TRUE AND FALSE
Part 9 in the series of the Supernatural in the Church
© Terry L. Craig 2013
FIRST: What is a “prophet”?
MANY people would claim the title “prophet,” but few actually are. In the world (and sometimes in the Church) people mistakenly believe that a prophet is merely someone who sees the future—a “seer” or foreteller or fortune teller. While people can call themselves whatever they want, the Bible has a standard for the term “prophet.”
A TRUE PROPHET leads people to trust and worship the Lord. Prophets aren’t merely here to tell us the future. Yes, there are times when God reveals things yet to come through prophets . . . but not all prophets are foretellers and much of the “prophecy” in the Bible was more about declaring the word of the Lord in current situations than offering a view of the future. Often, a prophet is someone with life-giving wisdom helping people to sort through the stuff of life. The true prophet is sent by God to enlighten, encourage, and warn.
A FALSE PROPHET (even if he/she is using the name of the Lord and displaying some sort of supernatural knowledge or power) is one who is leading people away from God—to worship other gods, to join his/her personal kingdom, or encouraging people to build one of their own.
It’s not the signs or wonders that make someone a true or false prophet—it’s who or what they encourage you to trust (believe, put at the center of your life). Throughout Scripture, this is the counsel of the Lord when it comes to judging true from false.
As I said in the previous article, before I became a Christian and began walking with Jesus, ALL of my friends were in the occult. All of them were “religious” people (many of them Catholics and Jews) who “prayed,” who lived “spiritual” lives, (who thought they were in contact with spirits and angels). Many of them had crucifixes or paintings of Jesus and angels in their homes. Each of them thought they were essentially doing “good” things, but, like Balaam in the Old Testament, they were attempting to keep a foot in both kingdoms (darkness and light). SADLY, it is the same with some “prophets” who actually stand in churches (or on TV) and claim to be Christian prophets and “apostles.” What? You think this could never happen?
[Jesus speaking] “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:21-23
[Paul the apostle speaking] “For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.” 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
If you look at an advertisement for a psychic or a fortune teller, it will usually entice people by appealing to their fears (the need to control), lust (a consuming desire, an addiction that becomes a god in one’s life), pride ("Oh, you are SO gifted, you will go far"), or greed (the endless need to acquire more). There have been times when I have seen appeals to the same motives in churches.
Can false prophets have supernatural power or abilities?
I know it will upset some people when I say this, but yes, sometimes they can.
Much of false prophecy, fortune telling, and psychic reading is really showmanship mixed with trickery and the ability to read body language. (Recently, science has confirmed the idea that your facial expressions and body language can reveal a lot about what you are thinking.) So, sometimes it's entirely a hoax, an elaborate scheme. But sometimes it's truly demonic. Even then, a psychic or fortune teller may not be knowingly in league with demons. Many think they are dealing with “good spirits,” or angels, or that they only use the information they get with good intentions, but Scripture says that Satan can even disguise himself as an "angel of light" (2 Cor. 11:14).
WHO IS GREATER?
I remember talking with a young man on a Christian forum years ago who had been raised in a denominational church where they believed the supernatural stopped being manifested when the apostles passed away (2,000 years ago). He decided to go and confront this psychic lady in his town. He was going to tell her she was a fool if she thought her occult powers were real and she needed to repent and find truth. But during his conversation with this lady, she revealed things to him (about himself) he was sure NOBODY could know. She “read his mail” so to speak, and she pretty much devoured his faith! What happened? He, like many in church today, assumed there was no power in such things and that his four-step evangelism plan would have her crying at the altar of the Lord in no time flat. In his (presumptuous) zeal, he thought he’d go score one for God. Like the seven sons of Sceva (Acts 19:13-16), he ran away bruised, dazed, and ashamed.
Should we be afraid of people in the occult? No. God is greater than anything or anyone we can face on this earth. We just need to be going places at HIS request, in HIS timing, strength, and wisdom—not presumptuously parading around like we have a big dog (power or truth) on a leash that we can use to pounce on anyone or anything we desire to overcome.
Signs, Wonders, & Powers
Let me state this clearly. People—in and of themselves—have NO “powers” other than these: intellect, faith, and physical strength (all of which are gifts from God). If someone is truly demonstrating supernatural power, then they are acting as a conduit for the Lord, or for demons. It’s that simple. It’s never “our” power and those who think so are deceived. (Acts 3:6-16)
TESTS—silly, inaccurate, and true
It’s silly to think that signs, wonders, or demonstrations of power are the means of determining if someone is a prophet sent by God, yet this is what so many people do.
Everyone who claims an interest in prophecy/prophets should spend at least few moments looking at one of the most inaccurate ways that we are commonly told to use in “testing” prophets: the “what he/she says has to happen” test.
Yes, I agree this concept is in Scripture (and here’s the verse):
If the prophet speaks in the Lord’s name but his prediction does not happen or come true, you will know that the Lord did not give that message. That prophet has spoken without my authority and need not be feared.—Deut. 18:22
But problems arise when we insist on snipping this verse from the pages of Scripture and using it as the ultimate test when judging someone who claims to be a prophet. We often presume we will be capable of applying it accurately and this presumption can lead us to stumble. Let me give you three quick examples where this rule, if applied, would have led to error:
PRESUMING TO KNOW THE LORD’S TIMING
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.—Isaiah 7:14, NIV
Although a virgin (Mary) did conceive a son and that son was indeed “God with us” (the meaning of Immanuel) . . . the fulfillment of this prophecy happened centuries after Isaiah spoke it. Anyone in Isaiah’s lifetime could have declared him a false prophet if they were applying the “has to happen” test and insisting it didn’t happen (in a time and a way that they could observe it). It didn’t happen “soon” or even in Isaiah’s lifetime. Did that make Isaiah a false prophet? No.
IMPROPER SPIRIT OF INQUIRY
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”—Micah 5:2
Prophecy pointed to Bethlehem as the place where the Messiah would be born. When the Pharisees wanted to write off Jesus as presenting a false hope (and therefore a false prophet and false messiah), they clung to the notion that Jesus was from Nazareth. Was Jesus called, “Jesus of Nazareth”? Yes. And His last place of residence (before he began traveling in ministry) was, in fact, Nazareth. But was he born there? No. He was born in Bethlehem. Any of them (who questioned Jesus continually—both in person and through others) could have simply asked Him where He was born. But they wanted Him to be a charlatan so they could keep doing what they were doing. They clamped onto the title “Jesus of Nazareth” as their solution and said He couldn't be the one sent from God because he was "from Nazareth."
NOT ALLOWING FOR GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY:
In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” Isaiah 38:1-3
Although the prophecy God delivered through Isaiah said he was about to die . . . did Hezekiah spiral down and die then? No. He begged the Lord for more time and the Lord decided to give it to him. He sent Isaiah back to tell Hezakiah he would live—and he lived for many more years. God is sovereign and His ways are not ours.
Here we sit with 20/20 hindsight wanting to blame the Pharisees and other religious leaders for not seeing the “obvious” nature of Jesus’ power, person, life, and mission. But, if we look more carefully, we can see that the people of that day and time didn’t have the advantage of seeing the big picture—and none of them (not even the disciples whom He plainly told what was about to happen) could figure it all out while it was happening. Even the disciples kept trying to wrap the prophecies about the King and the Kingdom of God around what they wanted to see happen (as in Jesus throwing off the yoke of Roman rule and establishing His kingdom on earth right that moment). Is Jesus the King of a kingdom right now? Yes. Are we part of it? Yes. But is that all there is? No! Will He come again? Yes. Will every knee eventually bow to Jesus? Yes, but there is still MUCH about these things we cannot understand from our limited perspective.
The BEST test of a prophet (and his/her words) is here:
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. Deut. 13:1-3a
Notice it’s not the signs or wonders that make someone a true or false prophet—it’s who or what you walk away trusting (believing, put at the center of your life) that determines whether something is from God's kingdom or the kingdom of darkness. Throughout Scripture, this is the counsel of the Lord when it comes to judging true from false.
If you are in the presence of someone (billed as a psychic OR even someone who claims to be a Christian prophet) and they appear to be operating with supernatural powers/abilities, what you need to ask yourself is: Which way is this leading people?
© Terry L. Craig 2013
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Terry L. Craig is a follower of Christ, a Bible nerd, and a comparative thinker who likes to engage people and get them thinking about why they believe what they believe. She's an author, an indie publisher, and occasional speaker.
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