Portrait of a False Prophet
by Sharon Lindbloom
During an email exchange a Latter-day Saint wrote, "You have
continually said that the 'LDS' church is led by a false prophet. Do you
even have the slightest idea who the prophet is right now? His name is
Gordon B. Hinckley, and HE IS A PROPHET OF GOD. You can't even sit there
and tell me that he is leading anyone astray -- he is a man of integrity
beyond your comprehension."1
I have encountered this sort of assertion many times. People seem to
think that a false prophet would have horns and bad teeth; that he would
be easily recognizable as evil. They think that if someone is attractive
or calls people to do "good" things, he must
represent the one true God. But what does the Bible say?
The Apostle Paul warned the Galatians about the possibility of an
"angel of light" appearing to them, bringing a different Gospel.2 He
told Timothy it was important to realize there would be men who have "a
form of godliness" but who, in fact, do not belong to God.3 Paul
cautioned the Corinthians against "false apostles [and] deceitful
workers disguising themselves as apostles of Christ." He wrote, "And no
wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore
it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as
servants of righteousness..."4
Jesus demonstrated His concern as well near His conclusion of the
Sermon on the Mount. Commanding the multitude to be on guard, He said,
"Beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothing, but
inwardly they are ravening wolves."5
The Bible teaches us that false prophets and teachers will have an
appealing appearance. We won't be tipped off by plaid pants and white
shoes. Instead, they will look like "sheep" -- that is, followers of
Christ. False apostles will pretend to be trueapostles,
maintaining a facade of godliness and good works. They will look like
people of integrity.
Nevertheless, Jesus says we should not be fooled: false teachers are
really ravenous wolves in disguise.
Paul told the Colossians he wanted them to be well-versed in the
truth so that no one would trick them "with enticing words."6He
wrote the church at Rome to watch out for those who try to turn their
hearts away with "good words and fair speeches."7
False prophets and teachers will sound good. They will flatter us
with their tongues and present persuasive arguments. They'll be
smooth-talkers. We'll enjoy listening to them. But Paul echoes Jesus,
warning us not to be fooled: eloquence does not equal truth.
Jesus solemnly instructed His followers that "[M]any false prophets
shall rise, and shall deceive many."8 "Take
heed that ye be not deceived..."9 "Take
heed lest any man deceive you..."10
Later Paul revealed future spiritual dangers. He told Timothy
"seducing spirits...speaking lies"11 would
draw some away from the faith. In another letter Paul charged Timothy to
continue in the true faith, being on guard against "seducers...[who
were] deceiving, and being deceived."12
In speaking of the last days Jesus warned of false prophets that
would even have the ability to "seduce" people with their "signs and
Deception is the primary tactic used by false prophets and teachers.
They lie, they mislead, they dissemble -- but they do it slyly. They are
convincing in their fraudulent ways. Some may even dupe us by performing
imitations of the very miracles of God. They won't be obvious deceivers;
they will be skilled in their trickery. "Behold," Jesus said, "I have
told you in advance."14
The Lord has revealed some of the things false teachers will say:
"'Behold, here is the Christ,'...'There He is,'...'Behold, He is in the
wilderness,'...'He is in the inner rooms'"15 Many
false prophets will say, "Lord, Lord," prophesying and casting out
demons in the very name of Jesus.16
God's Word shows that false prophets and teachers will speak of Jesus.
They will freely use His name, sounding like one of His own. They will
actually seem to urge people to find Him and come unto Christ.
In the Bible's portrait of false prophets we find beauty, talent and
charm. We find the admirable qualities of good works and devotion. We
find enticing messages that we love to hear and long to believe. Is
there any hope to escape their snare?
Jesus told us, "Ye shall know them by their fruits."17
What? But their fruits are beauty, talent, good works and devotion!
This doesn't help at all.
Or does it? Clearly Jesus did not mean we are to look at the outward
characteristics of these people's lives. The calling of prophets and
teachers is to declare the oracles of God for the edification of the
church, and to call sinners to be reconciled to God. The fruit Jesus
spoke of is the teachings of those claiming to speak for Him. Does it
conform to God's revealed truth in the Bible? That is the bottom line.
False prophets lead people astray. They carry the unsuspecting away from
the simple truths of the Gospel after "another Jesus...a different
spirit...or a different gospel."18
The writers of the Epistles used harsh language when warning about
false prophets. Unable to abide their teachings, church leaders exposed
them for what they were, stripped of all their external enticing beauty.
Peter said false teachers bring "destructive heresies" which in essence
deny the true Lord. Their teachings "malign" the "way of truth" and they
exploit their audiences with "stories they have made up."19 "Promising
freedom," Peter says, "they themselves are slaves."20
Jude describes false teachers as "hidden reefs" who are so successful
in their pretense as followers of Christ that they are not afraid to
fellowship with true believers. He says they are "clouds without water,
carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead,
uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam;
wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever."21
All throughout the Bible we are called to discernment: to recognize
false teachers for what they are. Like the leaders of the early church,
we are to see through the beauty, the flattering words, and the good
deeds. Gordon B. Hinckley claims to speak for God. Is he a "man of
integrity?" It doesn't matter. Does he speak of Christ? It doesn't
matter. Do his teachings conform to the truths of the Bible? This is the
relevant question -- the one we are required to answer.
- Punctuation and spelling corrected. Emphasis in the original.
Email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, 9.16.03
- Galatians 1:6-8
- 2 Timothy 3:5
- 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
- Matthew 7:15
- Colossians 2:4. NASB: "persuasive argument."
- Romans 16:18. NASB: "smooth and flattering speech..."
- Matthew 24:11
- Luke 21:8
- Mark 13:5
- 1 Timothy 4:1-2
- 2 Timothy 3:13
- Mark 13:22
- Matthew 24:25
- Matthew 24:23, 26
- Matthew 7:22
- Matthew 7:16
- 2 Corinthians 11:4
- 2 Peter 2:1-3 (NIV and NASB)
- 2 Peter 2:19
- Jude 1:12-13