A ‘prophet’ is someone who prophesies, that is, declares the word of God as it bears on particular national, communal, or personal circumstances.

Prophecy also contains elements of prediction, though they are not its main function.

Biblical and historical context

Old Testament
From early on in Israel’s history prophets played a leading part. It was their responsibility to give God’s messages to his people. This often meant declaring God’s verdict on the state of the world.

The prophet spoke with the authority of God and began his message with the statement, `The Lord says… ‘ So the people had to know whether a prophet was truly speaking God’s word, or whether he was an impostor. The true prophet was always called by God, there were no self-proclaimed ‘true’ prophets.

The prophet was someone to whom God communicated his plans. A `prophet’ who led people away from God must be a false prophet (still a relevant test). If a person prophesied something that did not come true he was also a false prophet. The penalty for such prophets was death, because they were a threat to the faith and security of Israel.

Prophecy can have more than one fulfilment. For instance most O.T. prophetic messages referred directly to the situation of the prophet’s own time. They were meant to be fulfilled in the prophet’s own age, but also often pointed forward towards Jesus. This is why some of the Old Testament prophecies are applied to Christ by the New Testament writers. However, we do need to be careful in applying Biblical prophesy to our contemporary situation.

New Testament
There is a gift of `prophecy’ mentioned in the New Testament which is one of God’s specific gifts, given to various members of the church in order to build it up. But we should all expect to  hear from God with the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit on all believers, everyone, men and women, to proclaim God’s message.

The prophecies of the Book of Revelation, like those in the Old Testament Book of Daniel, belong to a type of literature called `apocalyptic’. This contains specific imagery which should not be regarded as a model for us to use in prophecy ourselves.

I Cor 14:
1:Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.
2:For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no-one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit.
3:But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.
4:He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
5:I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.
6:Now,  brothers, if I come to you and speak in tongues, what good will I be to you, unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or word of instruction?

12:So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.
13:For this reason anyone who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret what he says.
So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and some who do not understand or some unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?

24:But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all,
25:and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”

Paul expected prophecy to be a part of normal Christian life, for building the church, and maybe as an effective means of evangelism!

So what’s the deal with prophecy, why can we have such difficulty in expecting to prophesy?

It may be because of the historical context that we have come to expect prophecy to mostly be for ‘gifted’ or slightly weird Christians.


Simply write down what you think God is saying, and see if it turns out to be true.

© Paul Wood