CHURCH 04 - Spiritual Leadership OT & NT: Prophets

The Nature and Function of Prophecy in the Old Testament
  • Prophets are Covenant or Law enforcers. They remind Israel of its covenant with God. They restate the covenant conditions and benefits; blessings if the covenant is kept and curses if not (Lev 26:1-39; Deu 4:15-28, 32-40; 28:1-68).
  • Blessings are stated in terms of prosperity, health, life, abundance, honor and safety. Curses are stated in terms of death, disease, drought, dearth, danger, destruction, deportation and disgrace.
  • Example: Prophetess Huldah’s words to Josiah in 2 Kin 22:16-17.
  • The prophets bring God’s Word to their contemporary situation.
  • Prophets speak about the past, the present and the future.
    • Past: they remind and teach from past events, illustrating the current point.
    • Present: the prophets explain how we got into the current mess and what God is telling the people to do now (Repent!).
    • Future: They predict the future basically as in Deuteronomy depending on current obedience of disobedience (Example: You will be defeated in this war!). They occasionally add information (Example: Who the conquering nation will be).
  • The prophets are well acquainted, indeed retelling Israel’s history from God’s perspective: God’s call, the conditions of the covenant and the faithlessness of Israel (idolatry, disobedience, injustice, trusting wrong things).
  • The prophets do not really reveal “anything new”, rather they remind of what has already been said. Their main message is: Remember the covenant!
  • Only about 20% of prophecy is predictive. Predictions, as far as they are given, are not to satisfy the curiosity of people about some distant future, but to encourage people to repent now. Example: Isa 1:18-20.
  • Prediction are meant to stabilize the faith of the true believers so they recognize God’s hand even in the present circumstances, that they retain hope during hard times and that they retain hope for the ultimate blessing in the age to come.
  • The ‘Message’ of the prophets is basically:
    • God’s character. God rules history (Isa 6:1-4).
    • Man’s sinfulness and the need for repentance
    • The reasons for the coming judgment
    • If Israel repents there is hope for the future
    • The Messiah’s future kingdom
  • Prophets give both short range prophecies (that fulfill in the lifetime of the audience) and long range prophecies (that will fulfill centuries later). Often both are spoken mixed. Ultimately the long range predictions look to the Messianic age.
  • Prophecy is also meant to teach. The goal of teaching is to motivate to obedience.
  • Prophets by their prophecies want to produce a focus on God, not on events.
  • Prophets usually have a distinctive call which does not depend on family pass down.
  • Prophets are not detached from people but involved in the situation they speak to. Many prophets lived to see their words come to pass and suffered with their nation.
  • Moses is a prime example of a prophet: He has a call from God, speaks the counsel of God, gives predictive prophecy, speaks out of religious and social concerns and engages in symbolic acts (Deu 18:15; Acts 3:22; 7:37).
  • There are three tests to determine, whether a prophet is false of true:
    • the theological test: whether they are commending idolatry (Deu 13:1-11).
    • the practical test: whether their prophecy is fulfilling (Deu 18:20-22)
    • the moral test: whether they are disobeying God, living lawless lives (Jer 23:9-15).
Prophecy versus Prediction
  • Prophets do not primarily predict the future; predictive prophecy is only a small part of prophecy. Rather they are addressing the present, making people aware what is happening and why it is happening and challenging them to repent. The goal of future predictions is to warn and to encourage repentance. Prophets teach cause and effect from the past and warn about the future with the goal of making people repent now.
  • Another goal of predictive prophecy is to reveal God as the Almighty, sovereign over history, Lord of this earth and All-knowing. Prophets encourage people to test the accuracy and fulfillment of God’s predictions so as to be convinced that he really is God. God alone can predict the future. That distinguishes him from humans and idols. Examples: Isa 41:21-42:9, 46:10-11, 45:20-21, 48:3-8, 43:8-10
  • The goals of predictive prophecy are
    • so that the hearers would change their course of action
    • to encourage faith and hope in the faithful (seeing predictions fulfill)
    • to point to the Messiah
    • to confirm the prophet as true prophet (by fulfillment of short range predictions)
  • Most Old Testament prophecy is about the exile of Israel and Judah, the judgment on surrounding nations, the hope for a return from exile and the Messiah and his kingdom. Only about 20% of the Old Testament is predictive.
Prophets in the Law of Moses

Jude 1:14        Enoch a prophet
Gen 20:7         Abraham a prophet
Exo 7:1            Moses = god to Pharaoh, Aaron = Moses’ prophet

  • prophet = mouthpiece, usually of God. Slightly ‘loose’ use of the title prophet

Num 12:6         God reveals himself to prophet in vision or dream

  • prophets get revelation typically by vision or dream, but to Moses directly

Deu 13:1-5      false prophet: even if omens, dreams … if idolatrous > put to death

  • prophet associated with miracles, supernatural happenings and knowledge
  • But one should not blindly follow prophets, the law is the standard of right and wrong. A prophet suggesting idolatry is always a false prophet.

Deu 18:5          Promise of a prophet like Moses, God’s word in his mouth

  • Moses = prophet, a prophet speaks God’s word, God’s word is in this mouth
  • This is a messianic prophecy about Jesus (Lu 9:19:, Mk 8:28, Jn 1:25)

Deu 18:20         false prophet > death penalty

  • seriousness: death penalty for false prophecy. Deception is deadly.
  • God wants people to know. A false prophet is misrepresenting God.

Deu 18:22         if prophesy doesn’t fulfill > false prophet

  • Test to know whether a prophet is true from false: fulfillment of his predictions

Deu 34:10         no prophet like Moses has arisen in Israel
Hos 12:13         by prophet Moses God brought up Israel, by prophet he was guarded

Prophets in Israel's historical books

Jdg 6:8               God sends a prophet sent during Midianite oppression

  • History: prophets speak to leaders or peoples at times of need, transition, crisis.

1 Sam 2:11-14      Samuel prophesies Eli’s house’s iniquity will never be expiated

• The prophet rebukes priests; he is the conscience; he brings God’s view and perspective of the current events. He holds leaders accountable.

1 Sam 3:19-20      Samuel established as a prophet of God
1 Sam 9:9              prophets were called ‘seer’

  • Prophets helping in daily practical matters, supernatural events and knowledge

1 Sam 22:5            prophet Gad instructs fugitive David

  • Prophets advising, instructing, having supernatural knowledge

2 Sam 7:2, 1 Chr 17:1   David to prophet Nathan about the building a house for God

  • David, though he hears from God himself, had official or permanent prophets, who affirmed him (here) or challenged him as needed

2 Sam 12:1             prophet Nathan rebukes David

  • Prophet rebuking a king. Risky business. It requires courage, faith, faithfulness

Psa 51:1                 prophet Nathan’s rebuke for David’s sin > repentance
2 Sam 12:25            prophet Nathan affirms birth of child Solomon
2 Sam 24:11            prophet Nathan = David’s seer, concerning census’ punishment
1 Kin 1:8, 10           prophet Nathan not supporting Adonijah

  • Prophets have a role in questions of succession, though here no anointing role

1 Kin 1:22-45                  prophet Nathan supporting Solomon
1 Chr 29:29, 2 Chr 9:29  prophet Samuel, Nathan, Gad wrote about David, Solomon
2 Chr 12:5                     prophet Shemaiah predicts defeat to King Rehoboam
2 Chr 12:15, 13:22         prophet Shemaiah, Iddo wrote about King Rehoboam, Abijah

  • Prophets record history: to teach, to pass down, to challenge, to show fulfilling

2 Chr 15:8                      prophet Oded challenges Asa > he in response removes idolatry
2 Chr 18:6                     Jehoshaphat inquires of prophet > war against Arameans?
1 Kin 11:29                     prophet Ahijah meets Jeroboam > promise of a new dynasty

  • Promise to Jeroboam (new dynasty), not anointing him but giving the word.

1 Kin 13:11-29               old prophet at Bethel, bringing down a young prophet

  • Need to fear God, to trust in God’s original word, not to bow to seniority.

1 Kin 14:2-18                prophet Ahijah predicts Jeroboam’s child’s death
1 Kin 16:7-12                prophet Jehu to King Baasha: killed Jeroboam yet idolatry > death

  • Warning a king for his inconsistency: he wiped out an idolater, yet does same.

1 Kin 18:22-36              prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel

  • Prophetic power at its highest: challenge to nation and king, performing a great miracle, God’s word vindicated.

1 Kin 19:16                   prophet Elijah told to anoint prophet Elisha and King Jehu

  • Prophet anoints a new king, a new dynasty, a risky business.

1 Kin 20:13-38              prophet Elijah to Ahab in Aramean wars

  • Prophets speaking into war issues, challenging kings

1 Kin 22:7, 2 Kin 3:11     prophet Micaiah inquired of by King Ahab and Jehoshaphat

  • As above. Battle of the prophets. Yet truth can be known if one wants.

2 Chr 21:12                  prophet Elijah’s letter challenging evil King Jehoram of Judah
2 Kin 5:3-13                  prophet Elisha’s healing of Naaman the Syrian

  • Prophet performing a miracle for a foreign enemy, showing God’s word & heart

2 Kin 6:12                     prophet Elisha as ‘spy’ on King of Aram

  • Prophet and warfare, intervention by supernatural knowledge

2 Kin 9:1, 4                   prophet anoints King Jehu

  • Prophet anoints a new king, a new dynasty and precipitates events herewith

2 Chr 25:15-16            prophet predicts defeat by Edomites to King Amaziah of Judah
2 Kin 14:25                  prophet Jonah prophesies bulging borders for Israel
2 Chr 28:9                   prophet Oded prevents Israel enslaving many conquered Judeans


  • Prophet challenges the victorious troops and prevents further sin (enslaving).

2 Kin 19:2, 2 Chr 32:20-32, Is 37:2     prophet Isaiah called on by King Hezekiah

  • Courageous word of God at a huge national crisis (Assyrian threat)

2 Kin 20:1-14, Isa 38:1  prophet Isaiah predicts Hezekiah’s healing and 15 y more life
Isa 39:3                      prophet Isaiah challenges Hezekiah about envoys of Babylon
2 Kin 23:18                Josiah honoring (not moving) a prophet’s bones
Jer 1:5                       Jeremiah ordained prophet to the nations
2 Chr 36:12                prophet Jeremiah ignored by King Zedekiah
Ezr 2:5                        prophet Ezekiel finally vindicated, even if people refuse to listen
Ezr 14:4-10                idolaters coming to Ezekiel or false prophet > both punished
Ezr 33:33                   prophecy fulfilled > they will know that a prophet was among them
Dan 9:2                      Daniel understands by Jeremiah’s prophecy about the 70 years
Ezr 5:1, 6:14              prophets Haggai and Zechariah encourage the temple re-building

  • Prophets challenging, encouraging and here successful: the people obey
Breakdown of spiritual leadership in Israel, including prophets

Psa 74:9                     Asaph’s complaint: no more prophet
Isa 3:2                        all leadership removed from Jerusalem, including prophets
Isa 9:15                      lying prophets = tail, God cuts them off
Isa 28:7                      priest and prophet by alcohol erred in vision, stumbled in judgment
Jer 6:13                     all, including prophets, greedy and deal falsely
Jer 8:10                     prophet and priest dealing falsely > will be disinherited
Jer 14:18                   prophet and priest know not of the coming exile
Jer 18:18                   instruction from priest, counsel from wise, word from prophet
Jer 23:11                   prophet and priest are profane, in my house found their wickedness
Jer 23:28                   let prophets speak their dream, but faithfully
Jer 23:33-37              people, prophet, priest ask ‘burden of the LORD’?
Jer 28:1-17                prophet Hananiah opposes Jeremiah and dies
Jer 29:26-29             Shemaiah tells priest Zephaniah to shut up madman Jeremiah
Lam 2:20                   Shall priest and prophet be slain in the tabernacle?
Ezr 7:26                     no vision from prophet, nor law from priests, nor counsel from elders
Hos 4:5                      the prophet shall stumble by night
Hos 9:7                      prophet is a fool, spirit man is mad, prophet is a snare
Amo 7:14                   I am no prophet
Mic 2:11                     liar prophesying about alcohol considered a prophet
Zec 13:2-6                 idolatrous prophets shamed

New Testament quoting Old Testament prophets

Mal 4:5                       prophet Elijah coming before the day of the LORD
Mth 1:22 ff                12 x fulfilled what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet
Luk 3:4                      1x as it is written in the book of the words of …
Jhn 1:23 , 12:38        2x as said the prophet Isaiah
Acts 2:16,2:30,7:48  3x that the saying of the prophet might be fulfilled
Luk 4:17                    Jesus reads from prophet Isaiah’s scroll
Mth 12:39, 16:4, Luk 11:29 evil generation wants sign > sign of prophet Jonah
Mth 24:15, Mrk 13:14 prophet Daniel prophesied about desolating sacrilege
Acts 8:28-34               Ethiopian Eunuch reading prophet Isaiah
2 Pet 2:16                   Peter quoting about prophet Balaam


Prophets in the New Testament

Zachariah, father of John

Luk 1:76-77                John Baptist’s priest father prophesies about John

John the Baptist

Luk 1:76                     John the Baptist will be called a prophet of God
Mth 11:9 , Luk 7:26-28 Jesus about John: he is more than a prophet, none greater
Mth 14:5, 21:26, 21:46, Mrk 11:32, Luk 20:6 people think John the Baptist a prophet
Jhn 1:21 , 25              John the Baptist says he is not ‘that prophet’


Mth 10:41                   those receiving a prophet will get a prophet’s reward
Mth 13:57, Mrk 6:4, Luk 4:24, Jhn 4:44 a prophet is honored except in his own place
Mth 21:11                   triumphal entry: people call Jesus a prophet
Mrk 6:15                    people guessing about Jesus’ identity: Elijah? A prophet? John?
Luk 7:16,  Jhn 6:14, 7:40 people about Jesus: a great prophet has arisen
Luk 7:39                    Pharisee: if Jesus were a prophet he would know this woman
Luk 13:33                  Jesus calls himself a prophet: no prophet dies outside Jerusalem
Luk 24:19                  Jesus described as a prophet, mighty in deed and word
Jhn 4:19                    Samaritan woman calls Jesus a prophet (seeing word of knowledge)
Jhn 7:52                    Chief priests and Pharisees assume: no prophet from Galilee
Jhn 9:17                    healed blind man calls Jesus a prophet before the Pharisees
Mth 26:68, Mrk 14:65, Luk 22;64 Jesus hit blindfolded – prophesy to us who hit you!
Acts 3:22-23, 7:37     Jesus is the prophet like Moses predicted in Deu 18:15

High priest Caiaphas

Jhn 11:51                  High priest Caiaphas predicts Jesus dying for the people

People in Church

Acts 2:17-18               Peter interprets Joel quote as fulfilled now: people will prophesy

  • men and women will prophesy, prophecy is public role > women in public role

Acts 13:6                    false prophet Barjesus in Paphos, Cyprus silenced by Paul
Acts 19:6                    Paul prays for Ephesian believers to speak in tongues and prophesy
Acts 21:9                    Philip the evangelist’s four virgin daughters have the gift of prophecy

  • another example of women in the church in a public prophetic role
  • Married or unmarried women prophesy. Prophetic function means leadership.

Acts 21:10                  Church prophet Agabus predicts Paul’s imprisonment
Rom 12:6-8                 Gifts: prophecy, ministry, teaching, exhortation, generosity, …
1 Cor 11:5                  men and women prophecy or pray (publicly) in church
1 Cor 12:7-11             Gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, …
1 Cor 12:27-31          God appointed in the church: apostles, prophets, teachers, tongues, …
1 Cor 13:8-9               Prophecy will cease, we prophesy only in part
1 Cor 14:1-5               Prophesy is a higher gift to be desired. Goal: to build up, to encourage
1 Cor 14:22, 24          Prophecy is for believers, prophecy can convict an unbeliever
1 Cor 14:29, 31, 32, 39 Let 2-3 prophets speak, then evaluate. All can prophesy.
1 Cor 14:37                if a prophet then acknowledge Paul’s writing as command of God
Tit 1:12                      Cretan prophet quoted by Paul
Rev 10:11                   John the apostle is told to prophesy
Rev 16:13, 19:20, 20:10 false prophet (oppressive religion, Roman emperor cult)

Gifts in the NT church, among them prophesy 1 Cor 12:27-31
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But strive for the greater gifts.”
  • The list in Eph 4:11 is different, so we shouldn’t read hard structures out of this
  • Apostles, prophets, teachers as before. Now newly: deeds of power, gift of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, tongues.
  • All kinds of functions, gifts and roles and all are in plural. There is a plurality of functions, and a plurality of roles in each function. This is definitely no one-man-leadership, no one-man-empire, no ‘one has to over them all’, …
  • Which of this functions gets a salary? Is a hierarchy instituted here? It seems most everything is voluntary, and things are not a hierarchy, rather a ‘happy bunch’.
  • Paul is once giving a list of 5 functions (Eph 4:11), here 8 gifts (1 Cor 12:7), then 8 appointments (1 Cor 12:27), also 7 gifts (Rom 12:6-8).
  • Paul gives different lists each times, which shows that he himself is not seeing this very strictly. He gives lists as collection of examples, not to exclude all others or declare these special.
  • Not: ‘first you have to become a deacon, then you may prophesy’. It is not hierarchical, no attached requirements, no great procedures, no great structure. Functions, appointments, gifts, roles are all loosely collected. Paul gives a rich sampling, he is not imposing a structured rigid system.
  • 1 Cor 12:29-30 everybody doesn’t have to be able to do everything
  • 1 Cor 12:31 strive for the greater gifts, presumably the most needed gifts, those who serve others (like prophecy) rather than myself (tongues). Paul focuses on the attitude behind the gift.
  • Contrast: In the OT many functions are strongly detailed, organized and structured, here everything is not strict but loose, free.
  • Gifts are for the common good, to build up, to encourage.
  • 1 Cor 14 Paul corrects the chaotic church services. There needs to be some order, but the gifts shouldn’t be quenched, but rather used.