Many of us are aware of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. This was an instrumental doctrine established at the time of the Reformation. Whereas the Roman Catholic church was teaching that God’s grace was mainly mediated through the class of bishops and priests, Martin Luther and the reformers began to see that Scripture taught something quite the opposite.
Christ is our great high priest, the one mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5-6). Yet, it is the people of God, those who are in Christ, who are called as a royal and holy priesthood:
4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ……9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:4-10)
Therefore, we have access to the throne of grace through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16; 10:19-25). We are not striving to get to this place. We are already there because we are in Christ. Most beautiful!
Yet, though many are aware of this important doctrine within the evangelical church, most have never considered that the Scripture lays out the doctrine of the prophethood of all believers.
‘Excuse me,’ you might say. ‘What do you mean by the prophethood of all believers?’
This is mainly established through Peter’s quotation of Joel in his Pentecost sermon. After the Spirit had been poured out, this is what Peter says:
16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out 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;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:16-18)
Peter has a revelation that what Joel had prophesied centuries before was now being fulfilled right in their midst. Joel had declared that, in the last days, the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28-29)! Thus, Peter was declaring that the last days had come upon them right then and there. The last days were not some 100 or 50 years before Christ returned, nor a 7-year period of tribulation before His coming. Peter declared that they had entered the last days and the evidence for this was that the Spirit was being poured out on all flesh.
No longer would there be a gender divide in regards to the work of the ‘Spirit of prophecy’ (a term used to describe the Spirit during intertestamental Judaism). Peter declared that both sons and daughters, both males and females would both be included in this great work of the Spirit. And there would be no more age barrier either. Both young and old were to be included. The Spirit was now available to all of God’s people, not just a select few.
What was the fruit of such an outpouring of the Spirit? This is it: ‘and they shall prophesy’ (Acts 2:18). And this was what Moses himself had prophetically desired long ago:
Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them! (Numbers 11:29)
In general, in the old covenant, the Spirit of God would come upon a person for a particular task and would most times withdraw until needed again for another specific task. We see examples of this specifically with the judges: Othniel (Judges 3:10); Gideon (Judges 6:34); Jephthah (Judges 11:29); and Samson (Judges 14:6, 9; 15:14).
But, with the new covenant, the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh, that is all of God’s people irrespective of gender, age, social status, etc. With the Messiah seated at the right hand of God, He could pour out the expected blessing of the Messianic Age (Acts 2:33). And, with the inauguration of the new covenant, the Spirit would settle upon, or within, God’s people on a permanent basis!
Roger Stronstad clarifies such a doctrine in his book, The Prophethood of All Believers:
‘Jesus completed his redemptive ministry by giving orders to his disciples by the Holy Spirit about their imminent Spirit-baptism and empowering (Acts 1.2, 5, 8). Having ascended to heaven he then poured out the Spirit upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2.33). He thereby transferred the anointing and empowering Spirit from himself to them, just as the Lord had earlier transferred the Spirit from Moses to the 70 elders, from Saul to David, and from Elijah to Elisha. By this act of transferring the Spirit to his disciples, Jesus, the Spirit-anointed prophet, makes his disciples a community of Spirit-baptized prophets. This fulfils an ancient oracle of the prophet Joel about a future age of restoration and blessing when the entire nation or community of God’s people, irrespective of age, gender or social status, would have the Spirit poured out upon them. Thus, on the day of Pentecost Jesus inaugurated the prophethood of all believers.’ (p71)
Thus, by their very Spirit-nature, the people of God are called as a prophetic community. Therefore, each and everyone of the Spirit empowered people of God can be used in prophecy, as I believe Paul also hints at with the Corinthians (see 1 Corinthians 14:5, 31). This might be the reason why Paul seems to declare in 1 Corinthians 14 that prophecy and tongues are the two most readily available charismatic gifts of the Spirit within the gathering of God’s people, of course with a message in tongues functioning as prophecy when it is followed by an interpretation (see 1 Corinthians 14:5).
But, still, the purpose is not to simply utter a particular prophecy. The purpose is that our entire lives, both speech and actions, become a prophetic sign to a hurting and unbelieving world. To be prophetic ultimately means that we communicate the heart of God. And the prophetic community of believers are called to communicate the words and ways of God whether we are gathered together in worship, working at the office, having coffee with a friend, at the cash register (till) of a store, or wherever we find ourselves. This is our prophetic call as the body of Christ.
Thus, not only should we embrace the priesthood of all believers, but we should also recognise that the Scripture declares the prophethood of all believers. Such is amazing news! Such is also challenging! Nevertheless, this is our call as Spirit-empowered believers and, so, let us prophetically live our lives as a testimony to Jesus.