Jesus Christ labeled false prophets as wolves in sheep’s clothing. Have you had the wool pulled over your eyes? How can you guard against being deceived?
God soundly condemns those who proclaim that they represent Him—speak on His behalf—but are, in reality, leading people away from Him and His way of life.
Notice His words of condemnation: “‘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” (Jeremiah 23:30-32, emphasis added throughout).
Clearly, any individual who claims to teach from the Bible should be extremely careful to preach the exact words of God and not cloud or water down His truths.
Christ’s warning about modern-day false prophets
Jesus Christ repeatedly warned His disciples about the threat of false teachers endangering the spiritual stability of members of His Church—His sheep.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught His disciples to be aware of counterfeit teachers: “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” (Matthew 7:15-16).
Toward the conclusion of His earthly ministry, Jesus Christ was asked by His disciples when the end of this present age would occur, and what would be the signs of His coming.
In response, the first sign Jesus emphasized was, “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5).
Notice that there will be many false teachers claiming to represent Christ, and many people will be deceived. The fact that they will call Him Lord or say He was the Christ doesn’t mean they truly obey Him or accurately represent Him.
Fruits to look for
A false prophet will not appear as a wolf, but will be disguised as a sheep. He will present himself as sheeplike—gentle, kind, nonthreatening, and perhaps with an outward show of humility.
The apostle Paul captured this depiction by stating: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Are these the “unfruitful works of darkness” the apostle Paul warned the Ephesian church about (Ephesians 5:11)?
Does it not surprise you that Satan has “his ministers” who appear like angels of light? And Christ stated they are “many,” not a few!
While outward appearances may deceive people, they certainly do not deceive God, as He judges individuals by what is in their hearts (1 Samuel 16:7).
In warning about false teachers, Jesus said: “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. 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?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23).
These are frightening words uttered by Christ, and we need to be sure we are not among those who think they are Christians but, in reality, are practicing “lawlessness.”
False prophets identified
Let’s investigate further how lawlessness produced by false ministers is defined. The Greek word literally means “violation of law,” not subject to law, “without law,” “lawless.”
Christ is described as One who “loved righteousness and hated lawlessness” (Hebrews 1:9). Furthermore, the apostle John, toward the end of the first century, stated: “Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). It is the opposite of showing love to God our Creator (1 John 5:3).
Christ clearly taught His disciples to uphold and promote His laws listed in the Bible: “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill . . . Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least [by those] in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17, 19).
Paul told the young evangelist Timothy to withdraw himself “if anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness” (1 Timothy 6:3).
Paul further warned Timothy that in the future, a time would arrive “when they will not endure sound doctrine,” but will instead “heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Clearly, false prophets or teachers are described by these passages.
Paul’s admonition to Timothy over 1,900 years ago is just as relevant today in the 21st century as it was then! As Paul cautioned Timothy, so we, too, have to “guard” (protect, to keep watch) what has been committed to our trust (1 Timothy 6:20-21).
These passages are so opposite to what is taught in many churches. Common doctrines today include teaching that God’s law is done away with, and that we are free from commandment-keeping. It is most unfortunate that people give support to those who “prophesy falsely” (Jeremiah 5:31).
Please note that God calls such a teaching “an astonishing and horrible thing” (verse 30). It is clear that this is not God’s will for those who claim to be His followers, and He desires that they come to see the errors of their ways. He wants the best for them, but tragically ancient Israel would not listen to Him (Jeremiah 6:16-17). And, sadly, many people today will not listen either.
The foremost false prophet of all time
It is not our intention to pass judgment on ministers of religion who teach falsely, as only God can judge the motives of the heart and render righteous judgment. In most cases they have been led astray by their own sincere but misguided teachers, and ultimately by the master deceiver, whose subtle and clever deceptions have permeated all aspects of human civilization.
Toward the end of the first century, the apostle John was given special insight into events leading right up to the end time (Revelation 1:1-3). He witnessed a vision of the archdeceiver and his powerful ability to blind and lead nations astray: “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil [adversary, foe, opponent] and Satan [slanderer], who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him” (Revelation 12:7-9).
Religious deception has been a major part of his treachery, and it still exists today!
The false prophet will eventually be destroyed by the returning King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and shortly afterward the devil will also be bound.The devil is also described as “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). Christ referred to Satan as “the ruler of this world” (John 14:30). The Greek word archon, here translated “ruler,” means to be “first (in rank or power)—chief (ruler), magistrate, prince, ruler.” So, Satan actually works to influence humans, their governments and their organizations.
Understandably, it is difficult to accept that this whole world—including all nations—has been deceived. But it is what the Bible states!
The apostle Paul was also dismayed that some Church members were turning to a different gospel: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ” (Galatians 1:6-7). He then pronounced a double curse on those who preach a different gospel (verses 8-9). Think deeply about what Paul said.
Where did Satan’s deception begin?
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were given specific instructions by their Maker about how to live full, abundant lives. Only after God had taught them was Satan allowed to make contact. And beyond all logical good sense, he was able to convince them that his teachings were better than those presented by their Creator. Astounding!
Adam and Eve were driven away from the Garden of Eden and the blessings God had intended for them. From that time to the present, mankind has continued to listen to Satan’s deceptions instead of God’s instructions. This deprived them of His spiritual knowledge, which, if followed, would lead to happiness, peace between nations, abundant spiritual and physical blessings, and freedom from physical and mental anguish and anxiety, as well as sorrow, violent crime and much more.
Do we now understand why there is so much religious confusion and so many differences of opinions among various churches, and why the world is beset with unsolvable problems?
When will this confusion reach a climax, and when will it end?
The final deception
We read in Revelation 13:11-18 of a powerful religious leader who will appear on the world scene. He is called “the false prophet” (Revelation 19:20) and possesses incredible powers to dazzle the world with miracles. “He deceives those who dwell on the earth” by performing “great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven in the sight of men” (Revelation 13:13-14).
The false prophet will eventually be destroyed by the returning King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Revelation 19:20), and shortly afterward the devil will also be bound (Revelation 20:1-3). These are prophecies yet to occur.
The source of mankind’s deception will be removed!
Jesus Christ will return to take over all world governments and set up a system that will disseminate priceless knowledge to all corners of the earth (Isaiah 11:9). Within this world-ruling government called the Kingdom of God, there will be no room for false prophets teaching biblical errors.
What’s next for you?
Millions of professing Christians take for granted the doctrines and human traditions they have been taught, without proving them for themselves. It is up to each of us to prove that our religious beliefs are in harmony with what the Bible teaches. Christ said that His true sheep follow Him, for they know His voice (John 10:4-5).
Who are we listening to? Christ, the true Shepherd of His sheep, or the wolves in sheep’s clothing who subtly entice people away from God’s teachings?
Our Heavenly Father is genuinely concerned about how we will respond. But He leaves the choice up to us!