The secular and commonly held belief about prophets is that they are people who are able to “see” the future and make it known to someone, thus they are sometimes referred to as “seers.” This notion may be partly true, what this definition lacks can be the stuff you don’t know that can hurt you.
The greatest single definition I have ever found is that a prophet is one who “tells forth the will and counsel of God.” This would include things past, present and future. The bible broadens the definition of the prophet in three distinct ways giving credence to this definition.
First the “spirit of prophecy” is something defined in the book of Revelation. And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, Revelation 19:10. With this definition it can be seen that every one who proclaims the gospel has the “spirit of prophecy.” That would include everyone from Billy Graham to the young believer standing on the corner talking to a stranger about how he met the Lord. It would be safe to say that most prophecy today is based on this telling others about Christ and his deeds even though they happened over two thousand years ago.
The second kind of prophecy is something that comes forth by the move of God’s Holy Spirit in the church. It can come to virtually anyone in the church but it is always decided upon and administered by the Holy Spirit alone. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will, I Corinthians 12:7-11. These kinds of prophecies seem only to be practiced in the charismatic and Pentecostal churches of today. But using the broader definition any preacher who is speaking under the power of the Holy Spirit could be said to be prophesying.
A third kind of prophecy is that which comes from someone who has been appointed not just to prophecy but has been specifically given the “office of the prophet.” And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Ephesians 4:11-12. How these “prophets” are chosen is an important matter and is often misunderstood so let’s look at this next.
Prophets of today are chosen exactly as they were years ago in the bible. Usually they are called out by God through a word or a vision. In the bible some prophets saw a dream; others heard God’s voice and still others saw a burning bush or some other great portent which got their attention and then God spoke to them.
In my experience it was not just a dream but a series of them and at one point an actual voice with a very specific message. At the beginning of my new faith I had three dreams one night and woke after each dream and spent a few moments pondering what I had seen. I was familiar with the events and sights of the first two dreams but not with those in the third and last dream. It puzzled me so much that I got out of bed to pray and ask God if he could help me understand what was going on. At that early stage in my new faith I wasn’t sure God ever spoke to anyone directly anymore. I thought that those kinds of revelations were for biblical times only and had long since passed.
When I asked God to help me understand what the dreams meant I was drawn back to one of my favorite Christmas stories. I remembered Charles Dickens “A Christmas Carol” and the three spirits of Christmas past, present and future. It clicked in my head and I saw the answer as clear as day. I had seen myself and the events in my life as clear as a movie and while I was familiar with all but the last dream I knew I had seen the past, the present and the future in three separate dreams. Life itself verified my discovery when eight days later the events I saw in the third dream happened to the letter.
After the first three dreams I needed only one dream to see the future. You could say that God had to lead me into the whole matter with the first three dream episode just to help me overcome my general lack of knowledge of how he works and what he planned to do with me in the future. In fact the future would be filled with dream visions by the hundreds, perhaps by now I could say by the thousands.
I was flustered by all the dreams in the beginning. Although most of them were only personal and related to me or those near in my social setting and environment they were all vivid and rarely ever open to interpretation. They were mostly on a “what you see is what you get” basis no directions needed. But all these dreams scared me.
After puzzling over so many dreams I finally asked God in earnest why I was seeing so many dreams of the future, sometimes as much as five or six times a week. The day after I asked God to help me I was drawn to my bible and to the book of Numbers. It was in this book I read a single verse of scripture that put to rest my fear about the volume of dreams I was receiving. In Numbers 12:6 the Bible says, “And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.”
I have seen world events far more rarely than personal events but not once in a period well over thirty years have any of my dream visions ever been wrong. Some of the dreams were more detailed and lengthy than others but the one that stands out the most was to do with the second coming of Christ. That dream sent me on a lifelong study and search to know all I could about Christ’s return to earth. I am still in that search and I have no doubt that the time of his coming is as close as a breath.
As I studied prophecy and the prophets I discovered that there is a litmus test for both prophecy and the prophet. It defines the parameters and the veracity of every prophecy and every prophet including me. The test is basically twofold.
The first test is “are the prophecies or the message of the prophets true?” Does it actually happen? There is no wrangling out of this test. If the dreams, visions or messages of any kind are not true it is time to hang up the hat. In Hal Lindsey’s popular book The Late Great Planet Earth, Mr. Lindsey points out that Old Testament prophets were subject to stoning if their prophecies were wrong. He was right about that but today people don’t care if a prophet is occasionally wrong or if his messages are veiled or obscured like those of Nostradamus. Maybe we won’t stone such prophets today but by all means we should not listen to them. Truth and error are not bed partners.
On the other hand a far more pervasive and deadly problem is getting anyone to keep from killing, maligning or just generally ignoring the true prophets. I try not to take anyone’s skepticism personally and I remind myself of what C. S. Lewis said might happen if Jesus were conducting his ministry in today’s self assured world of science, secularism and self. Lewis said that if Christ were ministering today they may not crucify him but rather would invite him to dinner, hear him and then make fun of him.
The second litmus test for all prophecies has to do with “prior revelation.” Simply said, any revelation or prophetic utterance given today must agree with any and all the words and messages of the ancient biblical prophets, Christ or his Apostles. God never contradicts himself. Scripture or the “prior revelation” is foundational and indispensable to all revelation now or at any time to come. Because this is true I am always reminded that even of the few world events that I have been privileged to see they are only meant to be supplemental in nature and are never meant to “supplant” any part of the biblical revelation. I don’t want the responsibility of adding anything to scripture that comes down as “extra-biblical” in nature. We have enough of that in things like the “Book of Mormon” and the doctrines of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Finally it must be said that no one should be allowed to derive their prophetic calling by themselves. Phrases like self recognized, self appointed or self proclaimed should be avoided. The calling comes from God and God alone. I once heard someone say that those who hold the pulpit without having been called to do so are like men sitting on a bench as the prophets of God passed by and saying, “There go the men of God why don’t we get up and go with them?”
Do you think you are a prophet? Let me say you have no idea what you’re in for. Most people will not think of you as a Holy Spirit Dove driven man with a vision but they will see you as a cuckoo bird with another whole new version. You will stand alone in many ways because unlike the priests and ministers of the day who represent the people to God you can only represent God to the people. But take heart because as the time of Christ’s return draws nearer God will call evermore prophets to speak and prophecy for him. This wonderful fact is a promise of the scriptures. “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: Joel 2:28.”