False prophets and bad fruit
I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. – Act 20:29
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 thornbushes 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.
19 So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire.
20 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
In nature, camouflage is used by organisms to mask their location, identity, and movement. Soldiers and hunters use camouflage to blend in and become virtually invisible. False prophets camouflage themselves and pretend to be something they are not. They blend in and look good on the outside, but inwardly their hearts are corrupt and evil. It is bad enough that they can fool those around them, but they may also deceive themselves and conceal their deceptive hearts from themselves.
“False prophets were like wolves in sheep’s clothing. When the shepherd watched his ﬂocks upon the hillside, his garment was a sheepskin, worn with the skin outside and the ﬂeece inside. But a man might wear a shepherd’s garment and still not be a shepherd. The prophets had acquired a conventional appearance. Elijah had a mantle (1 Kings 19:13, 19), and that mantle had been a hairy cloak (2 Kings 1:8).”
“That sheepskin mantle had become the uniform of the prophets, just as the Greek philosophers had worn the philosopher’s robe. It was by that mantle that the prophet could be distinguished from other men. But sometimes that form of garment was worn by those who had no right to it, for Zechariah in his picture of the great days to come says: ‘They will not put on a hairy mantle in order to deceive’ (Zechariah 13:4). There were those who wore a prophet’s cloak but who lived anything but a prophet’s life” (Barclay).
From the time of Moses, the Father sent prophets as His servants to speak for Him to the people. A true prophet spoke directly from the Father. He frequently said, “Thus says the Lord.”
“In a day when it was widely accepted that prophets could speak authoritatively in this way, whether by way of foretelling the future or denouncing evil or commending the good, there must have been a strong temptation for some people to claim direct inspiration, whether they had it or not . . .. False prophets were thus people who claimed falsely to speak in the name of God” (Morris).
Repeatedly during the Old Testament history of the Nation of Israel, false prophets were in “a prophet for hire” and would do anything for the money (Numbers 22-24), Ahab son of Kolaiah, and Zedekiah son of Maaseiah (Jeremiah 29:21), and Shemaiah (Jeremiah 29:31).
Deception was rampant. If that is not bad enough, to make it even worse, the people loved it that way. Why? Sad to say, but didn’t matter whether or not the messages of the false prophets were true and a word from the Father. All that mattered was that it made the people feel good.
Jeremiah 5:31 The prophets give false prophecies, and the priests rule with an iron hand. Worse yet, my people like it that way!
Again and again, the Father’s prophets confronted them.
Jeremiah 23:16 Do not listen to these prophets when they prophesy to you, filling you with futile hopes. They are making up everything they say. They do not speak for the LORD!
Jeremiah 14:14 These prophets are telling lies in my name. I did not send them or tell them to speak. I did not give them any messages. They prophesy of visions and revelations they have never seen or heard. They speak foolishness made up in their own lying hearts.
In the 21st century, has anything changed? Not really, except that things are going from bad to worse as the Lord Jesus Christ predicted.
Matthew 24:24 For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones.
What are children of the King to do? How do we recognize a false prophet?
REFLECT & PRAY
Isaiah 30:10 [The people] tell the seers, “Stop seeing visions!” They tell the prophets, “Don’t tell us what is right. Tell us nice things. Tell us lies.
Father what a sad and pathetic situation. Down through the ages, Your people have turned their backs on the messages of Your servants the prophets. They would rather hear lies and soft words that make them feel good and deal with the truth. In my heart of hearts, am I any different? Father save me from myself.
Children of the King are to be on their guard and alert to spiritual danger. On the outside, false religious teachers have the appearance of harmless sheep. But on the inside, they are like wild, ravenous wolves. The Greek word translated ravenous or vicious is harpax. The term harpax is often translated as robber or swindler. It refers to someone who is rapacious, excessively greedy, grasping, or destructive. The English word harpoon comes from this Greek word.
Except to the very discerning, the words of false religious teachers and prophets do not readily give them away. What does? The fruit of their lives. The fruit of a person is seen in how they live and act. Sometimes the disguise and camouflage are so excellent, that the true character of an individual remains hidden. But eventually, it is revealed. Indeed their fruit is rotten.
What does rotten fruit look like? Perhaps it can be summed up in three categories that false religious teachers live for: personal gain, prestige, and the dissemination of their own ideas.
“The basic fault of false prophets is self-interest. True shepherds care for the flock more than they care for their own lives; wolves care for nothing but to satisfy their own gluttony and their own greed. False prophets are in the business of teaching not for what they can give to others, but for what they can get out of it for themselves” (Barclay).
1 John 2:16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father but are from this world.
John Brown, an 18th-century minister in Haddington, Scotland was a true shepherd and servant of the Father.
“When he preached, repeatedly he used to pause ‘as if listening for a voice.’ True prophets listen to God before they speak. They never forget that they are nothing more than voices to speak for God and channels through which God’s grace can come to men and women. It is the duty of every teacher and preacher to bring to men and women not their private ideas of the truth, but the truth as it is in Jesus Christ” (Barclay).
The great honor and privilege of the true prophet is the thrill of opening the minds of those that hear the Truth.
The walk along the narrow path is difficult, that’s why few find it, and fewer still travel upon it. The dangers along the path do not always reveal themselves like a roaring lion. Rather, at times, some people appear to be fellow travelers and even guides, but are, in fact, only wolves who wish to push us off the path to devour us.
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