Has someone ever given you an accurate personal prophecy once, but then later given you an inaccurate or clearly false one? Are you confused about the failure of many considered to be prophets in predicting the outcome of the last US presidential election? Were they false prophets from the beginning? 

The Bible makes a clear distinction between false and genuine prophets but says very little about losing or corrupting a genuine prophetic gift. Can it be lost? And if so, why? 

Many years ago, a well-known prophetic leader gave us a remarkably accurate prophetic exhortation, which helped our church to make an important decision that had lasting positive outcomes. But today, most of the prophecies this person gives are clearly nonsense and some demonstrably false. It seems clear that the prophetic authority over that ministry has been lost. 

Many false prophets were con artists from the beginning. They never had the prophetic gift. But others appear to have had a prophetic gift once. 

Some believe that God will never remove any gifts, basing this on Romans 11:29, which says, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable”. But the context makes it clear that this applies first and foremost to Israel that will one day return to God.  

But Hebrews 6:4-6 says, 

For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, since on their own they are crucifying again the Son of God and are holding him up to contempt. 

According to Hebrews, it is possible to fall away from a genuine experience and life in the Holy Spirit.  

And the prophetic gift is not haphazard, giving inconsistent results. In the Bible, any word from God will be fulfilled even when its fulfilment seems to be delayed.  

Ezekiel 12:25 says, “But I the Lord will speak the word that I speak, and it will be fulfilled.” 

Habakkuk 2:3 says, “For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, It will not tarry.” 

I have given prophecies which have taken over twenty years to even begin to be fulfilled. But when they have begun their fulfilment, they have been proven 100% precise.  

We know Jeremiah as a genuine prophet. But for most of his life many would have perceived him as a false prophet.  

Jeremiah 25:3 says, “For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah, to this day, the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened.” 

Jeremiah prophesied for 23 years, and nothing that he said was taking place. But then destruction came suddenly on Jerusalem. We must be humble and patient regarding prophecies that don’t have a clear expiration date. But on the other hand, if a prophecy has a clear date for fulfilment, such as a prophecy about Trump winning the second term in 2020, we should not seek to “re-date” it afterwards to take place in 2024, as the precise date was an integral part of the prophecy. 

Some say that according to the Old Testament, false prophets were stoned. But that was not the case.  

Deuteronomy 18:22 says, “If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.” 

But Deuteronomy 13:1-4 says,  

If prophets or those who divine by dreams appear among you and promise you omens or portents,  and the omens or the portents declared by them take place, and they say, “Let us follow other gods” (whom you have not known) “and let us serve them,” you must not heed the words of those prophets or those who divine by dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you indeed love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul. The Lord your God you shall follow, him alone you shall fear, his commandments you shall keep, his voice you shall obey, him you shall serve, and to him you shall hold fast. But those prophets or those who divine by dreams shall be put to death for having spoken treason against the Lord your God—who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery—to turn you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. 

An unfulfilled prediction led to a loss of prophetic authority whereas deceiving to worship idols even when a prophecy was fulfilled, was punishable by death. 

This is the main reason why from the year 2015 onwards I have consistently said that the prophecies declaring Trump’s victory are false prophecies, even when some of them seem to have been fulfilled in 2016. The reason is simple: from the beginning, the Trump prophecies have encouraged idolatry.  

It doesn’t matter if someone gets their prediction right if the prediction encourages idolatry, “for the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you indeed love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.”  

Some seek to reduce the New Testament standards for prophetic accuracy, basing it on 1 Corinthians 13:9, which says that we prophesy in part. But partial does not mean imprecise, only that we rarely receive all parts of the prophetic jigsaw puzzle in one go. But a part will still be precise. 

How can we lose prophetic authority? 

As Deuteronomy implies, there are main two sources for false prophecy: demonic and our imagination. We must defend ourselves against demonic influences through developing the gift of discerning spirits. I have taught about that a lot elsewhere. But it has struck me recently that I have taught very little about presumption.   

Jeremiah 23:16-18 says,  

Thus says the Lord of hosts: Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you; they are deluding you. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise the word of the Lord, “It shall be well with you”; and to all who stubbornly follow their own stubborn hearts, they say, “No calamity shall come upon you.” For who has stood in the council of the Lord so as to see and to hear his word? Who has given heed to his word so as to proclaim it? 

At the heart of presumption is a misunderstanding about the essence of prophecy. Often, this misunderstanding is born through observing charismatic culture. The misunderstanding is to perceive prophecy primarily as the art of proclaiming rather than the art of abiding in the presence of God.  

Often, people ask me for a prophecy on the spot. Their expectation is that because I have the prophetic gift, I should be able to use that gift to proclaim a prophecy spontaneously at any given moment. But in fact, I might have not had the time to use the prophetic gift of abiding in the presence of God at all.  

Sometimes, we must abide in the presence of the Lord for someone before we can give them a prophecy.  

1 Samuel 9-10 accounts how Saul was anointed to be the king. God had already revealed to Samuel how Saul would approach him when looking for lost donkeys, and that Saul would be the first king of Israel. When Saul comes to Samuel, he receives an answer to his question about the lost donkeys even before he has the time to ask it. But Samuel asks Saul to stay overnight, and he anoints Saul to be king only in the morning.  

Why did he ask Saul to wait? I believe that Samuel abided in the presence of God for Saul through the night. He wanted to be dead certain that he would only say the right words.  

Samuel never rushed; he did not speed-prophesy; he did not respond to pressure. Because of that 1 Samuel 3:19 says that God never let any of Samuel’s words fail.  

In today’s church the prophetic people are often pressurised to hand out words on the spot, but unless we have abided in the presence of God, the correct application of the prophetic gift might be to remain silent. 

I have reflected on this issue of presumptive utterances for a while, and I believe that there are at least twelve factors that can make us vulnerable for speaking presumptuously.  

1. Fear 

No one is immune to fear. In Galatians 2:11-13 the apostle Paul confronts his friend Barnabas and the apostle Peter, because they have stopped eating with the Gentile Christians. Why? Because they feared the friends of James who had come from Jerusalem. 

The charismatic world is full of strong leaders who don’t always take kindly to disagreement. It is easy to be economical with your words when dealing with them. There is always a temptation to agree with them. Unfortunately, even silence can be perceived as agreement.  

2. Politeness to host ministry 

It is good to be polite with your host ministry. But prophetically gifted are read differently, and even general politeness can be perceived as prophecy. And any greetings by prophetically gifted are often repurposed to function as endorsements by a hosting ministry. Some of this might be unavoidable, but we must be careful not to let us be exploited by this dynamic. And more importantly, we should not seek to exploit it ourselves. 

Unfortunately, even a hello by prophetically gifted can be interpreted as prophetic.   

3. Greed 

Greed and the fear for a loss of income can cause prophetic people to lose their prophetic authority. Leaders control access to platforms, and platforms have the potential to generate income.  

It is easier to forget any uncomfortable words that God might have given to us and instead proclaim blessings and prosperity wherever we go. Many justify this tactic by referring to 1 Corinthians 14:3 which says that we prophesy for “upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.” According to these teachers, we should never proclaim anything negative or directional. But that is building a theory based on one verse and ignoring the vast biblical evidence about prophecy being often very confrontational. 

4. Not wanting to sound defeatist 

Imagine being invited to the opening of a new church building where you are expected to bless it, and just before you get on the platform, the Lord will tell you that the building will soon be destroyed in a fire and that no prayer could stop it. Would you declare that? Or would you instead prayer a prayer of prosperity and protection regardless? 

I was once asked to give a prophetic endorsement to a church programme publicly in a meeting. I could not say anything because I had no inner witness for it. That made me sound a defeatist, which led to immediate loss of popularity.  

It can be embarrassing to be the one in the room who is the least excited about a new venture. But just because we are Christians, it doesn’t automatically mean that everything we do will prosper.  

The Bible says that David and Joseph prospered in everything they did – but Joseph was in slavery and in prison, and David’s success led to persecution by King Saul and exile.  

5. Dominating mental framework  

A dominating mental framework, such as a strong church vision, can make us perceive every prophecy through that framework. For example, if you give a prophecy to someone about leadership, there would be a tendency to automatically apply it in the context of that church vision. 

But often, when I give a prophecy about leadership, it will trigger the recipient to go serve somewhere else.  

We should not automatically assume that a prophecy will be fulfilled within our current mental framework. This is an area where the evangelical church has failed massively in recent years, as many prophetically gifted have automatically applied a politically conservative mental framework. But God is above our party politics. 

6. Relying on other people’s anointing 

1 Chronicles 17:1-4 says, 

Now when David settled in his house, David said to the prophet Nathan, “I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the Lord is under a tent.” Nathan said to David, “Do all that you have in mind, for God is with you.” But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: You shall not build me a house to live in. 

In the first instance, Nathan relied on the anointing that David had over his life and assumed that David had consulted the Lord before saying that he wanted to build the temple for the Lord. 

Scenarios like these are very common in the charismatic movement not least because we have the cults of success and charismatic leadership. We tend to believe that God will automatically prosper everything that His servants want to do.  

But a prophetically gifted can’t automatically embrace other people’s visions or prophecies. Every prophetic word and vision must be inspected before we accept it. 

7. Not valuing words and the Word 

We tend to think that we are Bible-believing Christians, but our actions can reveal that we put very little weight on the Word.   

The evangelical church’s relationship with Trump reveals that we have become a post-truth Church where the Word and the words don’t matter. The nonchalant attitude to clearly false prophecies reveals that we don’t really put much weight on prophecy either.  

We live as if Jesus’s word in Matthew 12:36-37 didn’t really matter: “I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” 

But a prophetic movement not anchored in the Word will always go astray.  

8. Neglecting personal Bible study and devotional life 

We need to let the Word confront ourselves before we minister it to others. We need to seek the Lord and His presence for ourselves before we begin to minister to others. It is easy to forget this in a culture that worships stage performance.  

9. Shifting from anointing to positional authority 

When you are a newcomer to ministry, it might seem that every invitation to minister will come only through prayer and fasting! But at some point your call will begin to bear fruit, and people might begin to respect you as a leader. 

When people respect you, they will begin to respond to your position. But the great temptation is to begin to confuse spiritual authority with positional authority. If you are a leader, people will serve you, and the effects of your words can sometimes seem like a fulfilment of prophecy. 

In 2 Samuel 23:15 David longs for the water from Bethlehem, but the town is occupied by the Philistines. His men get the water for him by putting themselves at great personal danger. 

At this point, David understands that he has misused his authority and pours the water on the ground without drinking it. He realises that in the cup is the blood of his own men. 

Many churches in the West have been built by projecting a vision from stage, but the cost of the fulfilled vision has been the lives and the families of church members. But it all seems to work, as long as the church members are responding to your positional authority because they perceive it as anointed. 

10. Confusing speech acts with reality  

In Finnish language there is a word “taivaanrannanmaalari” which is often translated as a daydreamer, but the literary translation would be “someone who paints the horizon”. A horizon painter can paint a mighty vision with his words on stage and can even confuse his own speech act with the actual work.  Many a mission has already been accomplished on stage with words when nothing has been done yet.  

A taivaanrannanmaalari is well able to suffer martyrdom with their words and to bind every invisible principality on stage. Confusing speech acts with reality is endemic in the Church. But each prophetic word has a cost of fulfilment which is often paid with a lifetime of toiling and labour.  

11. Confusing imagination with prophecy and visions 

The prophetic process itself begins to transform how we perceive and process sounds and images. Whereas an untrained brain often discounts inner voices and mental images as irrational, the prophetically trained person begins to focus on the inner voices and images. This leads to a partial rewiring of our mental processes. 

This is not dissimilar to people who have taken a lot of mind-altering drugs or have experienced altered mental states in other religions or via the occult. Their neural wiring has often been permanently altered, and many who have come to faith from the drug culture continue to see images and hear voices, often confusing that with the prophetic. 

What happens if this rewired brain becomes disconnected from the work of the Holy Spirit? The tendency to look for images and hear voices remains.   

I have seen a handful of significant dreams which have directed my life over decades. Because of that I tend to reflect on every dream that I can remember when I wake up. But I don’t accept any dream automatically as a dream from God. I am open to that possibility. But the truth is that if I didn’t believe in prophetic dreams, I would not even try to remember most of my dreams.  

Most people discount many mental images that they see when they are awake. But prophetically attuned people begin to pay attention to them after they have seen one prophetic vision. But what happens if you have a vivid imagination?  

The same applies to hearing any inner voices. Listening prophetically to the Holy Spirit will also make our own inner voice sound louder.  

We can see how important it is to bring this our imagination back under the authority of the Word of God and its products to be processed in the presence of God. 

If we train and attune our inner faculties, they will also begin to map our own mental processes or even worse, begin to receive messages from demonic sources. There are many ministers today that are confusing their own inner voice with the voice of God.  

12. Living in rebellion  

Pastors and ministers are well able to live in rebellion against God whilst preaching Christian principles from the pulpit. Our words might be in agreement with the Word of God whilst our lives are in rebellion against it. 

I have seen leaders who live in wilful disobedience lose their discernment and begin to perceive their own inner being as the source of divine inspiration.  

The streams of the living water – the Holy Spirit – flow from our inner being. When we learn that we begin to be attentive to our inner being. But what happens when the flow of the Holy Spirit is obstructed, but we continue to be attentive to our inner being? 

Can we recover from the loss of prophetic authority?  

Most Christians know King Ahab as the evil husband of Queen Jezebel who was the prophet Elijah’s archenemy.  

But 1 Kings 21:25-29 says,  

(Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord, urged on by his wife Jezebel. He acted most abominably in going after idols, as the Amorites had done, whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.) When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in the sackcloth, and went about dejectedly. Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster on his house.” 

King Ahab repented. But he was still mortally wounded in a battle according to a prophecy by Elijah. Spiritual restoration is possible, but we will often still suffer some of the consequences of our actions. 

If you have lost your prophetic authority, regaining it will take time, but it might be possible through the process of repentance. 

You can connect with Marko on Twitter @markojoensuu and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mpjoensuu/ or by visiting markojoensuu.com. 

 

Many Christians associate Revelation with the figure of the Antichrist, but in fact, the Antichrist is not mentioned in Revelation at all. 

For example, a prominent Bible study site interprets the “beast rising out of the sea” in Revelation 13:1 to be the Antichrist. But is this interpretation consistent with what Revelation itself reveals about the beast? Is it consistent with the way the Bible defines a beast? 

We will proceed from part—one verse—to the whole: from Revelation to the totality of the Bible. And we will soon discover that in the Bible, beasts tend to be empires rather than individuals. 

Revelation is continuation of the Book of Daniel, and to Daniel, beasts are empires. This means that a theory about the beast in Revelation 13:1 being the Antichrist is probably wrong, because a beast is an empire and not a person.

Others link the person behind 666, the number of the beast, mentioned in Revelation 13:18, to the Antichrist, making him some sort of final and evil end-time world ruler.

But I do not think that this interpretation can be easily justified. The reason is that the only books in the Bible that use the word “antichrist” are 1 and 2 John. If you accept that the author of Revelation is the same apostle John who also wrote John’s letters in the New Testament, you will be faced with a major dilemma, as John seems to refute the teaching about one Antichrist as an end-time world ruler in his letters.

He writes in 1 John 2:18-19:

Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us.

In his letters, John gives us a very different definition of an antichrist than most Christians who are searching for the Antichrist today. For John, an antichrist is a false teacher who used to be part of a Christian community.

How could John define an antichrist as a false teacher in his letters and then proceed to present one Antichrist as an end-time world leader in Revelation—but without ever using that term? As an explanation, many liberal scholars would argue that the book, the letters, and the Gospel all have different authors, but I do not think we need to make that conclusion.

And there is no reason to make an effort to save the idea of one Antichrist, as historical context makes it quite clear that John was responding in his letters to a present threat in the minds of many Christians. What he was refuting was a teaching about the Roman emperor as the Antichrist.

Josephus, a Jewish historian, who led the Jewish forces against the Romans in Galilee in the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War (AD 66-73), which led to the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, writes in The Jewish War (6.5.4.312) about messianic prophecies that stirred the rebellion:

At about that time, one from their country would become ruler of the habitable world.

At this point, Josephus had already switched on to the Roman side, and he was explaining the Roman victory some years after the destruction of the Second Temple. It appears that he had become disillusioned about the messianic prophecies and was actively repurposing them for the Roman use. So, Josephus, a Jew, loses his faith in the Jewish messianic project after he had been captured by the Romans in Judea.

He then makes the claim that this messiah that the Jews were still expecting was in fact the general Vespasian who would be proclaimed the emperor whilst in Judea. It was Vespasian’s son Titus who would destroy Jerusalem and the Second Temple, whilst Vespasian would return to Rome to become the emperor, “fulfilling” the prophecy about the world ruler coming out of Judea.

According to Eusebius (Church History, Book III, Chapter 12), Vespasian then ordered all descendants of the royal line of David to be hunted down to ensure that no one else could claim this prophecy.

This is the beginning of the antichrist myth; it seems that Vespasian harnessed Josephus’s lucky prediction about him becoming the emperor to be used as propaganda.

This has also been documented by the Roman historians. Suetonius writes in The Life of Twelve Caesars: Life of Vespasian 5.6 about Vespasian in Judea:

When he consulted the oracle of the god of Carmel in Judaea, the lots were highly encouraging, promising that whatever he planned or wished however great it might be, would come to pass; and one of his high-born prisoners, Josephus by name, as he was being put in chains, declared most confidently that he would soon be released by the same man, who would then, however, be emperor.

Over the next few years, the myth about one ruler that would rise in Judea would spread over the whole Roman Empire. What John is saying in 1 John 2:18-19 is that the Christians have heard that an Antichrist—the Roman emperor—has come. But John is refuting the whole idea that the emperor would be the Antichrist. Instead, what he is saying is that the many antichrists in the world are in fact false teachers who have once been part of the Christian community.

1 John 2:22 says:

Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. 

The recipients of the letter were waiting for one political Antichrist; instead, there would be many theological antichrists. It seems that the apostle John perceived false teachers to be much more detrimental to the Church than persecution by the whole Roman Empire.

Is it not rather odd that John does not mention an antichrist at all in Revelation—the most prophetic book of the New Testament—but he mentions him in a letter written to his contemporaries where he seems to argue against one Antichrist? This should inspire us to study the Scriptures more seriously.

For more on the topic, please read my new book Understanding Revelation. 

You can connect with Marko on Twitter @markojoensuu and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mpjoensuu/ or by visiting markojoensuu.com. 

 

When contemporary prophets get a prophecy wrong, as happened recently with the prophecies regarding Trump winning the second term, a common defence is that neither did Agabus get his prophecy to Paul entirely right in Acts 21:10-11. This is because Agabus prophesied that the Jews would bind Paul, and release him to the Gentiles, when it seems that, in fact, it was the Gentiles who put him in chains, rather than the Jews.

According to this defence, this proves that the requirements for the accuracy of prophetic words in the Church today are lower than in the Old Testament, hence getting a prophecy wrong doesn’t automatically mean that someone giving a false prophecy should be called a false prophet, and that we should continue to submit to the words by those who have given us a false prophecy.  

But it seems to me that Agabus’s word to Paul was 100% accurate, although it is often misunderstood today.


Repentance from false words

The Old Testament standard for prophecy can be found in Deuteronomy 18:20-22, which says, 

But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak—that prophet shall die.” You may say to yourself, “How can we recognize a word that the Lord has not spoken?”  If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord but the thing does not take place or prove true, it is a word that the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; do not be frightened by it.

When a contemporary prophet gets a word wrong, the defence, based on the account of Agabus, is that Agabus was still recognised as a true prophet even when his word was inaccurate. According to this argument, a contemporary prophets should still be able to retain their office as a prophet, even if their prophesies turned out to be false.  

But is that what the Bible teaches? Does God give inaccurate words to us? I don’t think that is the case even in the case of Agabus.

Our reading in Deuteronomy acknowledges that a prophet can speak “presumptuously”. This means that they have not truly received a word from the Lord. This gives us some clarity. God never gives us inaccurate prophetic words. His words will always come to pass. But in the case of being “presumptuous”, someone we think is a prophet has spoken their own ideas.

So, the Old Testament standard is that anyone who gives a false prophecy should not be taken seriously as a prophet.

There is a way out of a prophetic failure, thankfully. It is called repentance. To certain extent, even the Old Testament prophets could repent.

In Jeremiah 15, the prophet has grown weary of the words that God had asked him to deliver. He complains in self-pity. God responds to him in verse 19: 

If you turn back, I will take you back, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall serve as my mouth.

 But because of the excuse based on Agabus, the contemporary prophets never really feel the need to repent. For example, after the very public failure of hundreds of prophets with their Trump prophecies, only a handful of them have repented publicly of their very public false prophecies. In fact, some have even said that they should never apologise. 

But what if Agabus’s words were 100% accurate? Then this excuse based on Agabus’s failure would not be valid. And it seems to me that Agabus’s prophecy was 100% accurate, but many have misunderstood the purpose of his prophecy, as they don't place Agabus's prophecy in the proper context of the story in Acts. 

Paul knew that he would be imprisoned in Jerusalem even before Agabus’s prophecy.

When Paul was in Miletus, he invited the leaders of the Ephesian church there. He said to them in Acts 20:22-24: 

And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.

In every city, Paul received a prophetic word regarding him being imprisoned. What we don't know is if Paul received these words only personally from the Holy Spirit, or if other prophets had already confirmed this internal witness of the Holy Spirit before Agabus.

The main purpose of Agabus’s prophetic word was not to describe the exact physical way Paul would be treated by the Jews, but that Paul would survive the maltreatment by the Jews he already anticipated. 

Paul’s reaction to Agabus’s prophecy was very different from his friends.

What we often forget is that even when Agabus’s prophecy was given publicly, it was still a personal prophecy given to Paul, and it was Paul who was supposed to interpret it.

In Acts 21:12-14, we see two very different reactions to Agabus’s prophecy: 

When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, “The Lord’s will be done.”

Why was Paul’s reaction be so different from the others? 

The reason is simple. He was probably the only one in the group who had the Roman citizenship. And he knew that he was entitled to a fair trial with the Romans. He knew that he would be a lot safer in the hands of the Romans than in the hands of the Jews!

Agabus told Paul not to worry.  Paul would survive the anticipated maltreatment in the hands of the Jews, and he would be handed to the Romans, who would be obliged to give him a fair trial.

We can see that Paul was very aware of that in Acts 22:25 when he was about to be flogged by the Roman soldiers: 

Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who is uncondemned?”

So, what Paul’s friends perceived to be a discouraging word was in fact a word of encouragement.

Those who conclude that Agabus prophesied inaccurately are looking at the wrong thing.

Acts 21:10-11 gives us the account of Agabus’s prophecy. 

While we were staying there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us and took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”

Traveling from Judea to Caesarea where Paul was at the time would have been quite a lengthy journey. It might have taken Agabus two or three days to walk this distance. So, Agabus did put quite an effort in to release these words. He had plenty of time to ensure that he could get his words right.

The main reason why many perceive Agabus’s prophecy as inaccurate is the account of Paul’s arrest in Acts 21:27-36.

When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd. They seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. Then all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. While they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. Immediately he took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. When they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the tribune came, arrested him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; he inquired who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing, some another; and as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. When Paul came to the steps, the violence of the mob was so great that he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, “Away with him!”

The argument for Agabus’s prophecy being inaccurate is based on that there is no indication that the Jews would have bound Paul. They were trying to kill him. But it was the Romans who put Paul in chains. So, presumably, Agabus got his prophecy partially wrong.

But that is not the case, as Agabus was following the exact ministry model of the Old Testament prophets, and this was a highly symbolic act.

Let me ask one question: why did Agabus take Paul’s belt? Why didn’t he take just any belt and say that Paul would be bound this way? Was there no other way to identify Paul?

No. It had to be Paul’s belt.

As an outcome of this whole scenario, Paul would eventually appeal to the emperor, and he would be taken to Rome where he would write the letter to the Ephesians.

In Ephesians 6:14 he writes about standing firm with the “belt of truth” buckled firmly around the waist.  By the time of writing about the belt to the Ephesians, he has had plenty of time to reflect on the meaning of the word “belt”. 

Put simply, what Agabus’s prophecy meant is that it was Paul’s own words, his preaching of the truth to the Jews that would cause him to be handed over to the Gentiles. Rather than discouraging Paul, Agabus’s words gave him the confidence to enter Jerusalem and attend the temple, with the prophetic foreknowledge that he would not be killed, but that the Romans would save him.

So, what would have been a discouraging word for every non-citizen was an encouraging to a Roman citizen. Paul knew that at some point, he would be able to exercise his rights as a Roman citizen and find a way out from the very dangerous situation that he would be in.

So, Agabus's prophecy was 100% fulfilled. And Paul's letter to the Ephesians shows that at some point Paul understood the whole message.

So, it appears to me that there is no reason to lower the standard for prophetic accuracy in the church today because of Agabus. 

You can connect with Marko on Twitter @markojoensuu and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mpjoensuu/ or by visiting markojoensuu.com. 

The Book of Revelation itself provides a consistent interpretive framework for itself, which, with some help of knowing history and trust in the validity of biblical prophecy, manages to explain itself rather well.

Following hermeneutical principles, I would suggest following these interpretive guidelines when you study Revelation.

1. Revelation gives plenty of guidance on how to interpret itself. 

It is the first place to look when explaining it. For example, in Revelation 10:2, a mighty angel comes down from heaven and holds a little scroll in his hand. It should be clear to a careful reader that a little scroll begins a new prophecy.

Revelation 1:8 says that God is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. This implies that Revelation majors in beginnings and endings.

Revelation 1:1 says that the book is about what “must soon take place.” Then in Revelation 4:1, a voice says to John: “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.”

So, Revelation is not just about beginning and endings, but also about things that will happen soon after John has seen the visions.

But in Revelation 1:19 Jesus says to John: “Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this.”

Putting this all together, it seems clear that part of Revelation concerns of things which had already happened at the time John saw the visions. These belong to the things which are.

So, Revelation interprets the past and how we got where John was at the time of seeing the visions.

Revelation tells about events that were happening at the time John saw the visions. These also belong to the things which are.

Revelation predicts what is about to happen. And then it predicts what will happen after what is about to happen. These belong to things that will take place after the time of seeing the vision. And then it predicts events which will happen in the end-times.

Based on this, much of Revelation would already have taken place within John’s lifetime, and some of it quite soon after that. This might challenge your understanding of Revelation, but that is what Jesus says Himself in Revelation.

For some, a thought that a book of prophecy might explain the past might seem contradictory. But it is not. Revelation gives us God’s perspective on the purpose of all time. God is the Great Storyteller, and He knows that for us to understand what will happen, we need to understand what has already taken place, and how we got where we are.

But we should not lose sight of Revelation 1:1, which says that the book concerns of what must soon take place. This means that the main emphasis of the book is prophetic and not simply reinterpreting the past or the present, and that many developments shown should begin shortly after John seeing the visions.

The e-book is out now.
The paperback will be released in April 2021.


2. The first reference point outside Revelation is the Old Testament. 

Scholars have counted over two hundred references in Revelation to the Old Testament texts (Lo 1999, 2-3). Most of these are references to the Old Testament’s prophetic books. Altogether, there might be over five hundred allusions to the Old Testament.

This means that it would be foolish to study Revelation without also studying the Old Testament. With so many references to the Old Testament, Revelation clearly invites us to study the Jewish Bible. It is the Old Testament, rather than the New Testament, which functions as the main reference point. The reason for this is clear: the New Testament canon had not been compiled at the time of writing. Although most books and letters ending up as part of the New Testament would already have been written, they would not have been widely available.

But Revelation goes a lot further than that. It is evident that John sees Revelation as a continuation of the work of the Old Testament prophets, even the summary and the explainer of it. Revelation contains new predictive prophecies, but it also explains the Old Testament prophecies.

Revelation makes references to nearly all prophetic books in the Old Testament, and each reference is an invitation to read not just the exact reference but also the surrounding verses. These references function much like hyperlinks, so that we should read Revelation by going back and forth from Revelation to the Old Testament books if we need more clarity.

By and large, Revelation is a book that expands, explains, and continues the Old Testament prophecy. For example, when it comes to the beast, Revelation continues from where Daniel ends.

As Revelation relies so heavily on the Old Testament prophetic books, a sensible approach would be to assess whether it also follows their structure. For example, Jeremiah is structured cyclically as a series of gradually developing wailings about Jerusalem’s impending destruction, so its prophecies are not sequenced chronologically but hermeneutically, as Jeremiah seeks to understand the first shocking revelation and his own call, which leads him to a deeper understanding. So, it would be a mistake to read Jeremiah as a singular chronologically structured prophecy. The same applies to Revelation.

3. Symbolism in Revelation follows the conventions developed by the Old Testament prophetic books.

Revelation is a profoundly symbolic book, but there are no randomly chosen symbols. There is very little in the book that is literal, and at the same time, it does refer to real historical events.

Revelation is not one chronological account of world events. In fact, it contains multiple visions of the past, present, and future, looked at from different perspectives. To understand Revelation, you must seek to understand prophetic language, principles, and visionary symbolism. Here my approach is not entirely scholarly, as my ministry and gifting in this area have somewhat directed my interpretation. But unless you understand the language of dreams and visions, it is very hard to understand a book full of visions. But this does not entitle us to haphazard interpretations.

These interpretations must still be supported by the Scriptures, reasonability, and history.

According to Bailey, prophetic literature can use forms such as step parallelism, inverted parallelism, and ring composition (2011, 40-42) in short passages of Scripture. We do not need to get too technical here; the main point is that prophetic writing is not always written chronologically, but the following verses can reinforce the message of the previous verses rather than account events in linear or chronological fashion.

As a journalist, I am used to writing articles that do not outline the narrative in chronological order but move back and forth temporally to reinforce an argument, with the headline often working both as a premise and a conclusion. So, non-chronological ordering of texts should not be unfamiliar to anyone who reads the news.

4. Interpretation of symbols should be consistent and not haphazard. 

The symbolic system of Revelation is not haphazard but precise. Yet many scholars and Bible teachers interpret the symbols haphazardly.

For example, when Revelation 7:3 refers to the seal of God on the forehead of His servants, most readers would interpret this to be an invisible seal. Yet, when Revelation 13:16-18 speaks about the mark of the beast, many expect this mark to be a physical mark. That is not consistent but haphazard interpretation of symbols. It does not conform with the symbolic system of Revelation. In fact, from the beginning to the end of the book, Revelation is painstakingly building a complex but consistent symbolic system, and this system is meant to guide a reader’s interpretation of the book.

5. The next reference point after the Old Testament prophets should be the rest of the Old Testament and the New Testament. 

For example, when in Revelation 15:3 the saints sing the Song of Moses, it refers to the Song of Moses in Deuteronomy 32. To establish the meaning of the Song of Moses in Revelation, the most sensible thing to do is to read Deuteronomy 32 first.

But John is also writing to congregations that would have been at least reasonably familiar with Paul’s teaching, as Paul established the church of Ephesus. Hence Paul’s letters to Asia Minor can often give us useful contextual information and clues. This referencing to the Old Testament is deeply ingrained in Revelation. As early as in the third century, Dionysius of Alexandria complained about John’s poor use of Greek, saying that he employed barbarous idioms. But many irregularities occur because Revelation carries over the exact grammatical form of the Old Testament wording, with this intended dissonance being used as a literary technique to get the reader to see the Old Testament connection more clearly. (Beale 1999, 318-321)

6. You cannot understand Revelation without some knowledge of history. 

If Revelation is the book of the Alpha and the Omega, the beginnings and the endings, and what happens between, you will not be able to understand it without at least some understanding of history. How do you separate what has already happened from what is yet to happen, unless you know what has already happened?

As the Old Testament prophecies about the destruction of Israel and Judah demonstrate, God cares deeply about every generation, and not just about ours. Not every Bible prophecy is a prophecy about the end-times, with many Bible prophecies already being fulfilled in the time of Jesus.

7. You cannot understand Revelation unless you acknowledge that at least some of its content is prophecy. 

Revelation is a profoundly prophetic book. Much of the historical study of it assumes that there is no actual prophecy in it with scholars perceiving it merely as symbolic commentary of John’s own time. But although our understanding of the first century history is extremely useful, it fails to explain the whole of Revelation.

References:

Bailey, Kenneth E. Paul Through Mediterranean Eyes: Cultural Studies in 1 Corinthians. S.l.: SPCK Publishing, 2011.

Lo, Wei, and Wei Luo. Ezekiel in Revelation: Literary and Hermeneutic Aspects. University of Edinburgh, 1999.

Understanding Revelation is out as Kindle ebook and available as paperback from April 2021.

You can connect with Marko on Twitter @markojoensuu and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mpjoensuu/ or by visiting markojoensuu.com. 
There is hardly anything more destructive that can happen to prophetic ministry than applying marketing methods to it, especially during this time of instant messaging via social media, coupled with a delusive idea that every prophetic word and spiritual experience should be shared with everyone.

It is common to see prophetic ministers to share dreams they have seen only the night before. That doesn't give much time to process them in prayer. Recently, a prophetic minister repeated word for word what, according to him, a demon had told him about the devil’s strategies just a few hours earlier – when further reflection should have revealed that you should never believe what you hear from an ambassador of the father of lies!  

In our marketing-driven world there are clear financial incentives for sharing any spiritual experiences. You might not be able to sell the prophecy or spiritual experience itself, but it is possible to make money out of the ancillary products – books, teaching series, training courses etc.  

In this process of merchandising many seem to make a doctrine out of a singular spiritual experience. This is the origin of many Charismatic heresies – making a general principle out of one experience, so that it becomes an ironclad doctrine, leading millions astray. 

Perhaps there was once a singular Jezebel spirit, but if the first prophetic minister who encountered it did his or her job, that singular spirit should have been cast out to hell long time ago, and there would be no need for a whole industry of books and videos about this one demonic spirit!  

It is another issue altogether if there might be billions of demonic spirits operating in a similar way than the alleged Jezebel spirit as part of their arsenal against us, but that wouldn’t make as good a book title.  

And the marketing principle of differentiation goes on with Absalom spirits, squid spirits and all sorts of other spirits taking over the mind of a Charismatic prophet and releasing a wave of new heresies. The trouble is that even if some of these ideas would be based on a valid spiritual experience, teaching about them could be harmful simply because the recipients of that teaching might not have the spiritual maturity to combat these spirits. 

Jude 8-10 teaches that those who talk about demonic spirits without the necessary spiritual maturity will end up destroying themselves: 
Likewise, also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries. Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. 
I learnt early on that talking about my spiritual journey is not necessarily beneficial to everyone. God gave me so many prophetic words and visions regarding the way I would meet my wife. We have now been married for over twenty-four years. But even with all these visions and prophetic words, I still prayed for three months intensively before I asked her out to ensure that it was God’s will. Someone else heard the story, and she got excited. She got married and they divorced in three months! It took her the same time to get to the point of divorce than it took me to pray in preparation for asking my wife out! 

Thus, we can see that mere excitement about these matters isn’t enough. There are many spiritual secrets that can only be shared with those who are spiritually mature. 

And some spiritual experiences you might not be allowed to share with anyone. Ever. 

In my experience, prophetic secrets can be extremely powerful in life and ministry. They retain their power only because you don’t share them. Of course, there are many prophetic words and visions that we must share after proper scrutiny with that scrutiny often taking a lot of time. At other times, you must be able to share them immediately. The only way to know what to do is to retain an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit and to keep studying the Word. 

By and large, Jesus’s command to shout what we have heard from Him in secret from the rooftops isn’t applicable to the prophetic ministry. 

I want to take you to a short journey through the Bible regarding different situations where it might be necessary to stay silent about what we have experienced. 

Daniel and the devil’s dark secrets 

Daniel 1:17 says, “As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” 

As this is Babylon, this wisdom would have included all sorts of books on the occult and witchcraft. Yet, we don’t hear anything about their content. But it is likely that having to read through all that stuff would have helped Daniel to develop a very sharp gift of discerning spirits, so that he would have been able to separate what was useful in governing Babylon from the destructive demonic doctrines, because in the Babylonian culture it would all have been mixed. 

Only God knows how much Daniel’s mind would have been attacked by demonic beings in this process; but because he had the Holy Spirit as his helper, it helped him to discern between God-given, soulish and demonic dreams and visions. 

In the Book of Daniel, we learn very little about his internal struggles in an environment that was deeply infected with witchcraft. Daniel would have encountered it daily, but it didn’t seem useful to him to share the knowledge they had accumulated regarding the demonic culture.  

And the same applies to Moses and Joseph who were both deeply aware of the witchcraft of Egypt. They all seemed focused on telling us about God’s work instead. 

There are many spiritual experiences with the demonic realm I will never share with anyone. There are others that I will only share with people who desperately need advice on something they are already encountering. For other people, hearing about them could be destructive, as perhaps, they might try to apply methodically what can only be applied by with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

Jeremiah’s reluctant judgements 

Jeremiah 20:9 says, 
Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name.” But His word was in my heart like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not. 
The prophet Jeremiah was reluctant to utter the judgements over Jerusalem. He hoped that they could somehow be averted. But in the end, the presence of God over him became so heavy that the only way to be released from the pressure was to release the words. 

And that’s the way it should be with most words of judgement. The words should never leave our lips too easily. There have been many situations where the Holy Spirit has given me words that could have been interpreted as judgement. In nearly all cases, I have taken them as something to intercede against, much as when Moses interceded against God’s anger against Israel. I tend to take these kinds of words mostly as God testing my heart, much as He tested the heart of Moses. 

Paul’s trip to third heaven 

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4: 
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 
It seems clear that Paul was writing about himself. Why didn’t he tell us more about his experiences in the third heaven and Paradise? That book would surely have been a bestseller in the experiences-hungry Corinth! 

He must have known that no matter how valid his experiences in the third heaven, they would have become the source material for perhaps the greatest heresy of them all – started by Paul himself! 

The truth is that his spiritual experiences would have benefited us very little. It happened to Paul himself only once, after all. Why write extensively about something like that? So that the experiences-driven Christians of Corinth would try to replicate that experience! But that would have been useful to no one. But that’s what many prophetic leaders do. They market as a method a singular, perhaps amazing spiritual experience that has been granted to them only by the grace of God. 

It is not useful to sell as a method what is a unique miracle. 

Peter’s all-concealing love 

1 Peter 4:8 says,  
And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” 
There can’t be mature prophetic ministry unless you are willing to conceal many things that God has revealed to you about other people. Part of the prophetic ministry is to keep covering other Christians with prayers because God will reveal to us their hidden weaknesses. God doesn’t reveal them to us so that we would tell them to everybody; instead He reveals them to us so that we would cover these people with intercession, so that those weaknesses won’t destroy them. 

John’s additional instructions

Revelation 10:4 says, 
Now when the seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and do not write them.” 
We can’t know exactly what this additional revelation God gave John might have been. But, often, the Holy Spirit can give us additional instructions that are not meant to be shared but help us interpret what God is telling us. They help us to deliver the prophetic words that we are meant to deliver in the right way and with precision and care. They can give us the confidence to share the prophetic words. They can give us detail which is not useful to be shared. Often, that detail might sound more impressive than the prophecy that we are allowed to share!  

Amos 3:7 says,  
Surely the Lord God does nothing, Unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets. 
This might be the case, but it doesn’t mean that the prophets should always reveal all these secrets to everyone else. Sometimes, it is enough that only one member of humanity knows.  

Often, the revelation God has given me will help me to navigate a difficult situation in real life. It was never meant to be shared to others, but it was meant to be for my guidance.  

Concealing a God-given strategy 

2 Samuel 5:22-25 says, 
Then the Philistines went up once again and deployed themselves in the Valley of Rephaim. Therefore David inquired of the Lord, and He said, “You shall not go up; circle around behind them, and come upon them in front of the mulberry trees. And it shall be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall advance quickly. For then the Lord will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines.” And David did so, as the Lord commanded him; and he drove back the Philistines from Geba as far as Gezer. 
If God gives you a strategy, it doesn’t mean that you should reveal it to everybody. I have found that concealing the God-given strategies is of vital importance in mission work. There are many countries we work where revealing your strategies, no matter how exciting and effective they might be, could get your friends killed. Often, you share these kinds of God-given strategies with trusted friends only. 

A prophetic secret can protect us from the enemy, save our friends and even help us reach nations for Jesus. 

Jesus says in John 16:12, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now."

There are things we can bear that perhaps others are unable to bear. And these kinds of things were given to the disciples later on by the Holy Spirit.

That doesn't make Christianity a mystery religion. In fact it keeps the Charismatic movement from becoming a mystery religion, as mystery religions always developed methods for receiving greater knowledge.

Revelation 2:17 says, 
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.
There is part of our identity that might be hidden from others even in Heaven! 

The gospel is meant to be shared to all. But not every prophetic word is meant to be shared to all but only to those it has been meant to. May God give you wisdom on to whom you should share your prophetic words, dreams and visions. 

You can connect with Marko on Twitter @markojoensuu and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mpjoensuu/ or by visiting markojoensuu.com. 


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