It is important to define terms when it relates to prophecy. Prophecy is found throughout the Bible and it is found in three lists of "gifts of the Spirit" ( Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11; and 1 Corinthians 12:28). Prophecy essentially refers to God's revelation and can be categorized as both foretelling (concerning future events) and forthtelling (revealing truth). Prophecy which concerns future events is often called "predictive prophecy." In the Old Testament, we see that God often used prophets this way but they could not be wrong. If these messengers were not 100% correct, they were not speaking what God commanded them to, and they were killed. Deuteronomy 18:20-22 says, "But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death." You may say to yourselves, 'How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?' If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him." We even find in the Old Testament over 300 prophecies concerning details about Jesus Christ and not one of them is wrong. More information on this Messianic prophecy can be found here. The book of Revelation is heavily prophetic and in fact, God promises that we will be blessed if we study it's prophecy. “Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” (Rev 1:3). The second type of prophecy, forthtelling, concerns not just the present, but can also concern the past. An example would be the writer of Genesis, believed to be Moses, who was a prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15-22), revealing the Creation account. Moses obviously wasn't there to see God create everything we read in Genesis 1-2, yet God revealed this to him and he in turn, to us through God's written Word. A forthtelling in the present example would be Amos who wrote many forthtelling things that “he saw concerning Israel” (Amos 1:1). So we see in the Old Testament that God revealed a lot of things that would be revealed in the New Testament. In a sense, you could say the Old Testament is the hidden New Testament and the New Testament is the revealed Old Testament.
There is an ongoing debate whether or not the gift of prophesy is still present in the Church after the Apostolic Era (the time of the Apostles). Some people believe the gifts of the Spirit ceased (cessationism) and other believe they are in operation today. I believe it is clear that God is using prophecy today and this is confirmed by those who receive prophecy to give, and those who receive prophecy from others. On one level there is forthtelling of Truth which is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Then there is another level of "words of wisdom," "words of knowledge," and prophetic words that could not be known by the prophet except through the revelation of the Holy Spirit. These can reveal details about the past, present or future. However, it important to note that these prophecies are not the same as what God spoke in the Old Testament through men in the office of "prophet of Israel." These men spoke the Word of God directly and were 100% correct in everything they prophesied. The Canon (books of the Bible) were literally being written with what they spoke, but the Old Testament canon was clearly closed after this. In Judaism, Malachi is generally agreed to be the last Old Testament prophet and in the Christian Canon (Bible), John the Baptist. In Judaism, they are still waiting for Mashiach, the Messiah) who will be their final prophet, while in Christianity, we know that Mashiach was Jesus Christ. It is also interesting that Malachi prophesied the coming of John the Baptist (Malachi 3:1) and the return of Elijah the prophet in the end times (Malachi 4:5).
Cessationists argue that after the time of Malachi, there were no prophets or revelations for 400 years until the coming of John the Baptist. They might point to 1 Maccabees 4:44-46 which records that after the temple abomination of Antiochus Epiphanes, the religious leaders in the days of the Maccabees determined to wait for the coming of a prophet to tell them what to do with the desecrated stones of the altar. To them, this passage confirms there were no inter-testamental prophets and incidentally reveals that "writing prophets" were not involved in the production of the apocryphal books of that era. However, 1 Maccabees is not considered part of the Canon for numerous reasons so it cannot be trusted. So also, after the NT prophets served their purpose, the prophetic voice fell silent. John's apocalypse, as the last canonical prophecy (Rev 1:3), looks forward to the resumption of prophecy at the end of the age when two prophets (Rev. 11:3) with charismatic authority finally appear. At that juncture in history, they believe, God once again will reveal his purposes through his servants the prophets.
Personally, I am not a cessationist and know for a fact that the gifts have not ceased because of my experiences and it would be absolutely impossible if they had ceased. I do not believe that prophecy ceased with the Old Testament prophets and God has been restoring back the ministry of the prophet to the Church. The Holy Spirit gives believers who are sensitive to the Holy Spirit messages for other people and sharing those messages are a form of prophecy. Sometimes those messages concern the past, present and future. On the other hand, we have to be careful how we define prophecy and how it works today in the Church because something has clearly changed. Prophecy must be "tested" but Scripture has already been tested, tried and approved!
I do believe something changed between the Old Testament prophets and the coming of Christ. This period is called the "intertestamental period" or the "400 silent years," and the Old Testament canon was closed. This period is believed to be from the end of Malachi (c. 420 BC), the last of the Old Testament prophets, and continued until the time of John the Baptist, right before Jesus. This time was like a "still before the storm" before Christ was ushered into the world (Galatians 4:4). John the Baptist prophesied Jesus' coming and preached repentance. This fits the description of a prophet and even John the Baptist's coming was prophesied (e.g. Isaiah 40:3-5; Malachi 3:1). He is the "best man" if you will (John 3:29) in the wedding of Christ, the Groom, to His Bride, the Church (Mark 2:18-20, John 3:28-30, 2 Cor 11:2, Eph 5:23-32, Rev 19:6-8, 21:2,9). We also see the gift of prophesy in use by Elizabeth and Zechariah (John the Baptist's parents) and prophecies by Mary (Jesus' mother), as well as Simeon and Anna (who were in the temple when Jesus was taken to be circumcised). I think it's remarkable that the Holy Spirit came on them and they prophesied (e.g. Luke 1:67, 2:25, 36), yet Pentecost hadn't happened and prophecy perhaps hadn't occurred for 400 years. Anna is remarkable in that she is called a "prophetess" (Luke 2:36). Whether or not this was something new, related to the birth of Christ, we do not know. All we know is that she was "very old" and was considered a "prophetess," much like Hannah who instead of singing about Jesus (the "Magnificat of the OT"), sang ("the Magnificat of the NT") about Samuel (1 Sam 2:1-10). During the life of Christ, we only read about Jesus prophecying (e.g. his death/resurrection, destruction of the Temple, end times, etc) as far as I can remember. No other predictive prophecies are recorded except after Pentecost, when we read of prophets like Agabus (Acts 11:28, 21:10-14) who "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.)" We read later, in Acts 21:10-14, that he prophesied Paul's imprisonment in Jerusalem. Several other prophets are also named in the New Testament, including "false prophets" like Elymas Bar-Jesus (Acts 13:6–12).
In the New Testament, we read a lot about prophecy. For example, we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil." I believe we need to do this. In 1 Corinthinans, Paul says we should "easerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Cor 14:1). He continues that prophecy "is for believers, not for unbelievers" (1 Cor 14:22) and is for "strengthening, encouragement and comfort" (1 Cor 14:3). He goes on to define how their church service should be ordered. In reference to prophecy, he states, "Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said" (1 Cor. 14:29). As you can see, this is a different role than the prophets of the OT who often preached to groups who were in rebellion, to repent, or face the judgment of God. I also believe forthtelling prophecy is also good for unbelievers and God uses "prophecy" and "words of knowledge" in evangelism as we share the Gospel with unbelievers.
The truth of the matter is that the Bible never says that prophecy (or any other gift of the Spirit) ceased. I also know for a fact that some of the gifts of the Spirit are in operation. I believe that the Holy Spirit can come on someone and they can speak a message from God, however, it is never equal in authority to the Holy Bible. Sometimes it can be for a special occasion and that person may never prophecy like that again (e.g. Numbers 11:25). Sometimes it is a gift that a person may use regularly. In another sense, we are all to forthtell (reveal truth). I have heard many stories of people getting messages from God (i.e. words of knowledge) and prophesying. I also believe there are some modern "prophets" who have the gift of prophecy. However, I don't believe the Holy Spirit is using this gift as often as He would like and I believe this is because the Church frankly hasn't been ready. As we read earlier, the purpose of prophecy is for "strengthening, encouragement and comfort" (1 Cor 14:3). The Church definitely needs more of that so the lack of prophecy can't be a lack of need. I believe God is preparing His bride, the Church, the remnant that has remained faithful, for greater things. The Church is starting to rise in the power of God! However, I also believe that as the Bride is cleansed and purified (Eph 4:11-13, 5:26-27, 2 Cor 11:2), we will continue to see more false prophets and false teachers rising up (Matt 24:4-5, 11, 23-24) and the love of most people will grow cold (Matt 24:12 - see "cold love").
I hope and pray that you have the intimacy with the Lord that enables His Holy Spirit to whisper somethng for you to do or say, and you can hear it and obey. This should be going on daily as you do what you see the Father doing and make disciples. May He control your tongue so it can be used by Him for His glory!
© Todd Tyszka
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