Sunday, July 12, 2015

Prophets in the New Testament

Matthew 11:13 "For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John."

We have spent that last several days trying to understand the value of studying the prophets in the Bible. In our study thus far we have defined what they are, listed some examples and looked at what the New Testament had to say about the Old Testament prophets. The four main purposes of the prophetic ministry in the Old Testament was discovered to be:
1. The prophets shed light on our salvation
2. They point to Jesus Christ
3. They predict the future
4. They unfold God's will

Today we consider prophets in the New Testament. Are they the same? Who are they? Do they function in the same manner as the Old Testament prophets? Let's go and discover the answers.

Transitional prophets from Old to New Testament
Between Malachi and Matthew lied 400 years period of time with no prophecy, with no prophets and no inspired books being written. According to Harold Wilmington in his book: "The Complete Book of Bible Lists", four people represent the end of the Old Testament line of prophets and thus set the stage for the New Testament prophetic ministry:

1. Zacharias. Luke 1:67-69
2. Simeon. Luke 2:25-25
3. John the Baptist. Matt 11:9; Luke 1:57-80
4. Anna. Luke 2:36-38

In quickly meditating on these four figures in regards to the four marks of the prophetic office in the Old Testament, all four were used of God to shed light on our salvation, point to Christ, predict the future and unfold God's will. In reading the key texts for each figure, some tend to emphasize one or two of the traits more so than other traits, thus fitting with the purpose of God's calling on their lives. These observations demonstrate that at least from an Old Testament into New Testament perspective, the prophetic office did not vary. Moreover, the line of unity and continuity in the message, purpose and function of the prophetic office did not waver from Old into New Testament. The only thing we can say in terms of distinction would be that New Testament prophets saw the same Jesus from a fulfilled perspective. Jesus Himself clarifies for us these observations in Matthew 11:13 and 23:37. 

Are the New Testament Prophets the same in function as the Old Testament prophets
It would seem that if there is direct continuity between the prophets stretching from the days of Abel to John, then their must be similar continuity with full-blown New Testament prophets. When I say full-blown New Testament prophets, I am referring to those people who prophesied in the early church following the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. 

1. Agabus. Acts 11:28; 21:10
2. Philipp's four daughters. Acts 21:8-9

As well as the prediction of prophets speaking forth in the tribulation period leading up to the days of Christ's second coming in Revelation 11:3-12. 

As I said a moment ago, quick reflection on the distinctions between Old and New Testament prophets show that New Testament prophets operate from a fulfilled perspective versus the perspective of anticipation of their Old Testament counterparts. If we consider the four main functions of the prophetic office as defined above (shed light on Jesus; our salvation, unfolding God's will and predicting the future), we can say for certain that Agabus and the Tribulation prophets function in all four areas, with Agabus' ministry chiefly concerned with predicting the future and unfolding God's will, whereas the tribulation martyrs will emphasize the need to repent. We don't have enough information regarding Philip's four daughters to make any substantial comment. If the other prophetic figures can be used as a baseline for interpretation, then the four daughters of Phillip would had functioned to provide a supporting role in the early church. 

Closing thoughts
So when we consider prophets in the New Testament, there is a line of continuity running from Old to New Testament. A shifting of priority occurred due to the perspective each type of prophet had in viewing Christ's work. The prayer is that these last few posts have whetted the appetite to know Jesus and His word better with respect to the prophetic office. 

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