for their accuracy in prophetic predictions according to Josephus’ chronicles. But they seemed too weird to be godly.
To be fair (and my often obnoxious, offensive self), I think both groups are wrong. There are two sides to prophecy, neither of which should be disregarded or despised. We should follow and study both. If a modern prophet predicts something contrary to Biblical end-times prophecy, they’re wrong. Likewise, a prophecy scholar, will go astray if they are not led by the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by the Pharisees.
1 Thessalonians 5:19 Don’t suppress the Holy Spirit. 20Don’t despise prophecies. 21Test everything – keep what’s good.
Prophets receive revelation on top of biblical study
Daniel is my favourite prophet. Most of the book of Daniel is prophecy into the distant future. The rest is great character lessons. Daniel received great revelation from God through dreams and angelic visitation, but this was founded upon his personal commitment to purity before God and diligent study of scriptures and Biblical prophecy.
Daniel 9:2 During the first year of [Darius’] reign, I, Daniel, understood from the scrolls, the number of years the word of the Lord had specified through Jeremiah the prophet – that Jerusalem would remain abandoned for 70 years.
Throughout the gospels, we read the mantra of “as it was written”, connecting Jesus’ life to prophetic fulfilment. We also read Jesus’ many predictions of future events. Jesus studied the prophecies, to understand his mission, and he extended prior revelation with more detail, just as Moses did. I don’t buy into the idea that Moses’ generation were illiterate and knew nothing of Genesis; that he wrote it solely from some spiritual epiphany on Mt Sinai. But rather, I believe, he collated ancient records, such as the books of Enoch, Noah, and the Book of Jasher. Through a combination of godly discernment and divine revelation, he established the truth, which withstands modern scientific scrutiny wherever anything can be tested.
We see also that Paul added spiritual revelation to his extensive pharisitical studies, also, I believe, on Mt Sinai.
Galatians 1:15 According to God’s will, who set me aside since I was in the womb and called me through his grace, 16to reveal his son in me, so that I would preach about him to non-Jews, I didn’t consult anyone. 17I didn’t even go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascas.
Galatians 4:25 Because this Hagar is Mt Sinai in Arabia, …
Likewise, Elijah fled to Mt Sinai, called Mt Horeb in 1 Kings 19, after prophesying and defeating the prophets of Baal. There he received additional revelation, beyond his lifetime of dedication and study to establish new kings and the school of the prophets.
What is prophecy
Many have written books to answer this. Prophecy is forthtelling the words the Holy Spirit gives us, speaking things into being, whether immediate or distant future. The first prophecy is:
Genesis 1:3 God said, “Let there be light”. And there was light.
This isn’t a prediction, but a speaking into being = forthtelling.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The same was in the beginning with God. 3All things were made by him. Without him, no created thing was made.
Prophecy is creative. But prophecy can also be destructive:
Revelation 19:21 The rest were slaughtered with the sword of him who sat on the horse, whose sword proceeds out of his mouth. …
Proverbs 18:12 Death and life are in the power of the tongue. All who embrace it will receive its consequences.
The prophecies in the Bible are not predicting the future, but rather God speaking the future into being. Since he has spoken it, it will happen. Similarly, prophecies spoken by our peers are not predictions, but speaking into being what god has revealed.
In some cases, prophecies don’t happen.
Jonah 3:4 Jonah … cried out and said, “In forty days, Nineveh will be overthrown”
Jonah was so pissed off, when they repented, and God didn’t smite them while he watched in spiteful expectation from the overlooking mountain. This prophecy was not fulfilled because it was conditional, maybe not as Jonah expressed it, but through God’s intention behind it. In other cases, a prophecy, particularly of blessing must be received. If it’s rejected, e.g. by disbelief, then it won’t happen. Similarly, with horoscopes etc, these can be received and come to pass, along with receiving the associated demons who help to make it happen.
The office of a Prophet
While I’ve spoken about “prophets”, there are ministers who are anointed and appointed through the laying on of hands to be apostles and prophets.
1 Timothy 4:14 Don’t neglect the gift that is in you, which was given via prophecy when the eldership laid hands upon you.
Ephesians 4:11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, 12to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, reaching the complete amount of Christ’s fullness.
I expect apostles, prophets and evangelists to be known for supernatural acts being a core part of their ministry – healings, and supernatural revelation – whether knowing what is hidden, what to do, or discerning the presence and work of spirits. I do not expect them to be perfect, because we’re all human.
1 Corinthians 13:8 Love never fails. But where there’s prophecies, they will fail, where there are unknown languages, these will cease, where there is knowledge, this will pass away. 9Because we have partial knowledge, and partial prophecies. 10But when perfection comes, then that which is incomplete will be done away with.
The mark of a true prophet is not perfection, but an alignment with God’s word, and open recognition that Jesus is God in human form.
1 John 4:1 Beloved, don’t believe every spirit, but test if the spirits are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2You’ll be able to discern the Spirit of God by this. Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ came physically is from God. 3Every spirit that doesn’t acknowledge that Jesus Christ came physically, is not from God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard will come, and even now, is already in the world. 4You belong to God, little children, and have overcome them. Because that which is in you is greater than that which is in the world. 5They belong to the world. Therefore, they speak worldly things, and the world listens to them. 6We are of God. Those who know God listen us. Those who don’t belong to God don’t listen to us. This is how we distinguish between the spirit of truth and the spirit of deception.
False prophets subtly introduce teachings that lead to immoral liberties, and exploitation of those they teach. They are actually enslaved to their own corruption, being caught in a cycle of performance to survive.
2 Peter 2:1 There were also false prophets among the people, just as there’ll be false teachers among you. They’ll subtly introduce destructive heresies. They even deny the Lord that rescued them and bring swift destruction on themselves. 2Many will follow their evil ways, causing the way of truth to be smeared. 3They’ll exploit you through greed and tall tales. Their judgment won’t be far away, and their punishment won’t rest.
19While they promise freedom, they’re enslaved to corruption. Because a person is enslaved to that which overcomes them.
You’ll be able to tell a false prophet by the results of their ministry. Are people freed from sin and sickness? Do people glorify God as they did when Jesus and the early apostles performed miracles? Do their teachings draw people to personal purity and dedication to God and his truth?
Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets. They’ll come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inside they are hungry wolves. 16You’ll know them by their fruits. Do people gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a corrupt tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree can’t bear bad fruit, and a corrupt tree can’t bear good fruit. 19Every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. 20So, you will know them by their fruits. 21Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of Heaven; but those who do the will of my Father, who is in Heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? Haven’t we cast out demons in your name? Haven’t we done amazing miracles in your name?” 23I’ll answer them, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you evil-doers.”
Now, I don’t expect that every Christian is great at receiving spiritual revelation, nor being an expert scholar in Biblical prophecy, because every person has their particular calling and gifting. I do expect that a mature Christian is comfortable with and has a general understanding of these two important facets of prophecy. Churches that lack in either of these areas are lacking spiritual maturity. I don’t mean to condemn, but to reveal an area of potential growth.
For me, God has gifted me with an inquisitive mind and a deep urge to inquire and investigate his truth of the past, present and future. When I write, it tends to be a very intellectual process, but God’s spirit leads me to what I produce. This is common for many preachers. For this article, I didn’t really know what I’d say until I sat down and wrote. This is a process of supernatural revelation i.e. prophesy. Other articles are more the result of an academic pursuit with hours of research and contemplation on various scriptures and commentaries, although also a spirit-led process. It’s less common for me to have a specific prophetic word for someone. This is an area that I’m growing in with practice and submitting to an environment where this is nurtured.
I pray that God would open your eyes and ears to his revelation and fill you with his Holy Spirit to discern the truth.