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Over the centuries since Christ’s death and resurrection, countless impostors have pretended to be the Messiah or claimed to know details about the future they could not possibly know. While false prophets are nothing new, they will become increasingly prevalent and destructive in the End Times. Jesus warned us about these individuals in His Olivet Discourse: “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (Matthew 24:11).

In Matthew 10:16 and Luke 10:3, Jesus warned His followers about “wolves” who would be openly hostile to the Gospel. But Matthew 7 presents a more subtle threat—wolves disguised as sheep. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). These are false prophets who infiltrate the Church and lead people astray.

Jesus warned that false prophets would deceive many people in the Last Days, but we don’t have to fall for their schemes. The Bible provides many warning signs and practical ways we can respond to false teaching.

  Signs of a False Prophet
  False prophets may make predictions that do not come true.
  False prophets may perform miraculous signs and wonders.
  False prophets may claim to be Christ.
  False prophets may have an unbiblical lifestyle.
  False prophets may deny Christ’s identity.
  False prophets’ teaching will lead people away from the Lord.

   Chart: 22 Attributes of False Teachers From 2 Peter 1.

  How to Respond to a False Prophet

Just as clever hoaxes have conned many brilliant people, it is possible for Christians—even mature believers—to be duped by false teachers. Many philosophies that have nothing to do with the cause of Christ masquerade under the banner of Christianity. Without the wisdom and grace of God, we’re all vulnerable to deception.

Matthew 7:21-23 contains some of the most disturbing words in the Bible. Jesus is speaking, and He says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” Someday, the true nature of each person’s relationship with Jesus Christ will be revealed when they stand before God in judgment. Unless that individual has a personal relationship with Christ, all their deeds and religious fervor will be meaningless.

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Jesus warned His disciples, “Take heed that no one deceives you” (Matthew 24:4). But in a world of deception, how do we spot a false prophet? God’s Word gives us several tools to separate the wolves from the sheep.

Signs of a False Prophet

False prophets may make predictions that do not come true.

The Bible says, “You may wonder, ‘How will we know whether or not a prophecy is from the Lord?’ 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” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22, NLT). Today’s false prophets often try to predict the time of Christ’s return. However, Jesus told us in the Olivet Discourse, “Of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only” (Matthew 24:36). The Lord does not intend for us to speculate about the timing of His return. The Christian’s responsibility is to remain watchful, righteous, and ready. 

Meme: Miraculous signs and wonders do not always indicate God's presence or power

False prophets may perform miraculous signs and wonders.

After Christ raptures His Church and the Tribulation begins, Satan will use religion to unite the world under the leadership of the Antichrist and False Prophet. Although the False Prophet of the Tribulation will not rise to power before the Rapture, the Bible’s description of him helps us evaluate all other false prophets. According to the apostle Paul, “This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles” (2 Thessalonians 2:9, NLT). Remember that miraculous signs and wonders do not always indicate God’s presence or power. If you recall the showdown between Aaron and Pharaoh’s sorcerers, the Egyptians used “enchantments” to turn their rods into serpents (Exodus 7:11-12). And in the book of Acts, Luke described a sorcerer named Simon who deceived many people through magical powers (Acts 8:9-11). Any miracle that does not bring glory to God and further the Gospel is rooted in demonic influence.

False prophets may claim to be Christ.

When Jesus’ disciples asked for signs of His return and the End Times, His first warning had to do with impostors. “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5). Later in the Olivet Discourse, Jesus explained how we could recognize this type of false prophet: “Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:26-27). The entire world will witness Jesus’ return. We do not need to worry about missing it or finding Him in some hidden location.

Meme: We do not need to worry about missing Jesus' return or finding Him in a hidden location

False prophets may have an unbiblical lifestyle.

Jesus’ half-brother Jude wrote a short epistle that, among other things, vigorously urges Christians to stay alert, contend for the truth, and know that God will judge false teachers. This letter provides several clues related to a false teacher’s lifestyle: “These people… live immoral lives, defy authority, and scoff at supernatural beings,” “scoff at things they do not understand… do whatever their instincts tell them,” “deceive people for money,” “care only for themselves,” and “bear no fruit” (Jude 8, 10, 11, 12, NLT). “These people are grumblers and complainers, living only to satisfy their desires. They brag loudly about themselves, and they flatter others to get what they want… creating divisions” (Jude 16, 19, NLT). False teachers often claim that God will not condemn anyone, but Jude says the Lord will judge ungodliness (Jude 15). Godliness and integrity are essential traits for anyone who teaches the Word of God.

False prophets may deny Christ’s identity.

Whenever Satan cannot directly suppress or destroy the truth, he assaults it indirectly by deceit. The apostle John wrote, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world” (1 John 4:1-3). As Christians, we cannot believe everyone who claims to have a message from God. Anyone who attacks Jesus’ humanity or deity is an “antichrist” operating under Satan’s influence (1 John 2:22).

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Meme: Faithful Christians produce the spiritual fruit of good works and steadfast character

False prophets’ teaching will lead people away from the Lord.

One way to identify false prophets is to look at the kind of people their followers are becoming. Are they becoming more or less Christlike? In Luke 6:40, Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.” Long before tragedy struck, trouble was evident in the lives of people who followed cult leaders like Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Marshall Applewhite. But because our culture is more concerned with tolerance than the Word of God, we missed the warning signs. Faithful Christians glorify God and identify with Him by producing the spiritual fruit of good works and steadfast character. Jesus taught, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:17-20).

Written shortly before Peter’s martyrdom, the book of 2 Peter reveals the apostle’s grave concern about false teachers in the Church. He encouraged his readers to focus on the Word of God rather than listening to “private interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20) or self-appointed teachers who refuse to believe that God will judge wickedness (2 Peter 2:1-22; 3:3, 4). In the second chapter alone, Peter lists 22 attributes of false teachers.

Twenty-Two Attributes of False Teachers
2 Peter 2:1-19
From The Jeremiah Study Bible

1. They infiltrate the Church (2:1) 12. They are ignorant (2:12).
2. They come in secret (2:1). 13. They love to deceive others (2:13).
3. They deny the work of Jesus (2:1). 14. They are full of adultery (2:14).
4. They blaspheme the truth (2:2). 15. They cannot cease from sinning (2:14).
5. They are greedy (2:3, 14). 16. They prey on unstable new believers (2:14).
6. They use words that sound remarkably close to the truth (2:3). 17. They intentionally speak lies (2:15).
7. They follow the flesh (2:10). 18. They are out for monetary gain (2:15).
8. They are presumptuous and self-willed (2:10). 19. They talk a lot but say nothing (2:16, 18).
9. They do not want to be under anyone’s authority (2:10, 11). 20. They make grandiose promises but never deliver (2:17).
10. They exhibit peace on the outside but are like untamed beasts on the inside (2:12). 21. They use alluring thoughts to provoke attention from their audience (2:18).
11. They speak more evil than good (2:12). 22. They make promises they cannot deliver (2:19).

How to Respond to False Prophets

If a religious teacher matches any of the above criteria, God’s Word calls him a false prophet—a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We should not be surprised when we encounter such people. “For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). It takes discernment to see beneath the mask of an impostor, but we can cultivate that discernment by studying God’s Word and abiding in its truth.

When we encounter false teaching, Jude urges us to approach each situation individually. “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh” (Jude 20-23).

Some who wander from the truth need compassion. Others need urgent intervention. Regardless of the situation, grace is the benchmark of Christian conduct. God’s people cannot tolerate false teaching in the Church, but we are responsible for separating sinners from their sins. Even as we reject false teaching, the Lord calls us to maintain a spirit of gentleness and contend for the offender’s spiritual restoration.

Meme: Pursue truth wherever it leads

The best defense against false teaching is a vibrant faith that walks in step with the Lord. We do well to follow the example of the Bereans, who “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things [Paul and Silas’ teachings] were so” (Acts 17:11). Our most fundamental testimony lies in the way we live. Nothing can distinguish God’s people from the culture like a steadfast commitment to the truth of the Gospel.

In a world of deception, make up your mind to pursue truth wherever it leads and spread the Good News.

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How to Spot a False Prophet

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