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The Gift that is Prophecy, part 1
Mentone October 24, 2015
About 100 years ago, on July 16, 1915, Ellen G. White passed peacefully to her rest. She had reached the age of 87, having been born in November 26, 1827, in the town of Gorham, Maine of parents Robert and Eunice Harmon. She had served her Lord and her church faithfully for 70 years. She is recognized as being one of the founders of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which in its infancy numbered only about 50 but has now grown to about 19 million world-wide.
Because she exerted such a positive influence on the church we love, it seems fitting, inasmuch as this is the 100-year anniversary of her passing, that we pause to reflect on the blessing of the Lord in giving to this church the “Gift that is Prophecy.” Truly this church has been blessed by the ministry of Ellen G. White. Truly this church would not be the same if the Lord had not used her to instruct, encourage and yes, sometimes rebuke and correct His church. Thank God for the ministry of Ellen White!
Spanning those seven decades, she wrote out about 100,000 pages of handwritten manuscript. In your mind put two reams of paper (500 pages each), then multiply that by 100 and you will have some idea of the quantity of material that came from her pen. And to be honest, two reams of unused, packed in the wrapper, paper doesn’t really do the measurement justice to what those 100,000 pages would really look like. She is the most prolific American woman author on any subject, be it gardening, novels or cookbooks. She is the most translated woman author in the entire history of literature, and the most translated American author of either gender. Why this woman’s name is not a household word today is a mystery!
Here we see the funeral in the Battle Creek Church (it was the third and largest funeral), the platform crowded with flowers. Here is the graveside at the Oak Hill Cemetery, Battle Creek and the cemetery grounds on the day of her interment, July 24, 1915.
In our look back at the ministry of Ellen White, first we’re going to take a look at what the Bible says about prophets and prophecy, particularly about the gift of prophecy in the last days. Then next time, we’re going to take look at some of the aspects of Ellen White’s personal life, and deal with some of the questions that often come up in regard to her ministry.
Prophecy became necessary because of sin. Prior to the Fall, there was open communication between the Creator God and His creatures. There was no barrier, no wall, no separation that existed. But sin changed all that. Now there is a curtain that separates God from man. But because God loves us so much, He stepped in and designed a solution to the sin problem, and has graciously chosen to communicate the components of that plan to us. To accomplish that goal, the Lord spoke through His messengers, the prophets.
The Bible says, “Surely the Lord God does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets.” Amos 3:7. Peter writes, “We also have the prophetic word made more sure, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” II Peter 1:19-21.
God inspired men’s minds, and they wrote out in their language, using their vocabulary and expressions, the thoughts that God had given them. So we are blessed today with a volume, a Book that is “God-breathed,” the Word of God, authoritative and competent to teach us about God and His great salvation.
The Bible uses an interesting metaphor in describing the purpose of prophecy. He said, “I have hewn them by the prophets.” Hosea 6:5. What picture comes to your mind with the verb “hewn”? It’s of a sculptor chiseling rock, perhaps to take the shape of a person. It’s of a mason working to fashion a stone block to take its place in a building. This is the work God commissioned His prophets to do.
Let’s take a look at the word “prophecy.” It is comes directly (as does about 50% of our language) from a Greek word. We just borrowed the Greek word prophetes and drafted it into the English language. What does the Greek word mean? It is a compound word, made up of the prefix pro and the verb phemi, which means “to speak.” In Greek the prefix pro has the meaning of “in behalf of.” A “prophet” is literally “someone who speaks in behalf of” someone else. A “prophet” is a spokesman, a mouthpiece.
This is illustrated beautifully in the story of Moses being commissioned to go back to Egypt and deliver God’s people. You remember that he hesitated, citing his inability to speak the language, since he had been gone from that land for forty years. What did God do? He sent Aaron to meet him and be his assistant.
Here’s what the Bible says. “So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Moses, and He said: ‘Is not Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And look, he is also coming out to meet you. When he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. Now you shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth. And I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will teach you what you shall do. So he shall be your spokesman to the people. And he himself shall be as a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as God.’” Exodus 4:14-16.
Then we read later, “So the LORD said to Moses: ‘See I have made you a God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you. And Aaron your brother shall speak to Pharaoh.’” Exodus 7:1, 2.
When we speak of “prophecy,” we recognize different levels of authority. There is only one “Spirit” Who inspires authentic prophetic utterances, so there is no difference as to the “Source” of prophecy. But we do recognize different strata of authority.
At the bottom level, so to speak, in the Bible, anyone who speaks on behalf of God is “prophesying,” for the word itself, as we have seen, means “to speak for.” Speaking for God, whether from the pulpit or across the backyard fence, constitutes one form of “prophesying.” If you teach a Sabbath School class, if you give a Bible study, in this sense you are “prophesying,” for you are speaking for God.
Above that, there are those who wore the mantle of prophet as noted in the Bible, though they themselves did not write books of the Bible. In this category we recognize Enoch, Elijah, Deborah, the daughters of Philip, and a host of others. By the way, who did Jesus say was the greatest of all the prophets? It was John the Baptist, wasn’t it, yet there is no book that bears his name.
Then we have those who were privileged to write out the messages that God gave to them, which God graciously preserved to be the content of our Bibles today. They certainly bore the insignia of prophet.
Yet there is a higher echelon above even these. Who was really the greatest of all the prophets? It was Jesus! He is the One Who came to “explain” Him, to “speak for” God in the highest sense. John 1:18. Paul wrote, “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, Whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.” Hebrews 1:1, 2.
What do you notice about the word “His” in that text? It’s italicized, meaning that it was supplied by the translators. A better rendering might be “He has in these last days spoken to us by a Son.” It’s making a distinction concerning the caliber, the station of the messenger. God spoke through many human beings to convey His message, but His own Son, One having His own nature, Jesus was the clearest expression of God this world has ever witnessed. He was the truly the greatest of all the spokesmen; He was the greatest Prophet. Moses said, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst.” Deuteronomy 18:15.
Let’s take a quick look at the criteria that the Bible describes, by which a true prophet may be identified.
When we think of the prophetic gift today, and recognize its presence in the ministry of Ellen G. White, there is one passage above all others, which is precious to Seventh-day Adventists. That text is found in Revelation 12:17. “And the dragon (the devil) was wroth with the woman (God’s true church), and he went to make war (persecute) with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
This has been an important text for Seventh-day Adventists almost since the beginning of our church, and has been referred to as evidence that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a fulfillment of Bible prophecy, inasmuch as the text gives two clues to identify God’s last day church. That little word “which” is huge! The devil went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
The word “which” puts a limitation; it specifies; it singles out from a larger group. It narrows the list down. It tells you how, among the “many,” to find the right one. For example, if I were to ask someone to go out into the parking lot and retrieve something from my car, that might be a difficult task, with all the cars that are out there. And by the way, we praise God for every one of those cars, because those cars brought you to church today! We’re glad for all those cars out there, and if I just said, “Go out to get something out of my car,” without telling you anything more, it might be hard to know which one was mine.
But if I said, “Please to my car which is an orange Edsel and has Alaska license plates on it, that would make it easier, wouldn’t it? That word “which” makes all the difference because it helps us in our understanding. The word “which” in this text is just as important as the word “which” in Colossians 2:16, 17 where we read about “which” sabbaths were done away with when Jesus died. “Therefore let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths which are a shadow of things to come.” Maybe someone ought to do a study on “important ‘which’s’ in the Bible.”
The word “which” introduces clues that help to identify the right one. In the same way, among the hundreds of faith groups that today call themselves Christian, in this text God has told us in His Word which is His remnant church. And this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t have His people in these other churches. But it does mean that there’s only one church that has been commissioned to bear the special truths for these last days.
Jesus said, “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will one flock and one shepherd.” John 10:16. The message of Revelation 18 is a call for God’s people to leave “Babylon,” systems which are not teaching God’s last-day truths found in the Three Angels’ Messages. Revelation 12:17 clearly identifies the “remnant” as “keeping the commandments of God,” and having the “testimony of Jesus.” Is this an important text then, to be able to determine which is God’s last-day church? Absolutely it is!
What are the two clues? His remnant people “keep the commandments of God.” Does that mean that they keep nine out of the ten? No. Does that mean they keep the commandments of men who changed the Ten Commandments? No. They keep all ten of the commandments as given in Scripture by God. Do they keep them “to be saved”? No, that’s impossible. Only Jesus can save us. Our obedience does not merit salvation. We’re justified by His blood alone. But because we love Him, since He provided our salvation at such great cost, it is an honor and privilege to obey Him.
These two clues are taken to mean the observance of the Ten Commandments, including the Sabbath (“commandments of God”), and the presence of a prophet (“testimony of Jesus”). While it is not difficult to see the “Sabbath” within the phrase “commandments of God,” some wonder if it isn’t a rather long leap to go from the phrase “testimony of Jesus” to the word “prophet,” especially since many other Bible translations don’t give the same reading as the King James. So, here’s our question: is there justification for interpreting the phrase “testimony of Jesus” as referring to the existence of a prophet? In relation to that we might ask, How does the Bible use this phrase?
We are encouraged to study to discover truth. We are advised to “compare Scripture with Scripture” in discerning God’s will. We are encouraged to “rightly divide” the Word. When I was in 10th grade geometry, Mr. York always required us to “show your work.” That is, it wasn’t enough just to come up with the right answer, he wanted to see that the proper method was used, so he as teacher could know that we fully understood the principle involved and would be able to use it another setting.
So that’s what we’re going to do. Let’s first compare two other passages in Revelation which bear a direct relationship to the phrase “testimony of Jesus.” A definitive usage is found in Revelation 19:10 which states that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Someone might ask, “Exactly what does the phrase ‘spirit of prophecy’ mean?” While it may appear that this does not satisfactorily answer the question, but merely adds another ambiguous phrase with many possible interpretations, actually it proves to be very helpful, especially when comparing it with the other passage, Revelation 22:8, 9, for it contains an interesting parallel to Revelation 19:10.
The important thing to note as we compare these two passages is that they say a number of things that are the same, but in the second passage there is one term that is different. Think of it this way. If someone asked me what Pastor Gatra wore last Wednesday to prayer meeting, and I were to say, “He wore shoes, shirt and slacks,” and then someone else asked me the same question and I said, “He wore shoes, shirt and pants,” you would probably conclude that “slacks” and “pants,” although different words, essentially mean the same thing. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?
We’re going to apply that same principle to the two passages we’ll look at, beginning with Revelation 19:10. “And I (John) fell at his (the angel’s) feet to worship him. But he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that! I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’”
Now let’s look at Revelation 22:8, 9. “Now I, John, saw and heard these things. And when I heard and saw, I fell down to worship before the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Then he said to me, ‘See that you do not do that. For I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets.’”
What do we see here? We see that the two texts are similar in several ways. Both reveal John’s admiration for the guiding angel who showed him these things, both picture the prophet ready to worship the angel, and both contain instruction from the angel to John, indicating that John should worship God, and not the angel.
Then the angel identifies himself as a fellow servant of John, and his “brethren.” That’s pretty amazing, when you think about it. We should note the remarkable humility of that mighty angel in saying “I am your fellow servant”! In Revelation 1:1 we are given the chain of communication that comes from God, is conveyed by His angels and then through them to His servants the prophets.
But notice very carefully that the angel speaks of John’s “brethren” differently in 22:8, 9 than he does in 19:10. In 19:10 the angel identifies John’s “brethren” as having the “testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy,” while in 22:8, 9 he speaks of his “brethren” as being the “prophets.” What can we learn from this? Well, if language and grammar mean anything, it is reasonable to conclude that the “prophets” are those who “have the testimony of Jesus” and the “spirit of prophecy,” and that these terms are used in a synonymous way.
All three refer to the giving of messages of and about Jesus by means of the Holy Spirit, to and then through the human spokesman, the prophet. The “prophets” then, have the “testimony of Jesus,” and the “spirit of prophecy.” Revelation 12:17 then, predicting a “remnant” who “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus” could only be fulfilled if among them the ministry of a prophet existed.
We might look at these three terms in this say: “testimony of Jesus” focuses on the content of the message, while “Spirit of prophecy” points out the Divine Agent Who gives the message, and “prophet” identifies the human agent who receives the prophecy. This presents a very balanced and complete picture, for these are the three prerequisites for communication to take place: a message (“testimony of Jesus”), a transmitter (“Spirit of prophecy”), and a receiver (“prophet”).
Let us now study three different passages, noticing how these three terms are used together in a cooperative way, to bring about prophecy. First note I Peter 1:10, 11: “of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.”
What is Peter saying? He is stating that the prophets bore the testimony of Jesus by means of the Holy Spirit, or, the prophets had the testimony of Jesus and the Spirit of prophecy.
A second passage we’ll look at is found in II Chronicles 24:19, 20. “Yet He sent prophets to them, to bring them again unto the Lord; and they testified against them: but they would not give ear. And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoida the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, ‘Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the Lord, that ye cannot prosper?’”
Finally we’ll look one more passage in which all three terms come together. It’s in Nehemiah 9:26, 30. “Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against Thee, and cast Thy law behind their backs, and slew Thy prophets which testified against them to turn them to Thee. Yet many years didst Thou forbear them, and testifiedst against them by Thy Spirit in Thy prophets.” It is clear that these three terms are simply different facets of the diamond of Divine communication.
Let’s now take a closer look at the terms “testimony” and “testimony of Jesus,” as used in Scripture, referring to the content, or message of prophecy, or the activity in giving that message. First it is interesting to note how the words “testimony” and “testify” are employed in a unique way to describe the prophetic work. Frequently the verb “testify” is chosen to describe the prophet’s function in delivering God’s message to His people. The Lord instructed Moses, “Go down, charge the people, lest they break through unto the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish.” (The Hebrew verb ud is translated in a variety of ways in the Old Testament, but most frequently “testify.” The verses here quoted contain the same word, italicized to identify it, though translated differently in the KJV.) Exodus 19:11.
Moses later admonished the people, “And it shall be, if thou do at all forget the Lord thy God, and walk after other gods, and serve them, and worship them, I testify against you this day that ye shall surely perish.” Deuteronomy 8:19. Nehemiah stated, “In those days saw I in Judah some treading wine presses on the Sabbath, and bringing in sheaves, and lading asses; as also wine, grapes, and figs, and all manner of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day: and I testified against them in the day wherein they sold victuals.” Nehemiah 13:15; see also verse 21.
Through Jeremiah, the Lord described the giving of His messages through the prophets with these words: “I earnestly protested unto your fathers in the day that I brought them up out of the land of Egypt, even unto this day, rising early and protesting, saying, ‘Obey My voice.’” Jeremiah 11:6, 7. Later Jeremiah himself stated, “The Lord hath said concerning you, ‘O yet remnant of Judah; Go ye not into Egypt: know certainly that I have admonished you this day.” Jeremiah 42:19.
The prophet Amos was told, “‘Hear ye, and testify in the house of Jacob,’ saith the Lord God, the God of hosts.” Amos 3:13. In a verse that summarizes the work of the prophets we read, “The Lord testified against Israel, and against Judah, by all the prophets and by all His seers, saying, ‘Turn ye from your evil ways, and keep My commandments.’” II Kings 17:13.
This concept of “testimony” carried through into the New Testament, and surfaces in statements made referring to Old Testament Scripture: “But one in a certain place testified, saying…” Hebrews 2:6. The New Testament words translated “testify” and “testimony” have their root in the Greek word martereo, a word which is often used in the LXX to describe the work of the Old Testament prophet, many times in the verses we just quoted.
John the Revelator closed his book by stating, “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book….He which testifieth these things saith, ‘Surely I come quickly.’” Revelation 22:18, 20. Because of this specialized usage of the words “testify” and “testimony” then, Revelation 12:17’s mention of the “testimony of Jesus” would immediately remind John’s audience of the work of the prophets.
This “testimony” was about Jesus, whether explicit or implicit, for Christ said “they” (the Old Testament prophets) “testified of Me.” John 5:39. It would not be improper to paraphrase this text by saying, “The Old Testament prophets had the testimony of Jesus.” While it is true that anyone can bear a message about Jesus, it is nevertheless clear that the prophets occupied a special and authoritative role in fulfilling this commission.
Not only did Old Testament prophets have the “testimony of Jesus,” but so also did the New Testament prophets. John himself said that the purpose of his prophetic ministry was so that he could “bare record of the word of God and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all the things that he saw.” Revelation 1:2. There can be no question that he was speaking of prophecy, for he goes on to say in the next verse, “blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein.” Revelation 1:3.
Because Paul rejoiced that the “testimony of Christ was confirmed” in the Corinthian church, and then linked this to the “gifts of the Spirit,” it is clear that he referred to the existence of an active prophetic ministry in their midst. I Corinthians 1:6, 7; 12:8-10.
So we see then, that this term “testimony of Jesus” is used in a limited sense, to describe the process of a prophet receiving and imparting a message about Jesus by means of the Holy Spirit.
Let’s think for a moment about the term “spirit of prophecy.” It is true that this term might be interpreted several ways, depending on how one understands the word “spirit.” It could mean “awareness of prophecy,” or a “recognition of prophecy.” However, it is more harmonious to think of the “spirit” as the Holy Spirit, Who makes prophecy possible. When, in Revelation 1:10 John states that he was “in the Spirit,” he means that he was under the direct guidance, control and influence of the Holy Spirit when he received these prophetic visions.
We shouldn’t be surprised at this phrase being a title of the Third Person of the Godhead, for the Holy Spirit is frequently given a title which is descriptive of His work or character, such as “Spirit of truth,” a form of address which can be understood as the “Spirit Who is truth.” John 15:26. In the same way, “Spirit of prophecy” refers to the Holy Spirit Who is responsible for the giving of prophecy. Paul speaks of the “Spirit of life,” the “Spirit of adoption,” and the “Spirit of grace.” Romans 8:2, 15; Hebrews 10:29. In these verses, he is speaking of the Holy Spirit, and attaching His personal attributes to His title. In the same way, the “Spirit of prophecy” refers to the Holy Spirit, through Whom prophecy comes.
Now let us study a few passages concerning the role of the Holy Spirit in the production of prophecy. While Revelation 1:1 does not mention the Holy Spirit in the chain of communication, it is clear that He is involved in every aspect of it. We are familiar with II Peter 1:21 which states, “prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Peter had already mentioned how the prophets beforehand testified about Jesus through the Spirit that was in them. I Peter 1:10, 11.
Because of this, there is no doubt that Jesus’ words in John 15 and 16 refer to the Holy Spirit’s work in prophecy, as well as in speaking to the individual believer. “But when the Comforter is come, Whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth….He shall testify of Me. He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come. He shall glorify Me: for He shall receive of Mine, and shall shew it unto you.” John 15:26; 16:13, 14. It is easy to see how this verse relates to the giving of prophecy.
There is perfect harmony then, in understanding the phrase “Spirit of prophecy” as referring to the Holy Spirit, without Whom prophecy would not exist. Those who have the “Spirit of prophecy” are those in whom one of the gifts of the Spirit, that of prophecy, is manifested.
The term “prophet,” as we have seen means “spokesman” or “mouthpiece.” We should note that those who exercised the gift of prophecy addressed not only future, but present and sometimes past events. There is certainly a predictive element in Bible prophecy, but in a larger sense it is expository and relevant to the times in which the messenger lives.
To conclude, these three terms, “testimony of Jesus,” “Spirit of prophecy,” and “the prophets,” all refer to the gracious miracle of diving communication called “prophecy,” with the “testimony” focusing on the content of the message, the “Spirit of prophecy” highlighting the Divine Agent, and the “prophet” identifying the human agent.
When Seventh-day Adventists interpret Revelation 12:17, “The remnant which have the testimony of Jesus” as describing a last day church in which would be manifested the ministry of a prophet, there is sound biblical justification for so doing.
God has given this church a wonderful gift in the prophetic ministry of Ellen G. White!