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.
1. Matthew 7:15
2. Mark 13:22
3. Deuteronomy 13:1-5
4. Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22