The subject of false prophets, that is, individuals who declare that they have received special knowledge and/or revelation from God when they haven’t, gets a fair amount of attention in the Bible. Here are two passages in particular that I find quite useful.
“When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” Deuteronomy 18:22
“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
Of course, the downside of waiting until you see the results of an utterance claimed by the utterer to be prophetic before you decide whether or not to take it seriously is that…well, by then, it might be too late. However, the pattern throughout the Bible is that true prophets speaking for God give several warnings (all of which get confirmed) before the big change comes. They also give warning signs to look for before future events will take place.
For instance, according to the Book of Revelation, before Jesus returns to this Earth, several very specific events have to take place. So if you meet someone claiming to be Jesus or some other Messiah-like figure (it is tragically not uncommon to meet such individuals in Jerusalem and they often ask for money or other assistance, promising great rewards in the world to come for those who provide it) but those events haven’t happened yet, you can be quite sure they’re a false prophet (See Matthew 24:24 for more on this subject.)
For these reasons, I personally think that if someone comes with a “prophetic word” that, if true, requires drastic and immediate action, but you’ve never heard of this “prophet” before and they are almost in a panic trying to get you to believe them, they are almost certainly NOT a true prophet. That’s just not how God works throughout the Bible.
There are of course other ways to tell if someone is a false prophet even before the events they prophesy about come true or not. For instance, if what they say is going to happen lines up with Scripture and if it lines up with the character of the God revealed in Scripture, the likelihood of it being an actual prophecy goes up, and the opposite is also true.
Of particular note in this regard are the instances in recent years of “prophets” who publicly set a date when the Rapture was supposed to happen. Many of their followers quit jobs, sold their homes and other possessions and took other difficult-to-reverse steps in anticipation of this event. When the day came and the Rapture didn’t happen, some of these false prophets simply declared a new day and time it was supposed to happen.
Some people found something to laugh about in this but I don’t think it’s funny at all. The unbelieving world was watching and taking note of this fiasco and it gave many of the Church’s most vociferous critics a very strong point to use in their arguments against us.
It all could have been avoided if more self-described Christians were familiar with their own Scriptures, for in Mark 13:32 Jesus warns very straightforwardly about this very situation, saying ; “But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone”
The fact that these false prophets had so much success convincing so many followers that they’d somehow figured out the exact time and date when the Rapture would occur is a stinging indictment of the Biblical illiteracy so rampant in the Body of Messiah today.
That’s all fine and good for Believers, but what about everyone else?
Throughout most of human history, kings and their subjects relied on prophets to makes decisions. This is true in almost all cultures, from the ancient Near East to the Roman Empire, the nation-states of Western Europe which emerged from the Dark Ages to aboriginal tribes in Africa, the Americas and Australia.
In the post-Christian cultures of what we can still (roughly) call “Western Civilization” the role of prophets has been replaced by a unique creature called a “pundit” and instead of speaking in the King’s royal court they have talk shows on cable news channels and websites. Some of them once served in senior government positions, taught (or still teach) at prestigious universities or otherwise have some kind of education and/or experience which at least makes them someone whose opinion should be seriously considered, even if it always needs to be remembered what their likely ideological bias is. But many of them are simply journalists who spent a certain amount of time as field reporters before landing a comfortable position in a news studio in London, New York, LA or wherever and there is absolutely no reason whatsoever for their mindless prattling to be taken seriously by anyone.
In recent days, we all got a real good look at why Deuteronomy 18:22 was written, as the assassination by the US of an Iranian General was met with wall-to-wall condemnation by pundits who almost universally predicted horrific consequences for the US and its allies, including Israel. As it is one of the requirements of my job to wade through such commentary whenever Israel’s geostrategic situation is so prominently mentioned, I was quite shocked and disappointed to see people whose opinion I usually have great respect for saying things which I was quite sure they were FAR too intelligent to actually believe. Of course, I was neither surprised nor particularly bothered by the usual suspects who predict the end of the world everything the current US President does anything, but some of these pundits who were warning about, for instance, the possibility of WWIII and the US needing to re-instate a military draft, were people one can usually count on to be serious and not say such ludicrously absurd nonsense.
Needless to say, none of these doom and gloom predictions came true, but even before they didn’t come true, it seemed to me that it simply was not natural, that there was some dark spiritual force at work sewing confusion and fear among the chattering classes.
But brothers and sisters, this is the season of history we’re in, where false prophets, both the variety which claim special knowledge from the supernatural and those who simply host a “news analysis” TV show they have no earthly business being involved with, abound. It is up to me and you to be aware, to keep our spiritual and physical eyes and ears open. We do this by being in regular communion with God and each other through his Word, through both corporate and private prayer, and through fellowship with our fellow Believers.
It has always been important, but it’s becoming more important than ever.