The Cessation of Revelational Gifts

Introduction

The previous article on spiritual gifts dealt with several significant factors. First, it presented three lines of evidence to the effect that God intended the revelational and sign gifts which He gave to the early Church to be temporary.

The duration of a spiritual gift is determined by its purpose or function.

Second, it noted a significant principle concerning spiritual gifts. That principle is as follows: The duration of a spiritual gift is determined by its purpose or function. A spiritual gift will continue to exist until it fulfills its God-intended purpose or function. Once it fulfills that purpose or function, it is no longer necessary, and God does away with it.

In light of these significant factors already examined, the present article will study more specifically the issue of when some of the spiritual gifts which God intended to be temporary  actually ended.

The Duration Of Revelational Gifts

On the basis of Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 13:8-9, the previous article noted several things concerning the duration of the revelational gifts of prophecy and knowledge. First, in contrast with love which is permanent, the gifts of prophecy and knowledge would be temporary. They would fail, would vanish away.

Second, the revelational gifts of prophecy and knowledge would be tempo­rary because they could deliver only a partial revelation or knowledge of God. That was their God-intended purpose or function. They were not capable of delivering a full, complete revelation of God.

Third, in line with the principle noted earlier to the effect that the duration of a spiritual gift is determined by its purpose or function, once the revelational gifts would have delivered all of the partial revelation or knowledge of God which they were capable of delivering, they would have fulfilled their God-intended purpose or function and would no longer be necessary. Thus, God would do away with them.

In light of these three items concerning the duration of the revelational gifts of prophecy and knowledge, the following questions must be asked: According to the Holy Spirit-inspired Scriptures, when would the revelational gifts of prophecy and knowledge fulfill their God-intended purpose or function of delivering all of the partial revelation or knowledge of God which they were capable of delivering, and when, therefore, would God do away with those gifts?

These questions were not answered by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. The previous article demonstrated the fact that, although he clearly taught the temporary duration of the revelational gifts of prophecy and knowledge in verse eight, nowhere in chapter thirteen did Paul state the specific time when those revelational gifts would fulfill their intended purpose or function and thereby be put out of existence.

Three other Scripture passages do shed significant light on these issues. The first of these passages is John 14:26. In the context of this passage Jesus had gathered with His twelve apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem on the night before His crucifixion. Jesus warned the apostles that He would be leaving them to return to His Father’s house in Heaven (Jn. 14:1-3). He promised His men that they would not be left alone during His absence. The Father would send to them another Comforter in place of Jesus (v. 16). That other Comforter would be the Holy Spirit (v. 17; cf. Jn. 7:39).

Having promised the coming of the Holy Spirit to His apostles, Jesus told them what the Spirit would do after He would come -“But the Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things” (Jn. 14:26).

Several important things should be noted concerning this significant statement by Jesus. First, it is important to note to whom Jesus addressed this statement. He addressed it specifically to the twelve apostles, not to all believers in general. That this is so is indicated by the rest of Jesus’ statement in verse twenty-six. Having promised that the Holy Spirit would teach these men all things, Jesus then declared that the Spirit would also “bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said unto you.” Only the apostles had been with Jesus during all the times that He had taught; therefore, only they had heard all of His instruction. Thus, in John 14:26 Jesus was talking about significant things which the Holy Spirit would do to that corporate body of apostles during their corporate lifetime. He was not indicating what the Holy Spirit would do to all believers in general.

Concerning the Spirit He said: ‘he shall teach you all things.’

The second important thing to note about Jesus’ statement is what the Holy Spirit would do to the apostles during their corporate lifetime. Concerning the Spirit He said: “he shall teach you all things.” Jesus thereby indicated that, during the corporate lifetime of the twelve apostles, the Holy Spirit would communicate to that corporate body of men all (not just some) of the truth, the knowledge which He would want the Church to have.

The twelve apostles would receive all the truth, knowledge or revelation which the Church was to have.

This did not mean that each of the twelve apostles would receive all of this communication of knowledge from the Holy Spirit individually. John, who was the last of the twelve apostles of Christ to die, received significant revelation from the Holy Spirit years after the other eleven apostles had died (Rev. 1:20; 4:2; 17:3; 21:10). But it did mean that as a corporate body the twelve apostles would receive all the truth, knowledge or revelation which the Church was to have, and that the Holy Spirit would communicate all that truth to that corporate body before its last living member would die.

In addition, Jesus’ John 14:26 statement did not mean that the twelve apostles who were gathered with Him in the upper room were the only persons who would have this truth revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. Paul was not in the corporate body of the twelve apostles gathered with Christ in the upper room, and yet he made it clear that he, as an apostle of Christ “born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8), and the New Testament prophets also had parts of this truth revealed to them by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10-13; Eph. 3:3-5). Jesus’ statement did mean that, although Paul and the New Testament prophets would also have parts of this truth revealed to them, the twelve apostles would have all the truth which God wanted the Church to possess revealed to them as a corporate body before that body would pass out of existence.

By 100 A. D. there was no further need for those revelational gifts.

Since Jesus’ John 14:26 statement indicated that the Holy Spirit would reveal all the truth which God wanted the Church to have to the corporate body of twelve apostles before its last living member would die, and since the last living member (John) of the corporate body of twelve apostles died around 100 A. D., then it can be concluded that all of God’s revelation to the Church was completed by 100 A. D. Since all of God’s revelation to the Church was completed by 100 A. D., and since the revelational gifts of prophecy and knowledge had the God-intended purpose or function of delivering revelation or knowledge of God, then certainly by 100 A. D. there was no further need for those revelational gifts. It can be concluded, then, that God must have done away with the gifts of prophecy and knowledge by 100 A. D.

The second Scripture passage which sheds light on the issue of the duration of the revelational gifts is John 16:12-13. This passage has the same context as the John 14:26 passage. Jesus was speaking to the corporate body of the twelve apostles in the upper room on the night before His crucifixion. Once again Jesus warned the apostles of His impending departure from them to return to the Father (Jn. 16:4-6), and once again He promised that the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, would come to them after His departure (v. 7). Having given this warning and promise, Jesus declared, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Nevertheless, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth;…and he will show you things to come” (vv. 12-13).

Once again it is important to note that Jesus addressed these comments spe­cifically to the corporate body of twelve apostles who were gathered with Him that night. He did not address them to all believers in general. In the context (Jn. 15:26-27; 16:4) Jesus made it clear that He was addressing those who had been with Him “from the beginning.”

Jesus’ statement to the effect that He had many things to say to the apostles, but they could not bear them at that time (v. 12), indicated that He had already taught them so much over the three and one-half years that they had been with Him that the apostles had reached the saturation point. They could not take in any more new truth at that time.

The apostles’ inability to take in more truth posed a genuine problem. In light of the fact that Jesus would leave them soon to return to His Father, how would the apostles receive all the new truth that Jesus wanted to communi­cate to them?

The Holy Spirit would communicate to the apostles whatever Jesus would speak to Him.

Jesus indicated that the solution to the problem would be the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit would come after Jesus’ departure, the Spirit would guide the apostles “into all the truth” (the Greek text has the definite article “the” before the word “truth,” v. 13). Jesus explained further how this would work -“for he shall not speak of himself, but whatever he shall hear, that shall he speak” (v. 13). In other words, the Holy Spirit would communicate to the apostles whatever Jesus would speak to Him.

It is important to note that Jesus declared that the Holy Spirit would guide the corporate body of the twelve apostles into all the truth, including a knowl­edge of future events. Apostles and New Testament prophets had the respon­sibility of communicating to the Church the truth or knowledge which the Holy Spirit communicated to them (1 Cor. 2:7-13; Eph. 3:3-9). This meant, then, that the twelve apostles would be responsible to communicate to the Church all the truth that the Holy Spirit would communicate to them after Jesus’ departure to the Father. Inlight of this responsibility, it can be concluded that, when Jesus declared that the Spirit would guide the apostles into all the truth, He was referring to all the truth which He wanted the Church to have.

Thus, in John 16:12-13 Jesus indicated that all the truth, knowledge or reve­lation which He wanted the Church to have would be delivered to the corporate body of twelve apostles during the corporate lifetime of that group. Since that corporate body came to an end when John, its last living member, died around 100 A. D., then it can be concluded that the Holy Spirit had delivered all the truth that Christ wanted the Church to have by 100 A. D. The Church was not to receive new revelation of truth or knowledge after the end of the apostolic age. Since the Spirit had delivered all the truth or revelation that Christ wanted the Church to have by 100 A. D., then there was no further need for the revelational gifts by that time. Thus, the gifts of prophecy and knowledge must have been put out of existence by 100 A. D.

The apostles and New Testament prophets are the foundation of the Church.

The third Scripture passage which sheds light on the issue of the duration of the revelational gifts is Ephesians 2:20. In this passage, where Paul drew an analogy between the construction of a building and the construction of the Church, he declared that the apostles and New Testament prophets are the foundation of the Church. The prophets which Paul had in mind were prophets of the New Testament, not Old Testament prophets, for in Ephe­sians 3:5 Paul indicated that they were contemporaries of the apostles.

Since in his Ephesians 2:20 building analogy Paul declared that the apostles and New Testament prophets are the foundation of the Church, and since the foundation of a building is laid once and for all in the early stages of construction, then it can be concluded that in his analogy Paul implied that the apostles and New Testament prophets were present once and for all in the early stages of the Church. Just as the foundation is not built up to the top of a building, so apostles of Christ and New Testament prophets were not to be present in the Church throughout its history.

Both the apostles of Christ and the New Testament prophets received reve­lation from the Holy Spirit. In Ephesians 3:4-5 Paul talked about the mystery of Christ which was “now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” The fact that both the apostles of Christ and the New Testament prophets received revelation from the Holy Spirit indicates that both groups had been given revelational gifts, such as the gift of prophecy, by the Holy Spirit. It would appear that the gift of prophecy involved two factors: first, the ability to receive revelation directly from the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:10; Eph. 3:3· 5), and second, the ability to communicate that revelation with inspired speech to other human beings (1 Cor. 2:13). The second ability guaranteed the accurate, inerrant communication of the revealed truth by the apostles of Christ and New Testament prophets.

It was the possession of the gift of prophecy that made a person a prophet.

In light of what was involved in the gift of prophecy, it can be concluded that it was the possession of the gift of prophecy that made a person a prophet (Rom. 12:3-6; 1Cor. 12:4, 8-10, 18, 28-29). Thus, God gave the gift of prophecy only to those persons whom He had designated to be prophets. Since the apostles of Christ had been given the gift of prophecy, they too were prophets (cf. Mt. 23:34 where Jesus called His apostles  “prophets”; Acts 13:1 where Paul was identified as a prophet; and Rev. 1:3; 10:11; 22:10, 19 which indicated that John was a prophet).

Since God gave the gift of prophecy only to those persons whom He had designated to be prophets (which persons included the apostles of Christ), and since Paul’s Ephesians 2:20 analogy implied that the apostles and New Testament prophets were present once and for all in the early stages of the Church, then it can be concluded that the revelational gift of prophecy was present only in the early stages of the Church. The gift of prophecy ceased at the end of the foundational stage of the Church when the apostles and prophets ceased.

Thus, John 14:26; 16:12-13 and Ephesians 2:20 indicate that the revelational gifts (such as prophecy and knowledge) were done away with by God by the end of the apostolic age (around 100 A. D.).

An Objection

Some would object to the conclusion which has been drawn from these three biblical passages. They would object by appealing to Joel 2:28 in which God declared, “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.” Some would claim that the present-day movement which emphasizes tongues speaking, prophesying and the receiving of revelations from God is the fulfillment of the Joel 2:28 prophecy. Thus, on the basis of Joel 2:28 they would assert that the gift of prophecy and other means of revelation are present in the Church today, and that, therefore, it is wrong to conclude that God ended the revelational gifts around 100 A. D.

There is a significant problem with this approach to Joel 2:28, however. In this passage where God foretold a future time of new revelation through prophesying and other means, He indicated that it would come in conjunction with His pouring out of His Spirit upon all flesh (upon all human beings living on the earth).

God pours out or gives the Holy Spirit only to believers.

Two things should be noted concerning this. First, God is not pouring out the Holy Spirit upon all human beings living on the earth today. Second, God pours out or gives the Holy Spirit only to believers (Jn. 7:38-39; 14:16-17; Acts 10:44-48; 11:15-18; Rom. 8:9). Since Joel 2:28 referred to a time when God would pour out the Holy Spirit upon all human beings living on the earth, and since God pours out the Spirit only upon believers, then Joel 2:28 was refer­ring to a future time when every human being living on the earth would be a believer. That certainly is not the situation on the earth today.

Between the time that the Joel 2:28 prophecy was delivered and the time  that the history of this present earth will end there is only one time period when every human being living on the earth will be a believer. That time period will be during the early foundational stage of the Millennium. Passages such as Matthew 13:37-43, 47-50; 25:31-46 and Luke 17:26-37 indicate that only believers will be allowed to enter the Millennial Kingdom. All living unbelievers will be removed from the earth in judgment in conjunction with  Christ’s Second Coming.

Other passages teach that children will be born during the Millennium (Jer. 30:19-20; Ezek. 47:22). These children will be born in the same unsaved condition that children are born today. This means, then, that after the early foundational stage of the Millennium, the earth will have unsaved people living on it again. Thus, it is only during the early foundational stage of the Millennium that every human being living on the earth will be a believer. As a result, it is only during the early foundational stage of the Millennium that God will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh and the Joel 2:28 prophecy will be fulfilled.

In Joel 2:28, then, God was indicating that new revelation will come to the earth through prophesying and other means during the early foundational stage of the Millennium. New revelation will come at that time because the early foundational stage of the Millennium will be the beginning part of a new dispensation (a new particular way of God administering His rule over the world). A new dispensation of God’s rule places new responsibilities upon human beings on the earth.

Since a new dispensation involves a new way of God administering His rule over the world, and since it places new responsibilities upon human beings on the earth, then each new dispensation requires new revelation. In order to know what is involved in God’s new way of administering His rule and their resultant new responsibilities, human beings must have these things revealed to them.

Each new dispensation also requires that the new revelation come during the early foundational stage of the dispensation. If parts of the revelation are not given until late in the dispensation, then those people who live earlier in the dispensation are ignorant of their responsibilities and are in danger of divine judgment for failure to fulfill what God requires in that dispensation.

It is for this reason, then, that God will give the new revelation of the Millennium during the early founda­tional stage of that dispensation (during the time that God will be able to pour out the Holy Spirit upon all human beings living on the earth). It is also for this reason that, during the early foundational stage of this present dispensation (when apostles of Christ and New Testament prophets were present in the Church), God gave the Church all the revelation that He wanted it to have and then did away with the revelational gifts by 100 A. D.

The next article will examine when the gift of tongues was to end.

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