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By Jim Mazurek
During the past couple of years I have become a devoted student of Peter’s epistles. They are fascinating, open windows to the difficult conditions that churches in the latter half of the first century had to face and the powerful Word of the Lord for such situations.
First Peter is essentially an exposition of the theology of suffering that is necessary for a persecuted church. The key word in that epistle is in fact, “suffering” (17 occasions).
On the other hand, Second Peter is an exposition on the need of growing in the knowledge of Christ, in the face of false teachings. The key word in that epistle is “knowledge” (16 occasions). As an educator, I am particularly attached to this book, because it deals with issues of true and false teaching. This is a book we can all benefit from greatly.
In Second Peter 2:1 there is a remarkable statement.
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves. - 2 Peter 2:1 (NIV)
Peter here declares that the equivalent of Old Testament false prophets is end-times false teachers. During the Old Testament period, false prophets were the bane of the children of Israel, men who claimed to speak for God but only spoke for themselves. Peter is saying we still have those kinds of people around us, only today they exist as false teachers.
This comparison compels us to inquire into the nature of the false prophets of the Old Testament, in order to have a better idea of what Peter was warning us. A brief study reveals the following remarkable characteristics of the O.T. false prophets. Was Peter right in comparing them to modern false teachers? What do you think?
1. False prophets told people the things they wanted to hear rather than denounce their sin and call them to repentance.
If a liar and deceiver comes and says, “I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,” he would be just the prophet for this people. -Micah 2:11
But I said, “Ah, Sovereign Lord, the prophets keep telling them, ‘You will not see the sword or suffer famine. Indeed, I will give your lasting peace in this place.’”
Then the Lord said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds. –Jeremiah 14:13, 14.
False prophets always had large audiences. They knew what the people wanted and how to give it to them. They were undoubtedly very personable and charismatic. There was no lack of people in Israel who much preferred to hear a message of unconditional blessing, prosperity and the condoning of their sins, rather than indictment of their transgressions, divine impending doom and calls to repentance and radical change.
2. False prophets used their positions as means of personal gain more than as means of ministry.
Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean upon the Lord and say, “Is not the Lord among us? No disaster will come upon us”. – Micah 3:11
False prophets were “in it for the money”. They viewed their ministry as a means of taking money from the people. They accumulated wealth and flaunted it openly, all the while trusting that the Lord was backing them up entirely.
3. False prophets lived lifestyles marked by licentiousness, vice and sin rather than by holiness.
But they also have erred through wine, and through strong drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through strong drink, they are swallowed up of wine, they are out of the way through strong drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. – Isaiah 28:7
False prophets had no fear of the Lord. Their moral compasses were hopelessly broken. They thoroughly convinced themselves that they could live worldly lifestyles and still be messengers of God. They believed that ministry was something they “did” and could turn on and off at will. They even reached an extreme of attempting to minister prophetically while in a state of inebriation. They did not think that a holy lifestyle was necessary to sustain their ministry.
4. False prophets would steal ideas from one another, to stay “up to date” with the latest false prophetic fad, rather than sincerely seek and declare the word of the Lord.
“Therefore,” declares the Lord, “I am against the prophets who steal from one another words, supposedly from me.” -Jeremiah 23:30
False prophets would jump on each other’s bandwagons, as one or another came up with a new and even more popular message. Their personal spiritual bankruptcy became evident by their bold imitation of one another. As this phenomenon took place, different “fads” no doubt appeared in the popular, false belief systems of the people.
5. False prophets would manipulate and control their followers rather than serve them.
This is what the Lord says: As for the prophets who lead my people astray, if one feeds them they proclaim ‘peace’; if he does not, they prepare to wage war against him. – Micah 3:5
False prophets used people. They used them through artful manipulations for their own personal gain. The people of Israel soon learned the system. If they took good care of the false prophet, he would prophesy prosperity and peace upon them. If they did not take good care of him, then they would risk falling under his anger and enmity.
6. False prophets drove people away from God rather than draw them closer to Him.
If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not know) “and let us worship them”, you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere.” Deuteronomy 13:1-4
And among the prophets of Jerusalem I have seen something horrible:
They commit adultery, and live a lie. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that no one returns from his wickedness. They are all like Sodom to me: the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah. – Jeremiah 23:14
False prophets really were not as interested in getting people close to God as in getting them close to themselves, the false prophets, for their own self-aggrandizement, benefit and gratification.
So, there we have a few characteristics of the Old Testament false prophets. Such may have been some of the ideas in Peter’s mind as he wrote his second epistle, warning the church of the false teachers to come. Does the profile match current false teachers and their teachings?
In the third chapter, however, Peter prescribes several necessary actions the church must take, to not fall prey to the false teachers.
1. Know the Scriptures – 3:2
I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles.
It is essential that we take on the tremendous problem of biblical illiteracy in the current generation. We need to redouble our efforts in strengthening Christian education on the local church level.
2. Be ready for the return of Christ – 3:14
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.
For Peter this was a most important matter, and he devotes the greater portion of the chapter to it. False teachers would encourage people to doubt the coming of the Lord, and thereby to adopt a more worldly, materialistic lifestyle. The sound teaching and preaching of the Second Coming of Christ not only instructs believers in these truths, but it impacts our lifestyles. It drives us to holiness. We need to bring back the message of the Second Coming of Christ into our pulpits, as our forefathers did so well.
3. Be on guard – 3:17
Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.
Christians need to be on guard against false teachings. For this to happen, they need to have a minimal biblical-theological framework of orthodox belief, which can serve them as a benchmark for doctrinal correctness. Too many Christians today truly have no such framework, and so they drift from fad to fad, disappointed and confused.
4. Grow – 3:18
But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This is what it all comes down to. Those we are responsible to lead cannot be stagnant in their walk with Christ. In the face of a growing menace of false teachings, believers need to be growing in the knowledge and experience of all the goodness of our Lord and Savior.Peter has done us a great favor, in causing us to reflect on the prototype of the modern false teacher, the old time false prophet, and what to do about them. May this be a source of motivation to each one of us, to redouble our efforts for strong, effective Christian Education on all levels in Latin America.