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Numbers 11:16–30

“Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!’” (v. 29).

God promised to speak to His people under the old covenant through His true prophets, who were identifiable through their fidelity to the covenant and their ability to do signs and wonders (Deut. 13:1–5; 18:15–22). Yet despite the great privilege it certainly was to hear from prophets, the fact that only select individuals would have the spirit of prophecy was not ideal. In fact, old covenant prophets looked forward to a better day when all the people of God would have the fullness of the Holy Spirit writing God’s Word on their hearts, thus rendering their office obsolete.

We see this hope in today’s passage when Moses rebukes Joshua for not rejoicing over the manifestation of the prophetic gifts in the elders of Israel (Num. 11:16–30). Moses understood that there was a day coming when the church would no longer need individuals to mediate to them new revelation from the Creator. Later prophets like Joel foresaw a day when all believers, from the lowliest servants to the most exalted rulers, would receive the Word of God and speak it to one another with understanding (Joel 2:28–32). As O. Palmer Robertson puts it, the old covenant prophets knew “the ultimate goal of God’s covenant [unity between God and His people] cannot be realized so long as a prophetic figure must stand between the Lord and his people” (The Final Word, p. 4).

This unity was achieved when God Himself became incarnate and expressed His solidarity with His people by walking among them (John 1:1–18). Following the ministry of Jesus came a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit on every believer in fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (Acts 2). As such, all of God’s people now stand in the line of the prophets with an even greater understanding of the Lord’s plan and purpose. Some believers are more gifted in the area of teaching than others (Eph. 4:11–14), but there is no longer any need for a prophetic mediator between God and the believer as was true during the old covenant (1 John 2:27).

That all believers, in a sense, are God’s prophets in the new covenant does not involve new revelation of any kind; otherwise, we return to the days of prophetic mediators. God has spoken fully and finally in His Son (Heb. 1:1–4), and we are prophets insofar as we believe and teach only what the living, inscriptured Word teaches.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

There are views in the church today that say God is giving new revelation through prophets who can mix in some error as they misunderstand His Word. Such views are to be soundly and fully rejected. God has spoken fully and finally in Christ, and we are in no need of extra revelation. Instead, standing in line with the prophets, we are to proclaim the canonical revelation we do have to each other.

For Further Study
  • 1 Samuel 10:1–13
  • Revelation 22:6–21

The False Prophet

The Church as God’s Prophet

Keep Reading What N.T. Wright Really Said

From the February 2010 Issue
Feb 2010 Issue