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The essence of the spirit of prophecy

The essence of the spirit of prophecy

Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and has served as a professor at a number of seminaries. He is the author of 25 books and hosts the nationally syndicated, daily talk radio show, the Line of Fire.

There is a tremendous focus on prophetic words today. Did charismatic prophets really predict a Trump victory in 2016, even before he had announced his run for the White House? Should these prophets be trusted today when, virtually, to a person, they assure us that Trump really did win the 2020 election and that the final results will prove it? And beyond these specific questions, what is the primary purpose of prophecy?

It is this last question I want to focus on – and I will do so later in this article – but it’s important we clarify some things up front.

To be perfectly clear, none of us who believe in prophetic ministry today believe that anyone can add to the Bible. Perish the thought. That is rank heresy of the highest order. Anyone who makes such a claim or wants his or her words to be received on the level of Scripture should be openly and clearly rejected.

The Bible stands alone as God’s Word – the Word of God – and that alone is our infallible guide to salvation and godly living.

But that doesn’t mean that the Spirit is no longer speaking. Why would that follow? The Scriptures have a unique and irreplaceable function. Nothing challenges their role.

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At the same time, we have a personal relationship with a personal God, and Jesus Himself said that we, His sheep, hear His voice (see John 10:27; the Greek speaks of an active, ongoing hearing and obeying).

The Spirit may direct us to go into a certain career. Or to embark on a particular ministry endeavor. Or to encourage our faith in a dark time. How does that compete with Scripture?

In the same way, the Spirit continues to speak to us through prophetically gifted people.

But hear this clearly: Prophets are not glorified fortune tellers. Their role is not to give us abstract information about tomorrow. Instead, if they give us information about tomorrow, there will always be a practical reason for it.

It could be to prepare us for difficult times (see Luke 22:31-32; Acts 11:27-30; 20:22-24). It could be to build our faith, helping us to hold on until the answer came (see Acts 27 and Paul’s role during the shipwreck). It could be to bring something unexpected to our attention, causing us to change our planned course (see Acts 16:6-10).

When it comes to Trump, it is possible that, because he was such an unlikely candidate, God revealed to a number of prophetic ministers that he would be used to accomplish good for America and for Israel. (You can evaluate all the prophetic words here relative to 2016.)

In the same way, it’s possible that these same prophetic ministers have been declaring that Trump will serve a second, consecutive term because of a massive attempt to steal the election from him. The prophets would then be saying, “Don’t lose heart! It will happen.”

Or they could be wrong. All of them. It has happened before. (Note the striking account in 1 Kings 22, where all the king’s prophets gave patriotic prophecies. Only an outsider had the real word, and it was a bad one.)

But before you pick up stones to stone them (yes, I’m speaking metaphorically), let’s wait until the final verdict is rendered.

Either way, though, whether they are right or wrong (some of them are my colleagues and friends), there are several things we can say for sure.

First, prophesying about political outcomes is not the primary purpose of prophecy. Rather, as rendered in the NLT, “the essence of prophecy is to give a clear witness for Jesus” (Revelation 19:10). In the end, He must be central.

Second, the Church is not led by prophets. They do not give national or international directives to the Body of Christ. They are fellow-ministers, along with others who are gifted and called. That’s also why it’s inappropriate for contemporary prophets to point to 2 Chronicles 20:20 (where the king of Israel tells the people to believe a specific prophetic word), in order to tell people today, “Believe our message!”

Third, the words of contemporary prophets must be tested and evaluated (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21), since, according to Paul, “we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). Plus, in this New Testament era, every believer can potentially prophesy (Acts 2:17-18; 1 Corinthians 14:39). That’s why we do not stone them to death if they get something wrong, as was mandated in Old Testament times. But that’s also why we do not lend them the same authority that was given to Old Testament prophets.

So, to every contemporary prophet who wants to speak with Old Testament authority: remember the penalty for missing it.

Fourth, and most importantly, one of the central functions of prophets is to expose idolatry and warn against leading on the arm of the flesh. Only God is to be worshiped!

We actually see this right in Revelation 19:10, where John, the author of the book, is about to worship the angel who had spoken to him: “Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God.’ For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (ESV).

This mighty, awe-inspiring angelic being is telling John, “Don’t worship me! I’m a servant of God just like you are. Worship Him only! The ultimate purpose of the prophetic spirit – the very Spirit that inspired you to write this book of Revelation – is to testify about Jesus. All eyes are to be on Him!”

To the extent that contemporary prophets have not consistently exposed our exaggerated trust in Trump as some sort of political messiah, they have failed to bring the full message of God. That is a serious error that must be addressed.

And, in all candor, it makes no sense to me that, with a massive stream of pro-Trump prophetic pronouncements, there were so few warnings about our idolatrous trust in a very strong but very flawed man. Something has been sadly missing.

We have often shouted MAGA more loudly than we have proclaimed the gospel, and we have sometimes focused on Trump as much as we have focused on Jesus (in some cases, even more so). Where were the all prophetic warnings about this?

So, whether or not the Trump prophecies prove true for the 2020 election, it’s clear that we have some major housecleaning to do.

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Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is Evangelicals at the Crossroads: Will We Pass the Trump Test? Connect with him on FacebookTwitter, or YouTube.

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