“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive opinions. They will even deny the Master who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.”
~2 Peter 2:1 (NRSV)
This, above, is a very hard word—but each of us needs to hear it, both as a receiver, because we may hear false words, and as a purveyor, by the way we may distribute false words. This is such a serious issue it’s the predominant focus of the latter New Testament.
What has come into sharp attention is the role of prophecy (or, more broadly, teaching)—and there is never any shortage of ‘prophets’ in any age.
Even the anointed prophet will get it wrong from time to time. This is why the Apostle Peter has couched prophecy in certain golden rules implied within chapter 1 of his second epistle (see verses 21-22).
Test Number 1 – What Do Prophets “bring in”?
There is something underhanded about how the false teacher will bring forth—or base—their prophecy; their ‘word’ taught. If our instincts tell us there is something shifty going on, and this is confirmed to us by trusted others, we may be sure the Holy Spirit is piquing our awareness.
True prophets, on the other hand, by their manner of living and preaching, bring forth what is honest and reliable and known to integrity. They will listen with a Jesus-like ear. Humility won’t be too far away from them. In the end, we trust what they “bring in.”
Test Number 2 – Is There a Denial of the Master?
Anyone bought from slavery rightly owes their master the devotion of none other.
Our Lord bought us by the unconscionable purchase in his blood; the purity of his righteousness for the filth of our sinfulness. And though we are still sinners, Christ died for us—an eternal reality and redemptive fact.
The issue of the denial of the Master is a reprehensible one for the prophet in denial, for not only do they lead vulnerable minds and hearts astray, they deceive themselves. They, themselves, will fall prey to “swift destruction” come the Parousia—the end time when Jesus, again, will return.
That is enough of a motive to compel an honest prophet to choose, and to do it often, the repentance of misdeeds before one’s Master. We may judge ourselves, allowing the Holy Spirit to convict us, or we may wait upon the Lord’s judgment.
Wisdom convinces us to the former; folly, the latter.
Being Christian, and especially being an anointed teacher or prophet, necessitates having Jesus as Lord. The reach of the phrase, Jesus is Lord, is infinite and unconditional. And no matter how big or popular or successful a minister’s ministry becomes, that popularity and success is entirely contingent on the minister’s submission before Christ. And, what is “success” in comparison with Judgment?
Identifying the False Prophet
There are sharp deceptions all about, and mainly due the immoral conduct of self-proclaimed, destructive prophets.
There are two simple ways false prophets are identified: either they teach falsely (including via an imbalanced way) and therefore without discipline, or they live inconsistently with their preaching—also without discipline. The worst of false prophets do both.
If our pastors preach about love, truth, hope, grace, compassion, and the like, and as far as we can tell they live that way, consistent with their preaching, with careful and balanced biblical observance, we are indeed blessed. They are prophets of truth.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.
General Reference: Duane F. Watson, “The Second Letter of Peter – Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible – Volume XII (Nashville, Tennessee: Abingdon Press, 1998), pp. 344-45.