A prophet’s calling in God’s Kingdom
God has always sent prophets to His people, and He hasn’t stopped. The New Testament shows us that God’s house is built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles and that “prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.” In fact, God will reveal His plans to His prophets before He takes action, because where there is “no prophetic vision, the people cast off restraint.”
Ephesians 2:18-22 ESV For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 14:22 ESV Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.
Amos 3:7 ESV “For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.
Proverbs 29:18 Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law.
Prophets in both the Old and New Testaments
The Old Testament text predominantly comprises the writings of God’s prophets, such as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (by the prophet Moses), 1 and 2 Samuel (by the prophet Samuel), Isaiah (by the prophet Isaiah), Jeremiah and Lamentations (by the prophet Jeremiah), Ezekiel (by the prophet Ezekiel), Daniel (by the prophet Daniel) and so on. In the past, God appointed specific prophets and anointed them with His Spirit to speak on His behalf to His people, and they recorded their experiences and God’s words.
The Old Testament also mentions female prophetesses, such as Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-15), Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14), and Deborah (Judges 4:4-9).
Today, the Holy Spirit can distribute the spiritual gift of prophecy to anyone. But as we see from Ephesians 4, the office of the prophet has not diminished. The Bible mentions some New Testament prophets such as Agabus (Acts 21:10-11), Judas (not Judas Iscariot) and Silas (Acts 15:32-33), as well as a prophetess called Anna (Luke 2:36-37).
Corinthians 14:1,3 ESV Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy… the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.
A prophet is someone who has been appointed and anointed by God for a specific mission or message, to convey His will for His people, whereas anyone who has the gift of prophecy speaks to encourage, comfort and edify those in the Body of Christ in general. In other words, someone who can prophesise may not necessarily be a prophet. The office of a prophet is not for everyone. It comes with heavy responsibilities and often, suffering and persecution, as we will see from the examples later in this post.
Matthew 5 :11-12 ESV “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Current New Testament apostles are to work alongside apostles, teachers, evangelists, and pastors to:
- equip every believer for ministry (Ephesians 4:11)
- bring people into a personal knowledge of Jesus (Ephesians 4:13)
- build up, unite, and help the body of Christ mature (Ephesians 4:13)
- keep God’s people away from deception (Ephesians 4:14)
Ephesians 4:11-14 ESV And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
As we can see from the example at the church in Antioch, prophets worked alongside teachers to seek God’s will and commission apostle Paul and Barnabas for their missionary work.
Acts 13:1-3 ESV Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
Jesus was the chief Prophet of all
Above all prophets is Jesus, our beloved Saviour, who is the chief Prophet of all. (In Matthew 13, Jesus referred to Himself as a prophet.) All the Old Testament prophets prophesied about Jesus.
Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
Matthew 13:57 ESV And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.”
Luke 24:25-26 ESV And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
True prophets bring God’s truth and expose iniquity in the church in order to restore God’s blessings to His people. Indeed, this is what Jesus did. From His time on earth, we see that He called “sinners to repentance” and set many captives free from spiritual and physical affliction.
Lamentations 2:14 ESV Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading.
Luke 5:32 ESV I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Luke 4:17-19 ESV 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.”
Who God chooses to be His prophets
True prophets are never self-appointed or appointed by ordinary people. They are chosen and set apart by God even before they are born. Prophets will know their appointment because the Holy Spirit will call them forth when the time is right and begin to use them for God’s Kingdom.
Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Neither are they necessarily the head or leader in a church setting. Eli, for instance, was the priest in the city of Siloh, but it was Samuel, his servant, whom God called to be a prophet. God began to speak directly to Samuel in the temple when he was a young boy, not the much older religious leader, Eli. In another example, God called a fugitive who was hiding in the wilderness, Moses, when the prophet was 80 years old (Exodus 3:1-17).
1 Samuel 3:1,10-11 ESV Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel at which the two ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.
God can also raise a family of prophets. Moses was a prophet like none other. God spoke to Moses face to face, not through visions and dreams, and performed many miracles through him. We see that both Moses’ brother, Aaron (Exodus 7:1), and sister, Miriam (Exodus 15:20), were also prophets. Zachariah prophesied over his own son, John, the Baptist, who was called to be “the prophet of the Most High.” Prophet Isaiah’s wife was a prophetess. In the Old Testament, the “sons of prophets” also knew the will of God beforehand and could prophecise. Then there were also those who were not married, such as Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus.
Deuteronomy 34:10-12 ESV And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
Luke 1:67-68, 76-78 And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people … And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins,
Isaiah 8:3-4 ESV And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the Lord said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz; for before the boy knows how to cry ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.”
2 Kings 2:3 ESV And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.”
Jeremiah 16:1-2 ESV The word of the Lord came to me: “You shall not take a wife, nor shall you have sons or daughters in this place.
Other times, God can call on ordinary people with ordinary occupations to be His prophets. Amos is an example, he was “a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs.” Elisha was working in his family’s field with his oxen before he was called by Elijah to become his disciple.
Amos 7:14-15 ESV Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, “I was no prophet, nor a prophet’s son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’
1 Kings 19:19 ESV So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him.
Prophets tend to be fully dedicated to their role as prophets. Samuel’s mother “lent” him to the Lord for the rest of his life. Elisha, for example, killed and sacrificed his oxen so there was no turning back to his old occupation.
1 Samuel 1:28 ESV Therefore I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he is lent to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.
1 Kings 19:21 And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.
Prophets were capable of great signs and wonders, but they also suffered great mistreatment, as Hebrews 11:32-38 recaps for us.
Hebrews 11:32-38 ESV And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.
The work that prophets do for God’s Kingdom
God calls His prophets to demonstrate His sovereignty on earth. They performed great miracles to rescue God’s people from their enemies, but they have also pronounced judgement and destruction on the people for their rebellion and adultery against the Lord. This included the people’s rebellious worship of false gods and idols and grave sins, such as murder and treachery.
A prophet can bring different types of messages for God’s people, from a word of knowledge that exposes the motives of someone’s heart to a call for a nation to repent or a prophecy to prepare for upcoming events.
1 Corinthians 14:24-25 ESV But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.
Prophets have been called by God to:
- Announce hidden things that God decided long ago | Isaiah 48:6-7 ESV “You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forth I announce to you new things, hidden things that you have not known. They are created now, not long ago; before today you have never heard of them, lest you should say, ‘Behold, I knew them.’
- Declare God’s destiny for countries and kingdoms | Jeremiah 1:9-10 ESV Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
- Receive, discern and announce the direction for God’s people, help them, and guard them | Hosea 12:13 ESV By a prophet the Lord brought Israel up from Egypt, and by a prophet he was guarded.
- Represent God to make covenants with His people | Exodus 24:8 ESV And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
- Do great works and miracles for God | 2 Kings 20:11 ESV And Isaiah the prophet called to the Lord, and he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz.
- Deliver the name of a baby (Solomon) | 2 Samuel 12:24-25 ESV Then David comforted his wife, Bathsheba, and went in to her and lay with her, and she bore a son, and he called his name Solomon. And the Lord loved him and sent a message by Nathan the prophet. So he called his name Jedidiah, because of the Lord.
- Kept a record of the acts of Israel’s kings | 1 Chronicles 29:29 ESV Now the acts of King David, from first to last, are written in the Chronicles of Samuel the seer, and in the Chronicles of Nathan the prophet, and in the Chronicles of Gad the seer,
- Warn people to turn from sin | 2 Kings 17:13 ESV Yet the Lord warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, “Turn from your evil ways and keep my commandments and my statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by my servants the prophets.”
- Pronounce judgement on those who have committed iniquity | 2 Samuel 12:9-12 ESV Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun.’”
- Warn against false prophets | Ezekiel 13:2-3 ESV “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!
People who persecute true prophets will not prosper
Prophets were welcomed whenever they brought good news from the Lord, but not when they brought bad news that displeased or angered the people. They turned on their prophets, their own brethren, and made them their enemies, rather than their allies. For example, the prophet Jeremiah was whipped, imprisoned and even left in a muddy dark cistern by his own leaders to die because he told them the truth. They did not understand that the Lord sends prophets to restore His people back to Himself, even when prophets bring the bad news of judgment, because God wants them to repent and turn back to Him.
Jeremiah 38:4-6 ESV Then the officials said to the king, “Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their harm.” King Zedekiah said, “Behold, he is in your hands, for the king can do nothing against you.” So they took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.
Jeremiah 20:1-2 NLT Now Pashhur son of Immer, the priest in charge of the Temple of the Lord, heard what Jeremiah was prophesying. So he arrested Jeremiah the prophet and had him whipped and put in stocks at the Benjamin Gate of the Lord’s Temple.
2 Chronicles 24:19 NLT Yet the LORD sent prophets to bring them back to him. The prophets warned them, but still the people would not listen.
Besides prophesying with their words, God may call upon prophets to be signs in themselves, in order to creatively illustrate how He feels about His people or what He intends to do soon. For example, God instructed the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute, something forbidden in the Mosaic Law (under adultery), to illustrate how unfaithful Israel had become. God instructed prophet Isaiah to walk around naked and preach for three years, as an illustration of what Israel’s enemies would come to do to the nation. God instructed the prophet Ezekiel to lie down on the ground, first on his left side for 390 days, and then on his right side for another 40 days, to illustrate the punishment that the house of Israel was about to bear. Jesus also carried out actions that were themselves symbolic of the message God wanted to send His people. For example, the Son of God did not wash before a meal in order to preach about inner purity rather than outward cleanliness.
Hosea 1:2 ESV When the LORD first began speaking to Israel through Hosea, he said to him, “Go and marry a prostitute, so that some of her children will be conceived in prostitution. This will illustrate how Israel has acted like a prostitute by turning against the LORD and worshiping other gods.”
Isaiah 20:2-4 ESV at that time the Lord spoke by Isaiah the son of Amoz, saying, “Go, and loose the sackcloth from your waist and take off your sandals from your feet,” and he did so, walking naked and barefoot. Then the Lord said, “As my servant Isaiah has walked naked and barefoot for three years as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Cush, so shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt.
Ezekiel 4:4-6 ESV “Then lie on your left side, and place the punishmentof the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment. For I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel. And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah. Forty days I assign you, a day for each year.
Luke 11:38-40 ESV While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.
So we can see why the people might easily dismiss or scorn God’s prophets because of their messages and unusual behaviour. People often mocked prophets and despised the words that they brought from the Lord. They hardened their hearts and “turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear.” They whipped, persecuted, and chased God’s prophets out of town. Time and time again, such behaviour provoked God’s great wrath so much that He would no longer listen to their prayers, even if they called upon Him.
2 Chronicles 36:15-16 ESV The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.
Matthew 23:33-34 ESV You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town,
Zechariah 7:11-13 ESV But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. “As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,” says the Lord of hosts,
It takes humility to listen to those who God has chosen. God does not necessarily choose the popular, He may choose eccentrics, outcasts, or people in low positions. John, the Baptist, is one example from the New Testament. He wandered around the wilderness, and “wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.” We may mistakenly label God’s prophets as crazy or as fools. God chooses the foolish to confound the wise and proud and it takes humility in our hearts to be willing to listen to the prophetic vessels he chooses His Spirit to work through.
Matthew 3:4 ESV Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.
Hosea 9:7-8 NLT The time of Israel’s punishment has come; the day of payment is here. Soon Israel will know this all too well. Because of your great sin and hostility, you say, “The prophets are crazy and the inspired men are fools!” The prophet is a watchman over Israel for my God, yet traps are laid for him wherever he goes. He faces hostility even in the house of God.
1 Corinthians 1:27-29 ESV But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
When people become stubborn and turn away from listening to the prophets, they begin to act presumptuously on what they believe is God’s will and law, because they will have no true insight, without the Holy Spirit speaking God’s truth through their prophets. Therefore, instead of progressing, they regress and go backward.
Nehemiah 9:29-31 ESV And you warned them in order to turn them back to your law. Yet they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules, which if a person does them, he shall live by them, and they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck and would not obey. Many years you bore with them and warned them by your Spirit through your prophets. Yet they would not give ear. Therefore you gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands. Nevertheless, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for you are a gracious and merciful God.
Jeremiah 7:24-26 ESV But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers.
Unfortunately, people’s hearts haven’t changed very much since then. We are still prone to have “itching ears” that listen only to teachers that suit our own passions, and turn away from listening to what the Lord really wants us to hear and pay heed to. What is worse is when we call God’s prophets names such as “devil worshippers” or “witches” or “mediums” or curse them, when they are actually representing the Holy Spirit. Then we commit the only unforgivable sin in the Bible, which is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit!
2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Matthew 12:31-32 ESV Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
Nehemiah 9:26 ESV “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies.
How we are to treat today’s prophets
Jesus has warned us about false prophets who will come to us in sheep’s clothing but be ravenous inside, hungry for power, prestige, money, and control. We will recognise them by the outcome of their words and actions. They will not lead people closer to Jesus for God’s glory, but rather to themselves and cater to what we like to hear. Also, see Wisdom in recognising false prophets
Matthew 7:15-16 ESV “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
2 Peter 2:1-3 ESV But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
True prophets will genuinely have a fear of the Lord and be humble. They will tell us hard truths that align with the Bible and reveal God’s heart to us.
We are to respect and honour true prophets. When we receive a genuine prophet, it is as if we receive the Lord Himself. Jesus has said, “one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward”.
Mark 6:4 NLT Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”
Matthew 10:40-41 ESV “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.
At the same time, we need to be careful not to elevate prophets to a position that is higher than the Lord Himself. Our primary goal is always to seek the Lord Himself first and learn to hear His voice, because His sheep will recognise His voice. We should not rely solely on another’s voice only.
John 10:27-28 ESV My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
The Bible also reminds us to not despise prophecies and to test everything, for when we “believe God’s prophets, we will succeed.”
1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 ESV Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
2 Chronicles 20:20 ESV And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, “Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the Lord your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed.”
So we see that we:
- Should not judge prophets by their appearance or behaviour | 1 John 4:1 ESV Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
- Should not despise prophecies and thereby quench the Holy Spirit | 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 ESV Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
- Should honour and welcome prophets | Matthew 10:41 ESV The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward…
- Should listen respectfully to what they have to say | Deuteronomy 18:15 ESV “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—
- Should test what they say with the Holy Spirit | 1 John 4:1 ESV Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
- Should not idolise prophets, who are simply messengers, we are to worship God alone | Revelation 19:10 ESV Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
We should also never mistake a prophet for a fortune teller, medium, spiritist, or witch and treat them as such. Those who practise new age or the occult may be able to provide spiritual revelation, but they will be guided by demonic spirits, not God. Only God’s prophets will be led by God’s Spirit and reveal God’ truth to us. In the book of Deuteronomy, God’s law warns that we should not follow the abominable practices of witchcraft and the occult. God has provided us with His prophets and we should listen to them. Tragically, King Saul consulted a witch and paid for his mistake with his life as well as the lives of his sons. (1 Samuel 28, 31)
Deuteronomy 18:9-15 ESV “When you come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominable practices of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer or one who inquires of the dead, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. And because of these abominations the Lord your God is driving them out before you. You shall be blameless before the Lord your God, for these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to fortune-tellers and to diviners. But as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do this. “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen—
1 Samuel 28:5-7 ESV When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets. Then Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at En-dor.”
How to test the words of a prophet
To test a prophet’s words, it is helpful to:
- Observe and test if the prophet has a genuine fear of the Lord and is submitted to the Holy Spirit in all areas of life (so that it is not the prophet’s own imaginative mind or spirit that is misleading others or even themselves) | Ezekiel 13:2-3 ESV “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: ‘Hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing!
- Understand that the message they bring may not be the entire picture, we still need to seek God for ourselves for clarity and confirmation | 1 Corinthians 13:9 NLT Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture!
- Do not be alarmed if prophets reveal something new and previously not understood, because they can bring new insights not understood by previous generations | Ephesians 3:4-5 ESV When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.
- Be patient and make a record of what has been said and wait upon the Lord, God’s prophecies may not be fulfilled immediately, it can take years for them to come to pass | 2 Peter 3:4,8 ESV They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? …. But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
- Always seek the Holy Spirit for confirmation on all prophecies | John 16:13 ESV When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
- Check if it is upbuilding, encouraging, and comforting | 1 Corinthians 14:3 ESV On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.
- If there is more than one prophet speaking, check to see that what they are saying is aligned | 1 Corinthians 14:33 ESV For God is not a God of confusion but of peace…
When we are in a community of believers where there is more than one prophet in our midst, and the Lord prompts them to speak on His behalf, we should allow them to prophesy one by one, before we discern and test what they have said.
1 Corinthians 14:29-33 ESV 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.
How true prophets are led by God
True prophets who speak from God are carried along by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 1:21 ESV For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
- God makes Himself known to prophets through personal encounters, visions, and dreams; they will know God’s voice, will, desires, and character intimately, this is how they can represent Him well and not misled God’s people | Numbers 12:6 ESV And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the Lord make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.
- God can show them visions of heaven e.g. Isaiah, Paul, John | Isaiah 6:1-2 ESV In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
- God can speak through prophets using parables | Hosea 12:10 ESV I spoke to the prophets; it was I who multiplied visions, and through the prophets gave parables.
- The Lord will place a burden in a prophet’s spirit to speak to His people that will burn until the word is released, they cannot hold it in | Jeremiah 20:9 ESV If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.
- God puts His words in their mouths | Jeremiah 1:9-10 ESV Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
- God makes His emotions known to His prophets | Deuteronomy 9:19-20 ESV For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure that the Lord bore against you, so that he was ready to destroy you. But the Lord listened to me that time also. And the Lord was so angry with Aaron that he was ready to destroy him. And I prayed for Aaron also at the same time.
- The Lord holds His prophets responsible for the suffering and death of His people if they don’t deliver His warnings to them to turn from wickedness | Ezekiel 3:17-18 ESV 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.
- God’s Spirit can enter them and move their bodies | Ezekiel 3:24 But the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and he spoke with me and said to me, “Go, shut yourself within your house.
- The Holy Spirit will use prophets to point people to Jesus | Revelation 19:10 ESV Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.” For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
- God can also discipline and chastise errant prophets | Jeremiah 15:19 ESV Therefore thus says the Lord: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them.
Warnings and reminders for God’s current-day prophets
God’s prophets are not infallible. They may:
- Not listen to or speak on behalf of the Lord as they should (Deuteronomy 18:19)
- Speak presumptuously (Deuteronomy 18:20,22)
- Receive words of knowledge from the one true God but attribute to other (false) gods (Deuteronomy 18:20)
Deuteronomy 18:19-22 ESV And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.
Prophets can try to “twist”, “soften and dilute,” or “interpret” God’s prophetic word more favourably for His people to avoid ridicule and rejection, rather than deliver God’s word in its purest form. They may follow their own spirits, rather than God’s Spirit. They can even become prophets for other “gods” i.e. demonic spirits or practise a form of fortune telling for money.
Everyone needs reminding to stay faithful to the Lord, and prophets are no different. Here are some warnings and reminders for God’s prophets from the Bible.
- Remain true to God, do not seek the approval of people | Galatians 1:10 ESV For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
- Keep one’s heart pure, be careful not to follow one’s own spirit | Ezekiel 13:3 ESV Thus says the Lord GOD, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!
- Be careful not to speak presumptuously, without checking twice or even thrice with the Lord | Deuteronomy 18:22 ESV when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.
- Do not succumb to pressure to disobey the Holy Spirit and only speak “smooth things” that rebellious people will welcome | Isaiah 30:9-11 ESV For they are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the Lord; who say to the seers, “Do not see,” and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
- Be ever-ready to reprove, rebuke, and exhort God’s people | 2 Timothy 4:2 ESV preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
- Speak the truth with love, grace and compassion | Ephesians 4:11-12,15 ESV And he gave the apostles, the prophets … to equip the saints for the work of ministry… Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
- Be intentional about raising up the next generation of prophets | 1 Kings 19:19-21 ESV So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” … Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.
- Stand as an example of suffering and patience | James 5:10-11 ESV As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast…
- Rejoice when persecuted on behalf of our faith is Jesus | Matthew 5:11-12 ESV “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
- Do not use the prophet’s office for monetary gain | Micah 3:11 ESV … its prophets practice divination for money; yet they lean on the Lord and say, “Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No disaster shall come upon us.”
- Do not resort to lying and fortune telling (divination) | Jeremiah 14:14 ESV And the Lord said to me: “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds.
Last but certainly not least, prophets need to remember to do God’s will and obey Him. Otherwise, we may also be rejected from entering heaven, just like those whom we call to repentance. In other words, we need to be careful not to become hypocritical prophets.
Matthew 7:21-23 ESV “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
If Jesus sent us a prophet into our midst today, would we recognise him or her?
Jesus, our beloved Saviour, has lamented that when He sent His prophets Elijah and Elisha into Israel, the people did not pay heed and repent of their sins. So instead, prophet Elijah and Elisha were sent to bring God’s blessings and healing to a widow and a Syrian instead. How ironic it is that outsiders can benefit from God’s prophets, rather than God’s people themselves. The pharaoh of Egypt, for example, listened to Joseph, who interpreted and prophesied from the Egyptian ruler’s dream. By doing so, the Lord helped to save the whole of Egypt from the disaster of impending famine through Joseph.
Luke 4:24-27 ESV And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
May we not harden our hearts and make the same mistakes we read about over and over again towards God’s prophets. Everything that has been recorded in the Bible about the past prophets is to teach us to do what is right and pleasing in God’s eyes.
Romans 15:4 NIV For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.
“When I was little, I used to dream about places or scenes that I would later experience in real life. No one else in the family seemed to have this gift nor did anyone explain that not every child experiences this either. Over time, all this faded into memory, and I stopped having such dreams.
It wasn’t until my 40s that I dedicated my life to Jesus and received the Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, I began to speak in tongues, dream such dreams once again, and receive words of knowledge as I prayed for people. A couple of times, I witnessed demonic manifestations. Led by the Holy Spirit, I learned how to cast evil spirits out based on what I had read in the Bible.
One day, the Holy Spirit told me that I was called to be a prophet in the likes of Isaiah. This surprised me, as the role of a prophet is not something which is talked about in the church that I attend.
Later on, the Lord pointed me to 2 Timothy 1:7 where the apostle Paul says that we are given a spirit of love, power, and self control, and that when church systems are led by human beings, rather than the Holy Spirit, a problem arises. Depending on the culture of or the inclinations of its leaders, a church can be in tempted to focus more on each of these aspects, rather than all three. In other words, it can become hyper focused on and skewed towards love (prosperity gospel, grace), power (manifestation of the spiritual gifts, miracles), or self control (legalism, rituals, works). A focus on one area is not healthy, we all need a balance of love, power, and self-control in the body of Christ. If we are spiritually unaware, this is one strategy that Satan uses to divide and weaken God’s kingdom.
The Lord further showed me that His church is not meant to be dominated by the office of the pastor, because the pastor needs and should work with the offices of prophets, teachers, evangelists, and apostles within their own community. This is completely biblical. However, because a pastor’s herding instinct as a shepherd for God’s flock can be very strong, they may become over-protective and shut out other voices and diminish the other offices, and see all other voices as potential “wolves”. This occurs when pastors are led by their flesh and do not lean on God’s Spirit for discernment and wisdom. The Holy Spirit will bring unity with His church when all five offices humble themselves and seek Him with all their heart. But when God’s Kingdom is divided between love, power and self control, it is harder for its different parts to work together.
I am not sure how the Lord will use me as a prophet, to be honest, and I’m still waiting on the Holy Spirit to bring me to the next step. What I do know, and have been convicted by the Holy Spirit, is that we need all five offices to work together in order for the Body of Christ to mature, especially in the End Times.”
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