Prophecy has been categorized in two ways: forth-telling and foretelling. Forth-telling may be simply defined as speaking forth (out) God’s Word to those whom God desired to hear it. The difference between forth-telling and preaching is that prophecy was sourced in the direct revelation of God to the prophet who spoke Gods Word as given. Preaching is generally about proclaiming God’s Word already revealed. Foretelling is about revealing God’s will for the future, or telling what will happen before it happens.
God used a number of different people to prophecy. Obviously in the Old Testament these people were called prophets. Since there was not always the written Word, God spoke to His people directly through a messenger called a prophet. One of the best illustrations of a prophet is described by God Himself when he sent Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh:
And the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel gout of his land. – Exodus 7:1-2
In the New Testament God used prophets but Jesus also worked with His apostles. These two specific groups of people became the historical foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20). The spoke out God’s Word and they wrote much of it down which we now know as the Bible. It is very important to recognize that these people did not just make stuff up. The Bible is very clear that the Spirit of God is the divine author of all truth.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness. – 2 Timothy 3:16
“…knowing this first of all that no prophecy of Scripture come from one’s own interpretation. 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 1:20-21
The nature of Prophecy is unique and appears to be fulfilled in different ways. God often spoke into the current situation in time and space but that very declaration may also have a second event that happened in the future that mirrors the first event. For example, God spoke through Isaiah the prophet who declared to Ahaz that: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”The prophecy had an immediate fulfillment in the life of Ahaz, which is not so easy to figure out to be honest. But we also know this was the very text that Matthew points out was the prophecy that was fulfilled by Jesus entrance into the world through Mary (Matthew 1:22-23).
Some prophecy is singular where the event comes true. Other prophecies have what we call a “double fulfillment” where it seems to refer to at least two different events that are extremely similar but not always exactly the same. Some prophetic messages seem to fulfill the basic concept or idea rather than the details. Prophecy has a bit of a unique and quirky nature because the idea of fulfilled prophecy has different looks. It is far too complex to figure it all out here but it is a powerful element of the Scriptures.
If you think that there are hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament that speak about the person of Christ in every aspect of His birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection. What is astounding about prophecy is that
God made these predictions hundreds of years earlier and in great detail these prophecies all come to be fulfilled. How can any of that be possible if not for a God who is guiding, influencing and controlling the events that ebb and flow through history in order to bring about those specific predictions and events in harmony with the way God said they would happen… absolutely astounding! Josh McDowell in his book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, suggest there are hundreds of prophecies that Jesus fulfills from the Old Testament (Chapter 9, pg. 141).
Some prophecy is difficult to understand but that makes sense especially when the Scripture is fulfilled in different ways. But it is a powerful reminder that God is sovereignly working out His purpose throughout history. It shows that God is far more involved in the intricacies of history than most of us think. Hopefully prophecy is not something to be scared of but one that builds our confidence about a God who is actively and powerfully working out His purpose in our lives.
For some there is a ferocious passion to discover the mysteries of the prophetic Scripture; certainly there is a huge portion of the Scriptures devoted to prophecy that looked to the future even for us. Several major books in the Old Testament like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel and several Minor Prophets speak to future events in from our vantage point in the 21stCentury. The larger New Testament hinge point on prophetic literature is, of course, the book of Revelation. In spite of an increasingly difficult challenge and a picture of the future that is not without its challenges, it is comforting to know there is personal God who has His fingerprints on the outworking of these global events through time and history. In spite of the “doom and gloom” elements of our world it is important that God has all this inside the boundaries of His will. We can rest assured that God has not lost control of the events of human history and that our future does not rest in humanity coming up with the ultimate solution. Only God can ultimately provide that solution.
Sincerely in His grace,