Prophecy and the Church

When the Son of God commenced to build His church as His cherished household, He ensured that the foundations were well and truly laid. The basis consisted of the apostles and prophets, who were totally inspired relevant to this purpose, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief corner stone. Thus there came into being in the first century A.D, all that wealth of revelation that is recorded in the New Testament concerning the church. The apostles were to pass away via the portal of death, and the special provision of the prophets as a class would cease when their function of foundation-laying was finished, 1 Cor. 13. 8.

A definite and significant priority of gifts is shown in 1 Corinthians 12. 28: first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers (who became successors to the prophets), and then other gifts. The primacy of prophecy among the gifts that should be coveted (which wording excludes apostleship) is thoroughly demonstrated in chapter 14, especially in verse 1. The passage 12 28-29 declares that only some were chosen by God for this vitally important work.

The purposes of the prophets’ calling were.

  1. Foundation-laying of the universal church.
  2. Foretelling by inspiration, such as that of Agabus regarding Paul’s imprisonment in Jerusalem, Acts 21. 10. 11.
  3. Forthtelling of the mind of God to meet the immediate needs of the church during the time of the total or partial absence of the New Testament, and indeed thereafter, in as far as some of the prophets’ ministry has been included in the New Testament. This included edification, encouragement and consolation, 1 Cor. 14. 3. There was obviously a plurality of prophets in each of the established churches, see, e g. Acts 13. 1.

Forthtelling the mind of God was essential in the first century, because the New Testament was not completed until about A.D. 90 with the writings of John the apostle. Indeed, it seems that few, if any, books of the New Testament were given by God for approximately twenty years after Pentecost. Gradually this lack of the Scriptures was somewhat compensated for by the contributions of the apostles, prophets and some who had the special gift of knowledge; this last named gift entailed memory coupled with understanding, which was based upon the God-breathed exposition available to the one concerned, and disappeared as being redundant when the final Scripture had been given.

Prophecies, like tongues and knowledge, would cease according to 1 Corinthians 13. 8. When? - with the completion of the written Word. To the degree that the New Testament was not given, this being zero at Pentecost, the utterances of the apostles and the gifts of prophecy and knowledge were God’s temporary and necessary provision for the church. Therefore all these and tongues would fade out as the Scriptures were phased in, with teachers gradually taking over from the prophets. Thus all the scaffolding, which once had been so important, having served its purpose, would be removed.

Let us follow this through from 1 Corinthians 13.

v.9. Knowledge and prophecy were partial because the New Testament was only partly written. When this chapter was penned, it seems that the only books available were James. Galatians (its date is disputed), and 1 and 2 Thessalonians.

v. 10. Completion of the Scriptures would necessarily open up possibilities far beyond that of their partial knowledge and partial prophesying.

v. 11. Illustrates vv. 9, 10.

v. 12a. “For now we see in a mirror, darkly (or dimly); but then” (with the whole New Testament) “face to face”, R.V., i.e, with the full presentation of God s truth.

v 12b. “Now I know in part; but then I shall know fully, even as also I have been known fully”, R.V, marg This is our privileged position today, because we have the whole revelation of God spread out before us. Ideally, verses 10-12 will be fulfilled in absolute perfection at the rapture, but even now the potential of this understanding is with us. The degree to which we fall short of this is due to our incomplete filling with the Holy Spirit. Well is this illustrated by our Lord’s promise in John 16. 13, “when he, the Spirit of truth, is come (at Pentecost), he will guide you into all (stressed) truth”, which incorporates the giving of the New Testament in its fulness. This blessed and treasured position will continue to be ours until the rapture, on which wonderful occasion the Spirit-in-the-church will depart to meet the Lord in the air, 2 Thess. 2. 6, 7 So at the present time potentially we have “all truth”, through the indwelling Spirit illuminating the whole body of Scripture.

Summary. Prophets in the New Testament were indwelt by the Holy Spirit for foundation-laying, foretelling and forthtelling during the early part of the church’s history, when the written revelation- of God was not complete. They were essential for the interim, after which the gift of prophecy ceased. Since then we have had the fulness of the Scriptures plus the potential of the fulness of the Spirit to guide us. What more can we have?

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