Before I explain further the gift of prophecy in the New Testament, I would like to point out a few differentiations about prophecy in this article:
The gift of prophecy is theoretically available for everyone in the New Testament
(Acts 2:17; 1 Cor 14:24 & 31). However, official prophets were set apart in a group by itself in the New Testament (1 Cor 12:28; Acts 21:9), and not everyone who prophecies in the New Testament is right away a prophet. Paul makes a distinct difference between those who speak prophecies and are prophets. Therefore I want to talk about the gift of prophecy, as well as about the charismatic service of the prophet.
This differentiation has something to do with the various capabilities of the believer. Like all other gifts in the New Testament, is the gift of prophecy to one person more available, to another less.
In Romans 12:6 Paul indicates, that the gift of prophecy, just like other gifts can only be used in proportion to our faith. This leads certain theologians to the assumption of different types of prophetic service. As already mentioned, I personally support the theory of the three different stages between the prophetic service. But one has to notice, that this differentiation is only a frame work for help of understanding. For the Holy Spirit withdraws from all our systematizations and allows a continual development.
Stage 1- the simple prophecy
The first stage of prophecy is available for every Christian who simply opens up to God. That stage usually does not rebuke nor commands, or foretells the future. Of course there are exceptions.
Since people tend to mix in a great amount of their own thoughts and feelings at this stage, many churches and congregations give regrettably little respect to it at that point. However, we should still consider that this stage of prophecy has its own value, and that it has the potential to grow.
Depending on the background of the believer, this stage of prophecy will receive its own definition.
Some will say that God has spoken to them, or that they received a specific message from God, while others had a revelation while they studied the written word of God, the bible.
For me personally prophecy begins here.
Stage 2 – the gift of prophecy
The second stage regards those believers who receive consistent impressions, dreams, visions, or other sort of revelations. This is a sign of the gift of prophecy (Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 12:10).
God shares this gift of prophecy specifically with those who ask him for it (1 Cor 14:24 & 31).
These prophecies appear usually in symbolic forms like parables, or riddles.
This group of believers receive more often information as the first group. They are generally known in the local church, have a good reputation, and are also in leadership positions.
However it is a common misunderstanding that believers with the gift of prophecy receive automatically duties of a leader. For the gift of prophecy is not responsible to lead the congregation, but the leaders. This stage of prophecy usually stays within the boundaries of encouragement, consolation, and admonition (1 Cor 14:3).
The ones who prophesy also know that not everything they receive is from God, even though there may be more godly truth to it than in the first stage of prophecy.
Not too long ago, I became a witness of following incident.
A word of comfort was spoken to a young man from the pulpit. As I had a conversation with him later on that day, it turned out that this man asked God for comfort in his problematic situation earlier that morning. When the word of comfort was spoken to him during the service, and he was assured that God was right by his side, his soul brightened again.
Stage 3 – the calling of a prophet
At the third stage we speak about believers, who come close to the service of the prophets in the Old Testament. While the spirit presents the gift of prophecy to the individual, the calling of a prophet is a gift of Jesus Christ to his entire church to arm the faithful. (Eph 4:11-14). They serve through signs and wonders, and through examination of their revelation they proof over and over again that they speak the truth. However, this doesn’t mean that they are without fail. Here we should stick to the phrase: „ But test everything, hold fast what is good“, (1 Thes 5:21).
Their word is still seldom questioned, because they already have a history of correct prophecies, and therefore proofed themselves as trustworthy.
Since their primary function is to equip, and teach the church, they need endurance and patience.
Their service has a wide dimension, and carries a lot of responsibility, which doesn’t make it always easy. The words of a prophet do not only include encouragement, comfort, or admonition, but also messages that are challenging.
A prophet known to me, once was called to a deathbed. Of course the person laying in it was at the doorstep to death. His relatives prayed for his healing, and most of them had the confidence that their prayer would be heard. But God spoke to the prophet, and told him to prepare the dying person for entering eternity (1 Peter 1:9), since it is men’s destiny to die (Hebr 9:27).
So the person died on the deathbed, and my friend the prophet was discredited for his unwanted message. They blamed him not be spiritual, and even said that he had no faith in God at all.
What a painful experience it must have been for him. Still it is all a part of the calling to be a prophet: To do wonder and signs, but also to bear messages that are not necessarily encouraging for the earthly life. In the end it is our duty to share the word of god, and not our own.
I met many believers who were in the first and second stage, and in my opinion those believers make out to be the biggest part in the local congregation who have the gift of prophecy.
The calling of a prophet in comparison is rare, but significantly valuable to the church of Jesus Christ.