False prophets ∙
Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. – Matthew 10:16
15 Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.
16 You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?
17 A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit.
18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit.
20 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
“Don’t drink the Kool-Aid” has become a well-known phrase in American slang. Roughly translated it means, “be careful not to buy into beliefs or ideas that might prove to be dangerous and destructive.”
The phrase is derived from the horrific Jonestown massacre, November 18, 1978. A California cult called the People’s Temple Christian Church committed mass murder-suicide by drinking cyanide laced Kool-Aid. Jim Jones, the charismatic but paranoid leader, literally pushed it down their throats.
The cult members were deceived because many of them believed that in following Jim Jones they were actually following God. However, Jones was a false prophet. Following this false prophet, the people paid with their lives.
False prophets are always playing make-believe. Worse yet, for some of them, every day is Halloween. They always wear disguises and hide their real identity. False prophets appear to be the real thing, but in reality, they are not. They pretend to be prophets of God, but are not. Instead, they are something quite different. They represent a real danger. They are vicious, ravenous wolves with insatiable appetites. By nature, wolves are cruel, merciless, brutal beasts.
Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.
The Lord Jesus Christ warns that all children of the King must be alert and aware. We are to be on guard. False prophets employ deceptive tactics to disguise their true character and intent behind a devious facade. They appear to be part of the Father’s flock. Because of this, their true identity is not necessarily immediately apparent. As a result, they have freedom of access to the flock and stealthily move among them. But the deception is even worse. They pretend to be not merely sheep, but shepherds.
What does it mean to be a wolf wearing sheep’s clothing? In New Testament times, when the shepherd watched their ﬂocks, he would often blend in by wearing a sheepskin garment worn with the skin outside and the ﬂeece inside (Barclay). Just because somebody wore this clothing made them neither a sheep nor a shepherd.
How can we tell the difference between a true shepherd in a false shepherd? The Lord Jesus Christ advocates fruit inspection. Additional caution should be taken because “Sometimes the true character of a person remains hidden for some time. People regard their good works as an indication of righteous character. However, eventually, the true nature of the person becomes apparent, and it becomes clear that one’s apparently good fruit was rotten” (Constable)
REFLECT & PRAY
What is the difference between a true shepherd and a wolf? “The true shepherd cares for the flock more than he cares for his life; the wolf cares for nothing but to satisfy his own gluttony and his own greed. The false prophet is in the business of teaching, not for what he can give to others, but for what he can get himself” (Barclay).
Father, thank You for the excellence shepherds You have provided throughout my lifetime. Encourage me anew to be wise as a serpent, yet gentle as a dove.
What is a prophet of God? A prophet of God is one of the Father’s servants. He is given the responsibility to be His authorized spokesman and representative. They function as a go-between, conduit between the Father and people. Prophets receive messages from the Father and pass them along to mankind. Most prophetic messages are about the here and now and provide the Father’s insight and perspective on matters of the heart and on current events. Some prophetic messages are predictive and look forward to the near and distant future.
What is a false prophet? A false prophet is not a prophet of God. Some claim to be or pretend to be the Father’s messengers, but they are not. A New Testament Greek word, pseudoprophetes, literally translates into English as false prophet. False prophets speak lies and declare incorrect, false messages. They are messengers of darkness and not light.
The Old Testament does not have a Hebrew word for false prophet. However, the Old Testament provides vivid word pictures in order that we can better understand who they are and what they do.
Lamentations 2:14 Your prophets have said so many foolish things, false to the core. They did not save you from exile by pointing out your sins. Instead, they painted false pictures, filling you with false hope.
They speak lies in the name of the Lord (Micah 3:5-8; Jeremiah 4:9-10).
False prophets see and proclaim false and foolish visions; false and deceptive visions, false and worthless visions, vain and foolish things (Lamentations 2:14).
The words false and deceptive, translate two Hebrew nouns meaning “emptiness and whitewash.” The Hebrew word translated false is shav. Shav is used 52 times in the Old Testament and means empty, destructive, worthless, futile. The Hebrew word translated deceptive is taphel. Taphel is used 7 times in the OT and is translated whitewash, deceptive. Taphel is used to conceal defects, for example, a white-washed wall (Ezekiel 13:10).
In Hebrew, these two words are nouns that connote a single idea “empty whitewash” or “empty deceptions.” When two nouns are joined with an “and,” the first noun functions as an adjective and modifies the second noun. This is a figure of speech called hendiadys.
When something is covered with whitewash, it is intended to make something appear good on the surface, while underneath it was ugly and bad; thus whitewash became an image of deception (Ezekiel 13:10-13).
False prophets share visions that are nothing but empty lies. When they interpret visions, they are lying. True prophets are another thing entirely. “We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum.” (A.W. Tozer).
As children of the King, we must learn to guard ourselves against deceit and false teaching. We are the Father’s sheep, but we must be on guard and not allow others “to pull the wool over our eyes.”
How can we recognize false prophets? “What is the best safeguard against false teaching? Beyond all doubt the regular study of the Word of God, with prayer for the teaching of the Holy Spirit” (J. C. Ryle).
The story is told that “When the FBI trains staff members to identify counterfeit bills, they are not required to study fake money. Instead, they undergo a thorough study of genuine currency as the best preparation to identify counterfeit money” (Michael P. Green).
Children of the King should approach false prophets in the same way. We should spend considerable amounts of time handling the truth. Through practice, we become skilled and well acquainted with its characteristics. Our senses become trained to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).
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