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From my very first days as a Christian, the Lord embedded me in the Pentecostal/Charismatic church, and I thank Him for it. In my years there, I heard many prophecies. I can remember almost nothing of those given publicly, but I would say that most of them—perhaps all of them—were encouraging and uplifting. As I have continued to learn Scripture, however, I found that my position on the nature of prophecy has changed. In both the Old and New Testaments, prophecies are not always encouraging and uplifting. On a personal note, this was gratifying as well, since most of the prophecies or words I had been given were not positive.

Pentecostals/Charismatics today hold to the position that prophecies are positive, I think, because of this passage:

The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church (1 Corinthians 14:4). 1

However, I now think that we have misunderstood the complete meaning of prophecy.

Prophecy is both negative and positive.

The negative usually comes first.

For example, all throughout the book of Jeremiah, the Lord told the prophet many times that He was going to send sword, famine, and pestilence upon Judah because they had forsaken Him. However, He often pronounced positives like this:

Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD (Jeremiah 23:3–4).

Bad news. Good news.

Terrible, suffering news. Good news, which ultimately builds up the Church because it brings hope to the sufferer, letting us know that He is the true sovereign of history and the Church. Thus, it’s true that prophecy is for the building up of the saints.

This truth brings us to another suffering, terrible word from Jeremiah that should make Christians more than a little uncomfortable. I was shaken when the truth of it was made known to me.

And when they ask you, ‘Where shall we go?’ you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD: “‘Those who are for pestilence, to pestilence, and those who are for the sword, to the sword; those who are for famine, to famine, and those who are for captivity, to captivity’” (Jeremiah 15:2).

God’s sovereign will is revealed here. If you’re destined for pestilence, for sword, for famine, or for captivity, that is what will happen to you. When we read this, we just think, “Wow. Those Jews in Judah really blew it when they disobeyed God. They were destined for pestilence, the sword, and famine.”

Well, it is more than that, because not all the Jews had forsaken God; nevertheless, all suffered this disquieting sovereign judgment. This should make Christians more than a tad uncomfortable because it is echoed in the Book of Revelation, and it concerns Christian believers. Look for the same words the Lord gave Jeremiah: captivity and sword. The “it” who makes war on the saints refers to a being that is called the “first beast.”

Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. If anyone has an ear, let him hear: If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints (Revelation 13:7–10).

But then comes the positive. The end of the book of Revelation.

But believers will suffer before that ending. Bad news. Good news. The marriage supper of the Lamb. The new heaven and earth. The New Jerusalem.

Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Evangelicals may say, “We shall not suffer in this way. We are God’s children.”

But look at this passage from Ezekiel:

And the word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 14:12–14).

Do you see the words, “when a land”? The Lord is not addressing Israel or Judah here. Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in this “land,” they would also suffer famine along with everyone else.

The Lord has some bad times coming for believers. Then some eternally wonderful positive-beyond-imagination times.

This is the nature of true prophecy.

Fellow believer, strengthen your relationship with the Lord. Stay awake. Strengthen your faith. Prepare to endure.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

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