For 2000 years, the church has moved forward in the absence of Christ’s physical presence; but through the presence of the Holy Spirit, God was in their midst.
The Holy Spirit provided wisdom, power, and comfort to the messengers of the Gospel in those early years. People everywhere could tell that Christians were, indeed, different. They had embraced Jesus, and they had authority behind their message. Christ was living in their hearts through the Holy Spirit. And others could tell that they had been with Jesus, even though Jesus wasn’t on earth (Acts 4:13).
Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit gave them special gifts in order to spread this message. Some people were missionaries (apostles), some prophets, some evangelists, some church overseers (pastors and elders are basically identical in Scripture), and some teachers. All chose a vocation in the church designed to spread the message of Christ. And they did a good job, too. At least as first.
The Holy Spirit is our down payment from God on Heaven. He promised He would take us there, so He gave us a part of Heaven while we are on earth - The Holy Spirit. When we walk in the Holy Spirit, we receive numerous benefits. He shapes our character to be like Christ. He provides gifts for sharing the gospel. He makes living a life in line with God's Will possible.
This was the success that the early church was having and why the gospel spread so quickly. But, then, over time, worldliness crept in, and people in the church started resisting the power of the Holy Spirit. As a result of losing the power of the Holy Spirit, the church used other means to sustain itself. And the results were not pretty.
As anyone who knows early church history can attest, within a few centuries after Jesus left the earth, the church fell into apostasy. It began unraveling with false teachers and false beliefs. Inequality quickly entered, and the hunt for power prevailed. The church eventually became pagan in practice and, instead of keeping God’s commandments—it sought to change them instead!
To make matters worse, it went from being persecuted to, once it gained power, being the persecutor! First, it began to persecute non-Christians. No longer having the power of the Holy Spirit behind them, church leaders sought the power of the state instead to do for the church what, without the power of the Holy Spirit, it could not do for itself.
It even started persecuting Christians who were not doing what the church leaders told them to do. They hid the Bible from masses and let only some priests read it. Later they had traveling friars who lived on alcohol and tricked people out of money by telling them that they would go to “purgatory” if they didn’t pay. Then they started having people pay to get their families out. Although there were always good and faithful people who believed what they were told, and sought to follow God the best that they could, the whole system itself became corrupted from beginning to end.
The church, now not only corrupt, also became terribly powerful. A single man at the helm of the religious and civil power took the title of “Christ” on Earth. He had supreme authority over the church. And he had killed or ex-communicated anyone that wouldn’t bow to him. In short, the church stopped being “Christian,” regardless of what it called itself.
The Bad and Ugly
The church entered a truly powerful and treacherous historical period. But guess what? The Bible predicted that this would happen. Jesus predicted it in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Paul predicted it in 2 Thessalonians 2. Daniel predicted it in Daniel 7, 8, and 11. And Revelation predicted it in Revelation 12, 13, and 14. It didn’t just predict that this would happen, but it also predicted the downfall and end of this apostasy as well. That is, it ends on a good and hopeful note!
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is, in fact, the gift of prophecy. It is a gift that accompanies the faithful remnant. And, according to Joel 2:28, 29, the gift of prophecy will be especially present right before Jesus returns. The picture given in these verses is the agricultural rainy seasons in Israel. The early rain came first, and then later came the latter rains. In the same way, the Holy Spirit was rained down in the first century, and will again rain down in a special way at the close of earth’s history.
Revelation says that God’s people—the Remnant—will keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 12:17). Then Revelation tells us that the testimony of Jesus is “the Spirit of Prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). Thus, the gift of prophecy will be made manifest among them God's faithful because they have God's Spirit.
There are so many valuable reasons for the gift of prophecy. Prophecy testifies, first and foremost, about Jesus. That is why it is called the “testimony of Jesus.” Jesus says that He tells us things ahead of time so that, when they happen, we will believe in Him (John 13:19; 14:29). That is, we can see things happening, just as God has predicted that they would, so that we will have faith to follow an all-knowing God (Isaiah 46:10).
The gift is also given so that that we won’t lose faith in Him or get discouraged while waiting for His return. Also, with so many errors out there, the “Spirit of Prophecy” can point us to the Word of God and help us avoid being deceived. Sometimes it is hard to decode the difference between a liar and someone telling the truth, but when we read God’s Word, we can see God revealing the secret things before they happen, which helps us discern truth from error.
Paul says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) God doesn’t ask us to believe without evidence. He doesn’t give us so much evidence that we do not need to have faith. (Very few things, if any, can we believe without some level of faith, anyway.) Yet God has given us enough evidence for us to make an intelligent and even rational choice about what we will believe and who we will follow. We can either believe God and His Word, or we can believe what others say. Prophecy, however, does give us powerfully compelling, and powerfully rational, reasons for trusting in God.