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Some may be wonder if it’s possible to place too much of an emphasis on the spiritual gift of prophecy. I’m sure there are some churches that focus on this one spiritual gift in an inordinate way, perhaps to the neglect of other gifts of the Spirit and disciplines of Christian living. Having said that, let’s consider the way in which the NT portrays this one gift.

First, we know from the events on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 that Peter, quoting the words of the OT prophet Joel, described the entire present church age in which we live as one that will be characterized by the gift of prophecy among all of God’s people.

“And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters will prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17-18).

All NT scholars agree that the words “the last days” is a reference to the entire present church age in which we live, the age spanning the gap between the first coming of Christ and his second coming at the end of history (see 2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:1-2; 9:26; James 5:3; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 John 2:18; cf. also 1 Cor. 10:11; 1 Tim. 4:1). Of all the things that Peter could have said about the present church age, he mentions the gift of prophecy operating at all levels and ages and among both genders.

It is during this present church age that the Spirit will be poured out “on all flesh,” that is to say, not just kings and prophets and priests but on every child of God: every man and woman, every son and daughter, young and old (see Acts 2:17). Peter’s (and Joel’s) language is unmistakable when it comes to this New Covenant universalizing of the Spirit’s empowering presence: “all flesh” (v. 17), i.e., irrespective of age (“old men” and “young men”), gender (“sons” and “daughters” and “male servants” and “female servants”), social rank (“servants”), or race (“all flesh”; cf. v. 39; i.e., both Jew and Gentile).

I need to explain my use of the word “characterize” when I speak of prophecy in the church age. This is justified in light of Peter’s reference to the “last days”. Some have tried to argue that the events that occurred on the Day of Pentecost in the first century were designed solely to launch or inaugurate or in some sense jump-start the age of the New Covenant.

Now, make no mistake, the coming of the Spirit in power on Pentecost most assuredly did inaugurate the New Covenant age in which we now live. But what the Spirit did on that day centuries ago is also designed by God to characterize the experience of God’s people throughout the course of this age until Jesus comes back. In other words, what we are reading in Acts 2:17-21 is a description of what the Holy Spirit does in and through and on behalf of God’s people throughout the entire course of this present age. Simply put, prophecy, whatever it may mean, is designed by God to be normative for all God’s people in this age in which we live, as we await the return of the Lord.

Second, of all the spiritual gifts that Paul tells us to earnestly desire and seek, he singles out prophecy as the most important. Note his use of the word “especially” in 1 Corinthians 14:1.

“Pursue love, and earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1).

“So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Cor.14:39).

Third, there are four places where numerous spiritual gifts are listed, and the only gift that appears in every one of them is prophecy (see Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10; 12:28-30; Ephesians 4:11).

Fourth, note that Paul specifically identifies the despising of prophetic utterances to be quenching of the Holy Spirit.

“Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:19-22).

This isn’t to suggest that one cannot quench the Spirit by despising teaching or serving or evangelism. But we must give full weight to the fact that Paul was greatly concerned lest the Thessalonians (and all of us, by application) quench the Spirit in this one way, namely, by suppressing and despising prophetic utterances.

Fifth, consider how important Paul believed prophecy to be in the life of his spiritual son Timothy.

“This charge, I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience” (1 Tim. 1:18-19).

Paul wants Timothy to remember that success in Christian living, be it in his battle with Satan, his theological integrity, or in his maintaining of a good and righteous conscience, is largely dependent on his drawing strength and encouragement from the prophecies that were spoke to and about him. We would do well to heed this exhortation ourselves.

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