PROPHETS AND THE NATURE OF
REVELATION PAST AND PRESENT
Keys to Understanding
One of the hallmarks of the Church established by Jesus Christ in all dispensations is the presence of prophets in the congregations of Israel (1 Cor.12:28; Eph.2:20; 3:5). Together with the apostles and teachers they represent a fundamentally important ministry.
True Prophets are Unpopular
They are not usually very popular and in every dispensation they have usually been murdered, attacked or verbally abused (Matt.23:37; Ac.7:52; Heb.11:37, etc.) because the message they bring is usually a call to repentance and reformation.
All Are Called to the Gift
Prophets have existed since the beginning of time. The Bible teaches that everyone is called to this gift: those who have the testimony of Jesus have the spirit of prophecy (Rev.19:10). The prophet Moses once said: "I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets and the Lord would put His spirit on them" (Num.11:29, NIV).
Some Are Called to the Office
Though everyone who knows that Jesus is the Christ has received the gift of prophecy, as Peter did on that fateful day on the Mount when he made his public confession (Luke 9:20), not everyone is called into the office of a prophet (1 Cor.12:28-29). They are a part of the Body, and a very important part as well.
One prophet, called Agabus, was sent by the Lord to deliver a message to the apostle Paul (Ac.21:10-14) and we learn that the evangelist Philip had four unmarried daughters who were prophetesses in the Church (Ac.21:8-9) though we are not told what they prophesied. The message of Agabus is recorded, however; it is the only one of the prophetic utterances recorded by a prophet who was not one of the apostles. And then there was Jesus Himself, the prophet who was like Moses (Ac.3:22; 7:37).
Limited to a small entourage in Old Testament times, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, one of which is the gift of prophecy, is now available to everyone who will receive it on the conditions that it is given, as prophesied by the prophet Joel: "'In the last days,' God says, 'I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in these days, and they will prophesy" (Ac.2:18-19, NIV).
Not surprisingly, Satan attempts to imitate all the gifts of the Holy Spirit. And one of his counterfeit gifts is that of false prophecy: "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them..." (Matt.7:15-16. NIV).
Whoever these false prophets are -- and there have always been vast numbers of them (today especially in the New Age Movement) -- God says that He will "foil the signs of false prophets..." (Isa.44:25, NIV) and send a sword against them: "They will become fools" (Jer.50:36, NIV).
"Many false prophets will appear (in the last days) and deceive many people" (Matt.24:11, NIV). They will "perform great signs and miracles" (v.24) and attempt to deceive the elect.
So how are we to discern true from false prophets? "Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets" (Luke 6:26, NIV). False prophets deliver flattering words which people want to hear, are "full of deceit and trickery" and "never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord" (Ac.13:10, NIV), but the true prophets excite men to anger and the spirit of murder because they bring only a message of repentance from dead works. The false prophets try to introduce destructive heresies whose fruit is a denial of the Lord Jesus whom they often claim is the One who has sent them (2 Pet.2:1).
The Importance of Testing and of Being Tested
Therefore Christians are exhorted to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1, NIV), whilst being strictly warned not to test the Spirit of the Lord (Ac.5:9; Lk.4:12; Matt.4:7; 1 Cor.10:9). We are, however, to test God's will so that we may be quite sure what it is for us (Rom.12:2). Once we have discovered what God's will is, so we in our turn will be tested by God -- by fire (1 Cor.3:13) -- and by God's servants, the apostles (2 Cor.2:9; 8:8). We, in our turn, are to continually test ourselves (2 Cor.13:5) by measuring ourselves against the commandments that Christ has given us. We are to "examine ourselves to see whether or not we are in the faith" (Ibid.). Even the apostles are to be tested (v.6, NIV). "Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test (because they are carnal and without the Spirit) but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth" (v.7-8, NIV).
It is, of course, better that we measure ourselves against the Word and not against others, for the latter always leads to misjudgment: "Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else" (Gal.6:4, NIV). This "self-testing" is one of the temple ministries offered by the New Covenant Church of God and allows the saints to refine their discipleship to that they can become pure vessels of the Holy Spirit.
"Test everything. Hold on to the good" (1 Thes.5:21, NIV). This we must do, for our salvation's sake, in the spirit of love towards our fellow man. "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him" (Jas.1:12, NIV).
Even Satan tests us by putting God's servants in prison and persecuting them. And often they are tested to the point of death. To them is promised the crown of life (Rev.2:10).
Our whole life here is a test which we are supposed to endure patiently in faith. All will be tested -- every man and woman, without exception -- to see if they are worthy of God's greatest gifts (Rev.3:10). And into this picture God sends prophets, and the devil sends prophets -- God prophets calling the people for forsake evil and turn to God, and Satan's prophets to reject God and His commandments. The main call of God's prophets is to uphold and proclaim God's Commandments. By this key it is not difficult to determine whether prophets are from the Lord or from the adversary.
"Thus Saith the Lord..."
From the very first days of the New Covenant Church of God prophets have been at work. Not only have they called people to repentance -- and especially those calling themselves after the Name of Christ -- but they have also issued prophetic words or revelations. Characteristic of such revelations are such statements as: "Thus saith the Lord..." ("So says the Lord...").
I have already mentioned the prophet Agabus who not only predicted a famine in the Roman Empire (Ac.11:28) but spoke to Paul, using the words: "Thus saith the Holy Spirit..." (Ac.21:11, ASV). Thus we see prophets in New Testament times essentially using the same formula of divine mandate as in the Old. Having heard Agabus' prophecy, the disciples urged Paul not to go back to Jerusalem where the prophet said he would be bound in rope and handed over to the Roman authorities (v.12). Paul accepted the prophecy without question but not the disciples' interpretation of it (v.13); once they saw his mind was made up to return to Jerusalem to meet the fate prophesied, they replied: "The Lord's will be done" (v.14, NIV).
We do not know how many prophets there were in the New Testament Church but there must have been many of them for they were an integral part of congregational life.
Modern Attempts at Imitating the Prophets
Many modern Christian churches are trying to imitate this early prophetic ministry, with mixed results. Very often a member of a congregation gets an "impression" that he is called to be a "prophet" and then just "gets on with the job". This has frequently been disastrous for those trusting in his self-professed ministry. Over the years I have heard so many false prophecies coming out of charismatic churches that I have learned not to listen to them anymore. Whole congregations believe them, sometimes whole national Christian communities. Some are so ridiculous as to not be even worth giving a second thought. Yet people take them seriously, not understanding the ministry of the prophet nor of the intense training that he must go through.
The Importance of Spiritual Training
Prophets are not born but are made. Though they are usually foreordained to be prophets (Jer.1:5) they do not become prophets automatically. In Old Testament times the prophets were organised into Orders or Schools (1 Sam.10:5ff; 19:20-24) for fellowship and training. Only when mature were they sent out into the world by such Schools. Sometimes they had no formal training but were trained by God Himself, as they had to be when prophets were persecuted, murdered, and therefore scarce. Elijah was one such prophet. He, however, trained up his successor, Elisha (1 Ki.19; 2 Ki.2), and Elisha in his turn trained up other prophets.
The New Covenant School of the Prophets
The New Covenant Church of God has had a School of the Prophets since its inception. Training of the prophets takes place over a 7 year period in cycles. Teaching them to discern the spirits takes a great deal of time and requires intensive spiritual training and experience in the ministry. This training requires considerable spiritual contrast, the trainee prophet having to come to know himself as well as he knows others in the fellowship of believers and his God. It is one of the most difficult ministries to prepare disciples in and is fraught with temptations. Not untypically young prophets get a few visions and dramatic dreams and conclude they have acquired the prophetic gift! Thus deluded, they often take a wrong path and delude others too. It is not uncommon for many trainee prophets to fall away from the truth because they are unwilling to go through the fires of discipline that the prophetic office demands. For this reason the prophetic office is highly disciplined and possesses many strictures, as it was and did in Paul's day (1 Cor.14).
There are many different kinds of prophet. Some, like Agabus and the daughters of Philip, prophesied in the local colony or congregation, though from time to time they may be shown world events in the future. All, if they are truly born again in Christ, can prophesy that Jesus is the Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit. And then there are the Patriarch-Prophets who receive revelation for the whole Church. Upon these falls the greatest responsibility; and since they can theoretically pose the greatest danger for the Church, they are the most strictly disciplined.
Since the New Covenant Church of God was called into existence in 1984, over a thousand written revelations have been received through its prophets and prophetesses. Of these about two-thirds have been published, and about half as many again made public. They are considered a tremendous spiritual asset and resource to the Church by those who use them.
Because all revelation requires time to be properly tested, not all these revelations are canonical works of the Church. Those which are used publicly, and which are now being published in a collection called The Olive Branch, are regarded as sub-canonical, meaning that they are treated as secondary scripture after the Bible along with the writings of the Sub-Apostolic Fathers. There are no plans to elevate these revelations to primary scripture in this generation. This is for two reasons: (a) It would provide an obstacle to our fellowship with the wider Body of Christ which only accepts the Bible; and (b) Prophetic writings must be tested over time.
Cycles of Prophetic Revelation
Testing a body of revelation as large as the New Covenant Church's is a daunting task especially when it must often be done by those unacquainted with the revelatory process, and who have been brought up with different approaches to understanding Scripture. For this reason, a revelation was received on 12 July 1995 explaining both the Church's passage through prophetic time as well as the way in which its prophets are taught. A long section called Of Lights and Shadows explains the latter, and one called On Scriptures explains the former (NC&C 370) which should be read further by those wishing to understand revelation in the New Covenant.
The Church is now in the process of sifting through all the revelations of the period 1977-95 which it has divided up into three parts: (1) One part which is never to be used again and is to be discarded; (2) One part which is to be used only in Firstborn Colonies; and (3) One part to be called Prophetic Words of the New Covenant. The latter two will include revelations which have been expanded, shortened, and (in some cases) modified. This process is illustrated in the diagram below which shows how the revelations were originally received (Stage I) and how they are being prepared today (Stage II).
The Ultimate Fate of the Revelations
The ultimate fate of the revelations rests in the hands of the Lord but I have my suspicions as to what will happen. A year or two ago I had a rather unusual dream. I found myself in an old market that reminded me of the Arab quarter of Jerusalem where antiquities are often sold. I went into a shop and there (if I remember all the details of the dream correctly) I was offered what looked like an ancient book. I was told that it was very precious and rare, and was quoted a price. The price seemed very high to me at the time because the book looked so thin, with perhaps less than 30 pages. The text was hand-written and beautifully painted with illustrations like the mediaeval Book of Hours. And then, as I read the text, I saw to my surprise that they were revelations from the Covenants & Commandments (Olive Branch)!
I mention this because maybe this is a clue to the fate of the revelations in one or two centuries time. Who can tell? Suffice to say that the revelations contain many different levels of light and truth but that some of them -- a precious handful -- are priceless. May we never lose them.
This page was created on 21 May 1998
Last updated on 21 May 1998
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