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Godly Prophesy or Sinister Forces?

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen

This article is from a conversation I had with a friend. Unfortunately for me, she asked a question for which I could not give a simple answer. I was disappointed in myself for being unable to give a good response at the time until I realized that it was not really an easy question. It needs some background in several areas, including my own belief system. So, I gave it some thought and did some research, and am going to give what I hope is useful material for her, and for others. I am expanding on what was supposed to be a reply to her question. Which is quite a trick with Basement Cat snoring behind me.

From what I can reconstruct in my memory, she told me that a man she did not know very well began telling her some things about her life that were true, and saying what would happen in her future. In addition, he claimed to be a Christian and that this was a gift of God. (I believe she told me he said he was not a psychic.) So, was this a prophecy?

"The Winged Man (The Fallen Angel)" by Odilon Redon, Public Domain
Being a skeptic at heart, my first impulse was that this guy was being manipulative. Some people are skilled at reading others, and can steer people's emotions so they accept what they are told. There are times when the person on the receiving end is caught up in the moment and does not really notice things that are incorrect or very general, and there are times when people seem to have a keen insight that is difficult to explain. My first impulse when someone seeks to gain from what they are saying is that it should sound an inner alarm bell. Have you ever watched the TV show "The Mentalist"? I used to. The hero is a former "psychic" who could read people and use other tricks, but renounced his ways and even claimed that there are no such things as real psychics. Whether you agree with the character's claim or not, the show did convey ways that people are emotionally manipulated.

"So what about prophets, Cowboy Bob?"

In the Old Testament, prophets were people who were moved by God to speak for him. Pagan religions and cultures had prophets all over the place who claimed to speak for their gods. 1 Samuel 6.1-3 shows that the Philistine prophets spoke accurately (I assume that God worked through them at that time). However, a prophet of Yahweh had to be correct. It was a very serious undertaking to speak for the Creator of the universe who brought the Israelites out of captivity! A prophet's main duty was to speak for God, but there were times when he was led to foretell the future. If he did this and what he said did not come to pass, that was all. Game over (Deuteronomy 18.20-22).

John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament-style prophets, as implied in Matthew 11.13. The Old Covenant was fulfilled, and the New Covenant was instituted through Jesus. When he left, he sent all Christians the Holy Spirit (John 14.17, 2 Timothy 1.14, Ephesians 3.16), so there was no need for those kinds of prophets.

"So what about prophets in the New Testament?"

In the New Testament, God would give utterance to people and they would prophesy (Acts 21.9, 1 Cor. 13.9-10). There are two kinds of prophecy. First, there are occasional prophecies caused when someone is filled with the Spirit. The second kind is more complicated, this involves the "gift of prophecy". Astrologer and "prophet" Jeanne Dixon supposedly had a "gift of prophecy". She also had quite a few things that were wrong. There are others like her. Although we're not under the Old Testament, God would not reduce his standards to have someone claim to be a prophet and have "iffy" accuracy.

Here is where I have to stop and explain a position I have: The "charismatic gifts" of speaking in tongues, healing, prophesy and so on described in the New Testament have ceased because the church has been established. I could be labeled as a "cessationist". (To take this tangent on a tangent, there are some people who will say that if someone is prophesying or speaking in tongues, they are under Satan's influence. Who am I to restrict God? If he wants me to speak in a language that I do not know, or gives me a prophetic utterance, hey, great! But that will not necessarily mean that I have been given that particular gift.) Dr. John MacArthur wrote on the spiritual gifts here, and has a sermon series here. There are others who insist that these gifts have continued through the present time.

I am not interested in having a debate here about whether or not the "sign gifts" have continued to this day. This was to show where I am coming from, but I will refer you to this short article about prophecy in the church today.

God has given us many good things, and Satan counterfeits many of them. To say that someone "speaking in tongues" as a guarantee of God's approval is ridiculous. Cults and occult practices have mimicked this and other things of the spirit (2 Corinthians 11.13-15, 1 Timothy 4.1). A simple way to tell if someone is interested in the truth is to test him and determine what testimony he brings (1 John 4.1-4). This requires good knowledge of the Bible. Does he glorify God (1 Peter 4.12-16)? Is he bringing the truth of the gospel (Galatians 1.8-9)?

Yes, someone may have a special message for you. But it must be measured against the written Word of God (Acts 17.11). Is it harmless? Perhaps. Or it could be an opening into a darker deception. Pray, search the Scriptures, get good counsel and be discerning.