Know Your Challenges (I): False Prophets
Based on a sermon by Aun Quek Chin—Singapore
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but
inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men
gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?
Jesus has long warned us to be
vigilant against false prophets. But false prophets are not just found in the
world, outside the church. Jesus’ warning was of false prophets who have come
into our midst, those who have entered the fold of the true church. These are
the most dangerous.
Coming in with
sheep’s clothing, they convince many that they are the sheep of God. But
inwardly, they are ravenous wolves. They hide amidst the fold just like a
Trojan horse[i]. The story of the fall of Troy is a
reminder that, while our strength enables us to fend off external attacks, we
are very vulnerable when the enemy hails from within.
Paul sounded a similar warning to
the Ephesian believers (Acts 20:28–31).After
his departure, savage wolves clothed in sheep’s clothing would arise amongst
believers. Sparing none, they would deceive and draw away disciples after them!
Paul had good reason to worry. He knew these false prophets existed and only
his presence deterred them from wreaking havoc. He also knew that the moment he
left, they would appear, some entering the church, and some arising from
The prospect of this grieved him
so much that he unceasingly reminded everyone night and day with tears.
Unfortunately, after Paul’s departure, heresies indeed crept in and many souls
Hence Paul emphasized that
overseers of the church must be even more vigilant for themselves besides
watching out for the entire flock. Obviously, if the leaders are deceived, the
effect on the church is greater.
As we look around us, we can
clearly identify three types of “sheep’s clothing” assumed by these false
1. Bible knowledge
The first sheepskin oft-used by
false prophets is the Bible. Their familiarity with the Bible is impressive and
their “explanations” of the Bible appear convincing. Naïve sheep are taken in,
erroneously equating these wolves’ mastery of the Bible with sincerity of
In fact, several biblical events
have shown us that the devil is even more familiar with the Bible than us and
can quote the Bible very precisely. For instance, Satan quoted the Scriptures
accurately in his attempt to tempt Jesus. However, while he understands the
Scriptures perfectly, he does not interpret it accurately. Let us thus be on
our guard against false prophets’ deliberate misinterpretations of the Bible.
At the same time, all workers of
the Lord must be careful in their exposition of God’s word. Besides the
preachers, Religious Education teachers and parents have to explain the word of
God as well. As we explain the word of God, are we rightly dividing the truth?
If our personal interpretation is not in line with the actual meaning of the
Scriptures, then our explanation has deviated from the truth.
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who
does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun
profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.
(2 Tim 2:15–16)
In the same epistle, Paul also tells
Timothy and us to deal with false prophets:
And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and
Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that
the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.
(2 Tim 2:17–18)
Paul specially names the
two men whose wrong explanation of the truth had affected the faith of many:
Hymenaeus and Philetus.
Unused to this concept of
highlighting wrongdoers, some believers may think Paul’s actions harsh. Why did
he have to mention their specific names? In our context today, why are the
names of wrongdoers specifically mentioned in sermons? Surely they were not the
only two who preached heresies? It is, after all, human weakness to
occasionally teach the wrong thing. In fact, when Paul urged Timothy to remain
in Ephesus “in order to charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (1 Tim 1:3), he did not mention any specific names.
So why were Hymenaeus and Philetus
The key difference between
Hymenaeus and Philetus and the others was that the latter could still turn
back. All they needed was encouragement or advice. In contrast, the message of
Hymenaeus and Philetus was set to spread like cancer. Not only could
they no longer turn back, they were continually influencing and destroying
others. Just like a malignant tumor, they had to be clearly identified and
excised lest the cancer spread.
Excommunication is an agonizing
step because every soul is precious to us. But recalcitrant false prophets must
be stopped and removed. Critically, their names must be highlighted so that
other believers can recognize and be vigilant against their heresies. If no
names are mentioned, the congregation may assume that the situation is not that
serious. Hence, as believers, we must understand why the church today takes
seemingly harsh steps, just as Paul did in the past.
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome
words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which
accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with
disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil
suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the
truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw
(1 Tim 6:3–5)
Another misconception that we may
have is that fierce and ravenous wolves would actually look fierce and
ravenous. Paul reminds us that false prophets often don godliness as a means of
gain. These “godly sheepskins” enable them to deceive many. When we see a
person who is God-fearing, active in church work, filled with wisdom and
eloquence, humble and full of love, it is easy to conclude: “How can such a
person be a false prophet? Did Jesus not say that that we can tell a person
from his fruits? Since good fruits abound in him, it must mean that he is good
and thus cannot be a false prophet!”
But consider the Pharisees. In the
eyes of men, they were godly people - they were faultless in the law; they faithfully
kept the laws of God, and they taught God’s commandments zealously. They
frequently fasted and prayed for long durations, always tithed, and always
participated in a lot of work.
Yet, in the eyes of Jesus, they
were hypocrites, and their godliness, false. Thus, do not judge by outward
godliness. Instead question whether the message preached is consistent with the
doctrine which accords with godliness. Would the sound doctrine lead to pride,
envy and strife?
Today, we shall also encounter
eloquent and clever false prophets who are “obsessed with disputes and
arguments over words”. When we voice doubt over their teachings, they will
debate us into speechlessness; and challenge us until we are at a loss for
words. Verbal victory is their yardstick of truth: If I am wrong, why can’t you
prove that I am wrong?
Human wisdom and our eloquence
have their limits, and cannot be the basis for discussion or debate. Instead,
we must always use the Bible as validation: is the teaching according to the
“wholesome words of our Lord Jesus Christ”? Does it have a basis in the
Scriptures? If it does, is this basis correct? Do the passages that have been
cited or one’s understanding of these passages contradict other parts of the
Bible? Is the basis that has been cited only applicable for a very specific
The truth is not skewed. Instead,
it is wholesome. The truth is not contradictory. Instead, it is unified and
continuous because it is the word of God. Therefore, do not just look at
outward godliness. Instead, look at the person to see if his very nature is
according to the word of God. Listen and see whether he speaks in accord with
all the teachings of the Bible. Does he speak the wholesome word of God, or has
he already gone astray?
Occasionally, the teachings of
false prophets make us feel uncomfortable.
However, the moment we see this
person perform miracles, our fears are allayed. Seeing him perform healing and
casting out demons, we are convinced that his prayers are really effective and conclude
that this person must definitely be from God. We ignore the tinge of discomfort
we feel at the contents of his preaching.
But the Lord Jesus has warned us.
Then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or,
'Look, He is there!' do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets
will rise and show signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.
But take heed; see, I have told you all things beforehand.
False prophets performing signs
and wonders have deceived many of the Lord’s sheep— not just the little lambs,
but even the experienced older sheep. They are amazed at the “power” of these
false prophets and conclude that such signs and wonders can only be from God.
However, the Lord
Jesus warns us that the power may not be from God but the devil (Rev 13:11–14)[ii].
The beast mentioned in the book of Revelation represents false prophets and
false christs. If we do not listen carefully, we may erroneously conclude that
this person is a true Christ or prophet.
Many are deluded because seeing is
easier than listening. Very often, when we listen to something, we don’t listen
to it in entirety. On the other hand, when we see something, it is very clear
and obvious. Hence, when we see great signs and miracles, we don’t doubt what
we have heard. This is the way the false prophets and false christs use their
power from Satan to deceive many.
There are moments in our lives
when we really want a supernatural power to heal us of our terminal illnesses,
help solve relationship or financial issues, or to gain us fame in society. No
human can achieve this for us, so will you then rely on evil powers? Will you
disregard the truth in order to achieve your goals?
The late Chinese leader Deng
Xiaoping once said, “Black cat, or white cat, as long as it catches the mouse,
it is a good cat.” Can this be extended to spiritual matters, i.e. Holy Spirit
or evil spirit, as long as the spirit can help me, it is a good spirit? Are we
prepared to disregard the consequences and forgo eternity for the sake of
temporary happiness, glory and power?
Satan once told Jesus, “Worship me
and I will give you all of these.” Undeniably, Satan has the power to heal you
of your sicknesses, and give you women, position and status…if you worship him;
if you sell your soul to him.
Choose wisely. Be wary of the
wolves that come in like sheep, even if they perform miracles, signs and
wonders. Although we often need a greater power to help us, we must not be
deceived by the power of Satan.
truth of god, not the teaching of man
Why are devout Christians deceived
by false christs and false prophets? Paul says it is because they do not
receive the love of the truth (2 Thess 2:9–12). They love and esteem the teachings of men over the
teachings of God. Hence God allows them to believe in the lie. And since they
do not believe the truth but take pleasure in unrighteousness, they will be
There is only one truth, and that
is Jesus Christ. And if we love the truth, then it will not matter to us who
the speaker is. As long as he teaches us according to the truth, we are willing
to submit to this teaching. However, if we choose to only listen to what
speaker X says, and reject speaker Y, then our love is for the teachings of
men, not for God’s word.
Peter also reminds us that in the
future there will be “false teachers among [us] who will bring in destructive
heresies” (2 Pet 2:1). These are teachings without
biblical basis, which are adapted instead from the philosophies and religions
of the world or from personal interpretations of the Scriptures. Some false
teachers defend their teachings as “logical and rational”. But these two
characteristics are not good enough—a “logical and rational” teaching cannot
save us; only a biblical truth can.
If we love the truth, we will know
how to use this checklist to measure the “new teachings” we hear:
The teaching may be reasonable and
logical, but does it contradict the Bible? Or is it consistent with the Bible?
Is the teaching from the Bible? Or
is it developed by man and/or adapted from the world’s beliefs?
abide in the
doctrine of christ
Humbly accept God’s word
“Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of
Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the
Father and the Son” (2 Jn 9).
To transgress means to supersede
the boundaries of the doctrines of Christ. In other words, if what we say and
teach has no biblical basis and has even gone beyond biblical teachings, we are
no longer keeping the truth. We shall thus not have God’s abidance even if we
purport to worship Him.
In this case, we no longer have
God because we have elevated our personal teachings and thoughts to the level
of God’s. We are in fact applying our own way of thinking and explanations to supplement
God’s ways and God’s thoughts! When a person reaches a stage where he
considers his ideas equivalent to God’s level, and acceptable as God’s
teachings, imagine how great a transgression that is. This is a person who no
longer has God for he is adding to and removing from God’s teaching at will!
This is extremely and terribly
wrong. God’s commandments are not for us to debate. To debate over or take a
vote on His commandments in the name of “democracy” lowers our almighty God to
our level; reducing Him to being “one of us”! God is our Creator and source of
life. The whole duty of man is to keep His commands. We are in NO position to
discuss and debate whether we should keep His commandments, or vote on which
one we ought to keep. If and when we do that, we are no longer regarding Him as
Lord. And what else would that be if not a transgression?
The Lord Jesus has said, “Can a
servant be greater than his master? Can he who is sent be greater than he who
sends him? I am your Master, so do as I have commanded you.”
O Timothy! Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the
profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called
knowledge-- by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. Grace be
with you. Amen.
(1 Tim 6:20–21)
Guard what has been committed to us
Besides being careful never to use
our own wisdom to add to or take away from God’s teachings, or to apply our
personal interpretation without biblical basis, we must also be careful to “guard
what [has been] committed to us”.
Paul warned of people who had
strayed from the truth; teaching “idle babblings, contradictions and what is
falsely called knowledge”. When did they start to deviate?
Deviation often starts from a
small issue. People often take slight deviations lightly. However, left
uncorrected, slight deviations will eventually lead us off course as we proceed
farther. By the time we realize that we have gone a little too far or that the
impact of that slight deviation was greater than we expected, we have already
deviated too far off course.
Sometimes we might not even know
that we have deviated. For example, we know our car has drifted slightly from
the lane we are driving in. We earn a honk from the car behind us but we
continue driving, thinking that we are safe. Before we know it, we have
deviated into the next lane and caused an accident! It is then too late for
regret. Our unwillingness to heed the warnings of others and correct our
deviation brings harm not just to ourselves, but to all those around us.
Some people are alarmed that false
prophets can arise in the true church that has both the Holy Spirit and the
truth. Such alarm is truly alarming because it means that such people have not
yet prepared for the end-time.
Our Lord Jesus has long warned us of
false prophets both in the world as well as in the true church. Let us no
longer be paralyzed by alarm but rise to equip ourselves. Let us recognize the
signs and know the challenges to our faith in the 21st century from
the ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing. Let us love only the truth of God and
resolve to abide in and only teach the doctrine of Christ.