“Does God still speak directly to his people today?” someone asks. “Does the prophetic gift belong to the Christian age?”
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Yes, God still speaks directly to his people, as it pleases him to do so. Receiving and communicating such a word from God is the exercise of the Christian grace-gift (charisma) of prophecy. As the Christian era formally began, the Apostle Peter announced that it would be characterized by God’s outpouring of the prophetic gift on his people in general and without discrimination (Acts 2:16-18, quoting Joel 2:28-29). “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,” said Peter (Acts 2:17). Like the other grace-gifts, this one will continue until Jesus returns (1 Cor. 1:7; 13:8-13).
The purpose of the Christian gift of prophecy is to build up (edification), stir up (exhortation) and bind up (consolation) believers, and it sometimes inspires awe in unbelievers as well (1 Cor. 14:3, 24-25). That is why Paul considered prophecy to be more useful in a group setting than an uninterpreted tongue (1 Cor. 14:4-5). The Apostle Paul urges us to “desire earnestly to prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:39) and warns us not to “despise prophetic utterances” (1 Thes. 5:20).
Before Jesus had made atonement for sin, and appeared in God’s presence to intercede for his people, God did not speak regularly through “ordinary” people. But Jesus removed every barrier separating sinners from heaven, and God has come in the Spirit to live in and among his people on earth (John 1:51; Eph. 2:19-22; Heb. 10:19-20). Prophecy is a sign of that intimate relationship based on Jesus’ atonement. The Book of Acts provides us with a picture-window into the life of the earliest church, and it presents prophecy in the setting of ordinary Christian life. We will look at that picture next time.