Do prophets exist today? That has been the subject of much dispute and one that this post is not necessarily seeking to address though I know I’ll tip my hand regarding my own position. Nonetheless, I’m not writing to defend one position or the other. Nor am I seeking to define prophecy. So what am I addressing?
I find that it is quite common for Christians to arrive at a conclusion based on biblical examples So in other words, we can look at God speaking through prophets in the Old Testament and think that is applicable to us. And certainly there is mention of prophets in the New Testament. But what is needed is putting this activity in the context of the complete message, which entails taking a 20,000 foot view, so to speak, and see the connections that are being made between the Old and New Testaments to get the whole picture.
It is not sufficient enough to look at examples or isolate passages that speak of prophecy. We must consider the role of prophecy in Scripture with respect to the complete message of 66 books. That message is God’s redemptive work through his Son through which a people are gathered for his purposes.
J.I. Packer notes this about Old Testament prophecy:
When our author tells us in Old Testament times God revealed himself by speaking words spoken by the prophets (for that which is to come), it is important to see the range of his reference. We are apt today to restrict the term ‘prophets’ to the authors of the prophetic books of the Old Testament, along with Samuel and his successors in Israel’s history. But we need to remember that to the New Testament writers, Moses the lawgiver and David and his fellow-psalmists are also among the prophets. The New Testament hails them all as foretellers of Christ (Luke 24:44; John 5:47; Acts 2:25-31, 7:37). Moses, indeed, was regarded throughout as the supreme prophet (see Deut. 34:10), and the Mosaic body of teaching as the supreme and basic prophetic revelation. When Stephen says that Moses ‘received living oracles to give unto us’ (Acts 7:38), it is the law of Moses that he has in mind; the law, seen from this standpoint, was entirely prophetic.
Basically what he saying is that the Old Testament in its entirety foretold of Christ through particular means. The Old Testament was prophetic. This also provides the basis to understand Christ’s words in relation to fulfillment, specifically of the law and prophets. The apostles testified to this prophecy. Consider 2 Peter 1:16-19
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
Everything spoken was for the purpose of God’s revelation in His Son. It was for this reason the apostles were called by God as those with an eyewitness account of Christ. Peter then goes on to say;
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had it’s origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (vv 20-21).
Notice the connection he makes between the word of the prophets and Scripture. More importantly, in context of the passage that prophecy of Scripture related to God’s revelation in Christ, since that is what Peter was addressing.
Scripture is prophetic in that it testifies to Christ. So prophecy ordered by the Lord was directed towards this purpose and it was more than just the authors of OT prophecy. Prophets foretold in so much as it was God progressively revealing himself to his people. But the opening verses of the book of Hebrews should provide a basis for the point of prophecy;
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through him he made the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
On a side note, this is why I think expository preaching can be so powerful because it exhorts us according to the prophecy of Scripture which testifies of Christ and power of the gospel in our lives.
So short-sighted prophecy will miss how God’s speaking related to the testimony of the Son through the verbal revelation called Scripture. If we isolate incidences and apply the application today, that undermines God’s purpose for it. So while it may be en vogue to hear ‘prophecies’ for today, biblical prophecies had a specific purpose and typically involved addressing God’s people as a whole.
J.I. Packer, God Has Spoken (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 68