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What the Bible says about Prophesying
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Exodus 7:1-2

Aaron was Moses' prophet, and Moses was God's prophet. The prophet is a message carrier from one of greater authority. In this case, Moses was in the position of God to Aaron, as well as to Pharaoh. By combining Exodus 4:10-16 with Exodus 7:1-2, the biblical usage of a prophet has a good foundation. A prophet is one who expresses the will of God in words and sometimes with signs given to confirm what is said.

Through Moses, the function of a prophet begins to be established: to cry aloud and show men their sins (Isaiah 58:1). It does not stop there, though, because they were also pastors and ministerial monitors of the peoples' conduct and attitudes. Their function differed from that of priests in that the priest approached God by means of sacrifice on behalf of the people. The prophets, by contrast, approached men as ambassadors of God, beseeching them to turn from their evil ways and live (Ezekiel 33:11).

The difference between a prophet and a priest is a matter of direction, in that one goes from God to man (the prophet), and the other goes from men to God (the priest). It is also a matter of directness. The priest is indirect, while the prophet is direct. We have things going in opposite directions here, yet both working to accomplish essentially the same thing, which is to bring man and God into a relationship with one another. This has direct application to us under the New Covenant (II Corinthians 5:20-21).

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophets and Prophecy (Part 1)

Deuteronomy 13:1-5

This passage begins with the assumption that the prophet does foretell the future accurately or perform some other, humanly impossible work. Nevertheless, if that prophet's central message is to follow after a different god or to take a spiritual path that the true God has not said to take, that person is a false prophet. God states unequivocally that misrepresenting Him incurs the death penalty, and Revelation 19:20 says that this is exactly what happens to the False Prophet: He is thrown into the Lake of Fire.

The message of the false prophet is contrasted in Deuteronomy 13:3-4 with loving the true God with all of our heart and soul (life), walking after Him, fearing Him, keeping His commandments, obeying His voice, serving Him, and holding fast to Him. These elements indicate what God wants His people to be focused on, helping to define whether a man claiming to speak for God is truly doing so or not.

Verse 4 mentions obeying God's voice and keeping His commandments. This is a regular theme with God's true prophets: They always have God's law undergirding their messages. When the Old Testament prophets were sent to warn or inform Israel and Judah, they always pointed out the grievous ways in which the people had transgressed God's law.

False prophets, on the other hand, will not hold the moral line that God requires. Lamentations 2:14 says that the false prophets "have not uncovered your iniquity, to bring back your captives, but have envisioned for you false prophecies and delusions." False prophets will not connect the dots between the sinfulness of a nation and national calamity. They instead focus on something other than God's standard of righteousness.

This same principle appears in Isaiah 8:19-20. Both houses of Israel were guilty of seeking out mediums and wizards for spiritual guidance, and God's response is very telling:

And when they say to you, "Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter," should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.

God gives us a standard by which to measure the words of a prophet: the law and testimony - His Word. If the prophet's message contradicts what is already established as God's Word, it is evidence that he lacks spiritual understanding. If his words do not line up with God's law and testimony, he is not speaking the truth.

In summary, the hallmark of a true prophet is his upholding of the law of God, while false prophets dodge moral teaching and instead preach a message that appeals to the masses. God's truth - and His law in particular - is abhorrent to the natural mind (Romans 8:7), and thus it is quite common for God's prophets to be killed, while the false prophets enjoy widespread popularity and support.

The current trend of outcome-based churches serves as a good example. Their leaders preach a widely popular message, and thousands of people follow them. Yet, Jesus says in Luke 6:26, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets." Popularity is not a good measurement of God's pleasure with a leader!

Jesus Christ, the most perfect Spokesman for God who has ever lived, only had about 120 true followers when His ministry ended (Acts 1:15). This was not due to failure on His part, but because His Father's message could be wholeheartedly believed only by those whose minds God had already prepared to accept it.

"Purpose-Driven" church leaders will not preach the unadulterated Word of God because they know it is divisive. It would also thwart their goals of a large following and a large income. Thus, their messages do not involve repentance, sound doctrine, or God's law, except where it may serve to further whatever purpose is driving them. Their messages do not remind people of their moral responsibilities to God and brother, and thus if they claim to speak for God or say that God sent them, we can know from biblical patterns that they are, in fact, false prophets. Their large churches, as amazing as they might seem, are not accurate indicators of God's involvement or blessing.

David C. Grabbe
What Is a False Prophet?

Deuteronomy 18:15-18

All of us desire to know the future so we can be prepared for it. We want to be in control of our destinies and not at the mercy of events. However, some have this desire so strongly that they set themselves up as channels through which the future is revealed.

Such people have misled many. Deuteronomy 18, along with chapter 13, warns against such people. Whether they are called diviners, charmers, spiritists, or channelers, using methods like reading tea leaves, casting lots, or conducting séances, they are to be seriously and carefully avoided because there is no godly reality to their prognostications. Those seeking to know are being misguided, putting themselves at the mercy of lying demons, or at the very least, imaginative men and women.

At other times, simply following a church tradition regarding a prophecy can also mislead a person. This occurs because someone in the past, sincerely believing he understood a particular prophecy, began preaching his belief, and many in his audience then believed without the resources to prove the interpretation wrong. Due to frequent repetition, it came to be accepted as truth.

It is important for us to understand that prophets were not merely temporary and occasional expedients God would turn to. They played a vital and continuing role in Israel, especially in those times before the Word of God was widely distributed. This is why God makes provision for them within the law. He shows in many places that those He appoints to the prophetic office will always preach the keeping of the commandments of God as evidence of the Source of their inspiration. They will teach the conservation of past truths even as they break new doctrinal ground.

They both forthtell - that is, proclaim a message truthfully, clearly, and authoritatively to those for whom it is intended - and they will on occasion, but not always, foretell - that is, predict events before they take place.

It is misleading to believe these verses in Deuteronomy 18 apply only to Christ. His is undoubtedly their ultimate application, but the promise and description applies to all true, God-ordained prophets. Notice some of the identifiers in these verses:

1. God established the foundational pattern for the prophetic office in Moses ("like me").

2. God will raise a prophet up from among the Israelitish people. Later biblical sources show he might be drawn and appointed from any of the tribes and from any occupation. In other words, he did not have to be a Levite.

3. He will perform the function of a mediator between God and men (verses 16-18).

4. He will stand apart from the system already installed. He will not be antagonistic to the system, but he may be very antagonistic to the sins of those within the system, especially the leadership.

5. God will directly appoint and separate him for his office. Thus, the thrust of his service as God's representative is direct and authoritative. By contrast, the priest's function flowed from man to God by means of sacrifice - far less direct and more appealing and pleading than demanding. The New Testament ministry combines elements of both, but parallels the prophet's function more than the priest's.

Simply and broadly, a prophet is one who is given a message by another of greater authority and speaks for him to those for whom the message is intended. Thus, Moses was God's prophet, but Aaron was Moses' prophet.

Without a doubt, when we hear the word "prophet," we immediately think of the Old Testament. This is a natural reaction because that is where most of them appear in the Bible. Our memory instantaneously brings forth names like Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and David - all great men. However, without a doubt, the two greatest prophets of all time appear in the New Testament: John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. John the Baptist is the last and greatest under the Old Covenant, and Jesus Christ is the first and greatest of the New.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Elijah and John the Baptist

1 Kings 18:19-21

Elijah is quite instructive here. He began to prophesy in a time of immediate crisis, one that would become far worse before it ever improved. There was tremendous evil to overcome. His ministry took place about 150 years before Israel was to fall, becoming the Lost Ten Tribes, so God was beginning to make a powerful witness to them. Elijah's work was to reveal the true God to Israel in a time of growing national crisis. Elijah prepared the way for Elisha, who had a double portion of Elijah's spirit and did many more miracles. In this regard, Elijah was a type of John the Baptist, and Elisha, a type of Christ. God's pattern is being established. He sends someone long before the real crisis reaches its peak, while it is building.

Elijah says disturbing things. This is a prophet's job, a hallmark of a prophet of God. People like to feel comfortable. The only trouble is that people like to feel comfortable in moral mediocrity. They become "settled on their lees," as it says in Zephaniah 1:12. The prophet comes along and troubles people by awakening them to their sins, making them feel guilty about their relationships with God and each other. He awakens them to their spiritual and moral responsibilities. These Israelites were lethargic in terms of true, spiritual matters.

When a person is freezing to death, he feels a pleasant numbness that he does not want to end. He just goes to sleep as he is freezing to death. But when heat is applied, and the blood begins rushing into the affected areas, pain immediately occurs. Though it hurts, the pain is indicative of rescue and cure. God sends a prophet to people who are cold in their relationship with God—spiritually freezing to death—though they want to stay that way. The prophet turns the heat on, and they become angry with him when he is actually working to make them better. He is often accused of causing their pain.

A prophet's life is not a happy situation. Perhaps the clearest example of this is Jeremiah, who moaned and complained to God, "This is more difficult than You ever told me it would be. You tricked me." He did not like the position God put him in. He wanted people to like him, which is understandable. Nevertheless, he was still faithful, and he did his job. Yet, he was in trouble his whole life, from his teenage years on.

There are several ideas as to exactly what Elijah meant by "How long will you falter between two opinions?" One idea is that he means, "How long are you going to hop from branch to branch?"—like a bird in a tree. The bird cannot make up its mind where it wants to settle down, so it just keeps hopping around. Another idea is that it pictures a person shifting his weight from one foot to the other, indicating a degree of lameness. A third is that he is describing somebody teetering on a tightrope and trying to maintain his balance. Whatever the case, there is no doubt about Elijah's intent: "How long will you keep shifting from one opinion to the other?" Their spiritual lethargy for the true God made them uncommitted. Their commitment went one way, and then it went the other way.

Once Elijah began preaching, their conscience pricked them, and it encouraged them to worship the true God. But their carnality and their fear of men persuaded them to worship Baal, because they wanted to be friends with their fellow Israelites. They were straddling the fence in a precarious state of imbalance, attempting to combine the worship of God with the more popular worship of Baal and Asherah. This is typical Israeliltish syncretism, but it will not work.

At one point in A Stillness at Appomattox by Bruce Catton, he deals with soldiers who left the service of their army—either the Confederate army or the Union army. These soldiers would surrender themselves to the other side to be given a bit of favor and put into prison. In exchange, they would offer information about their unit. For a while, both sides—the Confederate and the Union—accepted those turncoats and took their information. However, before the war was over, both sides were summarily executing anybody who did this because those traitors could not be trusted. Most of the information they gave turned out to be wrong, to be lies. Most of them were just saving themselves and making themselves comfortable in their situation. They were not committed to the side that they were supposed to be on. Elijah was dealing with the same thing here, albeit spiritually.

When Elijah preached his message, it put the people in a bind because they knew their conscience was telling them that they had to commit themselves to God or to Baal. It disturbed them. Only the individual could decide which side he would be on, because Elijah made it clear, "God does not want you the way you are. Either you are going to be committed to Him or not. If you will not be committed to Him, you are going to die."

Baal, of course, could not talk to them, but if he could, he would probably have said basically the same thing, so the people were in a very uncomfortable situation. The lesson for us becomes clear, because Jesus says the same thing (Matthew 6:24; 12:25). The Sovereign Creator is not a God who allows His favor to be bought with crumbs. He is a loving Master who only is to be obeyed and served—and only on His terms.

Elijah was sent by God, and he was fulfilling the responsibility of a prophet, to prod the people to whom he was sent to their responsibilities. He was to be an aid in getting them from their state of being merely "churched" to that of being truly religious and servants of the Most High God.

Some become discouraged with the church because we are always being told—to some measure anyway—disturbing things about ourselves. But church is where we come to have our minds stretched and measured against Christ's standard. For one to keep on coming to services and leaving, like a theatergoer, without his options, opinions, or decisions resolved but deferred, is an erosion of character. "Whatever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).

The sum of what Elijah said is actually spiritually dangerous, due to the fact that God is judging. Christ's purpose is to cure, not merely to comfort, so pain will be often involved when dealing with a prophet.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophets and Prophecy (Part 1)

Ezekiel 3:16-21

The rest of the chapter relates that Ezekiel himself will be a sign through the means of being struck dumb. The only words that he could speak were what God gave him to say. This was how the people would know that God was speaking.

This shows that the servant of God is a watchman sent to warn the people. What God dwells on is sin; the prophet is to warn them of their sins. There is also an element of warning them of what is coming, but this warning message also has a personal and individual aspect to it. It is not just telling the world, "The Great Tribulation is coming, and Jesus is coming not long thereafter." There is also the part of "show My people their sins." In effect, the prophet is to say, "Look, you perverts. What you are doing is not the way it should be! This is the way God has said. You should change. Repent!" This is what Ezekiel was supposed to do with the bitterness, the anger, and the astonishment that had been building inside him for seven days. God tells him, "This is how you channel that attitude and those emotions. You preach a warning message, as a watchman."

Obviously, such a job would bring him into conflict with the people; people do not like to hear such a message. They do not like to hear that things are going down the tubes, and especially that they are personally responsible. But that is basically what the watchman's message is. Nothing changes unless it begins in the individual. The individual must change! He must repent and go God's way. As more individuals do this, society will change.

However, Ezekiel has already been told that everything he says will fall on deaf ears, so he must have a forehead of flint, an undaunted, courageous spirit, to keep repeating the message until he dies.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Two Witnesses (Part 1)

Amos 7:14-17

When Amos answers, "I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a herdsman and a tender of sycamore fruit" (Amos 7:14), he contends that God Himself commissioned him to "prophesy to My people Israel" (verse 15). Amos was simply a faithful servant of God, with no formal training for the job God sent him to do. "So," he says, "don't tell me not to prophesy when God tells me to!" The apostles said much the same to the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:29).

Then he utters his prophetic denunciation of Amaziah (Amos 7:17). Amaziah's wife and children are included in the curse for two reasons. First, as shown earlier, a leader determines the course of those under him. Any curse that fell on Amaziah would also, to one degree or another, affect his family.

Second, it is a biblical principle that families are often unified in belief. The saying, "Blood is thicker than water," concedes that family ties often prove stronger than the influence of God's Holy Spirit. Frequently, if one leaves the church, others in the family will leave too.

As one member of the family rises or falls, so do the others. Because of his bold denunciation of God's prophet, Amaziah would suffer, and his family would suffer with him. God would see to it that this priest of Bethel would witness in a personal way the coming destruction of the nation as it fell upon his family with a vengeance.

This example, the only narrative section in the entire book, graphically illustrates the fruits of complacency and pride. God sends His prophets to ring as many warning bells as they can to wake His people up to the urgency of the times. The window of opportunity to avert the prophesied disaster is a small one, and God wants His people to use that time to seek Him and change their ways.

The prophet depicts a Laodicean society, like the United States today, from the top echelons to the lowest of beggars (Isaiah 1:5-6). Such a nation prefers form over substance, words over deeds, and tolerance over righteousness.

A sober glance around this nation speaks volumes about the downward spiral already in progress. Crime is rampant on our streets and in our homes. Government scandal and corruption are common news items. Our families are falling apart while we make speeches about "family values."

We also see Laodiceanism creeping into the church as the people begin adopting the lifestyles and attitudes of the world. When they equate material prosperity with spiritual acceptance, they become satisfied with themselves and their spiritual progress (Revelation 3:17). Seeing what Laodiceanism produces, we should never let ourselves become spiritually complacent.

The signs of the times are all around (Luke 12:54-56). It is not good enough just to see them, though. We must act upon this knowledge and truly seek God. Isaiah writes,

Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)

Now is the time!

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)

Habakkuk 1:5-17

In the first chapter, the prophet Habakkuk was upset with God because He had made prophecies regarding where Judah's punishment would come from—from the Chaldeans. Habakkuk was irritated by this because he considered the Chaldeans to be worse than the Judeans. His questions run: "God, why are you doing this? Why don't you at least punish us by a righteous nation instead of sending upon us a nation far worse than we are?"

That was the way Habakkuk looked at it. God did not look at it that way because He would not have sent the Chaldeans if He did not think it was the right thing for Him to do. Maybe they were worse in an overall sense, but who was more responsible for what they were—the Chaldeans or the Jews? Had the Chaldeans had God's way revealed to them as the Judeans had? Of course not. Maybe the Judeans were not as bad on paper, maybe statistically, but they were more responsible. To whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48).

God would punish them with a hasty nation, He says, a nation violent and rapacious in the way it did things. Habakkuk did not like that one bit, so he appealed to God, and his appeal was hotly delivered.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith (Part 2)

John 13:19

Jesus tells us - within the context of speaking of His betrayer - how we are to approach prophecy: "Now I tell you before it comes, that WHEN IT DOES COME TO PASS, you may believe that I am He." He repeats this two other times (14:29; 16:4) so that we understand that prophecy has its greatest impact on us after it is fulfilled!

God has drummed this principle since Moses' day. The sign of a true or false prophet is whether or not their predictions happen (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). The prophet Ezekiel vividly illustrates this principle. God made him do many strange things, all of which represented points of prophecies, many of which have yet to be fulfilled. God says of him, "Thus Ezekiel is a sign to you; according to all that he has done you shall do; and WHEN THIS COMES, you shall know that I am the Lord GOD" (Ezekiel 24:24).

Dozens of times in Ezekiel, God uses the phrase, "and they shall know that I am the LORD," or a variant of it. In every instance, it implies the subject understanding this after its fulfillment. For example, notice Ezekiel 22:16, where God speaks to the people of Jerusalem about their sins: "You shall defile yourself in the sight of all the nations; then you shall know that I am the LORD."

Most, if not all, of the prophets had little or no idea how and when God would fulfill their prophecies. Daniel is a classic example. Though angels explained the prophecies to him, he still did not understand.

Although I heard, I did not understand. Then I said, "My lord, what shall be the end of these things?" And he said, "Go your way, Daniel, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end" (Daniel 12:8-9).

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
No Private Interpretation

1 Corinthians 14:1

J.B. Phillips' translation says: "Follow then the way of love while you set your heart on the gifts of the Spirit, and the highest gift you can wish for is to be able to speak the messages of God."

John W. Ritenbaugh
Pentecost and the Holy Spirit

Revelation 19:9-10

Prophecy plays a large part in our lives, so a Christian should understand more than just the bare basics. Verse 10 lets us know that Jesus' message—the gospel—is not only prophetic, but it is the essence of all biblical prophecy.

Testimony means "a statement given by a witness to an event." It is frequently associated with evidence presented during a court trial, but it is not limited to that. Newspapers, for instance, give accounts of what people say of some event that occurred of interest to others.

Jesus' statement—the gospel—is the message He preached during His lifetime. It is that message around which all biblical prophecy revolves; it is prophecy's heart and core. Spirit in this context means the "essence" of prophecy. Therefore, anybody looking forward to Christ's return—Christians, the church—should have more than a casual interest in prophecy.

Most of us pay more attention to the prophecy than to the prophet. This is as it should be, but on the other hand, Ephesians 2:19-20 says:

Now, therefore, you [the brethren] are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.

The church is built upon the apostles and the prophets and the words they wrote. They not only prophesied (that is, foretold events), but they also gave the most accurate accounts of ancient history. In addition, they gave us a great deal of the doctrine, the teachings, we believe and after which we pattern our lives.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophets and Prophecy (Part 1)

Revelation 19:10

"Spirit" indicates the vital principle of, the essential nature of, the heart and core of prophecy. In other words, the testimony of Jesus is the heart and core of prophecy. We should not define prophecy too narrowly, because prophecy means either "inspired speaking" (forth-telling) or "foretelling" (predicting). The testimony of Jesus Christ is the heart and core of inspired speaking and writing, as well as predictive speaking or writing.

Jesus' testimony consisted of two things: first, the example that He set in the way that He lived His life and what He did, as well as, second, the words that He spoke, His message. His message is the gospel - the good news of the Kingdom of God, of God's purpose, of why we were born, of Christ dying for our sins, of God reproducing Himself, of His creating us in His image and how He is doing it - and that news is spirit. It is life.

"The testimony of Jesus is the spirit. . . ." The gospel is the spirit, the heart and core, the essence, of the mind of God as it pertains to man. It contains many facets, but what He said is central to everything else in the Bible. Added to it is God's active participation in the actual creation of each potential God-being, watching over His family, molding and shaping His children into what He wants them to become.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Holy Spirit and the Trinity (Part 5)


 




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