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What Is Prophecy? Bible Meaning and Examples of Prophesy

Prophecy at its most fundamental meaning is “a message from God.” Learn why the Bible included prophecies and their significance today!

Updated Jan 29, 2024
What Is Prophecy? Bible Meaning and Examples of Prophesy

The term "prophecy" in the Bible encapsulates the divine communication of God's will, often foretelling future events or conveying messages of moral and spiritual significance. Prophets, as designated messengers of God, play a pivotal role in this dynamic relationship between the Creator and His creation. The voices of prophets such as Moses, Elijah, and Isaiah echo through the pages of the Old and New Testaments, each prophet uniquely contributing to the unfolding story of salvation, redemption, and the fulfillment of God's promises. This article dives into the definition of prophecy, its current function as a spiritual gift, and the diverse roles of prophets as illuminated in Scripture.

"For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." (2 Peter 1:21)

"...the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation." (1 Corinthians 14:3)

Prophecy Vs. Prophesy

"Prophecy" is the noun, and "to prophesy" is the verb. To prophesy is simply to pronounce prophecy. Prophecy, at its most fundamental meaning, is “a message from God.” Hence, to prophesy is to declare a message from God.

Let's look at the definition for each for more clarification:

Prophecy: Noun

"a prediction; the faculty, function, or practice of prophesying."

Prophesy: Verb

"to utter by or as if by divine inspiration; to predict with assurance or on the basis of mystic knowledge."

In short, we can describe prophecy as the message and prophesy as delivering that message.

Prophesy Bible Meaning

Prophecy or prediction was one of the functions of the prophet. It has been defined as a "miracle of knowledge, a declaration or description or representation of something future, beyond the power of human sagacity to foresee, discern, or conjecture."

The great prediction, which runs like a golden thread through the whole contents of the Old Testament, is that regarding the coming and work of the Messiah, the great use of prophecy was to perpetuate faith in His coming and to prepare the world for that event. But there are many subordinate and intermediate prophecies also which hold an essential place in the great chain of events that illustrate God's sovereignty and all-wise overruling providence.

Then there are many prophecies regarding the Jewish nation, its founder Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), and his posterity, Isaac and Jacob, and their descendants, which have all been fulfilled. The twenty-eighth chapter of Deuteronomy contains a series of predictions that are fulfilled even now in the present day. In the writings of the prophets (Isaiah 2:18-21), (Jeremiah 27:3-7), (Ezekiel 5:12; Ezekiel 8), (Daniel 9:26-27), (Hosea 9:17), there are also many prophecies regarding the events which were to befall that people.

The great body of Old Testament prophecy relates directly to the advent of the Messiah, beginning with Genesis 3:15, the first great promise, and extending in ever-increasing fullness and clearness all through to the very close of the canon. The Messianic prophecies are too numerous to be quoted. "To him gave all the prophets witness." (Compare Micah 5:2; Haggai 2:6-9; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1 Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 60:10-13; Psalms 16:11). [Excerpt from Bible Dictionary]

Spiritual Gift of Prophecy

The ability to prophesy is considered one of the spiritual gifts bestowed upon believers by the Holy Spirit. This gift is prominently discussed in the New Testament, particularly in passages such as 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and Ephesians 4. The primary purpose of this gift is the edification, exhortation, and comfort of the Church, as emphasized by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:3. Prophecy involves receiving and conveying messages from God, often addressing the current needs, challenges, or encouragement needed by individuals or the community of believers.

The nature of the gift of prophecy may involve the direct revelation of specific future events, insights into the spiritual realm, or the application of biblical principles to contemporary situations. Importantly, the prophet, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, serves as a conduit for divine communication rather than generating personal insights. The exercise of the gift requires humility, discernment, and alignment with biblical truth. While the New Testament acknowledges the existence of false prophets and warns against deception, it also encourages believers to eagerly pursue spiritual gifts, including prophecy, for the greater benefit of the Church.

The gift of prophecy does not grant infallibility or override the authority of Scripture. Instead, it operates within the framework of God's revealed Word, complementing and affirming biblical teachings. Prophecy, when exercised responsibly and in accordance with biblical principles, serves to strengthen the faith of believers, foster a deeper understanding of God's will, and contribute to the spiritual growth and unity of the Church.

Can Anyone Prophesy?

Not everyone has the gift of prophecy, but we are encouraged to seek spiritual gifts, including prophecy, for the edification and encouragement of the Church. The exercise of prophecy should align with biblical principles and be subject to discernment.

Some argue for the continuation of prophetic gifts in the present day, while others view prophecy as a phenomenon limited to specific historical periods. Those who believe in the ongoing relevance of prophecy often emphasize the importance of discernment and accountability within the Christian community to ensure that purported prophecies align with biblical teachings.

4 Prophesies Fulfilled in Christ

The Messiah would be born of a virgin.

Old Testament Prophecy - "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (Isaiah 7:14

New Testament Fulfillment - "All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us)." (Matthew 1:22-23

"In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus." Luke 1:26-31

The Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah.

Old Testament Prophecy - "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples." (Genesis 49:10

New Testament Fulfillment - "the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah" (Luke 3:33)

"For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests." (Hebrews 7:14)

The Messiah would be a priest after the order of Melchizedek.

Old Testament Prophecy - "The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek." (Psalm 110:4

New Testament Fulfillment - "So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"; as he says also in another place, "You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek." (Hebrews 5:5-6)

The Messiah would resurrect from the dead.

Old Testament Prophecy - "For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption." (Psalm 16:10); "But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah" (Psalm 49:15)

New Testament Fulfillment - "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know-- this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him, "'I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.' "Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses." (Acts 2:22-32)

Prophets in the Bible

A prophet is a person who receives messages from God, mainly concerning events that will take place in the future, and conveys them to a certain group of people or singular person, whom God intends to hear the delivered message. The Bible features several important prophets who played significant roles in conveying God's messages and guiding the people of Israel. The importance of prophets is often measured by their impact on the course of biblical history, the messages they delivered, and their contribution to the unfolding narrative of God's relationship with His people. Here are some of the most notable prophets in the Bible:

Moses is a central figure in the Bible and is considered one of the greatest prophets in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). His role as a prophet is particularly prominent in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. One of Moses' most significant prophetic roles was as the mediator between God and the people of Israel. On Mount Sinai, Moses received the Ten Commandments and the Law, outlining the ethical and moral guidelines for the Israelites. He served as the conduit through which God communicated His divine will to the people.

Elijah is a prominent and revered prophet in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. His prophetic ministry is primarily recorded in the books of 1 Kings and 2 Kings. One of the most well-known episodes in Elijah's life is the showdown on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18). Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a contest to see which deity would answer with fire. Yahweh's response was dramatic, affirming His supremacy and leading to the downfall of Baal worship. After the Mount Carmel confrontation, Elijah faced persecution from Queen Jezebel, who sought to kill him. Elijah fled to Mount Horeb, where he encountered God in a dramatic manner. God reassured Elijah, demonstrating His presence in a still, small voice (1 Kings 19). Elijah also delivered prophecies about future events, including judgments upon the house of Ahab and Jezebel. His words carried weight and were fulfilled in accordance with God's sovereign plan.

Isaiah, often referred to as the "Prince of Prophets," is one of the major prophets in the Bible, and his prophetic ministry is detailed in the Book of Isaiah. Much of Isaiah's prophetic message is focused on calling the people of Judah to repentance and warning them of impending judgment due to their disobedience and idolatry. However, interspersed with messages of judgment are promises of restoration and redemption. Isaiah foretells the coming of the Messiah, a figure who would bring salvation and establish God's righteous kingdom. In Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah delivers a famous prophecy about the coming of a child named Immanuel, which means "God with us." This prophecy is pointing to the birth of Jesus Christ, who embodies the presence of God among His people.

Jeremiah, known as the "Weeping Prophet," is a significant prophet in the Bible, and his prophetic ministry is documented in the Book of Jeremiah. He was called by God to be a prophet while still young (Jeremiah 1:4-10) and faced the challenging task of delivering messages of judgment and warning to a disobedient and idolatrous nation. Jeremiah engaged in various symbolic actions to convey God's messages. Notably, he wore a yoke on his neck as a symbol of the impending Babylonian captivity (Jeremiah 27). Jeremiah's life and actions were, in many ways, a living parable reflecting the coming judgment on Judah.

Ezekiel is a noteworthy prophet in the Bible, and his prophetic ministry is recorded in the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel's prophetic calling is detailed in the opening chapter of his book. He experienced a powerful vision of God's glory, including the famous vision of the wheels within wheels, which served as the backdrop for his commissioning as a prophet (Ezekiel 1-3). Later, Ezekiel describes a vision of a future temple in great detail (Ezekiel 40-48). This vision is seen by some as symbolic, representing spiritual renewal and the presence of God among His people. Others interpret it more literally, envisioning a future temple in the land of Israel. Ezekiel's role as a prophet involved delivering a challenging message during a time of crisis and exile. His prophecies, which include both judgment and hope, contribute to the overall narrative of God's faithfulness, justice, and the promise of restoration for His people.

Importance of Prophecy Today

"And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are the true words of God." Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God." For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." (Revelation 19:9-10)

One of the most powerful gifts of the Holy Spirit is the ability of prophecy. Furthermore, we know from the Apostle Paul that humility is the chief characteristic of the spirit of a prophet. This is what attracts the grace of God to him, enabling him to fulfill the two great commandments of love for God and one’s neighbor. He affirms this when he says, ‘the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets’ (1 Corinthians 14:32). The genuine prophet humbly understands how to tame his spirit so that he does not seize the spiritual space of others, including that of the divine Other, the Lord, and that of each of his brethren.

The prophetic authority of those who have been in the living Presence of the Lord has nothing to do with worldly authority. It is a spiritual gift of humble service and love, pulling down the fortifications (2 Corinthians 10:4) of pride which make it so difficult to fulfill the two great commandments of love. Indeed, the genuine prophet has a pure relationship with God and his brethren. His attitude before God is similar to that of the great Prophet John the Baptist, while in his relations with others he is characterized by deep humility, like the Apostle Paul who said, ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am chief’ (1 Timothy 1:15).

Sources:

Prophetic Life and Authority in the Church - saintgeorgekearney.com

44 Prophecies fulfilled in Christ - parish.rcdow.org.uk

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