Our subject today is prophetic utterances. How do we benefit from prophecies given in the Body of Christ, and how do we avoid the pitfalls that people often fall into in the exercise and application of this gift? The gift of prophecy is a powerful tool in the church today. But powerful tools must be handled skillfully. A chain saw can be used to trim a tree much faster than a hand saw. The hand saw is safer, but you can wear yourself out trying to trim a tree with a hand saw. The chain saw can cut through those branches in a fraction of the time it takes with a hand saw. However, that same chain saw can cut your hand off it you don’t use it correctly. We should use it because it is an efficient way to get the job done. But we must know how to use it. We must read the instructions carefully. It helps to take the advice of others who have used it and know some of the dangers. We can learn from them, rather than learning the hard way.
PROJECTED INCREASE IN PROPHETIC MINISTRY
We are moving into a time when all the supernatural gifts of the Spirit will be accentuated. The closer we get to the end of the age, the more intense the conflict between good and evil will become. Satan’s campaign of deception will increase. It has already increased, but it will continue to do so. In Matthew 24 Jesus talked about the deception that would characterize the current age. That has been going on for many years. But just as birth pains get more intense as the labor increases, deception will get worse and worse as we come toward the end (Matt. 24:8 NIV).
In Matthew 24:9-12 Jesus warned, “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name's sake. 10 And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.”i
Paul also spoke about this increase in deception. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3 he wrote, “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first. . . .”In 2 Timothy 3:1-7 we read, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! 6 For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts, 7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
There have always been deceived people leading others into deception. That’s not the prediction here. The prediction is that deception will so fill the culture that “perilous times will come.” These conditions will be the norm, rather than the exception. People will be filled with the ungodliness described here but will continue to have “a form of godliness.” That form will not produce godliness, but it will provide a false sense of security to people. Wicked people love a little religion that allows them to continue in their evil ways. And those people will persecute godly people. Paul talks about that; then he punctuates his warning in verse 13: “But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
When the devil is deceiving, he does not put on a red suit with a pointed tail and carry a pitchfork. He comes as an angel of light. He presents himself as a minister of righteousness offering that which would entice people to follow him (2 Cor. 11:13-15). He did that in the Garden with Eve. He was doing it in the days of the apostles. And he will be doing it in these last days as well. And make sure you understand this: Paul is warning Christians to not be deceived. The world is already deceived. The world is already under the sway of the evil one.ii These warnings are to Christians.
On the other hand, God is raising up supernatural ministry that can discern the times and lead people in paths of righteousness. His grace is always sufficient for the occasion. The principle is stated this way in Deuteronomy 33:25: “As your days, so shall your strength be.”iii God will supply the anointing that is more than a match for anything Satan has.
On the Day of Pentecost Peter quoted Joel’s prediction of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your young men shall see visions, Your old men shall dream dreams. 18 And on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days; And they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18). On the Day of Pentecost, we entered into the last days. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the equipping needed for this age. That anointing was heavily on the early church, and it will be even greater in these end times. Notice how prominent prophecy is in the Joel passage. “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, That I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. . . .”
Prophecy is for today. We cannot accomplish the Great Commission without the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. The anointing of the Spirit is the key to our victory. Man’s strategies cannot defeat our adversary. We must have the unction of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:11 names five ministry gifts for the equipping of the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Some combine the pastor and teacher gift making the total four. But that is an insignificant difference. The anointing for all these ministry gifts will increase as we approach the end of the age. The teaching gift will be an important factor in confronting the false teachers of the time. The prophetic gift will be important in confronting the false prophets. And it will be very important that we discern the difference between the true and the false!
These ministry gifts in Ephesians 4:11 are abilities put in individuals to enable them to lead the church and equip to do the work of the ministry. A New Testament prophet operates in the gift with consistency and at a higher level than other Christians. But all New Testament believers are prophetic and can operate in the prophetic anointing. Paul says that in 1 Corinthians 14:31. In fact, 1 Corinthians 14:1 tells us to desire spiritual gifts, especially prophecy. Are you desiring spiritual gifts? Do you desire to be used in tongues and interpretation? Do you want the gifts of healing operating through you? These gifts are addressed in 1 Corinthians 12. Prophecy is one of those gifts. Some Christians operate in the Ephesians 4:11 office of a prophet. All Christians can potentially operate in the 1 Corinthians 12:10 gift of prophecy.
ENCOURAGING PROPHETIC MINISTRY
One thing we must understand about New Testament prophecy is that Christians operate in the gift at various levels. Rom 12:6 says, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith.” It takes more faith to give a predictive prophecy than a prophetic word of encouragement or comfort.
We learn how to operate in the prophetic in the same way we learn other things. We begin at an elementary level and progress from there. If we don’t understand that, we will see very little prophecy. Why? If I have to begin my first attempt at snow skiing on a steep, dangerous slope, I would be wise to not even do it. It might prove to be my first and last attempt! But if I can begin on a small, gentle slop and learn how to maintain my balance first, then I can later attempt the more difficult mountain. Do not draw back from speaking just a few words that the Holy Spirit gives you. As you operate in the gift you will become more confident and can share more. As a congregation we should celebrate people’s willingness to step out in faith and operate in the gifts. An in an atmosphere of love and support it should be safe for people to learn.
Prophecy is not just sharing a thought that I have in my mind. It is initiated by the Holy Spirit. There should be a Spirit-inspired prompting to share it. Through instruction and experience we must learn to discern that prompting. But a prophecy does not have to be profound to be genuine.
Most prophecy is not predictive. It is simply a word from the Lord for the moment. 1 Corinthians 14:3 tells us, “. . .he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” The NIV translates it, “But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.” Prediction is not essential for those objectives to be accomplished.
Suppose someone gave a prophecy like this: “The Lord wants you to know today that He sees what you’re going through and is with you every step of the way.” There is nothing in that message that we don’t already know from the Bible. Matthew 10:30 tells us that He knows every hair on our head. Of course, He sees what’s going on in our lives. Additionally, He promises in Hebrews 13:5 to never leave us. So, that prophecy is not spectacular in its content. But it may very well be supernatural. It may be infused with life and encouragement. It may be a word so fitly spoken that it significantly strengthens the faith of the Christian who hears it. We should not despise a simple word like that. We should be encouraged that a believer stepped out in faith and gave the word. We should celebrate the encouragement someone received from it. Next week I will give some guidance on how to tell whether a prophecy is truly from the Lord or just a thought that came to the person’s mind. We need to know the difference. But we can’t take time to do that today.
The point I’m making is that a prophecy does not need to be spectacular for it to be supernatural and from the Lord. In our culture movies, games, and media have used spectacular news and
graphics to the point that people pay no attention to something that doesn’t grab their attention. So instead of appreciating the gentle work of the Holy Spirit, churches provide elaborate sound and light shows. It is impressive. But it does nothing for the person’s spiritual life.iv
We are now dealing with a lot of prophetic utterances on the Internet. Anyone can go on the Internet, proclaim himself to be a prophet, and predict coming events. Some of those are genuine and helpful. Others are misleading and damaging. Since the Internet is now very much a part of our world, we must know how to evaluate and apply what those people are saying. In 2020 there was an avalanche of prophecy concerning the outcome of the election and other events. Many of those proved to be wrong. Some people stepped forward and humbly admitted they missed it. Others put a spin on it and justified the prophecy anyway. If a prophecy has to be so spun that it virtually says the opposite of what it would have originally communicated, that prophecy, and perhaps the prophet himself, should be questioned. Prophets can be mistaken (1 Sam. 1:14). When that happens the prophet should humble himself and acknowledge the mistake.
In New Covenant prophecy, missing a prediction does not mean the person is a false prophet. Of course, a predictive prophecy that does not come to pass is a false prophecy. God knows the future and never gives a false prediction. But we all prophesy in proportion to our level of faith. If a person steps out beyond his level of faith and gives an inaccurate word, he should be accountable for that, and leaders should teach him how to avoid the mistake. But the person should not be rejected unless other conditions prove him to be a false prophet.
Under the Old Covenant the punishment for false prophecy was death. In Deuteronomy 18:20 God said, “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.” In the Old Covenant the gift of prophecy was not available to the common people. Only a few selected people were selected to prophecy and their word often gave direction for the whole nation. The consequences were severe if someone prophesied falsely because the people were not equipped to test the prophecy the way we are in the New Testament. Under that covenant false prophets were dealt with severely as a protection to the nation as a whole.
But we are not under that covenant. We are under an new and better covenant. Under the New Testament all God’s people may prophesy. All God’s people are equipped by the Spirit to test prophecy as well. So, the consequences of giving a false prophecy are not the same. However, there is an accountability for prophesying falsely. We are not to simply ignore the problem. It should be addressed by the leadership. I’m amazed at those on the Internet who can give false prophecies, then come right back and give more. And people keep following them. One miss might be a learning experience if the person humbles himself and acknowledges the error. But I am very cautious about those who just put a spin on what they said, rather than admit they missed it. If they can’t prophecy accurately, their word is not of much value. If they are only right half the time, that is not helpful either. Some will give ten prophecies. When only five come to pass, they never mention the ones that were inaccurate. They only point out the ones they were right about. I watch those things when I am evaluating the prophetic.
THREE ELEMENTS OF PROPHETIC MINISTRY
There are three elements of the prophetic that must be understood if we are to use the gift effectively. I am indebted to Mike Bickle for helping me see this clearly.v In every prophecy there are three levels we must deal with. Understanding these distinctions is very helpful in analyzing prophetic utterances.
(1) First is the REVELATION itself: the word, dream, or vision that God gives the prophet. Obviously, this must be from God for the prophetic word to be of any spiritual value. Just because a dream is vivid and spectacular, does not necessarily mean it is from the Lord. A vivid, detailed, memorable dream is more likely from the Lord than others. But Satan can give those kinds of dreams as well. The person having the dream needs to have his senses exercised in the Lord in a way that enables him to discern the difference (Heb. 5:14). Some of the tests we will share next week will help him make that determination. This initial revelation may come in various forms: dreams, visions, an audible voice, an inner conviction, etc. They also come with varying degrees of assurance that it is from the Lord. When Paul saw Christ on the road to Damascus, there was no doubt in his mind that the encounter was from God. It changed the course of his life. But at other times revelation was not so clear.
For example, look at the process Paul and his team he went through getting direction in Acts 16:6-10. “Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them. 8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ 10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
Paul finally got clear direction. The Macedonian vision was clear. But prior to that he thought he had direction and the Holy Spirit had to tell him he was going the wrong way. The most common way I get revelation is a subjective, internal knowing in my spirit. With that I have to proceed cautiously because it can be rather subtle. It’s almost always correct. But it is not as clear as an audible voice. It’s not as clear as Paul’s vision of the “man of Macedonia.” It’s certainly not as reliable as clear instruction from the Bible (2 Pet. 1:19). The best thing to do is simply be honest about the level of clarity you have.
So even in this first step, there are pitfalls to avoid. We must make sure the revelation itself is from the Lord. But the next two steps are even more tricky. The first step is receiving the revelation itself.
(2) The INTERPRETATION of the revelation comes next.
What does the revelation mean? There are often symbols in dreams and visions that must be interpreted. Notice what Luke writes in Acts 16:10 concerning the Macedonian vision Paul had: “Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding [the vision had to be interpreted] that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.” The vision must be a call to go to Macedonia. It could have just meant pray for the people in Macedonia. But Paul and his team interpreted it to mean they were to go to Macedonia and preach the gospel.vi When God gives a revelation, the recipient has to decide what the revelation means. You can have a genuine revelation from God but misinterpret what it’s telling you.
Early last year a pastor named Dana Coverstone shared a dream in which he saw a 2020 calendar being flipped. When it came to March, a finger underlined the word March and tapped it three times. When the calendar was flipped to June the same thing happened. At that point he saw other things including riots, needles, ventilators, and lines at the hospital. Then he heard the words, “Brace yourself.” That came to pass pretty much the way he interpreted it.
Then he shared a second dream in which the calendar flipped forward to September. There the finger underlined September and tapped it three times. Then the calendar flipped forward to November. Instead of three taps from the finger, a fist hit November and the calendar exploded. That was followed by a cloud of chaos and armed protestors. He also saw schools closed and the roofs removed from banks with money flying through the roof. He also saw Chinese and Russian soldiers in Washington D.C. and no sign of President Trump. The dream included a banker warning about inflation. After sharing the dreams, Coverstone interpreted his dream and made this application. He told people to store up food, get plenty of guns and ammunition, and pray.vii
Was that a false prophecy? I want to analyze this briefly as a learning experience. When I heard Coverstone’s two dreams in June 2020 it resonated in my heart as genuine. I still believe those two dreams were from the Lord. The foreign soldier part of his dream did not seem to come to pass the way he shared it, but the interpretation of that might be such that it can’t be totally discounted. Assume with me that the dream was from the Lord.
Coverstone understood the fist hitting the month of November as indicating something more impacting than the three taps of the finger in March, June, and September. Most of us would agree with that conclusion. But what was the meaning of the fist hitting November? At that time many prophets were saying Trump would be reelected. Riots were already going on. And a logical interpretation was that Trump would get reelected and the anti-Trump crowd would riot even more. That was my interpretation, and I did some minor preparation in accordance with that. But that interpretation was obviously wrong. Trump was not reelected. Whether the election was stolen or not, the prophecies that predicted he would be in the White House for the next four years were wrong. By hearing Coverstone’s advice about how we should respond to the dream, he seemed to interpret the dream in a similar way.
Looking back, I think the fist hitting the calendar was the Democrats stealing the election with all the chaos and problems that would follow.viii In retrospect it seems the dream was from the Lord, but the interpretation of the second dream was wrong. The wrong interpretation does not make the dream (the revelation) false. Once the dream was interpreted incorrectly, the application would naturally be wrong.
(3) The APPLICATION is the third step in the process.
What should we do in response to the revelation and our understanding of its meaning? Covertone’s application was that we should store up plenty of food, buy guns and ammunition, and pray. Of course, prayer is always a no brainer. But what about the other two applications. They proceed from the interpretation he made of the dreams. After an interpretation is made, one must decide what to do about it. That’s the application. You can have a true revelation from the Lord and a correct interpretation and still make the wrong application. If the interpretation is that there will be chaos and riots, the application is not necessarily to buy guns and ammunition. Perhaps we are to simply allow ourselves to be martyred. I’m not advocating that; I’m simply saying an interpretation can have alternative applications.
Take for instance the prophecy given by Agabus in Acts 21. Agabus was a proven prophet having accurately predicted the famine in Judea recorded back in Acts 11. Paul’s ministry team was staying at the home of Philip the evangelist. Acts 21:9-14 gives us the rest of the story. “Now this man [Philip] had four virgin daughters who prophesied. 10 And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 When he had come to us, he took Paul's belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.' 12 Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, ‘What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ 14 So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, ‘The will of the Lord be done.’”
An accurate prophecy came, but somebody in this story made the wrong application as to what must be done. Some say Paul was wrong. But most would agree that Paul was right, and all the others were calling for the wrong response.ix We are not told that Agabus joined them. He may have had the wisdom to leave the application with Paul. But this story is a good example of how we can misapply an accurate prophecy and respond incorrectly.
So, this is what makes prophecy tricky. You can miss it at any one of these three steps: the revelation, the interpretation, or the application. The further you get on that path from exactly what the revelation was, the more likely you are to get your own thinking in the mix.
An error in the revelation itself should alarm us more than mistakes made in the interpretation or application. By their nature, those two stages require some human input. We should prayerfully develop those in dependence on the Lord, but it is understandable how human judgment in those stages could cloud the outcome. If the source of the revelation itself is wrong, especially if it is satanic, then we should be very concerned.
IMPROVING PROPHETIC EFFECTIVENESS
The prophetic community took a serious credibility hit when Trump was not reelected. I did not follow all the prophetic voices on the Internet enough to make a full evaluation of what happened. However, I saw enough to realize people need more teaching on how to use the prophetic. That’s one reason for this message.
The problem with false prophecies is that naïve people can make bad decisions based on them. They can fail to test the prophecies responsibly and as a result rely too heavily on them. When they turn out to be wrong, the tendence then is to swing from the extreme of gullibility to the extreme of rejecting prophecy altogether. Our experience with prophecy in 2020 should be used as a learning experience to teach how the gift is supposed to operate.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 Paul warns us against those two extremes: “Do not despise prophecies. 21 Test all things; hold fast what is good.” We are all responsible to test prophesies. The prophet has a responsibility to make sure what he is sharing is from the Lord. He has to be very careful to distinguish his own interpretation from the revelation itself. If he recommends an application, it he should label that accordingly, so that people know that the application is a personal suggestion rather than a “Thus saith the Lord.” Of course, at time we may have a clear word from God about the application. But awareness of these three steps helps the prophet not muddy the water by giving the same weight to his interpretation and application that belong only to the revelation itself.
When a person gives a false prophecy, what should happen? The error should not be ignored. Neither should the person be rejected for that alone. Other leaders should help that prophet learn from the experience. That implies enough relationship with other leaders for them to get involved. One situation that can be particularly problematic on the internet is people prophesying to the Body of Christ who have no accountability to other leaders. That’s the first issue that must be resolved. We all need accountability. I am credentialed with the Foursquare Denomination and have accountability with them. We have local leaders in this church and the church as a whole that I’m accountable to, as well as other leaders that I’m in relationship with.
If a leader is giving false prophecies, those in relationship with him should lovingly confront him about the problem. It’s even better if he initiates it and asks for help. They should process with him what went wrong. Operating in faith is a delicate thing. It’s important that our lives and motives be pure. It’s important that our doctrine be sound. We must all minister out of a mindset of humility and not pride. The way a word is shared matters. Perhaps the prophet needs to test his prophecy with other prophets before sharing it publicly on the Internet (1 Cor. 14:29).x There are safety measures that can be put in place that allows the prophet to continue in ministry without repeating the same mistakes.
We are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matt. 10:16). The world does not understand how the prophetic works, and they are diligently looking for ways to discredit the church. With the visibility of Internet posting, we have to be more diligent than ever to test what we present.
Additionally, all of us must be diligent to test what we hear. We will talk about how to do that in the next message.
i All Scripture quotes are from the New King James Version unless indicated otherwise.
ii Eph. 2:2; 1 John 5:19. See Richard W. Tow, Authentic Christianity: Studies in 1 John (Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press, 2019) 403-405.
iii See Adam Clark’s commentary on this verse.
iv I’m not saying impressive effects like this are inherently wrong. It should never serve as a substitute for the activity of the Holy Spirit. But my point is that people in our culture have become so desensitized by the
bombardment of heightened sensory effects that they tend to dismiss anything that doesn’t appeal to their senses in that way.
v I don’t remember the exact source of this teaching but wanted to give him appropriate credit. I stayed with his terminology although “application” could just as well be called “response.”
vi IN this example the interpretation and the application are closely related. The application or response is that they were to go to Macedonia and preach. The interpretation was that Macedonia was the place God had prepared for their ministry.
vii Dave Coverstone, “Three Prophetic Dreams from Pastor Dana.” Accessed at Three Prophetic Dreams from Pastor Dana - Bing video. I am not addressing the additional dreams Coverstone shared after these first two. His reports of later dreams seemed to be less reliable than these first two that were shared in June 2020. I am not attacking Pastor Coverstone. I think he is a sincere, yet fallible, brother in the Lord.
viii If the election was not stolen, the fist hitting the calendar was probably the transfer of power to a more anti-Christian leadership.
ix Cf. Ajith Fernando, Acts, The NIV Application Commentary, Terry Muck, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998) 552-553; Robert Jamieson, Robert, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1871, s. v. “Acts. 21:9-14.” Accessed in electronic data base: Biblesoft 2000.
x I have seen situation where a prophet would not submit his message for others to judge because he felt it would be violating the revelation God gave him. That thinking is simply not biblical. If it is from God it will endure the test. Often in these cases the prophet is not adequately distinguishing his interpretation and application from the revelation itself.