For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:24)
What a remarkable statement. Jesus would not even mention the possibility of ‘even the elect’ being deceived if this were not actually a realistic scenario. Tragically, we need only look around us to see that this is not only possible, but has already happened. An investigation into the long list of pastors, preachers, evangelists and other Christian leaders that have been exposed or broken by this is ample proof that His warning was a very serious one.
What is as tragic, is the fact that a very precious gift that God gave to His people for their edification, encouragement, guidance and revelation, through both the Old and New Testaments, and for the church, has been so perverted as to become one of the greatest – if not the greatest – enemy the church faces today. Worse, it seems set to increase rather than decrease.
We may well ask: How can this happen? It would be very easy to say ‘born a wolf, always a wolf,’ but the fact is that many of today’s false prophets may well have started off as good, righteous, God-surrendered, Spirit-filled believers. The fundamental problem, I believe, is the deep-seated desire of all mankind to ‘hear from God’ without being willing to put in the time and effort required to develop the kind of relationship and knowledge of the Word that is critical to really hearing from God.
The truth is that ‘hearing from God’ requires us to be Word-filled and Spirit-led in order to have the wisdom and discernment to weigh what we hear against the Word and Spirit, to test it and make sure that we are, in fact, hearing His voice and not our own or, worse, the demonic. In an ‘instant’ society, we leave ourselves wide open to deception, even the elect, because, along with accountability to God, accountability to other strong believers is becoming redundant. Take an error, throw in passion and a ‘charismatic’ personality, and it’s a swift and slippery slide straight to hell.
The Bible does teach that we should ‘earnestly desire the greater gifts,’ and puts the prophetic at the top end of the list. But we need to understand why, and to do that we should understand it’s purpose. It’s critical that we understand that the spiritual gifts are not given to persons, but to the church. God gives the gift to the church through people, and to ‘claim’ a gift as belonging to me is erroneous. It belongs to the Holy Spirit, and by God’s grace may operate through me as and when He chooses. This is the first fundamental error many fall under, and it results in the removal of the gift from the control and administration of the Holy Spirit. When we remove the Holy Spirit from the equation it may remain a spiritual gift, but it’s a different spirit altogether that drives it.
The second fundamental error is that the gifts have a purpose, which has nothing at all to do with ‘me.’ That purpose is ultimately to provide what is necessary for the edification, encouragement, teaching, guidance and empowerment of the body, not ‘me.’ As such, the gift of prophesy is for the express purpose of empowering ‘me’ to fulfill the calling or ministry that God has for my life, so that I may serve the body of Christ in that capacity. It’s not ‘my’ gift or ‘my’ ministry or ‘my’ calling. It’s God’s calling on my life, which requires full surrender. ‘I’ am but a vessel, that’s all.
Matthew 7: 15 tells us that we will know them (false prophets) by their fruits, yet it continues to astound me how, as false prophets fall around us, new ones rise up to preach the same perverted Gospel, the same misaligned truth, the same doctrines of demons, over and over again. This happens, I believe, because the sheep have little or no discernment. Mankind is so ‘hungry’ to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ God move or ‘hear’ Him speak, that they chase after every new fad, every new ‘charisma,’ every ‘new revelation’ until they can no longer distinguish what is God and what is not. The hunger comes from being starved of the true Word of God, either through lack of teaching, incorrect teaching, or a reluctance to undertake Bible study of their own. A man fed will not be hungry.
One of the foremost signs of a false prophet – the ‘fruit’ by which we can judge them – is the prolific inclusion of ‘foretelling’ in addition to ‘forthtelling.’ The latter is speaking the Word of God into a situation for edification, guidance, instruction, etc. Foretelling is predicting future events. I don’t suggest that this does not happen. God may well reveal this, if it is required. But investigation of many so-called prophets will reveal any number of instances of foretelling future events at a specific time which never ever happened. This is not Holy Spirit inspired prophecy. The speaker is a false prophet, if we apply the yardstick of judging by the fruits. Yet many of these same people are deceiving believers throughout the world. Prophesy is forthtelling not foretelling, first and foremost. Foretelling is usually simply a form of demonic-inspired clairvoyance.
The final issue that is so often forgotten is that God only raised prophets for His people when things were going wrong, when they needed to be called back to repentance and warned of the consequences of their backsliding. One may move in the gift of prophecy without being a prophet, i.e. carrying the title. The whole body of Christ should, at some point, move in a spirit of prophecy if required for the good of the body. Today’s proliferation of ‘self-proclaimed’ prophets should be a warning sign to all. I can find none of God’s prophets anywhere in the Bible flaunting their ‘ministry’ or calling as a prophet. In fact, it appears that most of them would far rather have been off somewhere doing something else. It’s a hard, unpopular calling if ‘done right,’ because the true prophet’s message will not be one those seeking after comfort or feel-good will want to hear.
Hebrews 11: 36-38 says this: Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
Let’s take a moment to compare this, the ‘definition’ of a ‘true prophet of God’ to the lives led by many, if not most, of today’s self-proclaimed counterparts. It begs the question: Who in their right mind would happily, willingly, boastingly, declare themselves a prophet, or even covet that position? The answer is simple: No one in their right mind. Only those willing to pay the hardest price, those of utter humility, those who spend more time on their knees, checking and double-checking that they have heard correctly before they claim ‘thus saith the Lord’ will be recognised by God if they are chosen and annointed to this office. Not only do they face persecution in this world, they are also accountable to God Himself for every Word they speak in His name. And for those that have deliberately, knowingly, deceived and led astray the sheep in His name, for the sake of self-gratification, greed and personal power or prestige, that accountability is not one to be envied.
Let us, as true believers, take stock of those ‘speaking God’s Word.’ Let us test each and every one against the Word, by the Spirit, and seek the face of God ourselves lest we fall prey to the wolves among us.
Help us, Lord, to see You clearly in confusing times. Teach us Your Word, give us discernment, guide us continually by Your Holy Spirit. Help us to honour You in all things, to point to Jesus in all things, and to remember that it’s not about ‘me’ but about You. Thank you for your sweet, abiding grace.