Revelation 19:10 Then I fell at his feet to worship him. But he *said to me, “Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (NASB)
This verse is one that I have heard quoted a few times and interpreted in different, interesting ways, but none of the interpretations I have heard have quite convinced me. The part of the verse I am really referring to is the very last bit: “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” It’s an unusual wording to get our heads around. One interpretation used by (I have to say) one of my favourite authors/speakers/leaders, and upon which he based an entire (and otherwise extremely good!) book, makes the ‘is’ in the middle into a kind of equals sign, so: “For the testimony of Jesus = the spirit of prophecy.” His interpretation then applies to testimony in general, and how sharing a testimony can act as a kind of prophetic word so that what was shared in the testimony has the potential to happen for someone else too.
I would not debate the certain possibility that spiritually, this could indeed happen. As I said, I think the book and the man that wrote it is wonderful, but I have to say I don’t quite think that’s what this verse is getting at.
What could it be then? “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” What is the guy talking about? For a start, John has just tried to worship this kind of angelic being who is talking to him – whether he supposed it was Jesus or not, I don’t know. All we know is that the being then says he is actually a fellow servant with John and with those who hold the testimony of Jesus. So here the testimony is first mentioned in this context. Within the wider context of Revelation and indeed the New Testament the word seems to me to hold quite a strong courtroom connotation which is sometimes lost in modern usage (to ‘witness to Jesus’ these days is to tell your neighbour about Him over coffee, or something; not wrong, but just not the full idea contained in the Greek word or the New Testament usage thereof). The judicial usage suggests that these brethren have a truthful testimony which they can share in heaven’s court (and maybe doing so on earth makes it heard in heaven anyway) which leads to a verdict rendered in favour of the saints and against the accuser (see especially Revelation 12:10-11). This, I think, is a bit more of what it means when it speaks of the ‘testimony of Jesus’.
So why is this ‘testimony of Jesus’ the ‘spirit of prophecy’? What does this phrase now mean?
To me, at least in this verse, another word I can think of for spirit is ‘essence’. Not that it’s a suitable alternative to the Greek word, it merely helps lead us towards what I think this verse is saying. The Greek word itself is ‘pneuma’, which can simply mean ‘breath’ or ‘wind’ as well as ‘spirit’. So we could say that the life-force of prophecy, its very breath, is this: to testify, bear witness to, Jesus.
This I think begins to fit the context rather well – always a good sign when interpreting a verse. There’s been a lot of prophetic stuff going on! John’s been blown away with some of these incredible revelations. And so when at this point this fellow has been instructing him in writing down these true words of God and John thinks it appropriate to worship this being, he tells John not to do so but to worship God. And then in saying this phrase “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy,” I would think that the emphasis would have been heard on ‘testimony of Jesus’, in other words, what ultimately all this prophecy is leading to, is a revelation, understanding and knowledge of Jesus through witness to Him, because ultimately that is what true prophecy is about.
Because that is what true prophecy is about, is it not? I don’t have a lot of time for prophetic words that go nowhere near Jesus and don’t make me want to worship Him more. And in fact very often such prophetic words might often come from people who would rather you worship them. But the spirit of true prophecy, the essence of what it is to really prophesy, is to bear witness to Jesus. “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Or perhaps a helpful retranslation in summary would be: “For the spirit of prophecy is to bear witness to Jesus!”
I hope this makes sense. I just thought it might be worth sharing as a helpful lead into thinking about this verse!