From the gospels and epistles, we have in the writings of the apostles and their agents that prophets and prophecy were a vitally important part of the apostle’s traditions left for us to follow. From recognition in the gospels of how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ were foretold in the Law and the Prophets, to John the Baptist, Christ himself, and other prophets prophesying of both contemporary and future events to the instruction about prophecy and prophets in the church we see that prophecy and prophets were crucial to the mission of the apostles and us.
Remember, prophecy is a message from God either foretelling or forthtelling. Those called by God to deliver those messages to anyone are prophets and the messages are prophecies. That is how the Holy Spirit works. Remember, prophecies come in a number of ways. Of course, there are words, but there are also dreams and visions. There are records of prophecies delivered by angels. And, in people’s personal lives, it may be as simple as someone somehow getting a conviction that something was communicated from the Lord. If it really was from the Lord, then whatever the conviction was about was a prophecy.
In this article, we will look at just some of the prophecies and their record of fulfillment.
God’s own word was revealed through the prophets. Both in what we call the Old and New Testaments we see prophets and prophecy delivering the word of God starting with Genesis. Starting in Genesis and culminating in the gospels we read that Jesus Christ was the promised seed to redeem us from the curse that we were put under when the devil beguiled Eve and then Adam followed Eve into disobedience. God promised a seed, an offspring, that would correct her mistake :
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15 ESV)
This seed, a descendent of Eve, became a thread that flows through the Law and the Prophets. This seed was prophesied to be of the house of Judah:
The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. (Gen 49:10 ESV)
The first thing that Matthew recorded in his gospel was how Jesus fulfilled that prophecy:
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar…Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
(Mat 1:1,2a,16 ESV)
Matthew traces Jesus’ lineage from Abraham to Judah, and then to Jesus.
It was prophesied that the seed’s throne will be established forever:
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. (2Sa 7:12-13 ESV)
Paul writes of the length of Jesus’ reign:
that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Eph 1:20-21 ESV)
Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would be born to a virgin:
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. (Isa 7:14 ESV)
Jesus fulfilled that prophecy as acknowledged by Luke here:
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. (Luk 1:34-35 ESV)
Jesus’ throne is forever and is the fulfillment of that prophecy. It was prophesied that the Messiah would be called out of Egypt:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. (Hos 11:1 ESV)
Matthew recorded how Jesus fulfilled that prophecy here:
And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.” (Mat 2:14-15 ESV)
Isaiah prophesied about the nature of Jesus’ ministry:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; (Isa 61:1-2 ESV)
Luke recorded the time where Jesus acknowledged the fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-2:
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luk 4:16-21 ESV)
So far we have been dealing with some of the fulfillment of OT prophecies. New prophecies arose in the time of Jesus and Apostles:
Here Agabus prophecies a famine, which the believers respond to by sending relief to Judea:
Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul. (Act 11:27-30 ESV)
A number of prophets prophesied to Paul not to go to Jerusalem:
And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.
(Act 21:4 ESV)
Notice the terminology here “not to go to”. The KJV reads “should not go”. This is an admonition against doing something, in this case, going to Jerusalem. There is nothing in this verse that says what will happen to him if he does, so these are just “Don’t go” statements. The Holy Spirit was directing the prophets to tell Paul not to go. There are more warnings to Paul about Jerusalem:
On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.” (Act 21:8-14 ESV)
In verses four, and probably nine, we have warnings telling Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Then, in verse 21, Agabus tells Paul what will happen if he goes, i.e., he will become a captive. This is really a story of how Paul responds in that he asks whether they trying to break his heart and decides to go in spite of the warnings and being told not to go.
Some people (including me) recognize that this is a record of what happens to man when he doesn’t obey the spirit while others seem to think that this is a record of Paul simply being told what some of his future sufferings are. If it were true that he was supposed to go then there wouldn’t have been all the prophets and believers telling him not to go in verses 4 and 12.
In any event, the prophecy proved true, Paul was held captive and his missionary journeys appear to have ended with this decision although clearly the Holy Spirit continued to work through Paul while captive. Although I don’t agree with them I acknowledge that some people teach that Paul’s journey to Rome in captivity was a missionary journey even though it was not directed by the spirit to do so.
This next account shows how involved prophets and prophecy were in the apostles’ tradition. Another account that shows that is in Acts 15. :
So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. (Act 15:30-32 ESV)
This record is following the Jerusalem Council where the apostles and elders at Jerusalem under the guidance of the Holy Spirit resolved the question of whether new believers needed to be circumcised and follow other aspects of the Law, and the answer was no, but they still needed to abstain from idol sacrifice products, strangled meats, blood, and sexual immorality. Notice that the prophets strengthened the believers with many words here! Remember prophets are not just about predictions of the future but they speak words that edify and comfort to believers:
But he who prophesies speaks to men for building up, and exhortation, and comfort. (1Co 14:3 MKJV)
In my experience, it seems that when it comes to prophesy, people are interested in how biblical prophecies are going to come to pass, and in the case of personal prophecy, they are interested in what is going to happen in the future. Or, in some scenarios, we hear of prophecies that reprove someone’s wayward actions. But 1 Cor 14:3 talks about this strengthening function of prophets where they deliver words from the Lord that build believers up, encourage them and soothe their hearts. That is so awesome! That is what happened in Acts 15:32.
There is another function of prophets that is at play here with this record:
For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: (Act 15:28 ESV)
How did they know that it seemed good to the Holy Spirit? Well, we know from verse 32 that Judas and Silas were there, that they were prophets and that they encouraged everyone with many words. Now look at this:
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace…If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. (1Co 14:29-38 ESV)
This section is huge. First, it says that when prophets speak the other prophets weigh what the prophet says. So judging, or verifying that what one prophet says is of the Lord is one of the jobs of a prophet. Next, it says that any real prophet should acknowledge (Gr. epiginosko, perceive, recognize, know) that what Paul has written are the commandments, precepts, of the Lord! In fact, if any so-called prophets don’t recognize this, then they shouldn’t be recognized. True prophets can tell us if what someone says or teaches is of the Lord or not. It is one of the jobs of the office.
The Other Side of the Coin
We have seen that prophecy is an inherent part of the apostle’s tradition. Everything we have look at so far concerns prophecies from the Lord. Yet we are warned that there is such a thing as false prophecy and false prophets:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. (2Co 11:13-15 ESV)
History is full of false prophets, false prophets who have been very convincing and led people in their ungodly ways. It seems that every other year or so we hear of someone who predicts (prophesies) the end of the world or Christ is coming back, or the rapture is going to happen at such and such a date, and it doesn’t happen! Sometimes these people are running a church and sometimes not. Good old Wikipedia lists predictions (will leave this site and open a new tab) by
- the Anabaptists that the Millenium would start in 1533.
- Anglican Church Prelate, Edwin Sandys, who said in the sixteenth century that the signs mentioned by scripture are almost fulfilled.
- Assemblies of God publication, the Weekly Evangel, that Christ will come before the present war ends, and Armageddon will start shortly. This was during World War 1.
- Calvary Chapel founder, Chuck Smith, and Hal Lindsey both predicted that the Lord would come back before 1981.
- Charles Taz Russell, Jehovah’s Witness, that 1874 was the year of Christ’s return
- Lutheran monk, Michael Stiefel, predicted the end of the world in 1533
Of course, these were all false predictions. And these are just a sampling.
In my experience, false prophecies are one of the biggest reasons that people, including believers, are afraid of getting involved with a church where prophecy is practiced. Stories abound about false prophets as mentioned above as well as numerous people claiming to be the Messiah. Again, good old Wikipedia lists over sixty people (not just men, some are women) who claim to be the Messiah(will leave this site and open a new tab).
There is definitely a problem with so many that have made false claims. Whether it is the “savior” Jim Jones killing hundreds of his people with Koolaid, David Koresh with his claim as a prophet leading to standoff disaster with the FBI, or even Rasputin running the whole country of Russia because of his power as a healer and “man of God”, there is plenty of talk about false leaders, prophets and prophesies to convince people to shy away from churches where prophecy and other manifestations of the spirit are practiced. Couple that with the fact that cessationism (the gifts of the spirit ceased with the apostles, or at least limited to the select miracle here and there) has been around as acceptable doctrine in one form or another since the early centuries after Christ and it is easy to see why so many believers and churches are reluctant to include the pursuit of spiritual manifestations in the churches.
But prophecy is at the core of the Gospel and of the whole word of God and is a crucial element in the spread of the Gospel and the apostle’s traditions. And, when you read the Law and the Prophets, and the apostle’s doctrine you get the idea that the Lord wants more people to prophesy, not less.
But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Num 11:29 ESV)
Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. (1Co 14:5 ESV)
So, despite all the false prophets and false predictions, it is still the charge to believers to seek after prophecy:
So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. (1Co 14:39 ESV)
So, either the word of God is true and something to be followed or it just a bunch of hooey and we should walk away from it.
We are looking at the apostles’ tradition that we are charged as believers and followers of the Lord Jesus Christ to follow. Jesus taught us in dealing with the Jewish leaders that it was their tradition that made the word of God of no effect by changing the word of God to their tradition. In the epistles, we are taught the importance of rightly dividing what we have been given, and not just letting loose with whatever thoughts and feelings we have about the word of God but handling it carefully.
So far we have covered that the apostles’ tradition included preaching Christ Jesus which so many churches nowadays do in one form or another, although not always rightly divided. I mean how could they all be rightly divided when they teach so many things contrary to each other as is whether the communion service is a memorial recognizing the meaning of Christ’s passion and death or a miracle where bread and wine are actually converted to the body and blood of Christ, or that the baptism of the spirit is the sacrament of (water) baptism versus that it is the cleansing action of the spirit that washes throughout a person when they accept Jesus Christ as Lord whether they are water baptized or not. Or any of the other disagreements noted in the Divisions section of this web site.
And in this article, we look at the prominent role of prophets and prophecy in original Christianity and in the apostles’ tradition that we are charged to follow. Without prophets and prophecy, there would be no word of God; it’s that crucial. Many churches do acknowledge the fulfillment of prophecy that is noted in both the Old and New Testaments.
But not so many acknowledge the charge to believers to earnestly desire to prophesy. Not so many acknowledge prophecy in our day and time. Not so many teach that prophets speak a message from God in our day and time. Not so many teach that prophets speak words of building up, encouragement, and comfort. And who teaches that prophets confirm what the word of God actually is in our day and time?
From what I have heard some don’t teach these things because there have been so many false prophecies that they are afraid to get involved, or they believe that prophecy has ceased, or there have been so many false practices that many consider wild from snake handling to writhing on the floor slain in the spirit that is part of some churches that do teach prophecy.
Nevertheless, we are charged to follow the apostle’s tradition. That tradition includes recognizing the role of prophecy and prophets throughout history from Genesis until now. Here is our charge again:
So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. (1Co 14:39 ESV)
This is as much a part of the apostles’ tradition that we are charged to follow as teaching Christ crucified, risen, and ascended to the Father for our salvation.