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By Malcolm B Heap, Midnight Ministries
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Prophets are mentioned in the New Testament. We find Agabus, the prophet, in Acts 11:27,28 and 21:10,11. There were prophets in the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1), although we don't know their names. And two more prophets, this time named (Judas and Silas), are seen in Acts 15:32.
1. Do prophets exist today?
Yes. The few citations in Acts, which are mentioned opposite, demonstrate clearly that the prophetic office did not cease when Jesus gave His Spirit to the entire Church after Pentecost.
Jesus is the same today as He was 1970 years ago (Heb 13:7). He has raised up and utilised the services of prophets throughout time.
The Church is not perfected yet, and Jesus said through Paul that as long as the Church is imperfect, the offices of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher ('the five-fold ministry') will be here (Eph 4:11-13).
The office of prophet is not to be confused with the manifestation of prophesying. While a prophet may prophesy – that is, speak forth or write down words by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – not all who prophesy are prophets.
[If you are unfamiliar with other basics of such matters as prophets and prophesying, please read the publication we provide by that title.]
2. Why, if God has now given His Spirit universally throughout His Church, with individual spiritual gifts for each person (Acts 2:17,18), do we need to listen to prophets? Surely God can work through the prophetic gifts He has given to many individuals as it says in Acts 2:18?
God can and does speak through many Spirit-endowed individuals. His desire is to lead everyone individually by His Spirit. That is His ideal. [This truth is amplified in the booklets Listening To God and An Introduction to the Spiritual Gifts.] However, in this imperfect world and imperfect Church, there is still need for Him to speak also through specially assigned prophets. Why? Because, even people who prophesy can fail to hear Him in certain aspects or areas.
To take one example: doctrine versus heresy. Ideally, God wants to iron out all false doctrine in the Church. If that were achieved, unity could result instead of the massive division that exists. But if He were to speak to you via prophetic words with the truth that counters a widely-accepted but false dogma, you would seriously question whether your prophetic words were coming from God!
Furthermore, God generally does not challenge doctrinal issues through prophetic words. Prophesying is for edifying, encouragement and comfort, primarily (1 Cor 14:3). He leaves doctrinal issues up to you to get to the bottom of, by using your intellect as you allow the Holy Spirit to enlighten you. And since the acceptance of pure truth is closely tied in with matters of the heart, such as desire, pride, self-will, and prejudice – and such acceptance or rejection of truth is part of a test of your character – He's not going to make things so easy, is He?
You have got to be willing to accept truth in order to believe it; just as you have got to be willing to prophesy in order to accept the gift. Some people are too selfish and self-contained to want more truth, or to prophesy for others' benefit.
3. What is the prophet's function?
In one word it is restoration. He is God's messenger to restore something that has been, or is being, lost.
a) If it's righteousness that is being lost to sin, and the individual or the group of believers are not sufficiently open to the Spirit to receive correction and redirection by themselves, the Almighty harnesses a prophet to come to their rescue.
He comes to correct, in order to redirect.
He is sent to make straight paths (Is 40:3), to heave out of the way the obstacles that are strewn along the road (Is 57:14).
Correction inevitably hurts the proud and lofty. It brings them down (Is 40:4). In Jesus' calling as the Greatest Prophet of all, His coming was for the FALL of many who were lifted up (Luke 2:34). But conversely, He lifted up those who were downtrodden and crushed (Luke 2:34).
Spiritually, the prophet is an essential part of the process of humbling and restoration. You can't have the one without the other.
b) Each prophet has his own 'remit' from God – his own area of calling and responsibility. I cannot speak for other prophets individually, but I know my own calling involves primarily two things:
Naturally, what I have to write to them involves correction. In nearly all cases, they don't like it, and they react with hostility or some other wrong approach such as deceit. Instead of humbly acknowledging their sin, and turning away from it, they compound it. They add sin to sin.
Judgement falls from God in due course.
It's not my will, nor God's, to bring judgement upon them. But their stubborn refusal to accept what the prophet brought from God, resulted in their downfall. We have seen judgement fall, in this sequence, upon a number of men of God who had got so high and mighty that they just could not be reached. One man dropped dead not long after our confrontation. Others lost out in other ways. They went further into deception and demise.
God is not mocked! (Gal 6:7.)
God wants to restore, but that is up to the person. God never forces anyone against their will.
In all the instances in which God moves us to confront various evangelists, apostles, leaders of churches, ministries, etc., He also gives us the salient input we need. Usually this is in the form of dreams to give a basic outline, and then as I am writing to them, I receive words of knowledge and other thoughts to put on paper. I often check the letter at the end, via a word count, and know from the number of words which God has moved me to use, what the outcome will be, or some other features of the confrontation that would otherwise be unknown. The Lord Almighty is Palmoni or the Wonderful Numberer. [That and numeric symbolism are all explained in the booklet God's Great Genius.]
But if anyone humbles himself and receives the prophet in the name of a prophet, he receives the prophet's reward (Matt 10:41).
4. What does it mean to receive a prophet in the name of a prophet, and what is the prophet's reward?
When you 'receive a prophet in the name of a prophet' you receive him as a prophet, not merely as a man. Of course, he is a man. He is not to be revered. Only God is to be revered. Jesus is revered because He is God. But man is not, nor are prophets, even though they receive things from God's Spirit that are unique to them.
However, it is appropriate to respect what a prophet says when He receives input from Above. That does not mean that when a prophet is in 'normal mode' and is 'larking about' on (say) a football pitch with children, having fun, that you should respect everything he says. No, it's when he has a 'word' from God, a revelation that involves matters of SPIRITUAL importance to give spiritual guidance to others, that you should listen. And I don't mean just hear what he says and then forget it. Listening must be accompanied by doing.
Heed what prophets are given that is spiritual in nature, and you will be receiving a prophet in the name of a prophet, not merely as a man.
The reward you receive for doing so is called the prophet's reward. It's what he brings with his message from God's Throne. God always comes to bless His people. If that must be preceded by correction, it's still a blessing – although those who are rebellious misinterpret that.
Simply, the prophet's reward – because you are willing to accept him as a prophet who speaks for God to you – is understanding his message. Because you are willing to receive it, you are blessed by what he has brought, which is revelation from God.
Through it, you can know more, and experience more, of God in your own life! You couldn't have a greater reward than that in this life, could you?
5. What does a prophet look like?
God calls whom He chooses. He does not look on the outward appearance. He looks on the heart (1 Sam 16:7). A prophet can, therefore, seem very ordinary. And, of course, he IS very ordinary on a human level. What makes him far from ordinary in the spiritual course of things is his function. He is a messenger for God, to bring much needed redirection from Him for God's people.
So, don't look at the packaging – his outward appearance or personality. Look at the package – the spiritual truth he delivers.
I once heard of a man who called himself a prophet and wore a long robe and sandals, and took a staff with him. (Not office staff, by the way, but a rod like Moses held.) He drew attention to himself by his outlandish, anachronistic mode of dress. He was conceited and proud. He was a false prophet!
The main character trait of a true prophet is his (or her) humility. He can be quite self-effacing. But when a prophet corrects others, that humility certainly isn't recognised by them! They misinterpret his boldness, or outspoken or blunt manner, as arrogance. It's not. It's what the Spirit causes him to do in order to champion God's cause.
When Jesus stormed into the Temple precincts and upturned the money changers' tables, whipped the animals and traders and drove them all out, that display of zeal was not arrogance. But many a tutting mouth thought it was. Prophets are always misunderstood.
6. What makes a true prophet true and a false prophet false?
Popular belief is that a false prophet's prophecies fail to come true, whereas those of a true prophet do come true, and that differentiates a true prophet from false. However, it's not as simple as that.
In Deuteronomy 13:1-3 God warned Israel of false prophets whose prophecies would come true:
If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you saying, 'Let us go after other gods' – which you have not known – 'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut 13:1-3, NKJV).
Similar injunctions are in the New Testament:
For false Christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, the elect (Matt 24:24, NKJV).
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn 4:1).
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works (2 Cor 11:13-15, NKJV).
Notice that testing the merits of the prophet is according to the works. The crux of whether a person is true or false is not merely whether their prophecies come true or don't come true, (although many more false prophets' predictions fail to come true than those given to true prophets). It is this:
You will know them by their [spiritual] fruits (Matt 7:16).
Those spiritual fruits are defined in Galatians 5:22, and contrasted with the evil fruits of false prophets, whose lives are not obedient to God according to the way of the Spirit (Gal 5:19-21). These evidences are the outcome of what is inside the person, what is in their heart.
So, the proof of whether a prophet is false or true is not what you see or hear on the outside, but the motive within.
Balaam is credited with some of the earliest and most authentic prophecies which are still recorded in God's Word (e.g. Num 24:17). Yet he was a false prophet, because his heart wanted to entertain evil.
More on this issue is provided in Beware of False Prophets in Testing The Spirits (£6.00).
7. Can a true prophet turn false?
Yes. A prophet is true as long as he is obedient to God from the heart. But if his heart veers away to want to do contrary to God's will, he (or she) can fall away. The same can happen to any other believer (Heb 12:15-25). There are several warnings about this in the New Testament (expounded more in the booklet Apostasy In God's Church!).
False prophets can get a mixture of revelation – part from God, but contaminated or corrupted by what they also receive from demons.
8. Since a false prophet can utter true prophecies, can the converse also occur? Can a true prophet give prophecies that are false?
No. It is written of Samuel the prophet that none of his words fell to the ground in all his life (1 Sam 3:19). In other words, nothing which he uttered under the inspiration of God failed to come to pass.
However, there are times when a true prophet can be given personal prophecies for other people that don't come to pass. That's not because they were not given by God. It's because all personal prophecies are conditional. They depend upon the recipient following the correct course of action for God to fulfil His words to them. (Explained in When Prophecies Fail in Articles of Faith, Vol 4.)
There is also another apparent anomaly in prophesying which many do not understand. It concerns the interpretation of the prophecy.
In the receipt of any prophecy from God there are several aspects:
1. The prophecy or revelation itself.
2. The interpretation or meaning.
3. The application – how to apply the revelation in life.
4. The timing.
Interpretation: If the prophecy is not understood and a wrong interpretation is placed upon it – which can occur, because human reasoning is subject to error if one is not allowing the Holy Spirit to lead the thinking, or it's not God's time to reveal the meaning – then the prophecy can appear to fail.
God allows this in many situations, and He even sets things up knowing that prophecies will be misunderstood and misinterpreted by those whose hearts are not right with Him. When things don't happen the way the errant party thinks, they wrongly accuse the prophet of being false. They are sifted.
Most people reject true prophets, and many Christians fall away because they wrongly discern. True discernment is only via the Spirit of God, and the Spirit can only properly work through the obedient.
To give an example of a perceived 'failed prophecy', in 1996 God spoke to me through a prophetic word, or word of knowledge. What I heard Him say were: "This country has three years left!" We knew that we were close to the end. We knew the Great Tribulation is to precede Jesus' coming by about 3½ years, and we thought at first that He meant there were only three years until the start of that.
However, that interpretation was not correct. It wasn't one that came from God. It was speculation only, because God did not provide an interpretation. All we could do was speculate on what He meant.
Later, He led our understanding to know the real meaning – that He had given the country three years grace in which, if the government and the people turned to Him, He would turn back the impending punishment.
But, several individuals who were on our mailing list did not have a right heart. When Britain was not engulfed in the Tribulation in 1999, they accused me of being a false prophet and fell away. They were tested!
Remember the words of Moses:
...God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut 13:3, NKJV).
Many don't really love God. They are selfish and want to stay that way. Such people have delusions of their own importance or correctness. They are proud. They think they are right and seek to find fault with those who ARE being used by God. They reject true prophets.
Because they don't love the truth, God sends them a strong delusion and they believe the lie that Satan feeds them (2 Thes 2:10-12).
Application: The application of any prophecy – how you should respond to the revelation given – depends upon you. If you are humble and willing to do anything God says, He will reveal the meaning to you at the right time, and guide you to see the correct interpretation (also at the right time), and help you to fall in line with His will that the prophetic revelation discloses.
Timing: Never forget what God inspired through Habakkuk:
...the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay (Hab 2:3).
God raises up prophets who are faithful to Him, but many false prophets are about! It is they who bring scorn and derision on the work and messages of true prophets which are often hard to understand.
9. Should a person desire to be a prophet or to prophesy?
There are two questions here. The answer to the first is no. The answer to the second is yes.
Prophets are appointed by God. They are assigned by Him, not by men. He is working out a purpose, and according to that plan He appoints prophets, as well as the other ministries (Eph 4:11).
Likewise, He gives spiritual gifts, including prophesying, to those whom He chooses (1 Cor 12:11).
However, one of the most beneficial gifts in the local fellowship is prophesying, and it is not wrong to desire to prophesy (for the right reasons). It is a gift to be much desired! (1 Cor 14:1.)
10. Why is it wrong to desire to be a prophet? Whom does God call to be prophets?
Many people have a wrong view of the prophetic office and look upon it as an elevated position. Their concept is based upon a deception about what true authority is in the Church. They want to feel important or to be elevated. This pride is a root of spiritual apostasy. When Lucifer desired to be noticed, to be important, he was rejected and became Satan (Isaiah 14:12-16; Ezek 28:13-17).
People who are similarly lifted up by pride also fall. God cannot use them.
God even knows beforehand whom He can trust and who will not fall through pride. Some of these He calls to be true prophets. He also builds into them the right qualities in early life, so that they can fulfil their tasks later.
Because God is all-knowing (omniscient), He knows what will occur before it does and how you will turn out through your human life (Ps 139, particularly verse 16). He knows each person this thoroughly – something which is too much for many people to grasp!
He also calls some to be prophets whose hearts are like Asa's. Asa was faithful to God most of his life, but he stepped back into disobedience and rebellion in his old age (see 2 Chron 16:7-12). Some whom He calls to be prophets (and evangelists, and even apostles) are like that. They are faithful most of their lives, but God sees the imperfections in their character, and that they will disown Him in the end.
However, God's ingenuity is unfathomable to the human mind. He uses such individuals for a while, knowing that they will achieve what He has in mind – for the benefit of others – realising that the privileges will cause them to be puffed up and to 'blow out'. Hence Jesus' stark warning in Matthew 7:21-23 to any who are proud of what they think they have accomplished. If you allow ministry to inflate your ego, God will reject you!
While it is right to eagerly desire to prophesy, it must never be sought for selfish gain or self-elevation or self-advancement. That allows the devil in to corrupt the gift. (We have seen a number of individuals with wonderful prophetic gifts get puffed up and spiritually ruined by their wrong approach.)
The gift is not given for your good, but for the benefit of others to whom you can minister through prophetic utterance. God's purposes through prophesying are to impart encouragement, comfort and hope (1 Cor 14:3).
11. You said that a prophet's main function is to correct others when they are in sin and don't realise it (Q 3). Isn't this against Jesus' higher command not to judge others? (Matt 7:1.)
No. What Jesus was proscribing in Matthew 7:1 was an attitude of wanting to find fault with others. There are several instructions in the New Testament – not merely for prophets, but for all believers who are sufficiently spiritually-minded – to correct (e.g. Gal 6:1; James 5:19,20).
But the prophet's duty – when the Spirit urges him to do so – goes above and beyond this responsibility of correcting in love which each believer should exercise in appropriate situations. His brief from God is to tear down in much bigger areas or issues than the individual believer has either access to or ability to do.
This responsibility of the prophet is more than correction. In many instances it is the precursor to judgement – a final warning to the wicked before God acts.
While the prophet's heart is to want to see the person restored – which is why God can use him as the rod of His correction – very often it simply is not possible because of rebellion and stubbornness.
(More on judging in the Church is revealed in Volume 2 of Articles of Faith under the title Should You Judge In The Church?)
12. I have heard it said that a prophet will offend the mind to reveal the heart. What does this mean?
When a prophet receives a revelation about someone (invariably in a dream), and then tells that person, it can offend them. Often it's meant to. Isaiah insulted the leaders of Israel by calling them rulers of Sodom (Is 1:10). Jeremiah was blunt to the false prophets (Jer 22 and 23). Ezekiel was uncompromising in his assault on the ears of the people and priests (Ezek 34:1-10). Why? Because they would not obey God! (Ezek 33:31).
They were hell-bent on doing what they wanted. It hurt God immensely! Because of their disobedient course and their REFUSAL to receive correction, God exposed their disobedience to the prophet.
Their self-reliance and self-will stemmed from arrogance and pride. Because they lacked humility, they would not receive correction, but they got it nonetheless! And, in such a state of mind, it hurt!
Had they been truly humble, it would not have hurt. In fact, it would not have come. God only needs to deal harshly with those who are obdurate against Him, after He has tried to redirect them via their spirit.
When a person is offended at such correction, they invariably lash out verbally against the prophet. That's when they show to themselves their true colours. They can see how wrong they are behaving, and if they can be rescued spiritually, they will repent and change.
THAT'S the eventual aim of all prophetic ministry – to restore you to God. & Malcolm B Heap
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