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Sight-Seeing: What does the Bible really say about prophecy?

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NILS VON KALM takes a look at a Biblical concept of prophecy…

Melbourne, Australia

Ask the vast majority of evangelicals and Pentecostals what they think prophecy is, and you will get a response which mentions things like “a word from God” or “a vision” or “a quickening of the Spirit”. And it will generally be to do with speaking into someone’s life or maybe a prediction about the End Times.

It’s just such a pity that this has very little to do with what prophecy in the Bible is all about. Speaking into a person’s life can be great when there is trust; I’ve received such words myself and they’ve left me in tears, so I’m not denigrating them at all. But when we are so completely obsessed with the idea that that is what Biblical prophecy is, we are a long, long way from the spirit of Christ.

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Windows in the south transept of Chartres Cathedral in France depicting Mary holding Jesus with the four evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – riding on the shoulders of the four major prophets of the Old Testament –  Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. PICTURE: PtrQs (licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0)

The fact is that, in the Bible, prophecy is much more prescriptive than predictive.

It looks like taking a stand for what is right despite possibly unpleasant consequences for you personally.

“The fact is that, in the Bible, prophecy is much more prescriptive than predictive.”

It looks like sticking to your convictions about what is right despite what those in power over you might want you to do or say or not say.

It looks like being humble and not doing ‘what is right’ for your own ego or to get your own voice out there.

It looks like choosing your battles.

Richard Rohr talks about prophetic critique needing to be done “on the edge of the inside”. We need to be part of the church and in it to legitimately critique it. We can’t do it by throwing rocks from the outside. It doesn’t carry the same weight and legitimacy.

Just before last Christmas, the Australian Christian leader, Dave Andrews, put up a post on Facebook showing alternative songs to Christmas carols. The first one he posted was about Jackson Browne’s The Rebel Jesus. It reminded me of the fact that it’s so often those on the outside of the church who are probably closest to the real Jesus of the Gospels. Another one is the group called ‘The Church of Stop Shopping’. Then there’s Johann Hari, that secular prophet who brilliantly points out the fact that our individualistic society is dismantling itself before our very eyes.

The Gospels reveal the prophetic critique of the outsiders by showing that, while the disciples regularly got Jesus wrong, in the end it’s a Roman centurion who gets Jesus right, when, despite the absolute humiliation of crucifixion, he is the one who says that this guy was in fact the Son of God.

Then there were the women, second class citizens in that culture. If you were a woman in that society 2,000 years ago, your testimony was not valid in a court of law simply because of your gender. But they were the ones who remained loyal at the foot of the cross. There are countless other outsiders in the Gospels who got Jesus right while the ones who you think would be ‘in the know’ got Him wrong.



Of course, Jesus Himself was criticised for lifting up the wrong people when He constantly praised the outsider and called out the hubris of the insiders who should have known better.

It’s those on the edge of the inside who are the ones to listen to. Not necessarily the experts, the attractive ones, the popular ones, the louder ones. It’s those who are a bit odd, the socially awkward, the nerd, the poor in spirit, the ones who wear camels’ hair for clothes and get by on a diet of locusts and wild honey.

Just like Jesus, they will always be the ones who will have stones thrown at them, almost always by those in the middle of the inside. That’s why Jesus’ harshest words are to the church leaders of his day.

Many years ago a study was done which looked at Jesus’ interactions with people who were rich and/or had power, and His interactions with those who were marginalised. Not surprisingly, in the vast majority of cases, His interactions with the rich and powerful were negative, and His interactions with the marginalised were positive.

For many years I went to a church in inner-city Melbourne. It was a great eye-opener for me as I got to know people who struggled with mental illness, drugs, homelessness and general poverty. Some years later, when I met a bunch of them again at a public gathering, I had a deep sense that these are my people. They were real, raw and genuine.


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A Christ-like response will always err on the side of compassion. It will always take the side of the oppressed. That’s what love does. And the very nature of love is that it will sometimes be an unpopular stance. It sometimes takes moral courage. Love is not ‘nice’ and sentimental. It is courageous, kind and compassionate. This is what the prophets call us to.

I know myself, I need to constantly ask God for humility, as I’m one of those insiders. We need prophets to speak truth to the powerful.

I heard a preacher say once that they wondered if God was actively working against the church. I often wonder the same thing. When the church’s very structure is so anti-Jesus, and the way it treats people who lack power is so lacking in compassion, and you’re in the middle of the structure of the church, it is almost impossible to speak out against it with any real conviction or authority. You will be so seduced by it that you will be blinded by the power the church displays, especially the more hierarchically the church is structured.

It’s people like Amos, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah and those other Old Testament trouble-makers who we need to listen to. Those who said the difficult things, who railed against the injustice of the people of God and who spoke hope about a future in which God would be running the show.

That’s what Biblical prophecy is about. And for the future of the church, we dare not ignore it.

 

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