We have traced the history and the operations of the prophetic gift through the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations,a period of some four thousand years. We now enter the Christian dispensation, and find that it opened with the most remarkable manifestation of the prophetic gift in the record of the Scriptures. This gift was revealed in its clearest meaning and its greatest degree of efficiency in the opening century of this new era. Jesus, the source of this gift, then appeared among men in the fullness of divine wisdom and power, and possessing all the spiritual gifts.
It is worthy of note that the final words of Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament, foretell the appearance of the first prophet in the New Testament. Following Malachi comes John the Baptist. We have no record of any prophet between them. Here are the last words of the prophet Malachi:
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. Mal. 4:5, 6.
Here is the appearance of the first prophet in the Christian dispensation:
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Matt. 3: 1, 2. This was the opening statement of the first sermon given in the new dispensation. That this preacher, John, was a prophet, we know: for of him Jesus said:
What went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. Matt. 11:9, 14.
John the Baptist was brought into the world by the special providence of God, and the angel Gabriel clearly indicates his
work in the very words of Malachi. While a certain priest named Zacharias was ministering in the temple of the Lord, there appeared unto him an angel, who said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John . He shall be great in the sight of the Lord; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost . And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just. Luke 1:5-17.
John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus. About six months after he began his public ministry, Jesus came to him, and received baptism at his hands. In the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice from heaven, John was assured that this was indeed the promised Messiah. After Jesus returned from His forty days of temptation in the wilderness, John pointed Him out to the assembled multitude, and said, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. John 1:29. A little later, he was led to say of Jesus, He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3:30. John was faithfully fulfilling the supremely sacred closing of his lifework, as Jesus, whom he introduced to the human race, was entering upon His glorious mission.
In Jesus Christ Himself the prophetic office reached its highest stage of development, as He stood in a more intimate relation than any other being to His heavenly Father and spoke His word entirely and at all times. In the Christian congregation the office of prophecy is again found, differing from the proclamation of the gospel by the apostles, evangelists, and teachers.The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Vol. IV, art., Prophets, p. 2464.
Christ was that great Prophet of whom Moses, through the prophetic gift, said, The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him ye shall hearken. Deut. 18:15.
Jesus was recognized during His public ministry as a great prophet. Note the clear evidence: The multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth. Matt. 21:11. There came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited His people. Luke 7:16. It was thus that His disciples described Him: Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people. Luke 24:19. Referring to Himself, Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house. Matt. 13:57.
To this relationship, Dean Stanley in his History of the Jewish Church, Volume I,pages 378,379, bears this clear testimony:
It was in the days of Herod the king that the voice of a prophet was once more heard. We shall never understand the true appearance of the Baptist, or of Him whose forerunner he was, nor the continuity of the Old and New Testaments, unless we bear in mind that the period of the Christian era was the culminating point of the prophetic ages of the Jewish church. The word of God came unto John the son of Zachariah, as it had come before to Isaiah the son of Amoz. The people counted him as a prophet. He was a prophet; and more than a prophet. In appearance, in language, in character, he was what Elijah had been in the reign of Ahab. And yet he was only the messenger of a Prophet greater than himself. The whole public ministry of our Lord was that of a prophet. He was much more than this. But it was as a prophet that He acted and spoke. It was this which gave Him His hold on the mind of the nation. He entered, as it were naturally, on an office vacant but already existing. His discourses were all, in the highest sense of the word, prophecies.
He was the one divine, infallible prophet. He exercised every possible manifestation of the prophetic gift. He revealed the past, back into eternity, with perfect ease. He showed infinite wisdom regarding every detail of teaching and of events during the time when He was upon earth. The future was clearly an open book to Him. Indeed, He was, and is still, the source of the prophetic gift by which He has communicated with the human family from the day Adam was sent from his Eden home.
When the Saviour had accomplished all that He came to our world to do, He returned to the glorious realm from which He had come. But before leaving His disciples and His church, He made provision for such gifts of the Spirit as He saw they would need to carry forward with success the work He was committing to them. That work was not a new work, unknown to the church before. Nor were the supernatural gifts new, nor unknown to His messengers of earlier times. It was the same everlasting gospel that was to be proclaimed. The gifts were the same as had been bestowed upon chosen prophets, priests, and people through the ages. The message had been placed in a new setting. The gifts were, perhaps, to be more generally bestowed upon the church. All this was renewed and re-established, and all was designed to abide with the church to the close of time. These gifts are very definitely and specifically set forth in the New Testament.
In Paul's epistle to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ, he tells of the bestowal of the spiritual gifts upon the church; or, more exactly, the renewal of the spiritual gifts in the New Testament church. He says:
When He [Christ] ascended up on high, He gave gifts unto men. And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers. Eph. 4:8, 11.
These were the gifts which were reimparted and permanently established in the apostolic church. For what purpose or service were they given?or the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying [building up, A. R. V.] of the body of Christ. Verse 12.
This is the great, all-comprehensive service these gifts are to render. Now arises the important question: For how long, until what time, were they to continue in the church for the very necessary service for which they were given? The answer is clear and final: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the
knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Eph. 4:13.
There should be no misunderstanding of this statement. The church of Christ is still here in the world. Her Lord is still gathering into the fold faulty, imperfect men and women. They still need the effectual ministry of these spiritual gifts to bring them into the unity of the faith of Christ. They will continue to need them until they attain to the full knowledge of Christ,until they reach that full measure of development found in their divine Lord. There is not the slightest intimation that these gifts were for the church during the days of the apostles only, or that they were to cease at the time of the death of the last apostle, or that they were to be altogether withdrawn at any time before the end of the gospel dispensation.
It should be particularly observed that one of these gifts is the prophetic gift. This gift was bestowed by the same Lord, for the same purpose, and for the same time that all the other spiritual gifts were imparted,namely, until the work of the gospel closes, and the church militant becomes the church triumphant.
This same great truth regarding the bestowal of the spiritual gifts is recorded in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. In chapter 12, verses 4 to 31, they are set forth at considerable length, and with great clearness. One of the gifts named in this list is that of prophecy (verse 10); that is, the prophetic gift. After enumerating the gifts, and clearly explaining their purpose, the apostle admonishes the church to covet earnestly the best gifts, to desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy. Verse 31; 14:1.
Paul had already written in his earlier epistle to the Thessalonians, Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. 1 Thess. 5:19, 20. These two expressions are in a list of exhortations that cannot be otherwise than continual in their application to the church. As truly as we are to rejoice evermore and pray without ceasing so are we evermore to quench not
the Spirit and without ceasing to despise not prophesyings.
The teaching is very clear, that to the church has been given assurance that the spiritual gifts, which are so greatly needed, are to remain as long as the church is in the world. Moreover, the gift of prophecy is specifically mentioned as the gift to be desired and cherished above all others.
The book of Revelation contains several distinct lines of prophecy. Some give a brief outline of the political history of the world from the first advent of Christ to the close of time, while other prophecies trace the history of the church during the same period. The prophecy of the twelfth chapter of the book of Revelation begins with the apostolic church, and ends with the remnant church. Of the latter it is declared:
The dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ. Rev. 12:17.
The dragon represents Satan. The woman represents the church. The remnant indicates the last period of the church. The commandments of God are, of course, the ten great moral precepts of the Decalogue. The testimony of Jesus, as infallibly interpreted by the angel to John, is the spirit of prophecy, when he says, The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Rev. 19:10.
According to this scripture, then, the church of Christ in the last generation will be known and recognized by these two distinguishing characteristics: loyalty to the law of God and possession of the prophetic gift. To these the apostle adds in subsequent prophecy, the faith of Jesus. Rev. 14:12. From this it appears that the remnant church will place special emphasis upon three fundamental doctrines of the gospel,the law of God, the faith of Jesus, and the spirit of prophecy. The law of God is the changeless standard of the righteousness which God requires of all responsible beings. The faith of Jesus is the
means provided whereby man may receive power to keep that law. The spirit of prophecy is the channel through which the Lord will give instruction, warning, and guidance to the remnant church for the work assigned, and for the preparation required at the second coming of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
To this evidence of the divine plan to continue the operation of the prophetic gift to the close of the Christian dispensation should be added the remarkable prophecy of Joel, which says:
It shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: and also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out My Spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call. Joel 2:28-32.
The expression, It shall come to pass, shows that the event was a future one. The word afterward implies that the fulfillment was to follow some definite point of time or some definite experience.
This prophecy was interpreted by the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost. He declared that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that day was in direct fulfillment of Joel's prophecy. Joel said, It shall come to pass afterward. Peter said, This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel. Acts 2:16. This is the event, then, which clearly marks the beginning of the fulfillment of Joel's prophecy.
The apostle enlarges on the idea contained in the word afterward, used by Joel. Peter says, It shall come to pass in the last days. That the apostle understood the Pentecostal visitation to be only the beginning of the outpouring of the Spirit in the last days, is made clear by his statement near the end of his
sermon, that the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. Verse 39. Both Joel and Peter connect the pouring out of the Spirit closely with the signs and event of the great and the terrible day of the Lord, showing that the latter marks the closing event of the period covered by the prophecy. We must conclude, therefore, that the prophetic gift, which is the subject of the prophecy, is to be with the church from Pentecost to the return of Christ for His people.
Now, what was that which was to come to pass afterward, that which was to follow the abundant bestowal of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost? It was this: I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh, or all mankind, as some translations read. Before Pentecost the prophetic gift was practically confined to the Hebrew nation, as far back as Abraham. From Pentecost on it was not to be limited to any one nation. It was to be imparted to the true followers of Christ in all nationsto whomsoever the wisdom, purpose, and good pleasure of God may choose.
The manifestations of the gift were to be as follows:
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. True, devout, loyal members of the church, the body of Christ, will exercise this gracious gift.
Your old men shall dream dreams. Valiant soldiers of the cross, veterans in the great conflict with the forces of evil, will be given special information and encouragement sorely needed in times of perplexity and peril.
Your young men shall see visions. To some in the strength of manhood, called to great tasks, will be revealed broad, comprehensive views of God's purposes and plans for the accomplishment of His work in the earth.
And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out My Spirit. God will not pass by even the lowly in the bestowal of His gifts.
A truly Spirit-filled church!
Pentecost was the beginning of the fulfillment of this prophecy. It marked the beginning of a great spiritual movement in the church and in the whole world.
The testimony of the first Christian church is entirely of a prophetic character. The first effect of the Pentecostal spirit is the prophesying of the believers who were so suddenly and miraculously filled with His power (Acts 2:4): their word is followed by signs and wonders (3:6; 4:30; 5:12, 15, 16; 9:34, 40). The judicial power of their prophecy reveals itself in the history of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11). The Church as such, in her appearance and condition, as well as in her activity, stands like a prophet of God in the midst of the people; and in the consciousness of this her office she abandons every worldly avocation. She has a charge committed to her by the Lord; through her, God will give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins (5:31); she is the Zion that bringeth good tidings, and which says unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God (Isa. 40:9).
From this church proceed the different prophets, such as Stephen, who experienced what the Lord prophesied (Matt. 23:34). At his death the Pentecostal church for the first time comes in conflict with the carnal-minded Israel: her testimony is resisted with blood, but she does not cease. Those who were scattered abroad (Acts 8:4) founded the diaspora, to which St. James addresses his Epistle: they are the prophets (James 5:10) who went about in Judea, Samaria, Galilee, and preached the word of God to the Jews.Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (three-volume edition, 1889), Vol. III, p. 1940.
What a remarkable body of men and women! That was the apostolic church. It was the church Christ founded. It was the church Paul called the body of Christ. It was the kind of church which Christ desired should continue through the centuries until His return. That church was represented in the book of Revelation thus:
I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer. Rev. 6:2. Or, following Goodspeed's translation, He was given a crown, and he rode forth a victor to conquer. The might and the triumphs of that church came
through the gifts dispensed by the Holy Spirit, who came at Pentecost in fulfillment of Joel's prophecy and the promise of the Father.
But the prophecy of Joel reaches to the last days of timeto the remnant whom the Lord shall call. Joel 2:32. It includes the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ; and this testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Rev. 12:17; 19:10.
Thus it is clear that the manifestations of this prophetic gift were not to be limited to the apostolic age or to any one century. The prophecy extends to the special signs of Christ's coming, to the remnant of His people, and to the great and terrible day of the Lord. A remnant is incontrovertibly the last. The remnant church is therefore the last period of the church of Christ that will live on this earththe people of God who will be living and waiting for translation when He comes.
If this understanding of the prophecy is correct, we may reasonably look for, and expect to find, the prophetic gift manifested here and there among the followers of Christ from Pentecost to the end of time.