Prophecy was an important and primary gift in the Scripture. In the last issue I explained that the miraculous gifts which were given to the first century church ceased at the end of that century. Three reasons have been given and three more are given in the remainder of this article.
The church of Jesus Christ is a unique entity created by Christ for this age of grace. If we speak of the church as a whole (to which the New Testament refers perhaps a dozen or so times, e.g., Matt. 16:18) or to the local church (to which the New Testament speaks mostly, well over a hundred times), we are speaking of the organism and/or organization which God uses to carry out His will in this dispensation.
In this age, Israel is being held in abeyance until Daniel’s seventieth week, known as the great tribulation, begins. The church was announced by Christ in Matt. 16:18 as His own creation to fulfill His will in this age. It began officially at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit baptized believers into the body of Christ. Since that time, each individual believer is so placed upon his/her confession of faith (1 Cor. 12:13). That church will be raptured out to meet her Lord in the air at the parousia (John 14:3; 1 Thes. 4:13-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-58; 2 Thes. 2:1).
The local church consists of believers in a certain locale who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit, baptized by immersion in water as a testimony to that conversion, and have willingly joined in fellowship with those saints, voluntarily placing himself/herself under that church’s care. These local churches, scattered throughout the world, are carrying out the Lord’s commission for world evangelism, the practice of the ordinances, and the instruction of the saints in the Word of God. Every believer in this age ought to be joined to such a church and thereby be fulfilling God’s will as revealed in the Scriptures.
The church, whether the entire body of Christ or a local expression of it, cannot be equated to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Israel was and is God’s nation, a kingdom which He redeemed, covenanted with, and ruled as divine King until its present abeyance. God’s direction for Israel was mediated through prophets, priests, and kings who represented God to the people or the people to God. These offices were for Israel alone.
When the miraculous gifts did appear in the church they were for her maturing process during the transition between Israel’s dispensation and the church’s. Paul, speaking of these things, wrote, When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known (1 Cor. 13:11-12). In his second epistle to the Corinthians, he wrote concerning Scripture, But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18). Similarly, to the Ephesians and later in the first century, after he lists the temporary offices of apostles and prophets, he writes, Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13).
The gift of prophecy and the office of apostle, as well as the sign gifts, were only needed during the church’s infancy. But once the New Testament was complete and the church had come to maturity, the temporary (childish) things could be set aside. Now the church is mature and ministers to the Lord with adult belief in the completed revelation of God. Paul continued to the Ephesians, That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ (Eph. 4:14-15).
The most compelling reason why prophecy is not needed today is the all-sufficiency of the Word of God. Jude exhorted his readers to earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints (Jude 3). “The faith” refers to the complete body of truth contained in the Scripture and Jude assures us that it is delivered by God to His church once and not continuously. As noted already, once the New Testament was completed, the revelation of God for the church is complete and all-sufficient.
Peter recalled the times when he saw miraculous revelations from God. He heard the voice of God at the baptism of Jesus (2 Pet. 1:17) and he saw the transfiguration of Jesus on the mount (vs. 18) but he confessed, We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts (vs. 19). The Baptist Study Bible has a clear note on this,
Making use of a comparative, Peter declares that there exists a more sure prophetic word. Understanding that he is comparing the experiences of sensory verification (vv. 16, 17) with “prophecy” (vv. 19-21), one may observe that Peter is claiming a degree of certainty for the Scriptures unmatched by anything else in man’s experience. Peter knows the Scriptures to be infallible and inerrant.1
By this also, Peter has assured his readers that in the Scriptures God hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue (2 Pet. 1:3).
Paul assured Timothy not only that the Scriptures were inspired of God but that the Scriptures themselves were profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17). These statements from the Biblical authors could not be serious or true if other revelation were needed for Christian living. If other revelation has been added to Scripture by (so-called) prophets then we are obligated to find it, preserve it, and keep every jot and tittle of it. But this is obviously not the case. To seek more revelation from God through modern prophets is to be faithless and to treat the Word of God as incomplete and insufficient.
The cults always have a way of explaining away John’s final statement in Revelation but it is there nonetheless, If any man add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book; and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life (Rev. 22:18-19). I like what the old Puritan said about it,
This sanction is like a flaming sword, to guard the canon of the scripture from profane hands. Such a fence as this God set about the law (Deut. iv, 2) and the whole Old Testament (Mal. iv. 4), and now in a most solemn manner about the whole Bible, assuring us that it is a book of the most sacred nature, divine authority, and of the last importance, and therefore the peculiar care of the great God.2
Before Jesus left this earth and ascended back to heaven to sit at the right hand of God until the restitution of all things, He gave commandments to the disciples to take the gospel into all the world. These commandments are outlined in Matthew’s gospel as preaching the gospel to every person, baptizing the converts, and teaching them all the things Jesus commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). By the time of Jesus’ ascension He had also instructed the disciples in local church discipline (Matt. 18:15-18) and in keeping the Lord’s Supper (Matt. 26:26-29). The only requirement for these disciples before they could begin was to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit thus placing them into the body of Christ and empowering them for service (Acts 1:8).
The commission from Christ is fulfilled specifically by a verbal preaching/witnessing of the gospel as it is explained in the Scripture (1 Cor. 15:1-4). Even the apostles themselves did not use prophecy to fulfill this commission though they were capable of and occasionally did receive final prophecies (e.g., John’s Revelation). The power for witnessing comes directly from the Holy Spirit which now every believer possesses thus enabling each one to fulfill the commission, and the content of their message is the Word of God which all believers also now possess. Paul says, So then faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17). He also wrote that this saving action will come about through preachers, sent by the churches, preaching that all men everywhere must call on the name of the Lord (Rom. 10:14-15). A study of the words for “preacher,” “preaching,” and “preached” will reveal the ministry of a heralder (kerux) who must speak only what has been given to him by his Master. Nothing must be added for fear of severe penalty. Thus preachers preach the word! (2 Tim. 4:2) and nothing more.
And So . . . .
Modern day prophecies and prophets are not only unbiblical but are unnecessary, distracting to the commission of our Lord, and dangerous to the churches as well as those people who need to hear the gospel clearly. The Scripture is still our only authority for faith and practice.
Notes: 1. Baptist Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1991) 1776. 2. Matthew Henry, Revelation (Old Tappan: Fleming H. Revell Company, nd) 1188.