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PROPHECY AND THE SCRIPTURES
by Jack Hayford
What should the believer's attitude be before the prophetic potential of all Christians who are filled with the spirit? (Acts 2:17,18; I Cor. 14:31) What is the relative authority of the Bible, nowadays, to judge or evaluate the truth or merit of the "words" of prophecy? There are keys here to set the potential of this ministry free without leading it into a dead end. The author of this study has spoken and pastored for decades, by example and teaching as follows: 1) To use the gift of prophecy under the guidance of the Holy Spirit; 2) To guard the eternal Word of the Scripture while exercising this gift.
1. The Sacred Scriptures and the spirit of prophecy (Rev. 19:10)
The entire Bible is a product of the Holy Spirit, who is not only the "spirit of truth" (John 16:13), but "the spirit of prophecy" (Rev. 19:10). The verb "to prophesy" (derived from the Greek preposition pro and the verb phemi) signifies "to speak, utter before". The preposition "before" in this case can mean: 1) in advance and/or 2) "beforehand. Thus, "to prophesy" is an appropriate term to describe the proclamation of the Word of GOD directly and boldly, or to confront a group or individual with it, in order to speak the truth and communicate GOD's will. So the Bible, in both senses, is a prophetic word: a book that reveals GOD's will, and also his plans and purposes.
This verse defines the testimony of Jesus himself, testimony that is in the heart, in the spirit of prophecy. These words not only define the Scripture; they also define the mark of all the pronouncements and saying that claim to be true prophecy. Jesus Christ occupies the central place in all of them, as occurs with the entire Bible. 1) The Old Testament exists to reveal Christ (Luke 24:27; John 5:39: I Pet. 1:10-12); and 2) The Holy Spirit inspired the New Testament with the same purpose (John 14:26; 16:13-15).
2. Prophecy that isn't Christ-centered is disqualified (I John 4:1-6)
The heart of true prophecy is always Christ himself (Rev. 19:10), the word "prophecy" not only defines the Bible, but limits all prophetic activity that pretends to be true. This passage shows that John distinguished the spirit of truth from the spirit of error by testing them: Every spirit that confessed the immaculate glory and saving virtue of Jesus Christ was of GOD. Paul pronounced a curse upon whoever violated this healing word of the Gospel (Gal. 1:6-9). Both led the community of the early Christian Church, and confronted false teachers or teachings that pretended to have prophetic authority but failed at the time to proclaim and honor Jesus Christ in a manner consistent with the entire Scriptures.
Likewise, we should also be cautious with respect to groups or individuals who claim to have a Christian foundation: What place is Jesus given? We should also reject any prophetic activity centered on mystical activity or secondary matters. All true prophecy rests on Christ and relates itself to Him, the foundation of our faith. If it is built upon this foundation, everything will remind us of and point us to Jesus, the Son of GOD.
3. The spirit of revelation (Eph. 1:17-19)
Paul says that he prays that the addressees of his letter receive "the spirit of wisdom and revelation", with the double objective that they may know Christ and understand the purpose and power of GOD in their lives. Such "revelation" is like drawing back the veil of the heart, so that we can receive profound understanding about the way in which the Word of GOD tries to work in our lives. It can be applied to teaching or specially anointed preaching to help people see the glory of Christ and the manifestation of his purpose and power in their lives. But by making such biblical use of the term, as it appears in Ephesians 1, is to wisely remember its even more grandiose usage.
The word "revelation" is used in two ways in the Bible. It's important to distinguish them, not only to avoid confusion in the study of the Word of GOD , but also to avoid falling into the trap of humanistic ideas and irreparable error. The Sacred Scriptures are called "the revealed Word of GOD". The Bible declares that the "Law" of GOD (Deut. 29:29) and the "prophets" (Amos 3:7) are the result of divine revelation, which describes the entire Old Testament as "revealed". In the New Testament, this word is also applied to "the scriptures" (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:3, Rev. 1:1), which came to form part of the complete canon of the Bible (see "The content of the Word of GOD is complete", Prov. 30:5,6).
Wisdom and understanding, as well as healthy and practical speaking, recommend that the believer today know and clearly express what is meant when "revelations" are spoken of. The Holy Spirit, speaking truthfully, gives us revelation, as this text teaches us. But this prophetic intuition should never be considered equal to the actual reception of the Holy Scriptures. In spite of all the help that our intuition can be in studying the Word of GOD, the entire purpose for the revelation of the Holy Word is to be the secure foundation for edifying our lives Matt. 7:24-29).
4. Appropriate and desirable prophecy (I Cor. 14:1)
The purpose of the life of the New Testament church is to be blessed by the presence of the gift of prophecy. As Paul declares here, by making us see that love is our primary pursuit, prophecy has to be well received for the "edification, exhortation and consolation" of the congregation collectively and individually (v.3). Such "prophecy" is encouragement and incentive for each other, not "words" in the biblical sense, which uses the words themselves of GOD, but through human words that the Holy Spirit singularly brings to mind.
The practice of the gift of prophecy is a purpose of the fullness of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:17). In this the prophecy of Joel (Joel 2:28) and the hope that was expressed earlier by Moses (Num. 11:29) are fulfilled.
Peter supports the operation of the gift of prophecy (I Pet. 4:11) and Paul says that this gift is within the reach of each believer (I Cor. 14:31). This gift has the intention of giving rise to a full participation among the members of the congregation, in that all are reciprocally blessed with anointed words that spiritually edify and deepen the understanding. Such prophecy can provide an amplification of understanding, that turns hearts humbly to the worship of GOD and, suddenly, makes them realize that the Holy Spirit knows their need and is prepared to answer their prayer (I Cor. 14:24,25). This class of prophecy is also a means propel and provide vision and expectation, without which people became passive or careless (I Sam. 3:1; Prov. 29:18; Acts 2:17). These specific instructions about how to utilize the gift of prophecy, as occurs with all the gifts of the Spirit, have the purpose of avoiding one gift replacing the exercise of others, or usurping the authority of the spiritual leadership. Even more, all prophecy is subordinate to the discipline of the eternal Word of GOD, the Bible, the standard by which all prophetic expression in the church should be judged (I Cor. 14:26-33).
5. Prophecy and the sufficiency of God's Word (II Pet. 1:16-19)
When Peter encouraged the believers to speak according to "the words [oracles] of GOD" (I Pet. 4:11), he wasn't trying to say that the expressions inspired by the Holy Spirit should be a substitute for the preaching and teaching of the Word of GOD. This passage emphasizes the relative importance of the prophetic "words", or experiences that we receive, in comparison with the place that corresponds to the Scriptures themselves. Here the apostle compares his own experience with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, with the permanent "prophetic word" of the Sacred Scriptures (verses 19-21). He calls the word of the Scriptures "more sure", and in this way gives us a key for understanding the entire history of the Church. If Peter tells us that his experience with Jesus himself is subordinate to the "more sure" word of the Scriptures, that has the value of a definite instruction and conclusion. It means that no experience has greater authority than the Word of GOD. This, however, shouldn't dampen our enthusiasm for the manifestations of the power and blessings of the Spirit of GOD, but should simply remind us of the relative value of each type of "word" in our scale of values.
We are also in the presence of a definitive principal. There are many who ask if we, who accept the work of the gift of prophecy with approval, do so because of a lack of conviction in regards to the "sufficiency" of the Word of GOD. In other words, do we believe that the Bible contains all that we need for salvation, for faith, and for a life of obedience to GOD? Of course, because for the believer in the Bible this is never questioned; according to the spirit in which they were pronounced, and the practical truth that Peter's words contain, there is no comparison between the eternal Word of GOD and the present "words" of prophecy. Prophecies are, according to the Bible, desirable things (I Cor. 14:1) and helpful (I Cor. 14:3,5). But the Sacred Scriptures proclaim a definitive truth that is more precious than gold: the Eternal Word of GOD (Psa. 19:7-11).
6. The subject of personal prophecy (Acts 21:11)
The Bible clearly reserves a place for personal prophecy. The prophet Nathan brought King David a word of reprimand from GOD (II Sam. 12:13); Isaiah predicted the death of Hezekiah (Is. 38:1); and in this passage, Agabus told Paul that he would have problems in Jerusalem. "Personal prophecy" refers to a prophecy ("word"), of personal character, that the Holy Spirit charges one person to give to another. Many maintain deep reserves about the gift of prophecy, due to the occasional abuse of it. True "words" can be used to manipulate others or can be applied foolishly or precipitously. This passage reveals some safeguards against the abusive use of personal prophecy, which help us to conserve this biblical practice. First, the "word" won't be something new to the person to whom it is directed, but will confirm the message that GOD has been giving him. We deduce from Acts 20:22-24, that Paul was already preoccupied with the matter that Agabus brought up. Second, the character of the person who communicates the "word" should be balanced. Agabus' credibility was accredited, not to his claim of possessing a "word", but to his fame as a faithful servant of GOD, used by the LORD to the exercise of this gift (11:28; 21:10). Third, the prophecy, or "word", shouldn't be considered "manipulative". In other words, such prophecies must never be perceived as something that someone imposes on anyone else's free will. The Christian life is neither superstitious nor governed by foolish omens nor by the tricks of gurus. Paul didn't change his plans because of Agabus' prophecy or due to the insinuations of others (verses 12-14), but he received the "word" with pondering, but, by all means, continued with his plans. Fourth, all prophecy is "partial" (I Cor. 13:9), which signifies that no matter how truthful that "word" may be, it doesn't give us the complete picture. Agabus' "word" was certain, and Paul was attacked in Jerusalem. But this also offered him an opportunity to minister in Rome (Acts 23:11). Finally, confronted by a "word", we must consider it in prayer, as Mary did with the information from the shepherds (Luke 2:19). A precipitous response isn't what is requires: we must always wait on GOD. We should then advance in life with full trust in GOD, as King Hezekiah did. He was told that he would soon die; but instead of giving up before the prophecy, he went to GOD in prayer, and his infirmity was cut short. Occasional personal prophecy doesn't constitute a risk if it's maintained within biblical norms, but neither should it become a resource for planning or directing our lives.
7. The job of a prophet (Acts 11:27-30)
Agabus is an example of the "office of prophet in the New Testament. This role differs in form from the way the gift of prophecy works in the life of the believer, because it suggests a ministry entrusted by Christ to a person, rather than a gift dispensed by the Holy Spirit through a person. In the New Testament, this office wasn't exalted as much as it seems to be nowadays. All sensationalism is unworthy, as much in the prophet as in those to whom he ministers, and will certainly result in an unfruitful end. (Apparently, Paul was referring to a similar attitude toward the prophetic office when he pronounced the challenge in I Corinthians 14:37, where he exhorts them to submit to the spiritual authority and not to the complete autonomy of the individual). The office of prophet shouldn't be taken lightly. There is nothing in the New Testament that diminishes the strict requisites that regulate the fulfillment of this function; we have to take Deuteronomy 18:20-22 seriously. Prophecy isn't for "experimenting", for the future of souls is in the balance when this ministry is exercised.
Wisdom is gained when it's discovered that, in accordance with the Bible, the prophet fulfills more than a ministry. If it's rather certain that a few exercised notable gifts of preaching (Daniel, Zechariah, John), other characteristics of the prophetic office are also seen: 1) prediction especially on a national or international level (John the Baptist); 2) teaching: especially when an extraordinary sense of rapport exists and it makes a great contribution in service to the people of GOD (Ezra); 3) miracles: as notable signs that accompany the prophet's prophesy; (Elisha); 4) restoration (or renewal): as with Samuel (I Sam. 3:21; 4:1) or that for which the psalmist and Amos asked (Psa. 74:9; Amos 8:11,12). The incident with Agabus resulted in the Church's effective action when faced with a challenging situation. This constitutes a valid proof of the prophetic office, that is for edification and not for entertainment; to expand and renew the body of the Church, locally as well as further away.
8. The purpose of prophecies that show the future (Deut. 28:1)
Promises and prophecy abound in the Bible. GOD assured that he was ready to bless and often speaks of things that he proposes to do in the future. In both cases there are always conditions: GOD's calling to conform to his will so that his promise can bless the obedient. Chapter 28 constitutes a classic example, as much of the promises as the prophecies of GOD. Compare verses 1, 2 and 58, 59 to appreciate the blessings promised to the obedient and the judgments that are foretold for the disobedient.
This is an example of the purpose of predictive prophecy in the Bible, which serves to warn and teach obedience and a fruitful life. It's never pronounced to satisfy, provoke curiosity or promote divination. In Matthew 24 Jesus pronounces several prophecies about things to come, but he only suggests a practical norm for the disciples: watch (v.42), don't try to divine the possible course of events to come (v.36).
In another place, our LORD indicated that predictive prophecies are also given to help us trust in the sovereignty and omniscience of GOD, who has control over events and knows the end from the beginning. Notice his words in John 13:19; 14:20 and 16:4, where he emphasizes on three occasions the purpose of his prediction: "so that when it occurs, you can believe that I am" (that is, the Son of GOD, the Messiah).
9. Prophecies about the end times (I John 2:18)
Eschatology is that aspect of biblical doctrine that deals with the "end times" (from the Greek eschatos, "final"). In this verse, John describes the times in which he wrote as "the final hour", putting into evidence the fact that he, as well as true Christians in each generation, would live in the immediate anticipation of the Second Coming of Christ. He also saw his century as one in which the present evidence appeared to show that that generation would possibly be the last. That's not a harmful or negative attitude: Christ Jesus desires that his people be on the lookout for his return (Matt 25:1-13; II Tim. 4:8).
John not only tackled history's final hour, as he saw it; but he also spoke of the Antichrist, a theme that is commonly discussed when eschatology is studied. The spirit of antichrist, the Church being caught away, the Great Tribulation, the restoration of the nation of Israel, and Christ' millennial reign on Earth are all within the theme that the Bible describes as "the end times". The Bible says that these things will occur, but isn't clear when they will happen and, in many cases, doesn't offer us the conclusive sequence or the exact manner in which these acts will be fulfilled.
The Biblia Plenitud doesn't adopt any conclusive point of view about these themes or subjects of popular discussion. We do affirm the following: 1) GOD is the Sovereign of the Universe and the GOD of History, which is his History. 2) As such, he knew the end from the beginning, and at the end of history, it will be irrefutably proven that GOD is wise and just. 3)His Son, Christ Jesus, will return to Earth for his Church (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:11; I Cor. 15:50-58; I Thes. 4:16,17), and he will govern over the earth (Isaiah 9:7; 11:6-9; Rev. 20:1-6). 4) There is a final judgment, with the recompense of eternal life in heaven, promised to the redeemed, and a judgment of eternal perdition in hell for the unregenerate (Rev. 20:11-15; 21:22-22:5).
We affirm the value of the study of "the end times" and, likewise, declare our conviction that differences of opinion over subjects such as the Rapture, the nature of the Millennium, and so on, neither gives us any advantage, nor hinders us, in relation to our life in Christ, when we choose to serve him in his love, walk in his truth, and be in expectation of his return.
10. Various interpretations of Revelation (Rev. 4:1)
Many devout Christians are surprised to discover that other equally consecrated believers see the prophecies of the book of Revelation in mode different than they do. The book truly admits a full gamut of interpretations, but the common denominator of all is the final triumph of Jesus Christ, who makes history culminate with his final coming and who reigns with and through his Church forever.
The most popular and fully discussed interpretation is that which is called the dispensationalist interpretation. This proposes that 4:1 alludes to the Rapture or Snatching of the Church, when the redeemed in Christ are translated to heaven in the Second Coming of Christ to receive him "in the air" (I Thess. 4:17). Revelation 6-18 is perceived as the great tribulation (Matt. 24:21), of the wrath of GOD (I Thess. 5:9). This interpretation sees, in this age, the nation of Israel as the people of GOD upon earth (the Church having been raptured); restored Jerusalem, protected by the divine seal (7:1-8), worshiping in a rebuilt temple (11:1-3), and suffering at the hands of the Antichrist.
Not as fully popularized, but no less equally believed, is the Moderate Futurist viewpoint. This school of interpretation proposes the book of Revelation summaries the long pilgrimage of the Church in the process of tribulation and triumph, struggle and victory, all which finds its consumation in the return of Christ Jesus. According to this line of interpretation, the tribulation is generally seen as something that is extended in time but increases in intensity, and the Church as present through the greater part of the disturbances on earth, until a little while after the pouring out of "the cups filled with the wrath of GOD" (15:7). This occurs during chapter 16 and culminates with the collapse of the present world order (chapters 17 and 18).
Among other opinions there are: 1) The Historicist sees Revelation as a symbolic prophecy of the entire history of the Church, and the events of the book as a scene of the events and movements that the conflict and progress of the Christian Church have given form to. 2) The Preterist viewpoint sees Revelation as a message of hope and consolation directed to the believers of the 1st century only, in order to offer them a hope of deliverance from the Roman persecution and oppression. 3) The Idealist school doesn't draw any particular historical focus, or make any effort to interpret specific parts of the book, but sees it rather as a broad and poetic representation of the conflict between the kingdom of GOD and the powers of Satan.
11. The "Day of the Lord" in prophecy (Obad. 15)
The Old Testament prophets invoke the "Day of Jehovah" to refer to a moment in the history of mankind when GOD will intervene directly in order to bring salvation to his people and punish his enemies. He will thus restore the lost order on earth. The terms "that day", or simply "the day", are used at times as synonyms for the complete expression: the "Day of Jehovah".
The fulfillment of this prophecy should be seen, however, as a process in four stages: In the time of the prophets it was manifested in events like the invasion of Israel by powerful neighbors (Amos), the terrible plagues of locusts (Joel), and the Israelites' return from the Captivity (Ezra-Nehemiah); that prophetic vision had the virtue of being based on eschatological periods, so that even the prophets themselves weren't able to distinguish the various occasions in which their prophecies would be fulfilled; thus "that day" would become a much fuller biblical concept. The prophetic events nearest to the prophet's time were mixed with those whose consummation would take place in the end times. The first coming of Christ and the beginnings of the Church era inaugurated a new phase of the Day of the LORD. As the protagonist of these occurrences, the Church can ask the resurrected Christ to remove the spiritual forces that block GOD's work in the present world and who makes the Church the object of his innumerable blessings. This is evidenced by comparing Isaiah 61:1,2 with Luke 4:18,19 and Joel 2:25-32 with Acts 2:16-21. The Second Coming of Christ will inaugurate the third phase of the Day of the LORD, when his universal lordship of righteousness will restore GOD's order upon the earth (Is. 11:6-9; Amos 9:13); Finally, the Day of the LORD announces the arrival of the world to come, with its new heaven and new earth. Compare Ezekiel 47:1-12 with Revelation 22:1-5.
12. Prophecy and the future of Israel (Psa. 122:6)
Theologically, there are two different positions about what can be expected in the future of Israel. The difference is centered in the question: "Has Israel still, as the ancient people of GOD, a favorite place in the divine economy, or did it lose that position due to its unbelief?
Many see a continuity and distinct role for Israel in the divine plans until the end of time. They believe that Romans 9-11 indicates that there has to be a restoration of Israel ("all Israel will be saved", Rom. 11:26) and that the Church needs to recognize its Jewish roots ("you don't sustain the root, but the root sustains you", Rom. 11:18). This viewpoint also accepts the fulfillment of some Old Testament blessings and promises with individual believers and through the Church. The Church should demonstrate what it means to enjoy the full blessing of GOD to encourage Israel to return to the one who eternally loves it.
But others have seen the Church replacing Israel in the divine plan, because the majority of the Jewish people refused to accept Jesus as the Messiah. There, the blessings and promises, of which Israel was the object, today can only be applied to the Church. From this viewpoint, the modern state of Israel and the Jewish people are simply represented the same as other nations or ethnic groups, and GOD won't attend to them in a manner distinct from other peoples.
13. The Church and Israel today (Rom. 11:19-24)
If it's rather certain that there basically exist two different prophetic positions about the future of Israel, there is only one biblical point of view with respect to the attitude of the Christian toward the Jewish people. First, the Bible calls us to honor the fact that, their having been the national instrument through which the Messianic blessing came to mankind (according to 9:4,5), we should "bless" the entire Jewish nation (Gen. 12:3), "pray" with sincere passion for them (Room. 10:1), and be ready to "give testimony" to any Jew, with as much spontaneity and simplicity as we would for any other human being (1:16,17).
Second, it mustn't be said that the biblical mandate of "praying for the peace of Jerusalem" (Psalm 122:6) has been annulled. Even though the text of this psalm focuses on the temple of ancient Jerusalem, the assignment shouldn't be negated. Those who take this text seriously, see the prayer for "Jerusalem" as a responsibility of constant concern because GOD extends his hand of protection and gives providential grace to the nation of Israel in particular (distinct from that of paragraph 1, which refers to Jews everywhere). It is wise that believers don't show indifference toward Israel, since the evidence of all history shows that GOD hasn't forgotten this people (Rom. 11:23,24).