True and False Prophets

Foreword

Everyone is familiar with recent events in America. Joe Biden and Donald Trump both believe they won the election that took place on November 4th.

Knowing Donald Trump’s character, no one is greatly surprised that he believes he won and is refusing to concede. He says there was massive voting fraud and the election was stolen from him. What is more surprising is that huge numbers of his supporters agree with him. What is yet more surprising, and in some ways much more serious, is that a large number of people who claim to have prophetic ministries are also in full agreement with him.

Long before Trump’s first election victory and before he was even a candidate, some people prophesied that he would become president of America. Amazingly, against all the odds, they were proved right. Some people who rightly prophesied his first victory prophesied that he would have a second term. Many others also prophesied that he would win again. Some even had prophecies or revelations of vast voting fraud. Most of these prophets are still claiming that they were right (at the time of writing); they believe the truth about the election will come to light and Trump will still get his second term.

One of these prophets has written: “As many of you know, there has been a chorus of mature and tested prophets in America with a proven track record that have predicted Donald J. Trump would be re-elected President of the United States. I am one of them.”

These prophets are either right or wrong. This is an extremely serious problem. Large numbers of people listen to their words. Possibly even Trump himself is encouraged by them to hold on to the belief that the election was fraudulent and that he was the real winner. Sooner or later we will know; but this is what has caused me to search the Scriptures and study the subject of prophets and prophecy.

I am writing now in late November and will update this writing when appropriate.

Prophets

The Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) is divided into 3 parts: the Law (Torah), the Prophets (Neviim) and the Writings (Ktuvim). The Prophets consists of the books of Samuel and Kings and then most of the books from Isaiah to Malachi. These books of the Prophets in total are almost as long as the Law and the Writings put together. Added to this, Moses and King David and Daniel were all prophets, meaning that an even larger proportion of the OT was written by prophets. Clearly, prophets had a highly important role in Old Testament times.

When we turn to the New Testament, we find a very different picture. Prophets are certainly mentioned, but to nowhere near the same extent as in the Old Testament.

The word prophet actually occurs 157 times in the New Testament. A large number of these are quotations of Old Testament prophets. For example, “This is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’” (Matt 3:3). Several more refer to Jesus or John the Baptist. Of the remainder, the majority are warnings against false prophets. Jesus said, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt 7:15). Just a few references are to genuine New Testament prophets.

Why this huge difference between the Old Testament and the New?

The first few words of the letter to the Hebrews give us the basic answer: “God, who previously spoke at various times and in different ways to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by his Son.” In Old Testament times God never spoke directly to ordinary people. He only spoke through specially chosen people who were called prophets.

The writer of this letter went on to quote the words of the prophet Jeremiah, concerning the New Covenant: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah ... And they shall not teach, each one his neighbour and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.” (Heb 8:8,11 quoting Jer 31:31,34) (See Heb 8:8-11 for the full quote). These words are radical. They indicated the end of the old order which had continued for about 1500 years, and the beginning of something entirely new. God had finished speaking indirectly to his people through prophets and was going to speak to them directly.

Jesus himself spoke similar words: “the law and the prophets were until John” (Luke 16:16).

Peter quoted a similar passage from the prophet Joel, “And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17,18 quoting Joel 2:28,29). No longer did the Holy Spirit come only on prophets, but also on ordinary, humble individuals.

John said the same thing in different words: “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you” (1John 2:27).

What about Paul’s words to the Ephesians? Jesus “gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers” to equip the body of Christ? (See full quote in Eph 4:11-16.) The answer is in verse 13 which contains the significant word until: until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” The 5 ministries are necessary until people reach maturity and can experience the New Covenant in which they have their own direct relationship with God. They then have no need of teachers and prophets.

Paul gives some further teaching on prophets (see 1Cor 12:28-29, 1Cor 14:29-37, Eph 2:20, Eph 3:5); but quite a lot of it is to control their behaviour rather than to encourage them. In Eph 2:20, he writes that the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.”

Prophecy comes through the mouths of fallible human beings. They can be right and they can be wrong. Hence prophecy is intrinsically unsafe and unreliable. People can easily have genuine prophecies from the Lord and later on have thoughts which they think are from God, but are actually just the products of their own minds, or, worse still, even come from the enemy.

All the main New Testament writers gave warnings against false prophets. First and foremost, Jesus spoke at least three times on this subject:

In these last two prophecies, Jesus looked forward to the end of the age, the times, I believe, in which we now live. Read his whole discourse in Matt 24.

Peter, Paul and John all gave severe warnings:

Note carefully these three features of false prophets:

We can expect these false prophets to do everything that will give them credibility in the Christian world. They will have a much better knowledge of Scripture than the average believer. They will use the same language and talk in the same style as accepted Christian leaders and people with genuine prophetic ministries. Without doubt they will perform miracles, probably especially healing. They will found new churches. They will have large numbers of followers.

In these days there are undoubtedly genuine prophetic ministries, that are bringing life and blessing to large numbers of people. Also all kinds of healing miracles are happening, far more than in previous years and even including the raising of the dead.

Against this background, it is essential that we distinguish the false from the true.

Paul wrote these vitally important words, “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good” (1Thess 5:22).

That is exactly what we must now do.

Epilogue

1 Kings 22 tells an extraordinary story. Here is a brief summary.

Jehoshaphat, the righteous king of Judah, and Ahab, the wicked king of Israel, form an alliance to fight the king of Syria. Jehoshaphat says they should find out the will of the Lord before they go out to battle. Ahab calls 400 prophets to enquire. With one voice they prophesy success. “Go up to Ramoth-gilead and triumph; the Lord will give it into the hand of the king,” they say.

Jehoshaphat is uneasy, and asks if there is any prophet of YHWH they can call. Ahab says there is one called Micaiah, but that he never prophesies good things for him. They call Micaiah and he predicts disaster and the death of Ahab. He says that God has put a lying spirit in the mouths of the 400 prophets.

Ahab is angry and says, “Put this fellow in prison and feed him meager rations of bread and water, until I come in peace.”

Micaiah replies, “If you return in peace, the Lord has not spoken by me.”

The two kings go out to battle. The Israelites are defeated; Jehoshaphat escapes and survives but Ahab is hit by a random arrow and bleeds to death in his chariot.

Read the full story in 1 Kings 22.

I cannot escape the parallel between this story and the recent events in America. A large number of ancient prophets supported the evil King Ahab. One prophet stood against him. Today, many modern prophets have supported a man who is a serial adulterer, serial liar and thief (through business dealings and tax evasion) and callously responsible for the extra Covid deaths of probably thousands of his fellow citizens.

I believe most of these modern prophets are sincere people who genuinely seek to speak what they believe the Lord has shewn them, but I can only repeat once more the words of Paul: “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good” (1Thess 5:22).