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Prophecy is the word that declares that which is to come, and because the word of God is eternal, the word of Jesus remains even when Heaven and Earth disappear, and thus the prophecies of Jesus will remain even when Heaven and Earth disappear.  As such, a prophecy is not a prediction that once fulfilled, will disappear forever, but rather, it is a prediction of that which is to come, but once fulfilled, it is a reminder of what is yet to come.  So, as such, a prophecy never stops pointing to that which is yet to come, even when it appears to be fulfilled.

Since “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,”[1] then every word spoken by Jesus concerning what He knows; be it of the past, the present, or the future, is the spirit (the attitude) and the spiritual reality of prophecy.  True prophecy is that which speaks of what is to come to reveal God in all His majesty, in all His manifold wisdom, knowledge, understanding, mercy, justice, love and so forth.  And any prophecy that does not reveal God does not have that spirit.  For the true Spirit of Prophecy is the Holy Spirit, and He is the One who, as Jesus said, “Will tell you what is yet to come.”[2]  He alone knows what is truly to come, for He alone is privy to the thoughts of the Father and the conversations of the Father and Son.  Not only that, He alone has the power to bring to pass that which the Father and Son have formed in word.  What is thought of in word and spoken of in words and envisioned in pictures, the Holy Spirit’s power makes manifest in reality.

This is brought to its clearest illustration through the prophetic word given by Isaiah to Ahaz when Isaiah said, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:  The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and will call Him Immanuel.”[3]  If Ahaz had left in his will that Isaiah be stoned as a false prophet, Ahaz would not be wrong, for that prophecy never came to pass in Ahaz’s earthly life.  However, God is not the God of the dead, but the living,[4] and Ahaz did see that come to pass even after his death.  If not stoned to death, Ahaz would be right in telling everyone not to fear Isaiah, for that which he prophesied did not appear to come to pass. 

So, before you all rush forward to become prophets and be a prophetic people as is commonly preached, beware that many of the prophets of God have been made to appear to be false when that which they prophesied never came to pass in their lifetime.  Indeed, a true prophet who sets a time limit on an event can be made out to be a false prophet.  Just take the case of Jonah who prophesied in Nineveh, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”[5]  Yet, it never happened.  You and I know God changed His mind because of the repentance of the Ninevites.  But imagine Jonah’s reputation in Israel had there been Israelites in Nineveh who heard the prophecy and hurried back to Israel to tell everyone there.  Imagine Israel and Judah counting down the days when Nineveh would be no more because the prophet of God, Jonah son of Amittai, had prophesied it.  Jonah’s reputation was dirt because God changed His mind!

Imagine if someone else other than Ahab and Elijah had heard the prophecy of 1 Kings 21:19 where Elijah prophesied Ahab’s destruction after the Lord told Elijah to say to Ahab, “This is what the Lord says:  In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’”  Ahab’s repentance changed God’s mind as God told Elijah.  However, if Ahab repented in secret and God told Elijah in secret, then any witnesses to the first prophecy could have thought Elijah false.

You see, the first thing about a prophetic word is that it can change in its manifestation both in time and even in what you may understand to be its context.  That is why learning to observe, to apply and to uphold prophecy is as important if not more important than the law.  For the law dictates what you can do now, but prophecy dictates what you will be doing and can be doing if you understand its power and blessing.

Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled centuries later by the birth of Christ.  Yet when it manifested, how many were witness to it?  Only Mary and Joseph— for Mary alone knew no man caused her pregnancy, and Joseph alone knew he didn’t cause it, and he would not have thought that it was holy had the angel of the Lord not told him.[6]  Neither did the angel appear in the skies over Jerusalem declaring that the prophecy of Isaiah to Ahaz will now be fulfilled in Mary the virgin, cousin of Elizabeth of Nazareth.

Thus, the observation, application and upholding of the law is child’s play compared to that which we need to learn in the application of prophecy.  The upholding and observation of prophecy involve recalling the prophecy and reminding one another of the prophecy that we have read in Scripture, and to have that hope that it will be fulfilled in our days, and if not in our days, ensure that the duty of watching for the prophecy is handed to another generation so that they may uphold it, watch it and observe for it like a watchman in a tower.  The danger with prophecy is that its fulfilment can occur without your knowledge even though you are expecting it.  Israel was expecting the promised Messiah, even the Lord they were seeking, to “suddenly… come to His temple.”[7]  Yet when He did come, when He did appear in His temple at Jerusalem and fulfilled all that was prophesied about Him, they still missed Him.

Thus, careful observation and continuous observation of a prophecy is not sufficient to detect the fulfilment of prophecy.  Central to the observation and upholding of prophecy, watching for it and believing for it, is the application of prophecy, living for it.

Two such persons who are examples of those who not only observed and upheld prophecy (watched and believed for it), but applied the prophecy (lived for it), are Simeon and Anna the prophetess.[8]  Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the fulfilment of God’s personal prophecy to him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  So what did Simeon do?  Wait in a cave in holy isolation and exclusion, fasting and praying, or wandering all over the countryside looking for the Christ?  No, he waited at the one place he knew the Christ must make His appearance according to the law:  Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord.[9]  He waited at the temple until Joseph and Mary, or whoever they may be, would bring the Christ child for consecration.  That meant Simeon lived near the temple, visited the temple and waited at the temple daily.  His whole life was dictated not only by what he was watching for or believing for, but by his application of what it meant to live for its fulfilment.  Likewise for the prophetess Anna, although we are not privy to her personal prophecy.

Application of prophecy then is central to ensuring that the observation and upholding of prophecy is not in vain.  In the Old Testament, Joshua served as one who learnt not only to observe and uphold prophecy, but to apply it.  For this was the prophecy about him given to Moses and Aaron:  Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.”[10]  Joshua applied that prophecy to his life by sticking closer to Moses than Caleb did.  Indeed, we can say Moses discipled Joshua so that when it was time for God to anoint someone to lead Israel, Joshua was chosen.  Joshua started as Moses’ aide,[11] and he never stopped being Moses’ aide, especially when he realised only he and Caleb would be left alive.

You see, when Joshua first came out of Egypt, he just followed Moses and became his aide because he was a keen young man, keen to serve, but really he had no idea where Moses was taking them, much less God.  Joshua at this stage is like every Christian.  We get saved, released from our Egypt, and we experience the love of God.  So we have a zeal to follow our Moses who usually is our pastor, until we get to meet with the Lord.  Like Joshua, we go through the ups and downs of church life until one day we hear a prophetic revelation that tells us we are meant for more than what there appears to be for the general body.  For Joshua, it was the time after the failure of the first generation when he heard the prophetic word about him and Caleb in Numbers 14:30.  From that moment on, Joshua must have secretly trained and prepared himself for the day he would be the elder of Israel alongside with Caleb, the only two of the first generation who would cross into the Promised Land with Moses.  Joshua was not to know what Moses’ fate would be, but he knew what his fate was to be— and he so prepared himself that God was able to choose him as Moses’ successor.

Not convinced yet that Joshua is the one who can teach us the basics of application of prophecy?  In the years that Moses discipled Joshua, or perhaps Moses never discipled Joshua but Joshua served Moses and listened and observed Moses, Joshua himself must have realised Moses was a true prophet.  That which he said will happen happened; from the manna from Heaven[12] to the destruction of Korah and his friends.[13]

So when Moses gave his farewell preach to Israel in Deuteronomy, to the children of the first generation, Joshua heard these words:  When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, ‘Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,’”[14] Joshua knew that the Israelites would one day ask for a king.  So he prepared himself to be that king in case the Israelites of his day should ask for a king.  In his preparation, in his application of prophecy, Joshua, in the presence of the Israelites (at Mount Ebal) copied on stones the law of Moses, which he had written[15] in fulfilment of the instructions of Moses:  “when he, the king, takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites.”[16]

Joshua so prepared himself for that possibility that the Israelites would fulfil Moses’ prophecy in his lifetime, that they would set a king over themselves, that instead of writing the law on a scroll, which could be lost, he wrote it on stone in front of all Israel.  He showed Israel that if they ever wanted a king, he was ready.  That is application of prophecy.  He knew that they would one day want to have a king, so he applied it to his life and fulfilled the requirement needed for the coronation by writing out the whole law on stone, before the Israelites even thought of it.

Even when he was old and about to die without being made a king, because during his days Moses’ prophecy that the Israelites would ask for a king was not fulfilled, and his preparation appeared to have been in vain, he was still able to not only observe and uphold prophecy, but to apply it to the Israelites.  What would they be like when he was gone?  He knew, for Moses had said, “I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you,[17] so that Joshua was able to confidently say this, “You are not able to serve the Lord.  He is a holy God; He is a jealous God.”[18]

How could Joshua say such words as he farewelled the people?  Because he knew the prophecies of Moses would surely come to pass, for he was a true prophet.  Joshua applied the prophetic word of Moses as a warning to his people and managed to impress on them to continue to serve the Lord a little longer— until all the elders who out lived him had also died and a new generation grew up.[19]  Joshua did what he could; he could do no more.  He observed and upheld the prophetic words of God and Moses, and applied them to himself and to Israel.  Although he did not get himself crowned king, he did manage to eke out a few more years of obedience from Israel.  He could do no more.  He also encouraged Israel to keep attacking more land because he knew the whole of the Promised Land had not yet been taken.

So then, what can we learn from Joshua as we serve our Moses and our Aaron, our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit?  First, we must listen so we can hear the prophecy and retain it in our hearts until we understand it and persevere with it, waiting for it like a seed planted in good soil to bear fruit.  The words of Jesus are prophetic because His testimony is the spirit of prophecy.

The observation and upholding of His word is the listening and the practice of His words until we develop the expertise to apply it.  The application of the words of Jesus is like the farmer who harvests the yield of 30, 60, 100 fold and replants some, stores some, mills some, gives away some, and even sells some.  Application of the word comes from what you learn to do with what you have listened (heard) and practised.  That is why, without obedience to the command, no application is possible.


 

[1] Revelation 19:10

[2] John 16:13

[3] Isaiah 7:14

[4] Mark 12:27; Luke 20:38

[5] Jonah 3:4

[6] Mathew 1:20-21

[7] Malachi 3:1

[8] Luke 2:25-38

[9] Exodus 13:2,12

[10] Numbers 14:30

[11] Exodus 17:9; Numbers 11:28

[12] Exodus 16

[13] Numbers 16

[14] Deuteronomy 17:14

[15] Joshua 8:32

[16] Deuteronomy 17:18

[17] Deuteronomy 31:29

[18] Joshua 24:19

[19] Judges 2:6-11

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