The Purpose of Prophecy
by Stephen Foster
It would seem certain that we have all heard of the Spirit of Prophecy. What it is exactly is undoubtedly disputed— and isn’t the topic of this blog.
What I’d like to consider is the purpose of prophecy. That is to say, for all who consider the Bible indispensable — as vitally important and God-inspired information—what is prophecy’s purpose? Is prophecy itself a vitally important and God-inspired feature or genre of Biblical literature; and if so, exactly why is it important to us?
The Bible is, of course, above all about the love of God (and the God of love), from a Judeo-Christian perspective. The Bible presents a narrative of how God has chosen, by means of love, to deal with His human earthly creation within the contexts of free will and evil. In the Scriptural narrative, He demonstrated this love in Person by means of Self-sacrifice.
Prophecy is the God-inspired revelation of what He wants those who claim/believe Him to know. In the 66 books that comprise the canonical narrative, the first prophecy we come to is the one which encapsulates the entire remaining narrative writ large—Genesis 3:15. It is the prophecy describing God’s plan.
Is the first prophecy the prototypical prophecy? Does it reveal to us what prophecy is all about in terms of purpose? It tells us what will happen and why; but not how it will happen. Subsequent prophecies, particularly those of the prophet Isaiah, certainly do reveal, or detail, how. (Isaiah 7:14 comes to mind for example.)
Since we, or actually since Adam and Eve, were told what would happen; it would seem that it was important to God that they know what would happen. On the other hand, since Adam and Eve would not live to witness that prophecy’s total fulfillment, why was it important for them to know what would happen?
Perhaps the obvious answer would be that some aspects of the prophecy would commence immediately and would therefore directly affect them. So apparently God wanted them cognizant of what was to immediately happen and why.
My understanding is that this prophecy was repeated orally and recorded by inspiration in Scripture because God intends for whoever claims Him as their God to know what He plans to do in this Controversy; as those who claim Him as their God are on His side (or ‘team’).
This is essentially what, I believe, Amos 3:7 is telling us; is it not? God will tell us, by way of His prophets, what He will do—or permit to happen—that is of importance. The question that remains however is “why?”
It would seem that one way to determine this is to study the history, circumstances, and messages of the Biblical prophets.
By definition, God’s prophets are those who speak for Him, as in “thus saith the Lord.” Obviously, prophets speak to those whom God Himself intends to inform. Amos was such a prophet.
God informs whom He will for the same reason He does anything/everything; because He loves. Appropriately then, prophecy is given as a gift; in the spirit that all gifts should be given—and for the purposes that all spiritual gifts are given.
The purpose of spiritual gifts such as prophecy, i.e. the reason they are given, is for the building up (or edification) and the equipping of the body of believers known as Christ’s church. Ephesians 4:11-16.
But Christ’s church is built up, edified, strengthened, and equipped to do what? 1 Corinthians 12:10 certainly gives us several clues about the nature of the gifts given for this very purpose; but we need to know what is the gift of prophecy’s role in this edifying, strengthening, and equipping? In other words what does prophecy edify, strengthen, and equip God’s people to do?
Jesus, Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Micah, Paul, Peter, James, and John—to whom Jesus revealed that which “must shortly come to pass,” and who “bore record” of same—all prophesied for God; with Jesus doing so as God.
Their messages varied, but they were not in conflict; as their purposes were aligned. They were not in conflict and their purposes were aligned because each prophet’s messages (all) emanated from the exact same Source.
The Source of all Biblical prophecy is the Holy Spirit of the living God. Is that a reality that needs to be absorbed before we go any further?