PROPHETS AND PROPHECY IN TODAY'S CHURCH
By Rev. Jim and Carolyn Murphy
PART ONE - PROPHECY
DIFFERENT KINDS OF PROPHECY
Prophecy is wide and varied in its scope. There are
a number of ways to divide, or categorize prophecy. For example, there
are prophecies concerning individuals, groups of people, and nations.
There are prophecies of prediction, prophecies of rebuke, prophecies of
guidance and so on. In this chapter I will divide prophecy into various
categories and sub-categories. This analysis is not to be held too
rigidly. My purpose is to assist the reader in better understanding the
various kinds of prophecy, not to try to over categorize the prophetic
Some prophecies involve the need for human action
and some do not. There are: 1) prophecies that are independent of man,
2) prophecies based on past actions by man but requiring no further
action on man's part, and 3) conditional prophecies based on man's
Prophecy independent of human action is that
prophecy which God brings about regardless of what any human being does
or does not do. An excellent example of this category of prophecy is
found in Isaiah:
For to us a
child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this. (Is 9:6-7 NIV).
Here we see a prophecy that God without doubt
intended to bring about regardless of human action or inaction. This
prophecy concerning the coming of Christ was completely independent of
man. Man could do nothing to stop nor fulfill this prophecy. God alone
was in control of its fulfillment. Note that the end of verse seven
says, “The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”
Another example of this kind of prophecy is found in
Genesis, chapter 25. The Lord was speaking to Rebekah about her two as
yet unborn sons:
The Lord said to her,
“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples from within you will be separated;
one people will be stronger than the other,
and the older will serve the younger.” (Gen 25:23 NIV).
God acted to bring the prophecy to pass. Let's look at Paul's analysis of this passage:
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses,
“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. (Rom 9:11-16 NIV).
I believe that prophecies in this category pertain
to the eternal plans and purposes of God. They concern events that,
from God's viewpoint, must happen. Therefore God sees to it that they
Prophecies in this category are those which are
based on past human deeds or actions but that require no further
action. An example of this type of prophecy is found in the book of
Jeremiah. Jeremiah prophesied to the King of Judah a period of 70 years
of Babylonian captivity. A false prophet named Hananiah opposed
Jeremiah and prophesied that God would break the “yoke” of the King of
Babylon within two years. Hananiah then removed and broke the wooden
yoke Jeremiah was symbolically wearing. Here's God's response:
I will even
give him control over the wild animals.'”
prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen, Hananiah! The
Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in
this is what the Lord says: `I am about to remove you from the face of
the earth. This very year you are going to die, because you have
rebellion against the Lord.'”
In the seventh
month of that same year, Hananiah the prophet died. (Jer 28:12-17 NIV).
There was no “if” or “but” given Hananiah. His past
action sealed his fate. God spoke. Hananiah died.
Conditional prophecy is that prophecy which is
dependent upon man's further action to cause it to come to pass. The
word “if” is often used in this type of prophecy although not always.
An excellent example of this type of prophecy is found in the Lord's
word to Israel:
Another example of this conditional prophecy is found in Deuteronomy
But if your
heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to
bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that
will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are
crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
This day I
call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before
you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you
and your children
may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice,
and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you
many years in
the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
(NIV, emphasis added).
A New Testament example of conditional prophecy is
found in Revelation:
These are the
words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks
among the seven golden lampstands: I know our deeds, your hard work and
perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have
tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them
You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have
not grown weary.
Yet I hold
this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the
height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at
If you do not
repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.
But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the
which I also hate.
He who has an
ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who
overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is
in the paradise
of God. (Rev 2:1-7 NIV, emphasis added).
In each of these examples man must act in accordance
with stated conditions in order to fulfill the prophecy. Human action
is a prerequisite for fulfillment. In the case of the “if” prophecies,
when man does not do what is required of him, the prophecy goes
unfulfilled. In the case of the “repent” prophecies, if man does not
repent, then certain consequences flow. On the other hand, if man does
repent, certain other consequences flow.
I know of a prophecy that called a woman to a
powerful ministry. She choose instead a life of sin and never entered
the ministry call that was on her life. It would be wrong to say that
the prophecy was false. She failed to fulfill the required conditions
which were to live a godly life, be diligent in prayer and Bible study,
and so on. Unfortunately prophecies in this conditional category often
go unfulfilled, yet the prophecies themselves are truly the word of the
Lord. It is just that the required subsequent human action never
I don't believe in reducing God's word to formulas
nor do I like putting God's prophetic words into little boxes. Yet I do
think it is helpful to recognize the following six different categories
of the prophetic word. Please note that one prophetic utterance may
contain two or more of these categories. They are:
(See I Cor 14:3 KJV)
Words of edification build up the hearer.
Words of exhortation motivate and renew the spirit of the hearer.
Words of comfort do just that, comfort the hearer.
Predictive words foretell things in the future.
Words of rebuke point out sin and extend a call to repentance.
Directive words are those which give guidance to the hearer concerning some action or decision most often relating to the immediate or near future.
In Chapter 15 we deal in depth with mature and
immature prophets. But for purposes of this section, I will just refer
to “mature” and “immature” prophets. The first three types of prophetic
word, edification, exhortation and comfort, may be delivered by either
a mature or immature prophet. Or they may also be delivered by one who
is not a called prophet but who is simply operating the gift of
prophecy. Why is this so? Because prophetic words in these three
categories generally can't do harm to the hearer.
We all need to hear the Lord's words of edification,
exhortation and comfort from time to time. They are for the building up
of the body of Christ. Furthermore, these words are easy to give. It is
very reasonable that the Lord would give these kinds of words through
the fledgling prophet or one who simply moves in the gift of prophecy.
It does not take a mature prophet with all the authority that that
entails to deliver these kinds of words.
The latter three kinds of words, predictive, rebuke,
and directive, are generally delivered by a more mature prophet. Why?
First, they can do much harm if they are not correct or are given at
the wrong time. It takes a seasoned prophet to know when he is
receiving this kind of word from God and what he or she should do about
For instance, a mature prophet often will be given a
word of this kind but he knows that the time is not right to deliver
it. A less mature prophet lacks such wisdom on timing.
A mature prophet takes no pleasure in delivering
these kinds of words, especially words of rebuke. A less mature prophet
is all too often eager to deliver words of rebuke. A mature prophet
also realizes the heavy responsibility and burden of directional words.
Again, the less mature prophet may not.
Words of prediction, rebuke or direction are most
often delivered with authority and, if the speaker is a tested and
proven prophet, the hearers are more likely to hear and respond. It
simply makes good sense that God would select His mature prophets to
“go and tell my people” these kinds of words. The young prophet who is
not too far along in the learning process is not as likely to be given
a harder word to deliver.
However, this is not a hard and fast rule. God
certainly has the prerogative to set this rule aside and may, on
occasion, use a less mature prophet to deliver His word, whatever its
content. This is especially true in the absence of a mature prophet.
There are two different time frames in the delivery
of the prophetic word. God causes his word to be given in what I call
the “Word of the Moment” and/or the “Word for a Season.”
The Word of the Moment is an utterance which is
spontaneous to the speaker. It occurs when God sovereignly moves on an
individual to speak forth a word that He wants the hearers to receive
immediately. This kind of word can be delivered by either a called
prophet or a person moving in the gift of prophecy.
For those churches with a more free move of the Holy
Spirit, an utterance of this kind most often comes in the weekly public
services. This is known as a public utterance and will always be in
harmony with the rest of the service if it is truly from God and if the
leadership is moving the service in harmony with the Holy Spirit's
Occasionally more private prophetic utterances of
the moment occur when believers are together in prayer, counseling,
worship, or even in conversation.
I define the Word for a Season as the word of the
Lord delivered after some time has been spent in prayer. It is a word
the Lord wants delivered to an individual or a church. Its content will
often be prediction, rebuke or guidance.
Most often this kind of word is delivered by a
called prophet who has been burdened by the Holy Spirit on behalf of an
individual or church. The prophet may spend days, weeks, or even months
in prayer with this burden. Then, when it has a fullness in his or her
spirit, and the Lord's timing is right, that person knows it is time to
deliver the word. Although less common, this word may also be delivered
by one who is not a called prophet but whom the Holy Spirit has
burdened about a situation and who has thoroughly prayed that burden
This word for a season is often delivered in the
form of a sermon or prophetic message to an entire church or group. A
speaker who has a prophetic call may come from outside a church with
this kind of word. Note, this word does not need to be a long sermon. I
recall once when the Lord sent our church a clear directive word which
was delivered by a visiting speaker in less than fifteen minutes. It
was very powerful and we knew at the time that it was the word of the
Lord to us for that season.
Note the word “season” does not necessarily mean now. It can apply to the past, present, or future. And remember, all prophecy, both public and private, is to be submitted for judgement. It is this judging of the prophetic word we now examine in chapter four.