The office of the prophet is probably the least-understood and most-neglected ministry office in the Church today. If we refuse to receive an apostle, we refuse order. However, if we refuse to receive a prophet, we refuse destiny. Where there is no destiny there is no future. The Church then becomes relegated to the narrow existence of the here and now. The prophet is the key to the Church’s destiny and power.
The Church today needs to recognize and receive the ministry of the prophet and to pray that God will raise those with the prophetic gifting into their proper prophetic office. Those who hold the office of prophet form a charismatic order to which a recognized position should be given in the Church.
A special recognition and authoritative status should be conferred upon those who have manifested certain gifts in a prominent and/or continuing manner. The prophet is the Lord’s instrument, one of several means by which Jesus Christ leads His Church. In the power of the Spirit, the prophet manifests the character of the Lord, who is the prophet of the end time.
The Authority of the Prophet
When a prophet is recognized and comes into his office, he brings with him an authority from God that accomplishes two things in the Church. First, it helps us to realize that God is a God of the now. A prophet is always reminding us that God is, not just that He was; he tells us what God is doing, not just what He has done.
Knowing what God has done throughout history is important; it is a powerful legacy for us. However, we also need to know beyond doubt that the God of the Bible is the God of today; that the God who blessed Moses, helped David, and anointed Jesus will also bless, help, and anoint us. Our God is a now God, and the prophet helps us to remember that.
A prophet has the ability to see things that are not seen. He focuses not on the circumstances, but on the God who rules the circumstances; not on the mess of today, but on the solution that God will provide down the road. The office of the prophet is to speak to us continually in the here and now.
The second thing that the authority of the prophet accomplishes in the Church is that it brings back the fear of the Lord. The sad truth is that there is very little fear of the Lord today either inside the Church or outside. There was a time when a church could be left unlocked 24 hours a day, seven days a week without fear of someone stealing the sound system, vandalizing the building, or spray-painting graffiti on the walls.
Now many churches have to allot a significant portion of their budgets to security systems and higher insurance coverage. There was a time when only “essential services” were open for business on Sunday. Now our society treats the Lord’s Day as just another day of the week. Gone is the general civic understanding and belief that the nation that honors and serves God will be blessed by God.
Fear of God is lacking in the Church, too. Many believers have only a shallow and immature commitment to God that allows them to constantly rationalize and justify attitudes, behavior, and lifestyles that go against God’s will as revealed in His Word. Because there is little understanding of what God expects and requires, there is little fear and a limited sense of awe and respect for His holiness and glory.
The prophet in his office, however, gets our attention and brings us back to a holy fear of God. The Lord is looking for a holy Church, a pure and spotless Bride of Christ. A restoration of the fear of God in the Church is necessary if the Church is to grow into full holiness.
The Marks of a Prophet
There are at least ten distinguishing marks of the prophetic office; these characteristics in the lives and ministries of believers identify them as prophets. These traits should be evident in varying degrees in the life of anyone with a prophetic gifting who is attempting to grow and develop in that gifting. They are most fully developed in those who have been raised into the prophetic office. Whenever we see any of these qualities displayed in someone’s life, we should encourage that person to grow and develop their gift.
- Preaching that exhorts and strengthens the disciples. The prophet’s message always builds up the lives of disciples; it never tears down. A disciple is a student; someone who is learning, maturing, and growing up in the Christian faith. These are the ones who are encouraged and strengthened by the prophet’s message. Those believers who have refused to mature, on the other hand, may find the prophet’s message to be harsh and painful. It always hurts to be outside of the will of God. A prophet’s word always builds up those who are striving to grow in Christ.
- Character that is true, honest, faithful, and holy. A prophet points to and reminds us of our destiny in Christ. Therefore, his life should display the character of Christ. While this is true of all believers, it is particularly critical for those in the prophetic office. The Old Testament prophets were held to a very high standard, not only by the people but by God. Moses was a prophet (see Deut. 34:10); yet one lapse on his part in representing God before the people resulted in God denying him the opportunity to enter the Promised Land (see Deut. 32:48-52). Character matters.
- A message that appeals not to the flesh but to the spirit. Growing disciples want messages that challenge and stretch their spirits. Babes in the faith who have no interest in growth usually don’t like prophetic preaching because it brings them under conviction. They are more interested in gratifying the flesh. The message of a true prophet always speaks to the spirit directly and without compromise.
- Prediction and fulfillment of prophecy. In other words, a prophet speaks something concerning the future, and God fulfills that prophecy. It could be a prophecy spoken into the life of an individual or an entire congregation. Whatever form it takes, such a prophecy will be specific in nature with clearly measurable fulfillment. Once the event comes to pass we know that God has raised that prophet into office.
- Spiritual discernment in the lives of others. This one sometimes makes people nervous, particularly those who know that their lives are not what they should be in the Lord. A prophet has the ability in the Spirit to discern spiritual reality in the lives of others, good or bad, and speak concerning that reality. This prospect creates anxiety in some people who fear that the prophet will uncover all the mess they have allowed into their lives. Have no fear. A mature prophet will never publicly uncover mess because God does not embarrass people. The prophet may address the problem privately with the person, if the Lord leads that way. However, he is more likely to exhort the person to follow God’s will and obey what God has told him to do.
- Declaration of divine judgments when needed. This is another one that makes people nervous. Sometimes a situation is so bad or has gone on so long that the word of the Lord through the prophet is one of judgment. Prolonged rebellion or disobedience to God, or refusal to heed prophetic warnings or respond to calls for repentance, will ultimately bring about God’s judgment. No one likes these kind of pronouncements, least of all the prophet, but sometimes they are necessary.
- Willingness to suffer for speaking the truth without saving self. A mature prophet has long since committed his or her life totally into God’s keeping and has recognized that suffering is an “occupational hazard.” Speaking the truth for God is more important than personal comfort. Sometimes suffering comes as a result of declaring divine judgment. Jeremiah spoke the truth about God’s coming judgment on the southern kingdom of Judah and was convicted of treason and imprisoned in a dry cistern. A true prophet is not afraid to suffer for the truth.
- A message in harmony with the Word of God and the known will of God. A prophet’s message will never, repeat never, contradict the Word of God. The Spirit and the Word always agree. Since a prophet is a “pneumatic” (Spirit-person), his word will also be in agreement with the Word of God. A message that goes against God’s Word is a sure indicator of a false prophet.
- Employment of symbolic actions. Prophets preach with pictures. Jesus used this method all the time in His teaching, painting pictures in people’s minds through the stories and parables He told. Prophets use pictures because that’s the way God reveals His will and His Word to them. A prophet sees how things are done in the natural and applies it to the spiritual.
- Ability and authority to judge the manifestations of prophetic gifts. A prophet serving in a recognized and acknowledged prophetic office has the ability and authority to identify and judge the presence, display, and use of prophetic gifts in others. In other words, a prophet has the ability to recognize and identify other prophets (both true and false).
Image courtsey: Life and Hope –Artist’s conception of the prophet Isaiah warning King Hezekiah.