The Simple Truth About False Prophets
by Jason Ashe
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).
Many of us may assume that Jesus’ warning to beware of false prophets is only given to the universal church in a broad sense and has no application to us as individuals. And so we never feel the need to actually be on guard against false teachers in our own church, while listening to a Christian podcast or our favorite preacher on YouTube. We say things like, “Beware of false prophets? Well, that’s for those other churches,” and “That’s for the folks who listen to (insert name of preacher we don’t like)”, or “That verse is speaking about Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, televangelists, and prosperity preachers.”
The first step to being deceived is assuming that we—or preachers that we respect and follow—cannot be deceived. The reality is that it’s only those who love the truth who can truly be saved from deception (2 Thessalonians 2:10). If we’re honest though, many of us will admit that we rarely ever assume that people like us are in danger of being led astray, let alone the fact that we are possibly being influenced by false teachers even now. However, Jesus said that the last days would be marked by an unprecedented amount of deception (Matthew 24:4-5, 10, 24) and at the core of this deception will be many false signs, wonders, and miracles (Mark 13:22, 2 Thessalonians 2:9). So we should not consider ourselves untouchable.
2 Timothy 3:1-5 says, “But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.”
Usually, when we think about difficult times in the last days, our minds will almost immediately go to thoughts of persecution, famine, or war. However, in this passage, Paul says that difficult times will come not because of what's happening in the world, but because of the condition of so-called Christians―because of what’s happening in the church! People who profess faith are the only ones who could have even the slightest “form of godliness.” I understand that many sincere brothers and sisters interpret this passage and suggest that it is referring to unbelievers, but we must look at the context.
First, Paul is suggesting that the abundance of these traits will be a departure from the norm. So we have to ask, has there ever been a time since the fall of man that unconverted humanity has not been “lovers of self” or “lovers of pleasure” or “lovers of money”? The answer is an obvious no. We are all lovers of self from birth (Romans 3:12).
Secondly, the passage also tells us to avoid such people. If this were referring to the people of the world, how could we obey this commandment and simultaneously share the gospel through personal relationships? It would be impossible! Consider what Paul told the Corinthians in his first letter, “I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11). We read here that we would have to leave the world to avoid idolators and covetous people outside of the church, so when we compare Scripture with Scripture, we see that 2 Timothy 3 is speaking about a moral decline among the Christian community where “evil people and imposters will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived (2 Timothy 3:13).
When we consider all this, we see that the Holy Spirit is saying, “It’s going to be hard to be a whole-hearted disciple in the last days because many people in the church will be.....” then he gives a list of sinful characteristics. This is why we must remain alert to first see our own spiritual condition and the true state of those who claim to be ministers of God.
Facing the Facts
We cannot deny the fact that many Christian groups are currently being inundated with the traditions and customs of this world. Jeremiah 10:2 says, “Do not learn the way of the nations,” but we have done just that.
Many of us have isolated our choice verses from the entirety of the Scriptures. We have ignored promises that would have made our defeated lives inexcusable, and we have neglected commandments which would have required us to deny ourselves and take up our cross. For many, it can be said that the gospel we preach and have been taught to preach, is void of repentance, no longer reveals the righteousness of God, but is wholly fixated on the betterment of man. The call essentially is, “Come to Jesus and become a better you, gain better friends, and learn better hobbies! Then pick a ministry to show others what a good Christian you are.”
Jesus Himself is now offered as a personal genie and after-death insurance policy. Even the gift of eternal life—knowing God and partaking of His nature increasingly (John 17:3, 1 Timothy 6:12)—has been isolated from the person of Christ and reduced to simply mean: a future state of rest and tranquility. Jesus has become no more than an antiquated religious figure to many of us. One that we read about and passionately sing about, but do not know. For this reason, the evangelical church has offered the world a false peace through John 3:16, but no deliverance. A supposed forgiveness of sin, but no freedom from its power. Subsequently, the rest of the Word of God has been reduced to a pillow for our pride and not a living sword as far as our inner life is concerned.
Now, that may all sound a bit harsh, but the wounds of a friend are better than the kisses from an enemy (Proverbs 27:6). We need to look around at all of this and say, “Is this really the church that Jesus said He would build?” I speak not as someone on the outside looking in, but as one who is involved and has contributed to all of this. My prayer is the prayer of Ezra, “O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens” (Ezra 9:6 ). This is not written for the sake of empty criticism, but in the hope that God will use it to open up blind eyes and draw people to Himself.
There are many believers today and various churches who fall into the trap of assuming that miracles, healing, casting out demons, or eloquent preaching are evidence of God’s anointing on a person’s life. Their confidence in such a person is multiplied by 10 if they happen to have a film, live stream or Youtube Channel documenting their ministry efforts. However, the Bible gives miracles and healings last place when stating their importance in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28). How is it then that they have been given first and second place by many Canadian preachers and self appointed evangelists?
Many of these men will preach a false gospel by simply telling others to believe in Jesus, ask Him to come into their heart and they will be saved. But the message Jesus preached was, “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15) and He commanded His disciples to preach the same message (Luke 24:47). The book of Acts and the epistles tell us that they obeyed Him exactly (Acts 2:38, 3:19, 8:22, 17:30 20:21).
Imagine it’s the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has come and now thousands of people are hearing some strange folks declaring the goodness of God in their native tongue. Peter gets up and preaches a brief but powerful sermon that convicts thousands of people of their sin. Under the weight of a guilty conscience, they shout out, “What do we have to do to be saved?” Peter responds with, “With every head bowed and every eye closed. If something I said touched you and you want to follow Jesus, please raise your hand. I see that hand. I see that hand too. Praise God, hands are up all over this place. Hallelujah! Now, repeat after me...” Could you ever see such a thing happening?
The Word of God is very clear that repentance and faith cannot and should not be separated if we want people to truly be born again (Hebrews 6:1). Although their actions look spiritual, these men make people twofold children of hell by allowing them to think they’ve been born again, but are still on the path of destruction. The Pharisees would travel long distances on foot and by boat to make just one false convert (Matthew 23:15). Therefore, we should not be impressed by religious activity or by someone boasting saying they’ve led thousands of people to the Lord.
God will often bless the ministry of the disobedient simply because He loves the people they’re ministering to. For example, in the wilderness of Kadesh, God told Moses to speak to the rock to bring forth water for the people of Israel, but Moses did what he had done previously and hit the rock. Moses’ sin was so serious that God forbid him from entering the promised land. Little did he know that it was symbolic of Jesus being crucified twice for the sins of the world (1 Corinthians 10:4). However, the water still flowed and blessed all the people in the desert (Numbers 20:1-20).
Because God loved them. God didn’t bless the Israelites because of Moses’ obedience. Instead, he blessed them despite his outright rebellion.
Also consider the people whom Jesus spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Prophesying to others, casting out demons, doing many great miracles? These guys were on a mission and even saw amazing results, but those results were never a reflection of their personal devotion to Jesus. They never sought to cease living for themselves in their private lives. Sure, they would have blessed many others, but God still wasn’t pleased with them.
I wonder how often we just breeze through passages like that because we have become so familiar with them. Do we really understand what it’s saying? There will be countless men and women who will stand before Jesus one day having brought many people into the Kingdom, boldly spoke God’s Word to anyone who would listen, had cast out demons and healed the sick, but they will still not get into heaven.
What’s the reason for this?
Because despite all of their good activity and religious zeal, they still played the fool with sin in their inner life and never purposed to do God’s will and glorify Him in secret. Remember that the next time you see a Christian movie or conference that is totally dedicated to miracles or hear the tale of some “anointed” man of God who performs them. Miracles certainly have their place in the church, but they are not the most important things.
Do you realize that there will be people who will ultimately go to hell even though they’ve healed the sick in Jesus name? But there will be other folks who will be commended by Jesus just because they visited sick believers (Matthew 25:36)? Many saints will be praised for giving a glass of water to those who were thirsty, while others—who are only Christian in name—will go to the same hell as the demons they’ve cast out. We can’t be fooled by what we’ve experienced or the results that we see.
Other people wrongly assume that house church automatically equals true church and that breaking away from mainline Christianity is a sure sign of spirituality. Others believe that a church’s pattern or leadership structure is evidence of its overall health. Other folks have been fooled into believing that anyone with ministry credentials, a large following, and a best selling book must be a genuine man or woman of God. None of this is true. So it’s important that we set our attention to open our Bible, listen to the Holy Spirit and discern the popular voices in Christian culture today.
Unfortunately, in my experience, I’ve found that very few of us in the church today study or meditate on the Scriptures at all. We may open our Bible once or twice from Sunday to Sunday, but definitely no more than three times. Even fewer of us receive revelation on the content of our study. This is always the result of pride and a reluctance to do the will of God (Matthew 11:25, John 7:17). It can be said that we will quickly reject a teaching or give it prominence in our mind when someone we esteem highly says, “This is what I personally believe,” and we instinctively agree, no questions asked. We are all in danger of doing this.
As Christians, we should begin to examine our ways whenever we embrace a teaching from someone that wasn’t taught by Jesus or the apostles, when we reject a teaching that was taught by Jesus or the apostles, or when we theoretically believe a teaching that was taught by Jesus or the apostles which doesn’t begin to produce in us the purity and power that it produced in them. False doctrine is always spread when the opinions spoken from the pulpit are more esteemed than the facts which are written in the Bibles tucked under our arms. But even our Bible knowledge, correct as it may be, is not enough to keep us from deception.
Every church or cult that claims to honor Jesus will use some version of the Bible and will even have their own proof texts to support their distorted beliefs. Our only hope is if our Bible knowledge is paired with a living knowledge of the one true God. The godliest group of believers to ever live had no printed Bible, but they were filled with the Holy Spirit, actually knew God as Father and considered all that this world esteems to be worthless in light of knowing Him. This is where we differ from them.
Church history teaches us that one man’s experience will always become another man’s opinion and that one man’s opinion will inevitably become another man’s doctrine. This doesn’t mean that claims of Christ’s supremacy and the authority of His Word will cease to be made by such folks—I think these things have been written in the “Our beliefs” statement of every evangelical church for decades. But the conduct of many believers has proved that what Scripture says is of secondary importance to their experience, preferences, traditions, and pet doctrines of their denomination or favorite preacher. This is why every false teacher has always drawn people away from the truth by playing on their trust, worldly desires, emotions, and biblical illiteracy.
Jesus said that these false teachers would look like sheep—real Christians—but were actually wolves inwardly. In John 10:27-28, Jesus said four things about His true sheep: they hear His voice, they are known by Him, they follow Him, and they have eternal life. Therefore, every wolf-like false teacher will have a glamorous religious appearance of hearing from the Lord, being known by Him (being known by God means that we love Him. See 1 Corinthians 8:3), obeying Jesus, and being born again. And it’s this form of godliness that masks their true nature from the undiscerning and gives them the appearance of having a living relationship with Jesus.
Unlike true prophets who live for the glory of Jesus and edification of others, ravenous false teachers will attempt to glorify themselves in an effort to take something from the true sheep of the Lord—which is usually money or honor. And as we will see, one of their greatest weapons is flattery. We must be on guard against such people.
2 Peter 2:2 tells us why we need to beware of false prophets—because they cause the way of truth to be maligned or spoken evil of.
Just think about that for a moment.
It’s basically saying that when people sit under the ministry of false prophets, even though they preach from the Bible and preach countless sermons, eventually they will look at the way of truth—simple Christianity, pure devotion to Jesus, obeying the commandments and claiming the promises—as if it’s evil.
The infection runs so deep that one day they will stumble upon a brother preaching commandments like, “Don’t be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6), “Give thanks in all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:8), “Put away all forms of anger” (Ephesians 4:31), or “Never complain about anything” (Philippians 2:14) and say, “That’s impossible... even for the most Spirit-filled believer. Stop being so self-righteous.”
They will read promises like, “Thanks be to God Who always leads us in His triumph in Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:14), “In all circumstances we overwhelmingly conquer through Him Who loves us” (Romans 8:37), and “I am writing these things to you that you may not sin” (1 John 2:1), or “Sin shall not have power over you because you are under grace and not law” (Romans 6:14) and say, “No way! I don’t believe it. That’s borderline heresy!” Now, these people may not actually be vocal about their unbelief, but deep down inside they don’t believe that living such a life through the power of the Holy Spirit is even possible nor do they even desire to live such a life. Instead, they will remain defeated in their inner life while having a zeal for miracles, prophetic utterances, evangelism, and signs and wonders. Those outside of the church will also look at all of this and want no part of it. Even today the two most often repeated phrases about the church from the mouths of unbelievers are, "Most Christians are hypocrites," and "Churches only want money." This is why we shouldn’t even lend our ear to any preaching that is not leading us to become more like Jesus in character.
Whatever gifts God has given us we should use them for his glory, and we should look for every opportunity to share the gospel with those around us. However, we shouldn’t be fooled by popular preaching saying that true Christianity is going out on the streets in Canada and praying for healing, giving words of knowledge, or evangelizing. The Bible also explicitly states that not all believers are given gifts of healing, miracles, evangelism or tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:28-30 says, “And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of miracles, are they? All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?”
Teaching that all Christians can have the gift of tongues, healing or miracles is just as foolish as teaching that all Christians are apostles, prophets or teachers! The beauty of the church is that the various gifts of teaching, miracles and healing that were seen in the first body of Christ—Jesus, can now be exercised collectively by his church as individuals are uniquely gifted to accomplish His work. This church-wide ministry is what “those who believe” means in Mark 16:17-18. This is one of the reasons why the church is called the body of Christ.
Jesus also taught us that we would be able to recognize false prophets by their fruit. Fruit meaning: external expressions of their inner wolf-like spirit (Matthew 12:33-34). Don’t assume that “fruit” is simply referring to the results of someone’s ministry. Remember that there will be people who stand before Jesus one day who have accomplished many wonderful things in His name like healing the sick and casting out demons all while having no relationship with Him because they lived in sin.
Although the nature of false prophets can easily be summarized as an impurity in matters of sex, money, honor seeking, and their affiliation with other false prophets, their evil fruit can be further isolated into three categories given what is said about them in Scripture: their character, their teaching, and their ministry. I encourage you to test any preacher, pastor, healer or evangelist by these metrics.
The Character of False Prophets
False prophets are evil impostors who are spiritually deceived (they believe a lie)
“But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).
False prophets are extremely religious
“... holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; avoid such men as these” (2 Timothy 3:5).
False prophets observe Christian rituals such as the breaking of bread, but reject the spiritual principles
“When these men join you at the love feasts of the church, they are evil smears among you, laughing and carrying on, gorging and stuffing themselves without a thought for others” (Jude 1:12, The Living Bible).
False prophets have an appearance of serving others, but are actually servants of Satan
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 2:13-15). Also see Titus 1:16.
False prophets give God the minimum and covet the blessing of righteous people
“Woe to them! For they have gone the way of Cain” (Jude 1:11a). See Genesis 4:1-16 and 1 John 3:12.
False prophets do not deny themselves and take up their cross
“.... and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires... ” (2 Peter 2:10).
False prophets do not genuinely submit to authority
“... and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:10). Also see Jude 1:8, 11c.
False prophets are like animals who allow their feelings and fleshly passions to guide them
“But false teachers are fools—no better than animals. They do whatever they feel like” (2 Peter 2:12, The Living Bible).
False prophets repeatedly sin unrepentantly
“They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you” (2 Peter 2:13).
False prophets have lustful eyes (multiple marriages or sexual scandals after being established in ministry)
“... having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin ...” (2 Peter 2:14).
False prophets are unrepentant lovers of money
“... having a heart trained in greed...” (2 Peter 2:14b).
False prophets are never content with what they have
“These men are constant gripers, never satisfied” (Jude 1:16, The Living Bible).
False prophets cause unnecessary division in the church in order to draw people to themselves
“But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, 'In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.' These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.” (Jude 1:17-19). See Acts 20:30.
False prophets practice deceit
“Also among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen a horrible thing: The committing of adultery and walking in falsehood” (Jeremiah 23:14b).
False prophets have no fear of God
“Listen, O foolish, senseless people—you with the eyes that do not see and the ears that do not listen—have you no respect at all for me? the Lord God asks. How can it be that you don’t even tremble in my presence? I set the shorelines of the world by perpetual decrees, so that the oceans, though they toss and roar, can never pass those bounds. Isn’t such a God to be feared and worshiped?” (Jeremiah 5:21-22, The Living Bible)
False prophets do not accept correction from others
“And you will say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord, “If you will not listen to Me, to walk in My law which I have set before you, to listen to the words of My servants the prophets, whom I have been sending to you again and again, but you have not listened” (Jeremiah 26:4-5).
False prophets despise true prophets and their message
“When Jeremiah had finished his message, saying everything the Lord had told him to, the priests and false prophets and all the people in the Temple mobbed him, shouting, “Kill him! Kill him!... Then the priests and the false prophets presented their accusations to the officials and the people. “This man should die!” they said. ‘You have heard with your own ears what a traitor he is, for he has prophesied against this city.’” (Jeremiah 26:7, 11, The Living Bible).
False prophets can be men or women
“Now you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people who are prophesying from their own inspiration. Prophesy against them” (Ezekiel 14:17).
The Teaching of False Prophets
False prophets teach many correct doctrines and predict things that come true, but they also practice idolatry
“If there is a prophet among you, or one who claims to foretell the future by dreams, and if his predictions come true but he says, ‘Come, let us worship the gods of the other nations,’ don’t listen to him. For the Lord is testing you to find out whether or not you really love him with all your heart and soul” ( Deuteronomy 13:1-3).
False prophets will agree that Jesus is the Messiah
“And Jesus answered and said to them, 'See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many” (Matthew 24:4).
False prophets will somehow distort the fundamental truth of Jesus’ incarnation (saying He wasn’t fully God or that He wasn’t fully man)
“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds” (2 John 1:7-11).
False prophets preach a counterfeit Jesus, a variation of the true gospel, and pervert the ministry of the Holy Spirit
“You seem so gullible: you believe whatever anyone tells you even if he is preaching about another Jesus than the one we preach, or a different spirit than the Holy Spirit you received, or shows you a different way to be saved. You swallow it all” (2 Corinthians 11:4, The Living Bible).
False prophets use spiritual language to deceptively teach new doctrines that are contrary to the Word of God
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1). Also see 2 Timothy 4:3-4.
False prophets cause others to vilify the New Covenant life of true discipleship
“... and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned...” (2 Peter 2:2b).
False prophets exalt dreams and visions above Jesus
“Listen to the dream I had from God last night,” they say. And then they proceed to lie in my name. How long will this continue? If they are “prophets,” they are prophets of deceit, inventing everything they say. By telling these false dreams they are trying to get my people to forget me in the same way as their fathers did, who turned away to the idols of Baal” (Jeremiah 23:25-27, The Living Bible).
False prophets equate gifts and ministry success with personal holiness
“Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness'” (Matthew 7:22-23). Also see Jude 1:12 and 2 Timothy 3:5.
False prophets preach lies but still believe that their messages are from God
“Instead you have lied when you said, ‘My message is from God!’ God did not send you. And yet you expect him to fulfill your prophecies. Can you deny that you have claimed to see ‘visions’ you never saw, and that you have said, ‘This message is from God,’ when I never spoke to you at all?” (Ezekiel 13:6-7, The Living Bible).
False prophets teach that grace gives people an excuse to be defeated by sin
“For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4).
The Ministry of False Prophets
False prophets emerge from within the church (some were once true Christians)
“... and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29). See 1 John 4:1, 1 Timothy 4:1, and 2 Peter 2:1a.
False prophets do not have a calling from the Lord
“I did not send these prophets, but they ran” (Jeremiah 23:21a).
False prophets do not hear from God directly
“Then the Lord said to me, 'The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them'” (Jeremiah 14:14). See also Lamentations 2:9.
False prophets speak their own clever ideas in the name of Jesus
“They are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds” (Jeremiah 14:14). See also Jeremiah 14:15, 23:16, 23:22, Ezekiel 13:2.
False prophets speak good messages that never produce the fruit of genuine prophecy
“But if they had stood in My council, then they would have announced My words to My people, and would have turned them back from their evil way and from the evil of their deeds” (Jeremiah 23:22a).
False prophets offer comfort to those who refuse to repent
“They keep saying to those who despise Me, ‘The Lord has said, “You will have peace”’; And as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, they say, ‘Calamity will not come upon you'” (Jeremiah 23:17).
False prophets are man pleasers who never rebuke people
“Your “prophets” have said so many foolish things, false to the core. They have not tried to hold you back from slavery by pointing out your sins. They lied and said that all was well” (Lamentations 2:14, The Living Bible). Also see Ezekiel 13:11-12.
False prophets do not shepherd God's people
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: “You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds,” declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:1-2). See also Ezekiel 13:5 and 1 Corinthians 4:15.
False prophets have a counterfeit appearance of spiritual authority
“Also it will come about in that day that the prophets will each be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies, and they will not put on a hairy robe in order to deceive” (Zechariah 13:4). Also see Jeremiah 5:31
False prophets create a special atmosphere which helps them to deceive others
"Tell them, ‘The Lord God says: Woe to these women who are damning the souls of my people, of both young and old alike, by tying magic charms on their wrists, furnishing them with magic veils, and selling them indulgences" (Ezekiel 13:18, The Living Bible).
False prophets emphasize miracles over holiness in their ministry
“For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24).
False prophets have a loyal following
“A horrible thing has happened in this land—the priests are ruled by false prophets, and my people like it so! But your doom is certain” (Jeremiah 5:30, The Living Bible).
False prophets can bring corruption into a church
“For from the prophets of Jerusalem pollution has gone forth into all the land” (Jeremiah 23:15c).
False prophets care more about storytelling and their past experiences than the Word of God
“Let these false prophets tell their dreams and let my true messengers faithfully proclaim my every word. There is a difference between chaff and wheat! Does not my word burn like fire? asks the Lord. Is it not like a mighty hammer that smashed the rock to pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:28-29, The Living Bible).
False prophets show partiality
“You false prophets! You who lead his people astray! You who cry “Peace” to those who give you food and threaten those who will not pay!” (Micah 3:5, The Living Bible). Also see Ezekiel 13:19b
False prophets will use spiritual looking tactics to blatantly disobey the Word of God for money
“Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet” (2 Peter 2:15-16). Also see Number 22:2.
False prophets flatter people with words to get money from them
“These teachers in their greed will tell you anything to get hold of your money” (2 Peter 2:3, The Living Bible).
False prophets charge for things that Jesus, the apostles and true prophets give for free
“Listen to me, you leaders of Israel who hate justice and love unfairness and fill Jerusalem with murder and sin of every kind—you leaders who take bribes; you priests and prophets who won’t preach and prophesy until you’re paid. (And yet you fawn upon the Lord and say, 'All is well—the Lord is here among us. No harm can come to us.'”(Micah 3:9-11). Also see 2 Corinthians 11:7-12.
False prophets predict things that do not come to pass
“If you wonder, ‘How shall we know whether the prophecy is from the Lord or not?’, this is the way to know: If the thing he prophesies doesn’t happen, it is not the Lord who has given him the message; he has made it up himself. You have nothing to fear from him” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22, The Living Bible).
False prophets copy sermons from one another
“Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” declares the Lord, “who steal My words from each other” (Jeremiah 23:30).
False prophets publicly endorse other false prophets
"They encourage and compliment those who are doing evil instead of turning them back from their sins" (Jeremiah 23:14c).
False prophets try to imitate the ministry of true prophets
"God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out. But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” (Acts 19:11-15).
False prophets only help people become better versions of themselves (not become more like Christ)
“Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,” declares the Lord, “and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit,” declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 23:32).
False prophets distort the truths of God's Word
“For you will no longer remember the oracle of the Lord, because every man’s own word will become the oracle, and you have perverted the words of the living God, the Lord of hosts, our God” (Jeremiah 23:36).
False prophets teach others to be sexually impure
“Many will follow their sensuality...” (2 Peter 2:2a).
False prophets take advantage of women by pretending to give them spiritual counsel
“For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:6-7).
False prophets are proud in their speech and cause new Christians to stumble by example
“For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved” (2 Peter 2:18-19). Also see Ezekiel 13:22).
False prophets will be exposed one day
"Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also" (2 Timothy 3:9).
Mercy and Discernment
Some sincere believers will read this and recognize one of these traits in someone they know or are familiar with, and immediately categorize them as a false prophet. Although Jesus said that we would recognize false teachers by the fruit of their lives, there is also a tremendous need to exercise spiritual discernment along with our natural faculties of perception which are influenced by our knowledge of the Bible and church experience (1 John 2:26-27, Isaiah 11:3). We must not let our religious zeal cause us to jump to conclusions too quickly.
Far too much has already been written and spoken by so-called watchmen who possess the very same proud spirit as the supposed false teachers they seek to expose. These men and women laugh at the deception of others, make a mockery of false doctrines and teachings, run after honor (if not money) and other than yell, “That’s not biblical,” do absolutely nothing to help those who have been taken advantage of by such preachers and their ministry.
Perhaps you’ve seen the many videos on YouTube where different men and women (who are in fact false prophets) are ridiculed and chastised with silly Star Wars graphics, clever captions, and Street Fighter sound effects. Although in the past I have found those videos funny and entertaining given my natural sense of humor, I don’t believe that such things come from the Spirit of Christ.
Try to imagine Jesus putting on the religious dress of one of the Pharisees and parading around saying, “Oh, look at me! I’m a Pharisee of Pharisees! I clearly do not honor God, but I love to say that I have Abraham as my father. I’m not like these other folks because I’m so spiritual! And oh, I just can’t wait until the Messiah shows up. Just look at my phylacteries! I’m sure I’ll recognize Him right away!” Then he throws off the uniform and laughs hysterically, looking to Peter, James, and John who have also joined in the charade. Can you picture Jesus doing that? I can’t.
The apostles only called out people by name when they were in danger of influencing people they were responsible for (3 John 1:9-11, 1 Timothy 1:20, 2 Timothy 2:17-18). A loving father will warn his daughter about hanging with certain worldly girls who may negatively influence her, but I’ve yet to see a concerned father shouting from different street corners or making a video on Facebook or YouTube to tell others in the city not to hang around with those same girls. That’s the responsibility of their parents to inform their own children.
But unfortunately, this is precisely how many brothers and sisters behave (who usually don’t even attend church) who believe that they are prophets given to the church at large to name names and expose supposed false teachers. The Bible is clear that we must expose the deeds of darkness through both our lives and our preaching, and the best way to do this is by following the example of Jesus and the apostles.
Keep in mind that not everyone who strongly embraces the traditions of men, happens to be wildly charismatic, or has clear doctrinal errors in their teaching, is a false teacher. In no way am I suggesting that any man or woman who occasionally asks for money for their ministry, any man who has a sudden lustful gaze upon a woman, or any popular pastor who belongs to a large church, is automatically a wolf who’s out to get something from the sheep.
I don’t believe that all of the pastors who contradict God’s Word have set out with the intention of twisting passages of Scripture (I personally have had to apologize to my church for a wrong interpretation of a Bible verse when God has given me more light), nor do I think that all of them intentionally ignore what’s written in the Bible. I think that a few of them are simply doing what they have been taught to do and since they fail to truly study the Bible for themselves, they have been strongly influenced by the theology and customs of their denomination or Christian group. They have yet to be gripped by the truths of the New Covenant and the reality that the Old Covenant has been made obsolete in Christ (Hebrews 8:13).
With that said, I would still steer clear of any man or woman who is more concerned about telling people that they are robbing God with tithes and offerings than informing them about the peril of living in sin while being super religious. Or any pastor who takes divorce and re-marriage lightly. Or any preacher who is more passionate about seeing God’s miraculous provision in the realm of healing, finances, or numerical growth in the church, than with partaking of God’s divine nature from one glory to the next. Or anyone who makes excuses for their sin by referencing the failures of Old Covenant men and women who didn’t have the grace of God or know God as father. Everything written in the past was written for our instruction so that we would have hope and learn not to make the same mistakes (Romans 15:4, 1 Corinthians 10:12). Not so that we would find an excuse for our defeated lives.
We are told to test anyone who claims to speak for God (1 John 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:21). Jesus even commended the church in Ephesus for testing so-called apostles (Revelation 2:2). So as far as we are able, we must discern who genuinely belongs to the family of God, and thus be patient with our brothers and sisters whenever the Holy Spirit allows us to shed light on these matters. Patience is one of the clearest marks of genuine love (1 Corinthians 13:4).
In Ephesians 4:2, we are commanded, “Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” We do that not by expecting less of others, by lowering the standard of righteous in the New Covenant, or by blindly accepting everyone who claims to be a Christian. That would be foolish and a dishonor to God. Instead, we do it by always remembering the rubble that Jesus first found us in. 2 Peter 1:7-9 says that if we lack brotherly kindness (not just human kindness) and love, one of the primary reasons is because we have forgotten that we have been cleansed from sin ourselves. We too were once followers of empty traditions and worldly practices, let us remember that.
There will always be people in the church whom we do not necessarily agree with on matters of doctrine and church pattern. The greater sin on our part would be judging them, quickly casting them off as a false teacher, and believing that we are more spiritual just because we choose to reject doctrines or traditions which they strongly embrace. Millions of churchgoers who have had correct doctrines and proper church structure have gone to hell with a cloud of legalism and dead works hanging over their head.
I know that there are still some preachers today who work full-time jobs and refuse to take a dime from their church, while at the same time, seek a sort of “recognition tithe” from their congregation. I know this struggle all too well. In other words, people are more than welcome to give Jesus 90 percent of the glory, but it’s only right that as a minister of God they also receive some glory from men. I don’t think that this is any different from the false teachers who beg for money from the pulpit or from the other side of the TV. Don’t be deceived.
Lastly, I should also mention that every false prophet will not possess all of the traits listed above. Some are far better and more cunning than others. However, as I said previously, they can usually be identified by their attitude to money, sexual impurity and honor seeking.
In his book, “God’s Work Done in God’s Way”, Zac Poonen lays out a simple test that we can use to help us discern who the genuine men of God are:
Do his methods agree with the methods adopted by our Lord Jesus Christ in His ministry and with the principles laid down in the New Testament – especially in the area of money?
Does the preacher move us only emotionally through his preaching or does he convince our mind from the Word of God and thus stir us to obedience to Christ’s commandments? We must distinguish between the anointing of the Holy Spirit and human eloquence (which even politicians and secular TV hosts have).
Does the preaching entertain us and make us laugh, or does it convict us of sin and bring us to repentance?
Does the preaching make us admire the preacher or does it draw us closer to Christ?
Let us keep our guard up in these last days and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, with those who call on the name of the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22).