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Unfulfilled Prophecies (2)

But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know that word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him (Deut. 18:20-22).

Deuteronomy 18:20-22 gives a test by which the believer is to judge prophets: the word of a true prophet comes to pass, but the word of a false prophet does not. A reader asked how this squares with Jeremiah 18:7-10 and Jonah 3:4, 10. Last time we looked at the idea of God’s "repentance"—a subject mentioned in both these texts—and considered God’s repenting and granting Hezekiah 15 more years.

God also repented that He had made Saul king. This was a pedagogical means to teach Israel that the king of their choice was wrong and would bring only trouble, while the king of God’s choice (David, and finally Christ) would bring blessing.

So it is with prophecies of God’s judgments. The Word of God which comes with threats of judgments is always accompanied with the command to repent and believe in Christ. This was true in the case of Jonah’s preaching in Nineveh as well. And the gospel always says that those who repent and believe in Christ will not perish, but have everlasting life. God says, "Sin deserves hell, and I will destroy the sinner." But He adds the promise: "I will save those who believe and repent."

God ties judgment with unbelief and blessing with faith. This is proclaimed in Jeremiah 18:7-10 and in true preaching. But God also sovereignly works out His counsel so that He uses both the threats and the promises of the gospel to save and to harden—as He did in Nineveh, and as He does throughout history.

I am constrained to make an additional comment or two on Deuteronomy 18:20-22, which is quoted above. These words were spoken in the old dispensation. They were spoken to Israel; they were spoken during a time when prophecy was a way in which God revealed Himself to His people. At the time these words in Deuteronomy were spoken, there was no written Word of God; and for another fifteen hundred years the written Word of God would not be completed. The Israelites needed, therefore, to have some standard by which they could judge whether a prophet was indeed bringing the Word of God. This standard God gave them.

It is necessary to emphasize this because the fact is that since the time of the completion of the canon of Scripture, we no longer need this standard of judging. The Scriptures are now the sole standard by which we are to judge whether any "prophet" speaks the Word of God or whether he brings his own word.

We must remember that until the outpouring of the Spirit (and for a time in the apostolic church before the completion of the Scriptures), the office of prophet was held by men who were called to that extraordinary office by God and anointed with oil as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. They were God’s prophets who spoke the Word of God. They had many imitators who claimed to speak the Word of God. Israel was given a standard to judge between the two.

But with the outpouring of the Spirit, all God’s people become prophets. This is clear from Peter’s Pentecost sermon in which he quotes the prophecy of Joel: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy" (Acts 2:17-18).

All God’s people are now prophets. But God’s people do not hold that office in order that they may predict the future. There is no need of this any more. We have the full revelation of God in His Word and we are, in our "prophesying," limited to what Scripture says. This is true of ministers, elders, deacons, and all the people of God. By the Spirit, they prophesy when they speak what Scripture says. Then and then only do they speak the Word of God.

Have we then no standard by which we may judge prophecy? Indeed, yes! We may know whether anyone speaks the Word of God by comparing what he or she says with Scripture. We are able to judge because we too are prophets and know the Scriptures.

No one may predict the future beyond the Scriptures. Many attempt to do this in our day. Many try to predict the time of Christ’s coming and are even so brazen as to specify a date. They deceive many. This is evil and will be punished by God.

Scripture says many things about the future, and what Scripture says, we may say. Indeed, we must say what Scripture says. But beyond Scripture we may not go. An example would be the scriptural teaching concerning the Antichrist. Scripture tells us that he will surely come just before Christ’s return. Scripture tells us a great deal about him, but it does not specifically identify him, and we do wrong if we attempt to do that which Scripture does not do. We may not say, for example, that the present pope is the Antichrist. We would have done wrong if, prior to World War II, we said that Hitler, or Stalin, was the Antichrist. The spirit of Antichrist was/is in these men; they have many of the marks of Antichrist; they are antichrists; but they are not the Antichrist.

It is our calling to say only what Scripture says; we may be sure that if we live close to Scripture, we will identify him when he finally appears, because Scripture tells us many things he will do.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 9
  • Issue: 11
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001


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