“Do not despise prophecies.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:20
“God told me. . .”
“The LORD told me. . . “
“The Lord told me. . .”
“Jesus told me. . . “
“Yeshua told me. . . “
“The Holy Spirit told me. . .”
“The Spirit told me. . . “
“I decree and declare. . . “
“In the name of Jesus, I declare. . .”
There have been a lot of declarations or “prophetic words” offered of late relating to the presidential election, state of our nation, and other issues. What about that? Are prophetic words valid, scriptural, from God? Some people dismiss the idea of God speaking to people and giving them a word or revelation of the future. Some relegate “prophetic words” to the looney bin category. They joke such words “from God,” are from overly emotional or scripturally illiterate people who have a shallow emotion-based faith. Some go so far as to mock and ridicule those who speak of prophecy or go so far as to offer a prophetic word “from God” themselves. What should our attitude be toward such things?
We are told in scripture, “Do not despise prophecies” (1 Thessalonians 5:20). “Despise” (Greek exoutheneo) means hold in contempt, despise, esteem as least, set at nought, to make of no account. Eschatology or prophecy makes up approximately 27% of the Bible’s content. One of the ways God distinguishes Himself as God is through prophecy:
Isaiah 42:8–9 (NKJV)
8 I am the Lord, that is My name;
And My glory I will not give to another,
Nor My praise to carved images.
9 Behold, the former things have come to pass,
And new things I declare;
Before they spring forth I tell you of them.”
Isaiah 45:21 (NKJV)
21 Tell and bring forth your case;
Yes, let them take counsel together.
Who has declared this from ancient time?
Who has told it from that time?
Have not I, the Lord?
And there is no other God besides Me,
A just God and a Savior;
There is none besides Me.
Isaiah 46:9–10 (NKJV)
9 Remember the former things of old,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like Me,
10 Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things that are not yet done,
Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
And I will do all My pleasure,’
Isaiah 48:3 (NKJV)
3 “I have declared the former things from the beginning;
They went forth from My mouth, and I caused them to hear it.
Suddenly I did them, and they came to pass.
No One, no other “God” or “god,” or any other holy book, is so rich in prophecy. So, when Paul speaks of not despising prophecy, he does so in the context of how important prophecy is to the LORD and His word.
But there is another sense in which Paul’s instruction should be applied. While God’s prophetic word is to be appreciated and honored, individual prophetic words offered by people are more likely to be “despised.” Why is that? Read on.
Right after Paul tells us not to despise prophecy, he goes on to say, “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). When you “test” (Greek dokimadzo) something you discern it or examine it in order to approve or allow it or show it to be either true or false. And the standard of such testing is the word of God:
- 2 Timothy 3:16–17 16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The prophesy found in our Bibles is scripture. So that should never be despised. But what of prophecy which comes outside of scripture? What of prophecy offered through spiritual gifting?
Using the spiritual gift of prophesying would fall under the heading of the “all things.” Therefore, we should test prophetic words. Since scripture is the basis “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work,” then what does the Bible say about prophesying?
How does the Bible define prophecy? Spiritual gifts are a supernatural enablement of the Holy Spirit. They are the Spirit giving us tools to minister with. A spiritual gift is a Spirit provided enablement to do something beyond our natural capabilities. A spiritual gift enables us to do something that when it is done, we and those around us assess, “that was a work of God.” A spiritual gift enables us to do something beyond what we would normally be able to do. A spiritual gift is not a mere natural talent, it is an enablement beyond our resources; a resource provided by the Holy Spirit in the form of an ability.
When Paul is inspired to teach on spiritual gifts (e.g., 1 Cor. 12 and 14; Romans 1; Eph. 4), he defines the spiritual gift of prophesy as follows:
- 1 Corinthians 14:3 – 3 But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.
The word “Prophecy” (Greek propheteuo) means to foretell, divine, speak under inspiration, exercise the prophetic office, speak forth divine inspirations, to predict. Based on this word definition, there is a future orientation connected to the term.
Paul chooses three words to define prophecy. The three words he uses tells us the effect prophecy should have on us. These three words contrast with the idea of despising prophecy. Rather than despise prophecy, in whatever form it takes, we ought to be edified, exhorted and comforted. What do these words mean?
“Edification” (Greek oikodome) is a construction term that speaks of building. Therefore, when this gift is used it should build up those to whom it is shared with. “Exhortation” (Greek paraklesis) means to implore, to console, to entreat, to spur on to action. When prophecy is used in the church, it should spur people on to action. And lastly, “comfort” (Greek paramythia) means to calm, to console, to comfort, to persuade, to arouse, to stimulate. When prophecy is used in the church, it should lift up the downcast, calm the agitated, comfort the hurting, encourage the fearful.
But certainly, the spiritual gift of prophecy can also include predicting future events. Jesus spoke prophetically of future events (e.g., Matthew 24-5; Mark 13; Luke 21). And Jesus is our example in all things (e.g., John 13:15; Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 2:6). If Jesus spoke of future events, shouldn’t we also at least be concerned with them? Paul spoke prophetically of future events (e.g., Romans 13:11-14; 1 Thessalonians 4-5; 2 Thessalonians 2; 1 Timothy 4; 2 Timothy 3). Peter spoke prophetically of future events (e.g., 2 Peter 3). And the Apostle John spoke prophetically of future events (e.g., 1 John 4; Revelation).
The gift of prophecy was used in the early church (e.g., Acts 11:28; 21:10). Paul alludes the use of the spiritual gift of prophecy in his first letter to the Corinthians when he is inspired to put a protocol in place for receiving prophetic words saying:
- 1 Corinthians 14:29–33 – 29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. 30 But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged. 32 And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. 33 For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.
The use of the gift of prophecy, (as is true with the use of any and all spiritual gifts in the church) is to be done in an orderly manner. The word “revealed” (Greek apokalypto) is the same word used to entitle the last book of the Bible, Revelation. This word speaks of taking off the cover, uncovering, unveiling, disclosing, lay open, make known. Paul ended each chapter of 1 Thessalonians with a reference to the future return of Jesus. Prophecy was important to Paul The LORD inspired Paul to speak prophetically. There is edification, exhortation and comfort in the discussion of future events. That is a part of prophecy.
Why would anyone despise prophecy? But why did Paul warn the Thessalonians not to “despise” prophecies? “Do not despise prophecies” (1 Thessalonians 5:20). Don’t hold in contempt, despise, esteem as least, set at nought, make of no account, prophecy. In English the word “despise” means feel contempt or deep repugnance for something. Some synonyms might be loathe, scorn, hate, spurn, deride, look down on. Paul says, don’t look at or react to prophecy in this way.
Why would Paul even have to say not to despise prophecy in the first place? Maybe it is because of the fact that some people abuse this spiritual gift. In the Old Testament the LORD through Jeremiah indicted false prophets who misled God’s people leading to their captivity. In Jeremiah 23 the following indictments were made against the false prophets:
- False prophets scattered instead of united God’s people – 23:1
- False prophets were involved in adultery (spiritual with other gods and possibly with other people) – 23:10
- False prophets (and priests) were profane – 23:11a,
- False prophets brought wickedness into God’s house – 23:11b
- God would make the way of false prophets slippery, darkness, fallen – 23:12
- False prophets preached folly as they “prophesied by Baal” or by pagan gods – 23:13
- False prophets caused God’s people to err – 23:13
- False prophet’s actions were “horrible” to the LORD – 23:14a
- False prophets commit adultery and “walk in lies” – 23:14b
- False prophets strengthened the hands of evil doers – 23:14c
- False prophets didn’t call anyone to turn back (repent) from their wickedness – 23:14d
- False prophets were “like Sodom . . . like Gomorrah” to God – 23:14e
- False prophets were “profane” or unholy – 23:15
- False people made the people “worthless” – 23:16a
- False prophets “speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the LORD” – 23:16b
- False prophets continually preached “peace” and “No evil shall come upon you” – they preach a cotton candy message that is not from God – they preach peace when God intends judgment – 23:17-20
- False prophets are self-sent, not sent by God – 23:21a
- False prophets speak, but God has not spoken to them – 23:21b
- False prophets are out of touch with God and have no sense of a true calling and commissioning from God – 23:22
- False prophets “prophesy lies in My name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’” but God sees and knows of their falsehoods – 23:23-25
- False prophets are “prophets of the deceit of their own heart who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal” – 23:26-27
- False prophets are unfaithful chaff – 23:28
- False prophets will feel the fire and hammer of God’s word on them – 23:29
- False prophets plagiarize – 23:30
- God is against the false prophets, who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’” – 23:31
- God is against the false prophets who are reckless and lying – 23:32a
- God is against the false prophets who He did not send – 23:32b
- False prophets are forsaken by the LORD and destined to receive His punishment – 23:33-34
- False prophets have “perverted the words fo the living God, the LORD of hosts, our God” – 23:35-36
- False prophets, who do what they do to make a name for themselves, will be utterly forgotten and forsaken by God and will be cast out of the presence of the LORD and “everlasting reproach,” and “perpetual shame” will be upon them – 23:37-40
You can see from this summary how some might “despise” prophecy if they associated it with such false ministers.
The New Testament is not exempt from false prophets. Jesus warned against false prophets (Matthew 7:15ff.). Jesus Himself prophesied that there would be a proliferation of false prophets in the End Times (Matthew 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22).
Paul’s letters are devoted to a great extent to dealing with false teachers. The Apostle John speaks of false teachers as well (e.g., 1 John 4:1). Peter is inspired to give a scathing indictment and description of false prophets (cf. 2 Peter 2). Read what Peter was inspired by the Spirit to write about false prophets. His description of these “wells without water” shows his disdain for them. And as you read this, you get an idea of why some might despise prophecy throwing the baby out with the bathwater:
- 2 Peter 2:15–22 – 15 They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 but he was rebuked for his iniquity: a dumb donkey speaking with a man’s voice restrained the madness of the prophet. 17 These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever. 18 For when they speak great swelling words of emptiness, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through lewdness, the ones who have actually escaped from those who live in error. 19 While they promise them liberty, they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. 20 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. 21 For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”
Not a pretty picture. But the issue is not with prophecy. The issue is with false prophets. That’s an important distinction to make.
Testing the prophets. If prophecy is a valid spiritual gift for the church, how do we discern true from false prophets? The Bible makes it very clear.
First, a prophet is true or false based on whether or not they abide within the parameters of God’s word. When Moses was preparing God’s people to enter the Promised Land, God through Moses laid down this principle stating:
- Deuteronomy 13:1–5 – “If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.
Keep in mind that the Old Testament was the scriptures of the early Christians until the inspired letters could be added to the canon. Someone has aptly said, the Old Testament is the New Testament concealed. The New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. Both Testaments fit together and are not in conflict. So, if this is the principle given to God’s people in the Old Testament, then it remains a principle to abide by in the New Testament. This is our standard for today as well.
The first standard of measuring a prophet is, even if a “Prophet” performs some kind of “sign” or “wonder,” if they contradict God’s word, they are to be disregarded. An example of this will play out in the End Times. The Antichrist will be just such a false prophetic figure. And because people did not love the truth of God’s word, He will give them over to a strong delusion (2 Thess. 2).
Second, a prophet is true or false, from God or not from God, based on whether what they predict comes to pass. Later in Deuteronomy through Moses the LORD states:
- Deuteronomy 18:20–22 – 20 But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’—22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
If you claim to speak for God, God doesn’t make mistakes. Therefore, neither should anyone who actually does speak for God. The proof of the prophetic pudding is, does what the prophet say will happen, happen? Simple. Does what the prophet say God told them will happen, happen. If it does, then they are from God; a true prophet. If it doesn’t; they are not from God; a false prophet. Simple. Unmistakable. Decisive.
How serious an offense was it for a prophet to speak presumptuously in the name of Almighty God? God said if a prophet speaks something God hasn’t spoken or something in the name of another god, “that prophet shall die.” Pretty serious punishment. And again, it couldn’t be clearer, how do we know whether or not a prophet is or isn’t from God? “If the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”
Which brings us to our contemporary situation. There have been a myriad of apparently self-proclaimed “prophets” who’ve predicted an election win or a second term for President Trump. Hopes of such a second term are hanging on by the thinnest of threads. I don’t remember seeing even one “prophet” who predicted a Trump loss; not one. I have seen some speak negatively about any involvement in politics at all. But I haven’t seen anyone predict a Trump loss or speak predictively of the proliferation of fraud and election cheating.
So, if President Trump doesn’t pull off an election victory, what does that say to us about those who predicted he would? Some will say, “Well, it doesn’t necessarily mean this election cycle. He could be elected to a second term in 2024.” That sounds a lot like vacillating. If God was giving a prophetic word on the election, wouldn’t He have provided that stipulation? If God was giving a prophetic word, wouldn’t He have revealed the fraud and corruption that has stolen the day? And wouldn’t a true prophet from God have known that?
Maybe such a discussion is premature. There’s still a lot of constitutional maneuverings to be worked out before we actually know who our next president is. I imagine though that there are a lot of “prophets” who are a bit nervous about their “words” from the LORD. That’s not a bad thing. If we are going to speak “in the name of the LORD,” then there should be a good amount of reverence and serious prayerful carefulness involved. Maybe the LORD is allowing things to play out the way they are to rattle a few cages and get people to “consider your ways.” (e.g., Haggai 1:5 and 7).
If the prophetic words spoken by the “prophets” do not come to pass, are these prophets going to have enough integrity to repent and admit their false works? Is the church going to have the integrity to call a false prophet a “false prophet” if their “word” doesn’t come to pass? What would such vast amounts of false words tell us not only about the “prophet” today, but about the state of the church? I’ll let you ponder that question.
Regardless of what happens and the way we handle it, I think it’s safe to conclude that we need to do some self-examination. The idea of “prophetic words” has been thrown around willy-nilly and often with what seems to be more of an intent to garner likes and financial support, than to genuinely convey revelation from God. Oh, I’m sure there are some who genuinely seek the LORD in prayer. And there will be some who genuinely misread the LORD. But that does not excuse them from what they have done. There still needs to be humble repentance. There needs to be retractions and admissions. If they publically spoke for God, and profited off of God, they need to publically address what they’ve done.
The area of prophetic words is one that many a person has ventured into. Sometimes a “word” is offered in such vague generalities that circumstances can easily be twisted bent to match up with their prophetic meanings. And it seems sometimes like there’s a can-you-top-this mentality to the modern day “prophets.” That’s dangerous.
Why are false prophetic words dangerous? Well, it plays with the psyche of the child of God. It builds up hope only to have it come crashing down upon unfulfillment. Instead of edifying, exhorting and comforting, false prophetic words tear down faith, let the air out of our spiritual balloon, and discomfort us in our walk with God. False prophets and their words undermine the faith of God’s people. If we are the Bride of Christ, then those who harm His Bride in any way, put themselves on the wrong side of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Not a good place to be. Yes, that’s dangerous.
Speaking prophetically is not something to take lightly or enter into casually. Remember what the LORD said about the false prophets of old:
- Jeremiah 23:39–40 – 39 therefore behold, I, even I, will utterly forget you and forsake you, and the city that I gave you and your fathers, and will cast you out of My presence. 40 And I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.’”
If you see yourself as a “prophet,” are you willing to risk such a punishment? When was the last time you checked your motives? Are you willing to hold yourself accountable? Are you willing to be held accountable by others? Are you willing to stake everything on the scriptural criteria for a true and false prophet? Hard questions. But important questions. Revealing, yes exposing questions.
Maybe it would be best to remember the inspired words of the Apostle Peter who wrote:
- 1 Peter 4:17 – 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?
You know, its not a bad thing if our spiritual cages are rattled, if it leads to humility and repentance.
Whatever the truth of the assessment is, we should not allow ourselves to be reduced to despising prophecy. The problem is not with prophecy. The LORD loves prophecy. We have been given “the prophetic word confirmed” by God. And we have been exhorted that, “you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). We just have to remember that, “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20). Granted, this speaks of “prophecy of Scripture,” but should any other prophetic word spoken in the name of the LORD be held to any less of a standard if, it is a word from the LORD. No, it should not. If we speak prophetically, we must truly speak as prompted by the Holy Spirit; Who makes no mistakes. That is the standard. Now we just have to test all things and see if people are living up to God’s prophetic standard. That’s a good thing for all of us to consider.
So, if you see yourself as a prophet, are you a true prophet or a false prophet based on the word of God? Are you willing to test all prophetic things and hold fast to what is good? Those of you some of the popular prophets of today, are you willing to hold people accountable? Are you willing to stick by God’s word and the LORD? Tough questions for us to consider, but necessary ones. They are necessary because God does not take lightly those who speak in His name. God is not a liar. God makes no mistakes. And those who speak for Him, in His name, should not connect Him with falsehoods by their false behaviors. The Bible says, “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16). Have you spoken a “holy” word in the name of the Holy LORD? Or are you a “False prophet!”?