Predictive Prophecy?
Tony Cooke

With the possible exception of 1988 (88 reasons why Jesus was supposed to come back then), I don’t think I’ve seen a season where more emphasis has been placed on “predictive prophecies” than I have this year (2020).

The difference is that this year, it is not just the stir from a single person making a prediction, but it seems like a plethora of voices are predicting things in the name of “The Spirit told me.” As a Bible teacher, it concerns me when I seem to see more emphasis on “What does prophet so-and-so say?” as opposed to “What does the Bible say?”

I’d like to share some biblical perspectives on this overall issue, and I think you’ll really appreciate the collection of quotes from Brother Hagin about prophets and prophecy. First, though, let’s start by looking at Paul’s admonition to one congregation.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 (TPT)
Never restrain or put out the fire of the Holy Spirit. And don’t be one who scorns prophecies, but be faithful to examine them by putting them to the test, and afterward hold tightly to what has proven to be right.

The NKJV of part of that simply reads:

Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.

Perhaps we can paraphrase this and recognize that concerning the supernatural, Paul was admonishing believers: “Don’t be cynical—Don’t be gullible.”

In light of the surging interest in prophets and the prophetic in recent times, I have gone back and re-examined some of these issues. Can I walk you through some of my findings?

The Purpose

It is important to examine the purpose of prophecies and of prophetic ministry. According to Paul, the purpose of prophecy (the simple gift) is summarized in 1 Corinthians 14:3 (NLT). He writes, “But one who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them.”

I recognize that there can be other elements that come in, such as the revelation gifts (word of knowledge, word of wisdom, discerning of spirits), but simple prophesy does not necessarily reveal anything or predict the future. It strengthens, encourages, and comforts.

In evaluating simple prophesy, we should ask three questions:

1. Does it agree with the Bible?
2. Does it carry an element of inspiration from the Holy Spirit?
3. Does it strengthen, encourage, and comfort the hearers?

Similarly, what is the purpose of a prophet in the New Testament? Like all fivefold ministry gifts, prophets exist for “the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12, NKJV).

If things are working according to God’s design (and assuming people respond properly), those who sit under a prophet’s ministry will be better equipped to work for God with the result of the Body being edified.

While I am not saying these elements are comprehensive, they are foundational. When prophetic ministry is operating, we should see believers being strengthened, encouraged, and comforted, and they should be better equipped to serve in ministry and the church should be edified.

So, Where Does Predicting the Future Come In?

As I was pondering these things, I found myself remembering some of the things I heard Brother Hagin teach about prophets and prophesy. I went back and read much of what he said in three of his books:

  • Seven Steps to Judging Prophesy
  • The Gift of Prophesy
  • He Gave Gifts Unto Men

The last of those books came from a series of teachings Brother Hagin did in approximately 1990. I was privileged to travel with him when he presented that material in a handful of locations around the country.

Without providing commentary, I want to share with you some quotes from those three books that helped me put several current issues into perspective:

From He Gave Gifts Unto Men (1992)

In the 1959 vision, Jesus said to me, “There is a difference between the Old Testament prophet and the New Testament prophet. That is where many folks miss it today. They try to give the New Testament prophet the same status as the Old Testament prophet, and he doesn’t have the same status.”

Actually, a prophet’s primary purpose and main ministry is to preach or teach the Word, or to be both a teacher and a preacher of the Word. Prophesying is not the main thrust of the prophet’s ministry.

The other ministry gifts, such as the pastor or teacher, can also speak by revelation from a sudden impulse of the moment. But speaking by the revelation of the moment with little or no forethought occurs more consistently and with greater frequency with the prophet. He speaks from the light of a sudden revelation at the moment. However, his subject is always the Word of God.

In First Thessalonians 5:20,21, the Bible says, “Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” We aren’t to despise prophesying. But on the other hand, we aren’t supposed to believe everything everyone prophesies to us either. The Bible tells us to prove all things to see if they are of God.

Sometimes there is just a fine line between fanaticism and true spirituality, and between false and genuine manifestations of spiritual gifts. Many are not able to distinguish the difference, but the Body of Christ needs to be able to do so.

Tradition tells us that the church at Thessalonica had so much prophesying that the people almost despised it. That’s why Paul had to write to that church and instruct them: “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:19-21).

One time the Holy Spirit said to me, “My people are waiting for the spectacular and missing the supernatural.” God does not often lead His people by the spectacular supernatural move of His Spirit. But the inward witness is supernatural because it’s the Holy Ghost, and that is the number one way God leads His people.

You see, you can’t build a ministry on spiritual gifts. You can’t even build a ministry on a ministry office—including the office of the prophet. And you can’t build a ministry on the anointing either. In fact, you can’t build a ministry on anything except the Word of God.

In the days of The Voice of Healing, for example, many good ministers missed it spiritually because they got off on a tangent, just trying to listen to what they called the “spirit,” instead of listening to the Word.

“Then, secondly,” Jesus explained, “there is an evil spirit whose voice sounds very similar to the Voice of the Holy Spirit. That voice is very similar to the voice of prophecy, except that it magnifies and lifts up man, not God.” Of course, the genuine spirit of prophecy is the voice of the Holy Spirit (Rev. 19:10). You see, there are many spirits and many voices in the spirit realm (1 Cor. 14:10). Jesus said, “Nearly every minister—and every believer—as he is maturing spiritually, sometimes listens unknowingly to that other voice. He hasn’t yet learned to distinguish between it and the Holy Spirit. That’s another reason nothing happens or the wrong thing happens when they minister.” Does that mean a believer has a demon when he listens to the wrong voice? No, of course not. No more than Peter had a devil when he yielded to Satan and reported what Satan said (Matt. 16:21-23). James and John also yielded to the wrong spiritual influence (Luke 9:54-56) and were rebuked by Jesus. You see, spiritual things—both the Word of God and spirit voices—have to be rightly divided. People can listen to the wrong voice just as they can wrongly “divide” or misinterpret the Scriptures.

Sometimes people desire to be used by God so much that they move out in the realm of the spirit and try to do something themselves in the natural realm where Satan is god (2 Cor. 4:4). And then these spirits come in and accommodate them. Those who do this go into error, because they are trying to call attention to themselves, instead of bringing glory to God.

On one hand, we don’t want to be on the defensive in the area of prophetic utterance, suspicious of everyone and every utterance. But on the other hand, we don’t want to be like young mockingbirds either, who open their mouths wide, allowing anything to be poked down their throats. Believers need to realize that the gifts of the Spirit and the Holy Ghost are perfect, but human beings are imperfect. The Holy Ghost manifests Himself through imperfect vessels, so the manifestation through a person is not always perfect.

I know from experience that if a prophet is not in the Word, he can tend to try to follow too much after the “Spirit,” and he can get things in a mess. But if he is solid in the Word, the Word will keep him steady.

Jesus said, “The office of the prophet in the Old Testament consisted more of foretelling, whereas the office of the prophet under the New Covenant consists more of forthtelling. However, God may occasionally use New Testament prophets to foretell future events, too, through the word of wisdom.”

But the main emphasis of the prophet’s ministry in the New Testament is on forthtelling—preaching or teaching the Word by inspired utterance. Even under the Old Covenant, the prophets didn’t always prophesy about the future. That was manifested, of course, but they were mainly preachers — prophet preachers.

In my ministry as a prophet, God has sometimes used me to foretell certain future events through the word of wisdom—many times privately and occasionally publicly. However, my main ministry as a prophet is to preach and teach the Word of God.

Probably ninety percent of the time, the prophet’s ministry is in demonstration privately.

From The Gift of Prophecy (1969)

It would be easy to say, “I am a prophet.” It would be easy to imitate someone else’s ministry. It is another thing entirely to be equipped and called of God. Those who are not called or who only imitate others’ ministries are obnoxious to the brethren and they can cause confusion—even division—in the Body of Christ. The gift of prophecy often is confused with prediction. People think “prophecy” means to predict what will happen in the future. Actually, the simple gift of prophecy carries no prediction with it whatsoever. As we read earlier, “. . . he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to EDIFICATION, and EXHORTATION, and COMFORT” (1 Cor. 14:3). Notice that “prediction” is not mentioned.

New Testament prophecy is not so much telling what is going to happen in the future, but it is a ministry to make people better and more useful Christians now.

The gifts of God are perfect. The Holy Spirit is perfect. But these gifts are not always perfect in manifestation, because they are manifested through an imperfect channel: men and women. The Spirit of God flows through us as water flows through a pipe. Sometimes as the Spirit of God flows through us something from our own personality gets mixed in with the divine flow.

A true message of prophecy will edify, exhort, and comfort people, helping them to be better Christians. Some of these mystics and psychic mediums even will predict which horse is going to win which race, or which candidate is going to win a political race. But God is not in that. Remember that the Bible forbids our having anything to do with sorcerers, fortune-tellers, psychic mediums, and the like. The Spirit of God can tell us things if He wishes, but we need to know the difference between the true and the false. If we don’t, we had better stay away from any of it until we do. How can we tell the difference between an operation of the Spirit of God and an extrasensory manifestation? That which is of God centers around Christ. It is not something to be used to prove that I have something, or that I am somebody.

When things are not right, something inside you—an unction of the Lord, the anointing that abides in you—tells you something is wrong. The Holy Spirit is there to inform you if things are not as they should be, and you will know immediately. Don’t let fanaticism and excesses keep you from the blessings of God. You can’t fight error with error. Teach the New Testament. Believe in the Spirit of God and the gifts of the Spirit, and enjoy all that God has provided for His children.

From Seven Steps to Judging Prophecy (1982)

Therefore, we can judge both the prophet and the prophecy according to their attitude toward Jesus. If they lead away from Him or create division in the Body of Christ, they are wrong. If they magnify man rather than Christ, they are wrong.

There are some who are presumptuous and prophesy out of their own minds.

It’s certain that genuine prophecies from God are not going to be used to predict who is going to win a horse race or a political race! We need to judge and rightly divide such so-called “prophecy.”

If something’s done in the same spirit of faith that we are in, it will produce liberty. If it’s not, it will produce bondage. Many are led into bondage instead of into light and deliverance. God does not want to bind people or hold them in bondage. God is concerned about liberating people — setting them free. If people are of the same spirit, they’ll know it. The “same spirit” is what is important. As I mentioned, I didn’t know anything about the “fruit” of this evangelist, but when I got into his service, I detected that he didn’t have the “same spirit” I did. Somebody will say, “Maybe you could be wrong.” No, Christians can detect in their spirit if something’s not just right. They can detect a confusion there; a mixture. When you detect such a thing, I’d advise you to be very careful.

God’s not going to lead us back into fear. We were delivered from that spirit of fear. We have received the spirit of power and liberty, glory to God! You’ll find that some prophets’ ministries bring bondage instead of liberty.

I’m not interested in leading disciples off after me. There are too many “prophets” and others around the world building kingdoms for themselves, proselyting and leading people off into error. Some claim they’re “apostles,” but they’re false apostles. Others claim they’re “prophets,” but they’re false prophets.

I never allow the gifts of the Spirit to be misused in my meetings.

No wonder we lose our young people, friends. They want reality! They believe in reality. When we sit around and swallow everything and act like we don’t know the difference between the real and the false, allowing just anything to happen, we lose them. I’ve come to the place where I believe it’s my responsibility to the young people to deal with the false. One reason why the hippie movement came into being was because the young people were sick and tired of frauds and fakes. They were looking for the genuine, even though they were looking in the wrong place. If we the Church won’t give reality to them, who will?

So we may have to judge ourselves sometimes. When we do, let’s correct ourselves. Remember, it’s not a disgrace to be wrong; it’s a disgrace to stay wrong.

Concluding Thoughts

In quoting Brother Hagin so extensively, I hope you realize that I am not putting him on a pedestal. I will always remember his humility, and he would often remind people that he was human and that he could miss it. When he did share a “word” with someone, he would always tell them to judge it and not accept it unless it bore witness with their own spirit. Above all, he always directed people look to God’s Word—the Bible—and to regard it as the ultimate authority.

Danger Signs of Putting Too Much Faith in Prophecies

Here are a few of factors that might indicate a person is making too much of prophecies.

It is problematic if:

  • A person fails to recognize (or is unwilling to admit) that prophet so-and-so could be wrong.
  • A person puts all of their trust in what a prophet says as opposed to putting their confidence in what the Bible says.
  • A person would find himself or herself devastated if what prophet so-and-so did not come to pass.
  • A person feels he or she needs to know everything about the future to be at peace. God may reveal some things, but he doesn’t reveal all things. Even Paul said, “Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture!” (1 Corinthians 13:9, NLT). Corrie Ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”

Let me say how much I appreciate you as a pastor, and I respect the vital job you have of shepherding and guiding your people through such tumultuous times. I pray that God multiplies grace and wisdom to you as you feed, lead, and care for those God has placed under your watch.

Bible teacher and author Tony Cooke graduated from RHEMA Bible Training Center in 1980 and received degrees from North Central University (Bachelor’s in Church Ministries) and Liberty University (Master’s in Theological Studies/Church History).

His ministerial background includes pastoral ministry, teaching in Bible schools, and directing a ministerial association. Tony’s passion for teaching the Bible has taken him to more than thirty nations and nearly all fifty states. He is the author of a dozen books, of which, various titles have been translated and published in eight other languages. Tony and his wife, Lisa, reside in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, and are the parents of two adult children.