Christianity recognizes a long tradition of prophets who spoke the word of God. From Moses in the Old Testament to John the Baptist announcing the coming of Jesus Christ, prophets played a vital role in biblical history. However, there is debate among Christians about who should be considered the last prophet. This article will examine the evidence and arguments regarding the identity of the final prophet in the Christian tradition.
Prophets were men called by God to deliver divine messages to His people. They served as messengers through whom God spoke, often calling people to repentance and renewed faithfulness. Prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel in the Old Testament are revered figures in Christianity. With the coming of Jesus, the Messiah prophetically foretold, some believe there is no longer a need for prophecy and prophets. However, others point to New Testament figures as examples of Christian prophets. So who is the last prophet – the final person used by God to communicate inspired messages to the church? We will explore the top candidates and the biblical witness concerning them.
- Prophets played a vital role in biblical history, delivering God’s messages.
- With Jesus, some believe there is no more need for prophets.
- But New Testament figures like John the Baptist and Agabus are seen as possible last prophets.
- Views differ on whether prophecy continues, ceased or changed after the apostolic age.
- Understanding the spiritual gift of prophecy and its purpose is important.
- While ongoing prophecy is debated, all Christians accept the ultimate authority of biblical prophets.
John the Baptist as the Final Prophet
One prominent view within Christianity is that John the Baptist stands as the last Old Testament-style prophet who announced the coming of the Messiah. John fulfilled the prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6 that a prophet in the spirit of Elijah would precede the Lord’s coming. The angel Gabriel announced John’s birth and said he would go before Jesus “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).
John fit the mold of an Old Testament prophet. He lived an ascetic lifestyle, removed from society, and delivered a message of repentance. His ministry mainly focused on preparing the way for Jesus. John declared, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). He understood his prophetic role was to point people to the Christ.
In John’s Gospel, the Jewish leaders recognize John as a prophet (John 5:33-35). Jesus also explicitly identifies John as the prophesied Elijah figure who was to come (Matthew 11:14). Because of John’s pivotal preparatory role for Christ, some Christian scholars contend he stands as the last of the biblical prophets. Like those before him, John spoke the word of the Lord to God’s people, paving the way for the Messiah.
Agabus in the Book of Acts
While John’s prophetic ministry preceded Jesus, some believe another prophet appears after Christ’s ascension. In the book of Acts, a prophet named Agabus delivers two prophetic oracles. In Acts 11:27-28, Agabus predicts a severe famine – which then occurs during the reign of Claudius. Later, in Acts 21:10-11, Agabus uses symbolic actions, in the manner of Old Testament prophets, to predict the arrest of the Apostle Paul.
So should Agabus be considered the last prophet? Some contend his prophetic ministry resembles too closely those of the Hebrew prophets. He speaks predictive messages from God with outward signs and symbols. Agabus even calls himself a prophet (Acts 21:10). For those who argue God’s prophetic pattern changed with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Agabus represents more of an Old Testament-era prophet. Still, he shows prophetic giftings remained active in the early church.
Cessationist View of Prophecy
On the cessationist perspective, all miraculous spiritual gifts like prophecy ceased with the passing of the apostolic age and closing of the biblical canon. Just as apostles oversaw the foundation of the church, prophets delivered inspired scripture then passed from the scene. From this viewpoint, Old Testament prophets and John the Baptist represent the last who spoke the direct “thus saith the Lord” messages from God.
Cessationists point to biblical passages like Hebrews 1:1-2, which contrast the definitive revelation through Christ with the fragmented revelation through the prophets of old. And 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 teaches that prophecy will pass away when the “perfect” comes, which some argue is the completed scripture. From this perspective, no prophet after John the Baptist can be considered a new voice speaking inspired revelation. If Agabus was a prophet, he was among the last of a gift that ceased.
Continuationists counter that spiritual gifts like prophecy continue to operate in the church today. Passages like 1 Corinthians 12-14 and Romans 12:6-8 encourage the use of spiritual gifts, including the gift of prophecy. Ephesians 2:20 refers to apostles and prophets together as the foundation of the church, implying an ongoing prophetic role. While agreeing no one speaks new doctrine, continuationists believe prophecy can bring insight, encouragement and exhortation to the body of Christ.
From this perspective, Agabus exercised a genuine spiritual gift in the early church. While not adding to biblical canon, he spoke by the Spirit for instruction and warning. God continues to use prophets in this way. Some continuationists also point to extra-biblical prophets like Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch and others throughout church history as evidence God maintained the prophetic gift. These post-apostolic prophets did not speak revelation on par with scripture but communicated edifying messages from the Spirit.
Understanding Prophecy Biblically
Much disagreement about the last prophet relates to differing understandings of prophecy itself. Those holding to cessationist views often define a prophet solely as one who spoke inspired scripture. Since the canon is closed, that role ceased. But those who see prophecy more broadly view Agabus and extra-biblical figures as exercising a genuine gift of the Spirit, while not adding to the Bible.
The continuity of the prophetic gift through church history is debated. But all agree biblical prophets like Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah and Daniel definitively spoke the word of God. Jesus Christ stands as the greatest and final prophet, as the book of Hebrews declares: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
Ultimately, the Bible alone stands as the ultimate prophetic revelation from God. While Christians may disagree about prophecy continuing today, Jesus Christ and the testimony of Scripture remain the final authority and guide for life and doctrine.
This article has considered different perspectives on the identity of the last prophet in Christianity. Biblically, John the Baptist stands as the final prophet announcing the Messiah’s arrival. In the book of Acts, Agabus displays prophetic giftings after Christ’s ascension, but his role is debated. Cessationists contend prophecy ceased with the apostles, while continuationists argue prophecy still operates today.
Understanding the purpose of biblical prophecy and how it relates to completed scripture helps inform this discussion. But all Christians affirm the singularity of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of prophecy and the ultimate prophet. No later figure supersedes or adds to Christ’s definitive revelation. While disagreement exists about prophecy within church history, the witness of the biblical prophets remains foundational. Their words point ahead to the coming of the Messiah – the one who faithfully brings God’s final word.