23 Feb 2009
Introduction: False prophets have at least one thing in common. They all deviate from the orthodox teaching on the nature of the Godhead. Polytheists (Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Mormons) teach that god is many. Deists (Quakers, Unitarians) desupernaturalize god. Pantheists (Eastern religions and the New Age Movement) say god is one or god is the world. Atheists insist god is not and Monotheists (Christians, Jews and Muslims) declare god is one. However, Islam and Judaism deny the Holy Trinity. Likewise, false prophets all teach a way of salvation contrary to God’s revealed plan through Jesus Christ as outlined in Sacred Scripture. It should be no wonder then that Christ gives His Church a clear warning to beware of these deceivers. We will look first at the outward appearance of false prophets followed by an examination into their true character. Finally, we will draw several applications from Christ’s warning.
©2009, Gary Sanseri
The Outward Appearance of False Prophets
False prophets come to us (i.e. Christ’s true disciples and His beloved Church) in sheep’s clothing. They come on their own initiative. They are not sent from God. For all intents and purposes they look like the real sheep of Christ’s flock. They appear friendly, docile and harmless. They even mimic the shepherd so as to draw to themselves followers after their own schemes.
The True Character of False Prophets
These “pseudo prophets” or “false prophets” say they “speak for God.” They claim to possess true knowledge from on high to give to His people. Inwardly, however, they are “ravenous wolves.” As fierce wolves they are rapacious, accustomed to taking their victims by force. These beasts plunder and subsist on their prey. Wolves are the common, natural enemy of sheep and are merciless and ferocious. Sheep are helpless in their grasp. Here is a partial description of a wolf taken from World Book.
A wolf has excellent senses of vision, smell, and hearing. These senses help the animal locate prey. A wolf can see and smell a deer more than 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) away.
A wolf has 42 teeth, including 4 fangs at the front of the mouth that are used to wound, grab, and kill prey. The fangs may measure up to 2 inches (5 centimeters) long from root to tip. The small front teeth are used to nibble and pull at skin. The sharp side teeth cut easily through tough muscle. The flat back teeth crush thick bone so it can be swallowed.
The wolf has a large stomach and can eat as much as 20 pounds (9 kilograms) of food at one time.
False prophets are to the Church what wolves are to sheep. They would creep into Christ’s Church and devour it from within or through cunning, craftiness and persecution destroy it from without. Listen to these words of warning from Christ. “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves... (Matthew 10:16).” These words were uttered by our Lord as He sent out the twelve to preach the nearness of the kingdom of heaven to the Jews. Christ delivered the same warning as he sent out the seventy (Luke 10:3). These wolves are none other than “men” who would deliver the twelve up to councils, and flog them in their synagogues. (See Matthew 10:17 & 18.) As His disciples today we should beware of these wolves as Christ warned His Church, for no disciple is above his teacher and no servant above his master. If they maligned Christ, the Master and Teacher, and the apostles how much more will they malign those of His household.
The apostle Paul knew that after his departure from Miletus, fierce wolves would sneak into the Church at Ephesus and, in keeping with their nature, would not spare the flock. Men from within the Church would arise speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples unto themselves. Paul warned the overseers with tears to be alert and watch out for these ravenous wolves intent on devouring Christ’s sheep. (See Acts 20:28-31.)
The Application Drawn from Christ’ Warning
1. Beware of the false prophets. The word “beware” means “to hold your mind to; hence to turn one’s attention to a thing by being on guard against it.” We, as Christ’s disciples, must beware of all false prophets. Interestingly enough, many people seem unable to distinguish truth from error; pseudo-prophets from true prophets. Some recent polls indicate that as many as four out of five Americans (that is 80%) agree that Muslims worship the same god as Christians. How can this be? Islam denies the Biblical and historical truth regarding the very nature of God. Christians have always believed and taught the doctrine of the Trinity as expressed and delineated in Sacred Scripture and both the Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed. Islam adamantly denies this truth. Likewise the teaching of Islam denies the divinity of Christ and His substitutionary atonement on the cross. How can Muslims and Christians be worshiping the same god?
2. Identify the false prophets. The warning given by Christ shows us that His disciples have the knowledge and ability to know who the false prophets are. They can be distinguished by their fruits. “Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? So every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit.” By their doctrine and lives, false prophets bear evil fruit.
3. Test the false prophets. Examine the teaching and the morals of these self-professed prophets of God. The apostle John gives us clear teaching regarding this matter. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).” John tells us what test to conduct to determine whether a prophet is true or false. “Every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus [has come in the flesh] is not of God (1 John 4:2-3).” By using the expression “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh,” John teaches us that the human is united with the divine. “Jesus” is the name given to our Lord signifying his humanity and His coming into the world as its Savior. The name “Christ” identifies Him as the divine “Anointed One” of Israel who would come to fulfill the law and the prophets.
A false prophet is one who denies either that Jesus Christ is divine or that He is human or both. With this the Creeds we recite every Lord’s Day are in agreement, especially the Nicene Creed where we read in part, “I believe... in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God; Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father; By whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was made incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man...”
The apostle Peter also warns us about false teachers. He says they will secretly bring in (the church) destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them (2 Peter 2:1). Brethren, if any one comes to you denying the substitutionary death and atonement for sin by Christ on the cross do not believe him. He is a false prophet and has brought swift destruction upon himself. Do not be carried away with his false doctrine.
Furthermore, Peter says these false teachers will blaspheme the truth, live licentiously, exploit their followers, walk according to the flesh, and despise authority. They are presumptuous persons who know not how to control their tongues and enjoy indulging in adultery and unrighteousness. They are spots, blemishes, empty wells and clouds controlled by a tempest.
4. Examine yourself. Christ’s warning to us about the false prophets is sandwiched in between two solemn truths. First, the gate that leads to life is narrow and the way is difficult. Only a few find it and travel its path. Second, not every one who says to Christ, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. It is only those who do the will of God who enter His kingdom. This should not be construed as if Jesus was teaching that we are saved by our works. The will and commandment of God is to believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and to love one another. A tree is not produced by its fruit, but rather fruit from the tree. Remember, to bear good fruit a tree must be good. To become good in the eyes of God one must become united with Christ through faith. Once united with Christ, you will bear much good fruit. If there is no good fruit then one can only question whether he or she is united to Him. Examine yourself to see if you are Christ’s sheep.
‘Sound doctrine and holy living are the marks of true prophets.” (Ryle) False prophets lead many astray through the wide gate that leads to the broad path that ends in destruction where they will hear the words of Christ, “depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.”