You might not guess it but there’s a double meaning of the title statement ‘prophecy is natural.’
(Just quickly, here’s a key for usage (which is sometimes mixed up): ‘Prophecy’ <– with a ‘c’ is pronounced ‘pro-phe-SEE’, and is a noun. ‘PropheSy’ <– with an ‘s’ is pronounced ‘pro-phe-SIGH’, and is a verb.)
I’ll start here with a quick and simple definition for prophecy, which will partially reveal the meaning of the title statement. For many, the word ‘prophecy’ speaks specifically of foretelling future events before they happen yet, biblically, prophecy is much broader than the foretelling of future events. Biblical ‘prophecy’ really is declaring the mind, will and purposes of God. Sometimes prophecy is God’s plan of action for the future, or sometimes it is revealing an unknown aspect or characteristic of God.
My simple definition for prophecy: Prophecy is the act of using natural means to verbally describe or dramatically illustrate spiritual Truths revealed by God.
To prophesy is simply to communicate, or reveal a spiritual reality through natural means of communication.
Jesus, is the Prophet of prophets. As in all things, He is our example – so I will use His example to bring greater clarity to what I mean.
Jesus came for the purpose of revealing God to man. No man has seen God at any time, but the only begotten Son reveals Him (John 1:18). This is the True work of a prophet of God – to reveal God to the natural man. As Jesus was the express (or ‘only’) image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), His very existence is a prophetic revelation of who God is. His coming in the flesh was the FULFILLMENT of the revealing (prophecy) of God’s person.
Let me state that again; Jesus was the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets. When Jesus came in the flesh He completely fulfilled the prophecy (or the revealing) of God’s person to man. ‘And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father.’ (John 1:14).
This is why Jesus could say to God at the end of His ministry: ‘I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me…’ Jesus had come in the flesh (natural) and completely demonstrated God’s invisible identity as a natural man.
Now, His work was not finished at that time – He still had the work of the cross to complete, and He still had much work to do in perfecting and teaching the apostles. There was still work to be done; but He HAD already, and in every way demonstrated WHO God is. His LIFE and works prophesied all of God’s invisible characteristics.
Yet in order to prophesy these things – in order to reveal God to man – He had to become a man. God knew that man would be unable to receive the spiritual realities of God, unless He communicated them through NATURAL means. You could never receive Christ, unless someone explained it to you through means you could understand – you could only receive the Gospel through the preaching (natural communication) of the Word.
So it is with prophecy, which is a natural communication of spiritual realities. In this capacity prophecy is a priestly work. In fact the original job of the Levitical priesthood was to teach the spiritual understanding of Moses’ prophetic writings to God’s people (Lev 10:11; Mal. 2:7). We will discuss an aspect of Moses’ prophecies, and the implications of their fulfillment in just a moment.
The very heart of prophecy is revealing spiritual Truths through natural means sometimes by a drama (as many Old Testament regulations and many of the prophecies of Ezekiel and Jeremiah), but more often through simple verbal or written communication. Because the means of communicating a spiritual Truth is natural (prophecy), once the natural illustration becomes fulfilled, the prophecy has served its purpose. This is why the word declares that prophecies will ‘fail,’ or ‘pass away’ at the time of the resurrection (1 Cor. 13:8).
1 Cor. 13:10
When that which is perfect is come, that which is in part will pass away.
When that which is PERFECT is come, and all things are spiritual, there will be no need to communicate spiritual Truths through imperfect, natural means any longer. Prophecy will pass away because the need for natural communication will pass away. Those who enter the New Jerusalem will experience the full spiritual reality of Christ – a complete spiritual union with Jesus the bridegroom, which supersedes all forms of natural communication (Jerusalem which is below was only a temporary prophecy of the one which is to come – it illustrated God’s presence with man in the form of the temple – which was also a temporal prophecy of Christ, for in the New Jerusalem there will be no temple (Rev. 21:22)).
Every prophecy that is completely fulfilled is ready to pass away. All prophecies will finally be complete and fulfilled at the Revelation of Jesus Christ, for all True prophecies reveal Jesus Christ.
The purpose of prophecy, then, is so that God can communicate with natural man. In order for God, who is a Spirit, to communicate with man He must (for the present) use natural means of communication that humans can understand: types, figures, shadows. Prophecy could merely be called God’s work of communicating with people. It can be difficult work, too, because natural man is prone to reverence natural things, rather than spiritual things (especially if those natural things have spiritual connotations).
If too much reverence is given to any particular type, it becomes idolatry. An example of this from scripture was the serpent which Moses erected in the wilderness – the serpent was a prophecy of the coming Christ; those who look to the One who would come and bear their curse on the cross were healed (Numbers 21:7-9). Years later, however, king Hezekiah had to destroy the form of this prophecy because the children of Israel had come to worship it (2 Kings 18:4), offering it incense and calling it ‘Nehushtan’ (‘the copper one’). Although the prophecy of the serpent had not yet been fulfilled (Jesus had not yet come in the flesh), the form must needs expire because it was idolized as though it were the fulfillment of the thing it prophesied. (When a prophecy, or the gift of prophecy, becomes the end in itself and not the means to an end – pointing us to Jesus – it becomes an idol. (A modern day ‘psychic’ would be a contemporary example of what I mean – they elevate the gift of prophecy as a means to its own end; prophetic gifting is exalted, Jesus is discarded.))
Let me give further example of what I mean, now, through the Old Testament prophecy. The whole of scripture prophesies about Jesus, the Messiah (Christ). All of the Old Testament law, forms, and regulations are prophecies of Jesus in some way.
The rituals of animal sacrifice in the Old Testament were prophesying – as often as they practiced them – of the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Under the Old Covenant law bulls, sheep, goats and other animals were killed in order to PROPHESY of Jesus’ coming sacrifice. Jesus would later die on the cross for our sins. Because He was God’s perfect Righteousness He was able to atone for – or remit – our sins through the shedding of His blood. That means simply that having faith in His sacrifice clears us of all charge for our sins before God. In the Old Testament when they slaughtered animals for their sin they prophesied Christ – their sins were atoned because they looked forward in faith to the Messiah’s atoning sacrifice. In like manner today Christians celebrate communion, this act does not take away our sins, but we do it in remembrance of Him – our faith in His blood as we remember His work on the cross DOES remit our sins.
Hebrew animal sacrifice was a prophecy of Jesus’ coming atonement for sin. Animal sacrifice NEVER remitted anyone’s sins. The Old Covenant was NOT a dispensation in which God ‘allowed’ animal blood to temporarily atone for man’s sins (if God could allow animal blood to atone for sins then, then there was no good cause for Jesus to die. He prayed God that if there was ANY OTHER WAY that His own sacrifice could be avoided, that God would let the cup pass from Him (Matt26:39). If animal blood could EVER remit sins, then there was another way, and Jesus did not have to die – we could have gone on forever under the order of animal sacrifice). Animal blood NEVER took away sins. Hebrews 10:4 affirms that it was IMPOSSIBLE for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Like all types of the Old Testament, animal sacrifice was given as a PROPHECY, so that the people of God could remember the promise of the coming Messiah. Every animal sacrifice was an illustration of Jesus through which they could have faith in His future sufferings for the atoning of their sins even yet before it fulfilled in the Spirit. In their sacrifices they were prophesying, and putting their faith in Jesus, who is ‘the lamb slain from the foundation of the world’ (Rev 13:8).
At no time did the blood of animals EVER remit sins – nor will it ever. Anyone who practices the same animal sacrifice today, now that Jesus has fulfilled the remission of sins, DENIES the Messiah.
Remember the principal of 1 Corinthians 13 mentioned above: ‘When that which is perfect is come, that which is in part will pass away.‘ (1 Cor. 13:10) Jesus WAS the perfect sacrifice for sins, the prophecy of animal sacrifice has been completed, and passed away. Those who practice animal sacrifice or give approval to it as if it could remit their sins are denying that Jesus fulfilled the prophesy. Just like the serpent mentioned above – the copper snake had no power to heal the children of Israel, it was only a prophecy of He who DOES have the power to heal: Jesus Christ.
Just as Hezekiah had to destroy the serpent, the same danger lies in this Old Testament form. There will come a day (indeed, it is already upon us) when animal sacrifice will be offered again for the atonement of sins. Those who practice it are antichrist – denying the Father and the Son. Christians who are deceived into submitting themselves to the ritual are by application denying the Christ also – just as the Israelites continued to honor the image of Nehushtan (so called) though it was an hollow form. Any Christian who participates (giving their right hand) or gives approval to (forehead) animal sacrifice, as though the blood of animals could remit sins for anyone is denying the work of Christ on the cross. HAS LOST HIS SALVATION. Bold statement? It is declared so in the scriptures of Truth:
Christ is become of no effect unto you, WHOSOEVER OF YOU ARE JUSTIFIED BY THE LAW; YE ARE FALLEN FROM GRACE.
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden underfoot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite to the Spirit of grace?
That is a serious warning – but we’re talking about prophecy stuff can get heavy in a hurry. We have come to an age where this warning is necessary, however. I suppose an essential element that is often lost in contemporary teaching on prophecy is the fear of the Lord, and a reverence for Jesus Christ who fulfills all prophecy.
Okay… so I understand for a lot of readers I’ve just laid on you a really rich, and really dense slab of meat that may take some milk, and a whole lots of chewing to wash down. I suppose, therefore, I will stop here for today. Though as always I am open to thoughts, feedback, questions; I will plan to be back shortly with the second meaning of ‘Natural Prophecy’ – may the word benefit you as you continue to draw near to Christ your teacher.