Perhaps the most famous prophecy of the Spirit among the Churches of Christ is from Joel, because Peter preached this scriptures in Acts 2 —
(Joel 2:28-31) ‘And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. 29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. 30 I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. 31 The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.
Of all the prophecies of the coming Spirit, only this one speaks of “wonders” or in similar terms of miracles beyond changing God’s people and empowering God’s people to speak God’s words. On the other hand, the presence of the Spirit is routinely associated with special gifts — prophecy, etc. – in the Old Testament. The Old Testament knows nothing of a Spirit given to people that isn’t somehow evident to others.
* Unlike in the Messianic Age, most of God’s people do not receive the Spirit.
* Rather, God gives the Spirit to equip someone for a given task — to fight a battle, to serve God as a prophet, to be a judge or king, to compose and sing psalms, to design and built the Tabernacle. There is no evidence of a “general” gift of the Spirit showing one to be part of God’s people but not providing spiritual gifts. The Spirit equips for a mission.
* It’s awfully hard to determine just how “prophecy” is used in many of these passages. Certainly prophecy includes speaking the very words of God by inspiration and predicting future events, but there is also a type of prophecy that is so different from ordinary speech that people seeing the gift exercised immediately know the person is prophesying. And sometimes the prophesying is accompanied by instrumental music.
However, in Acts 2, the apostles spoke in tongues and Peter says this is in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy.” Does this mean that tongues is a form of prophecy? A number of commentators, such as D. A. Carson, Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians, 12-14, say so.
Of course, that just moves the question from “what is prophecy?” to “what is tongues?” but it resolves the difficulty of tongues being a seemingly entirely new gift in the New Testament and would certainly provoke the kinds of reactions to “prophecy” that we see in the Old Testament.
And it would mean that the immediate gifts of tongues seen in some baptismal accounts is entire in accord with the giving of the Spirit to the elders in Numbers 11 — and suggests that the gift of tongues is sometimes received only briefly at the point of conversion and need not be an ongoing gift, as was true in Numbers 11.
This also gives some sense of the ecstatic nature of tongues, as we see in 1 Samuel 19 that the receipt of “prophecy” took over the will of the person, so much so that Saul actually was forced to “prophesy” for a day and a night.
And it would explain why the scriptures never record what is being said when these “prophecies” take place. I mean, if Saul or the elders or the Corinthians were speaking the very words of God, why wouldn’t those words be recorded? Why wouldn’t Paul be asking what these people said?
It’s a theory, but a theory that has a lot of appeal, I think. It hardly answers every riddle, but it makes the two testaments fit together nicely and explains a lot.
* Of course, this would only mean that tongues are one form of prophecy, which would also include the writing of inspired words, the speaking of God’s words, predicting the future by the power of God, and composing and singing psalms.
* While some had their receipt of the Spirit marked by prophecy of some sort, that is not universally the case. It’s just one way that the receipt of the Spirit might be evidenced.
* In Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians, 12-14, p. 154, D. A. Carson notes that Paul refers to even uninspired writers as “prophets,”
(Titus 1:12) Even one of their own prophets has said, “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.”
In addition, Carson shows that there is considerable evidence of “prophecy” during the time between the Testaments, but that these prophets considered themselves to be of a lower rank than the prophets of the Old Testament.
Of course, we’ve seen in the Old Testament that there were schools of prophets who acknowledged that certain prophets were somehow of a higher order. Therefore, Carson concludes,
Similarly, the principal distribution of what I have called “the prophetic Spirit,” characteristic of Christian experience after Pentecost, does not require that the Christian prophet have precisely the same authority status as the prophet Isaiah, or even that the nature of the prophecy delivered be substantially similar. The spread of categories is too large, and the range of qualifying circumstances too complex, to sanction such brutal reductionism.
In short, not all “prophets” are a Moses or an Isaiah. We aren’t told that much about the full range of prophecy, but it’s certainly a much broader concept than we’ve generally assumed.
* When speaking of the Messianic Age to come, the prophets speak largely of the Spirit’s work in changing our hearts and teaching us God’s will. Joel speaks of wonders being performed by God’s people, but could be interpreted as speaking only of the introduction of the age. But not necessarily.
* The other distinguishing feature of the Spirit’s work in prophecy of the Messianic Age is that all God’s people will receive the Spirit and all God’s people will have their hearts changed. This is a theme going back to Deuteronomy 30, and also parallels Samuel’s statement to Saul than when he receives the Spirit he will be “a different person” (1 Sam. 10:9).
* Wonders performed by God through Spirit-possessing people sometimes confirmed God’s word, but not always. We see Elijah and Elisha doing miracles solely as acts of compassion.
* God violates the laws of nature lots of ways in lots of times. Sometimes he does it entirely on his own. Sometimes it’s in response to prayer. Sometimes it’s through a miracle worker. Sometimes people ask for a miracle and none comes. Sometimes prophets do one powerful miracle after another. Sometimes we have no record of a miracle. In the case of John the Baptist, we know he never did a miracle (John 10:41), although Jesus says he was the greatest of the prophets. Sometimes God changes a person through the Spirit, sometimes through a wonder, and sometimes people refuse to be changed at all.
This isn’t to say that God is random or purposeless. Rather, the point is that God is a person, not a rulebook. There is no rule higher than God and so there’s no rule that says that God must be predictable. And why should he?
God made the constant, invariable laws of nature. He is not himself a law of nature. Expecting him to act like a law of nature is sheer Deism. We have to get that notion out of our systems.
God has free will. We are required to meet his expectations. He doesn’t have to meet ours.