A prophet, in the Biblical sense, is one who spoke for God and whose words were not the product of his own spirit or flesh, but from God. The system of righteousness that God designed for Israel after they rejected His Presence necessitated His speaking to Israel through prophets (Hebrews 1:1). Yet there were many others, from time to time, who claimed to be prophets but who spoke, not from God, but of themselves (Ezekiel 13:2).
These false prophets typically brought messages the people liked to hear, as for example in this case;
“Thus says the Lord of hosts; Hearken not to the words of the prophets: for they frame a vain vision for themselves; they speak from their own heart, and not from the mouth of the Lord. They say to them that reject the word of the Lord, ‘There shall be peace to you’; and to all that walk after their own lusts, and to everyone that walks in the error of his heart, they have said, ‘No evil shall come upon you'” (Jeremiah 26:16, 17).
False prophecy was often marked by words of false comfort to Israel, leading to a false sense of security. Today, too, there are many who falsely claim the mantle of a prophet and bring soothing words of false comfort, saying to the rebellious “……there shall be peace to you” just as false prophets also did in the days of Jeremiah.
Prophecy can be both literal and symbolic. Generally symbolism can help us to understand prophecy but should not be used as the sole basis for doctrine. Its purpose is to illustrate and to lend a better understanding or give an insight into a deeper meaning.
Greater insight may often be found by interpreting the prophecy using midrash, type or allegory. The literal meaning is important and doctrines should only be based upon literal meanings, but midrashic interpretations help us to better understand what the Lord is saying to us in this day.
Literary symbolism helps us to understand doctrine but cannot be the sole basis for a doctrine.
Consideration also needs to be given to those for whom the particular prophecy is intended. Does it apply to the Jews only, or to those of the New Covenant as well? As a general rule, prophecies that refer to Jacob refer to the Jews exclusively, whereas prophecies concerning Israel may have application to both Old Covenant Jews and New Covenant Christians.
It has become fashionable in recent years for some Church groups to embrace many of the prophetic statements that apply to the Jews as also applying to Christians. This is particularly true of prophetic promises of great blessing that clearly refer to Israel as the Jewish people of the Old Covenant. But if you take hold of the blessings under the Old Covenant you must also take hold of the curses under that covenant.
All Biblical prophecies are important but perhaps the most significant for Christians in these times are Messianic prophecies; those pertaining to the Lord Jesus Christ, and eschatological prophecies; those pertaining to the end times. Biblical prophecies are not exclusively concerned with predictions of forthcoming events, but include the laying down of a type or pattern that can have one or many fulfilments.
For example, when Israel was in captivity in Egypt, God spoke to them telling them to mark their dwelling places with the blood of a spotless lamb, in order to be passed over and saved from the destruction that was to be visited on the houses of the Egyptians. This event was commemorated in the Jewish Passover feast, but it also spoke prophetically of the Christ as the spotless Lamb of God, in whose blood His people might find salvation. Thus there was a prophecy, which was fulfilled in Israel at the time of the Exodus from Egypt and then again, in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Another example of a prophecy twice fulfilled, is when Jesus spoke of the prophet Jonah saying that;
“This is an evil generation; it is seeking a miraculous sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah” (Luke 11:29)
Now the sign of Jonah was that he spent three days in the belly of the whale, and, Jesus said, “….so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40).
But there was another interpretation that Jesus gave to this “sign of Jonah”. For He said that just as Jonah had become a sign to the men of Nineveh, “………so shall the Son of man be to this generation” (Luke 11:30). Thus, Jesus fulfills the prophetic pattern of Jonah in two ways; spending three days and three nights in the tomb, as Jonah did in the belly of the whale, and in the repentance of the gentiles that followed both His and Jonah’s preaching.
We see in baptism a Jewish custom to do with ritual cleansing, which had its roots in the flood, when God’s righteous judgement fell upon the earth and only those in Noah’s Ark (a Biblical “type” of Christ) were saved.
A further use of that pattern is found in the drowning of Egypt (a Biblical “type” of sin) in the Red Sea, once more manifesting the pattern of God’s righteous judgement on sin.
Again that pattern is repeated when Jesus, while having no sins to confess and therefore not requiring baptism, nevertheless insisted that He be baptised, saying to John the Baptist;
“…for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15).
In other words, as the One on Whom the sins of the world were to be taken, it was completely correct for Jesus to honour His Father’s righteous judgement on sin.
This pattern is used once more when Jesus, in speaking of the end times, referred again to those who were saved from the flood in Noah’s Ark, saying that when the flood of lawlessness comes in, only those in the Ark (Christ Himself) will be saved (Matthew 24:37-42). So we see many fulfillments of the same prophecy.
In examining prophecy, there are three things to be considered; the prophetic timeline, whether the prophecy is literal or symbolic and whether it is for the Jews only or for all of God’s covenant people.
It is important to know whether what the prophet is prophesying is for his own time; or whether it applies to the first coming of Christ; or whether it refers to the last days, that is, the second coming of Christ.
All prophecy refers to at least one of these times and it may also refer to more that one of these times.
For example; In Amos 8:9 it is written “And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord God, that the sun shall go down at noon, and the light shall be darkened on the earth by day:” This is a prophecy that refers to the first coming of Christ and we see its fulfillment recorded in Luke 23:44: “And it was now about the sixth hour (12 noon) and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour (3 pm).” This prophecy clearly refers to the first coming.
However, an example of a prophecy that refers to both the first and second coming of Christ can be found in Zechariah 12:10 as follows: “And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only son and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping of a first born”.
In John’s gospel we can see that this refers to the first coming. John says; For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken and again another scripture says of Him, they will look upon Him whom they have pierced” (John 19:36,37). So Zechariah’s prophecy was fulfilled, John says, when Jesus was on the Cross.
But this prophesied event is also yet to occur. It will happen again when Jesus returns and the Jews will know their Messiah and weep bitterly over Him, just as Joseph’s brothers wept bitterly over him when they recognised him on their second coming into Egypt.
In the final analysis, it is the Holy Spirit who is our Teacher and we need no other (1 John 2:27). It is His task to guide us into all truth (John 16:13), to teach us all things (John 14:26) and to bear witness of Jesus (John 15:26).
If He is to do that, we must turn aside from the doctrines of men that bind us to a denominational interpretation of scripture handed down from generation to generation.
Once released from that bondage, we can earnestly seek the enlightenment and revelation of the Holy Spirit to properly comprehend what the scriptures are saying to us. Jesus said that He will do it and if we but ask, He will.