Most believers in the Bible take it for granted that the gift of prophecy was withdrawn from the church when the writing of the New Testament was completed. Few Christians give serious consideration to the idea that the gift might have operated after that time. The purpose of this chapter is to study the Scriptural evidences which reveal God's purpose to continue to send revelations to His church through prophets, whenever special messages might be necessary or desirable. In particular we will find that the gift should be present in the remnant church shortly before the return of the Saviour. About a dozen Bible passages, divided into four groups, present the evidence. Since there are no texts that even hint that the manifestations of the gift should end, it is not necessary to compare and weigh evidence to discover whether or not the gift should be present in post-Biblical times. Particular attention must be given to the circumstances under which it is indicated that the presence of the gift might be expected.
1. From the Old Testament. And 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 time setting of the prediction of the outpouring of the Spirit is important, in order that we may understand the significance of afterward in verse 28. According to the next verses, this was to be fulfilled at the time when certain wonders would be shown in the heavens and on the earth, and in close proximity to the deliverance of the remnant whom the Lord shall call. The first two verses of chapter 3 help to complete the picture of the time involved. Joel 2:30 may be subject to a variety of understandings, but there can be no question about the events of verse 31, The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord come. In His enumeration of occurrences portending His return, Jesus included this sign among others: Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven. Matthew 24:29, 30. Another parallel passage is found in Revelation 6:12-17, And I beheld when He had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth . And the heaven departed as a scroll . For the great day of His wrath is come. These signs, referred to by Joel, Jesus, and John point to the dark day of May 19, 1780. Other related signs, closely associated with the second advent of Christ, are witnesses that the event is near. The indication is that in the same general time period the Lord would pour out His Spirit in an unusual manner upon all flesh.
The prediction reveals that in the days preceding the second advent of Jesus Christ, God will pour out His Spirit in a remarkable way. We need not now delve into the variety of the manifestations of the Spirit. It is sufficient for our purpose to know that one of the results of the coming of the Spirit will be to cause some persons to prophesy, after having received visions and dreams. Therefore, a revival of prophetism is to be a mark of preadvent times.
One question must be answered before we leave this prophecy of Joel, a question raised by the use Peter made of this text on the Day of Pentecost. Explaining to those who mocked the miracle of that day, the apostle declared, This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel. Acts 2:16. Then he went on to quote the verses we have been considering. Was the prophecy completely fulfilled at Pentecost? If so, it cannot help us in our present problem. Louis M. Sweet proposes the same query, and virtually answers it in the asking. The promise through Joel is an undeniable prediction (every promise is such), which in a measure would be fulfilled in any exceptional manifestation of God's Spirit among men. The only question which can possibly be raised in connection with Peter's use of this passage is whether the Pentecostal outpouring was the climactic realization of the promise: that is, the establishment of the era of blessing foretold by the prophet.The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, vol. 4, P. 2517. He approves Peter's use of the text to apply to the occasion, but he wonders if enough happened on the Day of Pentecost to warrant maintaining that the prediction of Joel was completely fulfilled that day.
A brief review of the events shows that Joel's prediction did not then meet its complete fulfillment. The wonders in the heavens and on the earth that were foretold did not take place. There is no Biblical evidence that visions and dreams were given that day, and if the whole prophecy was fulfilled in one day, that would have been necessary. The prophet named events
to take place with a view to the soon coming of deliverance for God's remnant, but other predictions of the rise of the remnant were not completed for many centuries. On the Day of Pentecost a remarkable outpouring of the Spirit of God was given, and Peter rightly used Joel's prophecy to show that God had foretold such blessings; but by no means can we say that the prophecy had not further significance. In fact, what happened at Pentecost was simply a foretaste of what is to be seen in the outpouring of the Spirit in the days preceding the second event. Putting Acts 2 beside Joel 2 merely emphasizes that something greater was ahead in the demonstration of the gift of prophecy in the remnant church.
A second Old Testament prediction must receive consideration in this connection. 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. Malachi 4:5, 6. Who was Elijah the prophet, and what has he to do with a continuation of the prophetic gift after Biblical times? Is there to be a literal return of this prophet of God who fulfilled his mission so nobly that the Lord took him to heaven in a chariot of fire without experiencing death? 2 Kings 2:11.
Jesus gives insight on this subject in His words regarding John the Baptist. He had spoken of John as more than a prophet, (Matthew 11:9), and had told how John fulfilled the prediction of a messenger to prepare the way for Jesus' coming. Then He said, And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come. Verse 14. On another occasion the disciples inquired, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not . Then the disciples understood that He spake unto them of John the Baptist. Matthew 17:10-13. It will be recalled, however, that
when John had been questioned, Art thou Elias? he had answered, I am not. John 1:21. How, then, are the words of Jesus to be understood? Another verse gives the explanation. 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; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:17. These were Gabriel's words to John's father, Zacharias, when he told the priest of the miraculous birth of his long-hoped-for son. John was not Elijah once more appearing in the flesh, but the spirit and power of his message was the same, and he was to help prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.
By coming in the spirit and power of Elijah, preaching repentance and serving as a forerunner of Christ, John fulfilled the prophecy of Malachi 4. But something more is involved in that prophecy that does not find its fulfillment in John's work. Elijah was to come before the great and dreadful day of the Lord. The situation is similar to that of Peter's use of Joel's prophecy on the Day of Pentecost. There was only a partial fulfillment at that time. The great and dreadful day of the Lord is the second coming of Christ. Before that time the prophet Elijah will help prepare the people for the event. As John the Baptist partially fulfilled the prediction by announcing and preparing the way for the coming of Christ the first time, so those who announce His second coming and help to prepare the people for it will carry their message with the spirit and power of Elijah. Elijah was a prophet, John was a prophet; and it may be anticipated that in fulfillment of this particular prediction, the prophetic gift will again be prominent in leading people to make preparation for the second advent.
2. From the words of Jesus. Jesus Christ, in His talks with His disciples and with the people, did not declare specifically that the gift of prophecy would continue to the end; but some of His other declarations and warnings can be understood only
in the light of this truth. Sitting on the Mount of Olives, He described for His disciples the signs that would signify that His second advent was near. One of the indications, He said, would be the rise of false christs and false prophets. Matthew 24:11, 24. Much earlier in His ministry He had given a general warning, Beware of false prophets, (Matthew 7:15); but this time the warning was given in the setting of events to occur just preceding His second coming.
If Christ had not anticipated that there would be the true manifestation of the gift of prophecy at the same time that He warned of the false, He would no doubt have said something like this: Beware of anyone who professes to be a prophet, for there will be no prophets in those days. Jesus made no such statement as that; He simply issued a warning for all to be careful about the kind of prophets they heeded. The implication is clear that the true gift would coexist with the false, and that it would be necessary for the remnant people to choose between good and evil prophets.
Another important, although indirect, indication that Jesus recognized that the gift of prophecy would not end with the completion of the New Testament is found in His promise to His disciples that the Holy Spirit would be with them continually (John 14:15-17), and teach them all things. John 14:26. As will be particularly noted later, it is through the ministry of the Holy Spirit that the gifts Christ bestowed on the church are made effective. It is the Spirit who divides the gifts to every man severally as He will. 1 Corinthians 12:11. See also Ephesians 4:8, 11-13. In Jesus' promise of the coming of the Spirit was wrapped up the promise of the gifts of the Spirit, even though they were not enumerated until later.
3. From the words of Paul. The bulk of evidence for the continuance of the prophetic gift after apostolic times is found in Paul's letters to the churches. Some of his statements are of a general nature, showing that all the gifts that Christ placed in
the church would continue to the end. Others are more specific in pointing to the presence of prophecy in the remnant church.
Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21.
These words appear near the close of a chapter that deals with the problem of the preparation for the coming of the Lord. The apostle to the Gentiles talks of the times and seasons, showing that the advent is near. He says the coming of the Lord will be as a thief in the night, that the peace-and-safety cry will come at a time of sudden destruction; he calls all Christians to be awake and sober, to comfort, edify, and admonish one another, to hold fast to the truth. Under these circumstances, he says they are not to despise prophesyings, but that they should test all things and hold fast the good. This is a positive statement of the same thought Christ stated negatively, when He warned, There shall arise false prophets. Thus we see that Paul anticipated that the true prophetic voice would be heard in the days preceding the second advent of Christ.
That in everything ye are enriched by Him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you: so that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:5-8. Notice that Paul expected the Corinthians to be enriched in all things by the Lord even as, or, to the extent that, the testimony of Christ was confirmed in them. The testimony of Christ referred to is the same as the testimony of Jesus mentioned in Revelation 19:10, and there defined as the spirit of prophecy. They would grow spiritually to the extent that the messages of God through the prophets of all ages were established in their minds.
These declarations were made with reference to the people who were waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle's desire for this group was that they should come behind in none of the gifts Christ had placed in the church.
Listed prominently among the gifts, as we shall see in reference to other passages from Paul's pen, is the gift of prophecy. This statement in 1 Corinthians is one of the strongest the apostle made foretelling that this gift was to remain in the church until the return of Jesus Christ. It is interesting that in this instance, when talking of the continuity of the gifts, Paul uses prophecy as his illustration. By this means the remnant church is to be built up and strengthened while waiting for the coming of the Saviour.
Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men . And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 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. Ephesians 4:8-13. Do the saints still need perfecting? Does the ministry need any particular help in carrying out its work? Does the body of Christ, the church, need to be edified and enlightened today? If the answers to these questions are positive, there is still need for the gifts of the Spirit in the church. Is it essential that the church have apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers? If so, the gifts are to continue. As long as the need remains, the gifts remain. In fact, the greatest time of need in the life of the church will be during the period when the final preparation is being made for the end of all things. We have seen that the Lord has made special provision for an outpouring of His Spirit at that time, and for a manifestation of the spirit of prophecy. Joel 2.
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of
tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27, 28. It is of interest to note that the only gift mentioned in all three of Paul's lists (1 Corinthians 12:8-10; 1 Corinthians 12128; Ephesians 4:11) is the gift of prophecy.
In the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul had told his friends at Corinth that they were to come behind in no gift as they waited for the coming of the Lord. Now, before closing his letter, he sets before them the purposes and functions of the gifts in the church. He shows how every gift is related to every other one, and how the body cannot be complete and carry on its work in the most efficient manner if one of the gifts is missing. He tells them that the gifts are not bestowed on the members of the church generally, but the Holy Spirit selects those who will be able to make most effective use of the gifts. The possession of any one gift, then, cannot be made a test of Christian experience, for the indication is clear that not every member will receive every gift or even any one gift. While the enumeration of the gifts in this chapter is similar to that in Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12 gives a much fuller explanation of their place in the church, and again emphasizes that they were to be a permanent possession of the church. No one of them was expected to cease while the Lord was trying to teach the church His will.
4. From the words of John. In the book of the Revelation we are given a clear view of the struggle between Satan and the people of God from the apostolic age to the final destruction of sin and sinners. In more detail than other Bible writers, John describes the conflict between the powers of darkness and the remnant church of God.
And 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. Revelation 12:17. This chapter of the Revelation presents a series of events, some of which were history in John's day, and
others were prophecy. In the first part of the chapter there appears a woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet, and a crown with twelve stars on her head. She represents the true church. Then we see a great red dragon who attempts to destroy the Man-child born of the woman. The dragon is identified as the same enemy that warred against Michael and His angels and was banished from heaven. He is called the accuser of the brethren. It is made clear that through the blood of the Lamb and the word of the testimony of the saints, many have overcome him. Because of the shortening of the time, the efforts of the dragon increased and his persecution drove the woman into a place of refuge for a time, and times, and half a time,the 1260-year period from A.D. 538 to 1798. The woman was nourished during this time and received help that kept her from being destroyed completely. Many, but not all, who comprised the seedthe children of the womanwere put to death, forced into renunciation of their faith, or led astray through false doctrines and deceptive practices. A few, only a remnant, remained to launch once more God's program of sending to all the world a message of His love and redeeming power.
With this remnant the dragon renewed his warfare in an attempt to destroy it through either persecution or deception. So there might be no mistake as to the identity of the remnant, two of its leading characteristics are mentionedcharacteristics that in an unusual way set the remnant apart from all other professed followers of God. Attention is focused on those who keep the commandments of God and possess the testimony of Jesus Christ. The testimony of Jesus is identified in Revelation 19:10 as the spirit of prophecy. Keeping the commandments of God and having the spirit of prophecy are two marks to help determine the identity of the true remnant. In these two verses in Revelation we have brought to focal point the various predictions of the presence of the gift of prophecy in the last days. Joel, Malachi, Jesus, and Paul have, directly or indirectly,
indicated a manifestation of the gift in the days shortly preceding the return of Christ. Now John points out that the remnant church, the last before the second advent, is to have the gift of prophecy as one of its major marks of identification. Again is illustrated the remarkable unity and common objective of the whole of the Bible.
And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. Revelation 19:10. A consideration of the entire verse in its context, rather than merely the last clause, adds significance to the incident of which this verse records but a portion. John had been given a revelation of the judgment to fall on the apostate power in the final day of retribution; he had seen the gathering of the saints to enjoy the marriage supper of the Lamb. Then the angel, apparently Gabriel again, said to the prophet, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. Revelation 19:9. So impressed was John with what he had seen that he fell down at the feet of the angel to worship him. But the instantaneous rebuke of the messenger was, See thou do it not. He went on to explain why he could not accept the worship of the seer. He was not God, but one of John's fellow servants. But of even greater importance to us is the next fact he announced: he was the fellow servant of John's brethren that have the testimony of Jesus. Fellowship with the angel of prophecy is the privilege of the remnant church possessing the spirit of prophecy.
Later the scene was repeated as John again fell at the feet of the angel, and was once more restrained by the messenger, who this time declared himself to be thy fellow servant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book. Revelation 22:9. Next in the series of events enumerated leading up to the second advent is the close of probation. He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: he that
is holy, let him be holy still. Verse 11. The group with whom the angel of prophecy said he would have fellowship because they keep the sayings of the book is the remnant church. What a privilege it is for the remnant to receive the fulfillment of these promises of special fellowship with Christ's angelic representative !
1. Two lines of thought are set forth in the texts presented. First, Paul's words in Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 make plain that the gifts of the Spirit, placed in the church by Christ, are to remain in the church until the end. Though not all of the gifts need appear in the church at any one moment, to try to remove the gift of prophecy and maintain that all the other gifts should be found in the modern church, is like taking the fourth commandment out of the Decalogue and urging that all the others be kept.
2. In the second line of thought we turn our attention to the church, immediately preceding Christ's second advent. Specific application of the general promise given in 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4.
3. Words of Joel, Malachi, Jesus, Paul, and John indicate that the Spirit of prophecy will be operating in the last days. The context of each text of this group places it in the setting of events taking place shortly before the second advent.
1. Present additional evidence from Joel 2 and 3, showing the correct chronology of Joel 2:28-32.
2. Why is not the list of last-day signs complete in Joel 2, in Matthew 24, or in Revelation 6? If the context is studied and the texts are compared, is there danger of confusion because of the incompleteness?
3. Outline ways in which Elijah and John the Baptist typify the remnant church.
4. Since there are no Bible texts indicating that prophecy should end with the completion of the New Testament, how do you account for the general absence of the gift from the churches today?
Haynes, Carlye B., The Gilt of Prophecy, pp. 21-62.