We would not know about God, if He had not revealed himself to us. But God in his mercy chose to make Himself known. He did this to some extent through nature (general revelation) but specifically through the Bible, Jesus Christ, appearances of angels, prophets, etc. and also through personal experiences. God’s adversary tries to imitate and distort these forms of divine revelation.
We will focus on one way in which God decided to reveal
Himself through the gift of prophecy. However, even within
Christianity there are questions about this gift. While today
some Christians think that this gift has disappeared at the
close of the first century A.D., others see it in many phenomena
today, while still others redefine prophecy to such an extent
that it describes basically any Christian ministry.
I. The Prophet
1. What Is a Genuine Prophet?
The prophet Ezekiel was speaking
for God. Prophets were called in a
supernatural way (Isa 6:1-8) and
had to communicate the message
and will of God faithfully, without
adding their own ideas or deleting
what they did not like (Deut 4:2;
Rev 22:18-19). God then acknowledged
the message of the prophets
as His own message.
2. Since When Did God Use Prophets?
God spoke through holy prophets from ancient time onward, after the earth was created.
Already Enoch, who belonged to
the seventh generation after Adam,
3. How Did God Communicate with the Prophets?
1 Samuel 3:4, 10
He let them hear His voice or the
voice of heavenly beings (Rev
5:5). This is called an “audition.”
He revealed Himself, revealing supernatural realities, and messages in visions (Rev 6:1).
He spoke to them through visions and dreams. In the case of visions, it could happen that astonishing phenomena occurred such as the following:
Numbers 24:3-4, 16
Seeing another reality
Appearance of an angel (Rev 10:8- 9)
Daniel 10:8, 9
Loss of strength
4. What Did Prophets See?
Prophets saw and recognized:
• Events of the past (Eze 16—the origin of God’s people; Rev 12:1-5—the birth of the Messiah)
• Events of the present (Isa 36-39—the Assyrian threat and Hezekiah’s illness; Rev 2:1-7—the condition of the church)
• Events of the future (Isa 9 and 11—the coming Messiah; Rev 21-22—the new earth)
Sometimes prophets did not understand their own prophecy,
however, they passed it on faithfully (Dan 8:27; 12:4).
The main task of prophets was spiritual instruction, teaching,
bringing about reformation, being advisors, and among other
tasks also predicting the future. In case the people of God did
not obey the voice of God through the prophets, they faced
5. How Did Prophets Communicate Their Messages?
The prophets communicated the messages entrusted to
them orally (2 Sam 12:1-7), in written form (Jer 36:2, 4), and
through actions (Eze 24). Expressions such as “Thus says the
Lord,” or “I saw” show that they were convinced they were
talking in the name of God. Their messages were true and
trustworthy (2 Pet 1:20-21; 2 Tim 3:16). God recognized their
words as His own —Jeremiah 25:1-4, 7-8.
6. Genuine or Not?
There were not only genuine prophets throughout history but also false prophets. So God provided criteria for us to be able to distinguish between true and false prophets. In case, one of the following points is not met, the respective prophet is a false prophet. Here are the distinguishing marks:
• Full agreement with the Holy Scriptures—Isaiah 8:19-20; Deuteronomy 13:1-4
• Recognition of Jesus Christ as Son of God and Savior who had become fully human—1 John 4:1-3
• Good fruit, that is, an exemplary conduct of life and an effective ministry—Matthew 7:15-21
• Fulfillment of predictions—Deuteronomy 18:22
• No materialistic attitude—Micah 3:9-12
• Proclamation of God’s messages, not what people
like to hear—1 Kings 22:4-8
II. Prophets in the New Testament And Today
1. Prophets in the New Testament
The first prophet to appear in the New Testament was
John the Baptist (Luke 1:76) and the greatest was Jesus
(Deut 18:15; Matt 21:11). The gift of prophecy was one of
the spiritual gifts in the early church and played a special
role—1 Corinthians 12:28; 14:1; 12:11; Ephesians 4:11; 1
2. How Long Should the Gift of Prophecy Remain in the Church?
Joel 2:28-31 Joel’s prediction was partially fulfilled at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out (Acts 2:14-21, 32-33). However, the great day of the Lord, mentioned in Joel, is in a special way connected to Christ’s Second Coming. So there should be another fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy prior to Christ’s return.
Matthew 24:11, 24 Jesus predicted the coming of
false prophets prior to His Second
Coming, indicating there would
also be true prophets, otherwise
he would have warned of prophets
in general. Obviously the problem
would be to distinguish false
from true prophets.
3. What Would Be the Relation between a True
Prophet in Our Days and the Bible?
Holy Scripture surpasses the ministry of true prophets in so far that it is the yardstick by which prophecy is being
evaluated. However, both the message of Scripture as well
as the message of genuine prophets come from the same
source, the Holy Spirit, and call for obedience—2 Chronicles
III. Categories of Prophets in Scripture
True prophets of biblical times can be classified in four
groups. This classification has nothing to do with their authority
or scope of ministry. However, it shows that God has
different tasks for different prophets, that prophets can be
male or female, and that all of them spoke in the name of
God to humans. Here is the list:
1. There are prophets who have written down their messages, and these were incorporated into Scripture, for instance, Isaiah, Daniel, John, and Paul. These prophets are also called canonical prophets.
2. There are prophets who left no written records either to their generation or to us, but whose ministry is extensively described in Scripture. For instance, Elijah (1 Kings 17-19, 21; 2 Kings 1-2; Mal 4:5; John 1:21; James 5:17) and Elisha (2 Kings 2-9, 13; Luke 4:27). They are not less important than the first category of prophets.
3. There are true prophets who wrote down their messages, but these documents were not incorporated into Scripture. About ten such persons are known (for instance, Nathan and Gad—1 Chron 29:29). There are also letters of Paul that were not added to the New Testament canon, for instance, a letter to the Laodiceans (Col 4:16).
4. There were genuine prophets, mentioned briefly, that
had oral messages only. About thirty such people
are known from Scripture, for instance the prophetess
Deborah (Judg 4:4), Agabus (Acts 11:27-28),
Philip’s daughters (Acts 21:8-9), and others.
God is interested in us and loves us. He wants us to enjoy
eternal life in His presence. Therefore, He reveals Himself
and His plan of salvation among other things through the
gift of prophecy. All Scripture came about through the gift of
prophecy. We are extremely grateful and follow God’s revelation
through Scripture as well as through genuine prophecy
that is given to us in addition to Scripture, but reflects what
Ekkehardt Mueller is deputy director for the Biblical Research Institute
at the General Conference World Headquarters. This article has
been reprinted, by permission, from Reflections, the BRI Newsletter,
edited by Elias Brasil de Souza.