In The Billy Graham Christian Worker's Handbook, Graham states, “All the way through the Bible we are warned against false prophets and false teachers. And even Jesus warned us of false prophets when He said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” ¹ [Matthew 7:15] We are warned of false prophets in many Bible books, such as Deuteronomy, 1 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah, Matthew, Acts, and 2 Peter – just to name a few.
Who are false prophets?
But who are the false prophets we read about in the Bible? Authors Jean Fischer and Tracy Sumner have put together one of the easiest definition and explanation of a false prophet I have seen. They describe a false prophet as, “A liar. A false prophet says that a message is from God when it’s not. If a person says God gave him/her a message, and that message leads you away from God or what His Word says, that person is a false prophet. The Bible says that many false prophets are in the world. We need to watch out for them.” ²
|Photograph Location: Lagos, Nigeria|
Characteristics of false prophets
Most false prophets have many characteristics that set them apart from others. While not every false prophet may possess all of the following, many do. Most false prophets in today’s age are:
- Very convincing. They have an uncanny ability to convince others that they have been given the sole truth from God.
- Very personable. They are usually very well-liked and are adept in social skills and social situations.
- Smart. They have to be quite smart in order to debate, win arguments, and convince others. Look back at Biblical times. Many of the false teachers then were highly educated religious leaders of their day.
- Very possessive of their followers.
- Very motivated. Their motivations may stem from various needs, such as their desire to be popular or esteemed in the eyes of others, their desire to approval, or even their desire for money.
- Very adept in manipulating Scripture for their purposes.
- Teachers of false doctrines.
What do false prophets do?
False prophets lead people astray. Ultimately, they will lead an unbeliever from hearing God’s truth about eternal life and believers will be led away from the holy and blessed life the Lord wants for them. False prophets may perform signs and wonders; bring heresies into the church; and deceive others. The apostle Paul warned people not to be deceived by the false teachings of his day in Thessalonians. He proved his seriousness about making the church a pure place for believers when he removed two false teachers, Hymenaeus and Alexander, from the church and handed them over to Satan so they would learn not to blaspheme. [1Timothy1:19-20]
Satan is a deceiver. He has many disguises. Many are deceived by the doctrines and teachings of the day. So, we must present ourselves as diligent servants for the Lord and test the spirits.
Questions have been asked by people from all walks of life and through many generations, such as:
- Who are the false teachers of today?
- Why do false teachers exist?
- Why do people believe false prophets expound God’s truth?
- Who are we to judge others and label them as false prophets?
- Doesn’t the Bible tell us not to judge others?
These are all excellent questions, so let’s see how we can tell who false prophet is by looking at what the Scriptures say.
Verses about false prophets
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.
How long shall there be lies in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart.
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.
And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.
And from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
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, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
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.
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.
For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.
And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Why is it imperative we recognize false prophets?
We must recognize them because there are many voices vying for our attention. We must learn to discern the right voices from the wrong ones. We can do that by allowing every word we hear be filtered through God’s Word. If what one says or writes does not align with Scriptures, it is not of God. No one is perfect, but by looking into the character of a person, we can get a peek into their integrity, i.e. do they lie? do they commit adultery? When we recognize false prophets, we will know what to avoid and we can guide others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Where will you find false prophets?
You will find false prophets everywhere – in the church, in seminaries, in institutions of higher learning, on the radio, on TV, in cities, in towns, in cities, in poor countries, or in rich countries. You may find them predicting the end of times or healing people. All over the world, they are deceiving people and leading them away from the pure Word of God. They want men and women to worship them instead of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
|Photograph Location: Brussels, Belgium|
I will not attempt to list false prophets in this blog. Not because I can’t whip out a few names I believe are false teachers, but because the Bible has so many references pertaining to how one can discern those who teach false doctrines that I desire you to delve into the Word of God yourself and distinguish those who lead others in Truth and those who don’t.
In my opinion, if a solid, mature believer expresses doubts about a person’s sincerity or believers one may be a false teacher, it may be wise to evaluate the person in question, pray about it, and seek God’s understanding of the matter. We must be wise in our thinking. Proverbs 16:16 says, “How much better to get wisdom than gold, to get insight rather than silver.” We must test the spirits ourselves. Even in Acts 17:10-11, we find the Bereans testing the apostle Paul to be sure they were following the teachings of a Godly man who was sensitive to God’s Holy Spirit. Never feel bad about questioning a spiritual leader, seminary professor, or Bible study teachers. Just as false prophets had penetrated the churches in Jesus’ time, they have also penetrated the walls of our churches and institutions today.
My desire for you, my friends, is that you will never be misled into believing in false prophets or false teachings. Satan will disguise himself as an angel of light. Just because someone is called Reverend, Pastor, or Brother, does not mean the solid truth of Jesus Christ is within them. It is essential for us to seek out the mind of God on all matters.
Jeremiah, a prophet of God
Jeremiah was called to bring a very convicting message to the people of his day. He was to tell the people to repent or doom will come upon the nation and city of Jerusalem. All the while, false prophets were exhorting the people with messages of deliverance and peace which sounded a lot better than what Jeremiah was declaring. [Jeremiah 14:11-16, Jeremiah 23:9-40, Jeremiah 28:1-17] But, the false prophets were wrong and Jeremiah’s teaching was right.
Let us follow the right spirit. Let’s acquaint ourselves with God’s Word so thoroughly that nothing will lead us astray. False prophets do exist today and they will continue to exist until the end of time.
God bless you.
Dear Lord Jesus, thank you for your Holy Scripture. Thank you for never leaving me alone to figure out questions, doubts, or concerns. As I seek to be discerning about the things of God, let me pray and hear your teachings to guide and protect me from situations that are not OF YOU. Let me recognize false prophets and false teachings and give me the courage to avoid them by only immersing myself in You and Your Word. And thank you for the pastors, leaders, and parents who are teaching the truth of God to others. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
¹ Graham, Billy. The Billy Graham Christian Worker’s Handbook. Ed. Charles G. Ward. Charlotte, NC: World Wide Publications, 2001.
² Fishcher, Jean and Tracy M. Sumner. Big Bible Guide: Kids’ Bible Dictionary & Handbook. Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2013.
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