When most people hear the word “prophecy,” they think of foretelling the future and speaking about something before it happens. This was definitely my concept a couple of years ago. While this surely is an aspect of what prophecy is (Ezk. 34:2, 11; Matt. 16:18; Acts 11:27-28), it is not an all-encompassing definition. Consider the following:
Then they spat in His face and beat Him with their fists, and others slapped Him, saying, “Prophecy to us, Christ! Who is the one who hit You?
Due to our Lord’s incredible character, endurance, and obedience to the Father, He did not prophecy to the Sanhedrin, but as the Lamb led to slaughter, He did not open His mouth (Is. 53:7). However, if He had prophesied concerning who it was that hit Him (He was blindfolded btw – Lk. 22:64), would that be a foretelling? Surely it would be speaking concerning the past!To further emphasize my point and help us come to a more adequate definition, consider the vision of the valley of dry bones:
Then He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of Jehovah.'”
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a noise, and suddenly, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone.
Ezekiel 37:4, 7
The prophesying here had nothing to do with foretelling the future. It was speaking concerning the present actions of Jehovah. So what is prophesying?
Speaking for Christ
And Jehovah said to Moses, “See, I have made you God to Pharaoh; and Aaron your brother will be your prophet.”
This verse affords great light on the matter of prophecy. Aaron was considered Moses’ prophet because he spoke on Moses’ behalf. Whatever Moses was to speak, Aaron spoke for him. This makes him Moses’ prophet. To be a prophet is to be a mouthpiece for another. To be a prophet of Christ is to be one who speaks for Christ or on Christ’s behalf.
While this definition is still not fully adequate, it helps the Bible student understand Old Testament prophecy far more adequately. The majority of what the prophets spoke in the Old Testament was not about the coming Messiah or the coming kingdom. Rather, they mainly spoke God’s judgement upon the present state of Israel and upon God’s people. They were not foretelling so much. They were speaking God’s present Word to His people.
The mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in spirit
The prophets in the New Testament spoke (and speak) concerning the mystery of Christ, which in context is the Church. They spoke according the revelation given to them by God. This speaking did not concern the future kingdom or the coming ages. Their speaking primarily concerned the present reality of Christ and the Church.
Speaking forth Christ
As I mentioned earlier, “speaking for Christ” still isn’t a fully adequate definition. We must include the word “forth” to get the true definition of New Testament prophecy. Consider the following:
And I also say to you that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
He who prophesies builds up the church.
1 Corinthians 14:4
What happened in between Matthew 16:18 and 1 Corinthians 14:4? Did the Lord change His mind concerning who would build the church? In Matthew, it is Him building, but in 1 Corinthians it’s the New Testament prophets! What happened? What happened is Christ got into us (Rm 8:10; Gal. 2:20; 2 Cor. 13:5; Col. 1:27)! Now the Lord can build His Church indirectly (though it is kind of directly!) through the many members (Eph. 4:16).
What allows me to say that prophesying is speaking forth Christ is the biblical fact that Christ is the very building element of the Church. He is the Rock in Matthew 16:18, the foundation stone, the cornerstone, and the top stone (1 Cor. 3:11; Eph. 2:20; Zech. 4:7). The only thing that counts toward the building up of the church are the precious elements in 1 Corinthians 3:12 which are just the Triune God Himself as Gold (Father), Silver (Son), and Precious Stones (Spirit) (Job 22:25; Matt. 26:15; 2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Pet. 2:5).
So when someone prophesies, they are speaking forth Christ as the element of God’s building into others. This is why prophesying builds up the Church.
But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Oh that all Jehovah’s people were prophets, that Jehovah would put His Spirit upon them!
For you can all prophesy one by one that all may learn and all may be encouraged.
1 Corinthians 14:31
Moses uttered the sentiment of Jehovah in his speaking to Joshua. The Lord desires all His people to be prophets! And, praise the Lord, the Spirit has been poured out upon the whole Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13)! Now we all, by the Spirit of God, are qualified and able to prophesy for the building up of the church.
How Do I Do It?
Unfortunately, the act of prophesying has been considered either impossible by some Christian groups or has been treated as a sort of watered down form of counseling or horoscope-like soothsaying in other groups. The Bible reveals that prophesying is speaking for and forth Christ. What that means in our practice is the speaking of Christ as it relates to our experience.
If we are going through something and we experience Christ in the midst of it (maybe as our peace, comfort, savior, shield, etc.), the speaking of that experience to the members of the Body will surely result in building up, encouragement, and consolation (1 Cor. 14:3). When we are reading the Word of God and receive light, the speaking of that light is surely a prophetic speaking. We must not complicate or trivialize prophecy. Neither should we prohibit or despise (1 Thes. 5:20). In fact, we must be eager to prophecy:
So then, my brothers, desire earnestly the prophesying
1 Corinthians 14:39
Lastly, we must realize that prophesying is not something that requires a sort of trance state of the Spirit taking us over. To prophecy is to stand up and speak for and forth the Christ we have experienced. The spirits of prophets are subject to prophets (v. 32). We must be orderly, sober, and in control (v. 40).
I encourage everyone to begin reading the Word of God. Ask the Lord to let you experience the things you are reading about. Seek the Lord in the midst of every situation you are going through. Experience the Lord during these situations. Then speak to other believers concerning your experience of Christ! If we desire to build the Church (v. 12), we must desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that we may prophesy (v. 1).