Were There Prophets in the New Testament?

Contributing Writer
Were There Prophets in the New Testament?

People get weird when we start talking about prophets and prophecy. Different denominations have various interpretations of spiritual gifts and their practice in the Scripture and today. From charismatic, Pentecostal, reformed, and more, we have strong views on the subject. 

Yet the New Testament discusses the prophetic gift, and the Old Testament includes a historical background for prophets. We can’t ignore these passages and individuals if we’re to search the Bible honestly about the topic. 

While the Old Testament possesses several whole books by people we regard as prophets, what about during the early church? Were there prophets in the New Testament? 

Let’s begin by examining the Old Testament prophetic model. 

What Was the Prophetic Model in the Old Testament?

In the Old Testament, prophets served as pivotal figures through whom God communicated his messages, instructions, and warnings to the Israelites. The prophets had a profound spiritual connection with the divine, characterized by obedience, faithfulness, and a commitment to proclaiming God's word.

The Mosaic Law outlined the rules governing prophets, providing guidelines to distinguish true prophets from false ones. Deuteronomy 18:20-22 stipulates that false prophets who presumptuously claim to speak in the name of God are to be put to death, while genuine prophets are expected to speak only what God commands them. Also, if a person prophesied a future event that didn’t occur, he or she would be considered false. The Law instructed the Israelites to put false prophets to death, underscoring the prophetic ministry’s seriousness. 

Throughout Israel’s history, prophets played diverse roles that evolved in response to the spiritual and political climate of their time. They served as messengers of God’s word, conveying his instructions, warnings, and promises to individuals, communities, and nations. Prophets often delivered messages of judgment against sin, idolatry, and injustice, calling the people to repentance and obedience to God's commands.

Prophets also served as spiritual advisors and counselors to kings and leaders, offering guidance and insight into matters of governance, policy, and national security. Their continued presence in the royal court symbolized the acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty over earthly rulers and the need for righteous leadership in accordance with divine principles.

Moreover, prophets frequently engaged in acts of symbolic prophecy, using visual imagery, parables, and dramatic demonstrations to convey their messages. These symbolic actions captured the attention of the audience and vividly illustrated the consequences of disobedience or the promise of future blessings. 

Generally, not every Israelite acted as a prophet. God appointed select men or women for these roles. 

Who Were Some Notable Old Testament Prophets?

Numerous notable prophets emerge throughout the pages of the Old Testament, each leaving an indelible mark on Israel’s spiritual heritage through their profound messages, actions, and encounters with God. 

Often regarded as the greatest prophet in Israelite history, Moses stands out for his intimate relationship with God and his pivotal role in leading the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. He received the Ten Commandments and the Law at Mount Sinai, becoming the primary conduit for God’s revelation to his people (Exodus 3-4; Deuteronomy 34:10). He becomes the model prophet for the future. 

Known for his fearless confrontation of Israel’s King Ahab and his prophetic showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, Elijah exemplifies boldness and unwavering faithfulness to God. He also mentored Elisha, his successor, and performed numerous miracles, including raising the widow's son from the dead (1 Kings 17-19; 2 Kings 2).

Chosen by God to succeed Elijah, Elisha inherited a double portion of his mentor’s spirit and continued his prophetic ministry with even greater signs and wonders. He healed the sick, purified poisoned water, and miraculously multiplied food, demonstrating God’s power and compassion (2 Kings 2-13).

Isaiah prophesied in Judah and counseled kings like Hezekiah. A prolific prophet whose writings are preserved in the book bearing his name, Isaiah offered profound insights into God’s nature, His redemptive plan, and His call to justice and righteousness. His prophecies include the promise of a virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14) and detailed descriptions of the suffering Servant (Isaiah 53).

Known as the weeping prophet, Jeremiah endured persecution and rejection as he faithfully delivered God’s messages of judgment and hope to the rebellious nation of Judah before, during, and after their exile. Despite facing opposition and imprisonment, he remained steadfast in his commitment to proclaiming God’s word (Jeremiah 1-52).

Also during the time of the exile, Ezekiel experienced dramatic encounters with God through visions. Ezekiel also conveyed profound spiritual truths through symbolic actions. His visions include the valley of dry bones, the glory of God departing from the temple, and the future restoration of Israel (Ezekiel 1-48).

Babylon took captives from Judah, one of which a young man named Daniel. A statesman and prophet who rose to prominence in the Babylonian and Persian empires, Daniel interpreted dreams and visions with divine insight, demonstrating God’s sovereignty over human affairs. His prophecies include the rise and fall of empires, the coming of the Messiah, and the final victory of God's kingdom (Daniel 1-12).

These prophets, among others, played pivotal roles in shaping Israel’s spiritual journey, confronting sin, proclaiming God’s judgment and mercy, and pointing to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises in the Messiah. Their lives and ministries serve as enduring examples of faith, obedience, and dedication to God's purposes throughout the ages.

How Does the New Testament Change the Prophetic Model?

The advent of the New Covenant ushered in significant changes to the practice of prophecy within the Christian community. These changes reflect a broader transformation in the relationship between God and his people, characterized by greater intimacy, empowerment, and inclusivity.

First, let’s simply define prophecy as hearing from God and repeating his message to others. This message can be about a future event, but is not limited to that. As we see in the prophets of Israel, prophets can also give messages about repentance, sin, encouragement, and God’s love. These messages come in various forms, like visions or poems. 

In the Old Testament, the role of the prophet was often seen as exclusive, with only select individuals chosen and empowered by God to convey his messages to the people. However, the New Testament presents a paradigm shift, emphasizing the democratization of prophecy and the active participation of believers in prophetic ministry. 

In the New Covenant, God’s Spirit resides within each believer, empowering and regenerating us. The same Spirit which came upon Elijah and Isaiah now lives within every individual Jesus follower and the Church as a whole. Jesus empowers his disciples to hear the voice of God and speak divine truth to others (Matthew 10:19-20). 

The precursor to this shift is found in the Old Testament, in Numbers 11:29, where Moses expresses his desire for all of Israel to prophesy, declaring, “I wish that all the Lord's people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” This longing for widespread prophetic empowerment anticipates a future where God's Spirit would be poured out on all believers, enabling them to prophesy and participate in the proclamation of his word.

The fulfillment of Moses’ desire is realized with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. In this transformative event, the Holy Spirit descends upon the gathered disciples, empowering them to speak in tongues and proclaim the mighty works of God. Peter, quoting the prophet Joel, declares that this outpouring fulfills the prophecy that God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh, resulting in sons and daughters prophesying, young men seeing visions, and old men dreaming dreams (Acts 2:17-18; Joel 2:28-29).

The New Testament presents a clear exhortation for believers to earnestly desire spiritual gifts, particularly the gift of prophecy. In 1 Corinthians 14:1, the apostle Paul writes, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.” Paul recognizes the edifying and transformative power of prophecy within the Christian community, emphasizing its importance for building up, encouraging, and consoling believers (1 Corinthians 14:3). In addition, the apostle Peter instructs us to speak to one another as if God were speaking: “If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God.” (1 Peter 4:11)

The New Testament highlights the role of prophets within the early Christian church as foundational to its growth and development. Ephesians 4:11-12 identifies prophecy as one of the gifts given by Christ to the church for the purpose of equipping the saints for the work of ministry, building up the body of Christ, and attaining unity in the faith.

In the New Covenant, the rules changed as well. When prophets speak (what we would consider a sermon), the church considered the message. Since each person and the whole church has access to the Spirit of God, the community can affirm a message as one from God or not (1 Corinthians 14:9). The criteria no longer depends upon a position or title but the work and word of God. 

The Spirit inspired the writing of the Bible, so any prophetic message must align with apostolic doctrine of the Scripture. True prophetic messages will affirm the Bible, not contradict it. 

Who Were Some Notable New Testament Prophets?

How did this new model play out? The New Testament introduces us to several notable prophets who played significant roles in the early Christian community, proclaiming God’s word, edifying believers, and contributing to the establishment and expansion of the church. 

Often referred to as the last of the Old Testament prophets and the forerunner of Christ, John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus’ ministry by preaching a message of repentance and baptizing those who responded to his call. His ministry fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’” (Matthew 3:3; Isaiah 40:3).

Mentioned in the book of Acts, Agabus is known for his prophetic ministry in predicting a severe famine that would spread throughout the Roman world. His prophecy prompted the church in Antioch to send relief to their brothers and sisters in Judea, demonstrating the practical impact of prophetic revelation (Acts 11:27-30; Acts 21:10-11). 

In Acts 21:9, we encounter Philip the evangelist’s four unmarried daughters, who are described as prophetesses. Their prophetic ministry underscores the inclusivity of prophecy within the early Christian community and highlights the active role of women in proclaiming God’s word.

A companion of the apostle Paul, Silas is identified as a prophet in Acts 15:32, where he and Judas (Barsabbas) are sent to deliver a letter concerning Gentile believers. Silas’s prophetic role in the early church indicates the ongoing importance of prophetic ministry in guiding and strengthening the Christian community.

Although Barnabas is primarily known for his role as an encourager and companion to Paul, Acts 13:1 identifies him as a prophet within the church in Antioch. His prophetic ministry likely involved exhortation, edification, and guidance for the growing community of believers.

Although Jesus is not traditionally categorized as a prophet within Christian theology, his ministry embodies the New Covenant prophetic model. As Peter teaches us to speak the very words of God, Jesus declared he only said what he heard the Father said (John 12:49-50). He speaks with divine authority, foretells future events, and calls people to repentance and faith. In Luke 4:24-27, Jesus identifies himself with the prophets Elijah and Elisha, indicating continuity with the prophetic tradition.

These notable New Testament prophets, among others, played crucial roles in guiding, edifying, and strengthening the early Christian community. Their ministries contributed to the establishment and expansion of the church, highlighting the ongoing importance of prophetic revelation and guidance within the body of Christ. 

While God still anoints some with a particular prophetic gift, since prophecy is simply hearing and obeying God through what we say, each of us can develop this gift. And we should, since there’s no more loving thing we can do for others than express God’s truth to them. 


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Britt MooneyBritt Mooney lives and tells great stories. As an author of fiction and non -iction, he is passionate about teaching ministries and nonprofits the power of storytelling to inspire and spread truth. Mooney has a podcast called Kingdom Over Coffee and is a published author of We Were Reborn for This: The Jesus Model for Living Heaven on Earth as well as Say Yes: How God-Sized Dreams Take Flight.