A prophecy refers to the oral or written message of a prophet. Biblically, a prophet is “one who is divinely inspired to communicate God’s will to His people and to disclose the future to them” (Unger, 1988:1040). “Prophecy should not be essentially defined as a foretelling of the future. Instead, it is the forthtelling [sic] of a revelation from God which on occasion also may involve the prediction of future events.” (Robertson, 1993:4). The three modes God used to communicate prophecy are: visions, dreams and direct communication.
Prophecy is purely an act of God as the Apostle Peter confirmed: “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21). In this passage Peter also confirms that prophecy is the gift chosen by God for producing Scripture, hence our look at prophecy in both the Old and New Testaments.
1. Prophecy in the Old Testament
The importance of prophecy in Scripture cannot be overemphasized, seeing that prophetic literature constitutes about a quarter of the canon (Walvoord, 1998:vii). But from the Old Testament, we also see that prophets can either be cultic (such as a diviner), false, or God-sent. Hence stun warning is given to the people of God to steer clear of cultic and false prophets and prophecy, a practice punishable by death (Deuteronomy 13:1-5; cf. 18:20).
As we study the Old Testament and especially sections on prophetic literature, two main themes stand out: judgment and salvation. The people, not only Israel but world nations as well, are judged for their sin, while at the same time, there is the presentation of hope through the promise of the Messiah (e.g. Ezekiel 34). Thus the prime purpose of prophecy as seen throughout Scripture is the progressive revelation of Christ. “Christ is the central figure and focus of all history and prophecy” (Tan, 1974:104). The dual theme of judgment and salvation with Christ as the centre can be traced as early as Genesis 3 where God judges man for his sin, but also gives him the first promise of a Redeemer through the seed of the woman (verse 15). Hence “Scripture not only presents the prophetic word as a demonstration of God’s power and wisdom, but it presents His response to man’s need [for a Saviour]” (Unger, 1988:1040).
2. Prophecy in the New Testament
While prophecy in the Old Testament predicted the future coming of the Messiah, prophecy in the New Testament confirmed the fulfilment of His coming. “Prophecy in the New Testament is seen as both a continuation of Old Testament prophecy as well as its fulfilment. For New Testament authors, the correct interpretation of Old Testament prophecy is that it speaks in toto of Christ.” (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2009:"Prophecy").
In the New Testament Christ Himself confirmed that He is the theme of the Old Testament on at least five different occasions (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:27; Luke 24:44; John 5:39; Hebrews 10:7) (Jensen, 1978:45). Further, the Gospel accounts record John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, as bearing witness to the fact that the prophecy of the Messiah was fulfilled in Christ (John 1:29, 36; cf. Mark 1:1-8). Not only does the New Testament confirm the fulfilment of the Messianic prophecies, it also details prophecies concerning His Second Coming. This is most explicitly read in the book of Revelation.
3. Prophecy Today
So where does prophecy stand in the Church today? Do we still need divine revelation from God? Well, with the major purpose of prophecy being the advent of Christ there negates the need for prophecy today after Christ’s incarnation. Hebrews 1 states that, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son” (verses 1, 2). “The story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ, but there is no progression beyond Him” (Bruce, 1990:46). We only await His return as revealed in Revelation. And even in Revelation, John the apostle was warned against editing the prophetic book by adding to or removing from the content (Revelation 22:18, 19).
Today, Scripture, as recorded in the Old and New Testaments, is enough for us to know the revelation of God through Christ. Paul confirmed that all Scripture is inspired by God and sufficient for us (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). Hence the work prophets did in the past is done through Scripture today. The Old Testament prophesied Christ’s coming, while the New Testament confirmed His coming and prophesied His imminent return.
Thus all prophecy necessary for revelation concerning Christ has already been given, whether on His first or second coming. “Scripture alone!” is hence the biblical assertion of the Church today in terms of access to special revelation.
- Bruce, F. F. 1990. Hebrews. New International Commentary on the New Testament (NICNT). Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. 2009. Article on "Prophecy." Encyclopaedia Britannica Deluxe Edition. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica
- Jensen, I. L. 1978. Jensen’s Survey of the Old Testament. Chicago: Moody Bible Institute
- Robertson, O. P. 1993. The Final Word: A Biblical Response to the Case for Tongues and Prophecy Today. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust
- Tan, P. L. 1974. The Interpretation of Prophecy. Indiana: BMH Books
- Unger, M. F. 1988. The New Unger's Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody Bible Institute
- Walvoord, J. F. 1998. End Times: Understanding Today’s World Events in Biblical Prophecy (In_Swindoll, C. R., ed., Understanding the Basic Precepts of Our Faith. Nashville: Word Publishing)