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False Prophets and Litmus Paper

It could be that this is the last blog post I'm ever able to make, and I'll tell you why. According to some, tomorrow, May 21st, will be Judgement Day. Now I don't want to get into all the details about how Harold Camping and the good folks over at WeCanKnow.com are deceiving thousands, or perhaps millions of people. If you would like to read a very good piece about it follow this link to the blog of Paul Jenkins and see his comments. What I want to focus on today is the idea of false prophets, something that Paul brings to light in his post as well. While Camping and his crowd certainly represent the most bold and visible version of a false prophet, he is but one among many in this world and we need to be discerning enough to identify them.

First of all let me back up and discuss what a prophet is, and then we can move into discerning what a prophet isn't. I mean, if we know what the genuine article looks like it will be far easier to pick out the phony. A prophet, in the most basic form, was an "authorized spokesman" for God. They were people who were given a special message by God with the mission of giving it to the nation of Israel, God's people. One of the first references to "prophet" in the Bible that I can find is in Exodus 7:1 where God tells Moses;

See, I make you as God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet.

At this point God is telling Moses that Aaron will be his "authorized spokesman." If you look back in Exodus 4:14ff, we find the place where Moses is trying to find an excuse so that he wouldn't have to lead Israel. After telling God that he is not a good public speaker God tells him that he can use Aaron for that- Aaron will be Moses' mouthpiece. It is important to note that, by far, the most common Hebrew word for prophet is nabi. The root of the meaning of this word is to bubble forth, as from a fountain (Easton's Bible Dictionary). This indicates that the prophet was pouring forth a message that had another source, a divine source.

Perhaps the next most common word used to describe a prophet is seer. I hope the meaning of that one is clear, they see things that other people don't. Think about Ezekiel and his vision on the banks of the river, or John and his vision of Heaven on the island of Patmos. Though this term is less commonly used to describe a prophet in the Bible, it is certainly the most popular usage in our culture. This is where I think the first part of our misunderstanding of prophets and prophecy comes into play. For most of my life I thought a prophet was just someone who told the future, or told us about the End Times. The truth of the matter, biblically speaking, is that the prophet's job description was to be God's megaphone to His people. This, more often than not, meant telling them when they had strayed from God.

If you look at the Bible there are seventeen books of prophecy in the Old Testament and those are just the ones written by, or specifically about, the prophets. You can also see that in almost every book of the OT there is prophecy or accounts of prophet's lives. Think about Elijah and Elisha. Neither of them has a book named after them. However, a large part of the narrative of 1&2 Kings recounts the lives of these two great prophets of Israel. We understand that Moses (and Aaron as we have seen) acted as prophets along with Samuel, and to a degree, King David ( I mention David because of some of the great Messianic Psalms that he wrote, see Psalm 22 in particular). The reason I say this is because a much smaller portion of "prophecy" in the OT is devoted to foretelling than is devoted to exhortation and correction. In the past I have described the role of the prophet as the "spiritual litmus paper" of God's people. If Israel began to stray from His plan and His path, the prophets were the first to know and God commissioned them to tell the people.

Now for the more interesting part in most people's opinion. The prophet was also given visions or an understanding of what God was going to do in the future. Much of the foretelling prophecy in the OT was geared towards when the Messiah would come and what He would do once He was here, etc., etc. I would say that the bulk of the futuristic, prophetic utterings were designed to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. This was, remember, to be the climactic event in the life of God's people so it makes sense that there would be much talk of it from the spokesmen of God. There are also plenty of examples of prophecy relating to the End Times and I don't want to minimize that at all because it is vitally important for us as believers. Prophetic words of this type give us signs to watch out for and hope for our ultimate victory.

The problem that we run into with foretelling prophecy is that people have often used it to claim they can know exactly when the end will come. One example of this would be William Miller who, after studying the Bible, determined that the end would come in 1843, March 21st to be exact. I shouldn't have to tell you that this was not the case. Those who agreed with Miller, the Millerites, were also known as Adventists from which we get our modern day, Seventh Day Adventists. This "misprophecy," soon became known as the "Great Disappointment." Indeed the disappointment must have been great but it hasn't stopped countless others from claiming to know when Judgement Day will occur, most recently of course is our very own Harold Camping. Camping, as you well know if you read the post I recommended at the beginning, has made more than one claim as to when the Rapture will take place and according to the Bible, one mistake is enough to label someone as a false prophet.

When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. Deuteronomy 18:22 NASB

Earlier in Deuteronomy (13) Israel is told to put to death any false prophets that try to divert their attention from God, something that Miller, Camping and all the others seem to have conveniently overlooked. The larger point that I believe God is trying to make here, and that is particularly applicable to us, is that false
prophets always end up drawing attention to themselves and away from God. They don't have a special word from the Lord, they have erroneously interpreted Scripture to suit their own needs and, as is the case many times today, bring money into their own bank accounts. The most basic mission of the prophet, and the Bible for that matter, is to point people to God.
There is a reason why God has played the time and date of the end so close to the chest and Paul points it out in his post. If we know the exact time and date of the rapture that means we can freely do as we please up until the very moment of judgment. Our lives turn into "one last hoorah" before we "get right with God" at the last possible moment. This is not the image of the Christian life that we see in the New Testament. You can make all the claims to the contrary you want but the fact of the matter is, if we know that tomorrow IS NOT the last day...we sure ain't going to live like it is. The message that we get from Scripture is that we should wake up every morning believing that it could be the last morning not so that we can get in all the "fun" we can but so that we can honor God with every last breath we take.

Listen to the words of Jesus in Mark 13:22-23;

for false Christ's and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed; behold, I have told you everything in advance.

Two things immediately jump out at me from this passage. 1) In the end times false prophets will come and 2) Christ has told us everything in advance. That is, He has given us all the information we need. Not too little or too much but, as Goldie Locks would say, "just right." The cold hard fact is this, we don't need to know when the last day will be and we have no right to. What we need to know is that it could be today, it could be Sunday, it could be a thousand years from now. God wants us to come to Him NOW and to live for Him NOW...today and tomorrow. What we have to get our minds around is that following Christ is far more than just salvation for eternity, or God honoring us by allowing us into Heaven. It is about us honoring God on earth too.

The bottom line is this. If we really want to be prophetic in our message we must stop trying to figure out when Jesus is going to return. The prophets of old have already given us the clues to when that will be and it is a waste of our time to try and do so. The prophetic message that we should be announcing is "Thus says the Lord" and "Repent for the Kingdom of God is near." How near? Nearer than it was yesterday. God's purpose for prophets has never been to make sure people get their "get out of jail free" card in time. His purpose was to draw people close to Himself. Why? Because that has been His redemptive plan throughout human history. Draw them close in this life so that they will have all the more reason to glorify Him in the next.

Let me close by offering a practical test for the authenticity of a prophet. First, if what they say in going to have doesn't then they are not of God. This should be a no-brainer. God doesn't lie so if someone says they have a word from the Lord and it doesn't happen, they lied...God didn't. Secondly, if an alleged prophet's message draws people away from God or the truth He has revealed to us in His Word...they're a false prophet. The prophet's job was always to point people to the Lord, not themselves. The third thing I would add is related to the second. If a prophet is pin-pointing the time of the Lord's return we can be pretty sure they are a...you guessed it...FALSE PROPHET. First of all this is contrary to the Scripture. Also, it allows people to put off following Christ which I can find nowhere in God's Word. There is no reason for us to delay in coming to Christ and I don't think He would give us one by telling us exactly when He's coming back.

We are assured that false prophets will come. I can say this with 100% assurance, well, because "the Bible tells me so." It is our duty, as followers of Christ, to discern the false from the true and we can act as the "spiritual litmus paper" for our world today. In the end, what these false prophets are most guilty of is spiritual abuse because when what they doesn't come true their followers have one of two choices;

1) "The prophet was wrong and has deceived me." This is unpleasant but far better than the other option.
2) "God doesn't exist." or "God has lied to me."

For the sake of believers and non-believers we must be on our guard for false prophets to ensure that, as Mark 13 says, they do not lead astray the elect.

Take heed, keep on the alert; for you do not know when the appointed time will come. Mark 13:33

Godspeed,
Christian

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