Of course, there is plenty of discussion, still today, on whether or not prophecy and prophets still exist. For me, I am convinced that these ministry gifts have continued throughout the new covenant, Messianic age. Why? Simply we are told that the ‘last days’ would be marked by the whole body being Spirit-indwelt and the fruit of such would be prophecy for male and female, young and old (see Acts 2:17-18). I share more detailed thoughts here.
But what I find when one discusses the nature of the prophet and prophecy is that so many people direct their understanding of such mainly into the words of the Old Testament. Ok, let me start off by dealing with any accusations that I am saying the Old Testament is irrelevant and not important for today. That is, by no means, what I am saying. But what I am convinced of is that the Old Testament words are no longer the full and final revelation with regards to the ministry of the prophet or the gift of prophecy, nor being the final words on anything with regards to our faith.
This is the bigger picture now: We no longer read the Old Testament in and of itself as the full and final statement on God’s revelation. To do so would be detrimental to our faith that is centred in Christ. Rather Christ and the New Testament stand as the great revelation of God’s purpose and plans for His people and the whole cosmos.
Can we imagine what might happen if we centred our faith in the Old Testament? Though this example is quite overdone, if we simply read the Old Testament without the lens of the New Testament to shed greater light on the text, some might end up herding large animals into our church gatherings ready to sacrifice them. Yes, absurd, but nonetheless something to think about in an extreme way of not allowing the New Testament be that which it is – both the great interpreter of the old covenant revelation and that which even supersedes the old covenant revelation.
And, if we didn’t read the Old Testament through the greater revelatory lens of the New Testament, there might a whole host of other requirements we might be prone to lay upon the people of God. For example, circumcision of our sons. They did try that one a while back. Paul had some interesting words for those Galatians. Or how about some of the commands in Deuteronomy or Joshua on the dealings with the Canaanite peoples of that day. I’m glad I have the words of Jesus calling us to love our enemies (Matt 5:43-48) and Paul’s words that help us realise that our waging of war is actually against spiritual dark forces and not so much flesh and blood (Eph 6:10-12). Unfortunately, in church history, some have used those words of the Old Testament to justify attack on our enemies.
And the list could go on and on if we were to speak of particular laws, commands and even foreshadowings of greater things to come. And I’m sure we are aware of plenty of people who have been entrapped by such words. I know I’ve been there myself. Yet, instead, we read a kind of summary statement of the better nature of Christ and the new covenant in these words:
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. (Heb 8:6)
So, when it comes to the ministry of the prophet and the nature of prophecy, why can we get so entangled in deeply embedding our understanding within the Old Testament framework. Again, I believe we can definitely learn aspects of the nature of the prophetic ministry from the Old Testament, and we definitely draw upon those powerful words of the Old Testament. But we do not centre our understanding in the Old Testament any longer. I believe such can be detrimental to our understanding of anything with regards to our faith, whether we would identify such as an essential or a non-essential.
So, where do we centre the ministry of the prophet and gift of prophecy? In Christ Himself, of course! It is Jesus who stands as the great prophet, for He spoke the very words of God (see John 3:34) and, even more, we see Jesus was the very Word of God made flesh (John 1:1). Thus, He now becomes central. And, so, we recognise a major shift has take place from the Old Testament to the New.
For some, this might be seem as ammunition to up the ante and expectation of the prophetic. And I understand, knowing Christ is the great prophet of God, the very Word of God. But, when we read the pages of the Gospels, do we not see all over the pages that even the practical nature of prophecy has changed. We might even say there is a stark contrast between the ministry of someone like John the Baptist and Jesus within those same Gospel pages. One functions more in line with old covenant prophets. One functions in line with the new covenant age that is being ushered in.
So, whereas it seems that some people’s favourite words about prophets are centred in places like Deut 13:1-5, or a few chapters later in Deut 18:15-22 (esp. vs20), not to mention that the greater prophet of Deut 18:15-18 has now come, we need to shift towards the Gospels being the place where we found the greater part of our theology on prophets and prophecy. We start with that One who spoke the very words of God and was the Word of God Himself. If anything, though I am adamant that grace is found throughout the pages of the Old Testament, the gracious nature of the prophetic is now busting at the seams (see Luke 4:16-22).
And, now, with Christ as our foundation in this ministry, we can faithfully move forward into the rest of the New Testament with a proper launching point, not to mention that we can now properly read the Old Testament through the lens of the ministry of Christ. Reading the words and viewing the life of the Son of God as portrayed in the Gospels asks us to rethink passages in the Old Testament, whether in Deuteronomy or 2 Samuel or Zechariah, etc.
Now granted, as we move forward into the great teaching of the New Testament, there is not an extreme amount of teaching and practical instruction on prophecy. Or, to state it better, the teaching that is there isn’t given to us as a perfectly laid out car instruction manual answering every question and query. But, the New Testament has a good deal with which to help us. We can start by reading the pages of the early church in Acts, watching the prophetic take place, not simply through apostles, but through the wider church as well. For remember, Peter’s quoting of Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2:17-18 is a proclamation that we have moved into an era of the whole body of Christ carrying a prophetic ministry. No, not all are prophets. But a Spirit-indwelt and Spirit-empowered people can now participate in living prophetic lives and speaking forth prophetic words that point to the purposes and heart of God.
And, of course, we have the instructive words of 1 Corinthians 14, where we are stirred with words such as these:
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Cor 14:1)
Then we find a smattering of other instructive words throughout the New Testament on this ministry gift, such as Rom 12:6; Eph 4:11-13 1 Tim 1:18-19; 1 Tim 4:14; and Rev 19:10.
Ever since that day when God became incarnate flesh, the Son of God being declared the great prophet of the ages, a major shift has taken place in not only the ministry of the prophet and the gift of prophecy, but in all things pertaining to our faith. This is what we proclaim for a new covenant that was enacted on better promises. So, let us, no doubt, learn about the prophetic from the words and teachings of the Old Testament. But let us centre our understanding of such in its proper place, that being Christ and the New Testament teaching.