PROPHETS AND PROPHECY IN TODAY'S CHURCH
By Rev. Jim and Carolyn Murphy
PART ONE - PROPHECY
THE PROPHETIC MESSAGE
In this chapter I want to examine God's prophetic
messages to us in both the Old and New Testament. There always seem to
be people on the scene who have a “new word” for the church. The Church
of Jesus Christ must be able to test these new words. How? As always,
we must first test them by measuring them against Scripture. If they
are consistent with the Word of God, then we can continue our
examination of them. But if they do not have a foundation in Scripture,
we should reject them and not waste any more time or energy dealing
with them. Part of that testing requires that God's church have a clear
focus on His prophetic words to His people through the ages. Scripture
declares the mind of God beyond time. He, in His word, has given us
clear guidelines which we must know and follow to stay free from modern
day prophetic error.
I believe if we study and come to understand the
common threads in the messages delivered by the prophets in Scripture
throughout the ages, we will be far less likely to fall into error.
God always had His hand and covering upon the people
of Israel. Joseph's descendants remained slaves in Egypt until the time
of Moses. During that time different nations worshipped different pagan
gods. The Egyptians were no different. The Jews, as slaves in Egypt,
were exposed to these pagan rituals and a multitude of gods. The
Israelites had to be turned from a nation of slaves in the midst of
pagan gods into a monotheistic, God-fearing, disciplined, sanctified
nation prepared to receive the Messiah. God used His prophets mightily
in this process.
An examination of the books of prophecy in Scripture
has led me to conclude that there are five general areas of prophetic
messages. They are:
2) The Conditional Covenant,
4) Messianic Prophecy, and
5) Eschatological (end-time)
When God delivered the Israelites from Egypt and set
about making them into a coherent people, He began to teach them to
worship the One True God, Yahweh. In God's first conversation with
Moses, He began by telling him that “I am the God of your fathers, the
God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” (Ex 3:6 NIV).
“I am who I am.” (Ex 3:14 NIV). In other words, God began the Mosaic
period by teaching the Israelites He was and is their one and only true
God reinforced this idea at every turn for the
Israelites. He was continually calling them to worship Him and no
other. Note the first several verses in the Ten Commandments:
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself an idol in the
form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the
waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for
I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God. . . . (Ex 20:2-5 NIV).
Every time the Israelites encountered a hardship,
God took that opportunity to teach them to trust Him. This was
especially true during the forty year period the Israelites wandered in
the wilderness. He wanted them to come to realize beyond a shadow of a
doubt that they could have complete faith in Him and trust Him with
their very lives. God showed the Israelites over and over again that He
was the Lord of nature and the Master of men. This Lordship extended
over all creation and over all nations.
Throughout Scripture as God's word to His people, He
continually affirms His promise to be their God if they would obey Him.
These promises by God to His people are called conditional covenants.
We see these conditional covenants very clearly in the Old Testament.
Let us examine examples of these covenants in Exodus and Jeremiah:
Thus, God repeatedly warned the nation of Israel to
depart from sin and urged them to partake of the holy life. As part of
this personal and collective responsibility, or conditional covenant,
God taught the Israelites to care for themselves, the poor, the
stranger, and those in their society who were generally unprotected by
a strong male family member. God made provision for food by requiring
the landowners to leave the gleanings from the harvest for the poor to
eat. This was the food provided for Ruth and Naomi in the Book of Ruth.
Conversely, God made it clear that it was a sin not to help the
fatherless and widows who could not provide for themselves. Contrary to
our generally held belief that God destroyed Sodom only because of
sexual sin, we read in Ezekiel:
God is absolutely holy. He is a God of justice, love
and holiness. Man, after the fall of Adam and Eve, was and is sinful.
Sin is what divides man from God. God had to begin to show His chosen
people their sin in order to set the stage for man's redemption through
Throughout the period of time encompassed in the
Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, God gave the
Israelites very specific laws, commands, regulations, and rules by
which to conduct their worship of Him as well as all aspects of their
daily personal and collective lives. These are commonly referred to as
the Mosaic laws. God was interested in everything the Israelites did
from who was to be selected as the high priest to how to tend to sores
on their bodies.
God continually taught the Jews to be obedient to
His commands and laws. As the Israelites seemingly absorbed these laws
and rules, God gave them more of His direction through His prophets. He
used the prophets repeatedly to appoint leaders over the nation of
Israel, to direct their movements and their battles with encountered
enemies, and to establish them in the land He was giving them.
As part of this prophetic teaching and guiding, God
tried to impart to His people an awareness of sin, both corporate sin
and individual sin. He wanted His people to understand their
responsibility to Him and the consequences of their disobedience to His
laws and directions.
Hence we see in Scripture the prophets educating the
people as to what God's demands were (and still are). They include
seeking God, observing God's commandments and laws, pursuing social
justice, and practicing the virtues which lead to personal and
corporate holiness. The prophets made it clear that forms of external
worship were (and are) not enough. “Man looks at the outward
appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (I Sam 16:7 NIV).
In addition to God's repeated directives to the
nation of Israel to worship only Him and to obey His laws and commands,
He also planted in them, through His prophets, an understanding that He
would someday send to them a Messiah who would redeem them and the
world. Through salvation in His son, Jesus Christ, God made a way for a
new life of divine forgiveness, virtue, holiness, a true knowledge of
God, peace, joy, and eternal life in His presence.
The Book of Isaiah contains several very moving
passages proclaiming the coming of the Savior:
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him
nothing in his appearance that we
should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows, and familiar
Like one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed
Surely he took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
(Is 53:1-5 NIV).
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the
and release for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor
and the day of vengeance of our
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of a spirit of despair.
(Is 61:1-3 NIV).
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).
Finally, Scripture encompasses eschatology.
Eschatology is the branch of theology dealing with questions of the
future or of the end-times. This future includes what will ultimately
happen to every believer, to the church of Jesus Christ, and to the
world. It includes the final destiny of Satan and his followers. Since
God is eternal and the Bible indicates that we, too, are eternal
beings, a considerable amount of biblical prophecy involves
eschatology. We deal more with the subject of eschatology in Part IV.
We see also in the Old Testament the word of God
concerning the nations who were not in covenant with Him. It is quite
extraordinary that God made it absolutely clear that He would
ultimately send His vengeance upon the enemies of Israel, even after He
had used those very nations as instruments to carry out His punishment
against Israel for its disobedience.
The prophet Habakkuk speaks very clearly of this
reality. God tells Habakkuk that He is raising up the Babylonians to
sweep down on Israel and take the Israelites captive because they have
been so disobedient to His word. He explains to Habakkuk that, despite
the victory of the Babylonians woe to them because He will, at the
appointed time, destroy them. It is with this understanding that
Habakkuk prays his very beautiful prayer:
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
he enables me to go on the
heights. (Hab 3:16-19 NIV).
Now that we have examined, however briefly, the
thrust of God's prophetic word to His people in the Old Testament, let
us examine the New Testament.
First, the overwhelming difference we see between
the two is that our Messiah has come. John the Baptist ended the line
of prophets proclaiming the coming of the Messiah. During John's
lifetime God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to live on this earth as
a man, to be crucified on the cross, to be buried, and then to be
resurrected from the dead and taken up to heaven. Thus, Jesus fulfilled
the Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah. Once
Jesus came, there was no longer any need to prophecy about the coming
of the Messiah. He had come in the person of Jesus Christ.
In addition to this fulfillment of the Old Testament
Messianic prophecies, the New Testament does bring a shift in focus.
The scriptural emphasis of the New Testament is on personal salvation,
sin in the church body and in the individual, and rules about the
orderly conduct of the church. This new thrust points in the direction
of personal and corporate holiness, a need to go into all the world and
make disciples of all nations, and the need to prepare for the
end-times. (See Romans, chapter six).
Aside from this closure on the Messianic prophecies,
and a shift in focus, the essential nature of the rest of the prophetic
messages as set forth in the Old Testament continues into the New
Testament. Let us go back and examine the various aspects we reviewed
in our Old Testament analysis.
In the Old Testament God is consistently teaching
His people that He is the one, true God. While there is not the same
intensity of this teaching in the New Testament, it is certainly a
recurring theme. Note the riot in Ephesus that Paul caused when he
discredited the goddess Artemis by preaching the worship of the one
true God. (Acts 19:23-41).
What about God's urging us to trust Him, have faith
in Him, and to follow Him in obedience to His word? Still the same,
What about God's admonitions against disobedience,
sin, lack of personal integrity, and so on? This is certainly a
continuing theme in Paul's writings, isn't it?
What about God's admonition about our responsibility
toward the poor? We certainly have many New Testament scriptural
directives and examples which require us to share with those who have
less than we have, don't we?
What about how we are to conduct our corporate
worship and life? Even though the Messiah had come and we became the
Church of Jesus Christ, Paul certainly continued this theme, didn't he?
How about God's word toward those who turn their
backs on Him? Do we have any doubt, based upon New Testament Scripture,
that their end will be hell? Is this much different than what God
promised would happen through the early prophets to those who oppressed
God's chosen people?
Finally, how do we know that God is still interested
in these same things He was concerned about in the early days of
Israel? Let us look at the Book of Revelation. This book is the
definitive Scripture concerning the very end of time and the return of
Jesus Christ to this earth. Yet even in Revelation, Jesus' second
coming begins with the sin of the churches being exposed. Chapters two
and three are an analysis of seven churches of that day and what God
approves and disapproves about each one. Not very different from God's
exposure of the sins of Israel by the prophets, is it?
Thus, we see that from the very early beginning of
time to the very end of time as we know it, the issues God has been
concerned with have not really changed. “I the Lord do not change.”
(Mal 3:6 NIV). The desires of God's heart are that we, His people,
worship Him alone, obey His commands and directives to us, sin not, and
that we become part of His great army to accomplish His purposes in our
The reason I have included this analysis in this
book is to make this point: If any prophets in your realm of influence
are speaking the “word of the Lord” which does not lead and direct the
hearers in a manner consistent with God's word of both the Old and New
Testaments, they are speaking in error. If you keep in mind this basic
analysis, and test all prophetic words against it, you will be able to
much more readily discern error. This is especially true when you hear
that God is doing a “new thing.”
Most unfortunately, we are in a church era in which
the prophetic word does not always fall squarely within scriptural
bounds. For example, I have heard in the past few years of churches
that believe that God's “new thing” is to convert every believer into a
prophet. This is supposedly necessary to herald in the last generation,
most of whom will be apostles. What happens to this “prophetic `new
thing'” under our analysis? It doesn't pass the test, does it? Any
extension of the boundaries of Scripture through a “prophetic word”
should be rejected. God changes not, neither does His word to us!