How to judge prophecy
Cartoon courtesy of www.boldsfold.co.uk
When judging prophecy it is the prophecy itself that must be judged not the person bringing it! Jesus did not judge people and it is his example we should follow.
John 8:15+16 “You judge according to the flesh; I am not judging anyone. But even if I do judge My judgement is true; for I am not alone in it, but I and the Father who sent Me.”
Judging prophetic words should howerver be be done in a safe place and in a safe way. Then people, especially those starting to step out, will feel safe have a go and make mistakes. Ideally, a group of people should be responsible for that judgement, not just one.
1 Cor 14:29 says “And let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgement.”
One of the problems we have in western society is that the connotations of judging are true/ false or guilty/ not guilty.
However the form of judgement contained in 1 Thes 5:20-21 is different:
“Do not despise prophetic utterances, but examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good”
The Greek word for examine is dokimazo (1381a) – to test to approve. It has the connotations of someone looking at something and accepting that which is good in it, and leaving behind the bad. The same principle applies if you want to prophesy. “ If you return, then I will restore you - before Me you will stand; and if you extract the precious from the worthless, you will become My spokesman. ” Jeremian 15:19
When we look at something with positive expectations, which is faith, we will be far more open to seeing it accurately than if we look at it through the eyes of doubt.
Having faith does not mean we reject discernment. We must be sure that a word comes from God and that the content is sound. However, those who doubt are unlikely to benefit much from prophecy as James points out:
“But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” James 1:7+9
A good example of this is found in Daniel 5 where God wrote on the wall. The interpretation of the word “Tekel” is “You have been weighed on the scales and found deficient/light” Dan 5:27. A word of prophecy can be the same - bulky in the content of man’s thoughts / opinions on a pet subject. It can feel a bit like polystyrene - lots of words but not much content.
The meanings of some prophecies are not black and white, and at first glance we cannot see the wood from the trees! So how do we judge these?
It is important to test the spirit behind each prophecy. There are three choices: the Spirit of God, the spirit of the evil one and the spirit of man.
The Spirit of God:
Rev 19:10 says “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” If a prophecy does not sound as if Jesus would have said it, and you feel uneasy in your spirit then it will probably be mainly from another source. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1
John, the apostle of love, shared this with a church and it is probably based on his personal experience. He and his brother James came up to Jesus and asked to be put in the highest places of authority, one sitting at his right hand and one at his left hand when he came into His glory.
Mark 10:35-40 “Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, ‘You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For the son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’” Mark 10:42-45.
Here it is obvious now that they were acting more out of the spirit of this world than the Spirit of God. At that time it probably seemed perfectly reasonable to them to request this. Surely this should be the ultimate aim for any disciple worth his weight in zeal?!
The spirit of the evil one:
A good way to test this is to ask what the fruit of obeying the word is, not how accurate it sounds. The demon was more accurate in its recognition of who Jesus was than the disciples when it said “I know who you are - the Holy One of God.” Mark 1:24
The slave girl in Acts 16:17 was incredibly accurate when she said “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation” In some undiscerning churches she could be made part of the evangelism team!
“Moreover, among the prophets of Samaria I saw an offensive thing: They prophesied by Baal and led My people Israel astray. Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: The committing of adultery and walking in falsehood; and they strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one has turned back from his wickedness. All of them have become to Me like Sodom, and her inhabitants like Gomorrah."
The spirit of man:
If a prophecy is mainly from the spirit of man it can come from unhealed wounds in a person. It can have an air of domination, manipulation and control.
Jeremiah 23:16,21+22 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord’… ‘I did not send these prophets, but they ran. I did not speak to them, but they prophesied. But if they had stood in My council. Then they would have announced My words to My people.’”
It can also come from a person who is sensitive in their spirit, and is picking up what is going on in the natural, and giving from that.
Make sure that before you prophesy you have ‘stood in the council of God.’ You do this by making sure your spirit is at peace and that what you bring lines up with scripture and God’s heart of love.
Often a word will have some of both these sources in it. Our job as hearers is to turn to God, sift out the chaff (man’s words) and retain what is of God.
Good questions to ask when judging prophecy
Does the prophecy bring you closer to God and others, or alienate you?
Does the prophecy, even if it convicts you, build you up? Or, does it manipulate and condemn you?
Does the prophecy leave you feeling empowered by God or feeling defeated?
Does the prophecy line up with scripture?
Does the prophecy sit well with you? Does you spirit testify with what is brought?
Does the prophecy have grace and mercy behind it?
Is the person delivering the prophecy under authority and accountable, or are they a lawless character?
When the prophecy is given, are you drawn to the person bringing the prophecy or drawn to God?
Who is the word for?
What is the timing of the prophecy?
Who are the people who need to be involved to help bring the prophecy into being?
Judging warning prophecies
Some prophecies, especially those involving warnings can be difficult to deal with. Studying the ways these were dealt with in scripture is therefore, especially important.
In the Old Testament, Jonah was called to “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before me. (The Lord)” Jonah 1:2 Jonah was reluctant to give this message. This is therefore one way to tell a true warning word: the prophet will be reluctant to give it - not revelling in bringing it.
A word of judgement should be delivered in person to the people involved, and not pronounced from a distance. Jonah had to go to Nineveh and be with the people when he delivered his message. This exposed him to the reality of the situation there and enabled an interaction in which he and the people changed. A word given at a distance can lead to resentment and accusation.
Every warning prophecy should lead to action
The word that Jonah was given by God to proclaim was “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown .” Jonah 3:4 When they heard this the people responded to what was proclaimed. They repented, believed in God, fasted and mourned in sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. This changed the course of events and they were spared judgement. The effect of a true warning prophecy will be action of some sort, including a turning to God, which can change events around.
An example in the New Testament is the prophecy brought by Agabus.
“Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. And in proprtion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.” Acts 11:27- 30
There were four famines during the reigh of Claudius but the one referred to here is probably the one mentioned in Josephus. He described it as "A very great famine, in which many died for want of food." Though widespread, it was particlulary severe in Judea. It seems that prior to the onset of the famine, the elders who heard the prophetic word, sought God for guidance on how to respond practically. They sent relief to the Judeans who then turned out to be those who were in most need.
An example of judging a prophecy
An example of having to judge a word happened in a church I was once in. Someone brought a picture of the church as the ‘Army of God’ lined up in rows. The front rank was made up of soldiers in shining armour. The ranks ranged through to those in the rear who were dressed in rags. However, when you looked closer at those who were in the front in the shining armour, their armour was actually full of dents and the wearers were battered and bruised and had an air of defeat to them. The damage had been afflicted by infighting. The prophecy carried no sense of the victorious army of God. The whole army was dejected, defeated and being beaten up by its leaders, who were in turn being beaten up by each other and the army! The vision contained no hope and did not go on to another situation where this was turned around. I could only conclude the person was prophesying out of their own unhealed wounds, or they should go back and seek God for a fuller picture. I conveyed this to the person bringing the word.
2. God is the only one who can interpret.
3. Bible is the best source.
4. Circumstances and knowledge can help.
5. Don't jump to conclusions.
6. Art or science? It'is only in part.
7. Ask for more.
8. Remembrance of the past can help.
9. How to interpret symbols correctly.
10. The importance of context
11. Don't add or subtract.
12. All prophecy must witness.
13. What if the opposite happens.
14. Dream interpretation.
15. Preparing to bring a prophecy.
16. How to bring a prophetic word.
17. Judging prophecy.
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