I talk and write often about our battle being not against flesh and blood. Our battle is not against the person standing in front of us, or against the antagonist “shouting” at us through the computer monitor.
We battle against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. We are physical participants in a spiritual conflict.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. – 1 John 4:1, ESV
Physical false prophets are engaged in battle in the spiritual realm, hence the admonition that we should “test the spirits” to discern whether or not they are from God. The false prophet (pseudopropheiteis – ψευδοπροφήτης) is of great concern in the New Testament, appearing no less than eleven times.
Jesus warned: Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. – Matthew 7:15, ESV
They look like sheep and smell like sheep. They are convincing and effective in their deception. Jesus later tells the disciples that numerous false prophets will arise and lead many astray,1 even the elect.2
The Old Testament (no surprise) speaks extensively of prophets in general but includes eight specific references to false prophets. There they are mentioned in relation to visions and dreams,3 were exposed when their prophecies did not come to pass, and scripture called for them to be executed!
In the New Testament, the false prophets are said to perform great wonders, signs, and miracles.4 Do not let it escape your notice that the ψευδοπροφήτης is performing miracles. Yes! Great signs and wonders, and yet, he is a false prophet, a wolf appearing to be a sheep, with the intent of leading you down a bad path. They are effective in their seductions.
“Test the spirits,” John says. We must pay heed to his warning.
Part of the seduction is that the wolf is among the sheep. He comes from among Christians! So, how do we know?
Well, this is where the teaching turns a bit hard, and those of you who have known my writing and speaking know that I tend to not “pull my punches.” If it needs to be said, I’ll say it. Just last week I was speaking at a writers’ conference in California, and I was introduced as a loveable, mild golden retriever. When I was finished, the woman who introduced me corrected that characterization saying, “Wow. I should have said ‘a bulldog!’.”
The apostle Peter gives us a recipe for noting who is a false prophet, and that recipe has seven ingredients.
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. – 2 Peter 2:1-3, ESV
Note these seven characteristics of the false prophets highlighted by Peter:
- They arise from within the flock, perhaps even one who “grew up in the church,” from a “fine Christian home” or a Christian university.
- Though they leave a wake of destruction, they are “secretive” in spreading their lies and heresies. This means we likely do not know and do not see what they are doing. They seem harmless, and perhaps even good.
- They deny the Master Jesus, the Lord “who bought them” in some way. Again, remember, they look like sheep, smell like sheep, are secretive, and arose from within the flock.
- They will be quite popular. “Many will follow.”
- They appeal to the senses. Those who are attracted to the false prophet are “following their sensuality.” If you are an emotionally motivated person, be very aware of this appeal.
- They will degrade biblical truth, exploiting their followers with false words. Test everything against scripture – the whole counsel of God.
- They are driven by greed to attract their followers.
I recognize this is a strong blog posting, and I make no apology for that. Jesus characterized these ψευδοπροφήτης as exceedingly dangerous men and women. John admonishes us to have nothing to do with them.
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. – 2 John 1:9-11, ESV
Test the spirits, brothers and sisters, and when they do not abide in truth, reject their teaching and refuse to fellowship with them.
Blessings upon you, my friends.
Victoriously in Christ!
Twitter – @DamonJGray
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1. Matthew 7:15
2. Mark 13:22
3. Deuteronomy 13:1-5
4. Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22
The penalty for being a false prophet in Old Testament times, and the warnings Jesus and the apostles gave about false teachers should lead us to the conclusion that false teachers are a real danger to one’s faith. God cares too much not to warn us.
Your post is so timely; one of the pastors in the church I go to recently finished a series on 2nd Timothy. The pastor gave a list of characteristics of false teachers.
I am concerned that in this day it is easier than ever to fall for the deception of false teachers. False teachers are often charismatic, and they attract a lot of attention. They know how to use social media. People often don’t take the time to carefully look at what message is being presented behind the shiny, perfect package. Also, the church is perhaps more worldly than it used to be. For instance, I heard that some ministers figure “if a pastor doesn’t have a megachurch by the time he is 55, he’s not going to make it”. When I heard that, I was saddened and angry. That is worldly ambition operating; that’s not from God. The Bible says that what the world applauds, God detests. (I’m paraphrasing).
As always, your comments are SO rich. I see a strong tendency to trust anyone/anything that wears a “Christian” label. Teachers, books, television programs, even music. Get a list of 10-12 popular songs from the radio, or even praise choruses that are popular, then download the lyrics to those songs/choruses and really comb through them and see what is or isn’t there. Some of it is just garbage. But it has the “C” label, so we assume the best.
That is the antithesis of what Peter and John are saying above. Test everything!! See if it stands up to scripture. Be like the Bereans who examined the scriptures every day just to see if what Paul was telling them was the truth.
We have become intellectually and spiritually lazy. “Meh, just let the pastor do my studying for me.”
Part of it is due to laziness, but I think people don’t really KNOW how to “test everything”. I don’t think people know how to study the Bible, for instance. For years I went to Sunday school and church with a neighbor. I read the SS quarterlies and memorized verses, but I didn’t learn how to study the Bible for myself. The quarterlies were topical, but I don’t recall any quarterly which had lessons on studying the Bible–considering context, for example. I kept feeling I was missing something, that there should be something more. As far as asking for help, my experience is either the request goes nowhere, or the church figures you are volunteering to be a teacher! It’s only now I’m learning how to study the Bible. It hasn’t come through any church, but it’s come through the internet–from people like you and other bloggers (Gracespeak, Mustard Seed Living Blog, FaithFood Blog), who not only talk about, but give examples about context, taking a verse apart word by word, etc.
A lot of studies found in churches are not directly on the Bible, but are books and the corresponding DVD series. I’m not saying that’s wrong, but it circles back to if the ministers who write the books are truly Christian and trustworthy. Of course, I don’t know the vetting process for what books to study. I fear some of it may be on what author is popular at the time. Popularity doesn’t always mean it’s right.
You make a valid point that people simply do not know how to study their Bibles. It is something that is not widely taught and that is a terrible shame. When I was working in full-time ministry, it was a major point/task to teach the university students HOW to study their Bibles. Discipleship was strong. We cannot see young men and women come to a saving knowledge of God’s grace and then just plant their butts on a pew and say, “Welcome! I hope you grow.”
No, every new believer had at least one more mature believer come alongside to walk with them through the early steps of their new life in Christ.
The American statesman and orator Daniel Webster commented on the importance of reading the Bible, back in 1823. I saw the quote somewhere, and put it in a blog post. If you are interested, here is the link: http://www.countryripples1.blog/2021/12/01/worth-pondering.
I’d wager that most folks believe Daniel Webster was just the guy who created the Dictionary, but he was SO much more! Sooooooooooooo much more.
Daniel Webster was a statesman and orator, but I think Noah Webster created the dictionary. I’d like to get the dictionary; it’s been pointed out you can see differences between definitions of words (such as “education”)–the way he defined them, and the way they are defined now, but the book is very expensive.
OH! Yes, you’re right. I was thinking of Noah Webster. He had a very storied life and has a long list of accomplishments.