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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press
Taken from the Plains Baptist Challenger, 2011
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." Matthew 7:15.
I feel that a study of false prophets is important mainly because our Lord warned us to beware of them, as we find in our text; also, because the Bible has considered them to be a problem through the ages.
When Moses and Aaron went down to Egypt on their Heaven-sent mission, there were two false prophets by the name of Jannes and Jambres who withstood them, 2 Timothy 3:8. Though their power was demonic, they were surely convincing as they worked wonders before the people. (Exodus 7:11, 8:7, 18-19). God permits false prophets to do mighty works as a test to His people's love and dedication to Him, Deuteronomy 13:1-3.
When Elijah sought to turn Israel back to God and the Bible, there were 850 false prophets who sought to keep Elijah from doing so, 1 Kings 18. When Micaiah gave King Ahab and King Jehoshaphat a message from the Lord that would have saved them from loss and death, there were about 400 false prophets seeking to persuade them to do otherwise, and they did succeed, 1 Kings 22.
False prophets often sought to hinder other prophets of God such as Nehemiah (Nehemiah 6:140, Jeremiah (Jeremiah 28:15-17), Amos (Amos 7:10-17), Paul (Acts 13:6-10) and many others.
Paul often warned God's people of false prophets. In his message to the elders of Ephesus we find him saying, "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them," (Acts 20:29-30).
Paul also pointed out the danger of false prophets to other churches such as the Romans (Romans 16:1718), the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 11:13-15), the Galatians (Galatians 1:7-9; 5:10-12), the Ephesians (Ephesians 4:14), the Philippians (Philippians 3:2) and the Colossians (Colossians 2:8, 18).
Paul also mentioned the danger of false prophets when he wrote to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:16-19), to Titus (Titus 1:9-12), and to the Hebrews (Hebrews 13:9). We also find a warning about false prophets in the writing of Peter (2 Peter 2), Jude (Jude 4), and John (2 John 10-11, Revelation).
The study of false prophets is actually more important now than ever before. I say this because Jesus spoke of an increase in the number of false prophets in the end-time, Matthew 24:11. He also said that they would be more convincing and harder to recognize, Matthew 24:24. Paul also warned of a greater danger in the last days, 1 Timothy 4:1.
If false prophets are more deceiving and dangerous in our day than before, we do indeed have a problem. For you see, they were very deceptive in Paul's day. In writing to the Corinthians he said, "For such are false apostles, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness: whose end shall be according to their works." (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
Therefore, most of us need some help in recognizing false prophets. We need to know the characteristics of false prophets and how they operate. This is what I will try to point out in this article. Though some of God's true prophets may have some of these characteristics, people still need to know that they are the marks of a false prophet.
1. THEY STRIVE TO BE RECOGNIZED AS BEING GREAT AMONG MEN. Surely all of us have to fight the weakness of sinful pride. But seeking man's praise and glory is not a weakness that false prophets fight; it is one they cultivate. Consider two false prophets in the Bible who had this mark.
In Acts chapter 8, we see this same selfish, boastful spirit in a false prophet by the name of Simon. He carried on his deceptive work in Samaria. Though he was a false prophet, the Bible said that he was able to continue "a long time." People gave heed to Simon 'from the least to the greatest." They really believed that he was "the great power of God."
Then we see the mark that identified him as a false prophet. He was "giving out that himself was some great one," Acts 8:9. But God be praised, the preaching of the gospel of Christ brought an end to his work of deceiving and blinding the people.
May I say here, that the marks of a true prophet are seen in men like Paul. Paul was a man who felt that he was "less than the least of all saints," Ephesians 3:8. He even considered himself to be "nothing„" 2 Corinthians 12:11. According to the teaching of Jesus, we all should feel this way, John 15:5.
Though all false prophets may not be recognized by their desire to magnify themselves, and though some true men of God may have a problem with pride, all should know that this is a mark that is normally found in false prophets.
2. FALSE PROPHETS ARE NORMALLY IMMORAL. In the book of 2 Peter we find much said about false prophets. The second chapter of his book is given almost completely to a study of false prophets. In that chapter he gave us a noticeable mark of false prophets when he said, "Having eyes full of adultery, and that cannot cease from sin," 2 Peter 2:14.
There is a reason that many false prophets are immoral and "cannot cease from sin." A truly false prophet is not a "born-again" Christian. He has never moved from the devil's family into God's, 1 John 3:10. He has never become a new creature in Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:17. He has never moved from darkness to light, Ephesians 5:8, The Holy Spirit does not abide and work in him, 2 Corinthians 6:19-20. Naturally, he cannot overcome the sinful, depraved flesh in which he lives. Though there have been some cases of this same immorality among true servants of God, all need to know that this is a mark of false prophets.
3. MONEY IS A CONTROLLING FACTOR IN THEIR LIVES. "Not greedy of filthy lucre" is one of the qualifications for those who are ordained to the full work of the ministry, 1 Timothy 3:3. It was to a young preacher that Paul wrote the familiar words, "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows," 1 Timothy 6:10. Though the love for money can bring unnecessary sorrow to all, preachers especially need to watch it. But it is common in false prophets.
In Paul's letter to Timothy he spoke of some false teachers who considered "that gain is godliness." When writing to Titus he referred to some deceivers "whose mouths must be stopped," and said they were preaching for the money, or "for filthy lucre 's sake," Titus 1:10-11. Jude used most of his book dealing with false prophets and he referred to this same problem, Jude 11.
Money is a need we all have, and God gives it to us regularly as a blessing, Philippians 4:19. But to make riches our goal in life is wrong and it brings "many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition," 1 Timothy 6:9.
A man cannot "haste to be rich" and stay innocent, Proverbs 28:29. And while many of God's servants have some problems with this, all need to know that letting money be a controlling factor in their ministry is a mark of false prophets.
4. WE CAN KNOW THEM BY THEIR FRUITS. When Jesus spoke the words of our text, warning us of false prophets, He went on to say, "ye shall know them by their fruits," Matthew 7:16. If the saying is true that "the fruit of a Christian is another Christian," then the fruit of any man's ministry would be seen in the people that he wins, the people that he pastors, and the people that he influences.
In Galatians 5:19-21, we have a list of things that the flesh produces. Then we have a list of the things which the Spirit produces, verses 2223. Since the false prophet works in the flesh, we would expect to see things that are in the list of "works of the flesh," showing up in his followers. And since the true servant of God works in the Spirit, we would expect to see things in the list of "fruit of the Spirit" show up in the lives of those he wins and teaches.
In other words, while hatred, emulation, strife, and envy would naturally show up in the followers of the false prophet, love, joy, peace, meekness and faith would show up in the lives of those who listen to the preaching of the true prophet. Looking at the fruit of one's ministry will therefore help us to know who is true and who is false.
5. FALSE PROPHETS MAY BE KNOWN BY THOSE WHO HEAR THEM. The Apostle John wrote much concerning false teachers. In chapter 4 of his first letter he admonishes us to "try the spirits whether they are of God." He then said, "because many false prophets are gone out into the world," 1 John 4:1.
He then gives us some ways to recognize false prophets. One thing he mentioned was, "they are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error," 1 John 4:5-6. John seems to be saying that it will be easy for the false prophets to gather large crowds from the lost and worldly, while the true may find it difficult.
I don't think John is encouraging us to become more like the world in order to grow. He had just said "greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world," verse 4. But while it is tempting for a church to make some changes when they lose their spiritual power, they should be careful. I really think that the best thing to do is to weep our way back to God in true repentance and rededicate our lives to the work Jesus left us to do.
6. FALSE PROPHETS ARE KNOWN BY THEIR MESSAGE. If a man preaches "another Jesus" other than the Jesus of the Bible, he is not of God. This is one of the ways which John gave us to recognize false prophets, 1 John 4:2-3, The Jesus of the Bible was God's only begotten Son, John 3:16, born of a virgin, Luke 1:34-35, lived a sinless life, Hebrews 4:15, performed miracles, John 3:2, died for the sins of the world, Romans 5:8, was buried in a grave, John 19:40-42, rose from the dead, Mark 1:6, ascended back to the Father, Acts 1:9, is now interceding for us, Hebrews 7:25, and will one day return back to this earth, Acts 1:10-11.
This is the Jesus of the Bible, and the Jesus we are to preach. And if anyone preaches another Jesus, he is without question a false prophet.
This little message is not written to encourage the practice of judging and condemning everyone who doesn't believe just like we do. It is written with the hope of helping some to find their way in this different day, and to encourage us all to "earnestly contend for the faith," Jude 3, until "these calamities be overpast,"Psalm 57:1