The Church speaks very authoritatively about the prophets of old, those you hear about in the Bible like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Moses. They foretold of Christ’s coming, Christians believe. They foretold events and plagues and told of God’s power. But why don’t we seem to have prophets like this today?
What is a prophet?
First, we must debunk a common misconception about prophets. They do not predict the future like a soothsayer or psychic. Simply, prophets name reality.
The biblical prophets spoke the Truth, that which came from God. Their unique vocation allowed them to authoritatively speak on God’s behalf. “The Lord says to the nations, ‘Now I will act. I will show how powerful I am,'” we hear from Isaiah (33:10). Prophets spoke of war and peace, and revealed God to God’s people. The word prophet comes from the Greek word that means advocate or spokesperson. Jesus fulfilled this advocacy of his Father in the office of priest, prophet, and king.
All those who are baptised are called to share in Jesus’ ministry of priest, prophet, and king. Saint Paul speaks of prophets as one role of many within the church:
“In the church God has put all in place: in the first place apostles, in the second place prophets, and in the third place teachers; then those who perform miracles, followed by those who are given the power to heal or to help others or to direct them or to speak in strange tongues.”
(1 Corinthians 12:28)
Prophets do not exist for their own glory, but for the glory of God. I have had the experience of a Christian prophesy to me about God’s plans for me. It was comforting to hear that God has great plans for me; I don’t doubt that God has such plans. But there is a danger though that a Christian can lose their credibility by saying, “God told me…” The prophetic mission, which we are baptised into is the bringing of the gospel message to the world; it is for most people done through action.
But every so often we hear someone called “prophetic”. We hear statements that speak truth into our hearts. We hear the Gospel message through them. They resonate with a certain passion and genuineness. Such people are revealing truths of God to us. They name the ultimate reality, that is, God here and now, God then, and God to come.
The Bible however speaks a bit about false prophets. How do we know whether someone we see as prophetic or a messenger of God is really a false prophet? Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel says , “You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” (7:16-17) Is there good coming from the prophet’s message? Does it bring people closer or tear them apart? Does it call for positive transformation or have hints of malice or evil?
Prophets of yesterday and today tap into the truth of God. This is what we are called to as well, and we do this through prayer and awareness. God uses those who give themselves to this deep prayer to speak and act prophetically God’s message of love.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod