“Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). Who were the prophets of the Bible, and what do their messages mean for us? And how does God work through His chosen representatives?
From the beginning of mankind’s history, God revealed Himself as the Creator of all things. Noting this point, Paul wrote: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20).
The marvelous miracle of life is all around us, as well as the fascinating array of planets, moons, stars and galaxies in the universe that reveal God’s handiwork. In addition to this physical evidence of God’s existence, He has through the ages appointed prophets to reveal His character, His will and His wonderful purpose for humanity.
How God reveals Himself
There are several ways God reveals His will to humans:
- Through messages He gives to His prophets by direct communication, visions or dreams or as delivered by angels.
- Through direct signs and miracles.
- Through His written Word, the Holy Scriptures, the Bible.
- Through the influence of the Holy Spirit on the individual Christian’s mind and heart.
The reason God communicates with humans is because He has a plan that continues to be carried out. He explains, “For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure’” (Isaiah 46:9-10).
In the New Testament, Paul explained that God reveals His mysteries to His prophets by revelation through the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit speaks “expressly” or clearly regarding this information from God (John 16:13; Acts 28:25; 1 Timothy 4:1).
God announced to the Israelites how He would speak through prophets saying, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, make Myself known to him in a vision; I speak to him in a dream” (Numbers 12:6).
The prophet Jeremiah stated, “Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: ‘Behold, I have put My words in your mouth’” (Jeremiah 1:9). This principle of God providing the message and the prophet or prophetess then delivering it as God’s messenger is the standard process throughout the Bible.
What were the prophets to do with the messages?
When a prophet received a revelation from God, he was obligated to share the message with the intended audience, which could be for contemporaries of the prophet or for people hundreds or even thousands of years into the future. Many of the prophets recorded the words they were given, and some of these writings God preserved as Holy Scripture.
The prophets of God often faced opposition when they were instructed to deliver messages of warning, but they were not permitted to shy away. The prophet Jeremiah expressed how it felt to deliver messages from God warning the sinful leaders of Judah to repent of their sins. He was not allowed to keep God’s words to himself, saying, “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” (Jeremiah 20:9).
God told the prophet Amos to record: “Surely the Lord GOD does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets. A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:7-8).
In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (emphasis added throughout).
The phrase “by inspiration of God” comes from the Greek word theopneustos, meaning “God-breathed.” Put another way, no human being put his own ideas into the Bible. Everything came directly from God.The phrase “by inspiration of God” comes from the Greek word theopneustos, meaning “God-breathed.” Put another way, no human being put his own ideas into the Bible. Everything came directly from God.
God’s inspired writings give spiritual light and guidance to mankind. The book of Proverbs describes this vital knowledge as revelation, saying, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint” (Proverbs 29:18). Another Bible translation of this verse adds additional emphasis: “Where there is no vision [spiritual guidance], the people perish” (King James Version).
What about Christ and the apostles?
The book of Hebrews explains that while God had spoken through the prophets in the Old Testament, He had more recently, “in these last days,” spoken though His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). We also see in Revelation 1:1 one way God revealed messages for us. “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants—things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John.”
In the New Testament we see Jesus using those He had trained to reveal His truth and messages to the Church.
The apostles were witnesses to the power and glory of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. For example, Peter (along with James and John) personally witnessed Jesus’ glory during His transfiguration. Because of this vision, Peter explained that “we did not follow cunningly devised fables” of men (2 Peter 1:16-18), but had received “the prophetic word confirmed” (verse 19).
Continuing, Peter explained that “no prophecy of Scripture [inspired speaking or prediction of the future] is of any private interpretation” and that “prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (verses 20, 21).
In making these statements, “the apostle teaches that the truths which the prophets communicated were not originated by themselves; were not of their own suggestion or invention; were not their own opinions, but were of higher origin, and were imparted by God” (Albert Barnes, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament, commentary on 2 Peter 1:20).
It seems that Peter understood that his and the other apostles’ writings would carry the same weight as the words of the prophets and that he knew they were writing Holy Scripture (2 Peter 1:12-15; 2 Peter 3:16). Like the prophets of the Old Testament, Peter and the other authors of the books of the New Testament were careful to write only what God inspired through the Holy Spirit.
Testing prophets and prophecies
Paul said, “Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds” (2 Corinthians 12:12, also compare Romans 15:19). Spiritual fruit will indeed accompany the people of God (Matthew 7:17).
However, God also allows Satan to appear as “an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14) “who deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9; see our article “False Prophets”). Because of this, we must remember that signs and wonders are evidence of something supernatural, but not necessarily proof that the prophet is genuinely sent from God.
Any demonstration of supernatural signs and wonders must be paired with Isaiah’s caution, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). The apostles met these criteria, so their words in the Bible hold the same weight of truth as the words of any of the other prophets.
Additional recipients of messages from God
At times, the Bible shows God giving dreams and visions to pagans as well as to faithful believers. These instances were to further God’s plans among men. The people who received these messages were generally not called to guide the body of believers. In these cases, God’s words were primarily intended for the individual himself or for a close relation.
Some examples of dreams given to individuals who were not prophets include Abimelech (Genesis 20:3-7), Pharaoh’s chief butler and chief baker (Genesis 40:8-19), one of the pharaohs (Genesis 41:1-7) and King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2 and 4). Individuals in the New Testament include Pilate’s wife Claudia (Matthew 27:19), the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10:1-8) and numerous others.
We must respect the message
The prophets are called God’s servants or messengers (Haggai 1:13; Isaiah 44:26; Malachi 3:1). If we ignore, slight or reject the messages God gives through His prophets, we are rejecting God—not the humans God uses to deliver His instructions!
The psalmist said of God, “The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever” (Psalm 119:160). Jesus, in praying to the Father, said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Judah’s King Jehoshaphat in the Old Testament counseled the nation: “Believe in the LORD your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper” (2 Chronicles 20:20).
The apostles were selected by Jesus Christ; and after their training, they were sent forth to preach the gospel (Mark 3:14). God and Christ continued to instruct and guide the apostles through the power of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Therefore, the words of the apostles carry the same weight of authority as do God’s instructions through the Old Testament prophets.
Prophets of God yet to come
God has revealed what appears to be yet another fulfillment of an Elijah-like work at the end of this age. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6).
The role of this future Elijah-like work is to bring a message of repentance and to prepare God’s people for Christ’s coming.
The Bible further explains that God will send two witnesses to warn the nations before Christ returns. “And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth” (Revelation 11:3).
As these two messengers of God warn people to repent of their sins, they will be given power to produce miraculous signs and wonders reminiscent of earlier prophets of God. Be sure to read more on the role of these prophets in the article “Two Witnesses.”
The true Authors of the Bible
Through the ages God has chosen to express His will to humanity through human servants called prophets. God used these messengers to pen the divinely inspired words for our admonition. God and Christ are thus the true Authors of the Bible. Paul wrote, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4).
As eyewitnesses to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, the apostles felt compelled to express what they had learned. John wrote, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:3-4).
For more understanding on how the Holy Scriptures were developed, be sure to read the article “Who Wrote the Bible?”