Most people today think of a false prophet as someone who brings a supposed revelation of future events when in reality God has not sent him. In modern usage, the word “prophet” generally refers to one who foretells the future. In Scriptural usage, however, the word “prophet” has a much broader meaning. Those who preach the Word of God as pastors, ministers or evangelists are all “prophets” according to New Testament usage of the term.
In the New Testament, the word “prophet” is translated from the Greek word propheetees. This Greek word is rarely used in the New Testament in reference to a person who foretells future events. It is often used to refer to those who preach the Word of God under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, or “those who proclaim the divine message with special preparation and with a special mission” (Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament).
The Bible reveals that not all “prophets”—not all who claim to “preach the Word”—are true “prophets” of God. There are numerous references in both the Old Testament and the New Testament to false prophets. In Old Testament times, a false prophet was one who claimed divine inspiration but was not speaking the Truth of God (I Kings 22:10-14, 17). False prophets were sometimes directly inspired by Satan the devil or one of his demons (I Kings 22:20-22). The New Testament warns us that there will be false prophets working deceit and teaching lies until the close of this present age, when Jesus Christ Himself will return to end their evil deception.
As Jesus Christ began His ministry, He warned His followers to beware of those who would claim to speak the Truth but who would bring false teachings. “But beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves! You shall know them by their fruits...” (Mat. 7:15-16).
True Christians must look to Jesus Christ and follow Him at all times. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the door. If anyone enters in by Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and shall find pasture. The thief [false prophet] comes not except that he may steal and may kill and may destroy. I am come that they might have life, and might have it more abundantly” (John 10:9-10, AT).
In the last days before His crucifixion, Jesus again strongly warned against false prophets who would come, preaching their deceiving messages. “Take heed [be on guard] that no man deceive you. For many shall come in My name, saying I am the Christ [that is, that Jesus was in fact the Christ], and shall deceive many .... For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; in so much that if it were possible, THEY SHALL DECEIVE THE VERY ELECT” (Mat. 24:4-5).
Revelation 12:9 tells us that Satan is actively deceiving the whole world! “And the great dragon was cast down—the serpent, the ancient one, who is called the devil and the Satan, who is deceiving the whole world; he was cast into the earth, and his angels were-cast down with him” (AT). The Greek text clearly shows that this deception is active and continuous; the Greek tense means “is deceiving.”
Satan is deceiving the entire world---all nations, governments and religions. At the same time Satan is using false teachers and false prophets in an all-out attempt to destroy the faith of ministers and brethren within the churches of God! So powerful is Satan’s deception that Jesus said, “...If it were possible, THEY [SATAN’S FALSE PROPHETS] SHALL DECEIVE THE VERY ELECT!”
How are Satan’s false teachers able to do this? How will they nearly succeed in deceiving the very elect?
The answer is revealed in Jesus’ words to His disciples. We have read Jesus’ personal warnings against these false prophets in the above passages from the Gospels of Matthew and John. In these Scriptures, Jesus describes two types of “false prophets,” or false teachers. The first type is the wolf in sheep’s clothing. The second type is the thief who comes undisguised but unawares. Both kinds of false prophets seek to exploit, steal, kill and destroy the sheep of God. But there is a marked difference between these two types of false teachers. The thief can be easily identified, and his evil motives are obvious to all. On the contrary, the wolf manifests himself as one of the flock, and his motives are hidden. His evil purpose is not even recognized by the flock.
The apostles of Jesus Christ were repeatedly opposed by false prophets who like the wolf, pretended to be part of the flock of God. False prophets of this kind are the most dangerous because they work from within a church organization. In most instances they are accepted and approved as ministers and teachers and are given official status. They do their work subtly and covertly.
In the first century, while most of the original apostles of Jesus Christ were still alive and ministering to the churches of God, these false teachers worked their way into the local congregations. They subtly took control, cast out the true ministers of God, and changed the Gospel of Jesus Christ into a different gospel.
Down through the centuries, false prophets have been used by Satan to subvert the churches of God. These false prophets, or false ministers, are not interested in serving God and obeying. Him. They are motivated by their own covetousness and the human lust for positions of power and prestige. Because they are not led by the Spirit of God, but are guided by human lust, Satan is able to influence them and use them for his diabolical purposes.
The apostle Paul called Satan “the prince of the power of the air, that spirit which works within the children of disobedience” (Eph.2:2). Satan is able to effectively use his powerful fiery darts to inspire thoughts of vanity, lust, and deceit (Eph. 6:16). Satan has his own demonic spiritual powers and forces in high places to influence men in positions of power through their human lusts and vanity. Paul describes this evil influence: “Because we are not wrestling against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against authorities, against the world rulers of the darkness of this world, against the spiritual powers of the wickedness who are working in high places” (Eph. 6:12, AT).
The work of these deceiving spirits is evident in churches everywhere today. Satan’s own ministers, who appear as ministers of righteousness, are teaching his lies! They are not following Jesus Christ. They have even worked their way into the churches of God and have seated themselves on doctrinal boards and have assumed teaching positions in church colleges. They work from within as an official part of the church organization. Using subversive tactics, Satan’s ministers have subtly and skillfully taken control. Under their control, the Truth of God is changed little by little into a lie. The doctrines are so cleverly worded and so skillfully presented that even staunch Christians are being subverted.
Satan’s tactics are not new. He and his ministers have used the same methods time and time again through out history. The church in Corinth, which the apostle Paul raised up, was confronted with these same subversive influences. Paul warned the Corinthian Christians of the deceitful methods being used by these false teachers.
These wicked deceivers were using cunning tactics. The apostle Paul reveals that they were working their corruption within the churches of God even while he was still alive! In his second epistle to the Corinthians, he exposes exactly how these false teachers were accomplishing their deceitful work.
“Therefore seeing we have this ministry [the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ], exactly as we have received mercy, we faint not; but have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness [subtle, diabolical tactics], NOR HANDLING THE WORD OF GOD DECEITFULLY [This is exactly what is happening today—the false teachers and false ministers are handling the Word of God deceitfully]. BUT WE [Paul and the true ministers of God] BY MANIFESTATION OF THE TRUTH [the correct use of the Scriptures by studying precept upon precept and comparing truth with Truth] are commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God [unlike Satan’s ministers, who work their deception in secret].
“But if our Gospel is hid, it is hid to them that are lost; in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious Gospel of Christ, Who is the image of God, should shine unto them...” (II Cor. 4:1-4, AT).
Satan has succeeded in blinding the minds of nonbelievers, but he also aims to seduce and deceive all those who believe the Gospel. To accomplish his diabolical purpose, Satan stirs up false teachers and false ministers to blind the minds of true believers with false doctrines through skillful, deceitful handling of the Word of God.
Because Scriptures have been used, their false doctrines look and sound blessedly true! What could be more cunning? Yes, the Word of God is the Truth. But handling it deceitfully produces error.
Their deceitful interpretations of God’s Word are backed by the clever arguments of philosophy and theology with intellectual-sounding words. On the surface, their false doctrines appear to be words of wisdom and logic, but they are truly satanic and diabolical! These deceitful teachers are not “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” II Tim. 2:15). Yes, they use Scripture, but they wrongly divide it. The end result of such teachings is that they are blinded to the Truth of God. They believe a form of doctrine that sounds Scriptural because Scriptures have been deceitfully used and interpreted. But they are actually believing and teaching lies. This is precisely what certain men are doing who have seated themselves on doctrinal boards and have assumed teaching positions within the churches of God. Using the same devious methods, Satan and his ministers long ago succeeded in apostatizing the Christian‑professing churches of the world.
All Christians today need to be aware of the subtle methods that Satan uses to carry out his insidious deception. We need to be on guard against these crafty devices. As the apostle Paul warned, “Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices” (II Cor. 2:11).
What happens when true believers willingly follow ministers and teachers who have blinded themselves to the Truth of God and are teaching the doctrines of men? Jesus gives us the answer in the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus Christ warned His followers to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees,” meaning their doctrine, or teachings (Mat. 16:6-12). These Jewish leaders taught that their human traditions were greater than the commandments of God! Jesus denounced them, saying, “...You have made the commandment of God [the Truth of God] of none effect by your traditions!
“You hypocrites, well did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, ‘This people draws near unto Me with their mouth, and honors Me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men....’ “
“Then His disciples came and told Jesus, ‘Don’t You know that the Pharisees were offended after they heard this saying?’ But He answered and said, ‘Every plant, which My heavenly Father has not planted shall be rooted up. Let them alone. They are the blind leaders of the blind. AND IF THE BLIND LEAD THE BLIND, BOTH SHALL FALL INTO THE DITCH’” (Mat. 15:6-9, 12-14, AT).
By handling the Word of God deceitfully, false teachers lure their followers into spiritual blindness. And because they are all walking in blinding darkness, they do not perceive that they are headed for a dangerous fall. The gigantic ditch of apostasy lies ahead, and the fall will be dreadful!
Many believers in New Testament times foolishly followed blind leaders into spiritual darkness and apostasy. Paul warned the Corinthians that they were being drawn away from the true Gospel by these deceivers. At the same time that the Corinthians believers were accepting false teachings from false apostles, they were beginning to reject the apostle Paul and the true teachings of Jesus Christ. The true teachings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ were being cast aside in favor of “wonderful new teachings,” which undoubtedly were touted as a vast improvement over Paul’s teachings! But they were false teachings from false apostles, who were identified by Paul as the ministers of Satan!
In his second epistle to the Corinthians, Paul warned that their spiritual folly was leading them into disaster. Paul even used sarcasm as he endeavored to shame them for their acceptance of false apostles with their false teachings and their corrupted gospel, which the Corinthians were blindly following! Paul wrote to the foolish Corinthians, “I desire that you would bear with me in a little folly, but indeed bear with me! For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I have espoused you to one man, to present you as a chaste virgin to the Christ.
“But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent deceived Eve in his craftiness [Satan’s subtle, blessedly-true-sounding lies], lest that in exactly the same way, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity which is in Christ. For if indeed, the one who comes to you proclaims another Jesus, whom we did not preach, or if you receive a different spirit [from Satan the devil], which you did not [originally] receive, or a different gospel, which you did not [originally] accept, you are going along with it as a beautiful thing [and wonderful improvement over what we originally taught you].
“For I reckon that in nothing have I been behind those super high-degree apostles .... For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, who are transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And that is no marvel! For Satan transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore, it is not any great thing if his ministers also transform themselves as ministers of righteousness...” (II Cor. 11:1-5, 13-15, AT).
What a dangerous spiritual state the Corinthians had reached! The church of God at Corinth was on the verge of losing the Truth of God by embracing false doctrines! They were beginning to reject the apostle Paul, a true servant of God who had brought them the true teachings of Jesus Christ. Instead, they were accepting false apostles with their deceptive teachings! What spiritual folly!
What is the spiritual condition of your church? What are the doctrinal teachings in your church? Are you being taught subtle false doctrines which sound blessedly true? Are you falling into Satan’s trap? Could you be deceived into denying the Truth of God and lose your salvation?
Jude, the brother of Jesus Christ, wrote his urgent epistle to the churches of God because they were in great danger of being ensnared by Satan’s powerful deceptions working insidiously within their midst! They were experiencing the perversion of the Truth of God by ungodly men who were in positions of authority within the churches of God and who were using the Scriptures deceitfully to promote their false doctrines!
To combat these false teachers, Jude was moved by the Spirit of God to write his urgent warning. He declared, “... Certain men have stealthily crept in, these are they who a long time ago have been written about, condemning them to this judgment. They are ungodly men, who are perverting the grace of our God into licentiousness, and are denying the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 3-4, AT).
These false teachers and false apostles had succeeded in infiltrating the churches of God and were actively changing the true teachings of Jesus Christ into a perverted gospel. They were denying the Lord Jesus Christ by rejecting His teachings! They were robbing the Word of God of its power!
These Scriptures were not written only for the New Testament churches. The words of Paul and of Jude have been preserved as a prophecy and a warning for us today! The apostle Paul declared that in the last days there would be men who would appear to be godly but who would deny the true power of God (II Tim. 3:1, 5).
We in the churches of God today must heed the warning and take decisive action! We must reject all evil deceivers and their false doctrines! We must get back to the full truth of God as contained in the Scriptures. We must do it with all our hearts and all our minds, in full faith and in the love of God, before it is too late and we become helpless victims of Satan’s deceptive teachings! Passively doing nothing will only lead to being fully blinded.