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What Does The Bible Say About False Prophets?

False prophets have been around for thousands of years. They are certainly a force to be reckoned with today! Both the Old and New Testaments have stories or warnings against false prophets who tried to lead God’s people astray. Believers must be alert for the signs of a false prophet so they are not deceived. This article will explore what a true prophet is and how to spot a false prophet. How do we keep from being led astray? And, if we know someone is a false prophet, should we call them out? Let’s jump into what you need to know about how Satan uses false prophets to derail the body of Christ and what we can do about it.

What Is the meaning of the word “prophet”?

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for “prophet” was nabi and meant a spokesperson for God (or for a false god). The Greek word for “prophet” in the New Testament was prophétés and meant an interpreter or announcer of God’s will. A prophet is someone who “speaks forth” under the inspiration of God. Some Bible teachers believe it can also mean someone gifted at expositing (clearly explaining) divine truth.

Moses is an example of a prophet who heard directly from God and then communicated God’s Word to the Israelites. The books of Exodus through Deuteronomy mostly contain what God told him to write down.

Sometimes, a prophet will tell what will happen in the future. Other times, the prophet gives God’s message regarding a current situation. It might be a command from God to take a specific action. A prophet is God’s representative or ambassador, giving God’s word to His people. He or she is God’s mouthpiece. They aren’t giving their personal opinions but what God has to say.

What is a false prophet?

There are two types of false prophets. The first is a person who is a prophet of a false god. In the Old Testament, the people around the Israelites worshiped gods like Baal, Dagon, and Asherah. False gods are demonic, and the demons associated with these pagan gods could possess the priests of these gods. These demon-possessed priests would utter prophecies that supposedly came from the false gods.

The other type of false prophet claims to belong to the true God. In Biblical times and today, these false prophets can sow seeds of discord and confusion. As Sam Storms of The Gospel Coalition points out:

“. . . prophecy is not based on a hunch, supposition, inference, educated guess, or even sanctified wisdom. . . As helpful as prophecy is to the church, Christians are not to gullibly embrace all who claim to speak on behalf of God. Rather, the church must “test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).”[i]

Why are there false prophets?

Satan has lots of tricks up his sleeve to distract and deceive God’s people. In fact, the first false prophet was Satan, who appeared to Eve in the form of a serpent. He cunningly led her to doubt God’s word and goodness. Once she (and Adam, who was with her) reached that point, all they needed was a gentle push to reach up and grab the forbidden fruit and disobey God. (Genesis 3: 1-6)

Satan used false prophets in Old Testament times to lead the kings of Israel and Judah astray. He used the false prophetess Noadiah and other false prophets to try to intimidate Nehemiah (Nehemiah 6:14). Satan used false prophets in New Testament times to encourage immorality and Satanic teaching. Satan still uses false prophets today to lead Christians off track on doctrine and morality.

  • “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

How to spot a false prophet?

False prophets are nothing new, but Jesus warned us that in the end times, “many false prophets will rise up and mislead many people.” (Matthew 24:11) Jesus also warned us that these false prophets might seem like real Christians. How can we know if someone is a false prophet?

  1. God said in Deuteronomy 18:21-22 that if they predict something will happen, and then it doesn’t happen, that person is a false prophet.

For instance, several well-known Christian leaders prophesied who would win in a recent presidential election. But they were wrong. Perhaps their “prophecy” was wishful thinking. Maybe they wanted to sway Christians to get out and vote. Possibly, they made an educated guess in hopes that people would think they were true prophets. However, a true prophet doesn’t just “prophesy” what he or she wants to happen. A true prophet doesn’t use prophecy to manipulate people.

  • Jesus said we can spot a false prophet by their fruit. He warned that false prophets might even do miracles and cast out demons in His name; nevertheless, they weren’t from God. Jesus said a true believer does the will of the Father in heaven (Matthew 7:15-23). Many false prophets have an unbiblical lifestyle. They may have married and divorced multiple times and/or had sexual relations with someone other than their spouse. They might be consumed with getting rich and having the things of the world.
  • Another clear indicator of a false prophet is if they teach or prophesy something that goes against God’s Word. God never contradicts Himself! A false prophet may question core Christian doctrine, like the deity of Christ. The apostle John called this the “spirit of Antichrist” (1 John 2:22, 4:1-3).
  • In 2 Peter 2, the apostle Peter warned that false prophets will be undercover agents who infiltrate the church. They secretly introduce destructive false teachings. Their lifestyle is immoral, and they are unfaithful to their spouses. They are greedy and exploit people. They engage in and promote twisted sexual practices. They are bold and arrogant, they despise authority, and they even slander angels and the glorious things of God. They deceive God’s people while they feast with them. They seduce the unstable and love money more than the things of God. Their words are lofty yet empty, and they appeal to people’s desires, promising them freedom yet enslaving them to depravity.

What does it mean to beware of false prophets?

  • “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)

When Jesus said to beware of the false prophets, He meant to be cautious and aware that they are out there. We need to be vigilant and on guard. As John MacArthur says,

“It is not a call simply to notice or sense something, but to be on guard against it because it is so harmful. The word conveys the idea of holding the mind away. False prophets are more than wrong; they are dangerous, and we should not expose our minds to them. They pervert thinking and poison the soul. False prophets are spiritual beasts and are immeasurably more deadly than the physical ones. Both Peter and Jude call them “unreasoning animals” (2 Peter 2:12; cf. Jude 10).”[ii]

Why are some people easily deceived by false prophets?

Many folks don’t know their Bible well enough to recognize false teaching when they encounter it. Peter said that false prophets seduce the unstable (2 Peter 2:14). In other words, they lure them in. “Unstable” can mean a mind not established on God’s Word. The Greek word astériktos literally means they don’t have a staff to lean on. God’s Word props us up and makes us strong against deception. We recognize false prophets when they say something that disagrees with God’s Word. But to do that, we must systematically read through God’s Word, study it, and listen to sound teaching of the Bible.

The “seduction” of false prophets often involves appealing to people’s sensual nature. It might be the desire for wealth and the things money can buy. It might be sexual desire, especially sexual practices out of God’s will, like sex outside of marriage or same-sex relationships. As believers, we must discipline ourselves for godliness. There’s nothing wrong with being rich, but it should not consume us. Sex is God’s gift to married people, and that’s where it needs to stay.

Should we call out false prophets?

David Jeremiah recommends that when we encounter false prophets, we need to handle each situation individually. “Some who wander from the truth need compassion. Others need urgent intervention. Regardless of the situation, grace is the benchmark of Christian conduct. God’s people cannot tolerate false teaching in the Church, but we are responsible for separating sinners from their sins. Even as we reject false teaching, the Lord calls us to maintain a spirit of gentleness and contend for the offender’s spiritual restoration.”

  • “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” (Jude 20-23)

Examples of false prophets in the Bible

  1. King Ahab’s false prophets: This story is in 2 Chronicles 18. Ahab was king of Israel but worshiped false gods. Jehoshaphat was king of Judah and followed the true God. The two kings were friendly allies. Ahab invited Jehoshaphat to join him in a war against Ramoth-Gilead, a city-state on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Jehoshaphat said he was willing, but they should first ask the Lord.

So, Ahab called 400 of his prophets (who would have been false prophets since he worshiped idols). They told him God would deliver Ramoth-Gilead into Ahab’s hand. But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there any prophet of the Lord here?”

Ahab said, “There’s one prophet of the Lord, but I hate him! He only prophesies bad things for me. His name is Micaiah.”

Micaiah came, and on his way, Ahab’s messenger warned him, “All the other prophets are favorable to the king. You should say the same thing!”

But Micaiah replied, “I can only say what God tells me!”

Micaiah prophesied to Ahab and Jehosaphat that he saw all Israel scattered like sheep without a shepherd. He told Ahab that a lying spirit was in the mouths of all his prophets and that Ahab would fall in the battle. Nevertheless, the two kings decided to go to war. Ahab disguised himself so he wouldn’t be targeted, but a random arrow struck him, and he died.

  • Jezebel: This was a person in the New Testament church of Thyatira. The Jezebel in the Old Testament was King Ahab’s wife. She had lured him away from the true God and into idol worship. The woman in Thyatira might not have been named Jezebel. It may have just indicated her nature. Jezebel appears in Revelation 2:20-24 as a person who identified as a prophetess but was deceiving people in the church in Thyatira.

Jezebel was encouraging the people to eat food sacrificed to idols. She misled them into thinking that sexual immorality was okay. She was committing adultery with people in the church. Jezebel was teaching “the deep things of Satan.” God said He had patiently given her time to repent, but she wouldn’t. So, God said she was going to be sick in bed. Those who had gotten involved in sexual immorality with her would endure distress and affliction unless they repented. God said He would strike anyone dead who didn’t repent.

Bottom line: false prophets are deceivers who lure people away from God and into sin and false teaching. Our best defense is to know our Bibles well so we don’t fall for their lies.

[i] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/sam-storms-what-does-scripture-teach-about-office-prophet-gift-prophecy/

[ii] https://www.masters.edu/thinking_blog/beware-of-false-teachers/

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