“For false Christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it” (Matthew 24:24-26).
Jesus Christ gave us this warning about the last days. He warned there shall be “many” false prophets. I believe we are living in the last days, but yet when we take a casual look around there do not seem to be that many. Or are there not really? Is it possible that our perception has been lulled by being constantly bombarded by falsehood that we can no longer discern?
I remember reading a magazine where one prophet predicted; “Michael Jackson will marry again.” Wow! That’s spectacular prophecy! The magazine will go on to sell by the millions because of this cover story! Sometimes, I think I can do better than most of these guys by just guessing.
Then there was this advert from an American magazine: “Prophetic Ministries is committed to raising up a people who have an ear to hear what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church. The equipping process begins with the School of the Prophets. When you have completed the School of the Prophets you will have in your possession ten videotapes.
“After completion of the School of the Prophets you will receive ordination and ministerial license from Prophetic Ministries Tabernacle of Fort Worth, Texas. You will then become a part of the prophetic move of this ministry. Ordained graduates automatically become a part of the Prophetic Alumni.
“The Prophetic Alumni are seasoned ministers with many different gifts that make up God’s army ready to do battle against the psychic network. $45.00 each lesson, $450.00 all ten lessons. Postage, handling and taxes included. Accepting MasterCard, Visa, Discover and American Express. Call toll-free on …”
The truth of the matter is that prophets are sprouting up everywhere these days, and everybody wants to get a piece of the action and make some profits by becoming prophets.
Other adverts border on the ridiculous. For instance, they said that after completion of their lessons you are required to make your payment, and only then will they ‘activate’ your anointing! What should our reaction be? Shall we write it all off as a bunch of fanatics or laugh it off as a clever money-making scheme that preys on the superstitious and the gullible?
At the same time, the Bible promises us that the gift of prophecy is one of the abiding gifts to the church today. Is it possible that in the midst of all this chicanery, there is the genuine, the real thing, obscured by all the counterfeits? Let’s try to get some answers.
Basically, a prophet need not have writings in the Bible to be recognised as one. Look at John the Baptist for example. Jesus said of him, “A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.’
“Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:9-11).
Ever heard of the prophet Elijah? The one who was translated into heaven without facing death? Did he write anything in Scripture? No! How about Elisha? Negative again! Time will fail me to talk about Gad and Ahijah and Shmaiah, Iddo and Obed, not common names but nevertheless are all called prophets by the Bible though without any writings in the Holy Scripture!
Nathan is an interesting one. He fearlessly stared down that guilty king David, who not only impregnated the wife of one of his soldiers but also went further and murdered the soldier, Uriah, to cover up his sin. Nathan pointed his finger in the adulterous king’s face and cried out, “You are the man!” Nathan wrote prophetic writings, but not one of them is included in the Old Testament.
What about women prophets or prophetesses? We have Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (II Kings 22:14), Anna of the Christmas story (Luke 2:36), Philip the evangelist who had four daughters and all four prophesied (Acts 21:9). Please note I’m not talking about the ordination of women elders and pastors. It is not my burden today. However, my position is clear: for all things of God there must be two things: a clear biblical example AND a clear biblical teaching.
Having said that, what does it take to be a full-fledged card-carrying prophet?
May we suggest four tests by which you can tell the difference between the true and the false prophet.
♦ “And if you say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ — when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).
We can’t simply take a fulfilled prediction as the infallible sign! However, if a professed prophet makes a prediction that does not come true, that alone disqualifies them as a true prophet. But if he/she makes a prediction that does come true, that simply advances them to the next level of testing.
♦ “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).
Let none deceive themselves with the belief that they can become holy while wilfully violating one of God’s laws. The commission of a known sin silences the witnessing voice of the Spirit and separates the individual from God. To the Law (what God wrote) and to the testimony (what the other writers wrote), if they speak not according to that it’s because they have no light (not a little light or some light but no light).
We are advised not to swallow everything that is said from the pulpit but be like the Bereans: “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). This is a timely warning. These days, more than ever before, preachers have a tendency of saying “Thus says the Lord” when the Lord has not spoken. Check it all for yourself. I submit to the same test. I don’t expect to be let off. Besides, I personally, will not be part of predicting the future except for three things: you will pay taxes, you will die and you will pay more taxes.
♦ “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this, you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world” (1 John 4:1-3).
The true prophet today will be passionately Christ-centred. He/she will exalt and glorify and honour the Lord Jesus Christ in every pronouncement.
♦ “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 thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:15-20).
What is the lifestyle of the one who claims to be a prophet? The question in itself would weed out a host of television stars that, with the bejewelled and bedecked finery, contradict the very life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth! “By their fruits you will know them.” Does he/ she seek more to demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit more than the gifts of the Spirit? I am always suspicious of the one who endeavours to prove his or her calling to me by manifesting some sort of supernatural demonstration! This causes an emotional excitement, a mingling of the true with the false, that is well adapted to mislead.
Jesus warned that when we hear of some of these wonders being performed somewhere not to go see. Our senses can be deceived thoroughly and hence Christ warns us to guard jealously these avenues to our brain. Remember, “And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). The most supernatural of all evidences is the evidence of the Spirit of Jesus in the life of that human being.
♦ Ultimate Test: “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him” (1 John 2:4-5). Here is the test of every man’s profession. We cannot accord holiness to any man without bringing him to the measurement of God’s only standard of holiness in heaven and in earth.
The claim to be a prophet is, in itself, evidence that he who makes this claim is far from holy. It is because he has no true conception of the infinite purity and holiness of God or of what they must become who shall be in harmony with His character; because he has no true conception of the purity and exalted loveliness of Jesus, and the malignity and evil of sin, that man can regard himself as holy. The greater the distance between himself and Christ, and the more inadequate his conceptions of the divine character and requirements, the more righteous he appears in his own eyes.
When Job heard the voice of the Lord out of the whirlwind, he exclaimed: “Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord and said “Woe is me! For I am undone” (Isaiah 6:3,5). Paul, after he was caught up into the third heaven and heard things which it was not possible for a man to utter, speaks of himself as “less than the least of all saints” (2 Cor. 12: 2-4). And it was the beloved John who leaned on Jesus’ breast and beheld His glory, then fell as one dead before the feet of the angel (Rev. 1:17).
Forewarned is forearmed!