Prophetic History, Part 2: The Testing and Humbling of Prophets

Noah—God told him the world would flood in 120 years (Gen. 6:3); he preached repentance and righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5), but nobody believed him except his family.

Abraham—God told him in a vision, a son would be miraculously born to his old wife Sarah; they failed the test with Ishmael (Gen. 16:1-6), but eventually the promised son, Isaac came (Gen. 21:1-7). God then told him to sacrifice Isaac on an altar, but then intervened to prevent the killing (Gen. 22:1-19).

Jacob—for 14 years he had to slave and work for his beloved wife Rachel (Gen. 29:30); and their son, Joseph, a spiritually gifted young man, was sold into slavery by his brothers (Gen. 37:28).

Joseph—God told him in a dream that he would rule over his brothers (Gen. 37:5-8). This was followed by a long period of hardship and slavery in Egypt; and finally a position of rule in Egypt (Gen. 45:1-15).

Moses—after discovering he was a Hebrew, God sent him into the Arabian desert for a period of 40 years, tending sheep…and this after living like a prince in Egypt! Then God gave him marvelous visions, the burning bush (Acts 7:30), nature miracles, etc…many of which both the Egyptians and the Hebrews had a hard time believing were from God (Exod. 14:11)!

Samuel—after leading Israel as the political-prophetic judge, the people cried out for a king, like the pagan nations around them. God said, “It is not you they have rejected, but Me” (1 Sam. 8:7). From there on out, Samuel and the “Sons of the Prophets” were basically considered to be a group of madmen and religious fanatics by the general population (2 Kings 9:1, 11).

Elijah—this powerful prophetic leader of the “Sons of the Prophets,” was also considered an insane religious fanatic by popular opinion, and a “troublemaker” by Israel’s political leaders (1 Kings 18:17). During his time, the Israelite government was controlled by Queen Jezebel, a Phoenician princess, and pagan priestess of Baalism. She had 400 state employed fortune-tellers to give “spiritual guidance” to Israel’s leaders (1 Kings 18:19). Elijah and his prophets were probably even more disrespected and persecuted than in the time of Samuel. They had to hide out in caves and basically survive in “underground” or “invisible” house church environments. After confronting the prophets of Baal, with an incredible nature miracle of fire from Heaven, and the coming of rain from a drought of three years, and after having the people moved to kill the prophets of Baal according to the law of Moses (1 Kings 18)—Elijah ran for his life, because Jezebel threatened to have him killed. Elijah had come to believe that he was the only true prophet left in Israel, even though there were many others in hiding. God rebuked him with a still small voice: “I have 7,000 others in Israel who have not bowed the knee to Baal” (1 Kings 19:18).

Elisha—the powerful successor of Elijah was mocked by a gang of young men as “bald head”, yet when he called down the curse of the Lord upon them, two bears came out of the woods and mauled them (2 Kings 2:23-24). Gehazi was Elisha’s disciple, but he was corrupted by the love of money, and came under the curse of leprosy (2 Kings 5:27). An army pursued Elisha once to have him killed, but by the power of God, he diverted them to another town (2 Kings 6:8-23).

Isaiah—this 8th century B.C. prophet, who is most known for Isaiah chapter 53, the famed prophecy of penal substitutionary atonement that Christ accomplished for us on the cross, is also known for his majestic vision of God on the throne in Isaiah chapter 6, and for his many prophecies against the nation of Israel for their rebellion against God, and how imminent judgment is near. Isaiah was sawn in half by the word of King Manasseh, because he dared to say he saw a vision of God (The Babylonian Talmud, Yebamoth 49b; Sanhedrin 10).

Jeremiah—this 8th century B.C. prophet, who is known for continually prophesying to the nation of Israel, the coming of the Babylonian army, to destroy and conquer Israel, and take away the Jews to Babylon. For this reason, he was called the “weeping prophet.” The king had Jeremiah put into a poopy well, into stocks, into prison, etc (Jer. 38:6). And very few of the people believed any of his prophecies. They called him a false prophet, because he did not speak favorably of “God’s chosen nation” (Jer. 37:12-13). But he was faithful to preach against the apostasy and hypocrisy of the paganized Judaism he saw around him. After he was done prophesying, and suffering, the Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem, conquered the Jews, and led most of them away to Babylon. Only a few loyal subjects were allowed to remain in their homeland, including Jeremiah, albeit, in a ravaged, ruined homeland (Jer. 39-40).

Daniel—this exiled Jewish prophet, in Babylon, was exalted as a court employee for the king (Dan. 1:3-7). Because an edict went forth under the influence of the king’s advisors, who were jealous of Daniel, he was snatched away for praying to God in his house near his window. Then he was thrown into a lion’s den as punishment, where it was expected he would be eaten alive. However, God intervened by sending angels to tame the lions, and Daniel came out alive, and God was glorified throughout the whole Babylonian empire (Dan. 6).

John the Baptist—of whom Christ said, “There is no one born of women greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11), he was the forerunning prophet to Christ’s ministry among the Jews. The common people believed that John was a prophet (Mark 11:32), but the religious leaders believed he was a false prophet, because he preached God’s forgiveness of sins was available by repentance from sin and water baptism—a total departure from the normal method of Old Testament animal sacrifice at the temple. To have the disapproval of the religious leaders, Biblical scholars, rabbis, and priests would have been a great hardship, since his father Zechariah was a priest (Luke 1:5, 13)…this may account for why John lived as a solitary hermit in the desert (Matt. 3:1-5). John also preached against King Herod’s adultery, which earned him a prison sentence, and the loss of his head (Matt. 14:1-10).

The Lord Jesus Christ—truly man and truly God, the Son of God, was also “the Prophet” predicted to come by Moses (John 6:14). While little is known of His boyhood, we know that His family was not wealthy, that Herod tried to have him killed when he was a baby (Matt. 2:16), but angelic intervention helped His parents know where to go to avoid detection (Matt. 2:13). Throughout His three year itinerant ministry, like John the Baptist, most of the religious leaders rejected Him as a demonized false prophet (Matt. 9:34). At one point, even His “mother and brothers said He was mentally ill” (Mark 3:21, 31-35). He was betrayed by Judas, abandoned by the twelve apostles (Matt. 26:56), and had to endure the mockery, torment, and death on the cross…but three days later He rose from the dead, and then ascended into Heaven!

The Twelve Apostles—Judas betrayed Christ to the Pharisees, and after becoming so guilt-ridden, killed himself (Matt. 27:1-10). The other eleven apostles returned back to their Christian faith, having witnessed the resurrection. All of them went into various countries preaching the Gospel, and were eventually martyred for their faith, except for the apostle John, who died of old age—but for many years had to live in a prison cell on the Isle of Patmos (see John Foxe’s The New Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, pp. 4-10).

The Apostolic Fathers had prophets among their ranks; and many were persecuted by the Roman emperor and martyred for their faith (see John Foxe’s The New Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, pp. 11-21).

St. Antony of Egypt, the leader of the Desert Fathers, lived in the desert. Need I say more? The desert is hardship. It is not a pleasant place to live. It is hot. It is dry. It has serpents, scorpions, etc. There are no stores and no entertainments. It is lonely. Antony and the Desert Fathers, sought solitary lives of prayer and contemplation, during the last century of systematic persecution of Christians by the Roman emperors. In this way, they lived similar lives to Elijah and the “Sons of the Prophets” in hiding during the time of apostasy in Israel. Also, St. Antony experienced endless spiritual attacks, and suffered warfare with demons during prayer, as told in Athanasius’ The Life of Antony.

St. Patrick of Ireland and his missionary monks endured hardship and persecution from the Druids. See “The Life of Patrick by Muirchu” in Celtic Spirituality..

St. Benedict of Nursia endured the hardship of solitude and asceticism. See Gregory the Great’s Life and Miracles of St. Benedict.

St. Francis of Assisi endured a materialistic father, who verbally and physically abused him, after he was born of the Spirit to a new life in Christ. St. Francis and his friars were also persecuted for leading of life of strict “evangelical poverty.” See Bonaventure’s The Life of St. Francis.

Hildegard of Bingen, the German visionary, was almost continually sick, bedridden, and attacked by demons. She always viewed her sickness as a “thorn in the flesh to keep her from getting puffed up on account of her great revelations.” She also viewed the sickness as a punishment, or discipline from God, for not following His call to the ministry more precisely. See Gottfried and Theoderic’s The Life of the Holy Hildegard.

St. Ignatius of Loyola was humbled by a cannon blast to the leg during battle. While receiving treatment for this in a hospital, he read Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend, and became determined to imitate the saints, even to outdo them. See his Autobiography.

St. Teresa of Avila, the great Catholic mystical theologian and saint, author of The Interior Castle, The Way of Perfection, and her Autobiography, had many experiences of spiritual warfare and attacks upon her. She also came under the watchful eye of the Spanish Inquisition for teaching Christian mysticism, which was unusual in the 16th century, except among a widespread heretical group called Alumbrados. She was also given a hard time by various Catholic priests, who said she was merely oppressed of the devil, and her visions were demonic. She fought for a strict reform in the Carmelite Order, which many of the leaders did not like.

St. John of the Cross, friend of St. Teresa, and fellow Catholic reformer, was put into prison for a long time by an ungodly Carmelite leader, in order to wear down his will, and make him recant his rigid asceticism and mysticism. St. John eventually levitated while in a state of prayer and contemplation (as did St. Teresa), and he wrote a powerful prophetic book on prayer and spiritual gifts called The Ascent of Mount Carmel.

Martin Luther, founder of the Lutheran Church, igniter of the Protestant Reformation, had a very hard life. For the rest of his life, after his posted the “95 Theses”, he was under the condemnation of the pope as a heretic, and was sought out to be burned at the stake. However, nobody caught him. See Roland Bainton’s Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther.

John Wesley, the 18th century evangelist, and founder of the Methodist Episcopal Church, was persecuted his whole life in England by all sorts of people (including the Anglican priests), as were his Methodist preachers. They were not allowed to preach sermons in Anglican churches, because they were considered too “enthusiastic” or “experiential.” So, the Methodists resorted to street preaching, field preaching, and other open air preaching locations. See Thomas Jackson’s The Life of the Rev. John Wesley.

Charles Finney, the leading evangelist of the 19th century Second Great Awakening, was called a “heretic” by the Presbyterian clergy in his day. Mainly on account of his “New Measures” that he introduced in his revival meetings, but also (and understandably so), because he rejected certain articles in the Westminster Confession of Faith, one of which was the doctrine of original sin. Finney also saw three wives die before he married his fourth. See A. M. Hills’ The Life of Charles G. Finney.

William J. Seymour, founder of the Apostolic Faith Gospel Mission, the “Azusa Street Revival,” and the Pentecostal Movement:–was raised as a son of slaves in Louisiana; and after his parents were freed, lived in extreme poverty. He worked as a waiter in various hotel restaurants; and eventually became a holiness preacher with Church of God (Anderson, IN). He learned the doctrine of speaking in tongues (Acts 2:4) from Charles Parham’s temporary “Apostolic Faith Movement” Bible school, in which, because he was African-American, had to sit outside the classroom, away from the whites. During the “Azusa Street Revival” Seymour was often mocked by the press because he was black, and because the Pentecostals spoke in tongues (it sounded funny), and often did not speak with proper grammar due to lack of education; they shook, and danced, and rolled all over the floor in a crazy, undignified manner, and for this, more than anything else, they were mocked. See Larry Martin’s The Life and Ministry of William J. Seymour.

John G. Lake, the missionary, Pentecostal preacher, and divine healer and founder of the “Healing Rooms” in Spokane, Washington, experienced the loss of several family members in his younger years due to much sickness. His wife was also deathly ill, and cured by prayer for healing, at a John Alexander Dowie meeting. See Wilford Reidt’s John G. Lake: A Man Without Compromise.

John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard churches, finished his last days with a bout of cancer, and unfortunately did not live a very long life. He had given his life to restoring the ministry of divine healing, by teaching “Signs and Wonders” conferences, and publishing books like Power Evangelism and Power Healing. He was certainly mocked and ridiculed by non-Charismatic theologians, even labeled a New Ager. See Carol Wimber’s John Wimber: The Way it Was.

Mike Bickle, pastor of the “Kansas City prophets” during the 1980s, sought to restore the prophetic ministry to his church setting through the gifting of Bob Jones, John Paul Jackson, and Paul Cain. Jones and Cain eventually fell into sexual sin; and this greatly tested Bickle’s faith and humility. Also, Wimber had him excommunicated from the Vineyard churches. To this day, Bickle’s Growing in the Prophetic is probably the best work on the gift of prophecy to come out in recent years, born out of patience, suffering, testing, humbling, and persevering faith in Christ’s ministry of prophecy for today. See Bill Jackson’s The Quest for the Radical Middle: A History of the Vineyard.

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