The New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language defines a Prophet as “One who foretells the future”. In other words, a prophet is a seer of the future. The Old Testament speaks comprehensively about the important place that the prophetic ministry maintains in the life of the Jewish people and religion. The prophetic ministry is not just important to the religious life of the Israelites; it is equally strategic in the cultural, social and political life of Israel. Furthermore, the importance of the prophetic ministry is not confined to the Old Testament. As a matter of fact, the New Testament teaches that the prophetic ministry is one of the gifts necessary for the growth of the Church. Ephesians 4:11 reads: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers.”
The Bible does not teach that one ministry gift is more important that the others. In Ephesians 4:11, the prophetic ministry is not in any way more important than that of the apostles, evangelists, pastors and teachers. But the inherent quest of human beings to know what the future holds in the midst of life’s uncertainties places the prophetic ministry in high demand. Because of this high demand, many have become practitioners in the prophetic ministry without being called by God. Besides, some who were genuinely called by God have allowed themselves to be distracted by ordinary things of this world. As a result of wanting to know what the future holds, many Christians have unwittingly fallen prey to these pseudo-prophets. While it is true that there is never a time in history that the Church is short of genuine prophets, they may not be as many as we see being paraded in the Church today. From a biblical perspective, here are some of the marks of a genuine prophet of Christ:
- S/he does not brag about his/her ability to foretell the future. S/he recognizes that it is a gift from God and not a man-made ability (Ephesians 4:11).
- S/he does not claim to foretell the future automatically and constantly (remember Elisha and the Shunammite’s son? Read 2 Kings 4:8-37. Emphasis is on 4:27).
- S/he does not necessarily fully comprehend the mind of God (Deuteronomy 28:28).
- S/he is not a sycophant, seeking to please human beings (remember Nathan in 2 Samuel 12; 1 Thessalonians 2:4).
- S/he is not motivated by money or material possessions (remember Elisha and Naaman – 2 Kings 5:13).
- S/he does not play tricks on those who come to God through him/her for direction (1 Thessalonians 2:3).
- S/he is not an idol to be worshiped, neither is s/he seeking to be a celebrity (remember Paul and Barnabas’ experience at Lystra – Acts 14: 8-18).
- S/he is not merely religious but one who has a personal and deep relationship with Christ (Galatians 1:1-2).
- S/he is not carried away by the praises of men or cheap popularity (1 Thessalonians 2:6).
- S/he does not negate the lordship of Jesus Christ; neither does s/he reject the direction of the Holy Spirit at any point in his/her ministry (1 John 4:1-3).
The warnings of Jesus Christ in Matthew 24:23-25 are proper for our conclusion: “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones. See, I have warned you about this ahead of time.” Beware!