How do we know the difference between a true and false prophet? Let’s think in the realm of teaching to begin with. The Bible says there are true and false teachers, so what makes a teacher true or false?
2 Peter 2:3 (BSB) – In their greed, these false teachers will exploit you with tales they have concocted
(NLT) – In their greed they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money
A false teacher can say things that are true, and quote the Bible really well, but there is an issue with their delivery. What makes them false teachers is their heart/motive. If a teacher has greed in his heart, he can be moved to sculpt his teaching around whatever he deems necessary to get the money he desires. Tithes and offerings are biblical principles, so he can try to disguise his motives, but God looks at the heart:
1 Sam. 16:7 – the Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart
Satan does the same. Satan is a false god and an anti-Christ. He quotes scripture to us, making us believe we are listening to God’s voice, yet he twists the context God’s word so that we fall into sin:
Matt. 4:5-7 – Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’
Jesus knew the difference between God and Satan’s voices by comparing God’s words to the rest of God’s words. The way the word was being presented did not line up with God’s character as seen in the rest of the Bible. So, how do we know the difference in a true and a false prophet? Let me state yet another way:
Lev. 19:11 – Do not lie. Do not deceive one another.
Do not lie is one of the Ten Commandments, right? Yet, during the Holocaust people deceived Nazi soldiers by hiding Jewish people. They lied to the government to protect God’s people. Was this a sin? Let’s look:
2 Kings 5:15-19 – Then Naaman… said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel… please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.” “Go in peace,” Elisha said.
Naaman was a Syrian soldier with leprosy. When God healed him, he gave God his full heart, however it was part of his job to help the Syrian king bow to a false god. Naaman asked God’s forgiveness in advance and God knew the condition of his heart–that he didn’t want to bow to the false god. Naaman’s heart was positioned correctly with God, as were the hearts of those who protected the Jews during the Holocaust.
Sin is a heart issue and so sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between a Pastor who truly wants you to grow closer to God, and a pastor who is trying to take advantage of you somehow. If Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light, how much more can a person:
2 Cor. 11:14 – And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.
What is a false prophet?
2 Peter 2:1 – But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.
For there to be something false, there has to be something true. Just because there are false teachers, false pastors, or false prophets doesn’t mean we get rid of all teachers, pastors, and prophets. We should be wary against anything false, but should also praise God for giving us true prophets.
A false prophet, just like a false teacher or pastor, is a prophet whose heart motives have turned toward wickedness. Just like the false teacher or pastor, the false prophet can speak the truth and prophesy correctly what God is saying, but they will twist God’s words into something that benefits themselves:
Jer. 28:15-16 – Then the prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen, Hananiah! The Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies… you have preached rebellion against the Lord.
Here we see a true prophet confronting a false prophet. The reason Hananiah was a false prophet was because he preached rebellion against the Lord.
Rev. 2:20 – Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.
This false prophet taught people that sexual immorality was okay. Many false pastors today are teaching that the gifts of the Spirit aren’t for today. Both of these are sin and preaching rebellion against the Lord.
A true prophet, teacher, pastor, etc will be known to be true by the fruit of their work. Their words will line up with God’s character as seen in the rest of the Bible.
Matt. 7:15-17 – Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.