Question: Are there modern day prophets in the church, or did prophecy cease with Jesus and the apostles? How does Joel’s prophecy—“your sons and daughters will prophecy”—quoted in Acts 2:17 fit in with all of this? It concerns me to see people being called prophets and prophetesses.
The concern expressed by this question is very legitimate. There are many who proclaim to be prophets and are not, and many who are proclaimed by others to be prophets who are not. Such false claims, however, have always been the case. The fact that there are false prophets does not mean that there are no prophets.
Here’s what the Scripture has to say:
There will be prophets and prophetesses in the Last Days:
Acts 2:17-18 In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.
We have been in the Last Days since the birth of Jesus. In fact, the very end of the Tribulation period will be marked by the ministry of two witnesses who will prophesy for 3 ½ years:
Rev. 11:3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.
The Bible describes prophecy as a gift of the Holy Spirit and encourages its use in the church and even gives instruction regarding how it is to be used:
1Cor. 14:5 I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy. He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.
1Cor. 14:31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.
1Cor. 14:39 Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues.
1Cor. 12:7-10 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy…
A person, male or female, who prophecies is a prophet. However, the role of the modern day prophet is not to add to the revelation given in Scripture:
Rev. 22:18-19 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
The role of the modern day prophet is to bring instruction, guidance and edification to the Body of Christ, the church, for the common good as we saw in the passages above (1Cor. 12:7-10; 14:31).
Prophets are also to be tested so that they are recognized as legitimate (1 Jn. 4:1; Dt. 13:1-3; 1Cor. 14:32).