Lesson 23
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Coming to terms

The remnant is identified in Revelation as keeping the commandments of God and having the testimony of Jesus.  Revelation 12:17 In Revelation 19:10 we learn that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.  What is the “spirit of prophecy?”  Knowing that Satan has obscured the law of God, should we be surprised to learn that he has counterfeited the spirit of prophecy?

For the sake of definition, the “gift of prophecy” or the “spirit of prophecy” is the gift of knowing the unknown.  Webster says prophecy is, “a prediction made under divine influence and direction, or a discourse made or delivered by a prophet under divine direction.”

The Bible interchanges the idea of prophesying under divine influence and the gift or ability to prophesy.  King Saul, for example, received the ability to prophesy even though he was not considered a prophet.

“When they arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him (King Saul); the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying.  When all those who had formerly known him saw him prophesying with the prophets, they asked each other, ‘what is this that has happened to the son of Kish?  Is Saul also among the prophets?”

A few good questions

Is the gift of prophecy in all churches today?  Is this gift prevalent throughout the world?  Is it limited to Christianity?  What characteristics distinguish those who speak in God’s behalf?  How can we tell if someone is truly giving a revelation that came from God?  What distinguishes a “prophetic revelation” from a “sanctified or educated guess?”  These issues must be studied carefully, for there is a growing interest in manifestations of supernatural power.

Paul speaks about spiritual gifts

The most eloquent writer in the Bible on the gifts of the Spirit is the Apostle Paul.  Perhaps his position on the subject is appropriately encompassing because, of all the writers in the Bible, he is one of the wealthiest recipients of spiritual gifts.  Few would contest that Paul stands head and shoulders above his contemporaries due to his combination of natural ability and spiritual gifts.  He influenced the theology of Christianity more than any of his peers.

Paul points out there are several different gifts of the Spirit.  These include wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, discernment of spirits, speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues and prophesying.  He stresses that the gifts have a direct purpose.  They bring growth and harmony to the Church instead of chaos.  Notice some of his comments:

1.      Paul says the gift of prophecy is for believers.  This is in direct contrast to the gift of tongues that is for unbelievers. I Corinthians 14:22 Paul also points out that there many be an ecstatic experience of joy in the Lord, where a person may speak in a language beyond words; however, he emphasizes such experiences are to be private and not public.  I Corinthians 14:2, 9-17

2.      Paul says that the manifestation of spiritual gifts is given for the common good of all.  I Corinthians 12:7 This text does not imply that every believer receives the manifestation of some spiritual gift.  Rather, the manifestation of spiritual gifts occurs for the common good of all mankind – believers and non-believers alike. Paul recognized the value of spiritual gifts and clearly encouraged the church to seek for them, especially the gift of prophecy.  I Corinthians 14:1 But, desiring a gift does not mandate the receipt of the gift.

3.       Paul clearly says the Holy Spirit determines what gift (if any) a person receives.  I Corinthians 12:11 He goes to great lengths in Chapter 12 to point out that the body is made up of many parts.  Since the body of Christ has many members, we all benefit in the administration of the gifts to those upon whom the gifts have been granted. I Corinthians 12:27-30 He clearly points out that God has not appointed everyone to be an apostle, prophet, miracle worker, teacher.

4.      Paul stresses there are something more important than the gifts of the Spirit. It is the grace of the Spirit. Paul says, “Desire the greater gifts, faith, hope and love.”  I Corinthians 12:31, 13:13 The gifts are temporal, while the graces of the Spirit are eternal. Paul points out that if we speak with the tongues of gifted men or even angels and have not love, it is nothing.  {13:1} If we have the gift of prophecy and the gift of faith and have no love, it is nothing.  {13:2} If we give all we have to the poor and die a martyr’s death and have no love, it is nothing.  {13:3} Love, agape love (love that is God like), is more important than all other gifts.  In fact, the gift of tongues, knowledge and prophecy will pass away  {13:8-10} but love will never cease. {13:8}

A brief survey on the gift of prophecy

The Bible does not provide a clear definition of what it takes to become a prophet. A job description is also missing.  Apparently, the post or job of being a prophet is an “appointment” rather than the achievement of a sanctified state. And each appointment within the scriptures appears to be unique to the circumstances of time and place. For example, the boy Samuel was called to be a prophet during the time of the judges of Israel. The physician Luke was called to be a prophet during the time of Christ. Anna and the four daughters of Phillip were also called to be prophets too! Luke 2:36; Acts 21:9 Prophets are human beings and have failings too. Remember Jonah and the whale? Did you ever hear about the infamous Balaam?  See Numbers 22:23. Notice the following points about the office of prophet:

1.      Abraham, the venerable father of Israel, was not perfect even though he was a prophet! In fact, the first time mention of the term prophet in the Bible is in Genesis and it applies to Abraham. “Now Abraham moved on from there in to the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. {2} And there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, ‘She is my sister.’ Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her. {3} But God came to Abimelech in a dream on night and said to him, ‘You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.’ {4} Now Abimelech had not gone near her, so he said, ‘Lord, will you destroy an innocent nation? {5} Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister,’ and didn’t she also say, ‘He is my brother’? I have done this with a clear conscience and clean hands.’ {6} Then God said to him in the dream, ‘Yes, I know you did this with a clear conscience, and so I have kept you from sinning against me.  That is why I did not let you touch her. {7} Now return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you will live. But if you do not return her, you may be sure that you and all yours will die.’” Genesis 20:1-7

Abraham is called a prophet because God directly communicated through him. Abraham prayed for Abimelech and God spared his life. Jesus spoke to Abraham from time to time and those who came to know Abraham recognized the relationship between them. (This scripture reveals the fact that prophets can make serious mistakes. Even though Sarah was Abraham’s half sister, she was his wife. The prophet intentionally misleads Abimelech on this matter for fear that Abimelech would kill him and take his beautiful wife.

2.      The Bible treats the office of prophet as a divine appointment. When God has a spokesman, He speaks through that person. “He (the Lord) said, ‘Listen to my words: When a prophet of the Lord is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams.’” Numbers 12:6

3.      God warned Israel that no one should imitate the office of prophet. If anyone claimed to be a prophet and in reality, they had not been appointed as such, the consequences were to be fatal. Even more, if the testimony of a former prophet leads people to stray from the commands of God, he was to be put to death. Jesus said, “If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, {2} and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, ‘Let us follow other gods (gods you have not known) ‘and let us worship them,’{3} you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. {4} It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. {5} That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way of the Lord your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.” Deuteronomy 13:1-5

4.      When God speaks through a prophet, the situation is unavoidably difficult for two reasons. First, if a person rejects the words of a prophet, God will hold the person accountable. Secondly, and more importantly, if the prophet has spoken presumptuously, he must be put to death. The litmus test of a prophet is accuracy in prediction. “If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death! You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” Deuteronomy 18:19-22

5.      When God gives someone the ability to prophesy, people recognize the power of God is uniquely upon that person. Remember the text about King Saul? Notice this one about Samuel: “And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord.” I Samuel 3:20

6.      A prophet cannot obey the words of another prophet if they are contrary to what he has been told. Notice the story: “Now there was a certain old prophet living in Bethel, whose sons came and told him all that the man of God had done there that day. {13} So he said to his sons, ‘Saddle the donkey for me.’ And when they had saddled the donkey for him, he mounted it. {14} And rode after the man of God. He found him sitting under an oak tree and asked, ‘Are you the man of God who came from Judah?’ ‘I am,’ he replied. {15} So the prophet said unto him ‘Come home with me and eat.’ {16} The man of God said, ‘I cannot turn back and go with you, nor can I eat bread or drink water with you in this place. {17} I have been told by the word of the Lord: ‘You must not eat bread or drink water there or return by the way you came.’ {18} The old prophet answered, ‘I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the way of the Lord: ‘Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.’ (But he was lying to him.) {19} So the man of God returned with him and ate and drank in his house. {20} While they were sitting at the table, the word of the Lord came to the old prophet who had brought him back. He cried out to the man of God, who had come from Judah, ‘This is what the Lord says: ‘You have defiled the word of the Lord and have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you. {22} You came back and ate bread and drank water in the place where he told you not to eat or drink. Therefore your body will not be buried in the tomb of your fathers.’ {23} When the man of God had finished eating and drinking, the prophet who had brought him back saddled his donkey for him. {24} As they went on his way, a lion met him on the road and killed him, and his body was thrown down on the road, with both the donkey and the lion standing beside it. {25} Some people who passed by saw the body thrown down there, with the lion standing beside the body, and they went and reported it in the city where the old prophet lived. {26} When the prophet who had brought him back from the journey heard of it, he said, ‘It is the man of God who defiled the word of the Lord. The Lord has given him over to the lion, which mauled him and killed him, as the word of the Lord had warned him.’ {27} The prophet said to his sons, ‘Saddle the donkey for me,’ and they did so. {28} Then he went out and found the body thrown down on the road, with the donkey and the lion standing beside it. The lion had neither eaten the body nor mauled the donkey. {29} So the prophet picked up the body of the man of God, laid it on the donkey, and brought it back to his own city to mourn for him and bury him. {30} Then he laid the body in his own tomb, and they mourned over him and said, ‘Oh my brother!’” I Kings 13:11-30

7.      The prophet cannot of his own power prove his divine appointment as spokesman for God. Only God can confirm or demonstrate the appointment. Notice how this happened to Elijah.  “At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: ‘O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.’ I Kings 18:36

8.      The decision to become a prophet is not made by man, neither is the office hereditary. God chooses or appoints prophets. He told Elijah, “Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Mehoiah to succeed you as prophet.” I Kings 19:16

9.      When people refuse to heed the words of God’s prophets, God sends them a delusion that they might be damned. See II Thessalonians 2:11,12 Notice this incredible story in the Old Testament from which Paul took special insight: “But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, ‘First seek the counsel of the Lord.’{6} So the king of Israel brought together the prophets – about four hundred men – and asked them, ‘Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?’ ‘Go, they answered, ‘for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.’ {7} But Jehoshaphat asked, ‘Is there not a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?’ {8} The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, ‘There is still one man through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imiah.’ ‘The king of Israel called one of his officials and said, ‘Bring Micaiah son of Imiah at once.’ {10} Dressed in their royal robes, the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah were sitting on their thrones at the threshing floor by the entrance of the gate of Samaria, with all the prophets prophesying before them. {11} Now Zedekiah son of Kenaanah (a false prophet) had made iron horns and he declared, ‘This is what the Lord says: ‘With these you will gore the Arameans until they are destroyed.’ {12} All the other prophets were prophesying the same thing. ‘Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious,’ they said, ‘for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.’ {13} The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, ‘Look, as one man the other prophets are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.’ ‘But Micaiah said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.’ {15} When he arrived, the king asked him, ‘Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?’ ‘Attack and be victorious,’ he answered, ‘for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.’ {16} The king said unto him, ‘How many times must I make you swear to me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?’ {17} Then Micaiah answered, ‘I saw all Israel scattered on the hills like sheep without a shepherd and the Lord said, ‘These people have no master. Let each one go home in peace.’ {18} The king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, ‘Didn’t I tell you that he never prophesies anything good about me, but only bad?’ {19} Micaiah continued, ‘Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the host of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. {20} And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’ ‘One suggested this, and another that.’ Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ {22} ‘By what means?’ the Lord asked. ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said. ‘You will succeed in enticing him, ‘said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’ {23} So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you.’” I Kings 22:5-23

10.  God is very protective about the way His name is honored or dishonored by prophets. The story of Naaman and greedy Gehazi confirms this point. Speaking to Naaman, Elisha said, “ ‘go in peace.’ After Naaman had traveled some distance, {20} Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, ‘My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.’ {21} So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. ‘Is everything all right,’ Gehazi answered. ‘My master sent me to say, ‘Two young men from the company of the prophets has just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.’’ {23} ‘By all means, take two talents,’ said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing. He gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi. {24} When Gehazi came to the hill, he took the things from the servants and put them away in the house. He sent the men away and they left. {25} Then he went in and stood before his master Elisha. Where have you been, Gehazi?’ Elisha asked. ‘Your servant didn’t go anywhere,’ Gehazi answered. {26} But Elisha said to him, ‘was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money, or accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants? {27} Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.’ The Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and he was leprous, as white as snow.” 2 Kings 5:19-27

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