No one enjoys hearing bad news. In fact, some people dislike bad news so much they will do anything to block it out.
Enter ancient Israel around the early 600s/late 500s BC. They had a strong inkling that they would get taken over by the Babylonians, as many of their prophets, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel, more than hinted at their imminent ransack and capture to this global super power.
But Israel didn’t like receiving that bit of information. So they turned to people who had positive messages instead: the prophets who would say that Israel would enter a time of prosperity and wealth soon (Jeremiah 23:16). Many went as far to claim from receiving visions or a divine word to prove their prophecies rang true.
As history dictates, their “prophecies” never came to fruition.
In this article, we’ll explain the context of the times when false prophets appear in the Old Testament. Then we’ll highlight what both the Old and New Testament say about false prophets and how we can keep an eye out for deceivers today.
Where Did These False Prophets Come from?
False prophets usually didn’t appear unless a number of tragedies or less-than-pleasant events had occurred. Long story short, Israel had gotten itself into a rut. It had evil kings, chased after other gods, went as far as committing child sacrifice, and they also trusted in other foreign superpowers such as Egypt rather than placing their trust in the Lord.
Israel had been split into two kingdoms earlier. The first, the Northern Kingdom, got taken into captivity by a vicious group known as the Assyrians in 722 BC. The Southern Kingdom, seeing this, began to grow uneasy for their own fate.
For 130 years, nothing of significance happened, but they did feel the strain of the Babylonians demolishing other nations. Not to mention, their own kings couldn’t seem to maintain good relations with this kingdom.
Worried they may have a similar fate to that of the Northern kingdom, they tuned into some sources, false prophets, that assured them of the opposite would happen.
Although the true prophets of God warned against listening to these deceivers, many people, including Israel’s kings, didn’t want to hear the truth. Instead, they endorsed the false information, which led them to a rather brutal siege and takeover of the Babylonians.
What Does the Bible Say about False Prophets?
Both the Old and New Testament have a great deal to say about false prophets. We’ll highlight some verses below and discuss some of the distinguishing characteristics of these wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Jeremiah 23:16 “Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.’”
Matthew 7:15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
Matthew 24:24 “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”
2 Timothy 4:3 “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.”
For more verses on false prophets, click here.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Ben White
These passages make several factors abundantly clear. First, in order for a false prophet to succeed, we need people who crave information, no matter how false (see the 2 Timothy verse). If people want to continue to live in sin, they will choose a message that best suits their narrative. Therefore, they will listen to a false prophet.
Second, false prophets will not only claim divine visions and words, but they have the ability to perform signs and “miracles.”
Because they have Satan on their side, they will be able to wield a certain amount of supernatural power. A miracle or sign does not always mean God was behind it.
Third, they do not speak from Scripture. Most of the time you can compare their words with the Bible and see the two messages do not align.
What Can We Learn about False Prophets Today?
In our society, when we receive a bombardment of negativity on social media and in the news. A part of us does want to escape the trials and the difficulty. We cry out Marantha!, and hope Jesus will appear soon.
No matter where we fall on the dispensationalism spectrum, we also have to be wary of messages about evading tough times on earth or messages that prosperity is coming our way soon. God does provide, and God does bless, but we also need to analyze the sources in which we hear these messages.
We also have to avoid something known as “toxic positivity” culture. This culture promotes only the sharing of positive messages. It has seeped into the church in such a way that teachers and preachers will avoid more heavy topics such as original sin and hell, among others, simply to appease the crowd.
Christianity is full of mercy and grace, but we cannot forget God’s judgment and wrath. Not because he wants to lord it over us like some threat. He does not. But we need to remember this because we cannot truly understand the nature of salvation unless we grasp how far we have fallen.
False prophets will promote narratives of prosperity, positivity, and human self-reliance. Think back to the Israelite kingdom just before the Babylonian invasion. False prophets told them if they just relied on the Egyptians (humans) they would prevail over Babylon. That didn’t happen.
Finally, whenever we’ve encountered what seems like a false prophet, we need to compare their words with Scripture. It doesn’t matter if they claim to have divine visions or if they appear to heal others or do miracles. If their messages does not agree with that of the Bible, we must reject their teachings.
False prophets like to prey on us when we feel most vulnerable. When the world has plunged into a scary place and we want a way out is when a deceiver will appear on the scene.
Stay vigilant, dear friends, as we approach the End of Days. Scripture says many false prophets will arise during those times.
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Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 600 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column "Hope's Hacks," tips and tricks to avoid writer's block, reaches 6,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young's blog. Her modern-day Daniel, Blaze, (Illuminate YA) Den (releasing July 2020), Dear Hero (releasing September 2020), and Dear Henchman (releasing 2021) Find out more about her at her website.