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What is a prophet in the Bible?

Most simply, a prophet is one who speaks God's truth to others. The word prophet comes from the Greek prophetes, which refers to an interpreter of oracles or to one inspired by God to speak forth what He has said, often particularly as related to future events and especially those events related to the kingdom of God. Prophets often have the ability to "see" the future and have strong spiritual wisdom. Prophets are sometimes referred to as "seers" because of this capability (1 Samuel 9:9).

Prophets of the Bible had significant roles of teaching, advocating for God's Word, and warning others about the future. During the time of Moses, the people were terrified to hear directly from God. They requested that someone else speak to them, so God used His named prophet, Moses. Moses was considered to be the greatest Jewish prophet. Deuteronomy 34:10 says, "And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face." God also told Moses, "I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him" (Deuteronomy 18:18). This gave the people hope of the future, the coming of Jesus (John 6:14; 7:40; Acts 3:18–25). Jesus is the Messiah and the ultimate fulfillment of the biblical role of prophet.

Isaiah was a prophet who spoke of the sinfulness of his time (Isaiah 1:4) and conveyed promises for Israel's future (Isaiah 25:8). He, too, spoke of the coming Messiah (for example, Isaiah 9:1–7; 53; 61). Jeremiah was a prophet who spoke about God's judgment against Judah and His promised restoration. Jeremiah 1:5–10 records Jeremiah's call and shows that God had chosen him specifically for the task and gave him the authority to speak on His behalf.

Second Peter 1:21 says, "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." Hebrews 1:1–2 says, "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world." God's household is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone" (Ephesians 2:20). His prophets spoke God's truth to the people. These prophets were influential in guiding the Israelite nation and building the church; they are an important part of God's plan.

God called more than one hundred thirty-three named prophets in the Bible. These prophets were from many walks of life with diverse backgrounds, and included sixteen women. There were many others who prophesied at times, like the seventy elders of Israel (Numbers 11:25). We also hear of a group of a hundred prophets who were rescued by Obadiah (1 Kings 18:4). During the time of Elijah and Elisha, there was a school for prophets (1 Kings 20:35).

Abraham was God's first named prophet (Genesis 20:7), and he had encounters with God on many occasions throughout his lifetime. Abraham's grandson, Jacob, had prophetic dreams. Genesis 28:10–22 speaks of Jacob's dream where God makes a covenant with him about the future. Joseph, Jacob's son, also had dreams, which were not well received by his family, but he knew they were from God (Genesis 37). Joshua and other of the judges also served as prophets. Samuel, the last judge, heard the voice of God as a young boy and was a prophet. King David also served as a prophet in some ways.

The New Testament speaks in part of John the Baptist, who was well known for his testimonies of the coming of Jesus Christ (Matthew 3:1–3). As stated above, Jesus also came as the most significant prophet, satisfying the prophecies of the Old Testament and performing many miracles in the New Testament. Jesus also fulfilled the roles of king and priest.

Ananias, a disciple from Damascus during the time of the early church, heard from God in a dream to go to the house of Judas and speak to apostle Paul (Acts 9:10–18). Later in Acts, we hear about Philip the evangelist and his four unmarried daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:8–9). First Corinthians 12 and 14 mention prophecy as a spiritual gift. In the end times, during the last half of the Tribulation, God will lift up two "witnesses" who will prophesy.

Most of the prophets were not well liked nor their messages well received. We hear an account from Isaiah that the people of his nation are "… a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD; who say to the seers, 'Do not see,' and to the prophets, 'Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel'" (Isaiah 30:9–11). Jesus weeps over the prophets in Jerusalem who were killed (Luke 13:34).

The New Testament warns of false prophets who will continue to come: "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction" (2 Peter 2:1). Jesus warned of false teachers. He mentions how they will "come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:15). During the time of Tribulation, there is mention of a false prophet who will come and try to deceive people and persuade them to follow the Antichrist (Revelation 16:13; 19:20; 20:10).

To keep us from wandering, it is wise to always "test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1; cf. Acts 17:11). Deuteronomy 18:22 says, "When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him." Jesus told His followers that we would recognize false prophets by their fruits (Matthew 7:15–20). Someone who proclaims to be a true prophet will never go against the Word of God and what He has commanded them to do or say. They will first and foremost be dedicated to only speaking the truth from God (2 Chronicles 18:13).


Related Truth:

Do we have prophets in the church today?

What were Israel's 400 years of silence?

Why were Enoch and Elijah taken to heaven without dying?

Does God use visions to talk to people today? Are visions a common part of a Christian's experience?

To whom was Jesus referring when He said 'He who has ears to hear…'?


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