Beware of False Prophets
by Walter Martin
The age that saw the advent of Jesus Christ was an age rich in religion, stretching from the crass animism and sex worship of the great majority of the world to the Roman pantheon of gods and the Greek mystery religions. One need only peruse Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to become acutely aware of the multiplicity of gods and goddesses, as well as of philosophical and ethical systems that pervaded the religious horizon in that era of history. Judaism had withdrawn itself from any extensive missionary activity, burdened as the Jews were by the iron rule of an unsympathetic Roman paganism.
The Law of God had been interpreted and reinterpreted through commentaries and rabbinical emendations to the place where our Lord had to say to the religious leaders of His day, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? . . . Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (Matthew 15:3, 6).
Into this whirlpool of stagnant human philosophy and perverted revelation came the Son of God who, through His teachings and example, revealed that there was such a thing as divine humanity, and through His miraculous powers, vicarious death, and bodily resurrection, cut across the maze of human doubts and fears, and was lifted up, to draw all men unto Him. It has been wisely observed that men are at liberty to reject Jesus Christ and the Bible as the Word of God; they are at liberty to oppose Him; they are at liberty to challenge it. But they are not at liberty to alter the essential message of the Scriptures, which is the good news that God does care for the lost souls of His children, and so loved us as to send His only Son that we might live through Him.
In keeping with this Gospel of God’s grace, our Lord not only announced it but He prophesied the trials and tribulations that would encompass His followers, both within the church and without, and one of the greatest of all these trials would, our Lord taught, be the challenge of false prophets and false christs who would come in His name and deceive many (Matthew 24:5). So concerned was Christ in this area that He at one time declared:
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree that bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, 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? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matthew 7:15-23).
The Bible, then, does speak of false prophets, false christs, false apostles and “deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works” (2 Corinthians 11:13–15).
We cannot afford to hold any concept of the purveyors of erroneous doctrines different from that held by our Lord and the apostles, and we must, as Paul states, “abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9). In the light of this teaching, it is extremely difficult for this writer to understand how it is possible to cleave to that which is good without an abhorrence of that which is evil.
The biblical perspective, where false teachers and false teachings are concerned, is that we are to have compassion and love for those who are enmeshed in the teachings of the false prophets, but we are to vigorously oppose the teachings, with our primary objective the winning of the soul and not so much the argument. It must never be forgotten that cultists are souls for whom Jesus Christ died, for “he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
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