How Does Prophecy Work in the Bible?

Have you received a prophecy that came true?

Prophecy occurs in two ways throughout the body of Christ. The first is a corporate prophecy over the entire body. The other is a personal prophecy delivered discreetly. Let’s talk about how you know a prophecy is a true word from the Spirit and the one who uses the gift uses it properly.

Old Testament Prophets

Throughout the Old Testament God anointed prophets to speak his words to his people. They gave corporate prophecies (often recorded in the prophetic books). They also gave personal prophecies, often to the Kings like David (2 Samuel 12:1-15) and Ahaz (Isaiah 7:1-9).

The prophetic gift is slightly different from the office of the prophet in Israel. The prophetic gift used today is a prompting by the Holy Spirit to speak a word he has given to the body or an individual. The prophetic office of Israel kept the Kings and the nation in check in its service to God.

There are two parts to prophecy. There is the prophetic message itself which usually addresses a characteristic. For instance, King Ahaz was afraid of the nations to his North that were threatening Israel (Isaiah 7:2-6).

Instead of trusting in God for help, Ahaz was looking to Egypt to his south. He wanted to make a treaty with them that would protect Israel from its northern enemies. Instead of looking to God Isaiah the prophet told him to trust in the true God. He proclaimed that the nations to the north would not even exist in less than 65 years and would not threaten Israel (Isaiah 7:7-9). They should not be afraid of them.

That was the prophecy. But then a prophecy is often followed by a sign from the prophet. This is the part that shows some amazement for us. It could be a foretelling of the future. It could be something personal to the person receiving the prophecy. It is meant to confirm in a short period of time the prophecy itself.

So the prophecy is a word for a person or group that may have a long-term fulfillment. It is confirmed by a short time sign recognized by the receiver of the prophecy.

After Isaiah told Ahaz that he must trust in the Lord, Ahaz refused to do that (Isaiah 7:10-12). So Isaiah gave him a sign of a virgin (young maiden) who would bear a child who would be a great leader and close to God (Isaiah 7:13-17). This was most likely a person Ahaz knew in his court.

In the New Testament, Matthew takes the sign of the prophecy and applies it to Mary, the mother of Jesus (Matthew 1:22-23).. She fulfilled the prophecy perfectly. A prophecy can have telescopic fulfillments. Think of a telescope that gets larger from one end to the other. The largest and is the most perfect fulfillment of the prophecy or sign.

The young woman that Ahaz knew was the beginning of the prophecy’s fulfillment through the sign. But the sign was ultimately fulfilled in Mary who brought Jesus to the earth.

Marks of a True Prophet

The prophets of God spoke as his mouthpieces. Whatever God wanted to speak to his people or command them, he used the prophetic office to do it. Deuteronomy 18:22 tells us that when a prophecy does not come true, the prophets spoke out of turn.

With the prophetic gift, if the person is learning how to use their gift, they may not always be right. This doesn’t mean that they are not powerfully used by God in the prophetic gift. Even if a profit “misses the Spirit” and speaks from the flesh, it does not mean that the Spirit will not use them again in a gift.

We must be careful to evaluate the word that is spoken. It must be evaluated by other prophets and by the leadership. Only the leadership should deal with a person who spoke out order. The Spirit will lead them to help that person with their gift.

All of this is to say that prophetic words have biblical standards to meet. When we hear prophetic word we hope that the person used by the Spirit in the prophetic gift is connected and pronouncing the word of the Lord instead of working in the flesh.

I have received both personal and corporate prophecies that came true. When I was in Bible College, there was a particular semester that many of us felt under the gun and stressed out. You could sense heaviness throughout the campus. Finals week was approaching and nobody was ready.

In one of our chapel services there was a strong word of encouragement and comfort. The weight in the room lifted from every person. I’ve never felt anything like it before or since. You could tell the presence of God was in the room.

I’ve also received personal prophetic words that spoke to my situation without the person knowing about it. That’s one of the ways you can tell that it is a true prophecy. When the person has no idea how what they are prophesying over you speaks directly to your situation.

When I was a boy, several people walk up to me and prophesied that I would be a minister following the footsteps of my grandfather. My grandfather was an Assemblies of God minister for over 40 years. He has big shoes to fill.

When I was seven years old God called me in the pastoral ministry. People didn’t know because I didn’t broadcast it. After that moment at the altar that God called me to do his work pastorally, a couple of people came and prayed with me.

They spoke into existence that I would serve the Lord. They had no idea that I have just been called into the ministry. And they prophesied even more for my future. The prophecy was more about a blessing for serving the Lord then it was specific future events.

When you experience corporate or personal prophecy, it is a powerful word for that moment. It speaks directly to the situation. It’s not about telling the future. You will experience confirmation in your life. Prophetic words are encouraging, edifying, comforting, and sometimes correcting. There’s nothing like it.

Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

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