Who would have thought that false prophets would still be running around today? Clearly, not a lot of Christians as discernment seems to have been thrown out the window. Not only has discernment gone, but an unwillingness to call out obvious false prophets has arisen. Fear of offending someone has caused Christians to cower in a corner while false prophets ravage Christianity. Today we'll do a brief survey of what the Bible has to say about false prophets. I'll take us through Jesus' and Peter's warnings about false prophets, and then we'll jump back into the Old Testament to see what qualifies someone as a false prophet.
A great place to start is with Jesus' words on false prophets. About the middle of his discourse on the Mount of Olives, Jesus warns his apostles of the coming false christs and false prophets:
Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. (Matthew 24:23 - 25)
It should be no surprise to us that false prophets are active in Christianity today. Jesus makes it clear that false prophets will arise to try and lead people astray. Not only that, they will be able to 'perform great signs and wonders'. The ability (or supposed ability) to perform miracles and other signs is not an indicator of a true prophet. Jesus says here that these false prophets will perform great signs to lead people astray. So don't assume a so-called prophet is of God solely on the basis that they can perform miracles (which for the most part aren't real miracles anyway).
Next, let's look at what the Apostle Peter had to say about false prophets:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. (2 Peter 2:1 - 3)
Another clear warning about false prophets and teachers arising in the Church. Peter warns that many will follow these false prophets and teachers, so it shouldn't shock us when false prophets have large followings. They bring a message that is easy on the ears and makes people feel good (2 Timothy 4:1 - 5). The truth is cast aside in favor of grandiose displays of spiritual prowess, which are actually either magic tricks or demonic deceptions.
Now that we've been warned about false prophets, let's take a look at what God says about true and false prophecy. A good starting point is this passage in Deuteronomy 18:
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:20 -22)
What a straightforward test of prophecy! If the prophecy does not come to pass, it was not from God. Therefore, if the prophecy does not come to pass, the prophet is a false prophet! Such a simple test, yet it is completely ignored by many Christians today.
I have heard the argument that sometimes prophets get prophecies wrong because humans are fallible. People claim that even though God's words to that prophet are accurate, the prophet can get them mixed up because they're just a poor, fallible human.
I don't know if I have heard a bigger load of rubbish than this argument. If you get a prophecy wrong, according to the Bible, you are a false prophet. You don't get a second chance. If you were a true prophet, every prophecy that ever exited your mouth would be 100% accurate. God doesn't get prophecies wrong, and he sure doesn't let us screw those prophecies up.
And if we applied that argument to the Bible, how could we ever trust what was written? To prophesy is not simply to foretell the future but to communicate the words of God. Those who wrote the various books of the Bible were prophets, and if they were able to get prophecy wrong, then we might as well throw the whole Bible out.
Moving on to another relevant passage:
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! Your prophets have been like jackals among ruins, O Israel. You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the day of the Lord. They have seen false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word. Have you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever you have said, ‘Declares the Lord,’ although I have not spoken?” (Ezekiel 13:1 - 7)
I hope God's standard for prophecy is becoming clear. When speaking to Ezekiel, God says that false prophets speak 'from their own hearts'. They don't hear from God, they blurt out whatever sounds good to them. God won't fulfill the word of a false prophet just because they exclaim, 'Declares the Lord!'. It's blasphemy to speak in the name of God a false prophecy that was never communicated to you by God. Don't ascribe to God words that he never said.
To finish up we'll jump back to Jeremiah and see how a false prophet named Hananiah tried pulling a fast one on Jeremiah, Israel, and God. I won't put the whole chapter up here, but you can read the story in Jeremiah 28.
Jeremiah had been prophesying that Israel would be in captivity in Babylon for seventy years, serving the king of Babylon (Jeremiah 25:1 - 14). Note that this was a true prophecy that God himself spoke to Jeremiah. Of course, Israel would not have liked to hear this, and Hananiah the son of Azzur took it upon himself to contradict God. Which was really stupid.
Hananiah bowled up to Jeremiah and in front of all the priests and people in the house of God proclaimed that in just two years, God would bring the exiles back from Babylon and restore Israel (Jeremiah 28:1 - 4). Sounds fishy considering God just said a few chapters earlier, through the prophet Jeremiah, that Israel would be in captivity for seventy years. There's a big difference between two years and seventy years.
Jeremiah then replied with an 'Amen!'. He said that wouldn't it be great if God did what Hananiah just claimed he would (Jeremiah 28:5 - 6). Only two years in captivity as opposed to seventy? Sign me up.
Then Jeremiah lays down a challenge and says to Hananiah that if peace truly comes to pass, 'then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet' (Jeremiah 28:7 - 9). Hananiah then repeats his false prophesy with some added theatrics, but Jeremiah walks away, waiting to hear from the Lord (Jeremiah 28:10 - 11).
God then speaks again to Jeremiah, and Jeremiah reiterates to Hananiah that God is giving Israel and other nations into the hands of king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar will rule them with a yoke of iron and Israel will serve him (Jeremiah 28:12 - 14).
Finally, Jeremiah had a solemn word for Hananiah. He said that as Hananiah was not sent by God to prophesy, and the fact that Hananiah made Israel believe a lie, God will remove him from the face of the earth. And in that same year, Hananiah died (Jeremiah 28:15 - 17). He didn't even get a chance to see if his two years until Israel was free prophecy came to pass. Which it didn't because Israel was in captivity for seventy years just as Jeremiah prophesied.
I'm not trying to say that the end of all false prophets is an early death. But there are real consequences for proclaiming false prophecies. Not just for the false prophet, but also for those they have deceived. A false prophet doesn't just hurt themselves, they hurt all those who eagerly follow them.
The main point I want you to get from this look at false prophets is that all true prophecy from God will come to pass. If you are listening to a so-called prophet, don't believe what they say just because they are putting on a grand spiritual show with supposed healings and miracles. Look deeper at what they are saying and check up on their prophecies to see if they come to pass or not. And if they don't come to pass, you can be sure that person is a false prophet.