When many people hear the word “prophetic,” their minds immediately conjure up an image of some sage describing in exact detail events which are to happen in the future. Although the prophets in Scripture certainly could forecast events yet to come, the prophet was first and foremost a “forthteller.” The prophet spoke on behalf of God.
Throughout the Old Testament, men of God called His people to repentance and the nations to act justly. Whether it was Nathan confronting David with the truth of adultery, murder, and theft, or Jeremiah detailing the sins of Judah that inevitably led to exile, the Old Testament recounts the lives of many prophets whose voices rose above the sins of God’s people and the depravity of the nations to communicate clearly the word of God.
In the New Testament, Christ in His office as Prophet was the model for the apostles who likewise called the Church to obedient living and made clear to the ruling authorities that the Church “must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). In this spirit, and without fear, Paul preached “righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment” (Acts 24:25) to the Judean governor Felix and his wife Drusilla, even as he also instructed the Christians in Rome to respect civil government by regarding Caesar as the very “servant of God” (Rom. 13:4). Pointed, timely, and courageous application was in this sense “prophetic.”
Similarly, faithful gospel ministers throughout Church history considered it their God-ordained responsibility to speak the truth to power in the times in which they lived. Figures such as Augustine, Chrysostom, and Jerome refused to shrink from forthrightly addressing the great moral issues of their day. Less well-known pastors like Jean-Baptiste Massillon, who personally confronted the decadence of King Louis XIV, made certain the word of God received a hearing in the public square.
Today, both the Church and the nations await a new generation of courageous church leaders who are willing to take their place alongside the giants of the past through such prophetic preaching. If revival is to come and cultural idols are to be broken, it will require the proclamation of the whole counsel of God not only to the people of God, but to the rulers and authorities of this present age.