“Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2Pe 1:20-21)
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;” (Rom 12:6)
“Neglect not the gift that is in you, which was given you by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.” (1Ti 4:14)
“Pursue love, and seek eagerly the spiritual things, but rather that you may prophesy.” (1Co 14:1)
“For you may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted. And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” (1Co 14:31-33)
The general dictionary description of Prophecy is:
1. an inspired utterance of a prophet,
2. the function or vocation of a prophet; specifically the inspired declaration of God’s divine will and purpose,
3. a prediction of something to come.
In the New Testament the appearances are: prophecy 16, prophesying 3 (altogether 19 times).
The Biblical meaning is:
Prophecy (from Greek ‘propheteia’) "gift of interpreting the will of the God",
The prophet had to be tested with a short time prophecy and if that did not come true he was to be put to death for he presumed to speak for the Lord, but he was a liar: “And if you say in your heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken? When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken, but the prophet has spoken it presumptuously: you shall not be afraid of him.” (Deu 18:21-22) “But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.” (Deu 18:20)
This was because the Holy Spirit was not poured on every believer but only on some like the Prophets. In the New Testament the Holy Ghost is poured on every believer as Peter testifies:“But this is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel; And it shall come to pass in the last days, said God, I will pour out of my Spirit on all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy:” (Act 2:16-18)
Paul confirms this and strongly encourages the saints that besides exercising Love we are also to seek the Gifts and especially that of Prophecy; “Pursue love, and seek eagerly the spiritual things, but rather that you may prophesy.” (1Co 14:1)
Thus in the NT every believer can prophesy and because every other believer has the Holy Spirit they are to judge if the prophecy is uttered correctly: “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge.” (1Co 14:29). This means that because of this checks and balances by other believers the NT prophet is not put to death if what he says does not come true, but his prophecy is declared false and not acted upon.
The gift of prophecy in the NT is slightly different for it is for the benefits of the Saints: “But he that prophesies speaks to men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” (1Co 14:3) like the other gifts that we need to exercise, we prophecy according to the Grace given to us: “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;” (Rom 12:6)
Incidentally the office of Prophet still exists as Paul testifies in the New Testament: “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;” (Eph 4:11)
This cannot be denied for these offices were given in the NT (our side of the Bible) and for what reason?: “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” (Eph 4:12). For the perfecting and edifying of the saints, the body of Christ, and does the body of Christ (His believers) need perfecting and edifying today? YES ! This clear Biblical statement goes against and discredits those who say that these special ministries have been done away in the New Testament, it is NOT SO, for both Peter and Paul confirm them in the NT.
Regarding the women that the Bible requires them to be in silence in the church: “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted to them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also said the law.” (1Co 14:34) they can nevertheless prophecy in the general sense if they have long hair and their head covered (veil): “But every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven.” (1Co 11:5). However they cannot hold the Office of Elder/Prophet for God has called only men to that official position. (1Ti 2:13; 3:2)
The purpose of Prophecy in the NT is to edify the people of God and to perfect the saints to do the work the Lord has prepared for them before time began (Eph 2:10). It can also tell of certain problems that are happening both in and out of the church or ways that can redress things that are going on. This information is intended to bring more Godliness to the people of God. Reminding them of what they are to do in their religion to be of good standing and faith. It can come in ways of preaching from certain individuals, regular people in the Christian faith that have the gift of God's word and are able to tell the people.
The Christian prophecy usually is uttered in a local church and has specific things to say. This is a very special gift that the prophets get, the ability to speak God's words. However the Christian prophecy can be misused, so one has to be careful to watch for that, this is the reason why Paul says “let the other judge” (1Co 14:29), and in NO circumstance anyone that has the gift of Prophecy may take money out of it, for it is God’s gift and it is free to the people, as Jesus commands. "Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out devils:freely you have received, freely give." (Mat 10:8)
Many modern churches do not believe in Prophecy in our time and certainly reject any idea that regular church people can prophecy or be prophets. These churches are making a guild for themselves and going directly against the explicit teaching of the Bible: “For you may all prophesy one by one” (1Co 14:31).
Generally godly people should listen to the utterances of their elders, preachers and overseers for they are deemed to be men set by God to lead the people in all goodness and holiness. Their words are taken to come from God, but also the people should be good “Bereans” to receive the words with all readiness of mind but confirm with the Word if these things are so. A good rule is that the words said and the Word must be one as the Spirit enlightens.
The Spirit of God will tell those that have ears to hear if the words said are good or bad and not from God and the people of God will not listen to any false prophet. The Christian should always watch for any improper prophecy and will check it to make sure it is in line with the “Faith once for all delivered to the saints” and will not act on it nor will they be hoodwinked by a false prophecy. At the same time we must consider that at times we may take a good prophecy for a false one, depending on the bias of our minds, therefore we must gie good attention to walk straight as God commands without swaying to the left or to the right.
The Christian that prophesies must be careful that he lives his life always in accordance with God's Word and stay good and true and that, no matter what, he will still follow his faith and belief in God and will remain in His track, without turning to the left or to the right.
The true purpose of prophecy is to build up, admonish and stir up, encourage and release from pain and discomfort and to enable people to know and understand the heartbeat of their God for themselves.
Prophecy needs to fall within those parameters, if not, it is not true prophecy. If the effect of prophecy is confusion, condemnation, or discouragement, then the prophecy cannot be accepted and in some cases, it needs to be forcefully rejected to prevent a curse taking hold on someone’s life.
The final purpose of prophecy is always positive, not negative. Sometimes negative words have to be given, however, the principle in regarding all spiritual gifts and use of leadership is building up the church. (2Co 10:8). So, although negative words may be said, the whole motivation behind those words is that we want to build-up the work in the Lord, always.
What is prophecy intended to do? The quick, general easy answer is that prophecy is intended to show us, or tell us about future events. But is that all there is to it?
There are many palm readers, tarot card readers, horoscopes readers, crystal ball gazers and the like who claim to be able to tell future events, but we certainly wouldn’t call that prophecy.
Let’s take a look at prophecy and learn what God intended to do with it for His people.
TO REVEAL A MESSAGE FROM GOD
Just as in ancient Israel, some people today claim to have a message from God. Certainly God still speaks to his people, and through His people, but we must be very careful before saying that someone is God’s spokesman. How can we tell when a person is speaking for the Lord?
There are two ways; the first is the ancient test for judging the prophets and that is to check if what the presumed prophet has said in the past has come true. The second is to check their words against the Bible. God never contradicts himself, so if someone says something contrary to the Bible, we can KNOW for sure that that person is not speaking for God.
TO ENCOURAGE OBEDIENCE
We find Jonah bringing a message from God to the people of Nineveh. These had been living a corrupt and sinful lifestyle and God was giving them a chance to change before facing punishment. They were exhorted to be obedient to God’s law rather than face the destruction that Jonah had predicted would come upon them if they didn’t. They recognised that Jonah was speaking for God and believed him and obeyed his words this time and they were saved.
Prophecy is not made so that we can sit around and guess when it is going to be fulfilled, but so that we can be aware of what will happen when it IS fulfilled. By knowing what is going to take place in the future, we can know better how to live in the present. By knowing what has been prophesied about the coming times, we won’t be surprised by current events, but we will begin to recognize them as fulfilment of prophecy like the signs that Christ will come back, just like He promised and we must prepare for His return remaining faithfully obedient to Jesus and His teachings.
TO FOSTER IN US TRUST IN GOD.
With prophecy there is more than just a telling of future events. Behind every prediction there are principles about God’s character and promise. As we read prophecy we should be looking for what is being said about the Lord, not simply looking for ways to tell the future.
With every prophecy that has been fulfilled and every promise that has been kept, it gives us reason to trust God for those that have yet to be realized. We can look back through century upon century of the recorded history of mankind and not find one instance where God has not been faithful to His promise. God can be trusted fully, for HE IS the almighty God. "For all the promises of God in him are yes, and in him Amen, to the glory of God by us." (2Co 1:20)
TO GIVE US HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
Prophesies both in the Old Testament and the New Testament have always attached to them a message of hope.
Even when the prophesy is meant as a chastisement or as a means of warning the Israelites of impending defeat and slavery because they had abandoned their God, the message always carried with it the assurance or hope, that if they returned to God, He would return to them and set them free.
As we look around the world we may begin to wonder where we are heading. We read, watch, and listen to the news in awe and disbelief that such things are happening. We hear reports filled with violence, political haggling, scandal, labour unrest, wars, crimes and all manner of degradation. This descent in paganism and downgrade can be depressing at times.
But in the Old Testament we see prophesies of a coming Saviour. In the Gospels we see this prophesies fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In both the Old and New Testament we see prophecies concerning the Kingdom of God and the majesty of the chosen Messiah. In the New Testament we see prophesies about the return of Christ to take those who belong to Him, to be with Him for eternity in His Kingdom of Heaven. This gives us strong hope for our future.
No matter how bad the world may seem, we always have the hope that Christ is going to complete all promised things and to take us with Him, just as He said he would. It’s the kind of hope that says, "When all around me has failed, but I still believe that God will make good on His promise to deliver me safely into Heaven."
Our hope is built on the assurance of Christ’s return. We can be sure that Jesus is coming back because he said he would in Rev 22:12 and again in Rev 22:20. “Behold, I am coming soon… Yes, I am coming soon." It is an assurance that Christ has not forgotten those who belong to Him and that Almighty God will fulfil His promises to His people as He has always done in the past. Praise God to the highest.
Prophecy is a message from God Almighty intended to encourage obedience and trust and to give us hope for things to come.
In a nutshell Prophecy in the NT is: “the proclamation of the inspired declaration of divine will and purpose of God to His elect people, as revealed by the Holy Spirit, suited to their specific needs of the moment and comprehensible to them”.