‘Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all these things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me (Luke 24:44).’
Wouldn’t we all like to be able to foresee the future and be able to predict what will happen? That’s precisely the gift that was given to God’s prophets of old, and to the prophets of the New Testament.
The Old Testament prophets didn’t always know what their prophecies meant, or the form of their ultimate fulfilment. They may have had some inkling, but not knowing the full picture, they acted in faith (Hebrews 11:23-28) and in obedience to God. Led by the Spirit they prophesied in all manner of ways (2 Peter 1:20, 21). Some symbolically acted out their prophecies (Ezekiel 12:3-7) and wrote of them to record God’s words for His people. Others were inspired to write poetic verse and prose, perhaps in response to visions presented to them by God. He used His prophets to warn His people of the consequences of their transgressions, telling of His wrath if they failed to repent of their sinful ways (Ezekiel 3:16-19).
Jesus the Prophet
The prophets foretold of Jesus who would fulfil what was said of Him (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:44-46). He would usher in the New Covenant and do away with the Old (Hebrews 8:13). At the end of time He would judge the nations (Matthew 25:31-46). Of all the prophets, Jesus Himself was the greatest. He prophesied, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised on the third day (Luke 9:22)”,’ and as we know, these prophesies came true. He spoke of the time when He will come with His angels to reward each person according to their works (Matthew 16:27; Revelation 22:12).
You might say that the whole of the Bible is prophecy, since the core message of the Book points to, and predicts when time as we know it will cease, and God along with His Son will destroy the earth (2 Peter 3:10) and replace it with an entirely new one (Revelation 21:1). In that new Paradise the chosen ones will dwell with the Father and the Son forever and forever (Revelation 1:6).
Daniel the Prophet wrote: ‘At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to the time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever (Daniel 12:1-3).’
In Chapter 13 of His book, Isaiah the Prophet prophesied of the destruction of Babylon and of God’s wrath upon it. Some may see in this prophecy a symbolic representation of the end of time; for Babylon is a figure of the decadent world. The city itself was destroyed by the Medes. Isaiah wrote that ‘children also will be dashed to pieces before their eyes (Isaiah 13: 16).’ This is a horrific and frightening scenario, signifying God’s wrath which is to be feared by those who reject His kingship, and rebel against Him.
Sometimes with prophecy there is a pre-enactment – an actual event that prefigures the final fulfilment of a prophecy; for example, Jesus’ prophesy about the destruction of Jerusalem that took place in AD 70. but the ultimate destruction of that city is yet to come (Revelation 20:7-10).
New Testament Prophets
What was the nature of prophecy in the time of the early church? And is prophecy still a function of today’s church?
Let’s look at a few pertinent Scriptures to find the answers:
‘’knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20, 21).’
Paul the Apostle wrote to the Corinthian church saying, ‘Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy (1 Corinthians 14:1),’ and, ‘But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men (v 3).’
In his Epistle to the Ephesians he wrote,’ And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11, 12).’
Clearly, prophesying was an important activity in the life of the early church. Christ was the One who gave prophets their authority to prophesy (Ephesians 4:11).
Who were the prophets of the early church? – Luke tells us about Agabus: ‘Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout the whole world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:28).’ Probably the same man also prophesied what would happen to Paul: ‘And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles (Acts 21:10, 11).’” His prophecies were fulfilled (Acts 21:30-33).
In the same chapter of Acts, Luke mentions that Philip the evangelist had ‘four virgin daughters who prophesied (vv 8, 9); therefore both men and women prophesied. Barnabas was one of the more prominent prophets (Acts 13:1; 14:14). Of course, Paul was a prophet; indeed, all writers of the New Testament were prophets.
This brings me to my next point. Some New Testament prophets both wrote and spoke prophesy, all with the purpose of ‘equipping the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12).’
They also by the Spirit spoke of things to come; for example, parts of the New Testament tell of events that will take place after the second coming of Christ. This sort of Spirit-inspired prophesy is awesome. Take for example Revelation which ends with these words of warning, ‘For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophesy 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, from the things which are written in this book (22:18, 19).’
Biblical prophecy is complete. Nothing can be added to it. New Testament saints such as Mathew, Mark, Luke and John were prophets who wrote what’s known as the Four Gospels. Paul wrote his epistles [letters], and others like James, Peter, John, Jude wrote theirs. So I’’m of the opinion that prophecy per se has ceased, but there is a form of prophecy today – that is speaking God’s Word with the authority given to God’s saints by His Son, Jesus Christ. Matthew 28: 19, 20 authorises Christians to preach the gospel with the purpose of making disciples of Jesus. Preaching the gospel of Jesus is today’s prophesy; telling and explaining (Acts 8:30, 31) the Prophetic Word , i.e., the Bible (2 Peter 1:19).