The first prophetic statement in the Bible was given by the Lord God Himself. He told Satan, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise His heel” (Gen 3:15). Enoch (Jude 14-15) followed with his prophecy before Abraham’s time but Abraham was the first man in the Bible to be called a prophet, and that by God (Gen 20:7). While some prophets are not identified, over 25 are specifically named in the Old Testament. Jeremiah receives the honor of being mentioned most often as “the prophet.” Malachi gave us the last written prophecy and John the Baptist, the forerunner, was the last Old Testament prophet before the Lord Jesus. The word is used 315 times in the Old Testament and refers, at times, to a person who tells the future, but more often has a broader use. For example, the second mention of the word is when Aaron was to be Moses’ prophet (Exo 7:1), giving the meaning of a spokesman, or one who would speak on his behalf.
Selected prophets and their makeup
The majority of Old Testament prophets were men of distinguished character such as Moses, Nathan, Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc. The Biblical principle is that these men were selected or called by God for their character and convictions which gave emphasis to their communication of truth. Luke, Peter, and the holy angel, give light on these men when they describe them as “holy men of God” (Luke 1:70; 2Peter 1:21; Rev 22:6).
Spiritual prophets and their message
Some gave many or long prophecies which, in written form, became known for their length as major prophecies, while others gave shorter prophecies and for that reason alone were called minor prophets. Haggai gave one of the most succinct descriptions of a true prophet as “the Lord’s messenger in the Lord’s message unto the people” (Hag 1:13). Zechariah said that God “spake by the mouth of His holy prophets” (Luke 1:70). So they were God’s instruments to communicate His will to the people. A prophet was also to communicate “in the name of the Lord” (Deut 18:22) or with all the authority of heaven. Peter explained that “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man” (2Peter 1:20 ESV). A true prophet did not manufacture a message through his own imagination or feelings. Instead, these men became channels for divine revelation and application of truth to real life situations as they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2Peter 1:21). While each prophet communicated a specific message to a specific audience about a specific situation, all written prophecy gives some insight and revelation of the Lord Jesus (Luke 24:27). Sometimes the prophets did not fully understand the message they were giving (1Peter 1:10), but nevertheless they “enquired and searched diligently” with great interest in God and His great program of revealing grace.
Sensitive prophets and their methods
Most prophets conveyed revelation from God in the form of a spoken message. Sixteen books in the Old Testament bear the names of the ministry of prophets who likely spoke first, but then wrote later. Others, like Ezekiel (Eze 4:4) and Jeremiah (Jer 27:1-12) gave some of their prophecies in the form of pantomime or symbolic acts, representing a message from the Lord to His people. In all methods, it was incumbent upon each man selected to prophesy to do so with utmost faithfulness.
Stoned prophets and their mistakes
In most jobs, there is at least some tolerance for mistakes. However, if a man claimed to be a prophet in Old Testament times, he would want to be very sure that God had called him to that role. “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously” (Deut 18:22). For example, Isaiah prophesied 200 years before it happened that a king called Cyrus would give an edict for captive Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild it. At the time, neither he nor anyone else could tell if he was telling the truth or just imagining or inventing this idea. His credibility for long-term prophecies would depend on the veracity of his short-term prophecies. The divine standard to identify a messenger from God would be 100 percent accuracy. One failure and the people were to reject the prophet and his message. That prophet would end up stone dead.
Fortune tellers and “secular prophets” like Nostradamus and Shirley McClaine, and spiritual prophets like Muhammad, Charles Russell, Joseph Smith, Ellen White, the modern Harold Camping, and others, would not have survived beyond their first failed prophecy. The same would apply to many religious organizations who gave false prophecies such as the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and the Church of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons). The modern charismatic movement is also full of “prophecies” and “prophets” in local churches and abroad whose accuracy is less than 100 percent perfect. To avoid this standard, many modern prophecies are vague and general to allow for greater flexibility in the application and interpretation. This is not how God works and shows that this is not Biblical or divinely inspired prophesy.
Sneaky prophets and their motives
No one bothers making counterfeit $13.00 bills. The reason they print bills of $20.00, $50.00, and $100.00 is because they are only effective if they are imitating real, genuine bills. Because revelation given to prophets was to be God’s authentic way of communicating with His people for 1500 years, God anticipated that the enemy would produce frauds and counterfeits. He told Israel that there would be diviners, observers of times, enchanters, witches, charmers, consulters with familiar spirits, wizards, and necromancers in the nations around them (Deut 18:9-12). Israel was to distance herself from all demonically energized counterfeit communication which was, and still is, particularly repulsive to God.
God also warned (Deut 13:1-5) of the particular deceit of those who would predict events that would actually come to pass and verify their message with miracles. Although this shocking show would mesmerize the multitude, God called Israel to apply the litmus test of motives and results. If in the end it was not intended to draw God’s people to Him in obedience and love, they were to take this counterfeit and stone him. Israel was to have a zero-tolerance policy for imitation of authentic divine realities. They were to constantly evaluate all prophets, even down to the objectives and the results of their ministry. Jesus taught the same in the New Testament when He warned of false prophets and teachers. He simply said, “By their fruits ye shall know them” (Matt 7:20).
Serious prophets and their meticulousness
Why is God so demanding when it comes to revelation and prophecy? First, He always protects His own character and infallibility. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), and Israel was responsible to discern when the God of truth was speaking to them and when it was fraudulent so as to never allow anyone to question God’s reliability.
God always protects the character and offices of His Son as well. “God, having spoken in many parts and in many ways formerly to the fathers in the prophets, the end of these days has spoken to us in the person of the Son” (Heb 1:2 Darby). Revelation and prophecy were given in limited ways and at limited times, but it was always with the anticipation that last of all God would speak “in” Son. The origin of prophecy, the agent of prophecy, and the fulfillment of the revelation would all be found in one Person. So when Moses gave the Lord’s absolute standard for accuracy in prophecy, he also promised that one day He would raise up “a prophet” in Israel (Jewish), like his brethren (a real man), yet like God (the Word became flesh) Who would speak on God’s behalf and as God (Deut 18:15). Christ would fulfill the role of prophet in which all others had been functioning through the centuries. Because Christ was the ultimate end in view of prophecy and prophets, God jealously protected the office and role of the prophet even with the death penalty.
There should be no surprise then that the Bible warns often against “false teachers” and ends with the last mention of a false prophet (Rev 19:20). The devil has wanted the place of worship since his fall (Isa 14:14; Matt 4:9) and will perform an imitation of the incarnation by taking possession and control of the beast, the antichrist. During the Tribulation, an image of the beast will be set up in the Jewish temple with a view to the worship of this man indwelt by Satan himself. To present and propagate this worship, there will be a demonically empowered “false prophet.” The Apostle John saw God’s final response to Satan’s imitation of God’s holy and perfect Prophet. He said that the beast and the false prophet, “both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Rev 19:20).
May God then give us discernment when we consider prophecy in the modern Charismatic Movement. As John wrote, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1John 4:1).