In this hour where so many are calling themselves prophets, I thought it would be good to do a little teaching on what the Bible teaches about prophets. This is by no means exhaustive and I am sure some may disagree. But it is a subject with which we should be familiar.
1. Difference between Old and New Testament prophets
We do not see national and international prophets that function apart from apostolic teams in the New Testament. Acts 13 was a gathering of leaders in which God spoke prophetically. Same with Acts 15. Acts 11 speaks of Agabus prophesying about a famine, but they were a team sent from Jerusalem to Antioch. The word was processed with other apostolic leaders, and a fund was created.
But what if he had been wrong? What if people made plans based on an erroneous word? That is why prophecy given on a national level is so dangerous, if it is out of order. If Agabus were wrong on some level, the other leaders would have picked it up and corrected him in a loving way with the same authority.
In the O.T., the prophet had tremendous authority as the voice of God. In the N.T., Yeshua gives five leadership gifts, that work together to equip the people of God.
Not as significant
The word prophet occurs 30 times in Acts: 25 times it refers to the Hebrew prophets and their writings, and only four times does it refer to New Testament prophets. This leads me to believe that New Testament prophets are different from the Old Testament prophets and do not function exactly in the same way. Here are some examples.
The prophetic bar is not set at 100% accuracy, as it was in Deuteronomy. There is no stoning for a wrong prophecy (If it were, we would have a lot of dead prophets on our hands!). Paul was not encouraging the Corinthians to risk their lives by saying “For you can all prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:31).
New Testament prophets do not write scripture.
They are not isolated, like Elijah and others.
All prophecy is submitted to the written Word.
Prophecy from modern prophets must not contradict end-time prophecy in the Word of God.
And it should be judged by other leaders before being released to a wide audience.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said…The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. (1 Cor. 14:29, 32)
Paul was not advocating for the Wild Wild West of prophecy that we often see today—where prophets release words over nations with little counsel and often no accountability, but rather prophetic utterances were subject to being checked by other prophets and apostles for both accuracy and orthodoxy. Again, ACCURACY and ORTHODOXY.
I think it is safe to say that the average N.T. saint has a massive upgrade in his or her ability to hear from God through the Spirit, and therefore is not so dependent on the prophet.
2. Prophets need even more humility
Moses was a prophet, but he told God, “Send someone else.” Jeremiah didn’t want to prophesy either. Eager prophets open themselves up to deception. Moses was qualified only after 40 years of hardship and was the meekest, most humble man on earth. I saw a young prophet who uses the hashtag #propheticmafia. That may be cool and trendy, but for me, it makes a mockery of the prophetic—especially considering there are few things more evil and corrupt than the mafia—(I know from experience!). It lacks the sacredness that God’s prophetic word deserves.
Because the prophetic gift is so spectacular, it requires more humility than the other ascension gifts (Eph. 4:11). You have been entrusted with something powerful and attractive. It comes with many temptations. We have all heard of prophets falling into sexual sin, sometimes even using the gift to open that door. This gift can take someone from obscurity to stardom overnight. Not many should want to be a prophet, but if you are, make sure you maintain the heart of God and are under authority.
A true prophet carries God’s heart. Jeremiah was broken in tears. Tears are a mark of a genuine prophet, not proving that they are right or merely using their gift to build their platform. A mentor of mine shared of being up all night praying for his congregation not to fall apart during a crisis as if he was praying for the life of his daughter. At times he didn’t know if he was praying for his actual daughter not to die or the congregation.
3. Prophecy is not like a Horoscope
Where do we see words in the New Testament that say a certain year is the year of “fill in the blank”? The year 2020 is based on the Gregorian Calendar, not the Biblical one and even the Jewish New Year that people like to use is actually the half year. Rosh Hashana is the first day of the seventh month, not the first. The actual Jewish or Hebrew New Year was a few weeks ago on the first of Nissan, 14 days before Passover. We do not see prophets in the Old or New Testament giving words connected to new years or months. I am not saying it cannot happen, I am simply saying that is not the norm in Scripture. Should we expect New Years prophecies three times a year to correlate with these three new years? On the other hand, I could see God using man-made signposts, if you will, in order to speak to us. They spoke of cubits in the Bible, but if God spoke to me about measurements, I would imagine He would use feet, or even meters (after 17 years in Israel), not cubits.
One of the reasons I don’t believe in horoscopes is because there are more than 12 types of people on earth. They live in different regions and go through different life struggles. What God may be saying to those in Papua, New Guinea could be different than what He may be saying to those in Nigeria. Each person in any given area is unique. The same year that might be someone’s year of breakthrough, could be another one’s year of sorrow.
4. Issachar—Signs of the Times
A big part of prophecy is being an Issacharian. The sons of Issachar were able to read the signs of the times. A student of Scripture would immediately go to Matthew 24 and Luke 21 in the midst of this plague, where He speaks about end-time plagues. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees for not being able to read the signs of the times. So many are prophesying about America returning quickly to prosperity, but not turning to the Scriptures to see what God might has already said prophetically through COVID-19. Maybe God is preparing us for something?
5. New Testament Prophets expose Sin and Wrong Motives
There is no question in my mind that Paul was a prophet, as was Peter. While Agabus and Silas were the only named prophets, we can see the apostles acting as prophets. Before Paul was an apostle he was with a gathering of “prophets and teachers” (Acts 13:1). I think he was one of those prophets.
When Paul encountered Elymas, the sorcerer he exposed his sin and his evil motives.
Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.” (Acts 13:9-11)
We see a similar thing with Simon the sorcerer. However, there is one big difference. He was a believer, having been baptized by Philip. He would not be the first believer who wanted to use the Holy Spirit to make a dime. See how the Lord deals with him, as Peter exposes his sin and his motives.
“May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! You have no part or share in this ministry, because your heart is not right before God.Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord in the hope that he may forgive you for having such a thought in your heart. For I see that you are full of bitterness and captive to sin.” (Acts 8:20-23)
As a prophet he was able to see in his heart. Now, let’s be clear—sinful judgmental attitudes can often be mistaken for the Holy Spirit. Jesus forbade us to judge other’s motives. The only exception is when God reveals someone’s sin or motives prophetically.
Paul shows how prophecy can expose sin, and be redemptive in the process.
But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!” (1 Cor. 14:24-25)
Notice they are convicted as the secrets of their hearts of revealed.
6. What does it mean to prophesy from your soul?
What is so interesting about Jeremiah’s words concerning those prophets, who spoke of peace only, is that he never calls them false prophets. These were real prophets, prophesying what they wanted to be true. I believe that this is a problem in our day. I have heard so many words about revival coming and 99.9% of them never materialize because they come from desire, not the mouth of God. (I am super pro-revival, having come out of the Brownsville Revival.)
In Scripture, when there are two sets of prophets prophesying contradicting messages, it is normally the ones with bad news that are right. Why? Because it is easy to prophesy good news. It takes little courage to say, “God loves you and everything is going to be okay.” It takes courage to point your finger at King David and call him a murdering adulterer, as Nathan did.
In the case of Micaiah (I Kings 22), the text says that Jehoshaphat asked for a prophet of Yahweh, seeming to say that the other prophets represented another god. But in Hebrew it says, “Isn’t there here another prophet of the Lord.” That is the Hebrew word עוד or “another.” In other words, the prophets who were wrong were also prophets of Yahweh. Also, in verse 8, it does not say, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord.” It says in Hebrew, “there is one more prophet through whom we can inquire of Yahweh” meaning Micaiah was an additional prophet of Yahweh. These were true prophets who had been corrupted.
7. Prophecy is more than predicting things that come to pass
Prophecy is never for the purpose of simply predicting. That is what psychics do. Just getting it right is not biblical prophecy. The reason Agabus was shown the famine was so they could collect funds for the saints in Jerusalem. Prophecy has a purpose; it comes to “edify the church” and is “for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.” (1 Cor. 14:3-4) Just the other day a self-proclaimed prophet wrote, “Tonight, the LORD spoke these words to me, ‘George Soros’s days and hours are numbered.’” That was it. No call to prayer, no reasoning behind sharing it publicly. Dude’s going die—end of subject. Even if this comes to pass (he is 89), where is the redemptive purpose in posting this?
Prophecy comes to encourage us when everything else says the opposite. David’s prophecy that he would be king was not needed when he killed the giant, but during the decade in which he was running from Saul. It gave him hope and strength. Joseph needed an angel to tell him how Miriam got pregnant. The other Joseph in Egypt didn’t just interpret Pharaoh’s dream, but had supernatural wisdom on how to manage the coming famine. So, just saying, I see such and such happening in the future is not what we see from prophets in the Bible.
8. Independent prophets giving words to the nation is not seen in New Testament
No one lone prophet should be speaking for the Lord to the nation(s) during a pandemic. Prophets should consult with apostles and other prophets, praying and submitting words to each other first, as in Acts 13 and 15. There is no such thing as independent ministries in Acts and there is no such thing as unaccountable leaders. Even Paul submitted to James and the elders in Acts 21.
Because we have acted independently, on February 15th, one well known prophet gave a word that is now playing on an atheistic liberal group’s website. They are mocking him (and us) because he seemed to say that the Coronavirus would have no great effect in the US. Since that prophecy was given, more than 46,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and more than 800,000 are infected, as the US has now overtaken Italy as the country with the most coronavirus deaths. In fact, there are three times as many Coronavirus patients in New York State alone (550,579), than any country! So, while it does appear, thank God, that progress is being made, it would be silly to say that America got a reprieve. This brings reproach on the gospel and keeps people form taking us seriously. Another famous property preacher prophesied a heatwave for Easter to burn up the virus; but instead the U.S. got deadly tornados. And now there is snow in Chicago! I have some more thoughts on this, but that is for another day.
NT prophets primarily function in the local church, not on a national stage. 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 focuses on prophecy in the congregation. There is no teaching on giving words to a nation. Clearly God still speaks to nations—now is definitely a time where we need to hear His voice. But something is amiss in regards to order when national prophets are prophesying different things.
9. There is little accountability when prophets give incorrect prophetic words that alter people’s life decisions
A pastor told how his parents moved from California because a well-known prophet said that an earthquake was coming. The earthquake did not happen, and the prophet has never repented. This is what happens when you have “Lone Ranger” prophets with big platforms. We simply do not see this in the New Testament.
When this is all said and done, leaders in the apostolic/prophetic movement should go through the words given through the media (Facebook/Email/News outlets) and check to see that which came to pass and that which did not. While we do not stone those who make mistakes, there should be loving accountability and soul-searching. Prophets who give false words should be willing to sit with other leaders and process, in the fear of the Lord, how that happened.
10. Prophecy from humans is filtered through Imperfections of Humans
All prophecy is filtered through our emotions, theology, hurts, victories, past, etc. It is very subjective, which is why we must test all prophecy. (1 Thess. 5:20-21) The word of God, on the other hand, is not subjective and has no negative experiences or hurts that can cloud it. It thus becomes the first standard by which we seek to test prophecy, and the second is by the witness of other prophetic people.
This has to do with theology too. If your theology is off, your prophecies may be as well. If you don’t believe that believers can suffer, then how can you prophesy that someone is going to suffer? If you don’t believe in judgment, you cannot prophesy judgment. And for those who think that all New Testament prophecy is rosy, the only two examples from one who was called a prophet in the N.T. were warnings; one about a famine and the other that Paul was going to be persecuted in Jerusalem.
All the more reason to process national words with a team of trusted leaders.
11. The witness of the Spirit
The Old Testament prophets (and saints) could not test a word by the “witness” of the Holy Spirit in their spirit. This is the primary way that the Spirit speaks most believers—through an inner witness. The Old Testament prophet had a high level of authority. Again, just imagine Nathan confronting the king of Israel. People were very dependent on the prophet. They didn’t go home and pray about Jeremiah’s word. Look how Moses reacted to the golden calf affair:
And he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it. (Ex. 32:20)
Imagine your pastor trying to do that! 🙂
The Old Testament saint could not weigh the word against the Bible either. For a long time it was not written and even after it was, it was not accessible to each person. O.T. saints were very reliant on the prophet.
So, the New Testament prophet does not need the same level of authority as Elijah or Moses because.
Each individual believer has the indwelling Spirit.
We have the word of God.
After Paul lays out his very clear teaching on prophecy, he makes it clear that if you disobey or reject his teaching you are not a prophet.
If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored. (1 Cor. 14:37-38)
This is a good picture of the fact that prophets were not to minister outside of apostolic oversight. Paul the apostle, brings his apostolic authority to bear on this matter of prophecy, prophets and order in a New Testament worship service. There is a reason that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12, lists apostles in the congregations above prophets. Prophets must be under authority for their own good and the good of their hearers. The apostle does not possess as flamboyant a gift as the prophet, but he has the wisdom to guide the prophet in a team setting.
Note: John and the two witnesses are exceptions and for good reason. John was writing end-time bible prophecy as an apostolic Scripture writer and the two witnesses of Revelation 11 do not come in the form of Ephesians 4:11 congregational prophets, but in the likeness of the Hebrew prophets. There is a reason John said no one could add to his words—to stop any would-be prophets from seeking to write Scripture in the future.
I love prophecy and prophetic ministry. I believe in it! I also believe that we to sharpen our theology on prophecy and prophets and have deeper accountability so we can serve the Body better. We need to hear God in our day.