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Is Prophecy Really a Thing of the Past?

Prophecy concept book water

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”  (Joel 2:28)

The Bible is full of prophecy that fires the imagination and challenges us to seek a closer walk with God.

Prophecy (nevu’a) is crucial in Judaism, shaping Jewish tradition, hopes, and expectations, and pointing to the coming Messianic era.

Nevu’a is related to the Hebrew term niv sefatayim, meaning fruit of the lips, which is what a prophet produces through his words—much fruit for the glory of God.

Throughout the Bible, God appointed prophets to explain His Word in light of current events and encourage the Jewish People to follow God’s will.

He also commissioned prophets to reveal future events in order to warn them of the consequences of sin.

A neo-gothic fresco of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel by Leopold Bruckner.

Travna fresco of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, by Leopold Bruckner

Prophecy sets the history of the Jewish People apart from any other nation.

For instance, God sent Moses to Pharaoh and the Hebrews, Elijah to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, Samuel to King Saul, Nathan to King David, and Jonah to the people of Nineveh.

All of these prophets revealed to a person or an entire nation how they were breaking God’s will and the tragedies that would befall them for continuing in their sins.

It might be said that while God gave Israel the priests as gifts to uphold the laws of the Torah and perform the day-to-day rituals of the Temple service, God gave Israel the prophets (nevi’im) to encourage them to fulfill their destiny as God’s Chosen People—to be a light to the Gentiles so salvation can reach the ends of the earth.  (Isaiah 49:6)

Ultimately, the Israelites as a nation did not fulfill their destiny.  The Northern Kingdom chose to follow kings who were not from the Davidic line, which God established.  They made altars to pagan gods and mingled their businesses and marriages with pagan worshipers.  As a result, the people were exiled out of their land and scattered.

As their disobedience continued, the prophets revealed more details about the coming Messiah who would save them from their sins.  They foretold what He would do while on earth and even how and when He would die.

The prophets also foretold significant details about events leading up to the Messianic era in the last days.

Moses Receiving the Tablets, by Gebhard Fugel

Moses Receiving the Tablets, by Gebhard Fugel

A Prophet Like Moses

“When there is a prophet among you, I, the Lord, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams.  But this is not true of my servant Moses; he is faithful in all My house.  With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the Lord.”  (Numbers 12:6–8)

When we use the word prophet (nevi), such men as Samuel, Isaiah, and Daniel usually come to mind.

The Bible tells us, however, that Moses was a type of ultimate prophet.

Moses differs from the other prophets in that God spoke to him directly, face to face.

“Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face.”  (Deuteronomy 34:10)

All other prophets of the Bible, except one revealed below, did not enjoy this close, personal relationship; instead, they received their message through dreams, visions, and revelations.

There is a limit imposed on how close a prophet can come to God and, therefore, on the greatness of their revelation.  As God told Moses, “No man can see me and live.”  (Exodus 33:20)

Orthodox Couple-Old City-Jerusalem


Moses is considered the greatest prophet, since he encountered God more closely than any other Hebrew prophet.

He foresaw the coming of a prophet like him, Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah), when he said:  “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites.  You must listen to Him.”  (Deuteronomy 18:15)

Yeshua confirmed this when He said, “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.”  (John 5:46)

Like Moses, Yeshua spoke with God face to face.  He received revelation from God openly and not through the medium of metaphoric images or allegories.  He understood God’s will in its fullness.

“Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by Himself; He can do only what He sees His Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”  (John 5:19)

Like Moses, Yeshua was a mediator between God and man, speaking the Words of God to the people.  Also like Moses, Yeshua offered to die for the sins of the people, and He actually did.

“Messiah Yeshua who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.”  (Romans 8:34)


The Empty Tomb

Dreams, Visions and Angelic Visitations

While Moses and Yeshua received revelation directly from God, the 55 Hebrew prophets (according to Jewish tradition) whose words were recorded in the Tanakh (Old Covenant) for future generations received their communications in the form of divinely inspired words and actions, visions, revelations, and visitations.

The Book of Ezekiel, for example, opens with the prophet seeing a vision of God (Ezekiel 1:1).  God told Ezekiel that He is sending him to the house of Israel.  At the time, Ezekiel was a priest exiled in Babylon.

Woven throughout Ezekiel’s book are significant visions, such as the rebirth of the nation of Israel (chapter 37), the coming war with nearby nations (chapters 3839), and the construction details of the coming Temple, which is yet to be built and will be constructed prior to the final coming of the Messiah (chapters 40–44).

Another prime example of someone who received prophecy through dreams is Joseph, who dreamed of his brothers’ sheaves of grain bowing down to his sheaf.  (Genesis 37:5) 

The Recognition of Joseph by his Brothers-Peter von Cornelius

The Recognition of Joseph by his Brothers, by Peter von Cornelius

In the New Covenant, there are many instances in which Yeshua and His earthly ministry were confirmed by visions and dreams.

Here are a few:

  • When Yosef (Jospeh) heard that Miriam (Mary) was pregnant, he decided to quietly divorce her.  God intervened, however, by sending an angel in a dream telling him that this pregnancy was of God.  
  • After His birth, God used dreams two other times to direct Yosef:  once to warn him to take young Yeshua and Miriam to Egypt because Herod was seeking to kill Him, and another time to tell him that it was safe to return to Israel. 
  • An angel appeared to the priest Zacharias in an open vision to tell him that his prayers had been answered and that his wife Elizabeth would have a son, Yohannan the Immerser (John the Baptist), the forerunner of Yeshua. 
    (Luke 1:5–23) 
  • Pilate’s wife told him that she had a dream that Yeshua was innocent and that Pilate should have nothing to do with the case.  (Matthew 27:19) 
  • On the road to Damascus, Paul had an open vision of Yeshua, which led to him accepting Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel.  (Acts 9:1–19)  
  • Peter had a vision in which God told him not to call unclean those who He had made clean.  This vision prepared Peter to visit Cornelius who himself had an angelic visitation in which he was told where to find Peter so that he could hear the Good News and be saved.  (Acts 10:9–15)  
  • Paul had several visions that directed him in his ministry to the Gentiles
  • While imprisoned on the Island of Patmos, John received a vision that he recorded throughout the Book of Revelation.
The Message of Pilate's Wife-James Tissot

The Message of Pilate’s Wife, by James Tissot

Although God has given us His word in the Bible to guide us, He can and does still communicate with His people through dreams and visions.

Dreams and visions are different from one another in the following ways:

  • People seeing visions are cognizant of their thoughts, while people who see in predictive dreams are not, as they are not awake.
  • Those who receive a vision or a message about things to come realize they are being shown the future.  In a dream, however, the dreamer generally experiences these events as if they were real and present.
  • Visions tend to reveal what will definitely occur while things revealed in a dream might not be set in stone.  Dreams can be indeterminate and open to change through the exercise of free will.

The Talmud (Rabbinic commentary) teaches that throughout the generations, there were twice as many prophets as Israelites who left Egypt.  But Jewish tradition also holds that the Bible specifically mentions 48 Hebrew prophets and seven Hebrew prophetesses to Israel who had dreams and visions.  These prophets include Isaac, Jacob, Joshua, Sarah, Miriam, and Esther.

Balaam and the Angel-Gustav Jaeger

Balaam and the Angel, by Gustav Jaeger

Judaism also recognizes that Gentiles, such as Balaam in Numbers 22, can function as prophets, but they are not as elevated as Hebrew prophets.  (Judaism 101)

The Hebrew prophets were considered to be wise and of strong character, yet they came from varying backgrounds:

  • Abraham, a man called out by God from the pagan land of Ur, fathered a nation of people who would be called God’s Chosen People.
  • Moses, a Levite, was raised in Pharaoh’s palace and received a princely Egyptian education.
  • David was a shepherd and psalmist who rose to the rank of warrior and king.
  • Ezekiel and Jeremiah were priests.
  • Amos was a shepherd and tree keeper (Amos 7:14).
  • Elisha plowed fields (1 Kings 19:19–21).
  • Daniel held high government office in Babylon (Daniel 2:48) (although the rabbis don’t classify Daniel as a prophet, as we’ll see next).

These men qualified as prophets not because of their social or economic status, but because of their unwavering love for and obedience to God.

Daniel in the Lion's Den-Henry Ossawa Tanner

Daniel in the Lion’s Den, by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Daniel: The Prophet Who Is Not a Prophet

Although the rabbis do not classify Daniel as a prophet, this God-fearing man received a significant message while in Babylonian captivity.  In a dream, after much prayer, the Angel Gabriel foretold when the Messiah would be put to death.  (Daniel 9:26)

The Angel Gabriel also revealed to Daniel the seven-year covenant that the “man of lawlessness” (known as anti-Messiah) would make or confirm with Israel before the end comes.  (Daniel 9:27)

Daniel not only received revelation of future events, he interpreted dreams of others.

The Talmud teaches that dreams without interpretation are like “an unread letter.” During Daniel’s time, King Nebuchadnezzar became quite disturbed by his own unread letter, especially after the court’s wise men could not interpret it.

But Daniel and his companions prayed for the interpretation; and in a vision at night, Daniel was given its meaning:  the king’s dream foretold the major kingdoms of the world until the end of days.  (Daniel 2)

The Tanakh-Torah-Nevi'im-Prophets-Ketuvim-Writing

The Tanakh comprises three sections: Torah (the five books of Moses), Nevi’im (Prophets), and the Ketuvim (Writings).

Yet, even with such significant revelations, the Book of Daniel is placed in the Ketuvim (Writings) section of the Hebrew Bible, rather than the Nevi’im (Prophets), the section in which the prophets are divided into major and minor prophets, depending on the quantity of their writings.

It isn’t that Daniel is not revered or respected.  In fact, some rabbinic scholars say that Daniel is actually more esteemed than the prophets, like sages are, because he not only received revelation, he also interpreted and understood it.

Daniel is not classified as a prophet because rabbis say his visions were not meant for the people of his day, but were meant for future generations.

We are, perhaps, that future generation, and teachers of Bible prophecy today state that one cannot be a true student of prophecy without studying the writings of Daniel.


An ultra-Orthodox Jewish teen walks past a store featuring paintings of Jewish rabbis and sages.

Do Jews Believe Prophets Are for Today?

Although the Talmud teaches that the Age of the Prophets came to a close in the first generation of the Second Temple Era, the great 12th century Talmudic scholar and philosopher Maimonides included as one of his 13 basic principles of faith the belief that God still communicates with mankind through prophecy.

Maimonides believed that in each generation, prophecy comes to the holy and wise tzaddikim (righteous ones) who are worthy of receiving and understanding it.

That prophecy is believed to be received through Ruach HaKodesh (literally, the spirit of holiness or the Holy Spirit), a term that in Judaism refers to the divine aspect of prophecy and wisdom.

Prophets today are judged by the requirements placed on Old Covenant prophets:  their prophecies must come to pass and they cannot conflict with the Torah (law).  

For believers in Yeshua, all of the New Covenant Scriptures and the Tanakh must be considered in determining the legitimacy of a prophecy.  As well, the prophecy must glorify and honor Yeshua.  (2 Timothy 3:16; Revelation 19:10)

Those who follow Yeshua are given the Ruach HaKodesh as a sign or seal of their eternal relationship with God.  The Ruach empowers Believers, giving them one or more spiritual gifts, which can include words of wisdom, words of knowledge, gifts of healing, and gifts of service, among others.  (1 Corinthians 12:7–11, 28; Romans 12:68)

Of all the gifts Paul identified, he singled out prophecy, wishing that everyone would have this gift.  (1 Corinthians 14:5)

Perhaps this is on the horizon.

Joel 2:28 reveals that after the Jewish People have returned to their land, the Ruach will be poured out, with young men seeing visions, old men having (prophetic) dreams, and sons and daughters prophesying.

So, as the Last Days come nearer to the return of Yeshua, we should expect an increase in God’s presence through His Ruach HaKodesh and manifestations of His gifts, especially the gift of prophecy through dreams and visions.

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