Prophets and Prophecy
When one thinks of a Biblical prophet, a picture comes to mind like Elijah facing down the prophets of Baal and calling down fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice on the altar of Yahweh. One thinks of Isaiah's vision of God in His temple, and his prediction of the coming of the Suffering Servant, God's Messiah. One thinks of Samuel anointing David King of Israel years before Saul dies and David actually becomes King.
Typically, one thinks of foretelling the future, and of miracles. And those things would be true of the prophets of the Old Testament. Then Jesus came.
Jesus was more than a prophet. He was the Messiah, God's anointed One. He lived and died and was raised from the dead to make redemption for fallen humanity. He ascended into heaven and poured out the Holy Spirit to abide in the hearts of believers to grow the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and to grant spiritual gifts for living a life that makes a difference for God's Kingdom.
One of those spiritual gifts is the gift of prophecy.
"So Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up." (Ephesians 4:11-12 NIV - emphasis mine)
"Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines." (1 Corinthians 12:7-11 NIV - emphasis mine)
God still speaks through prophets. And every believer in whom the Holy Spirit dwells has the gift of prophecy and can function as a prophet as the Spirit directs.
Although our picture of a prophet involves miracles and foretelling the future, the Biblical vision of a prophet also includes one who forth-tells God's message for a specific people and time of history.
Jesus called John the Baptist the greatest prophet who had ever lived, and claimed the spirit of Elijah was on him. But the New Testament does not record any miracles done through John. He spoke God's message of repentance as a preparation for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. He spoke truth to power, telling King Herod he was sinning by marrying his brother's wife, and was eventually beheaded for it. This telling forth truth is as much the sign of the office of a prophet as the miracles and foretelling of the future.
I believe God still raises up prophets to speak His Word directly to specific situations. I believe Martin Luther was a prophet for the time, calling the Church to the authority of the Word of God above the traditions of the Church. I believe William Wilberforce was a prophet for the time, speaking to England about the immorality of slavery. I believe Martin Luther King, Jr. was a prophet for the time, calling the US to turn from racism.
And I also believe God uses most all followers of Jesus to speak prophetically from time to time as He stirs up the gift of prophecy within us. Parents who see the gifts and talents in their children and talk with them about how God might be calling them to live out those gifts and talents speak prophetically over their children. Pastors who tell truth, saying, "Thus says the Lord..." speak prophetically to their congregations. A friend who hears a whisper from the Holy Spirit and speaks a word of truth and encouragement to a friend over coffee can speak prophetically in that specific relationship.
Prophecy is not just for Bible times. John the Baptist was not the last prophet. God still speaks forth truth through the anointing of His Spirit in believers' lives. And God still speaks to the future through the powerful words of prophets like Wilberforce and King.
The big question for me is this: Will I listen when God speaks to me through whatever prophet He raises up in my life and my generation? It's like Jesus said, "When He said this, He called out, 'Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.'" (Luke 8:8 NIV)
I'm listening, Lord...