Individuals and Families
Thoughts to Keep in Mind: Prophets and Prophecy


“Thoughts to Keep in Mind: Prophets and Prophecy,” Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: Old Testament 2022 (2021)

“Thoughts to Keep in Mind: Prophets and Prophecy,” Come, Follow Me—For Individuals and Families: 2022

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Biblical Scroll

Thoughts to Keep in Mind

Prophets and Prophecy

In the traditional Christian division of the Old Testament, the last section (Isaiah through Malachi) is called “the Prophets.”1 This section, about one-fourth of the Old Testament, contains the words of God’s authorized servants, who spoke with the Lord and then spoke for Him, sharing His message with the people between about 900 and 500 BC.2

Prophets and prophecy play a major role throughout the Old Testament. The patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob saw visions and spoke with heavenly messengers. Moses talked to God face to face and communicated His will to the children of Israel. The books of First and Second Kings recount the memorable works and messages of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. The Old Testament also speaks of prophetesses like Miriam (see Exodus 15:20) and Deborah (see Judges 4), along with other women blessed with the spirit of prophecy, such as Rebekah (see Genesis 25:21–23) and Hannah (see 1 Samuel 1:20–2:10). And even though the Psalms weren’t written by formal prophets, they too are filled with the spirit of prophecy, especially as they look forward to the coming of the Messiah.

None of this comes as a surprise to Latter-day Saints. In fact, the restored gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that prophets are not just an interesting piece of history but an essential part of God’s plan. While some might see prophets as unique to Old Testament times, we see them as something we have in common with Old Testament times.

Still, reading a chapter from Isaiah or Ezekiel might feel different from reading a general conference message from the current President of the Church. Sometimes it can be hard to see that ancient prophets had something to say to us. After all, the world we live in today is much different from the one where they preached and prophesied. And the fact that we do have a living prophet could raise a question: why is it worth the effort—and it does take effort—to read the words of ancient prophets?

They do have something to say to us

For the most part, people today aren’t the primary audience of the Old Testament prophets. Those prophets had immediate concerns they were addressing in their time and place—just as our latter-day prophets address our immediate concerns today.

At the same time, prophets can also look beyond immediate concerns. For one thing, they teach eternal truths, relevant to any age. And, blessed with revelation, they see the bigger picture, the wider perspective of God’s work. For example, Isaiah could not only warn people of his day about their sins—he could also write about deliverance for Israelites living 200 years in the future and simultaneously teach of the deliverance that all God’s people seek. In addition, he could write prophecies that, even today, are still awaiting their complete fulfillment—like promises of “a new earth” (Isaiah 65:17) that is “full of the knowledge of the Lord” (Isaiah 11:9), where the lost tribes of Israel have been gathered and where “the nations” do not “learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4). Part of the joy and inspiration that comes from reading the words of Old Testament prophets like Isaiah is realizing that we play a role in the glorious day they envisioned.3

So when you read ancient prophecies, it’s helpful to learn about the context in which they were written. But you should also see yourself in them, or “liken them unto [yourself],” as Nephi put it (see 1 Nephi 19:23–24). Sometimes that means recognizing Babylon as a symbol of worldliness and pride, not just as an ancient city. It could mean understanding Israel as God’s people in any era and understanding Zion as the latter-day cause God’s people embrace, instead of as just another word for Jerusalem.

We can liken the scriptures because we understand that a prophecy can be fulfilled in multiple ways.4 A good example of this is the prophecy in Isaiah 40:3: “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” To the captive Jews in Babylon, this statement might have referred to the Lord providing a way out of captivity and back into Jerusalem. To Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this prophecy was fulfilled in John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the Savior’s mortal ministry.5 And Joseph Smith received revelation that this prophecy is still being fulfilled in the latter days in preparation for Christ’s millennial ministry.6 In ways we’re still coming to understand, ancient prophets did speak to us. And they taught many precious, eternal truths that are just as relevant to us as they were to ancient Israel.

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Fulness of Times

Fulness of Times, by Greg K. Olsen

They testified of Jesus Christ

Perhaps even more important than seeing yourself in Old Testament prophecies is seeing Jesus Christ in them. If you look for Him, you will find Him, even if He’s not mentioned by name. It might help to keep in mind that the God of the Old Testament, the Lord Jehovah, is Jesus Christ. Anytime the prophets describe what the Lord is doing or what He will do, they are speaking of the Savior.

You will also find references to an Anointed One (see Isaiah 61:1), a Redeemer (see Hosea 13:14), and a future King from David’s line (see Isaiah 9:6–7; Zechariah 9:9). These are all prophecies about Jesus Christ. More generally, you will read about deliverance, forgiveness, redemption, and restoration. With the Savior in your mind and heart, these prophecies will naturally point you to the Son of God. After all, the best way to understand prophecy is to have “the spirit of prophecy,” which John tells us is “the testimony of Jesus” (Revelation 19:10).

Notes

  1. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel are often referred to as the Major Prophets because of the length of their books. The other prophets (Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi) are called the Minor Prophets because their books are much shorter. The book of Lamentations is considered part of the Writings, not the Prophets.

  2. We don’t know how the prophetic books were compiled. In some cases, a prophet may have overseen the collection of his writings and prophecies. In other cases, they may have been recorded and compiled after his death.

  3. “Just think of the excitement and urgency of it all: every prophet commencing with Adam has seen our day. And every prophet has talked about our day, when Israel would be gathered and the world would be prepared for the Second Coming of the Savior. Think of it! Of all the people who have ever lived on planet earth, we are the ones who get to participate in this final, great gathering event. How exciting is that!” (Russell M. Nelson, “Hope of Israel” [worldwide youth devotional, June 3, 2018], supplement to the New Era and Ensign, 8, ChurchofJesusChrist.org). See also Ronald A. Rasband, “Fulfillment of Prophecy,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2020, 75–78.

  4. The Savior, speaking of Isaiah, said, “All things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake” (3 Nephi 23:3; italics added).

  5. See Matthew 3:1–3; Mark 1:2–4; Luke 3:2–6.

  6. See Doctrine and Covenants 33:10; 65:3; 88:66.