When some of us picture a false prophet, we imagine an evil, sinister man (or woman) maliciously rubbing their hands together as they devise a wicked scheme to rob some poor, defenseless widow of her last few dollars. Others may picture a character from history, like Nostradamus, who grew quite popular for a time, but had a terrible track record.
According to Jesus’ own words in Matthew 7, both of these stereotypes are very inaccurate.
As we look deeper into this passage, we will find that the false prophets at the End of the Age are people who probably have the best intentions. They may genuinely believe that they are doing God’s will and have the signs and wonders to back up their claims! But when it’s all said and done, the miraculous signs and wonders are not God’s “Seal of Approval” on their lives and ministries.
Jesus will say “I never knew you, depart from me.”
Let’s take a closer look at Matthew 7, which will explain how to spot a wolf (and by extension, a false prophet).
Wolves and Covetousness
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? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
Jesus starts off by comparing the false prophets to wolves. Metaphors tend to stay consistent throughout the Word. If you look up all of the instances of wolf or wolves in the Bible, most of the time you will see the characteristic of “hunger” brought to the forefront. In this passage, Jesus describes the false prophets as ravenous wolves.
A wolf’s appetite will drive it to consume at all costs, especially when it is ravenous. Its desire is to feed off the flock’s resources (meat) so it can satisfy its flesh or, in my redneck vernacular, to get “Stuff.”
This is the definition of “Covetousness.” Most of us have learned from our Sunday school teachers and pastors that to “covet” means to desire something that belongs to your neighbor. While this definition (derived from what we read in the 10th commandment – Exodus 20:17) is true in part, it is not complete.
To covet means to intensely desire something, and coveting has both good and bad sides.
The good side of coveting is that you could greatly desire the things of God. In fact, we are told to covet, or earnestly desire, spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31).
The bad side of coveting is that you intensely desire things to satisfy your flesh and they don’t just have to belong to your neighbor! It could be the latest DVD. It could be a new house. It could even be a new Bible! How many of you know that we in the Western church are definitely a covetous people?
I pray almost daily that covetousness (in a bad sense) will not be found in me, and that I will learn to be satisfied with what I have, because covetousness is one of two key characteristics found in false prophets.
False Prophets and a Sinless Disguise
End time false prophets (wolves) are covered in wool, which is symbolic of being sinless (according to Isaiah 1:18). Wool gives comfort to the one wearing it, whether it is the wolf, the sheep, or the people who wear the wool clothes. This appearance of holiness is a great disguise (and comfort) to the wolf, because if the flock is continually deceived, the wolf can continue to satisfy its ravenous hunger.
At this point, it would be really easy to hate the wolf, but you have to understand – it’s a wolf’s instinct to satisfy its hunger (desire) at all costs. In fact, it feels no remorse, no guilt and no condemnation for its actions.
A wolf only does what it knows to do.
In the same manner, a false prophet is only performing the way he/she knows how. In fact, a false prophet will actually think that he/she is doing the will of God! False prophets are deceived into thinking that they are obeying the Master, when actually they are absolutely driven to take from the flock… all the while hiding behind their wool (holiness).
Fruit of the False Prophets
You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
Here’s something that we need to understand: Jesus didn’t say that we would notice the false prophets by their teaching or by their prophecy. A false prophet will say things that are scriptural – or almost scriptural.
It’s the FRUIT of the prophet that determines whether he/she is false or true. What kind of fruit should we look for? Most would immediately say “the Fruit of the Spirit” and they wouldn’t be wrong to do so.
We should absolutely look for the Fruit of the Spirit operating in a prophet’s life, but we also need to face the fact that this kind of fruit can be faked. It’s very easy for a prophet to act one way in public but another way behind closed doors. To simply ignore this truth “in the name of love” is to ignore Christ’s command to be “wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16).
False Prophets and Family
In addition to looking for the Fruit of the Spirit to determine whether we have a prophet or a wolf in our midst, we also need to look at what types of offspring (fruit – both spiritual and physical) is being produced by the prophet and his/her ministry.
- Do their spouses and children seem happy and at peace?
- Do they live by a godly standard?
- Do the people who follow their ministry exhibit a godly standard?
- Do their prophecies come true, and do they bring people back to God in repentance?
Using the points listed above (as well as this study in Matthew 7), you should be able to discern a false prophet fairly easy.
Many False Prophets Will Come
It is absolutely vital that we watch and judge prophets by their fruit. Jesus said in Matthew 24:4b-5 “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.”
Many want to interpret this verse to say that many will come claiming to be “the Christ” or “Jesus Christ” Himself. Aside from a very few exceptions, this is wrong! Look at the world around you! Have MANY come claiming to be Jesus? Aside from a few weirdos, not many. Have they deceived MANY? Nope.
But how many have come claiming that “Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed Son of God” – hundreds (maybe thousands)? How many have been deceived by their preaching – millions!
Jesus is saying “Take heed!” In other words, “PAY ATTENTION – WATCH!” Don’t accept everyone who says they are a prophet (or pastor, or teacher, or apostle) with open arms!
False Prophets and the Bad Seed
There are many who want to reason it out and say, “Well prophet ‘so-and-so’ started out genuine, but he was deceived by [enter any deception here] and now he’s in error,” but the Bible doesn’t say that! The Bible says in the next verse:
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
I understand that this is a very absolute statement. But the Word of God does not allow for the comfort of our flesh or our ever-changing human reasoning. In my flesh, I would say, “God, can’t we just believe the best of all these ministries?” Apparently not.
This verse leaves absolutely no wiggle room for the people who claim to be prophets… none! They are either a bad seed or a good seed. Let’s continue.
A False Prophet’s Destination
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
The end result for false prophets is not good. They’re going to hell – plain and simple. The Word itself said that they (the false prophets – trees) will all be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Side Note: I know what some of you are thinking. “Those are some big words for such a small guy! He better hope that they don’t come back to haunt him!”
Let me tell you something – the fear of God has gripped me as I write this. We are in a time where our fruit (good or bad) is being made manifest. That fruit came from a planted seed. Just like the false prophets, I too am susceptible to manifesting bad fruit, so I am in no way better than anyone else. But by recognizing the bad seed of covetousness (the lust for other things) in my life, I am able to uproot that seed and plant the seed of the Word in its place.
It’s healthy to have the fear of God in this area. We need a greater fear of the Lord when it comes to ministry, anyhow. Jesus said that the road is narrow and few there are that find it. I believe that verse; do you?
I’m also doing everything I can to understand the Word of God and take it at face value, and not go by the flawed teachings of man – which brings me to my next point.
Not Every Prophet
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.
Remember that the Word of God is exactly that – the Word of God! But the chapter breaks and the little section headers that divide up the Word are not. Many of our bibles treat the next few verses as a separate topic, but they are not.
Verses 21-23 are certainly applicable to individual people, but in the context of these verses, Jesus was still talking about false prophets. Think about it for a moment: not everyone who names the name of Jesus is doing “miraculous signs and wonders,” but miraculous signs and wonders are very abundant among the modern-day prophets.
Many will say to Me in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?”
Can you hear the surprise in their voices? This is not the response of a wicked, malicious people! They are genuinely shocked that they are not allowed into the Kingdom. All the wonderful miracles in Jesus’ name… all of the work done for the Kingdom culminates into one massive, righteous Rejection.
Nice People and Lawlessness
This should be an incredibly sobering moment in Scripture for all of us. Most of us are pretty nice people. Guess what? There are a lot of nice false prophets too!
Why are they rejected? Why would the Father turn them away?
And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!”
The Greek for “lawlessness” is anomia, which is a condition where you are without law.
Most of us have been taught that this is a general kind of lawlessness, as in being criminal in our actions, or indulging in a general sort of sin. But the root of the Word goes much deeper. The root is anomos, which is being in a state without GOD’S LAW.
I realize the last sentence may raise some red flags for some of you. And to try to list out (and explain) the handful of verses that most Christians use to support a law abolishing paradigm is well beyond the scope of this article. For now, we need to understand that, according to the words of Jesus, “practicing lawlessness” (practicing a lifestyle devoid of God’s Law) will keep the false prophets (and you) out of the Kingdom.
Jesus explicitly warned us to watch for false prophets and to avoid being deceived by their deceptive teaching. It’s easy to spot the false prophets who are obviously way off the map. It’s not so easy to spot the nice false prophet, who genuinely seems to be doing the work of the Kingdom. It’s even more difficult when we realize that the fruit of the false prophet may be sprouting in our own lives.
Most of us have spent quite some time looking for false prophets among an obviously wicked group of people. But we need to comprehend that a modern day false prophet is not necessarily intentional in his or her deceit, but rather is an unwitting contributor to their own destruction. May we not be counted among their number.