Recently, an email post contained an article from a religious group that claimed to be able to tell who were true apostles and who were false prophets. They claimed to have a divine gift to be able to discern between the two. Is this a matter of concern to modern Christians living at the beginning of the Third Millennium AD? Has God gifted some people to be able to tell the difference between a true or false prophet by some gift of spiritual discernment?
Of course, most people have no interest at all in such a subject. However, among some groups of Christians it is a matter of concern. And, well it should be. Why? Because the Nazarene Master, Jesus Christ cautioned those who attended one of his first public sermons to be on guard for “false prophets”.
Before we take a look at these important words it might be a good idea to understand what is meant in the Bible by the word “prophet.” The Greek is literally “to speak before.” Though it is often used with regard to something like a fortune-teller or one who predicts the future, the word “prophet” is used also of just someone who speaks before others. The word “prophet” occurs nearly 300 times in the Bible, so the Scriptures have much to say on the subject. Now, let us listen to Jesus:
In his famous Sermon on the Mount the Nazarene gave the caution to this public crowd of Jewish listeners:
“[All of you], be alert for false prophets.” [Matthew 7:15 Christian Scriptures 2001]
That is, “Be on the watch for false prophets,” [BAS], or, “Beware of the false teachers.” [Weymouth Translation] If our Master gave that 1st Century audience such a warning it is enough for us almost two thousand years later to give it our attention.
That this was still a concern over six decades later is shown in the writing of Christ’s most beloved apostle. He writes:
“My dearly beloved friends, do not put your trust in every ‘inspiration’. Rather, test out these ‘inspirations’ to know whether they originate with God. The need for this is because many false prophets have proceeded from the world.” [1 John 4:1 Christian Scriptures 2001]
So it is fair to say that no one can argue that this was not a matter of concern and caution among Christ’s first disciples.
In his mountain-side sermon Jesus taught that not only is The Way narrow and cramped, but also that there are deceitful individuals who make the journey even more difficult. The Nazarene describes these as “false prophets.” He uses this designation 4 times in the Gospels. (Matthew 7:15; 24.11, 24; Luke 6:26) Peter uses it once (2 Peter 2:1) and John once. (1 John 4:1) False prophets disguise themselves, which would indicate some motive, or hidden agenda. (Luke 6:43, 44) One version calls these “false religious teachers.” [PME]
Jesus also personally cautioned four of his apostles regarding such “false prophets.” About three years later near the end of his earthly ministry Jesus told them:
“Many false prophets will rise and mislead many.” [Matthew 24:11 Christian Scriptures 2001]
Jesus had in mind the experience of the apostles between then and “the end” of Jerusalem and her Temple. The 1st Century Jewish historian Josephus describes some of the imposters or false prophets in his own record of that period before Jerusalem’s destruction. At least one “false prophet” is mentioned in the history of the first three decades of the Christian Church. [Acts 13:6] But, would concerns about “false prophets” die out then?
No. For Jesus points to the time of his Return [or, Parousia] when he warns future disciples:
“For many pseudo-anointed and false prophets will rise. They will give great signs and wonders so as to mislead, if possible, The Elect. Look! I have foretold everything!” [Mark 13:22, 23 Christian Scriptures 2001]
That would mean that even today, and possibly beyond our day, Christians must remain alert for such “false prophets.”
How Did Jesus Identify Such “False Prophets”?
The Nazarene does not leave us in the dark regarding how to identify such “false prophets.” He provided some qualifiers in both his Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5-7] as well as in his Olivet Discourse. [Matthew 24, 25] First note what he continues to say about “false prophets” in the first case:
You, be alert for false prophets who come to you dressed as sheep but inside are rapacious wolves. By their fruitage you will know them! No one ever gathers grapes from thorns or figs from thistles! Thus, every good tree bears good fruitage, but rotten trees, wicked fruitage. No good tree bears wicked fruitage, nor a rotten tree good fruitage. Every tree not bearing good fruitage is cut down and thrown into the Fire. And, so, from their fruitage you will know them. Not everyone saying to me, “Lord, Lord!” will enter the Heavenly Realm but the one doing the will of my heavenly Father. Many will say to me in The Day: “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? “And, in your name cast out demons? “And, in your name did many dynamic works?” And then I shall confess to them: “I never knew you! Get away from me, those working unlawfully!” [Matthew 7:15-23 Christian Scriptures 2001]
Here we can begin to identify certain characteristics of the “false prophet.”
False prophets will change their appearance or identity to make it difficult to expose them. Jesus says they will “dress” in a deceiving manner. So we cannot expect the obvious. Over two decades later Paul echoed this when he says that some false brothers from among the Corinthian elders appeared as ‘angels of light’ or ‘messengers of righteousness.’ (2 Corinthians 11:3, 14, 15) Jude calls them ‘rocks hidden below water.’ (Jude verse 12)
No matter their appearance these “false prophets” are really “wolves.” Paul uses a similar description when he warns a gathering of elders, “I realize that after my departure burdensome wolves will enter your midst and will not spare the flock. Also, right from among you [elders] men will appear speaking twisted things to mislead the disciples to follow them.” [Acts 20:29, 30 Christian Scriptures 2001] Elsewhere he describes such “false brothers” as ‘pseudo-apostles, deceitful workers who appear as angels of light and servants of righteousness.’ (2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
In identifying someone who has two faces, Jesus gives the simple analogy of a tree’s fruitage. Good trees produce good fruit, and bad trees bad fruit. He also asks, “Can grapes be picked from briars?” [NEB] “A good tree always yields good fruit.” And on another occasion Jesus repeats this illustration:
“For no good tree produces bad fruitage. Nor does a bad tree produce good fruitage. Every tree is known by its fruitage. … The good person produces good out of the treasure of a good heart, and the evil person produces evil from evil. Because from the heart’s abundance the mouth speaks.” [Luke 6:43, 45 Christian Scriptures 2001]
This suggests that a good tree always produces nothing but good fruit.
But, this clothing put on by “false prophets” can be very deceiving. Such may often say, “Lord, Lord,” or in other ways give the impression that their hearts are centered on Jesus. These “false prophets” Jesus describes are clearly Christians who recognize that “Jesus is Lord!” This address of the King is also seen of the goats in Matthew 25:44 when before their judgment.
It is not enough to confess, ‘Jesus is Lord.’ (Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3) The Nazarene will not accept such a double confession if the life and works are lawless and contradictory to the profession. Not words, but doing the will are vital (James 1:22), and this “doing” involves refraining from slander and caring for the needy. (James 1:27-29)
These “false prophets” claiming Christ’s authority will on Judgment Day claim three signs: First, they claim to have prophesied or called out their message to others. Some render this description of a prophet as: “was it not in your name that we taught?” [TCN]; or, “didn’t we preach in your name?” [PME] So just because someone is preaching in Christ’s name and authority does not mean they should automatically be accepted as a true prophet.
Also, it is likely that this claim of prophecy ended up being a false prophecy as Jesus is describing “false prophets.” About three years later Jesus is to warn some of his apostles about certain people who would claim to be “the Anointed” and preaching a false message. Luke 21:8 gives this caution:
“Be careful you are not deceived. For there will be many who claim my authority, preaching: ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not follow them!”
In the last two centuries there have been many apocalyptic groups who have prophesied the “end of the world” and pointed toward certain dates - 1844, 1874, 1914, 1926, 1975. But these all proved to be false and full of great disappointment.
Second, these “false prophets” claim to have exorcised or cast out demons. Many are the evangelists and prophetic preachers who point to their exorcisms as signs authorized by Christ. So, the Nazarene himself warns that such “signs” are misleading and will be part of the claims of the pseudo-Anointed and false prophets. (Matthew 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22)
Third, these “false prophets” will claim miracles or dynamic works. The term could include any “works” requiring a dynamic effort: international publishing, electronic and satellite communication, great real estate holdings, enormous growth, wondrous cures and miraculous healings. Things claimed to be wondrous blessings by God.
Jesus warns such false prophets who appear in sheep’s clothing what they will face on Judgment Day. This likely refers to the parousia-Judgment upon the Return of the Lord. (Matthew 12:36; 16:27; 24:46-51; 25:1-46; 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 John 2:28; 4:17; Revelation 11:18) The word “day” is used often with regard to the Return of Christ in his foretold Parousia. (1 Corinthians 1:8; 5:5; 2 Corinthians 1:14; Ephesians 4:30; Philippians 1:6, 10; 2 Peter 3:7, 12; Revelation 6:17) The evidence seems to suggest that both the righteous and unrighteous will have opportunity to express themselves, whether outspokenly or in shame. (Daniel 12:2; John 5:29; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 1 John 2:28)
It will be then that the Judge will pronounce his sentence upon such false prophets. He says he never knew them. That is, the Nazarene never had a real relationship with these claimants despite their loud protestations to the contrary. The resurrected Christian need not give a defense before the Judgment of Christ for his works of love and charity will be known by his Lord. (Revelation 2:2, 9, 13, 19; 3:1, 8, 9, 15)
Jesus will then tell then, “Get away from me.” This would be a fearsome thing to hear! (Matthew 25:45, 46) There is no accusation that these had buried their talents but all the work and energy they expended were unlawful. They were “workers of lawlessness” but their work is misguided, or unlawful, and not what the Nazarene ordered. In Matthew it is “lawlessness” and in Luke it is “unrighteousness.” Compare Psalm 6:8 and Philippians 1:15 for two kinds of workers. To be a Friend of the Nazarene a disciple must keep the 60 “commandments” found in the Gospels.
In the second case with regard to those “false prophets” who would make their appearance during the generation that would witness his Parousia, Christ said in the three Gospel accounts:
"Look out no one misleads you. For many will come using my name, saying: ‘I AM THE ANOINTED!’ … Or, ‘I AM HE!’ … Or, ‘THE APPOINTED TIME HAS COME!’ Do not follow them! … They will mislead many! … And then if anyone says to you: ‘Look! Christ is here!’ Or, ‘There!’ you should not believe it. … For many pseudo-anointed and false prophets will rise. They will give great signs and wonders so as to mislead, if possible, The Elect. … Look! I have foretold everything! … Therefore, if ever they say to you: ‘Look! He is in the desert!’ you should not follow them. Or, ‘Look! He is in the inner chambers!’ you should not believe them.” [Matthew 24:4, 26; Mark 13:6, 21, 22, 23; Luke 21:8 Christian Scriptures 2001]
Jesus calls these deceivers “pseudo-anointed, or “false christs (messiahs).” Jesus foretold his “field” would be sown with “weeds” (zizania) or counterfeit “sons of the Kingdom.” (Matthew 13:38) “Apostasy” was foretold by Paul. (Acts 20:29; 2 Thessalonians 2:2-7; 1 Timothy 4:1, 2; 2 Timothy 3:5-9) Peter foretold “false prophets.” (2 Peter chapter 2) Jude and John stated this process was already in deep ferment. (Jude 4, 11-19; 1 John 2:19, 26; 4:3) Any who claimed to be “The Anointed” and yet made false prophecies claiming, “The Time is at Hand!” (Luke 21:8 Byington) were a danger to the true Elect.
These pseudo-anointed are also called “false prophets” by Jesus. Read Deuteronomy 18:20-23 on how to know when a prophecy is not from God. Certainly, one of the main themes of these prophets is to go counter to the Lord Jesus who they claim to represent: ‘The Time is at Hand!’ They mislead by complicated and obscure time chronologies which they have worked out. Most of these have used Daniel, particularly chapters 4 and 8.
Such false prophets are producing misleading “signs”. The more “signs” a prophet points to the more one ought to be cautious. Paul says something similar at 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10 when he discusses “the Man of lawlessness.” Some in modern times hail their powers to heal, or cast out demons, or point to grand buildings, or international publishing, or great radio and television satellite communication networks. Paul stresses it is “the truth” one ought to hold dear. (2 Thessalonians 2:10)
The Nazarene predicts that these false prophets will be successful in some cases. Jesus may cover the centuries in this warning for throughout the ages the false prophets have misled millions who have failed to do exactly what Jesus directed: ‘Do not believe them.’ Jesus makes it clear that he has warned his disciples in advance. At John 14:29 the Nazarene further taught, ‘I have told you before it occurs so when it does occur you will believe.”
Jesus also said that some of these false prophets would claim to have had personal appearances from the returning Christ:
“Therefore, if ever they say to you: ‘Look! He is in the desert!’ you should not follow them. Or, ‘Look! He is in the inner chambers!’ - you should not believe them.” [Matthew 24:26 Christian Scriptures 2001]
There are to be no isolated appearances of the Christ in deserted locations, or wilderness areas where some false prophets might try to gather their followers, where others in general cannot view him. There are to be no private appearances of Christ to individuals in their bedrooms or elsewhere. Any who claim to have had the Christ appear in their private rooms would be false prophets.
It is true that Peter in quoting Joel 2:28, 29 foretold that certain male members of the Christian Church would have dreams and visions, but if such occurred they would be in harmony with Biblical truth. All of the four Christian religions actually founded in America during the 1,800s make such claims in one form or another. One claims to have received messages from angels. Another claimed to have Christ and John the Baptist appear in his bedroom and was led to secret golden plates. Another claimed to have been transported to heaven and viewed the original Ten Commandments. Another was a known spiritualist. All Christians are authorized by the beloved apostle John to confirm such “inspirations.” 1 John 4:1 urges,
“My dearly beloved friends, do not put your trust in every ‘inspiration’. Rather, test out these ‘inspirations’ to know whether they originate with God. The need for this is because many false prophets have proceeded from the world.” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
So, the Nazarene Master gives several warnings about false prophets. He provided some detail on how to identify the same. But, any of his inspired disciples also characterize false prophets? Yes, Peter did in a whole chapter.
We can read of this thorough discussion in 2 Peter chapter 2. Peter introduces this subject of false prophets in this manner:
“But there occurred also false prophets among the people, so also among you will be pseudo didactics, who will privately bring in heresies of destruction, and denying their sovereign Lord who bought them, bringing sudden destruction upon themselves; and many will follow them out into their acts of loose conduct, by whom the way of the truth will be blasphemed; and by covetousness they will exploit you by plastic words; regarding these (teachers) the judgment of old is not ineffectual and their destruction is not snoozing.” [2 Peter 2:1-3 21st Century Version of the Christian Scriptures - NCMM]
Peter’s words are a virtual commentary on the warnings he heard from his Master. Like Jesus, Peter warns that just as there were “false prophets” among the ancient Israelites, so there would come to be false teachers within the Christian Church. The history of Israel becomes a type or example of what will happen to the Christian Church. Compare 2 Thessalonians 2:3; 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:3; 1 John 4:1. The term “pseudo didactics is from the Greek is pseudo-didaskaloi and means “false teachers.” [Or, WEY: teachers of falsehood.] Jesus and the majority of inspired writers foretell an apostasy and general fermentation of the Christian Church. See notes on MATTHEW 13:37ff. Research the word apostasy or falling away.
These false prophets and teachers would secretly introduce heresies that would lead to destruction. The Weymouth Translation words this: “…cunningly introduce fatal heresies.” The Twentieth New Testament Translation words it: “… secretly introduce ruinous divisions.” The Greek suggests something done in privacy, secretly, quietly, or presented in a confidential way. First one talks to another, and then they talk to others -- one on one -- and so on the heresy spreads.
Peter also indicates these would deny in some manner deny the Absolute God who bought them, indicating they were clearly once Christian disciples. Such denial would only result in “sudden destruction” at the time of Judgment. Their ruin or destruction will occur in the Judgment before Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:10; Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:46)
These false prophets will be successful as Peter says, “many will follow them”. He mentions their fruitage as “acts of loose conduct.” Others render this as, KJV: pernicious ways; ASV: lascivious; ALF: licentious; RHM: wanton; WEY: in their immoral ways they will have many disciples; NEB: they will gain many adherents to their dissolute practices. Most place the emphasis here on some form of immoral conduct. (Jude 4) Though it is true some false teachers are also immoral, it may well be this “loose conduct” is reflected more in their teachings. Compare Paul’s warning at 2 Corinthians 11:14, 15 where false teachers often appear as “ministers of righteousness.”
These “sheep in wolves clothing” will by greediness exploit the disciples with “plastic words.” The Greek is plastois logois. It may refer to the logic used to deceive when such teachings mold themselves to fit the circumstances. The King James Version renders this: “… through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you.” The Greek for “merchandise” is emporeusontai from which comes “emporium” and infers either a material advantage or the use of those shrewd tricks of the greedy merchant. Others phrase it, BER: motivated by greed, they will exploit you with their counterfeit arguments; TCN: try to make you a source of profit; MOF: in their lust they will exploit you with cunning arguments; NEB: in their greed for money they will trade on your credulity with sheer fabrications. (2 Timothy 3:6; Titus 1:11) One way or another money and possessions are involved.
It is an unhappy fact that many of the highly visible modern evangelists have made a wealthy living off of the flock. This is particular evident among the so-called “Prosperity Preachers” who convince their flocks that giving to them is giving to God and that God will multiple their “seed” as partners many times more. These point to their luxury residences, expensive automobiles, private jets, tailor-made suits, gold and diamond jewelry all as evidence of God’s blessing. More than one of these self-proclaimed prophets and teachers have been discovered guilty of sexual immorality in several forms. As Peter says, “the judgment on them is not taking a nap.” Peter assures that just as God carried out His ancient judgments, these false prophets will ultimately pay for their deceitful behavior.
Peter continues to describe some of the personal and attitudinal traits of such false prophets.
They false teachers are arrogant and impudent, completely absorbed in themselves. They have no respect for godly authority. They speak abusively of these authorities while angels who stand before the Lord -- though much more superior in strength and power -- dare not utter any kind of abusive criticism. However, these false teachers are just like animals -- unthinking, born to be caught and destroyed -- completely ignorant in their abusive speech. They infect others by their own contamination. By self-inflicted wounds they receive payment for their unrighteousness. [NCMM Paraphrase]
Peter says these false teachers are “daring and self-pleasing.” That is, as other phrase it: KJV: presumptuous are they, self-willed; PME: arrogant and presumptuous; GDS: rash, headstrong men; TCN: audacious and self-willed; NOR: in their boldness and willfulness. Peter continues to characterize these infiltrating deceivers. He has stated they work privately and confidentially, trying to undermine teachings and authority. Here Peter describes their disrespect and arrogance.
These false prophets have no respect for proper Church authority. Peter says they do not “tremble at glories” but speak in a blasphemous, slanderous, and abusive manner. [Or, KJV: they are not afraid t speak evil of dignities; PME: they think nothing of scoffing at the glories of the unseen world; NEB: they are not afraid to insult celestial beings; RSV: revile glorious ones; WMS: they do not tremble when they abuse persons of majesty; NOR: they have no fear as to speaking evil of those in high repute.]
These infiltrators use fleshly reasoning to undermine proper authority. These “glories” or glorious ones are likely those apostles and others acting as a “restraint” against the foretold apostasy. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-9) Jude 8 mentions the same, “[these are] ... disregarding lordship and speaking abusively of glorious ones.” (NWT) These elders in apostolic and prophetic offices are similar to the appointed priests in ancient Israel. Note Paul’s words in Acts 23:5 regarding the Law’s prohibition against speaking abusively of an Israelite ruler. He quotes Exodus 22:28 where the LXX uses “gods.” It seems likely that Peter has in mind, not the angels, but apostolic representatives in the early Church. These false prophets speak in a manner than powerful angels would never consider.
Peter describes these false teachers as “unreasoning animals.” That is as the Phillips Modern English Version puts it, “but these men, with no more sense than the unreasoning brute beasts.” Jude 10 also gives a similar description, “But these persons, indeed, blaspheme what they do not understand yet physically are like speechless animals knowing full well those things corrupting them.” [Nazarene Commentary 2000© Literal] These men and women speak abusively regarding matters of which they are ignorant.
These men and women do not understand the Bible or spiritual things and so are critical of what they do not know. To them Bible study is unimportant because they know nothing of the Scriptures. It is possible that such are among those described in 2 Peter 3:15, 16,
“Now in harmony with what our brother Paul wrote to you -- according to the divine wisdom given him -- he speaks of the same things in his letters. Now in his letters there are those matters difficult to comprehend. The uneducated and shaky are misinterpreting these to their own ruin.” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
The end result is that they actually damage themselves in their hatred and bitterness. They end up “suffering hurt for the hurt they have inflicted.” [NEB]
Peter now continues providing more identifying characteristics describing these false prophets and teachers.
These false teachers feast with you, indulging in luxuries of the day. In their revelries they are insidious spots and blemishes. Their eyes lust after any adulteress woman. They never stop their habitual sin and try to trick unsteady Christians. Like cursed children they have trained their hearts well in greed. They have rejected the straight path and wandered after the course of Balaam of Beor. That prophet craved the material reward for his unrighteous ways. However, the voice of a man rebuked the mad prophet through a dumb ass hindering his course.
Peter warns of men and women who have a close fellowship within the Nazarene community. He says, “While feasting with you they consider daytime indulgence a pleasure.” Or, as another version outs it: “They take pleasure in spending the day in carousing. [NOR] [Compare Romans 13:13.] Jude 12 also describes this taking advantage of Christian fellowship, “During your agape meals these men are hidden reefs in the sea, pastors stuffing themselves without any respect.” These false teachers take advantage of social occasions to work their deceit in a relaxed environment. They turn Christian banquets into revelry, a work of the flesh. (Galatians 5:21)
It is a truth that history is filled with false prophets who though claiming to represent Christ end up being sexually immoral. This has proved true with extremely prominent civil rights leaders who as Christian ministers took advantage of loose women. Peter says, “They have eyes filled with desire for adulteresses.” Or as the New English Bible puts it, “They have eyes for nothing but women.” In this relaxed atmosphere where wine may flow they seek to take advantage of women, something Paul foretold. (Compare 2 Timothy 3:6) In Waco, Texas such a self-proclaimed prophet gathered around him numerous women and claimed to be the Lamb of Revelation.
Like a fisherman casting his baited hook these false prophets cannot cease from sinning as they seek to catch unsteady souls. They watch for weak and sleepy Christians (1 Corinthians 11:21, 30; 2 Corinthians 11:3, 14, 15) and use these weaknesses in the Christian Church to “bait” those with weak foundations in Christ. Though they may appear as godly and righteous, even humble men or women, they actually have a “hearted trained like a gymnast in greed.” That is their heart always wants more because of their deep-seated covetous practices. This is not the case of a single mistake in one’s Christian walk. These are habitual sinners who are trained in greed. It is interesting that the Latin word for greed is cupidatis = the desire for more.
Peter draws on an ancient Biblical example. He compares these false prophets to Balaam. The false prophet Balaam’s example is taken from Numbers 22:5 and used elsewhere. (Jude 11; Revelation 2:14) Consider the account in Numbers chapters 22-24. Note that when one approach failed the evil prophet used immoral women to bait Israel into sinning. Despite this, Yehowah used Balaam’s attempt to curse Israel into a messianic prophecy which mentions that “star” of 2 Peter 1:19. (Deuteronomy 23:5) He was a religious mercenary who was paid to cause Israel to stumble. He “fell in love with the profits of wrong-doing.” [WMS]
Peter does not stop here. He continues with further identifying characteristics of false prophets.
[2 Peter 2:17-22 NCMM Paraphrase]
Dark blackness is reserved for these false teachers. They are fountains without water, storm surf driven by a hurricane. They teach over-blown and conceited words. They use fleshly desire as traps to catch those who have not developed good habits and who have recently fled from people living erroneous lives. These false teachers promise a certain liberty and freedom while they are really slaves to their own moral depravity. Remember that any person who is conquered by another person becomes a slave to that person. Because if these new Christians have so recently escaped worldly degradation by means of their intimate relationship with the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ -- but now become all wrapped up and conquered by the world -- the final circumstances become worse than what they were before. For it would have been much better never to known accurately known the righteous Way than to back slide from the Holy Commandment. In their case the inspired Proverb has been fulfilled: “The Dog has returned to eat its own vomit.” ‘The Sow who was washed clean has wallowed in the filthy muck’.”
Peter uses several analogies and word pictures to describe the teachings and methods of such false prophets. He says they are “waterless fountains” and “mists driven by violent winds.” Compare Jude 12, 13 for similar metaphors. When in need of a drink a dried-up fountain or well is a great disappointment. On the surface such false prophets may appear to possess a knowledge of the Bible, but in truth what they preach are not true spiritual waters. They are like mere mists or fogs driven by storm winds. Paul warns of similar men using a comparable illustration:
“So we no longer remain babies, tossed here and there by (doctrinal) waves, carried aimlessly by every wind of teaching. By the deceptive slight of hand always engaging in methodical plans.” [Ephesians 4:14, 15 Christian Scriptures 2001]
Peter is describing what these false prophets preach and teach. He says, “they speak inflated and worthless things.” That is, according to the New English Bible, “big, empty words.” Another version renders the phrase: “… using fine phrases that have no meaning.” [KNX] Describing the same kind of people Jude 16 says,
“These persons are slanderers and complainers conducting themselves according to their own lusts, their mouths speaking inflated things, admiring personalities to benefit from (their) charity.” [Christian Scriptures 2001]
These teachers may be educated and charismatic speakers but their audience is left wanting in true Scriptural knowledge. Sermons may sound good but they are without content.
Such false prophets concentrate their efforts on new Christians who have “just escaped from those living in error.” Such immature infant Christians may still have “poor habits” and these deceitful men and women take advantage of this to lure them into error.
Freedom and liberty may be one of the themes of false prophets. They say what people want to hear. [2 Timothy 4:3] Peter says those such men or women “promise them freedom these false teachers exist as slaves to dissipation.” Peter has already touch on this at1 Peter 2:16 where he cautions, “ ... not using your liberty as a cover for evil but rather as servants of God.” These false teachers are “liberals” who are for a freer Christian environment. They can rationalize away any commandment of God. They can justify any compromise of Biblical doctrine.
However, those new Christians can be overcome by such false prophets and so becomes slaves to their personalities and leadership. Such deceived persons just “escaped from worldly defilement” and now they are about to get entangled again. A new Christian is the easy mark for these false teachers who will try to convince them that now they are “saved” they can be forgiven anything. Such new disciples have started off with a new relationship with Jesus Christ, but such a relationship with Jesus is no guarantee of failure or stumbling after first starting out on the new walk.
This entanglement may be a slow process: having started of in a fine manner they are weakened and stumbled by the words and conduct of these false teachers. They justify returning to the world and parting from Christ. What happens then? Peter says, “Then the final [circumstances] become worse than the first.” Another version puts it: “Their final condition is worse than their former one.” [GDS] (Compare Hebrews 10:26)
Sadly Peter states it would have been “better for them” to have never “gained a higher knowledge of the way of righteousness.” Had they never known Christ they would be raised in the last judgment with the possibility of everlasting life on earth. (Acts 17:31; Revelation 20:12, 13) Now, having claimed Christ as their Lord their adverse judgment leads to everlasting extinction. (Matthew 25:46; John 5:29; Daniel 12:2) But, instead they have now “turned away from the holy commandment.” (Hebrews 6:6) Peter compares their worsen circumstances to a “sow having been washed to wallowing in the mud.”
Consequently, Peter gives an elaborate description of the characteristics of some false prophets and false teachers. The last inspired writer of the Christian Bible also devotes considerable space to identifying the difference between genuine disciples and false prophets.
We have read above that the beloved apostle advised,
“My dearly beloved friends, do not put your trust in every ‘inspiration’. Rather, test out these ‘inspirations’ to know whether they originate with God. The need for this is because many false prophets have proceeded from the world. This is the way you will recognize the inspiration of God: every inspiration that confesses Jesus Christ came in the flesh has its source in God. In contrast, every ‘inspiration’ which does not confess Jesus does not have God as its source. This ‘inspiration’ is the one which comes from the antichrist which you heard was going to makes its appearance. The antichrist is already in the world right now.” [1 John 4:1-3 Christian Scriptures 2001]
We must remember that the context here is based on the situation nearly two thousand years ago at the end of the 1st Century. Just because one claims to believe in Christ, or to acknowledge that Jesus did come in the flesh, is not now a positive guarantee that such a person is no false prophet.
Fortunately for us John discussed other matters that would characterize the children of God and the children of the Devil. Using the key word of the “God-born” or “those born of God” John lists a handful of features that would identify both the true and false Christian teacher or prophet.
“If anyone of us should ever claim, ‘I have a communal relationship with God,’ and yet we continue to live a life in dark evil -- we are liars! However, if we live like we are in righteous illumination -- exactly as Jesus lived in righteous illumination -- then we are a community cleansed from sin sharing in the blood of God’s Son, Jesus.” [1 John 1:6, 7 Christian Scriptures 2001]
“The person who claims, ‘I am illumined!’ and yet lacks love for his fellow continues blind. The person who loves his fellow dwells in the Light and can never be offended or stumbled. However, the person who refuses to love his fellow is living in darkness, walking about like a blind person, having not the slightest idea where the path leads. This Darkness has blinded his eyes!” [1 John 2:9-11 Christian Scriptures 2001]
“Stop showing worldly concern for worldly things. Everyone who shows more concern for the world no longer has any love for the Father inside. That is because the entire world -- fleshly passions, greedy eyes, and that pretentious display that comes with possessions -- none of it has the Father as its source. The world with all of its greedy desires is passing away. However, the person who does the will of God will live forever in that future New Age.” [1 John 2:15-17 Christian Scriptures 2001]
“If you realize that God is righteous you will also realize that those God-born continue in righteousness.” [1 John 2:29 Christian Scriptures 2001]
“Anybody who habitually sins is a law-breaker. Therefore law-breaking is sin. You are aware that the Son was without sin and became visible so that he might take away these sins. Anybody who remains in him is no sinner. Anybody who habitually sins has no idea about him and has never had an intimate relationship with him. Do not let anyone lead you astray, little children. Anybody who continues doing righteousness is in fact righteous just as the Son is righteous. Anybody habitually sinning is from the Devil, because the Devil has been sinning from the first moment he sinned. It is for this reason the Son of The God became visible in the flesh so that he might obliterate the Devil’s works.” [1 John 3:4-8 Christian Scriptures 2001]
“Anybody who is God-born never habitually continues in a sin because God’s seed resides within that person. This is the reason the person is unable to continue in a course of habitual sin because of being God-born. The children of God and the children of the Devil are clearly revealed by this: anyone who does not continue in righteousness does not originate with God. Also, the children of the Devil show no loving concern for their fellows. This is why we heard from the earliest times this same theme: Love one another! Do not be like Cain -- whose father was the Devil -- who murdered his brother Abel. What was the motive behind this slaughter? Because his own offering was wrong and that of his brother correct.” [1 John 3:9-12 Christian Scriptures 2001]
“My loved ones, let us all continue to have a loving concern for each other, because this kind of loving concern is from God. Every individual who continues to show loving concern is God-born. Such a person has an intimate relationship with God. The individual who refuses to show loving concern has no intimate relationship with God because God is love.” [1 John 4:7, 8 Christian Scriptures 2001]
“If any individual claims, ‘I love God!’ and yet refuses to love another Christian --- such a person is a liar! For the individual who refuses to love another Christian whom can be seen can never love God whom cannot be seen. Understand the commandment we all received from God: anyone who loves God also continues to love a fellow Christian.” [1 John 4:20, 21 Christian Scriptures 2001]
“You realize that anyone guilty of manslaughter does not have everlasting life remaining within. Here is how we really understand what love is: our Lord sacrificed his very existence for us. For this reason we are obligated to sacrifice ourselves for our fellowship. For example: if any of us has this world’s resources for maintaining life and is aware that another Christian is in need and yet slams shut the doors of his tender affections -- how is it possible that God still loves that person? My little children, make it your habit to always show loving concern, not in speech or words only, but in positive and real action.” [1 John 3:16-18 Christian Scriptures 2001]
“My little children, you have God as your source. Because the One within you is greater that the worldly antichrists. You have triumphed over them. These antichrists are worldly. They speak worldly things and so the world listens to their messages. We have God as our source. The individual with an intimate relationship with God listens to us. Those who do not originate with God do no listen to us. This is how we identify the inspiration of truth and the inspiration of error.” [1 John 4:4-6 Christian Scriptures 2001]
”Now this is His commandment: first, we believe and trust in the name of His Son Jesus Christ; and, second, love one another just as He commanded us. Now the individual who observes His commandments abides with Him and He abides in them. This is how we know because the Pneuma He gave us continues to abide within us.” [1 John 3:23, 24 Christian Scriptures 2001]
“For this is how we show our love for God -- we observe His commandments. And none of His commandments are a heavy burden because every person God-born is victorious over the world. Our faith -- this is our victory in conquering the world.” [1 John 5:3, 4 Christian Scriptures 2001]
The above are just some of the identifying features of a true or false Christian. They aid us to spot “antichrists” and to confirm whether we continue in the truth as children of God.
Jesus forewarned all of his future disciples that false prophets would come. He pointed to some of the things they would say and do to mislead, “if possible, the Elect.” Peter went into detail on some of the identifying characteristics of such false prophets. John further identified “the children of God and the children of the Devil.”
As we draw ever closer to the foretold Return of Christ we can expect the Devil and his fallen angels to intensify their attacks. [Revelation 12:7-12, 17] During the final years before the predicted parousia the Bible predicts that “a false prophet” will be used by a global world power. [Revelation 13:14-17; 19:20] Then, more than ever, the end-time Saints will need to “stand firm against the Devil” and those false prophets he uses to “mislead the entire globe.”
If we should be so blessed to become end-time Saints in our life-times, may it be our happy lot that we listened to our Nazarene Masters warning:
“Be alert for false prophets who come to you dressed as sheep but inside are rapacious wolves.” Matthew 7:15 Christian Scriptures 2001]
Nazarene Commentary 2000© by Mark Heber Miller
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