Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Recognizing False Prophets
Pastor Steve Schell
Revelation 2:18-24
There have been false prophets since the days of the early church, and the Bible warns us that their number will only grow larger as the last days draw near. We’d all like to think that we’re very discerning and not likely to be misled by anyone, but the fact is false prophets can be very convincing. They may be brilliant and possess great personal magnetism. They may quote Scripture right & left and move us emotionally when they speak so that it becomes extremely difficult not to be drawn in. And even those who are not deceived are likely to feel enormously intimated by the thought of confronting such a person. Subtle self-doubts may plague us making us wonder if we’re not the ones who are deceived. After all, they seem so sure of themselves. And if they are highly successful in terms of the number of people who follow them or have all the trappings of great wealth, the notion arises that maybe these are indicators of God’s blessing, and who am I to challenge “God’s anointed.” So, it’s a lot easier to talk about false prophets as a vague, distant concept than it is to deal with one face to face. That’s why we need to be patient with the believers in Thyatira. They had a real problem on their hands and dealing with it was far more difficult than it might appear to us at this distance. Yet, their example has much to teach us because we’ll encounter more false prophets than they did.

What did Jesus say to Thyatira?
• (v 18) The Son of God who has eyes like a flame of fire and feet like molten bronze sees everything and walks everywhere with you (Ps 139:1-12; Rev 2:23).
• (v 19) He sees that most of you are true disciples who are growing in your service to Him.
• (v 20) Lit: “But I have against you that you forgive the woman Jezabel, the one calling herself a prophetess and she teaches and deceives My servants to fornicate and to eat idol sacrifices.”
• (v 21) Someone (maybe John) has already confronted this woman calling her to repent, but as time has passed she has continued on the same course.
• (v 22) Yet Jesus wants the church in Thyatira to confront her again because He hopes she and her followers will repent before He is forced to “deliver her over to Satan for the destruction of her flesh, so that her spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1Co 5:5).
• (v 23) He cannot continue to allow her to corrupt more and more people into thinking He doesn’t see what they are doing and won’t punish them for it.
• (v 24) Other than the fact that they have been passive and overly tolerant toward this false prophetess, Jesus has no other complaint against this church. They have stayed faithful refusing to be seduced by spiritual pride. The prophetess lured people by appealing to their pride telling them she was teaching them the “deep things of God.” To follow her was to become far more spiritual than all the other shallow people in the church.

Warnings from God’s Word
• Acts 20:25-38 – Paul’s farewell to Ephesus
• 1 Timothy 4:1, 2 “…in later times some will fall away”
• 1 John 4:1-6 “many false prophets”

Signs of a false prophet
Here is a list of some activities and attitudes that are often associated with false prophets:
1) Flattery (v 24): You are more important to God than the common people around you (smarter, wiser, more discerning…)
• They appeal to our pride
• Prophesies that assure us that we have a high calling or fabulous plans ahead, or we’re finally going to receive the deep longing of our heart.
• What are the “deep things of God”? Going deeper in obedience to the basics. Learning to understand and live out His commands and thereby see His Kingdom at work.
2) Tickling the ears (2Ti 4:3): They tell people what they want to hear.
• Money, sex, safety (Mt 16:21-23).
3) Factions: Dividing people into groups.
• To be with us you have to be against them.
• Titus 3:10 “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning…”
• Self-righteous criticism aimed at what’s wrong with everybody else.
• 1 Corinthians 1:10; 3:3-9 No divisions
• 1 Corinthians 11:18, 19 “I hear that divisions exist among you…”
• Listen to how Jesus appeals to the wayward: Revelation 3:19, 20.
4) Collateral damage: Willing to throw people away
• A true shepherd won’t give a lamb to the wolf (Am 3:12; 1Sa 17:34, 35)
• Isaiah 42:3 “A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish, He will faithfully bring forth justice.”
5) Strong personal dynamism
• Intimidating regal presence
• Attitude of personal superiority
• Listen to Paul speak to the Corinthians: 1Co 4:7-13; 2Co 11:1-15, 20-30.
• Jesus: Isaiah 53:1-3 “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.”
6) They see people as a source of income
• Ezekiel 34:2-10, 16-24
• The true Shepherd: John 10:7-15
• They often possess the objects of status wealth. Status symbols are not possessed for function but to announce: I’m better than you.
• It costs a lot of money to have these things and money has to be generated to maintain them. So a strong pull builds in the heart to keep the money flowing. You do what you have to do; you say what you have to say.
7) They breed dependency: They don’t push you back to hear from God for yourself.
• Many feel inadequate and some are simply too lazy to seek God for themselves.
• People want a “word” they don’t have to wait on God for.
8) They enjoy titles and being honored.
• “apostle”
• Matthew 23:1-12 “place of honor”
• Matthew 23:11 “but the greatest among you”

The changing role of prophecy in the New Covenant
Because the Old Testament is so full of stories about great prophets and so many of its books are about their writings, it’s very natural to think of prophecy in Old Testament terms. But the role of prophets and prophecy dramatically changed on the Day of Pentecost, and that change will remain in place until Jesus comes again.
1) The capacity to prophesy is now available to all believers
• Acts 2:16-18 “…I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy… Even on My bondslaves, both men and women I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit.”
• Hebrews 8:8-13 the “new covenant”
• This indwelling presence was not promised in the Old Covenant. In that season the Holy Spirit mightily anointed certain people to speak and lead.
2) In the New Covenant the model moves from hearing God through one person to a community of Spirit-filled believers who listen to God inwardly and through each other when they gather.
• 1 Corinthians 12:7 “to each of you is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (The Potential)
• 1 Corinthians 14:31 “For you can all prophesy one by one so that all may learn and all may be exhorted.”
• 1 Corinthians 12:29 “all are not prophets are they?” (The Pattern). The Holy Spirit typically uses certain people in certain ways. These are patterns of ministry, not offices. Authority is vested in the fact that a person is a true elder, no their gifts.
3) The responsibility to judge a prophecy or teaching falls on all.
• 1 Corinthians 14:29 “Let 2 or 3 prophets speak and let the others pass judgment.
• 1 John 4:1 “… do not believe every spirit but test the spirits…”

1) Believers can’t sit back and ignore the problem (Rev 2:20, 24)
2) Such leaders need to be confronted in the hope that they will repent before Jesus’ patience runs out (Rev 2:21-23)
3) Just because you’re not taken in doesn’t mean there aren’t lambs who will be.
4) We need to pick our shepherds carefully, and we must always remain diligent to test everything against the clear teaching of Scripture, the embodiment of God’s heart as it’s revealed in Jesus and the inner conviction of the Spirit.

Have you ever been misled by a false prophet? When you discovered your mistake, how did you feel? Does that experience continue to affect you today?

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