Understanding prophecy under the New Covenant

ProphecyThe subject of prophecy is outside the parameters of my blog but I thought it important that I tag this on to my last two posts.

New Testament prophecy and the function of prophets is probably one of the most misunderstood and misaligned spiritual gifts in the church today–especially, by those who don’t believe this gift is for today. I hope to shed some light on this here and clear up some unnecessary confusion. At least, for those are open to the possibility. 

Old Testament vs. New Testament prophets

The first thing we need to understand is that prophecy functions very differently under the New Covenant than the Old. So, if you’re patterning yourself after Old Testament prophets, you’re in the wrong covenant! And that includes John the Baptist, who was the last of the Old Testament prophets.

Jesus is our model for all ministry today, not Elijah. This was the memo Jesus had to give James and John when they wanted to go “Old Testament” on Samaria. Jesus said they were of the wrong spirit, even though they would’ve been right under the Old Covenant (see Luke 9:51-55).

This is why you cannot read the Bible indiscriminately.  You must see it through the right covenantal lens to see it correctly.

To help us do that, here’s a very brief overview of the difference between Old Testament and New Testament prophets:

Under the Old Covenant,  the saints did not have Holy Spirit living in them. Prophets spoke for God to His people. This is why if their word didn’t come to pass, the prophet was judged (Deut.18:19-20). Prophecy had scriptural authority under the Old Covenant. Prophecy often foretold God’s redemptive plan for Israel and human history.

Under the New Covenant, ALL saints have the Holy Spirit. Prophets don’t hear God for His people, they confirm and establish what a believer is hearing. I talked about this last time. Furthermore, the prophet is NOT judged, the word is judged (1 Cor.14:29). We’re not told to be critical of prophecy. Quite the opposite, we’re to test the word (not the prophet) and hold fast to what is GOOD.

“Do not quench the Spirit.
Do not despise prophecies.
Test all things;
hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess.5:19-21)

Furthermore, we’re to judge the spirit of the word (1 John 4:1). For instance, a true New Testament prophet can “miss it” and still be a true prophet, and a false prophet can give a true word but still be a false prophet. We see an example of the latter with the slave girl in Philippi who had a true word but by the wrong spirit (Acts 16:16-18).

This is why we don’t judge prophecy by whether something comes true or not but by whether it has God’s grace on it or not. We use spiritual discernment under the New Covenant according to the grace working in us.

Last point here, prophets don’t have scriptural authority under the New Covenant. Their purpose, and the purpose of prophecy in general, is to build up and support believer’s growth in Christ and edify the Church (Eph.4:11-16).

I shouldn’t have to point out the obvious here, but since we certainly haven’t come into the “unity of the faith” or have “grown up into Christ,” we still need apostles and prophets, just like we still need pastors and teachers and evangelists. Again, for a different purpose than the Old Testament prophets or even the twelve apostles.

And this brings us to the purpose of prophecy in the local Church today.

The purpose of New Covenant prophecy

Fortunately, we don’t have to guess here. Paul clearly tells us in 1 Corinthians chapter 14 that the purpose of prophecy is edify the church. We see here that it does this in three ways (emphasis added).

“But one who prophesies speaks to people
for their edification
and encouragement and consolation.” (1 Cor.14:3 Mounce)

We see here that prophecy is for edification, encouragement and consolation. These are interesting Greek words.

Edification – οἰκοδομή (oikodomē):  “building spiritual structure, to build up”

Encouragement – παράκλησις (paraklēsis):  “calling upon, incite, cheering and supporting influence, give constructive spiritual progress, joy, gladness, enjoyment.”

Consolation – παραμυθία (paramythia): “comfort, strengthen, fortify.”

So we can safely summarize by saying that the purpose of prophesying in the local church setting is to cheer on, build up, strengthen, be a positive supporting influence, to encourage and comfort in a spiritual atmosphere of joy and gladness (expressing the Father’s heart).

I also want you to notice what prophecy is not. It’s not being stern, critical, judgmental, heavy-handed, or any other Old Testament picture you want to conjure up about what prophecy should be. Again, as Jesus had to tell James and John, trying to be Elijah is the wrong spirit!

Finally, since Paul clearly said that we should earnestly desire to prophecy (1 Cor.14:1). and that ALL can prophesy (1 Cor.14:31), he was hardly talking about writing Scripture. So it’s irrelevant whether the Canon is complete or not. This is God’s gift to build us up; it’s one of the many ways of expressing the Father’s heart to cheer us on and to strengthen us as we navigate our life together in Christ. This is why it’s sad to me that so many Christians would reject this wonderful grace gift given to us.

I hope this brief overview of prophecy is helpful to you. I will end with Paul’s closing words on the subject.

“Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy,
and do not forbid to speak with tongues.
Let all things be done decently and in order.” (1 Cor.14:39-40)

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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14 Responses to Understanding prophecy under the New Covenant

  1. reb says:

    QUOTE: I also want you to notice what prophecy is not. It’s not being stern, critical, judgmental, heavy-handed, or any other Old Testament picture you want to conjure up about what prophecy should be. Again, as Jesus had to tell James and John, trying to be Elijah is the wrong spirit!

    QUOTE: the purpose of prophesying in the local church setting is to cheer on, build up, strengthen, be a positive supporting influence, to encourage and comfort in a spiritual atmosphere of joy and gladness (expressing the Father’s heart).

    Therefore, Jesus’ rebuke of James and John, also of Peter (get behind me satan) and of the phrisees and saducees must have been acts of ” cheering on, building up, strengthening, a positive supporting influence, encouraging and comforting in a spiritual atmosphere of joy and gladness Because He spoke no words other than what the Father gave Him. But modern secularized Christianity does not see it that way. The prefer to humanize Christianity and its message

    We have been so psychologically mixed with the world that we think it is all about warm fuzzies. John the Baptist and Jesus did not preach warm fuzzies. They were honest and judged a righteous judgment and spoke words that were meant to set the captives free. The emphasis of the New Testament method is not to protect egos or feelings, but to set the captives free. Paul was blunt. They did not speak to put down but so that the truth could be dealt with.

    I also believe there is an additional component to the gift of prophecy. In the OT it was one man called to reveal the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ now resides in and is expressed by His body. We all know in part and prophesy in part and those parts will often speak a prophesy in part and as it is judged, other parts are usually added to it. It is no longer one man who usually has the complete message, but the voices of other members speaking as moved by the Holy Spirit.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks for your comments, reb. I will respond to what you said about what I wrote.

      You said: “Therefore, Jesus’ rebuke of James and John, also of Peter (get behind me satan) and of the phrisees and saducees must have been acts of ” cheering on, building up…”

      Jesus’ rebuke of James and John was because they were trying to act like an Old Testament prophet, specifically, Elijah. They were operating under the same spirit you seem to think is okay. And Jesus was not prophesying to Peter in your example. He was rebuking him for His unbelief. Furthermore, Jesus, under the Law, was rebuking the Pharisees for rejecting their Messiah. That’s not New Testament either, by the way.

      Keep in mind, the New Covenant doesn’t start with Jesus’ birth but with His death (Heb.9:16). The New Covenant didn’t start at Matt.1:1 but Matt.28.

      You said: “We have been so psychologically mixed with the world that we think it is all about warm fuzzies…”

      I never said that prophecy was always “warm and fuzzy.” But it is always redemptive, and it’s not stern and judgmental or condemning. If it doesn’t have grace on it, not from a spirit of love, it’s not from God. It’s nothing (1 Cor.13:1-3). It’s a religious spirit. For instance, Jesus did prophetically tell Peter he would deny Him but He also said He would pray for him and when he returned to strengthen his brethren. His word to Peter was redemptive, even though it included his failure.

      And being critical and negative about the church doesn’t make one a prophet. Anyone can point out what’s wrong. A true New Testament prophet points out the hidden treasure in Christ in the person (their calling, potential) they are prophesying over. Again, the purpose is to equip the saints and bring us into the unity of the faith and knowledge of Christ. That’s not psychology, it’s Scripture.

      You said: “John the Baptist and Jesus did not preach warm fuzzies….”

      Again, John the Baptist was under the Old Covenant, under the Law, not the New. That was my point. His purpose was completely different than that of the New Testament Church. He’s not our example of a New Testament prophet so we shouldn’t pattern ourselves after him.

      You said: “In the OT it was one man called to reveal the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ now resides in and is expressed by His body. We all know in part and prophesy in part and those parts will often speak a prophesy in part and as it is judged, other parts are usually added to it. It is no longer one man who usually has the complete message, but the voices of other members speaking as moved by the Holy Spirit”

      Of course, I agree with this. That was one of my points, and this is the critical difference between Old Covenant and New Covenant prophets. All can prophesy now, keeping into consideration that there are differing measures of this equipping gift (Eph.4:7), and all prophesy according to their faith (Rom.12:6). And prophecy is confirmed. Amen.

    • Mel Wild says:

      I got your other reply, Reb. I do agree with a lot of what you said, and also that posting it, and my response, would be confusing here. So if you want to email me, my email is mwild@centurytel.net. Blessings.

  2. bullroarin says:

    Good post Mel…it certainly brings some clarity to a muddied subject. Now having said that, I digress.

    What comes to mind when considering new testament prophesy, I think there is a general problem with the thought that a word spoken through an individual from God could be false. I realize that God’s word is not false, but, the person speaking may not have heard correctly. Hope/faith can easily be dashed when a person receives a word of encouragement as being from God only to have it turn out to be something totally different…especially if the word has been confirmed by another person. The unfortunate consequence is that prophetic words become nothing more than a horoscope…a shot in the dark if you will, used by well meaning people to encourage the body with a word that they think people want to hear.
    As a example, a friend of mine who had pancreatic cancer was told by many people that God was going to heal her, and she said she believed it as well as many others who were standing on this prophetic word that was given. In the end she died a horrible death. Many were devastated, and some no longer put any trust in a so called word from the Lord. I know this is sad, but I’ve seen it happen time and again.
    In the old testament these false prophets would have been stoned. Today they say oops, and move on with little regard to a life that they may have devastated by a word they thought was from God. How can someone ever recover from such a situation and trust God again…or trust people for that matter? I know we’re supposed to test all things, but in this case I think it would be awkward to believe that God wouldn’t want to heal this women…and so, the word of encouragement was that God was going to heal her…not you’re going to die.

    Anyway, I don’t mean to be unrefined…I think you have covered a lot concerning the topic and I think you are right on. I just wish people would be more careful when saying they have a “word from God.” Personally, I’m more impressed by people’s silence at times than I am by a lot of foolish clucking.

    Blessings, ~ Dave

    • Mel Wild says:

      Ahhh! I hear you! You’re bringing up a lot of the mess that happens when the use of prophecy is not understood and there’s no protocol. We’ve had similar issues back in the 80’s and 90’s, when people thought they were prophets and indiscriminately gave words, going into King James English, and beginning with, “Thus saith the Lord” to give them more authority! 🙂

      Unfortunately, because of spiritual immaturity, not having a protocol, and a general misunderstanding of NT prophecy, many have been unnecessarily turned off by it.

      First, as I mentioned, NT prophecy is confirmed, tested, and judged in the New Testament (the word, not the person). Also, we must be able to discern the difference between an exhortation or encouragement and an actual prophetic word from God.

      We only see in part and know in part, as reb mentioned, so prophecy is not an individual matter. We don’t just take a word as gospel truth without confirmation. For this reason, we teach people here to refrain from saying things like, “Thus says the Lord,” but to say what we sense the Lord saying. And if that person misses it, it doesn’t make them a false prophet, it just means they missed it. We need to create a safe environment where people can grow in this and receive correction without condemnation or rejection.

      Predictive prophecy (like “you will not die from cancer,” etc.) should not be received unless confirmed. And the verity of it is usually proportional to the one giving it, who has a track record of accuracy on these things. Even so, they can still miss it. It doesn’t take away from their genuine gift. Another factor to keep in mind, prophecy is only God’s intention, or will, for a person about a thing. It’s not a fatalistic foregone conclusion. It requires our participation, faith to carry it out, etc. In the case of healing of cancer, God’s revealed will in the NT is that ALL be healed. Although, many die. This is another misunderstanding in the body of Christ that goes way beyond the scope of this post.

      Finally, this is WHY prophecy under the New Covenant is confirmed. We all have the Holy Spirit. We all are to discern the mind of Christ on a matter together. But the main confirmation will come from the one receiving the prophecy, then they must walk it out by faith. When we do it this way, people will be blessed and any potential for people getting hurt will be minimized.

      Thanks for your comments, Dave. Much appreciated.

    • Mel Wild says:

      I should add here, you will never hear us prophecy that God will heal someone in our church. We believe He did already 2,000 years ago on the whipping post. Peter says we were healed (1 Pet.2:24). It would be like prophesying that God loves them or wants them to be saved. This is true for everyone in the whole world, even though most won’t receive it. So,ironically, those people did actually prophesy God’s will over the person who died, just not the results. And this is why we would never prophesy something like this because it creates all kinds of confusion about God’s will and creates unnecessary problems. Whether someone gets healed or is based on a whole host of things, but it’s never up to God. His Word is already settled on that fact at the atonement. And that’s why we can’t make our doctrine about prophecy or healing based on failure but on what God says in His Word. I hope that made sense. 🙂

    • bullroarin says:

      Mel…what you say makes perfect sense, and thanks for taking the time to explain your position.

      I’m sure all the misunderstanding about prophesy and other spiritual gifts falls under misinterpretation of God’s word. Perhaps its safe to say, incorrect concepts equal unwanted consequences.

      While I realize that the weight of error lies clearly in the human court, there is still the question of grace. Does one have to believe correctly, or perfectly, in order to see God move perfectly in a life. I know salvation is offered to us by the grace of God (so no one can boast), but it requires an act on our part to validate it. It seem that the area of healing requires something on our part as well…I know we call it faith, but if we fail to believe, or misunderstand, are we doomed to suffer the results? If this is so, then what about a word that is spoken over a child who has no concept of spiritual awareness? Is it possible that a parent or guardian, could inadvertently block a healing from taking place for a child? I ask this sincerely because I know of such a case and have no answer.
      Actually, its about my son Jeremy. We adopted him knowing that he had no chance of survival beyond the few weeks the doctors gave him. He had no motor skills, was blind, g-tube fed, and virtually only had a small portion of his brain that present. He lived eight and a half years and died in hospital of a twisted bowel that was not part of the doctors original diagnosis and was a complete blind-side for us. Jeremy had many “words” spoken over his life and he was a miracle child in the sense that he was making progress…slowly, but still making progress. The words spoken, from many different people and at different times, were all the same in that Jeremy would be healed, that he would walk, and have a ministry one day that would bring much glory to God. Some of those words included me…that I would somehow be part of this vision. I believed it.
      And then one day the unthinkable happened. We got a call from the hospital that Jeremy was in trouble. We prayed, I begged and prayed to God, but after a few hours he died. Our church was devastated, my wife and I were heart broken and what faith I thought I had was lowered into the grave with my son. I don’t have an answer…but sometimes I wonder if it was something I did wrong…or didn’t do. I got all the pat answer from well meaning people who explained that Jeremy is in a better place (and I believe that). But…what about the words that were spoken, and why would God allow Jeremy to be taken? Its been five years now, and still I have no meaningful answer. I love God, I rest in his grace…but that’s about it. So, maybe you can see my dilemma and my questions about prophesy…and when it doesn’t happen the way it was spoken. Was it just words that people thought I wanted to hear (I’m beginning to wonder if that is what it was), or was it something else?

      Anyway, I know this is a heavy topic…maybe not one for this form. And I know there may not be any easy answers…to be honest, you are the only person who has made any sense about explaining scripture…at least for me. So, just keep teaching and maybe there will be something I can hang my hat on one day.
      OK…to finish…on the one hand I have just about given up the notion that I will have an answer, and like Paul, accept my thorn in the flesh and trust that God’s grace is sufficient for me, but on the other hand I don’t want to be that orphaned child you speak of…because I feel this has not drawn me closer, if anything it has pushed me away…or at least has caused me to go into “rethink mode” and try to get my ducks in a row. In any event, don’t get stressed out…I’m not, I’m just living in the moment and taking it one day at a time.

      Blessings ~ dave

    • Mel Wild says:

      Dave, this is a very difficult topic, especially, when it involves people we love. It can be heartbreaking. I’ve prayed for hundreds of people over the years. Many have been healed of cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic diseases, broken bodies, you name it. But I’ve also had people literally die in my arms as I prayed, including young mothers who left little children behind. I’ve had my heart broken so many times, sometimes I don’t know where the pieces are! This ministry is not for the faint-hearted or the half-committed. God wants to know if we will keep going no matter what. You have to keep believing, even in the midst of failure, refusing to dumb God’s Word down to your experience.

      Our problem in the rational West is that we trust the doctor’s word more than God’s Word. That’s just the truth. I’ve seen this many, many times. When the doctor says a person is going to die, their faith dies with it. This is very difficult to overcome when you’re praying for people. All Christians believe God can heal, but most don’t know if He will. And that’s a huge problem that destroys faith.

      But I don’t have a problem with the medical profession. At least they’re in the fight! At least they’re trying to heal people; most Christians aren’t even trying. That’s sad.

      Without going into a training on healing (we spent a year on this!), basically, God’s will is to heal everyone. If we don’t have that, we make God a respecter of persons–choosing to heal one and not the other. I pick you, but not you…Actually, we make Him an evil parent! The Truth is, His will to heal is the same as His will to save everyone. So this question is not on God’s side of the equation at all. But it’s not just our faith either. We, seven billion people on this earth, have a free will to chose to do what God says or not; on top of that, angels have a free will, demons have a free will. Add to that, we live in a fallen world full of toxicities, poisons, and messed up genetics. But…we DO have God’s authority and His grace on our side, and if we will use it, believe it, we can win this fight. 🙂

      So, when you pray for a person, realize you’re in fight with malicious forces that inflict disease and bondage, and they want to know if you know who you are. Most Christians today don’t know who they are in Christ so these spiritual forces don’t listen to them. And it’s because of bad teaching on healing, too. For instance, Jesus never asked His Father if it was His will to heal a person, Jesus would rebuke the fever, the pain, etc. He cast out the spirits with a word. And we are to do the same as Jesus. That’s agreeing with God. He said believers would lay hands on the sick and they would recover. We would do what He does and greater things. But faith takes boldness and courage to stand on God’s Word no matter what. Otherwise, you will eventually give up and the devil wins.

      But, even so, our current experience is not up to our potential in Christ. And that’s not to condemn us but to show us where we’re at. Even the disciples couldn’t heal the demon-possessed boy, but Jesus did and chided them for their unbelief. Now, was it God’s will to heal the boy when the disciples prayed for him, even though they didn’t heal him? Yes, it was. Jesus gave God’s perfect will by healing him. So, our experience never determines God’s will, but God’s word determines it.

      I look at it this way. It’s been a heartbreaking journey for me to have people not get healed. As I said, I’ve prayed for many people who were dying. Many died but some were miraculously healed and have no symptoms of the disease or injury to this day. But it’s not about me. And I bet if you asked these people who were healed if they were glad that I believed in healing, even after all my failures, they would say YES! 🙂 They are alive because someone took the risk to actually believe God’s Word instead of giving it lip-service. I’ve learned my lesson in this fight. I will keep praying for people and never, never, ever let the results change my faith in what God says in His Word. And, besides, 100% of those people we prayed for knew that they were loved by God, and that we loved them enough to pray with them to the end. Their families would always thank us for being there, even when they died. So, in that sense, it’s been 100% successful.

      Again, there is SO much more I could say about this, but it is way beyond the scope of this blog. Blessings to you, brother.

    • bullroarin says:

      Thanks Mel…I do appreciate the time you took to respond and I’m grateful for your ministry.

      Blessings ~ dave

  3. That was an excellent post. I am excited!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thanks. Much appreciated. And amen! It is exciting when we actually learn how this equips us to grow together in Christ. Blessings.

  4. Magali Candelaria says:

    Thank you for a clear and bibical teaching.

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