‘”For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.”
We have been warned! Christians and their churches, conferences and denominations are surrounded on every side, within and without, by false preachers and teachers.
Really? On every side? Within and without? Who are they? Where are they?
That’s one of the challenges facing Christians today – how to identify false preachers and teachers. Some of them are easy to identify, some are difficult — but identify we must because that’s what God has told us to do.
How do I know that to be true? Because I’ve read A Layman’s Guide To False Preachers and Teachers. If you haven’t read the first part of our special series, please click here to read it.
[You’ll find a copy of A Layman’s Guide To False Preachers and Teachers in your Bible.]
#1 – false preachers and teachers are ungodly and dangerous to your spiritual health
[This is a continuation of our last study. If you haven’t read Part 2, please click here . You may find it helpful as you move into the next part of the study.]
Turning to our Layman’s Guide To False Preachers and Teachers we read this –
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” Matthew 7:15
1st Century Jewish Understanding
What would a Jewish audience listening to Jesus of Nazareth in the early part of the 1st Century AD understand by the words “false prophets”? What about the reference to ‘wolves’ in ‘sheep’s clothing”?
Jews of that time period believed that the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament of the Christian Bible) was the Word of God. They knew a lot about false preachers and teachers (aka false prophets).
The people of Israel had a long history (as in many centuries) of listening to false preachers and teachers and they paid dearly for it. God led them out of slavery in Egypt by the prophet and Lawgiver, Moses. Here’s what Moses warned the Israelites about false prophets –
“If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst.” Deuteronomy 13:1-5
“But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ 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 18:20-22
We are introduced here to two types of false prophets that Moses warned Israelites about in the Old Testament –
- The first is a prophet who gives the people a sign or wonder and it comes to pass. Sounds good so far, right? The problem with the first type of prophet is that he also says, “‘Let us go after other gods’—which you have not known—‘and let us serve them.” Not good.
- The second is a prophet who speaks in the name of the Lord, but the thing they prophesy does not happen or come to pass. Also, not good.
What should Israelites have done with either of those two types of false prophets?
- “that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death”
- “that prophet shall die.”
Was there ever a time in Israel’s history where they DID put false prophets to death for either type of false prophecy? Yes. Here is one example –
“And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, ‘Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again.’ Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!’ And Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal! Do not let one of them escape!’ So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Brook Kishon and executed them there.” 1 Kings 18:36-40
Was there ever a time in Israel’s history where they did NOT put false prophets to death for either type of false prophecy? Yes.
For example, let’s look at some of Judah’s prophets and priests prior to and through the Babylonian invasion and destruction of Jerusalem and captivity of God’s people –
“An astonishing and horrible thing Has been committed in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule by their own power; And My people love to have it so. But what will you do in the end?” Jeremiah 5:30-31
“Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them, Everyone is given to covetousness; And from the prophet even to the priest, Everyone deals falsely.” Jeremiah 6:13
“Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Behold, the prophets say to them, ‘You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.’ ‘And the Lord said to me, ‘The prophets prophesy lies in My name. I have not sent them, commanded them, nor spoken to them; they prophesy to you a false vision, divination, a worthless thing, and the deceit of their heart. Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in My name, whom I did not send, and who say, ‘Sword and famine shall not be in this land’—‘By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed!” Jeremiah 14:13-15
“Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; They speak a vision of their own heart, Not from the mouth of the Lord. They continually say to those who despise Me, ‘The Lord has said, ‘You shall have peace’; And to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, ‘No evil shall come upon you.’ For who has stood in the counsel of the Lord, And has perceived and heard His word? Who has marked His word and heard it? Behold, a whirlwind of the Lord has gone forth in fury—A violent whirlwind! It will fall violently on the head of the wicked. The anger of the Lord will not turn back Until He has executed and performed the thoughts of His heart. In the latter days you will understand it perfectly. I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in My counsel, And had caused My people to hear My words, Then they would have turned them from their evil way And from the evil of their doings. ‘Am I a God near at hand,’ says the Lord, ‘And not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places, So I shall not see him? says the Lord; ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’ says the Lord. ‘I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in My name, saying, ‘I have dreamed, I have dreamed!’ How long will this be in the heart of the prophets who prophesy lies? Indeed they are prophets of the deceit of their own heart, who try to make My people forget My name by their dreams which everyone tells his neighbor, as their fathers forgot My name for Baal. ‘The prophet who has a dream, let him tell a dream; And he who has My word, let him speak My word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat?’ says the Lord. ‘Is not My word like a fire? says the Lord, ‘And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? ‘Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,’ says the Lord, ‘who steal My words every one from his neighbor. Behold, I am against the prophets,’ says the Lord, ‘who use their tongues and say, ‘He says.’ Behold, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,’ says the Lord, ‘and tell them, and cause My people to err by their lies and by their recklessness. Yet I did not send them or command them; therefore they shall not profit this people at all,’ says the Lord.’ So when these people or the prophet or the priest ask you, saying, ‘What is the oracle of the Lord?’ you shall then say to them, ‘What oracle?’ I will even forsake you,’ says the Lord. ‘And as for the prophet and the priest and the people who say, ‘The oracle of the Lord!’ I will even punish that man and his house. Thus every one of you shall say to his neighbor, and every one to his brother, ‘What has the Lord answered?’ and, ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ And the oracle of the Lord you shall mention no more. For every man’s word will be his oracle, for you have perverted the words of the living God, the Lord of hosts, our God. Thus you shall say to the prophet, ‘What has the Lord answered you?’ and, ‘What has the Lord spoken?’ But since you say, ‘The oracle of the Lord!’ therefore thus says the Lord: ‘Because you say this word, ‘The oracle of the Lord!’ and I have sent to you, saying, ‘Do not say, ‘The oracle of the Lord!’ ‘therefore behold, I, even I, will utterly forget you and forsake you, and the city that I gave you and your fathers, and will cast you out of My presence. And I will bring an everlasting reproach upon you, and a perpetual shame, which shall not be forgotten.” Jeremiah 23:16-40
“Therefore do not listen to the words of the prophets who speak to you, saying, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon,’ for they prophesy a lie to you; for I have not sent them,” says the Lord, ‘yet they prophesy a lie in My name, that I may drive you out, and that you may perish, you and the prophets who prophesy to you. Also I spoke to the priests and to all this people, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: ‘Do not listen to the words of your prophets who prophesy to you, saying, ‘Behold, the vessels of the Lord’s house will now shortly be brought back from Babylon’; for they prophesy a lie to you. Do not listen to them; serve the king of Babylon, and live! Why should this city be laid waste? But if they are prophets, and if the word of the Lord is with them, let them now make intercession to the Lord of hosts, that the vessels which are left in the house of the Lord, in the house of the king of Judah, and at Jerusalem, do not go to Babylon.” Jeremiah 27:14-18
“Your prophets have seen for you False and deceptive visions; They have not uncovered your iniquity, To bring back your captives, But have envisioned for you false prophecies and delusions.” Lamentations 2:14
The Jews who heard Jesus teach knew about false prophets and how those false prophets had brought Israel and Judah to ruin.
They also understood the phrase “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” They knew that God referred to His people as ‘sheep’ – “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:1 … also, Psalm 79:13; 95:7; 100:2-4) They also knew the danger of wolves mixing with a flock of sheep. The wolves would scatter the sheep and kill many of them.
The word picture Jesus painted was not lost on His Jewish audience.
We invite you to watch this video and consider the message about what’s happening in churches across our country. May God help us to do His will.
We will see what else Jesus and His disciples taught about ungodly and dangerous prophets who come as wolves in sheep’s clothing in the next part of our special series – A Layman’s Guide To False Preachers and Teachers.
We have been publishing articles and eBooks about false preachers and teachers for many years. Here are some you may find helpful:
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.