A Prophet Among You

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Applying the Tests

Test 1. “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Isaiah 8:20. APAY 100.3

Numerous questions have been raised as to the exact meaning of the “law” and the “testimony,” but they are clearly references to the divinely inspired instruction given through the prophets. If any teaching or action deviates from the pattern prescribed in the revealed standard of truth, it is to be recognized as coming from the realm of darkness rather than light. Prophets spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit never contradicts His former instruction. All else that stems from the same source will harmonize with what has already been given. APAY 100.4

It is not difficult to trace through the Bible what its writers have said on many subjects. In an earlier chapter we have already commented on the unbroken unity of the Scriptures. Though words, methods of expression, and emphases vary, we find that the testimony of each writer dealing with the same subject is substantially the same. We may take the teaching regarding the condition of man in death as a well-known example. Note the harmony of the Bible writers as recorded in their books. APAY 101.1

Job. “So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.” Job 14:12. APAY 101.2

Psalmist. “The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.” Psalm 115:17. APAY 101.3

Solomon. “The living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything.” Ecclesiastes 9:5. APAY 101.4

Isaiah. “For the grave cannot praise Thee, death cannot celebrate Thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for Thy truth.” Isaiah 38:18. APAY 101.5

Ezekiel. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Ezekiel 18:20. APAY 101.6

Jesus. “Lazarus sleepeth.... Lazarus is dead.” John 11:11-14. APAY 101.7

Paul. “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.” 1 Thessalonians 4:13. APAY 101.8

Jesus and the Gospel writers bore witness to the accuracy of the predictions of the earlier prophets concerning His first advent. The following sampling from the book of Matthew will give some idea of the scores of references that might be included. APAY 101.9

Matthew 1:23 refers to Isaiah 7:14.Matthew 8:17 refers to Isaiah 53:4.
Matthew 2:6 refers to Micah 5:2.Matthew 11:10 refers to Malachi 3:1.
Matthew 2:17 refers to Jeremiah 31:15.Matthew 12:18 refers to Isaiah 42:1.
Matthew 3:3 refers to Isaiah 40:3.Matthew 13:14 refers to Isaiah 6:9.
Matthew 4:14, 15 refers toMatthew 13:35 refers to Psalm 78:2.
Isaiah 9:1, 2.Matthew 21:16 refers to Psalm 8:2.

The same consistency runs through the predictions of the second advent of Christ, the doctrines of God’s Creatorship, righteousness by faith, and all other Bible teachings. It was not difficult for God’s people in ancient times to apply this test to the messages of anyone who professed to possess the gift of prophecy. An outstanding example of how a prophet applied the test to another who claimed to be a prophet is found in Jeremiah 28. APAY 102.1

In the fourth year of King Jehoiakim, Jeremiah, under inspiration, had foretold that the period of captivity of Judah in Babylon would be seventy years. Jeremiah 25:1, 11, 12. This was the first time the specific number of years had been revealed, but more than a century before, Isaiah had indicated that the desolation of the land should be for “many days and years.” Isaiah 32:9-14. He foretold that the deliverance should not take place until the days of Cyrus (Isaiah 44:24 to 45:5), and that the Medes would help to bring about the downfall of Babylon, the glory of kingdoms (Isaiah 13:17-22). In the fourth year of Zedekiah, eleven years after the prediction of the seventy years’ Captivity, Jeremiah was challenged by a professed prophet who said the deliverance would come within a brief period. The full story is recorded in Jeremiah 28. Hananiah declared that the Lord had spoken to him (verses 1, 2), that Babylon’s yoke would be removed from the neck of Judah within two years (verse 3), and that all the vessels of the Lord’s house would be returned to Jerusalem. APAY 102.2

Jeremiah’s response contains a touch of pathos. “Amen,” he said, “the Lord do so.” Verse 6. “I hope the Lord will do it that way,” is the thought. “Nevertheless hear thou now this word that I speak in thine ears; ... The prophets that have been before me and before thee of old prophesied both against many countries, and against great kingdoms, of war, and of evil, and of pestilence. The prophet which prophesieth of peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the Lord hath truly sent him.” Verses 7-9. What Jeremiah was telling Hananiah was this, “Hananiah, you have said that peace and restoration will come quickly. The older prophets have predicted war and evil for years to come. In order to know for certain which is right, we will have to see whose predictions are fulfilled.” Later Jeremiah faced Hananiah with the specific accusation that the Lord had not sent him (verse 15), and told him that because he was leading people to rebel against God he would die that year (verse 16). The chapter ends with the sad record, “So Hananiah the prophet died the same year in the seventh month.” APAY 103.1

In his first encounter with Hananiah, Jeremiah made reference only to the predictions of the former prophets to confirm his own position that the restoration would be long delayed. It was not necessary that the Lord give him a special revelation that would condemn Hananiah. Jeremiah knew that if Hananiah’s message was out of harmony with what had been given earlier by men who had met the tests of a prophet, his message had not come from the Lord. Later his conclusion was confirmed by a revelation, and the word about the death of Hananiah was added. Here is a practical application of the test, “To the law and to the testimony.” APAY 103.2

Jesus’ warning to His disciples again emphasizes the need for care in verifying the claims of any prophet to be certain they harmonize with Scripture. After telling of the time of tribulation that might be expected, Jesus said, “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before.” Matthew 24:23-25. Then Jesus enumerated the signs that would indicate His coming was near. Any prophet in any age to come who talked of the second advent would be tested by these and all other statements of earlier prophets. When a person meets the test of harmonizing his messages with earlier divinely inspired predictions and teachings, then we are ready to apply other tests. APAY 103.3

Test 2. “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” Matthew 7:20. APAY 104.1

The setting for this statement is the latter part of the Sermon on the Mount in connection with the warning Jesus gave to His disciples, “Beware of false prophets.” Verse 15. On the basis that every good tree produces good fruit, and that a corrupt tree produces corrupt fruit, Jesus presents another test to be applied to prophets. What kind of fruit is brought forth in their lives? What influence do their teachings have on others? What results show up in the life of the church as a whole? APAY 104.2

Sometimes the life and influence of the professed prophet is so completely out of harmony with the Scriptures that there is no difficulty in placing him in his proper classification. But ordinarily this is not the case. Generally speaking, the application of this test requires more time and is harder to check than the first test. There are several factors to be considered in determining whether the fruit is good or bad. APAY 104.3

A. The life of the prophet must be worthy of God’s personal representative. There must be no question about the trend of his thinking and actions. He should be recognized as different from other men, because in vision he has seen and talked with God and angels. APAY 104.4

On the other hand, as has been suggested earlier, receiving the prophetic gift does not make a man infallible; it does not ensure that he will never make a mistake. After nearly forty years as the Lord’s messenger, Moses lost his temper on the borders of the Promised Land and was denied entrance to it. In other instances recorded in the Bible, we have seen even more calamitous consequences as the result of the actions of those who possessed the prophetic gift. None should be recognized as having met this test because of a few outstandingly good traits of character, and none should be labeled a failure because he has made some mistakes. It is the trend of the life as a whole that must be considered, rather than any occasional good deed or misdeed. What kind of man is he—good or bad? APAY 104.5

B. The influence of the prophet’s life and messages upon individuals and the church as a whole must be good. Frequently the Lord has had to use prophets to tear down before they could build up, but the net result of the work of a true prophet will be constructive rather than destructive. Jesus found it necessary to unmask some of the sins of the Jewish leaders and to tear down their traditions, but He tore down only that He might build again; He wounded that He might heal. APAY 105.1

Again there is a problem to be faced before final conclusions are reached. There were times in the history of God’s people when with one or more prophets among them they became progressively worse. Was this the fault of the prophet? Did this mean that his messages were not from heaven? God did not regard it so. He told Ezekiel, “Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, everyone to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the Lord. And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as My people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness.” Ezekiel 33:30, 31. People listened, they urged others to come and hear the words of the prophet; but no one put into practice what he heard. Could this be charged against the prophet? There were those among the followers of the Master who continued in their evil ways even though they claimed allegiance to Him. Sometimes it is necessary to study what the influence of the prophet’s messages would have been if they had been heeded. Are they messages that lead to godliness, or do they turn the mind away from right living and heavenly things? APAY 105.2

C. A man may live a good life and have an excellent influence on others, but this does not necessarily prove that he is a prophet. All the other tests of a true prophet must be met. APAY 106.1

D. The application of the tests is cumulative. If, in addition to speaking in full accord with the former prophets, the prophet’s own life has been a godly one, and if the tenor of his messages is such as would lead to genuine piety, we may conclude that he has passed another of the tests which may eventually indentify him as a prophet of God. APAY 106.2

Test 3. “When the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the Lord hath truly sent him.” Jeremiah 28:9. APAY 106.3

Prediction is not the major work of the prophet; but in many instances the prophets claimed that by divine inspiration they had been given insight into the future. Part of the testing of a prophet is observing whether or not his predictions are fulfilled. Confidence is established in the word of God through the fulfillment of the many specific predictions it contains. Confidence would be quickly destroyed should the prophecies prove to be incorrect. See also Deuteronomy 13:1-3; 18:22. Earlier in this chapter mention was made of Jeremiah’s declaration that Hananiah would die that year. Apparently many heard the prediction, and when they saw its fulfillment, their confidence in Jeremiah’s prophecy of the seventy years of captivity was confirmed. However, if the prophecy regarding Hananiah had failed, it is unlikely that many would have believed the time prophecy of the Captivity. APAY 106.4

Examples of predictions fulfilled are numerous throughout the Bible. In some cases the prophecies were not fulfilled in Bible times, but we find the fulfillments recorded in history or have seen them take place in our own times. Most of the Old Testament books tell of the Messiah who was to come, and the New Testament verifies the accuracy of the prophecies. Daniel outlined the history of nations from the days of Babylon to the end of time, and it is a simple matter to trace through history the amazing foreknowledge of events that God gave him. Occasionally specific time periods were predicted. These, too, have been exactly fulfilled. All of a prophet’s predictions must be carefully scrutinized and their fulfillments observed, although, because of the time involved, this may prove to span more than one lifetime. APAY 107.1

But the matter is not as simple as it might appear to be. The Bible introduces another principle that must be considered before final decisions are reached. This is the principle of conditional prophecy, as stated by Jeremiah: “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in My sight, that it obey not My voice, then I will repent of the good, where-with I said I would benefit them.” Jeremiah 18:7-10. This must be given careful consideration in dealing with the identification of a true prophet. APAY 107.2

In certain instances conditional prophecy poses no real problem, for the conditions are stated, and it is easy to see that if the conditions are not met there is no reason for the fulfillment of the prediction. But in other cases, no conditions are stated. The Lord has said that when conditions change He will act differently, either for reward or punishment. Does this not create a loophole through which any false prophet may escape if we permit him to say, “That was a conditional prophecy I made, even though I did not state the conditions; now that the conditions have changed there is no reason why the prophecy should be fulfilled”? APAY 107.3

The Bible’s best illustration of the principle set forth by Jeremiah is in the book of Jonah. The rebellious prophet proclaimed, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Jonah 3:4. No mention is made of any conditions attached. In fact, it seems obvious that no suggestion was made of a way of escape, for in his decree the king asked, “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from His fierce anger, that we perish not?” Verse 9. Had a condition been offered he would have known that there was the possibility of deliverance. The time passed, the city was not overthrown, and Jonah was angry with the Lord because he felt he would be considered a false prophet. APAY 108.1

Was Jonah a false prophet? Our test reads: “When the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known, that the Lord hath truly sent him.” Jonah’s word did not come to pass, and yet he had taken to Nineveh the exact message the Lord had given him. In fact, it was because of his recognition of the principle that the Lord would withhold punishment if the people repented that he had not wanted to go to Nineveh in the first place. In his prayer to the Lord after Nineveh had been spared, he complained, “Was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country? Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that Thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest Thee of the evil.” Jonah 4:2. Had he been permitted to enumerate the conditions on which punishment would be withheld, there would have been no problem in his mind on this particular point. But was he a false prophet? God did not consider him so, and as we study the case carefully we conclude that he was a true prophet of God despite the fact that what may have been the most prominent prediction of his career was unfulfilled. APAY 108.2

What makes the difference? Why is one man whose prediction is not fulfilled called a false prophet, and another true? The answer is this: God has explained to us a principle governing all prophecy in which men’s decisions and attitudes are involved. We understand on the basis of the Jeremiah 18 statement that all of God’s promises of blessing or threatenings of punishment are made on condition, whether the conditions are stated or not, because their fulfillment depends upon man’s relationship to God. APAY 109.1

This understanding in no wise applies to the portions of God’s plan that are not subject to modification by the decisions of men. For instance, Jesus Christ is going to return to this earth to gather the faithful and destroy the wicked. This is a part of God’s unalterable purpose, and it will come to pass despite any decision that might be made by any individual or group. Peter says that it is possible for us to hasten the day of His coming (2 Peter 3:12—see the margin, which in this case is the preferable rendering), and conversely, it is possible for us to delay the coming through the slowness of our preparation; but we cannot alter the fact that He is coming. APAY 109.2

We have no difficulty in understanding the case of Jonah and Nineveh. It is obivous that the changed circumstances justified the Lord’s decision to withhold the threatened destruction. Must we not recognize the same principle in judging any other case? If it can be clearly seen that the circumstances which called forth a condemnation have been so altered that the condemnation is no longer warranted, then the Lord’s alteration of His course of action is in full harmony with Jeremiah 18. When He has openly stated the circumstances under which this will be done, there is no reason why any prophet must declare all the specific details that might be attached to a conditional prophecy. A prophet whose prediction does not come to pass under these circumstances is not to be condemned as a false prophet, for we must always remember that the reasons for the change will be clearly evident. This procedure in no way leaves a way of escape for the false prophet; all of the tests are still to be applied to him and his teachings. APAY 109.3

Test 4. “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.” 1 John 4:2. APAY 110.1

In presenting this test John is dealing directly with the matter of those who profess to be prophets. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God.” 1 John 4:1, 2. This test is broader than simply claiming to believe that Jesus Christ lived. In its fullest sense it involves all that the Bible teaches concerning Christ. It is the recognition that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” John 1:14. APAY 110.2

The Word becoming flesh is the incarnation of the Son of God as man. Earlier verses in the first chapter of John set forth the Word as God, the Creator, the Source of life, and the Light of mankind. His virgin birth, His sinless life, His atoning death, His resurrection and ascension, His ministry in the heavenly sanctuary as High Priest, and His second coming, are all closely related to His coming in the flesh. The first four are parts of His earthly life and experience. The others are made possible by what He accomplished while He was here on earth. All of these must be recognized and taught by the one accepted as a true prophet. And this is not to be a mere theoretical acknowledgment of the truths; the life of the prophet will correspond to the profession. One who denies the teaching of the Bible in any of these truths pertaining to Christ, His life, and His redemption is not confessing that “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh,” and is not “of God.” See 2 John 7. APAY 110.3

The four major Biblical tests are sufficient in themselves to enable us to determine who is a true prophet and who is false. In addition, however, there are other factors that give added proof that the true prophet’s messages are from the Lord. They are not as conclusive as the major tests, but they serve a useful purpose. APAY 110.4