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Know Your Challenges (I): False Prophets
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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?

              (Mt 7:15–16)

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 within.

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 were lost.

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.

Recognize the Clothing

As we look around us, we can clearly identify three types of “sheep’s clothing” assumed by these false prophets:

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 faith.

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 singled out?

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.

2. Godliness

              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 yourself.

              (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 scenario?

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?

3. Miracles

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.

              (Mk 13:21–23)

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 13:1114)[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.

Love the 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 2:912). 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 condemned.

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.


              The Trojan Horse is a tale from the war between the Trojans and the Greeks. After a 10-year siege, the Greeks still could not conquer the city of Troy. One day, the Greeks suddenly retreated but left behind a gigantic wooden horse. Rejoicing, the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. Little did they know that a select Greek force was hiding inside the hollow horse. In the quiet of the night, as the Trojans slept, the Greeks crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, decisively ending the war.



He is able to perform miracles and signs to deceive many. However, this person’s power comes from the dragon.
He looks like a lamb, but speaks like a dragon. Not every word he speaks is from the dragon because it would be too easy to prove that he is false. Rather, his speech is mixed with the words of Christ and the words of the dragon.


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