Prophecy is the gift of receiving revelation from God on behalf of and for the benefit of other people. The apostle Paul lists prophecy as one of the gifts that exists among the members of Christ's church. (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 12:10)
Through revelation, God reveals Himself to people, and there are different types of revelation. In general revelation God confirms his existence to anyone at any time through his magnificent creation of the universe and of life. In personal revelation, the Holy Spirit provides faith and direction to individual persons. In special revelation, or prophecy, the Lord provides specific doctrines, special instructions, and information about the future through the Urim and Thummim (Ex. 28:30), dreams (Gen. 31:11-13), visions (Isa. 1:1), angels (Rev. 1:1), and Jesus Christ (John 1:14).
General revelation is the proof of Godís existence that we can see through his creation. Anyone who sincerely searches for God can see his workmanship in the stars of the universe and in the intricacies of life, and general revelation is available to everyone all of the time. (Ps. 19:1-3) Paul taught that since general revelation has always existed, everyone who has lived has had the opportunity to see evidence of the glory of God, and thus anyone who rejects God is without excuse. (Rom. 1:20)
Personal revelation is the influence of the Holy Spirit on individuals. Faith is received through personal revelation, and thus personal revelation gives a person the ability to accept Godís gift of grace, which results in salvation and eternal life. (1 Cor. 12:3) However, we are cautioned that emotional feelings from sources other than the Holy Spirit may be disguised as personal revelation, and that we must use discernment in verifying true personal revelation. (1 John 4:1) (See Personal Revelation.)
Although all sincere seekers may receive general and personal revelation, prophecy is received only by those who are called specifically by God to be prophets. Unlike general and personal revelation that often originate with an inquiry from the recipient, a prophet does not initiate prophetic revelation. A prophet does not receive prophecy in answer to a prayer that goes something like, "Lord please give me the specific doctrine on such-and-such an issue." Instead, God chooses the doctrinal topics and the timing:
For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)
Furthermore, people do not choose prophets, God chooses them. So prophets are not necessarily authorities in church organizations and are not called through organizational structures. Instead, God calls prophets individually and directly. (Jer. 1:5; Luke 1:13-16) A prophet does not need to be labeled as a prophet, or even be recognized as one in his own time, to serve as one or to be effective as one, but he does need to deliver Godís message and to influence people. Prophets are sometimes not recognized as such in their own environment, although in retrospect their effectiveness has often been miraculous. (John 4:44; Luke 11:47-51)
Except for Godís call, prophets have no special qualifications. They appear from all walks of life. They include sheep breeders and farmers like Amos (Amos 7:14) and Elisha (1 Kin. 19:19) but also princes like Abraham (Gen. 23:6) and priests like Ezekiel. (Ezek. 1:3) Women and children have also been prophets. (1 Sam. 3:19-20; 2 Kin. 22:14)
Whereas only a few prophets at most were called at the any time during the old covenant period, prophecy has become more widespread during the current new covenant. For example, Philip had four daughters who were prophetesses (Acts 21:9). Numerous other prophets are mentioned in the New Testament (Matt 14:5; Luke 2:25-35; Luke 2:36; Acts 11:27; Acts 13:1; Acts15:32). The apostle Paul advised the Corinthian congregation on the order of worship meetings and gave instructions about prophets from the congregation standing in line to speak at the worship meeting. (1 Cor. 14:29-32) Thus, according to Paul's description of the church, there are not just a few prophets at the head of the entire church, but rather several prophets within each congregation of the church.
We are commanded by God through his scriptures to follow prophets only after we have discerned that they are truthful. To follow a prophet through blind faith without using discernment is a blatant rejection of Godís will. One test for determining the authenticity of prophets was provided by Moses when he explained that any prophet who delivers even so much as a single incorrect revelation is not a true prophet. (Deut. 18:22) For example, if a prophet teaches in contradiction to the Bible or is unable to correctly interpret the Bible, such a prophet is a false prophet and must not be followed. (Deut. 13:1-3) In New Testament times, the believers followed the advice of Moses in discerning the veracity of Christian prophets:
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)
I do believe that there are prophets in the church today, although they do not have special titles as such, and they are not necessarily at positions high in church management structure at this time. However, over time it will become clear who have faithfully delivered Godís messages to us.
© 2005 William C. Hamer