10 Ways We Can Recognize a False Prophet
“...many false prophets will appear and deceive many people” (Matthew 24:11).
Jesus warned his followers that in ages to come false prophets would arise. Many had already appeared in Israel, seeking to destroy the young nation’s faith. And Scripture says the problem will continue until Christ returns.
They may look or sound a bit different in our day, but false prophets do sometimes still find their way into church bodies. Their aim is to spread ideas that are either misleading or completely wrong. And left unchecked, they cause some believers to have doubts about their faith, or even to be led away from God.
Our Heavenly Father has actually provided some examples of these prophets, and how to recognize when one could be in our midst. These are not meant to make us paranoid about the intentions of others, but to encourage us to be alert if we hear or see something that makes us uneasy.
10 Tips Scripture Gives Us to Help Recognize a False Prophet
1. They Say What People Want to Hear
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3).
2. They Teach a Doctrine Other than Christ
“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them — bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories” (2 Peter 2:1-3).
3. They Use Tricks to Pull People In
“At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time” (Matthew 24:23-25).
4. They Are Dishonest about Their Real Intentions
“For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
5. They Seek to Divide Congregations
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people” (Romans 16:17-18).
6. They Ignore the Need for Repentance
“The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The prophecies they gave you were false and misleading” (Lamentations 2:14).
7. They Gloss Over Any Sins They or Other Church Leaders Commit
“‘Her prophets whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says’ — when the Lord has not spoken’” (Ezekiel 22:28).
8. They Substitute Their Own Words for God’s Word
“Then the Lord said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds’” (Jeremiah 14:14).
9. They Do Damage to Church Families
“‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them’” (Matthew 7:15-16).
10. They Will Face God’s Punishment
“My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord” (Ezekiel 13:9).
How Are We to Respond to False Prophets?
The Bible is very clear about what we are to do when dealing with a false prophet. And it comes down to keeping our eyes fixed on the Lord, not letting anyone pull us away from what we know is His truth.
“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, ‘Let us follow other gods (gods you have not known) and let us worship them,’ you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you…” (Deuteronomy 13:1-3).
“‘You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously…’” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God” (1 John 4:1-3).
A New Testament Account
During one of Paul and Barnabas’ missionary trips, they came across a false prophet who was actively working against God’s plan. Paul was prepared for this situation, and realized that he must confront that person right away to honor the name of the Lord.
“They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, ‘You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun’” (Acts 13:6-11).
The idea of false prophets may sound like ancient history. But we are always called to be thoughtful about what we are taught. And when we need to, God gives us the wisdom and boldness to stand up and claim His truth.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Bogomil Mihaylov
Heather Adams is an author, speaker, and singer living in Connecticut. Heather’s passion is to equip and encourage believers to seek more of God’s truth and to experience more of His joy each day. Her book, Bow Down: The Heart of a True Worshipper is a practical, 30-day devotional about worship based on the writings of King David. Heather's blog, Worship Walk Ministries, offers weekly Scripture passages and insights to ponder. A native New Englander, Heather is settling into her home in the South, trying out local foods and watching for the alligators that live nearby!
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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