What is a prophecy, and who is a true prophet of God? What is a false prophet, and how can we identify one? In this week’s teaching, we will try to answer these and other questions from the Bible. As we are about to see, the Bible disagrees with mainstream Christianity. You have to choose who you will listen to, mainstream Christianity or the Bible?
In Deut 18:18-22, we read, “18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”
21 You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.”
This passage begins with Yehovah speaking to Moses. Here we have Yehovah telling Moses how He (Yehovah) will one day raise up a prophet like Moses from among their fellow Israelites. We know today this prophet is Jesus (Acts 3:23, Deut 18:18). Jesus serves as the role model on what it means to be a prophet and how to prophesy.
Jesus said that He could do nothing of His own will; He can only speak and do what the Father has told Him to say and do. (John 5:30, Deut 18:18). Yehovah will hold us accountable to the teachings of Jesus, and if we ignore Jesus’s teachings, we will be eternally lost. (Acts 3:23) Did you notice what Deut 18:18-19 and Acts 3:23 says? Let us first see what it does not say: Anyone who does not believe in the cross will be eternally lost. Instead, it says anyone who does not listen and obey the teachings of Jesus will be eternally lost. In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says all those who confess Him as Lord and have done great and mighty miracles in His name but refused to obey His teachings will be rejected by Him. What did Jesus teach us to do? Matthew 23:2-4, He taught us to obey the law of Moses. So, according to the Bible, anyone who rejects Jesus’s teachings will be rejected by God and eternally lost.
This is the core message of Jesus as a prophet of God; repent and come back to Yehovah in obedience to His law – the law of Moses.
In Deut 18:18-19, we learn how a prophet is a teacher of the word of God. In this context, prophecy has got nothing to do with the future. So when we move into verse 20, we know it is still speaking of Bible teachers and not someone who prophecies about the future. So verse 20 tells us that someone who claims to be a Bible teacher but teaches heresy, or someone who teaches the Bible and encourages idol worship, must be put to death. Hebrews 1:9 says it is heresy to teach that the law of Moses was nailed to the cross and no longer applies today. It is also idolatry because you are claiming to be a Bible teacher and at the same time encouraging worship of an idol. How? The God of the Bible and Jesus never said the law of Moses no longer applies today. So if you believe in a God who says the law of Moses does not apply, you are not believing in and obeying the God of the Bible. Does this mean that a Christian pastor who teaches grace instead of law should be stoned to death? No, because Moses’s law also says only the Sanhedrin can sentence someone to die for blasphemy or teaching heresy. We are not in Israel, we dont have access to the temple or the Sanhedrin, so we can not stone anyone to death. But there is someone who can; Yehovah reserves the right to do what He wants when He wants to, just as He did with Ananias and Saphira.
To understand what verses 21-22 refer to, we first must read Numbers 16:29-32. In Korah’s rebellion (Numbers 16:29-32), Moses, a true prophet of God, says:” 29 If these people die a natural death, or if a natural fate comes on them, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up, with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord.”
31 As soon as he finished speaking all these words, the ground under them was split apart. 32 The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, along with their households—everyone who belonged to Korah and all their goods.”
This is the sign we are to look for to identify someone who is a true prophet of God and teaches the Bible correctly. If they say something will happen, it will always come true. If they say something will happen and it does not come true, then they are false prophets. But there are exceptions to this, as we soon will see from Deut 13.
Now we know a true prophet is someone who teaches the word of God correctly. A false prophet and a ravenous wolf (Matt 7:15) teaches heresy and idol worship. This, of course, shows us that most Christian pastors and teachers today are false prophets because they would tell you the law of Moses no longer applies. If they dont repent in time, Yehovah will kill them (Deut 18:20).
In Deut 13:1-5, we read: “1 If a prophet or someone who has dreams arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, 2 and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us worship them,’ 3 do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer. For the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul. 4 You must follow the Lord your God and fear Him. You must keep His commands and listen to His voice; you must worship Him and remain faithful[a] to Him. 5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he has urged rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the place of slavery, to turn you from the way the Lord your God has commanded you to walk. You must purge the evil from you.”
In Deut 18:21-22, we just read how a false prophet can never prophesy anything true about the future. But now, in Deut 13:1, we read how even unsaved people or people who worship idols can prophesy, and their prophecy will come true. This is not a contradiction because, in verse 3, the Bible says that Yehovah will sometimes allow this to test us. Yehovah will permit an idol worshiper to prophecy something true about the future to see if we love Yehovah or not. If we love Yehovah, we will reject the false prophet who prophecies true because the false prophet encourages us to disobey Yehovah. That prophet must be put to death by Yehovah, not because he prophesied something that did not happen but because they encouraged people to worship idols.
Who then is a true prophet of God? Anyone who teaches the Bible correctly and encourages people to repent and turn back to Yehovah. Such a prophet will always prophecy true about the future.
Who then is a false prophet? Anyone who teaches heresy tells people to turn away from God’s law (the law of Moses). Sometimes they will prophecy true about the future, and if they do, it is a test from Yehovah. Sometimes they will prophecy false about the future.
We are, therefore, never to judge a prophet by their prophecies; we are always to judge them by their message. Do they preach repentance from lawlessness to the law of Moses? If the answer is yes, then they are true prophets sent by God.
What is a prophecy?
Because a true prophet sent by God preaches repentance, their prophecies will always focus on what could happen if people repent and what will happen if they dont repent. Prophecy is therefore never a guarantee, as we have seen with Nineveh and Jonah. Because they repented, the prophecy of the destruction of the city never was fulfilled.
The Bible says we will find life and encouragement when we repent because true life can only be found in the law of Moses. Paul says prophecy is encouraging because prophecy always calls people to repentance and shows them how to find life. (1. Chor 12)
Prophecy is never about who you will marry, what job to take or not to take. It is always Yehovah telling, warning you, telling you to repent, warning you what might happen if you dont repent, promising you what blessings will come upon you if you do repent. And because prophecy is all about repenting, it is also connected with preaching and teaching the Bible. A true prophet of God teaches people how to obey Yehovahs law, the law of Moses.
What then is the gift of prophecy?
According to Paul, the gift of prophecy encourages people. So the gift of prophecy is the gift to know what kind of blessings Yehovah will give to someone who repents. You could have the gift of prophecy and not have the office of a prophet. Suppose it is easy for you to encourage people to repent, but you find it challenging to teach people how to obey when they repent, or you find it difficult to warn people about the dangers of not repenting. In that case, you have the gift of prophecy but not the office of a prophet.
Paul says we should all strive to prophesy because the one who teaches others how to obey the law will be called great in the Kingdom of Yehovah. (Matt 5:19) In 1. Chor 13, Paul also says that love is the greatest gift and that the one who prophecies (warns people to repent and show them how to repent) shows love for his fellow man. This is why prophecy is so important to Paul and why it should be important for us.