A prophet is a spokesperson for God. The prophet admonishes, warns, directs, encourages, intercedes, teaches and counsels. He brings the word of God to the people of God and calls the people to respond.
The prophetic ministry begins in the presence of the Lord. This aspect of the ministry is well described in Jeremiah's challenge to the false prophets.
Which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or to hear his word? If they had stood in his council they would have proclaimed his words to his people and they would have turned from their evil ways and from their evil deeds. Jeremiah 23:18,22.
When the prophet knows the heart and mind of the Lord, he speaks the word of the Lord to his people. He stands before the people as one who has stood before God. Because his words come from the heart of God they are powerful and effective.
A prophet can undertake a huge variety of roles. This is an expression of the creativity of God. A prophet may act in every role occasionally, but mostly he will move in one or two of these roles. Prayer will be important for every ministry. No two prophets should be the same, but each should be a reflection of God's creativity and calling.
The call of a prophet usually but not always includes his job description (John and Paula Sanford - The Elijah Task p.42).
Some of the roles that a prophet can function in are outlined in the following sections.
An important part of the prophet's task is prayer. Because he knows the mind of the Lord, he is in a position to pray effectively. He has a clear picture of what God is doing, so he knows where prayer is needed most. The prophet watches over the word of the Lord and prays it into being. He must not rest until God has fulfilled his word (Isaiah 62:6).
An important part of the prophets task is unceasing prayer for the Christian Community. The prophets, because they knew what the mind of the Lord was, were in a position to pray more effectually than other men. They had a clearer picture of what God was doing and so they knew when prayer was needed most. They were also able to pray true 'prophetic prayers' in which the Holy Spirit directed and guided their very manner and words (Isa 62:6) (Bruce Yocum - Prophecy and Prayer).
Prayer belongs in a very high and important sense to the prophetic ministry. Praying prophets have frequently been at a premium in the history of Gods people. God's watchmen must always and everywhere be men of prayer. Praying preachers are the true prophets of the Lord, and are they who stand as mouth pieces of God to a generation of wicked and worldly-minded men and women. They are the boldest and truest, and swiftest ministers of God (E.M Bounds - The Weapon of Prayer).
Prayer was essential to the prophetic ministry. It came naturally to the prophets and was the life-blood of their ministry. Prayer was their principal means of communication with God and lay at the heart of their personal relationship with God (Clifford Hill - Prophecy, Past and Present, p. 117).
The prophet is also a mediator. Moses stood between the people and God. Time after time, Moses stood in the gap on behalf of the nation before an angry God. Consequently, intercession played a vital part in Moses life. As a prophet Moses felt in his heart the burden of the message he brought to the people. He was deeply moved when Israel did not respond to the command of God (Milton Smith - The Prophetic Office).
People have always looked to prophetic people when they needed prayer - they still do today. Out of their request for prayer will often come the very signs that confirm the word of God we speak. Be bold! Be vigilant! Be fervent! Anything might happen! (http://www.africaprophecy.co.za/2prophets.htm).
A prophet and his message is born before the Lord. Prophets are men of prayer. A man who has learnt to sit in quietness before the Lord cannot but be contaminated by his pain regarding the situation of the oppressed (Lars Widerburg, Prophets Without Burden).
Prophetic burden-bearers are called to pray. These are the prophetic intercessors. They can feel the grief of the Lord over the things that are not right. These prophets seem to live in the doldrums much of the time, but they are called there to pray "right" again those things that are wrong. God bless them! (Jim Wies - Different Kinds of Prophets).
Men of prayer must be men of steel, for they will be assaulted by Satan even before they attempt to assault his kingdom (L Ravenhill- Why Revival Tarries.).
I believe prophetic ministry is the gas that fuels the tank of intercession and purity. It's the prophetic hope that causes our prayers for a coming great visitation of God to be persistent through the many years and the diverse seasons of hardship (Mike Bickle - Growing in the Prophetic p.25).
Receiving the Word of the Lord
A key role of the prophet is waiting in the presence of God to receive the word of God. God is sovereign so we cannot tell him when he should speak. Hearing will always require waiting.
The task of the prophets was to know the will of God, so that they could convey it to the nation. Their ministry consisted in handling revelation, ie the knowledge that God has revealed to them. From the earliest times prophecy was conceived as being the activity of God, rather than the activity of man. This is true not only for the receiving of prophecy but also for it's delivery. When the prophecy actually conveyed the word of the Lord to the people he was deemed to be under the power of God. The hand of the Lord was upon him, empowering and directing the delivery of the word (Clifford Hill - Prophecy, Past and Present p.31).
The Prophet stood before men, as man who had been made to stand before God (Milton Smith - The Prophetic Office).
A prophet is often called to suffering. Deep dealing at the hand of God will often be needed to prepare the prophet for receiving the word of God. Sometimes he may actually have to experience beforehand, something of what his people will experience. Jeremiah spent many years in captivity before his people went into captivity. He was often rejected and ostracised; he was even accused of being a traitor. Ezekiel had to lie on his side for 390 days to symbolise the judgement that would come upon his nation. This suffering made the prophets extremely aware of their human frailty (Jer 20:7-10). It also equipped the prophet to give what was often a very harsh message in a spirit of compassion. A true message is nullified if it is spoken in the wrong spirit. Suffering softens the prophet's spirit, so that he can give the hardest word, in a spirit of love. Suffering contributed to Jeremiah's compassion.
When the priest Pashhur son of Immer, the chief officer in the temple of the Lord, heard Jeremiah prophesying these things, he had Jeremiah the prophet beaten and put in the stocks at the Upper Gate of Benjamin at the Lord 's temple (Jer 20:1,2).
There is an especial message in the ministry of Jeremiah for those who are compelled to stand alone, who fall into the ground to die, who fill up what is behind of the sufferings of Christ, and through death arise to bear fruit in the great world of men, which they passionately love (F.B Meyer - Jeremiah).
In the faith chapter of Hebrews, a number of prophets are recorded as heroes who suffered for their calling.
And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-- the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground (Heb 11:32-38).
A prophetic ministry involves having a foretaste of the suffering and judgement that will come as a result of the sins of the church and the whole world, since iniquity would soon be universal. In such commission one must be willing to pay the price involved in foreseeing the coming events, in suffering and experiencing them in advance. Only then can the warning be passed on. A study of the concordance will show that there are more references in Scripture to the anger, fury and wrath of God, than his love and tenderness (A W Pink).
A messenger who has not been willing to move into close combat with reality, with the pain of the downtrodden, will not be able to bring a message of relief and healing. A painless message cannot ease the pain. A painless message cannot carry a burden. A true messenger of the Lord begins every voyage at the Cross. Each and every piece brought forth from his mouth is marked by the Cross (Lars Widerburg, Prophets Without Burden).
Many are eager to wear the Prophet's mantle, but are reluctant to bear the Christian's cross. This cannot be. Given the choice between Christian or Prophet, choose Christian (Chip Brogden - Letter to a Reluctant Prophet).
There is a burden in being a prophet, which the OT prophets found that they could not always bear (Ian Breward).
The prophetic ministry can often play an important part in worship. Paul said that when the church gathered together,
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace (1 Cor 14:29-33).
A prophecy that speaks of the glory and wonder of God will inspire his people to worship. 1 Chronicles 24 lists a number of men who were set aside for the ministry of prophesying to the accompaniment of musical instruments as part of the temple worship. This ministry is needed today. In small fellowships, it can be provided by the gift of prophecy. Large meetings for celebration will benefit from prophets who can bring a word from the Lord to build the worship. Miriam, the prophetess led the children or Israel in worship after they had crossed the Red Sea.
When Pharaoh's horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then Miriam the prophetess, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women followed her, with tambourines and dancing. Miriam sang to them, "sing to the Lord for he is highly exalted." (Exodus 15:19-21).
In the temple, there were people whose role was to prophesy as part of the worship. They were professional worshippers and prophets, responsible for leading the worship in the house of God.
David, together with the commanders of the army, set apart some of the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun for the ministry of prophesying, accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals. Here is the list of the men who performed this service: . All these men were under the supervision of their fathers for the music of the temple of the Lord , with cymbals, lyres and harps, for the ministry at the house of God. Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the supervision of the king. Along with their relatives- all of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord- they numbered 288 (1 Chron 25,1,6).
Encouragement of the brethren is an important aspect of the prophetic ministry.
Everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort he who prophesies edifies the church (1 Cor 14:3,4
The words of the prophets will build up and strengthen the church. This will be especially important in times of trial and tribulation. Silas and Judas were two prophets who encouraged the church in Antioch.
Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers (Acts 15:32).
The scriptures give a number of examples of prophets who encouraged the leaders of their nation to act boldly.
When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage. (2 Chron 15:1,).
Then Haggai, the Lord 's messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: "I am with you," declares the Lord. So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month in the second year of King Darius (Hag 1:13-15).
Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet, a descendant of Iddo, prophesied to the Jews in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, helping them (Ezra 5:1,2).
So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah, a descendant of Iddo. They finished building the temple according to the command of the God of Israel and the decrees of Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes, kings of Persia (Ezra 6:14).
The prophetic ministry is to alert the church to the "now-ness" of the Holy Spirit. It awakens us to the will and purpose of God for us in the present - what He specifically wants to do in us and through us (Mike Bickle - Growing in the Prophetic p.74).
Foretelling the Future
Prediction of the future is part of the prophetic ministry. Almost every prophet in the Old Testament appeared first as a foreteller. Through his fellowship with the eternal God, the prophet has access to the future. He is the seer who has insight into God's purposes for history. However, whatever he sees for the future is always related to the present. He warns of future judgements so that people will change their behaviour now. He speaks of future blessing to give hope for the present.
The prophet speaks to the present, in light of the future that God has revealed to him. For example, Isaiah warned Hezekiah, that he would die.
In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, "This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover." Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord (2 Kings 20:1,2).
Calls to repentance and calls to practical holiness are based on a word concerning the future; the vision of wrath to come is the basis of a present seeking of the mercy of God (J.A Motyer - New Bible Dictionary).
Prophets must know God and understand the world and bring God's revelation to bear to show people where it is going. They should show people what to do next (Ian Breward).
History becomes revelation because there was added to the historical situation a man prepared beforehand to say what it meant. The prophets were not left to struggle with the meaning of events as or after they happened, they apprehend them beforehand and were warned by God of their significance (J A Motyer - Prophets and Prophecy).
Almost every prophet first appears as a foreteller (J A Motyer - Prophets and Prophecy).
Repentance and practical holiness are based on a word concerning the future; the vision of wrath to come is the basis of a present seeking of the mercy of God; the vision of bliss to come is a call to a walking in the light now (J A Motyer - Prophets and Prophecy).
Prophets see more than others the continuing influences that issue from the past and profoundly affect the present and the ultimate future. They see the continuum, the unbroken span of past, present and future as few see it (Art Katz - What is the Prophetic Church).
Direction and Guidance
Prophets bring the word of the Lord to the church. Christians can get so caught up in the events of the world that they do not see what God is doing. This is particularly true in tumultuous times, when it can be very hard to see the hand of God at work. Prophets will give direction and vision in these situations, so that God's people know what is happening, and what they should do. For example, the prophet Gad provided guidance to David and showed him how to avoid trouble.
But the prophet Gad said to David, "Do not stay in the stronghold. Go into the land of Judah." So David left and went to the forest of Hereth (1 Sam 22:5).
Prophets can give direction to those who are seeking the will of God. Sometimes the prophetic word will be for the church as a whole or for the leadership of the church.
The Prophet admonishes, warns, directs, intercedes, teaches and counsels. Far more importantly he stands at the walls to see what the Lord is doing that he may call the body to respond (Sanfords).
A prophet is called to stand in the councils of the Lord. He stands before the living God. Having stood before God he is sent to stand for God, before his people and speak his word (Tom Marshall- The Coming of the Prophets).
To prophesy is to communicate the mind and heart of God to a person, a group of people or a territory; therefore, prophecy is linked with the promise of God over our lives. God's promise is an announcement of His plan of salvation and blessing to His people. A promise embraces both declaration and deed. God's promise begins with a declaration by God and covers His future plan. (Chuck Pierce - The Future War of the Church).
Personal prophecy must be treated with caution. The gift of prophecy is not usually directive, so it is dangerous to make life changing decisions on the basis of a prophecy uttered by a person who has not been recognised as a prophet. Prophets will sometimes give direction, but generally this should come as a confirmation of something that God has already spoken to the person concerned. God wants to lead his people by his Spirit. He desires that every believer should learn to hear the Spirit's voice. A message from a prophet should normally come as a confirmation of something that the Spirit has already spoken.
Getting confirmation from a prophet before we act can be really encouraging, but we need to be very careful. A personal prophecy can be misleading if we have let our own plans and desires control our thinking. Ezekiel gives a surprising warning about this.
When any Israelite sets up idols in his heart and puts a wicked stumbling block before his face and then goes to a prophet, I the Lord will answer him myself in keeping with his great idolatry (Ezek 14:4).
If a person has let something that they want to do become an idol of their heart, God may prophesy to them what they want to hear. If the person acts on the prophecy, it will lead to disaster. God does this to reveal the idol and recapture the person's heart. This means that we must be careful with personal prophecy. If a prophecy confirms what we want to do, it may just be a sign that we have made our own plans into an "idol in our hearts".
Making important decisions on the basis of a word from another person is dangerous. It is wrong to be totally dependent on others for guidance. Many Christians have been led astray because they failed to get their own word from God. (John Bevere provides excellent advice on how to handle personal prophecy in his book Thus Saith the Lord.)
The major thrust of these servants was to declare God's heart to his people, pricking their hearts that they might Return to His ways. The purpose of all of His prophets sent to Israel and Judah. In fulfilling this they may have spoken of things to come or given a personal word to an individual. However, these were minor components of their ministry, which helped to accomplish the major. Too often we are deceived or led astray by majoring on that on which God minors, while minoring on that on which God majors. It would seem that the emphasis of today's prophetic ministries is focused on the minor, the giving of personal prophecy and foretelling of the future. We've drawn our definition of a prophet from limited and specific scriptures rather than stepping Back to capture the overall picture. An erroneous view of a prophet has left the church vulnerable to deception (p.32).
Christian prophets do not tell people what to do, they confirm what God is saying. To go to a Christian prophet for direction and guidance is to violate the New Covenant which gives us direct access and approach to God through Christ by the Spirit (Graham Cooke - Developing Your Prophetic Gifting p.199).
Telling the people what they want to hear at the expense of what they need to hear weakens the church. It causes people to seek the gifts and manifestations to the neglect of pursuing the character of God (John Bevere - Thus Saith the Lord p.34).
For far too long the prophetic has only been seen as a blessing ministry. Prophets come into the church, take a few meetings, bless people and then move on (Graham Cooke - Developing Your Prophetic Gifting p.272).
Interpreting Dreams and Visions
An important aspect of the prophetic ministry is interpreting dreams and visions. God often speaks in dreams to people who are not listening. We must learn to interpret these to understand what he is saying. Prophets are sometimes skilled in interpreting dreams.
This is that time in history in which God is raising His prophets for His end-time purposes. "If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you... (Deuteronomy 13:1)," makes it unequivocal that the Lord regards prophets and dreamers as one and the same. Unfortunately, the Body of Christ, for the most part, has not yet grasped that. It is imperative that at least His prophets, and hopefully the entire Body, come to comprehend how important this aspect of prophets' equipment actually is, and that all His prophets become adept both in having their own dreams and in interpreting theirs and those of others. (Joy Parrott Parables in the Night)
Daniel was a prophet who was skilled in interpreting dreams (Daniel 2:1-28).
During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven and said: "Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: you have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king" (Dan 2:19-23).
Dreams often include people and objects with which we are familiar used in symbolic ways. We must not assume that they will be fulfilled literally. For example, Joseph saw the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing before him. This was not literally fulfilled, but he eventually saw his father and eleven brothers bowing before him. (Genesis 37:5-12; 40:5-22; 44:11-32). Dreams should be interpreted like parables.
Kings and rulers will often hear God through dreams. Prophets can help them to understand what God is saying.
It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of Kings (Prov 25:2).
Those particularly gifted with dreams, visions, prophecies and revelation need to be careful not to think of themselves too highly, as being the prophetic group. They serve only one dimension of the church's greater calling as a prophetic community (Mike Bickle - Growing in the Prophetic p.195).
John Paul Jackson has good teaching on the interpretation of dreams.
Correction and Admonition
There is also a negative side to the ministry of the prophet. This can be seen in the calling of Jeremiah:
See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow to build and to plant.
Four of the six expressions used by God to describe Jeremiah's ministry are negative. God often has to up root and tear down, destroy and overthrow, before he can begin to plant and build. Prophets co-operate with God in breaking down all that is not built on the true foundation. They do this by announcing his judgement. At the same time they watch over all that God is building to see that it is built according to his Word. This is an awesome task but God cannot complete his restoration work until the prophetic ministry is restored.
Two thirds of his work was therefore in the direction of destruction. It is not pleasant or easy work (F.B Meyer - Jeremiah p.109).
It was Jeremiah's lot to prophesy at a time when all things in Judah were running down in a final and mournful catastrophe, when political excitement was at its height and the most fatal counsels prevailed. It was his stand in the way, over which his nation was pushing headlong to destruction: to make an heroic effort to arrest it and to turn it back; and to fail and be compelled to step to one side and see his own people, whom he loved with the tenderness of a woman plunge over the precipice into the wide weltering ruin (Dr Moorehead).
Paul described a prophetic ministry that cut to the hearts of the people.
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, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!" (1 Cor 14:24,25).
When Jeremiah was first summoned to the work of prophet, it was summarised under six distinct divisions. He was set over nations and to overthrow; to build and to plant (Jer 1:10).
No Compromise; that's a prophets heart when he sees the thing that needs to be opposed, and hears God's word he is merciless (Art Katz - The Heart of a Prophet).
The leader is rarely a prophet who sounds the initial warning: he is an early listener who obeys the prophet. The prophet's job is lonely. He is usually a one-man verbal demolition team. He must attack the root of the evil, which goes very deep and affects everything. He does not criticise this or that evil; he criticises the system that produced a forest of bad trees and bad fruit. He is not a tree-trimmer; he is in the tree-uprooting business (Gary North - Prophets, Leaders, Followers, Losers).
Elijah prayed a terrible prayer. But there is something far more dreadful than physical calamities and suffering, namely moral delinquency and spiritual apostasy. This is very rarely perceived. Desperate diseases call for drastic measures (A W Pink).
Elijah was a confrontation prophet. God used him to confront the evils of his time.
One element of Christian compassion is outrage. If we see what is wrong as God sees it, we feel about it as God feels it. Moses was outraged when he looked on the burdens of his people. His nation was immature but his outrage was natural. In the time of the prophets, as Israel's national decadence brought in its wake violent social injustice and inhumanity the outrage of prophets is searing. Amos was furious when he saw the poor sold for the price of shoes (Os Guiness).
The prophetic voice of Israel was primarily a word of judgement upon the people of God. So the prophetic voice of the church must be a word which warns of impending judgement upon the church. Warning to the world is secondary (Ez 3:5,21; Ez 33:7) (Os Guiness).
Amos was a prophet who understood the condition of his nation, and knew the issues in Israel with which God took exception. It is not the worldly society, but God's people with whom God is primarily concerned and with whom he will first enter into judgement.
Like most prophets, Amos was not welcomed in his own society. When a genuine prophet arrives on the scene, he tends to make people uncomfortable. The people of Amos' day were affluent and religiously devout- as well as being military secure and governmentally sound. The last thing they wanted was a prophet to meddle their well-ordered lives (Bob Munford).
Exposing Rotten Leadership
Rotten leadership has done terrible damage in the church. It has imparted sin (and perhaps evil spirits) to hundreds and thousands of ordinary people who trusted their leaders and were vulnerable because they submitted to them. When the leadership of a church is rotten, the prophets should be exposing it.
The reality is that a prophet is not needed to expose most problems within church leadership. The people who are close to the leader, usually know what is going on. The problem is that they are too loyal to challenge the leader that they look up to. The prophet is usually the only one tough enough to call the leader on their faults.
God has provided a way to protect leaders and people, but the church consistently refuses to adopt it. Leadership incidents will only stop when the church goes Back to Balanced Ministry, with churches led by a team of pastors, prophets and evangelists working together in submission to each other. As long as we perpetuate the myth that one guy must be top dog, embarrassing incidents will continue to shame the church and hurt innocent Christians. God cannot protect his people from evil, while the leaders of his church refuse to adopt the Spiritual Protection he has provided. Prophets should be exposing this problem.
God raised up the prophetic ministry to speak to evil people and nations and warn them of approaching judgments. God's purposes in judgment are clearer, if a prophet announces them in advance.
The prophet's declaration and intercession gives God authority to deal with evil. When a situation turns sour and God needs to take action, his prophetic announce God's condemnation of the evil. This prophetic declaration would give God permission to send judgment event against the evil that the prophet had pronounced judgment against. The prophet's declaration expresses God's judgment/verdict on the evil. God's action against the evil represents his sentence against the evil.
Prophets and judgments go together. Without the prophets, God does not have authority to bring preventive judgments against evil. Unless God sends judgments against emerging evil, the prophets would be just crying in the wind. Prophets and judgments were God strategy for constraining evil in the world.
The modern world thinks of judgment as a grumpy god going round wacking people. However, most people in the world do not get justice. Their life is full of injustice. Various empires and political leaders have promised to get them justice, but they ordinary people never receive it. Fair judgment is good news for most people.
If we want to understand God's judgement we should read the Beatitudes. The poor will be blessed. The rich will be disappointed, because they have already received their comfort. Those who have had plenty and privilege might miss out.
For more on this topic refer to the Role of Judgements and
Warning of Danger
When Paul was going up to Jerusalem the prophet Agabus warned him of danger that he would face there (Acts 21:10,11). God often prepares his people in this way. The prophet is a watchman, who warns God's people of coming trouble.
Does a bird fall into a trap on the ground where no snare has been set? Does a trap spring up from the earth when there is nothing to catch? When a trumpet sounds in a city, do not the people tremble? When disaster comes to a city, has not the Lord caused it? Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets (Amos 3:5-7).
Interpreting the Signs of the Times
Jesus criticised the Jews because they could understand the weather, but they could not interpret the signs of the times.
He said to the crowd: "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'It's going to rain,' and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, 'It's going to be hot,' and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time? (Luke 12:54-56).
Prophets must be able to understand the signs of the times and interpret them to the world.
See Discerning Seasons for more.
The seer is one who has understanding of the times. This person has the ability to perceive and discern the spiritual significance of a situation and can give the Lord's perspective on a given situation. This person's strengths are giftings of illumination and discernment, though they may or may not communicate what they see in any one set or particular manner. This kind of prophet is extremely valuable as a watchman and intercessor in the midst of the Church. (Jim Wies - Different Kinds of Prophets)
Within the long, circuitous, often delayed progress in understanding, there were sudden explosions of saving activity.. It is to the prophets that God revealed the coming and meaning of such times; indeed from one point of view, the prophet may be described as the person who, more than anyone else, knows what time it is (Robert - Banks - the Tyranny of Time p.180).
If a prophet has no personal history with God, no spiritual depth to draw from, no deep root in firm soil established over many seasons of Christian experience, how can the prophet presume to speak from a position of revelation into what God is telling the Church today? Furthermore, if a prophet cannot accurately interpret and read the signs of the present times; if a prophet cannot correctly judge and precisely discern his own generation; if a prophet cannot relate to what God is saying and doing in terms of present truth, how can the prophet presume to speak of future events? (Chip Brogden - Prophetic Dissonance).
The prophet knows what time it is, knows what kind of time it is. He holds prophetic understanding of the mentality and mood of this present time. He identifies and knows the trends of a society by looking at its roots. He is able to analyse trends and upcoming events by judging foundations. His words are a force against the mentality of the day (Lars Widerberg - Aspects of the Prophetic Office - The Forthteller).
The seer is made able to read the spiritual climate. He is made able to identify the prevalent motivational force. His role is to see through masks and veils of pretension, to expose man's folly and evil, for the sake of seeing the poor and needy through. The watchman is set over men's hearts to discern motivation, and to pray for and to call forth correction. The seer is set over men's hearts to call them to heavenly living. The prophet is a seer. The basic nature of his commission is observation and watchfulness. He is prone to contemplation and skilled in the art of deduction. (Lars Widerberg - The Seer).
The Meaning of History.
Prophets have a role in explaining the meaning of history. When a culture loses an understanding of its history, it loses its sense of direction. Clifford Hill has explained this really well.
The church has been unable to give an effective lead in secular society due to the loss of a sense of mission and direction. Without a clear sense of its own purpose, identity and destiny the church has been powerless to influence an increasingly secular society. A major cause of the church's loss of direction has been due to the lack of a clear concept of the meaning of history. Mankind is crying out for an understanding of history. This is of fundamental importance for grappling with the underlying issues concerning the meaning and purpose of life itself. The church will never be able to satisfy the deepest longings of mankind and give a lead to secular nations or point the way to creative policies promoting health, happiness and the well-being of mankind until Christians recover an understanding of history (Clifford Hill - Shaking the Nations p.21).
God's actions in human history had to be interpreted and this was one of the major roles of the prophets (Clifford Hill - Shaking the Nations p.23).
The Bible reveals a God who has plans for the whole world, which cannot be thwarted. Once God has announced his purposes nothing can stand against him or prevent him from fulfilling his word. This understanding of God as the Lord of history is something that has very largely been lost by the western church. It has resulted in a powerlessness to declare the word of God with prophetic power and conviction in the second half of the twentieth century when all the nations have been shaken. When God stretches out his hand and says that the time has come for a nation or a people, they can no longer stand (Clifford Hill - Shaking the Nations p.26).
God's plan for history is revealed through his prophets.
In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets (Eph 3:4,5).
Testing of Prophecy
Prophets are called to speak God's word. Another important part of their ministry, which we need to see developed, is testing prophecy.
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said (1 Cor 14:29).
Part of the prophetic role is to sit and listen to prophecies and "weigh carefully" the words that are spoken. This is something that two or three should do together. If a prophecy does not get a consensus of support it should be discarded.
Testing prophecies is a very important aspect of the prophetic ministry. We are now hearing more and more prophetic words being spoken to the church, but the quality is still very mixed. Christians do not know which words they should take seriously. Many warnings of disasters have not been fulfilled. This unclear sounding of the trumpet is producing confusion in the church. The solution is for prophets to get more involved in testing of prophecies and sorting out the wheat from the chaff. Churches that are moving in prophecy should set up processes for this to happen.
Some prophets are watchmen or men of vision who stand on the walls of the city of God to see what God is doing. They look into the distance to see what is coming. They often see a long way ahead. Several scriptures describe the role of the watchman.
The prophet, along with my God, is the watchman over Ephraim, yet snares await him on all his paths, and hostility in the house of his God (Hos 9:8).
Ezekiel was called to be a watchman.
The word of the Lord came to me: "Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: 'When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head. Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head. If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.' "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself. "Son of man, say to the house of Israel, 'This is what you are saying: "Our offences and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?" ' Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?' (Ezek 33:1-11).
The prophet was called a watchman because he basically functioned in the spiritual realm just as the literal watchmen did in the natural realm. The natural watchmen were stationed at specific posts on the walls of the city that gave them the visibility to watch for the king or other members of the nobility to announce their coming. They were also to look for enemies from without, or disorder arising within the city, or camp of Israel.
The watchman should not be in the city eating and drinking with the townsfolk. He should be out on the watchtower looking into the night (Ron McKenzie).
The watchman, like the eagle must be free to fly as he or she wills (in God) and to flow prophetically in all the prophetic function and not be restricted by man. Without the freedom to fly like an eagle the watchman will become a controlled, chained prisoner of the Church, unable to report even abuse, error and sin seen within the church itself (Steve Snow - Eagle Watchman Resources).
The true church could not have become the "institution" it has, if the watchmen had not been rendered impotent (John Martin)
Elijah's servant needed to have his eyes opened to see the full reality of his situation. This is something we all need.
When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. "Oh, my lord, what shall we do?" the servant asked. "Don't be afraid," the prophet answered. "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them." And Elisha prayed, "O Lord, open his eyes so he may see." Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:15-17).
More at Watchmen.
Challenging the Nation
The primary responsibility of the prophet is to speak to the people of God. He brings both direction and correction to the Church. But a prophet may also be called to speak to his nation. Many of the prophets of the Old Testament found themselves confronting kings, and taking an important role in national affairs. Some also addressed their words to foreign nations. Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel each prophesied to the surrounding nations (Is 13-12, Jer 46-51, Ezek 25-32).
The church will always be the prophet's main concern, but this wider prophetic role urgently needs restoring.
The prophets of Israel did not live in isolation -they were acutely aware of international politics and the rise and fall of nations. Some of them pronounced messages against the nations of their times. All of them were concerned about the world situation, and it was part of their calling to issue prophecies against the other nations of the world (Milton Smith).
Having matured in their prophetic gifting through years of faithful obedience to God, prophets will begin to operate on new levels of prophetic authority. Worldwide, prophets will speak before civil governments, delivering powerful prophetic speeches to nations, literally shaking their existing political foundations (Dennis Cramer - Prophetic Political Power).
The march of nations, the rise and fall of earthly powers, and the rule and reign of kings and sovereigns all comes under the overview of God's heart for the earth. He sees the end from the beginning (Graham Cooke - Developing Your Prophetic Gifting p.135).
Initiating God's Action
God does nothing without warning his people first. Part of the prophetic role is to release God's activity by providing these warnings (Amos 3:7). Isaiah spoke of God stretching out his hand according to his plan.
The Lord Almighty has sworn, "Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand... This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back? (Is 14:24-27).
The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God (Is 52:10).
Prophetic hearts, not prophetic charts, will change the course of history and bring God's prophesied will into actual effect (Philip Greenslade - The Sharp Cutting Edge).
Explaining What Must Be Done
Many prophets are warning of future disastrous events, but very few are explaining what God is doing and how he will work through these events to bring change. Seeing from within the dark cloud of events seem to prevents them from seeing what Jesus is seeing.
A related problem is that many Christians to enjoy warnings of judgement on the world, more than they want strategies that would require them to take action to bring in the victory of God.
God does not cause troubles and calamities; they are rooted in human evil or folly with a bit of demonic mischief thrown in. During a judgement, God takes this human mess and works it for good to achieve his purposes. One role of the prophet is to warn of troubles before they come, so God's people can prepare. Their more important task is to explain what God is doing through the event, so his people can participate in his purposes. Prophets can only accomplish the latter task, if they are standing outside the dark cloud of human events and seeing with the eyes of Jesus.
When a prophet receives a warning of a calamitous event, their task has just begun. The next step is to find out what God plans to achieve through the event, and his strategy for the people who want to participate in his purposes during that event. We need more of eyes of Jesus and less of the dark cloud.
According to Romans12:6, Christians with the gift of prophesying should prophesy in proportion to their faith. Prophesying judgment to a nation in decline does not take much faith. Prophesying the strategy by which God will use the judgement to change the nation and bring a great victory takes much more faith. That is a challenge for modern prophets.
Prophets should be experts on God. Part of their role is to pass on theological and biblical insights to the church. A prophet should also be a theologian.
Jeremiah was of all the prophets of the Old Testament, the supreme prophet of the human heart... Jeremiah would have nothing from his hearers and readers but their hearts. Let other prophets negotiate and send ambassadors as they pleased. Jeremiah, in season and out of season, for a long lifetime laid siege to the heart of his hearers (David M Howard - Words of Fire: River of Tears p.54).
Seers are men of revelation. Seers are men of enlightenment. Seers are men of intellectual maturity (Lars Widerberg - The Seer).
Healing the Sick
Some prophets are used in healing the sick. Elijah was a prophet who moved effectively in the gift of healing. Elisha followed in his mentor's footsteps.
When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord. Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy's body grew warm. Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out upon him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes (2 Kings 4:32-35).
As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, "Am I God? Can I kill and bring Back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!" When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: "Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel." So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha's house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, "Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed." (2 Kings 5:7-10).
Appointing and Anointing Leaders
In Old Testament times, God often used a prophet to appoint and anoint a king. Samuel anointed Saul and then David as King. A prophet anointed Solomon as his successor.
So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, Benaiah son of Jehoiada, the Kerethites and the Pelethites went down and put Solomon on King David's mule and escorted him to Gihon. Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the sacred tent and anointed Solomon. Then they sounded the trumpet and all the people shouted, "Long live King Solomon!" (1 Kings 1:38-39).
Elijah was told to anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel (1 Kings 19:16).
The prophet Elisha summoned a man from the company of the prophets and said to him, "Tuck your cloak into your belt, take this flask of oil with you and go to Ramoth Gilead. When you get there, look for Jehu son of Jehoshaphat, the son of Nimshi. Go to him, get him away from his companions and take him into an inner room. Then take the flask and pour the oil on his head and declare, 'This is what the Lord says: I anoint you king over Israel.' Then open the door and run; don't delay!" So the young man, the prophet, went to Ramoth Gilead. When he arrived, he found the army officers sitting together. "I have a message for you, commander," he said. "For which of us?" asked Jehu. "For you, commander," he replied. Jehu got up and went into the house. Then the prophet poured the oil on Jehu's head and declared, "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 'I anoint you king over the Lord 's people Israel.' " ..Then he opened the door and ran (2 Kings 9:1-10).
In a godly nation prophets may have a role in the appointment of political leaders. Prophets also have a role in anointing other prophets for ministry
Anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him (1 Kings 19:16, 19).
Advising Kings and Political Rulers
Prophets have a powerful role in providing advice to kings and rulers. When God wanted to give guidance to a ruler, he often gave it through a prophet. David had the prophets Nathan and Gad in his palace. They advised him about a whole range of matters.
After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, "Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent." Nathan replied to the king, "Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you." That night the word of the Lord came to Nathan Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation (2 Sam 7:1-4,17).
But the prophet Gad said to David, "Do not stay in the stronghold. Go into the land of Judah." So David left and went to the forest of Hereth (1 Sam 22:5).
David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing." Before David got up the next morning, the word of the Lord had come to Gad the prophet, David's seer: "Go and tell David, 'This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.' " So Gad went to David and said to him, "Shall there come upon you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me." David said to Gad, "I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men." (2 Sam 24:10-14).
A prophet advised Ahab as he went into battle.
Meanwhile a prophet came to Ahab king of Israel and announced, "This is what the Lord says: 'Do you see this vast army? I will give it into your hand today, and then you will know that I am the Lord.' " "But who will do this?" asked Ahab. The prophet replied, "This is what the Lord says: 'The young officers of the provincial commanders will do it.' " "And who will start the battle?" he asked. The prophet answered, "You will".. The king of Israel advanced and overpowered the horses and chariots and inflicted heavy losses on the Arameans. Afterward, the prophet came to the king of Israel and said, "Strengthen your position and see what must be done, because next spring the king of Aram will attack you again. The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, "This is what the Lord says, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord. The Israelites inflicted a hundred thousand casualties on the Aramean foot soldiers in one day (1 Kings 20:13-29).
Elisha provided guidance to the army of Israel that frustrated it's enemies.
The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: "Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there." So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places. This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, "Will you not tell me which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?" "None of us, my lord the king," said one of his officers, "but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom" (2 Kings 6:9-12).
Some prophets are historians. Their interest in the future rolls over into an interest in history. Many of the historic books of the Old Testament were written by prophets who recorded the works of God.
The other events of Uzziah's reign, from beginning to end, are recorded by the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz (2 Chron 26:22).
The other events of Abijah's reign, what he did and what he said, are written in the annotations of the prophet Iddo (2 Chron 13:22).
As for the events of King David's reign, from beginning to end, they are written in the records of Samuel the seer, the records of Nathan the prophet and the records of Gad the seer, together with the details of his reign and power, and the circumstances that surrounded him and Israel and the kingdoms of all the other lands (1 Chron 29:29,30).
Angels are ministering spirits sent to serve God's children (Heb 1:14). They are sent by God. They serve God's people.
The LORD has established His throne in heaven,
And His kingdom rules over all.
Bless the LORD, you His angels,
Who excel in strength,
who do His word,
Heeding the voice of His word.
Bless the LORD, all you His hosts,
You ministers of His,
who do His pleasure. (Psalm 103:19-21).
Angels are created for obedience. They do not have the frienship with God that is opened up to us through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Angels often do not know as much about what is on the Father's heart as we do. They often "excel in strength", far more than they excel in wisdom and decision making.
Angels move between heaven and earth. When they are in heaven, they know what God is doing, because his Kingdom is established there. When they are on earth, they are dependent on other messengers from heaven to keep them up-to-date with what God is doing.
Angels are sent to earth tp serve us, but as events change develop, they often do not know what to do next. They sometimes have to wait for our prophetic declarations before they know what to do. When they hear the Holy Spirit's word through us, they do it. They recognise his voice and obey it. They listen to a prophetic word and work to accomplish it. That is one reason why God does nothing without first revealing his plan to his servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).
Speaking in the language of angels is good (1 Cor 13:1), because it helps the angesl to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying.
Prophets can minister at different levels.
Some prophets specialise in speaking to individual people. Personal prophecy provides:
Other prophets speak primarily to their church. As they develop in this ministry, they may also speak into other churches. Prophets provide a church with:
Loren Cunningham said that pastors are like wet cement. They are very accepting and draw everything together. He said that prophets are like reinforcing steel. They give the concrete strength by keeping it pure. A strong building needs both cement and steel.
Some people will be called to be a prophet to their nation. They may also develop to speak to other nations. A prophet to a nation provides:
- advice to rulers
- interpretation of God's law
- warning of judgement
It is for this reason that the prophets so often appear in the presence of rulers. It would sometimes seem as though they were primarily sent to kings. For through the king, they might best influence the welfare of the nation. Hence also their closeness to the priest. It would be a grave mistake, however to assume that, because of the great interest of the prophets in the monarchy, they were themselves primarily politicians. Their political activity is always subservient to a religious end. They did serve as the counsellors, but they did so in order that the theocratic kingdom might prosper (Edward J Young - My servants the Prophets p. 82).
Daniel would be an example of a prophet of government. His prophecies spoke of monumental changes in world order. There are just such prophets today. Some of these prophets are actually in governmental positions. I have found that God places His gifts in people from all walks of life. Prophets seem to be sent to various institutions of society, such as legal, educational and governmental offices. Governmental prophets may not give as many personal prophecies. They also understand trends and are watchmen on the wall for their nations (Cindy Jacobs - The Voice of God p.223).
The prophetic institution as such may be regarded as the guardian of this theocracy. The prophets were to build upon the foundation of the Mosaic Law, and to expound that law unto the nation. They would thus be the preservers and defenders of the principles upon which the theocracy had been founded by God (Edward J Young - My servants the Prophets).
For more see Prophet to the Nation.