This is a huge part of answering this question because there are actually two different categories when speaking of prophecy. There is "Prophecy" and there is "prophecy".
In the Old Testament, there were men called Prophets who spoke the very words of God. They would say things like "Thus saith the Lord..." In fact, they wrote down the words that they spoke and their writings became part of the Bible and we treat them with God's authority to this day. These are men like Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and others. In the New Testament, we see men who did similar things. We call them Apostles. This includes Peter, James, John, Paul, and others.
This kind of Prophecy (upper case P) is fully authoritative, 100% accurate, and always to be obeyed. This kind of Prophecy produces Scripture. This kind of Prophecy can be defined as "Declaring the very Words of God."
Throughout the Bible, we see a sort of lesser form of prophecy. We see people who speak under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They declare praise to God and give counsel to those who need it. They sometimes received knowledge or insight that was beyond what they could have naturally known. These men and women are often nameless throughout the Bible but include men like King Saul and the disciples in Tyre mentioned in Acts 21:4.
This kind of prophecy (lower case p) is subject to the Scriptures. It is to be tested and weighed rather than accepted and obeyed. It does not produce Scripture. This kind of prophecy can be defined as "Speaking about something that God has revealed to you or called to your mind."
Let's answer this question separately for the two different categories we discussed above.
Revelation 22:18 says, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book."
Revelation was the last book of the Bible to be written and because of the way that John ends it, Christians do not believe that anything else can be added to the Bible. The Scripture is a closed book and, therefore, this kind of Prophecy does not happen anymore. Everything God desired to reveal in His Word has been revealed and the Bible as it is now is sufficient for faith and godliness.
This one is highly debated. Some Christians are called "cessationists" because they believe that miraculous gifts like prophecy, healing, tongues, and more have ceased in our day. They would claim that these things happened during the times of the Old and New Testament but are no longer needed nor present today. They typically point to 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 to make their argument. It says...
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
This passage clearly tells us that there will be a day when prophecies and tongues cease and pass away. The question is, when is that day? It could not have been the first coming of Jesus, because Paul is writing this years after Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension. For the same reason, it could not have been the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Some claim that the day these gifts were to cease was the day that the Bible was completed with the completion of Revelation. If that is the case, then that day came sometime in 90 AD and there is indeed no more prophecy today.
However, let's look at the way the passage itself describes the time that these gifts will cease. Verse 10 says that they will cease "when perfection comes". Likewise, this is when "the imperfect disappears". Verse 12 tells us that during this time, we will see face to face and know fully and be fully known.
While the completed Bible is certainly perfect, the day the Bible was completed with Revelation does not seem to be a day when the imperfect disappeared. There is still a whole lot of imperfection in this world. It also doesn't seem to fit with the phrases regarding seeing face to face, knowing fully, and being fully known. I have read the Bible through several times and still have questions about God. I'm sorry to all of my cessationist friends, but this theory just doesn't add up.
So when will prophecy cease? When will perfection come and imperfection disappear?. When will we see face to face? When will we know fully and be fully known? Heaven. After Jesus' return and when we are in heaven, all of those conditions will be met. God will restore and perfect everything. We will see Him face to face. We will know God fully and be known by each other fully because there will be nothing left hidden or secret. It makes sense too. We won't need prophecy in Heaven because we can just talk to Jesus!
Lower case prophecy happens all throughout the Bible and there is no biblical reason to believe it has ceased yet. Both church history and modern churches claim to have members who prophecy. And 1 Corinthians 13 seems to say that prophecy will be around until we are all in heaven. It seems to me that prophecy still happens today.
How should we react to a "Prophecy"?
If someone claims to be speaking the very Words of God to you and tells you to obey, then don't believe them unless they have a chapter and verse to go with their quote. The Bible is finished and this kind of Prophecy does not happen today.
If someone claims the Holy Spirit wants them to say something to you, then you should listen. Don't automatically reject it as hocus pocus and don't automatically receive it as truth. Instead, Paul tells us how we ought to deal with prophecy.
do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. -- 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21
Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. -- 1 Corinthians 14:29
When someone tells you something that they believe is from God, then hear them out, test it, and weigh it. Sometimes people will flat out be lying to you and just claiming they have a prophecy. Sometimes they will indeed have a prophecy but its not the Holy Spirit on the other end of the phone but a demon. The Bible warns us of such false prophets. Other times, the person may have indeed gotten guidance from God but may have expressed it poorly or drawn the wrong conclusions from it. We see this in Acts 21:4 when the disciples tell Paul through the Spirit that he is not to go to Jerusalem. Yet, Paul still went to Jerusalem and was ultimately arrested. It seems that perhaps the Spirit indeed laid a prophecy of warning on the hearts of the disciples but they added their own emphasis that Paul not go.
So, we need to carefully analyze and test what people say to us when they claim God has revealed something to them. Here are some helpful questions and steps to take...
- Does what this person told me contradict the Bible in any way?
- Does what they told me encourage me to sin or does it encourage my faith and obedience?
- Pray about it. Is the Holy Spirit giving you peace or unrest about this?
- Talk to your pastors about it. What do they think?
Lower case prophecy still happens today and it can be a wonderful thing. We have to be cautious and discerning so we don't just believe anything. But when we carefully test and weigh prophetic claims, we will be able to hold on to the good ones. Let me know if you have any questions and please vote for next week's topic at the top right of the site!