“For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” (Matthew 24:5 KJV)
Appearances can be deceiving. We’ve all learned that one way or another. Maybe it was that book with the beautiful cover that you couldn’t get past the first chapter. Or that food that looked amazing but tasted awful. Or that person that seemed so nice but ended up betraying your trust.
We’ve all been there. When it comes to the Church, Jesus taught us that this message of caution also applies. He warned us about false prophets that would come after Him, claiming to come from God, but who are deceivers. It is of utmost importance for every Christian to know how to discern them.
#1 Deceivers Inside the Church
On more than one occasion, Jesus warned His disciples about people that would come, claiming to be from Him, but who have nothing to do with Him. Jesus said, “many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:11 KJV). He said that some people would even reject Him and accept those liars instead (John 5:43).
False prophets are those prophets or preachers that claim to speak in the name of God, but their message doesn’t come from the Lord (Jeremiah 14:14; 23:21,25-27). Jesus compared those people to ravening wolves disguised as sheep because of how dangerous and deceitful they are (Matthew 7:15). At Judgment Day, they will claim to have done many wonders in Jesus’s name (Matthew 7:22). But He will say to them: “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:23 KJV).
Many people will be deceived because those false prophets are masters of manipulation. They say what people want to hear (Jeremiah 23:16; Micah 3:5). They twist the Bible to justify their heresies. They are so deceiving that, if the Lord had allowed, they would convince even God’s elect (Mark 13:22).
Biblical writers like Paul, John, and Peter also wrote about the danger of false prophets. Paul told the Ephesians that “of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30 KJV). John wrote that “many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 KJV). Peter wrote that “there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious way” (2 Peter 2:1-2 KJV). This is a serious matter that requires our attention.
#2 We Need to Be Aware
When Jesus and the apostles warned us about the deceivers inside the Church, they made it clear that we cannot trust appearances. The false prophets “look like” one of us. They claim to come from Jesus and to be a true disciple. That doesn’t mean that we cannot trust anyone in the Church. But each one of us needs to be critical of what is preached and taught, starting with our local community.
Paul taught the Corinthians to test every prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:29). John told us to “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1 KJV).
We need to do like the people in Berea did when they heard Paul and Silas’ teachings: “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11 KJV). Paul wasn’t bothered by their attitude, on the contrary. He said that the Bereans “were more noble than those in Thessalonica” for doing what they did (Acts 17:11 KJV).
When we approach a brother or sister in Christ to correct them, we need to do it with meekness, gentleness, and love (2 Timothy 2:25; Ephesians 4:2; Proverbs 15:31-32). We know that even legitimate Christians make mistakes. None of us is perfect. But we all should repent and change when confronted with our errors and sins.
#3 The Need for Discernment
Jesus and the apostles also told us how to identify false prophets. Jesus said that we “shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16 KJV). Like the Pharisees of His time, the false prophets claim to obey the Word of God, but they don’t produce fruit of righteousness (Matthew 7:15-20), like the repentance of their sins, utmost love for God, love for the people, etc. Whatever good they did, they did it out of pride, to be admired by people (Matthew 6:2,5).
The apostle Peter described the false prophets in 2 Peter chapter 2. Even though they put on a show to pretend that they are legitimate disciples of Jesus, they “cannot cease from sin” (2 Peter 2:14 KJV). They even manipulate the Word of God to justify their sin.
More than anything else, it is the Holy Spirit who helps us discern the truth. John wrote that “ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things” (1 John 2:20 KJV). John also wrote that “We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6 NKJV).
The apostles’ voices come to us today through the Bible. Whoever teaches something that goes against the truth revealed in the Bible is teaching through a spirit of error. No one is perfect. Anyone can make mistakes. But we need to know the Bible and be filled with the Holy Spirit so we can discern the false prophets and confront them as the Bible teaches us to do.
False prophets are as old as the Old Testament, and they still exist today. They come from inside the Church. They fool many people into believing their lies. They manipulate the Word of God and draw people away from the Lord. Jesus said that His sheep know His voice, so they cannot be deceived by others (John 10:4-5,8). We need to know Jesus, know what the Bible teaches about Him, and know “His voice.” Then we will be able to recognize the false prophets that claim to come in His name.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.