Read Matthew 7:13-27 very carefully. Jesus tells of a group of people who have set out on a journey to heaven – a group of people who think they have dedicated their lives to Jesus Christ. Sadly, they won’t make it. He warns that the road to hell is broad and many people, even many who believe they are sincere Christians, are traveling that road. Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life and very few will even find it.
In this particular passage, Jesus doesn’t give us a long list of sins that will send us down the road to hell with the mass of lost humanity. But, to those who desire to live godly, He warns: “Beware of false prophets.”
Mention false prophets, and people conjure up visions of aboriginal voodoo doctors or unscrupulous TV evangelists. Is this correct according to Scripture? Not necessarily. While a voodoo practitioner is a prophet of sorts, he doesn’t claim to be a prophet of Jesus Christ. Further, it is possible for an unscrupulous preacher to teach the truth and a sincere preacher of impeccable character to be in gross error.
The Bible tells us plainly that we can recognize the false prophets by their fruits, by what they teach. They won’t appear to be false prophets, though; they will appear to be ministers of righteousness (2 Corinthians 11:10-15). They will say they love the Lord, they love the Word, and they love you. They will persuade you to call on the Lord for salvation, but they will instruct you to call on the Lord just a little differently than the apostles taught. They will preach right out of the Bible, but they will change the gospel in some way. So much of what they preach will be true, however, that the unwary would scarcely notice the changes.
Most preachers today teach that just about everyone who even claims to believe in the Lord shall be saved, but Jesus clearly warns us that not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord” shall enter in. He tells us many people will plead with Him on Judgment Day, saying, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” Then Jesus tells these people to get away from Him and calls them workers of iniquity, saying, “I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:23)
Now, these appear to be some pretty serious Christians that Jesus tosses into hell. If accepting Christ, believing, and faith were the only requirements for salvation, these folks should have been saved. It takes a lot of faith to cast out a devil, and they wouldn’t do it in Jesus’ name if they didn’t believe in Him. They accepted Him; they called Him Lord. Voodoo practitioners won’t be casting out devils in Jesus’ name. Not Hindus. Not New-Agers. Common drunks and thieves won’t be working for Jesus. But these people are obviously some type of Christian, preaching, casting out devils, perhaps praying for the sick and visiting the afflicted. Yet, Jesus calls them workers of iniquity. Why? Why would Jesus put them in hell? Because of false prophets. Because they thought they were saved when they were not. Something other than believing, other than considerable faith, other than casting out devils, and other than prophesying in Jesus’ name was required, and these people were lacking whatever it was.
When Moses built the Tabernacle in the wilderness, it had to be according to God’s plan. When Noah built the ark, it had to be according to God’s plan. And when we come to God for salvation, it must be God’s way.
There are false prophets in the world today, many false prophets, but they don’t look like false prophets. They look like priests and pastors, ministers of righteousness.
A counterfeit twenty-dollar bill colored hot pink wouldn’t fool anyone. To pass as real, it would have to look real. The same holds true for false prophets. They’re not going to look like evil, slobbering beasts; they’re going to look like sincere and caring ministers of the gospel.
As Christians, then, we don’t need to consider the credibility of a voodoo priest. To weed out a false prophet, we’ll have to search among those who appear to be “real.” Since the road to hell is packed with Christians who don’t know they are lost, people who have been deceived by false prophets, we need to qualify all preachers to make sure that we aren’t deceived. Is it remotely possible that the vast majority of today’s modern preachers are false prophets? What about some of the big radio and TV evangelists? Are they preaching the whole truth according to God’s instructions? What about the Baptists or the Methodists? What about the Catholics? What about your own church or your own pastor? What about you?
Remember the poor souls in the seventh chapter of Matthew. They were sincere, enthusiastic Christians who did many wonderful works in the name of Jesus. They thought they were saved and on their way to heaven, but they were mistaken. Because their church taught them a “salvation” not consistent with the Word of God, they were doomed to hell.
It is hard to believe that so many people who devote so much of their lives to godly endeavors could actually miss out on heaven. It is hard to believe that the gospel preached by many pastors on Sunday morning could send you straight to hell. But just because a lot of people believe something, that doesn’t make it right. Don’t forget, everyone once believed the earth was flat. And not long ago, almost everyone in the world thought the sun revolved around the earth. All the scientists believed it, the school teachers taught it in school, and the “church” would excommunicate you for saying otherwise. Galileo was one of the few who had the courage to stand against the tide of popular opinion, and he proved the whole world to be dead wrong. They didn’t thank Galileo for showing them the truth, though. They mocked, ridiculed, and persecuted him because his ideas contradicted what they had been taught all their lives. Many went to their graves believing in something completely false.
Jesus teaches us in Matthew 7 that the deceived Christians on the broad road far outnumber those on the narrow. Because of false prophets, very few will even find the strait gate and the narrow way. Some people naively refer to this as “the straight and narrow,” but it’s two separate things. The gate is the entrance to the narrow way. The gate is not a straight gate, but a strait (s-t-r-a-i-t) gate. A strait gate is a gate of restricted access. And the way is narrow with no room for deviation.
When you look out over the world today, you will see millions of Catholics, millions of Baptists, millions of Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, and others. Who of these multiplied millions will be the very few to find the strait gate and the narrow way? Who of these are on the broad road that leads to hell? The priests and pastors of all these churches essentially appear to be the same. They all appear to be leading people to God, but some of them, many of them, are false prophets, and their followers will hear Jesus say, “Depart from me . . . I never knew you.”
Some false prophets truly are sincere and caring individuals who have just been misguided or misinformed. Their sincerity makes it all the more difficult to believe they could be false teachers. Being an evil person doesn’t make a false prophet false; having the wrong gospel does. A really nice preacher with false doctrine can send you to hell as surely as an evil one.
Does it seem totally impossible that a sincere minister could be in such error as to be a false prophet? Consider a little grade school experiment. A teacher gave a small written message to the first pupil in the classroom. That student kept the written message, but whispered it to the next person. And so the message passed from person to person around the room. The last student recited to the class what he had been told, and then the first student read the written message aloud for comparison. After being repeated only about 25 times, the message had changed beyond recognition. All the students believed they had heard the very same message and believed they had passed it on exactly as they had heard it, but the message was completely changed from the original.
Now, think of the thousands of preachers who have passed around the gospel. One minister teaches aspiring young preachers, and they in turn teach others as they were taught. Preacher after preacher, for centuries.
That’s why God gave us the written Word, the original message He gave to the apostles. We can read what the apostles actually preached in the church in the Bible and compare that to the preaching of any minister today.
Just because a preacher quotes from the Bible, it doesn’t mean he’s preaching the truth. He can take a verse out of context to try to prove a point that God would not approve. And he may do so with all sincerity, just teaching what he was taught–preacher to student, preacher to student, a little change here, a little change there.
Still, most people just take what’s dished out to them, without question, trusting that the preacher is a true man of God. It is a matter of life and death that we study the original message. With God, there’s only saved and lost, heaven and hell, a true preacher or a false prophet.
This study will focus on many passages and principles that will make it possible for you to unmask the false prophet. Even though he will have all the appearances of a true minister of the gospel, you need not be deceived. You can penetrate the religion of the false prophet and discover the error that hides within.
The Bible does not contradict itself. It is the Word of God. Although men penned the Scriptures, they wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Men wrote the Bible much like a secretary takes dictation. The secretary sits at the keyboard, but her words are not her own. Some of the old prophets wrote of things that were not to come to pass for hundreds or even thousands of years. They had no idea what they were writing about. Only in the process of time would the meaning of their writing be revealed.
The New Testament Church began on the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in the second chapter of Acts, and it will continue unchanged until Jesus comes back for it. That gospel the apostles preached two thousand years ago is still the only one that will save us today. To see if we’re truly saved, we must rightly divide the Scriptures to find out how the apostles taught repentant believers to be converted.
The Bible warns of adding to or taking from the Scriptures, but to ignore a verse or to take one out of context amounts to the same thing. If any passage contradicts what we believe, then we must reconcile our beliefs to the Bible. We cannot use one portion of scripture to support a certain doctrine while ignoring others that contradict that doctrine.
Example: The Jehovah’s Witnesses take Ecclesiastes 9:5, “The dead know not anything,” to mean that a dead person is totally unconscious, oblivious to anything. A person in such a state would have no feelings, no perceptions of any kind and, therefore, hell could not be a literal place of fiery torment. No flames, no wailing, and no gnashing of teeth.
In order to embrace this doctrine, the Witnesses have to reinvent many, many passages that clearly describe a specific place of torment God has prepared for the devil and his followers. For instance, when the rich man died in Luke 16:23: “… in hell he lift up his eyes.” The rich man was tormented in the flames, he could see and recognize Lazarus, and he was praying for his brothers back home. He was there and he was conscious. Revelation 21:8 tells us that murderers, whoremongers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the “Lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.” These two verses alone completely contradict the “dead are unconscious” theory; but, every time a Jehovah’s Witness reads these verses, he has to say, “Uh oh, this can’t mean what it actually says, because the dead know not anything.”
By the same token, if it isn’t right for the Witnesses, it’s wrong for everyone else, too. We can’t go around believing in hell and torment if Ecclesiastes 9:5 conclusively states that the dead are unconscious.
Sometimes we have to really study the Scriptures to resolve an apparent contradiction. We have to look at all sides of an issue, without personal bias, to see what the message of the Bible really is. A closer look at “The dead know not anything,” in the context of the whole ninth chapter of Ecclesiastes, reveals that the dead know not anything about the world of the living. It does not say they are unconscious. Now everything harmonizes. The dead “Know not anything” among the living, but they can go to an actual hell as the other scriptures declare. NO CONTRADICTION.
Admittedly, the Jehovah’s Witness example is quite extreme – one passage against many. Nevertheless, if your church teaches a doctrine that is contrary to only one verse, you have a problem.
Fig trees bear figs and peach trees bring forth peaches, but the fruit of a false prophet is false doctrine and, ultimately, false Christians. When a church or preacher preaches the truth, there will be no contradiction of Scripture. God is the author of the Bible and God is not the author of confusion.
This short book cannot and, indeed, should not convince anyone of who a false prophet is or whether anyone has been truly saved or deceived. The Bible is the only true yardstick and cannot be improved upon. Let the Bible convince you.
History shows us repeatedly that the opinions (and gospels) of men change all the time, but the Word of God is forever settled in heaven. Don’t take the teaching of any preacher at face value, but weigh it against the Scriptures. Make sure his preaching doesn’t contradict the Bible. Make sure that he’s not pulling the wool over your eyes. And Ph.D.’s don’t come from God; they come from schools where men are taught popular, contemporary religion, where men are taught to be good speakers.
Apostle Paul warns us in Romans 16:17-18 that preachers who preach a gospel different from his do not serve the Lord and to stay away from them: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”
With good words and fair speeches they deceive. The sermon of a false prophet will contain a lot of truth, a lot of biblical truth, but not enough. It will sound sincere, religious, and “Christian,” but it cannot save you. Rat poison contains about 99% good wholesome food, but that other 1% outweighs all other nutritional considerations .
It is not the intention of this book to condemn anyone. However, I have no qualms about condemning false doctrine. We would be poor witnesses for Jesus if we saw someone on the wrong road, the broad road that leads to hell, and didn’t at least try to warn them.
A friend of mine asked his father this question–”If you could be shown proof that your church has drifted away from the truth of the Bible and is teaching false doctrine, would you change?” The man replied, “I will never leave the church that I belong to. I would go to hell with this church.” Now what kind of logic is that? The whole concept of Christianity is to be reconciled to God and avoid going to hell.
Did this man really want to go to hell? Not likely. He probably just took the negative insinuations about his church as a personal offense. To admit that he had been deceived might make him feel stupid or something. So, rather than proving his faith with the Bible, he was mistakenly trying to defend his honor with stubbornness.
What could be sadder than for a person to spend a lifetime devoted to a church, thinking the whole time that he was on his way to heaven, just to wake up in eternity to find out that his church was wrong about what it really takes to be saved?
The people in the seventh chapter of Matthew thought they were saved. They had cast out devils in Jesus’ name, prophesied in His name, and done many wonderful works in His name, but Jesus threw them in hell anyway (Matthew 7:23). They went to hell because they had been deceived by a preacher who did not preach the gospel according to the Bible, a false prophet. All their church attendance, all their praying, all their worship, and all their sincerity meant nothing when Jesus said, “Get away from me, I never knew you.” How many times might they have left church on Sunday morning saying how wonderful it was to be a Christian? How often did they pray for a sick friend and rejoice to see that friend miraculously healed by the hand of God? How often might they have knelt by their bed and prayed for God to save their friends and family? They had no idea that they were on their way to hell.
Perhaps one thing could be sadder. The deceived Christians of Matthew 7 probably did get many of their friends and family converted to their same church, converted to their very same destiny.