By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
False prophets have been around since the very beginning. You could say that the first false prophet appeared in the Garden of Eden with the serpent’s lie to Adam and Eve. The truth of the matter is, they were there at the beginning and they will be around until the end.
Because of this it makes sense to know what a false prophet is. These people could be invading your churches and pulpits, so it is imperative to know who they are. Their damage goes beyond just their “prophecies” and teachings, their influence can be damaging to the body of Christ.
This article is about more than just answering a question. This is about arming yourself because what has happened in the past is happening now and you must be prepared so you don’t fall victim.
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What Is a False Prophet?
Let’s start by answering this question, what is a false prophet?
A prophet in the Bible was one who would proclaim the word of the Lord. They would speak on the Lord’s behalf into a situation. Sometimes they would speak about a future event and other times they would speak about a current matter. By definition then, a false prophet is one who presents themselves as speaking on behalf of the Lord, however instead of speaking truth, they speak lies.
“Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:8-9).
Characteristics of False Prophets
They may look and sound like you.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
The first thing to notice about a false prophet is they may look like you. They may sound legitimate and they may even use all the right lingo. In other words, they know how to look the part. Many times, this is why they are so deceptive, because they make themselves appear to look like other sheep.
They may look harmless, but they are extremely dangerous.
In this same verse in Matthew Jesus uses the analogy of a wolf and a sheep. He calls the false prophet a ferocious wolf. Wolves are predators and in order to survive they must continually find new prey. When they attack, they are vicious.
The false prophet may look like a sheep but they attack like the wolf. They seek to devour by causing people to either believe a lie or to put their trust in some other place than truly following Jesus or his word. This is what makes them dangerous.
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3 Warning Signs
1. They “Prophesy” from Their Own Delusions
“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).
The false prophet will often prophesy from their own imagination. However, because they know how to do it so well, if you are not careful you can fall victim to them. Without discernment, many times you can’t tell the difference.
Another thing to be careful of is the false prophet who prophesies only what you want to hear. They may even prophesy things that the people will agree with. This happened in Israel and this happens today.
2. What They Say Does Not Come True
“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, so do not be alarmed” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).
The great litmus test for anyone who claims to be a prophet of God is a simple one. Did what they say come true? This was true in biblical times and it is true today. By the way, the punishment in the Old Testament for being a false prophet was death.
“But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death” (Deuteronomy 18:20).
Clearly this is not something God takes lightly, especially because of the influence these people usually can have.
3. They Lead People Away from Christ
“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 to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him” (Deuteronomy 13:1-4).
What I find fascinating in this verse is that the false prophet announced a sign and wonder and it actually happened. This might be lead you to believe this false prophet is true. However, the real motive eventually comes out. This prophet would then turn and encourage people to follow other gods and worship them.
This is why time and patience are wonderful gifts when you are dealing with anyone who declares themselves a prophet. Time is necessary because it will eventually reveal the motives of the heart. Patience is required to see if what they say comes true.
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Are There False Prophets Today?
The short answer is yes. Consider these verses.
“But there were also false prophets in Israel, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will cleverly teach destructive heresies and even deny the Master who bought them. In this way, they will bring sudden destruction on themselves. Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered. In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. But God condemned them long ago, and their destruction will not be delayed” (2 Peter 2:1-3).
When you think about what a false prophet is and what drives them there is a good possibility it will be one of these things:
Many times, these people see godliness or the things of God as a way of lining their pockets. Don’t be surprised if the false prophet is after your money, because it is a prime source of their motivation. The shameful greed of these people will cause them to make up lies as a way of getting your money, so watch out for these hypocrites.
The false prophet often has the ability to manipulate the thinking of those who are under their control. This is like a drug for the false prophet because it feeds their ego. The flip side is that sometimes people want these people around them, simply to tell them lies. They use these lies as justification, so they can continue to live any lifestyle they want. It becomes the perfect match.
“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. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
If you remember, earlier we defined what a false prophet is. One characteristic is they would speak from their own delusions. Now they aren’t just speaking, but they have an audience that wants to listen to it.
Another marker of the false prophet is a desire for pleasure. Peter reminds us that many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. This may not always be apparent upfront, but over time it is revealed. The sad part is not just that they teach it but the amount of people who will follow after them. These people teach destructive heresies and destroy many sheep in the process. No wonder Jesus called them ferocious wolves.
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What Should You Do When You Encounter One?
With greater understanding of what a false prophet is, what should you do if you encounter one? These people can seem very intimidating but here’s how you deal with them:
1. Don’t Be Afraid of Them
“If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message. That prophet has spoken without my authority and need not be feared” (Deuteronomy 18:22).
Remember the false prophet has no power or real authority. It does not matter how many times they say “Thus saith the Lord,” their authority does not come from God so you don’t have to worry about what they say.
2. Avoid Them
“And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them” (Romans 16:17).
If someone has been identified as a false prophet, run from them and avoid them. There is no reason to fill your heart or mind with anything they have to say because the truth is not in them. So follow Paul’s advice and stay away from them.
3. Expose Them
“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (Ephesians 5:11).
If someone is a false prophet and you know it, then sound the alarm. Tell everyone you know they are a false prophet and encourage them to do the same. However, don’t be surprised if you get push back, especially if a person is following this false prophet. When you do expose them, make sure you are doing it like the Bereans in the book of Acts.
“And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth” (Acts 17:11).
Let the error of their ways be seen in light of the Word of God, and not your personal opinion.
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Be Filled with the Word
There are going to be false prophets out there and you must be aware. Yes, it is important to know what a false prophet is, however it is more important to know how to avoid falling victim to them. There are two things you need: the Word of God and discernment.
Surprisingly these two things work together. The word of God gives you clarity as to what is the truth, so make sure you know your word, what you believe, and what is truth. The Spirit of God gives you discernment. This is an internal warning that even though something may look right, you know something is wrong. In other words, I am encouraging you to be full of the Word of God and the Spirit of God. These are your greatest weapons against dealing with anyone who is a false prophet. The Word of God and discernment won’t make the false prophets go away, but you will be in a position that you don’t succumb to their erroneous ways.
“Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church” (Ephesians 4:14-15).
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