The Gift of Prophecy 101

On Sunday at Cornerstone, after a few weeks of visiting speakers, I continued on from my introduction to the gifts of the Spirit. I began what will be a two-Sunday series on the gift of prophecy, maybe something like seminars entitled Prophecy 101 and Prophecy 102.

You can listen to the message by clicking on the icon below, or you can download from Cornerstone’s podcast site or iTunes.

For those interested, the major thrust of my message can be found in the article below.

There are five terms I specifically discussed:

1) Revelation

At times, in discussing this word amongst varying Christians, there are two unhelpful perspectives that I believe can arise from the term revelation. They are as follows:

a) Super-scary

This comes with regards to some ideas about the book of Revelation. The Greek word for revelation is apokalupsis, and it’s where we get our word apocalypse. And that word apocalypse brings up all sorts of unhelpful images, with a special thanks to Hollywood in recent decades.

Oddly enough, the word apokalupsis or revelation simply means an unveiling or an uncovering. As an illustration, it’s quite like being present at a theatre play and awaiting the beginning scene of the play. The curtains are drawn closed and everyone is chattering away with anticipation of the opening scene. And, at the first sound of the pit orchestra, the curtains open and the crowd sees the beautiful and intriguing set designed on stage, the cast of characters beginning with a great dance, etc. With that, we just had an unveiling, an uncovering.

The same is true of God’s revelation. When God reveals, He is pulling back the curtain, if you will, for us to see.

b) Super-spiritual

Some Christians hold that God is no longer revealing Himself (they might term it as no more ‘special’ revelation) because we now have all of God’s revelation fully and finally recorded within the canon of Scripture. The Bible is the final measuring stick for the beliefs and practises of the church and, thus, God no longer speaks and specifically reveals Himself. But I have three minor points to bring up about God revealing Himself today.

a) No new redemptive revelation.

I would agree with just about every evangelical Christian that God is no longer bringing forth new redemptive revelation. To claim such is dangerous. Well, it’s heretical. We believe that Jesus Christ and his work alone is the final word on God’s redemptive plans for all peoples. To that, there is nothing to add. As Paul said, if we preach another gospel than the finished work of Christ and, well, one will be cursed (Gal 1:8-9).

b) God has always been speaking and acting outside the Bible.

As I always make sure I communicate, I recognise that the Bible stands as the measuring stick for our faith and the practice of our faith. And, within the the text, we find a very thorough account of all God has said and done from the beginning until the first century. We truly know this is God’s inspired word.

But, of course, the Scripture does not record every word and act of God, does it? A couple of small examples are found in 1 Sam 10:10-13 and 1 Tim 1:18-19. In the first, we find Saul empowered by the Spirit prophesying amongst a group of prophets. What they said was not recorded in Scripture. But there is no doubt that, as prophecy, it would have been Spirit-inspired utterance. In the second example, we read of Paul reminding Timothy of the prophetic words that were made about him and that ‘by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience’. In both situations, we would have found Spirit-inspired prophecy. But in neither case do we find those prophetic, and revelatory, words recorded in Scripture. The event is mentioned, but not the specific words. And that is quite ok. God has been doing it ever since the beginning and He will keep doing so until all things are completed in Christ.

c) God speaks and reveals today.

As all would note, nothing that God speaks and reveals today would contradict the tenor of Scripture summed up in Christ and the gospel. Such is out of bounds, for we are convinced Scripture is the word of God.

And, so, one way that God still speaks today is through Scripture. Some refer to this as illumination, which is a helpful term. But some use it over and above the term revelation, for they are convinced God no longer does it. But both terms do refer to God unveiling Himself, making Himself known to His creations. It’s just that the term illumination centres around light. And revelation also has to do with light, because revelation helps us see better. So I believe the terms are connected, kind of semantical cousins.

Now, when I say God speaks through Scripture, I do mean that He speaks from the God-breathed words that are right there in the text. But I also believe that He utilises those same words, at times, to speak things that were not intended within the text. I will give you one example from my own life. One day, as I was reading Jesus’ words in Matt 6:21 – For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – I understood that Jesus was speaking in the context of challenging people that they cannot have two masters. Such is impossible. But, as I was meditating on the passage, God said to me, ‘Scott, this is true of me as well. Where my treasure is, there my heart is also. And my people are my treasures, and, therefore, my heart is with them.’

God utilised Scripture to speak to me. It wasn’t something ‘in between the lines’. But God definitely used what was already there to reveal more of His heart to me. Now, sure, I could have also received that from reading Psalm 139 or other passages. But God took the text I was meditating on and spoke to me right then and there. Of course, many a folk claim this, with some of it being quite off-base. But there are some guidelines that can prove helpful, of which I have shared a bit here.

Still, I also believe very much that God speaks and reveals Himself ‘outside’ of what is in the Bible. Again, the Bible is the measuring stick for such revelation and that which is truly from God will not contradict that summation of Scripture in Christ. But the reality is that God is a relational and living God, and relational and living beings actually communicate. It’s part and parcel to being relational. I cannot imagine God not speaking, not revealing, not unveiling. It’s at the core of who He is. So God will and does speak, even if there is no verse and chapter number to quote.

2) New revelation

The big question I always get asked is: Is this new revelation?

I have talked about this already above, but I would say there is absolutely no new redemptive revelation. Again, Christ and his work are the final word on that. Such is a closed chapter. But, with regards to God speaking into our lives, our situations, our churches, even the nations today, I am ok to recognise it as ‘new’. Why? Because our lives, situations, churches, etc, are not detailed in Scripture. God didn’t speak about Scott Lencke in Scripture. God did not speak about Cornerstone in Scripture. God did not speak about 21st century Belgium in Scripture. Of course, that which is in Scripture speaks into all three of those. But not in a detailed sense. And I find God still regularly speaks, with detail, into those areas of real life.

3) Prophet

I didn’t spend a long time on this, but I did give what I believe is a solid, working definition of a prophet: one who received and brought forth a direct, inspired, revelatory message from God.

Now, some of these prophets, especially in the Old Testament, were given the amazing, special and authoritative privilege of having their words recorded in the Scripture. And for that every Christian is thankful for their God-inspired words in the Bible. But, of course, not every prophet had their words recorded in Scripture. But, such people were still utilised in direct, inspired, revelatory messages from God, with this ministry continuing into the new covenant era (i.e. Agabus, those in Corinth, those in Antioch in Acts 13:1-3, Philip’s daughters, etc), and I am very much convinced it still continues today.

4) Prophetic community

I have shared about this a lot, but, suffice it to say, because the Spirit of prophecy was to be poured out on all God’s people as of Pentecost, we now have a prophetic community in the whole body of Christ. When Peter stood up on that great day, he quoted some words from Joel’s prophecy:

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 2:17-18)

The reality is that now, male and female, young and old, are part of the prophetic community of all believers. We don’t simply have the priesthood of all believers, but we now also have the prophethood of all believers. I share much more in this article.

5) Prophecy

Finally, I began to touch on the gift of prophecy. There is much more to share next Sunday (and, thus, in another post here). But here are a few things I shared thus far.

I believe there are two misunderstandings about prophecy:

a) Prophecy is mainly about prediction.

I am not a fan of the word prediction because it makes one think of fortune telling and palm reading, which is, of course, very dangerous. I would rather use the term forth telling. And, yes, God forth tells things to come. Such is right through the Bible, and I have known such today as well. But prophecy isn’t always about saying something to the effect of: In the next week, events A, B and C will take place in your life. Why? Because the goal is not prediction. The goal is summarised fairly by Paul in these words:

On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. ( 1 Cor 14:3)

Prophecy could include forth telling from God, of directives and things to await with regards to ‘the future’. But that is not the central core of prophecy. Prophecy is God unveiling His plans, His purposes, His ways, His heart for the upbuilding, encouragement and consolation of His people.

b) Prophecy is mainly about rebuke.

This is another misnomer for some. Again, a quick glance at 1 Cor 14:3 reminds us of one central goal with prophecy. It doesn’t mean that prophecy is merely a pat on the back with a, ‘You’ll be ok. Hang in there.’ At times, prophecy will involve correction and rebuke. But even in rebuke and correction, such comes forth with the ultimate goal of seeing people strengthened, edified and built up. This is in line with Paul’s earlier words about the purpose of all gifts of the Spirit:

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Cor 12:7)

Therefore, I would say a helpful and good working definition for prophecy is this: a Spirit-inspired, intelligible, verbally delivered message intended to edify, encourage and comfort other believers. I’ve seen this happen on a regular basis for the past 12 years of my life in Christ and I would never, ever be moved from seeing it as something foregone, ending a long time ago with the finished product of our canon of Scripture. And I have not only known prophecy and revelation to come forth today, but I have also known the true fruit to come from it, that of upbuilding, strengthening, encouragement, exhortation and the common good.

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The Prophethood of All Believers

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;

1
8 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.