Meditating on the Commands of Christ (73): The Acid Test for Prophets

It’s almost springtime, and although our woods won’t really be filled with apple blossoms for another two months, I can almost smell their fragrance. Have you ever looked forward to something that never came to be? Have you ever trusted someone who bitterly disappointed you?

Jesus gave us a stern warning in Matthew 7:15-20, “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 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.

The AntiChrist and the Devil by Signorelli, Public Domain

I would like to tackle this issue today: How can we discern between true and false prophets (and friends!) so we aren’t misled, disappointed, and possibly destroyed?

Moses at the Burning Bush by Sébastien Bourdon, Public domain

True prophets were men appointed by God to receive divine revelations and communicate them to people. God often gave these prophets information concerning future events, and in a few rare instances also endowed them with miraculous powers to establish their credibility. Moses is the perfect example of a true prophet. Moses was not seeking enlightenment or special revelation (and he didn’t solicit for funds to operate his “ministy”). Rather, God appeared to him and commissioned him to lead the Israelites back to the Promised Land. Moses led an extremely difficult life of self-sacrificing service, never amassed money or property, and died humbly.

Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, and Samuel are other prime examples of true prophets in the Old Testament. When Samuel died, he asked the people: “Behold, here I am: witness against me before the Lord, and before his anointed: whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith? and I will restore it you” (1 Samuel 12:3). True prophets were paid by God (usually via tithes and offerings) to do God’s work, and there is not one time recorded in the Bible where the prophets asked for financial help. On the contrary, prophets refused all gifts from individuals so there would be no conflict of interest (see 2 Kings 5:15-16, “But he said, As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. And he urged him to take it; but he refused“; Acts 8:18-20, “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money”).

Christ carrying the cross by El Greco, ca. 1577-87. Public Domain

Jesus was not only the Son of God, he was also the greatest prophet who ever lived and is the best example to us of a true prophet. He only spoke the truths he heard from God, always did His Father (God’s) will, and died after bearing our sins on the cross. He lived and died a selfless (and I suspect penniless) life.

There are at least 62 named male and female prophets in the Bible, another 15 who had prophetic experience, seven unnamed prophets, and 11 named false prophets. The Bible makes it clear that the difference between a true prophet and a false prophet is whether or not they have been truly commissioned by God and are speaking God’s truths by His command.

Prophet by Swiss -French artist Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, 1902.
National Gallery of Art, London. Public Domain

The Bible has many warnings about false prophets. Jesus taught that false prophets “shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect” (Mark 13:22). So, having miraculous powers does not prove that a person is a true prophet. Nor does the ability to know secrets, as we see illustrated at various times in the New Testament, where people under the influence of Satan could prophesy (see Acts 16:16-23).

A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

False prophets can imitate true prophets both by (at times) performing miraculous signs and (at times) knowing information that is not common knowledge, so we cannot equate the use of supernatural powers with validity. Still, we must learn to discern false prophets and avoid them: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

For a starter, if anybody is making a profit from their prophecies, you can be sure they are false prophets just out to make a profit: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). But, greed and extortion is still not the acid test. 2 Peter 2:1 adds: “There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” False prophets do not believe in Jesus Christ as the LORD God. They may profess that he is a good man, or a good prophet, but they will not confess that He alone is the Lord and Savior who was sent by God to redeem the world. They will not worship Christ as the Messiah or bow before him as Doubting Thomas did, who came to the realization that Jesus was, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:27-28, emphasis mine).

However, here is the acid test that Jesus gave us: These ravening wolves who come to us in sheep’s clothing are corrupt, barren, and cannot produce good fruit. “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16).

What are the good fruits by which you will know those who are likely to be speaking the truth? The fruit of the Spirit, which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires(Galatians 5:22-23). “The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness and righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5:9). Where we see pride, greed, arrogance and sensuality, we can know that we are listening to the words of false prophets and false friends who are selfishly motivated and producing “corrupt” fruit: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

So the “acid test” if you will is this: It has to not only look like an apple and smell like an apple, but it has to taste like an apple, and not a dark, rotten, mushy, holey, worm-infested, sour apple! Those who are led by the Holy Spirit will not strike you as acidic and bitter; they will be firm, but they will be holy, health-giving, and sweet. Their fruit will be good!

Beloved, let’s be discerning ourselves, and let’s help others discern good from bad and truth from falsehood.

Matthew 7:15-20, “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 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.