The Bible gives a number of principles for testing a prophecy.
1 Cor 14:4 – It must build up the body.
2 Tim 3:16 – It must agree with Scripture.
John 16:13,14 – It must exalt Jesus.
Deut 18:22,22 – It must come true.
Deut 13:1-5 – It must lead to God and obedience to him.
Rom 8:15 – It must produce liberty
2 Cor 3:6 – It must produce life.
1 John 2:27 – It must be attested to the Holy Spirit in each believer.
All prophecies should glorify and honour Jesus.
At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, “Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev 19:10).
Sometimes it is hard to test a prophecy. A word may seem to be okay, but it may take time before it is fulfilled. Some words of encouragement are consistent with scripture and hard to prove wrong. In these situations, testing of prophets may be more helpful.
Testing individual prophecies can often be difficult. What every Church needs is a prophet who has a proven track record, a person who is known for speaking the word of the Lord. It is easier to test prophets than individual prophecies. A prophet can be watched over time to see if his life is bearing fruit for the Lord (Matthew 7:15-20). Every church needs a proven prophet who can be trusted to bring a reliable word when one is required.
Judge the spirit of the prophecy before you judge the truth of the word (Graham Cooke).
The restoration of the prophetic ministry was one of the most urgent needs of the modern church. The danger is, that in time of need, God’s people will accept second best. We must not accept every person who claims to be a prophet, but test them to discover those that are sent by the Lord. If the church is to release prophets into their full ministry, it must learn to recognise those who are truly called by God.
We need words from heaven. Too many words come from the human heart and not from heaven. God wants prophets who will bring words from heaven that will change things on earth (Terry Collins).
The body of Christ needs to mature until we can distinguish a true prophetic word from merely the word of a prophet. Many modern Christians are afraid to reject anything spoken by one who claims to be a prophet or prophetess (Iverna – Tompkins – Advancing in the Prophetic).
Jesus warned that false prophets and deceivers would come upon the earth, and that even some of the elect would be deceived by them (Mark 13:22,23). False prophets have been present in the world in every age, but they are particularly common in times of tumult like our present age. We have seen a great outburst of prophetic activity, with all kinds of individuals and cults claiming to have the truth. In this situation the church not only needs prophets who speak God’s truth, but must also learn to discern the true from the false. Whenever God releases a particular gift in the world, Satan tries to release a counterfeit of that gift. We can be sure that as God restores the prophetic ministry, Satan will try and raise up false prophets.
There is often a prophetic word in the words of a prophet, but not everything said is true prophecy (Iverna – Tompkins – Advancing in the Prophetic).
The Bible gives a number of tests for discerning true prophets from those who are false. All Christians should become familiar with them.
Every true prophet is called by God. The initiative in the making of a prophet always rests with him. It is not a ministry that anyone can take up. A true prophetic ministry always begins with a call from God (Jer 1:4-10; Is 6:1-8). Jeremiah condemned the false prophets because they had not stood in the presence of the Lord to hear his voice. They could not speak his word because they had not heard him speak (Jer 23:18,22). The true prophetic ministry always begins with the call of God.
There is the prophetic ministry of promise born of the will of the Father and there is the prophetic ministry born of flesh and the will of man. Though both are conceived through a genuine desire to fulfil God’s plan and promise, the one birthed by flesh must be maintained by flesh while the one birthed by the Spirit will be sustained by the Spirit. Flesh reproduces flesh and therefore speaks directly to the desires of man. Spirit reproduces spirit and therefore speaks forth the desire of God (John Bevere Thus Saith the Lord p.4).
The first sign that a person has been called to be a prophet, is a continuous experience of the gift of prophecy. Most prophets will begin by sharing a word of prophecy in fellowship meetings. Eventually this will change from an occasional experience into a regular occurrence. When a person regularly brings a clear and true prophetic word to the meeting, it may be a sign that God is calling him to be a prophet. Of course, we must guard against those who draw attention to themselves, by speaking at every meeting. Their lack of fruit will make them obvious.
An important statement about testing prophets is made in Deuteronomy 18:2.
If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously.
It is presumptuous to speak in the Lord’s name if he has not spoken. If the word of a prophet is not fulfilled, then he is a false prophet. This test must be used with care. Sometimes a word is not fulfilled, because the people repent or God shows mercy and postpones judgement. The test applies more to positive prophecies.
Prophets often foretold destruction and sometimes the destruction did not come, yet this did not disprove their divine mission, as in the case of Jonah. For God is gracious, and ready to turn away his wrath from those who turn away from their sins. But the prophet who prophesied peace and prosperity absolutely and unconditionally without adding the necessary proviso, that they do not by wilful sin put a bar in their own door and stop the coming of God’s favours, will be proved a true prophet only by the accomplishment of his prediction (Matthew Henry).
There is some prophecy, however, that is unconditional. It depends solely on God himself for fulfilment. Normally it relates to the overview of his plans and purposes for mankind as a whole (Graham Cooke – Developing Your Prophetic Gifting p.135).
The proof that a prophet has been called is the fact that his words are effective and fulfilled. A good example of this was Samuel.
The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognised that Samuel was attested as a prophet. 1 Sam 3:19,20.
The fact that his words were fulfilled showed that God was with him and was proof of his call.
A prophet’s calling will be recognised by the church. Samuel did not have to make claims for himself. All Israel recognised his calling, and accepted his ministry. A true prophet will be recognised by other Christians.
A prophet who encourages people to worship false gods is not a true prophet. Even if he performs signs and wonders he is not to be followed. Such a person is a false prophet. A true prophet will always be faithful to Jesus and zealous for his glory.
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces for you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods,”….you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut 13:1-3).
Jesus is the one who inspires and fulfils all prophecy (Rev 19:10). All prophecy should be centred on him.
Prophecy will confirm and broaden the vision; it cannot create one if nothing is there. Vision is created through prayer, seeking God and sharing our hearts with people in the work. If these things are absent we need to be restoring people to God, not creating vision for empty hearts (Graham Cooke – Developing Your Prophetic Gifting p.80).
Character is one of the best tests of a prophet. Jesus said,
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them. Matt 2:15,16.
He went on to say that a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. If a person is not living a holy life he should not be acknowledged as a prophet. A true prophet will be demonstrating the fruit of the spirit.
People who continue in blatant sin whilst exercising spiritual gifts create this ever widening gulf in their personality which results in spiritual failure, emotional collapse, sometimes mental breakdown, physical illness, relational difficulties and quite often a complete moral lapse (Graham Cooke – Developing Your Prophetic Gifting p.103).
It is easier for the leaders to reject the prophecy and the prophet, particularly if there are some unresolved character issues in the life of the prophet. It provides a legitimate reason to reject the word in the eyes of the people, though not necessarily in the eyes of the Lord. Prophecy has a way of testing our true motives (Graham Cooke – Developing Your Prophetic Gifting p.297).
When John was writing about discerning truth from error, he said that a true spirit will acknowledge that Jesus has come in the flesh (1 John 4:2). This is a theological test. A true prophet will have a correct understanding of the truth about Jesus. People who teach strange things about the nature of Jesus are false prophets.
One of the most important things to do in a church that wants to nurture and administrate prophetic ministry is to dial down the mysticism and the carnal desire to look superspiritual. We need to keep our eyes off people and remain focused on Jesus and His purpose for us (Mike Bickle – Growing in the Prophetic p.57).
Prophets do not bring new truth. Revelation is simply a revealing of what is already true and bringing it to bear upon our heart and soul. Revelation is based upon insight into the written Word of God, not into visions and dreams and prophecies. These other things are simply tools for expressing the Word, they are not the Word; no more than the water hose is water, it simply delivers the water (Chip Brogden – The Ministry of the Watchman).
In every fellowship there should be people who have experienced the gift of discernment. They should be able to discern the false prophet from true prophet. An example of this is found in Acts 16:16-18.
Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her
A slave girl kept calling Paul and Silas servants of the most high God. She was able to predict the future. She was also acknowledging God, so in a sense she fulfilled both the conditions given in Deuteronomy. However Paul became troubled, and discerned in his spirit that she had a spirit of divination. He cast the spirit out and she lost her fortune-telling powers. In the coming days, God will raise up true prophets, but there will also be many false prophets around. The church must learn to discern the true from the false.
We must be careful about building a theology of prophetic privilege. God has not promised to protect his prophets, but he will protect his word. Jesus warned that prophets would be persecuted. He did not say they should be protected.
Prophets are often mistreated and mistrusted by the church. That has to change. But the solution is not for prophets to be put on a pedestal immune from challenge. What we want is an environment where prophets are welcomed and prophecy is respected, but where prophetic ministries are rigorously assessed and prophecies are vigorously tested.
The idea that there are ministries, whether pastor or prophet, to whom we must blindly submit is wrong and dangerous. Far too many Christians have been led off the right path, because they have followed their pastor without questioning his decisions. We do not want Christians to start doing the same with prophets.
The idea that prophets are subject only prophets is wrong and dangerous. Prophets do have a special role in testing judging prophecy (1 Cor 15), but that does not mean that others do not. Anyone who is prophesied to has responsibility to test the prophecy and assess the prophet. The problem with prophets is that they can stir each other up into error. This happened in 1Kings 22. Jehoshaphat was not a prophet, but he tested the court prophet’s word and rejected their ministry.
On the other hand, Christians should be very careful about attacking a prophet (or any other Christian) in the wrong spirit. These attacks are usually a way of rejecting the words the prophet has spoken. If the word is true, they are putting themselves in a dangerous position. Rejecting God’s word, whether prophetic or scriptural is risky, because it weakens our spiritual protection.
When a person acts as a prophet to a nation, the nation has to decide, if the person is a prophet to the nation. It is recognition by the nation that ultimately establishes a person as prophet to the nation. When a prophet speaks publicly, the public have the right and responsibility to assess whether the word is right and relevant to them. They should not blindly follow it. I think that we need more rigorous debate about some of the words that are spoken by modern prophets. I have publically suggested that a couple of big name prophets have actually interpreted their dreams incorrectly. I think we need more of that kind of discussion. I would be concerned, if Christians felt that they must shut up, no matter what they think about a word or a prophet.
There is an awful lot of prophetic junk out there. There are many prophets who have stepped up to the next level, before they are ready. We actually need more testing of prophecies and prophets not less.
While it is important to test prophecies, we must have the right attitude. Refusing to accept God’s word, mocking a prophet or scoffing at a prophecy can be dangerous.
Now the king had put the officer on whose arm he leaned in charge of the gate, and the people trampled him in the gateway, and he died, just as the man of God had foretold when the king came down to his house. It happened as the man of God had said to the king: “About this time tomorrow, a seah of flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.” The officer had said to the man of God, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?” The man of God had replied, “You will see it with your own eyes, but you will not eat any of it!” And that is exactly what happened to him, for the people trampled him in the gateway, and he died (2 Kings 7:17-20).
But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants? Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and he was leprous, as white as snow (2 Kings 5:26-27).
Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: “The Lord sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the Lord your God. Then the Lord will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you. As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the Lord has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing” (Jer 26:12-15).
The person critiquing a prophecy or prophet must keep their heart right. They must not speak out of envy or jealousy. (That is where Miriam went wrong. They must not impugn the character of a prophet, if they do not know them.) They should be careful, that they are not rejecting a prophecy that God is speaking to them. They should remain humble. They should speak with the courtesy that should apply to all Christian interactions with other people. However, if people keep their heart right, there is nothing wrong with questioning the role of a person that other people have put up as a prophet, or a word that a prophet has put out.
Whenever God brings forth a ministry, Satan will bring forth a counterfeit. That should not put us off, just make us careful. If we hear that counterfeit money is in circulation, we do not stop using money. We just become more careful. As the prophetic ministry grows, false prophets will become more prevalent. We should not reject prophecy, but be vigilant. Church leaders should guard against false prophets. The best way to do this is to have a fully developed ministry in their church. True prophets are the best antidote to false prophets.
An authentic prophet can admit that he may be untrue, and therefore wrong in many areas. He knows that his protection from error is within the unity of our Lord’s body. Conversely, the false prophet confuses his anointing with what he thinks in his soul and heart and mind so that he thinks he cannot be wrong (John and Paula Sanford – The Elijah Task p.36).
Jesus warned that false prophets would come as wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them (Matt 7:15-20).
False prophets are not always obvious. At first they appear to be credible. However if they are allowed access to the flock, they can do incredible damage.