But what about the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament as against the New Testament? This was one of the follow up questions I received, after the last Langstaff Letter ‘There is only One God,’ if the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament and that if God doesn’t change across the years, what about the work of the Holy Spirit? Does that change? Is it different in the New Testament, especially in regards to prophecy? Or is it the same? The answer – Yes and No.
THE HOLY SPIRIT IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
God doesn’t change but the way He works does. The operation of the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament is different to the operation of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament in at least three major ways.
- In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is only there in power and ministry for some people, not all (e.g. prophets, kings, judges and craftsmen working on the Tabernacle, etc.) In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is available to all believers and not just for a special few (Acts 1:8).
- In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon people (e.g. I Samuel 16:3 states, ‘. . . and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David.’) In the New Testament, it goes beyond that as, the Holy Spirit dwells within all believers (Acts 2:4).
- In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit could be taken away because of sin (e.g. Following his sin with Bathsheba, David cries out in Psalm 51 ‘Do not take your Holy Spirit from me.’) In the New Testament, He abides with us forever (John 14:16).
Bear in mind that all of the gifts of the Spirit were operative in the Old Testament, with the exception of tongues and interpretation of tongues. That came at Pentecost. Incidentally, there is no record of Jesus speaking in tongues. Apparently He didn’t need to. All the other gifts of the Spirit were operative in His ministry.
We see miracles, signs and wonders, healing, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, discerning of spirits, gift of faith all operating in the Old Testament. But are they the same in the New Testament? Miracles, signs and wonders, healing, gift of faith, etc certainly are, but what about prophecy? Prophecy is the one gift of the Spirit that people seem to see as different. But is it that different after all? Let’s look at prophecy and see.
‘Prophecy is divinely inspired and anointed utterances; a supernatural proclamation in a known language (Spirit Filled Life Bible).’ For some people the idea is that in the Old Testament prophecy was predominately negative, whilst in the New Testament prophecy is predominately positive. This reflects the idea that some people have of an Old Testament God of judgement and a New Testament God of mercy and grace (we dealt with this idea in the last Langstaff Letter). Let’s clarify some of this.
To start off with, prophecy in the New Testament takes on two different forms –
- Gift of Prophecy – I Corinthians 12. This is a gift of the Spirit that is available to many, if not all, in the Body of Christ and in I Corinthians 14:3, Paul describes the operation of this gift. ‘But he who prophesies speaks edification, exhortation and comfort to men.’ Edification involves building up people. Exhortation involves encouragement. Comfort involves empathy, caring. All these are positive ways that people can be blessed.
- Ministry of a Prophet – Ephesians 4:11 lists prophets as one of the five fold ministry gifts that Christ has given to the church. As a distinct ministry, prophets have the grace to be forth tellers, speaking into the lives of people right were they are at, undoubtedly operating with the gift of prophecy. Yet prophets go beyond forth telling in fore telling. In other words speaking supernaturally the oracles of God; God’s word regarding people and situations, including insight into the future, hence at times foretelling.
Many Christians don’t believe that there are prophets today, but all I can say is I have seen them operate and have been blessed by their ministry many times. I think of some of those modern day prophets that have enriched the body of Christ: Dick Mills, Jim Goll, Chuck Pierce, Cindy Jacobs, John Paul Jackson, Bill Hamon, Jonathan Cahn and many others. A problem in the church is those who are self appointed prophets and are not genuine prophets. But a counterfeit points to the fact that there must be a genuine prophets.
PROPHECY AND JUDGEMENT
Many people don’t like the concept of judgement and it is easy for them to restrict prophecies of judgement to the Old Testament. But is that correct? Think of some examples in the book of Acts.
- Peter and his pronouncements over Ananias and Saphira in Acts 5. That was pretty heavy stuff that resulted in their death.
- Stephen’s prophetic message in Acts 7, especially in v 51-53.
- Whilst it did not involve a prophet, God wrought judgement on Herod in Acts 12:20-24.
- Paul’s ministry in Cyprus in Acts 13:8-12, when Paul pronounced judgement on a sorcerer named Elynas and resulting in him being blinded. No record of him being healed or saved, but it impacted the proconsul to the point were he became a believer.
- In addition to this, we have Agabus, a prophet who appears a number of times, predicting a famine and also with a word to Paul in a demonstrated prophecy in Acts 21:14.
Add to all this, the book Revelation and all that it proclaims including the correction made in the section on the seven churches. (Revelation Chapters 2 – 3)
Can I suggest that prophecy in the New Testament was not always positive and uplifting, but at times negative and corrective, even bringing judgment at times. But the end result was always to bring people and the church back to God and his purposes for their lives.
There is only one God and He was the same one who was at work in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. Prophecy was developed more fully in the New Testament and embraced all believers with the potential of the gift of prophecy. Also, in both the Old Testament and New Testament, we saw the ministry of people set aside to be prophets whose ministry at times was to bring judgment in order to bring correction to God’s people. Nobody likes that but it is part of the discipline of God to make us more like Him (See Hebrews 12:3-1). Proverbs 9:8 reminds us that if you, ‘Rebuke a wise man . . . he will love you.’ We need to received a word when it is from the Lord. There is only one God, even though He may operate in different ways at different times. There is only one God and He is the same all the time!
Next time, we will look at the question ‘Does God bring judgement upon people today?