by Mike Ratliff
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,” (1Timothy 4:1-2 ESV)
In these last days, there appears to be a clarifying work of God going on in within the Visible Church. In the early church and in all those historic periods when it was not “comfortable” to be counted among those who named Christ as their Lord and Saviour, the genuine believers were easy to spot. They endured. They may have undergone severe persecution even unto death, but they did not fall away.
Since the end of Puritanism, Christianity has taken on a role in the West that ensured religious freedom. Humanism began to encroach upon doctrine and in every aspect of how Church was done. Despite bright spots in this period such as the Great Awakening and then later the ministries of men like Charles Spurgeon, a downgrade in doctrine began to emerge into the Church. Humanism begat Liberal Theology which devastated the Church. A backlash against it called Fundamentalism was born. It was a move away from Liberal Theology, but it’s doctrines bore the stamp of legalism in many areas. This caused a backlash in the opposite direction that begat the emergent church movement and the New Evangelism.
These movements are even less doctrinally sound than those they are attempting to suppliant. Through all of this there has remained a Remnant of solid Christians who have not bowed the knee to Baal. This ministry is directed at this Remnant. Much of what we do here is teach God’s Word to edify and lead God’s people to live lives of repentance. However, there are times when this ministry becomes part of the battle against the encroachment of false doctrines and heresy. This post is one of those, but instead of looking at doctrine we will look at the characteristics of false teachers and prophets so believers will be able to recognize their characteristics and methods.
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.” (2Peter 2:1-3 ESV)
The greatest sin of those who reject Christ is their misrepresentation of the truth and the resultant deception. This is a work of Satan. His name means “adversary.” He is also called “the Devil.” This word in Greek means “the Slanderer.” Jesus called him a liar and a murderer. When we are in the battle against those who hate our faith and attack the veracity of the Word of God, there will be a commonality in their tactics. They misrepresent the truth, they lie, and they accuse God and us of all sorts of things that are untrue.
False prophets are those who claim to speak for God and proclaim salvation to people, but they really speak for Satan to the destruction of those they deceive. This is the epitome of wickedness. My abbreviated and largely incomplete history of the Church that I opened this post with does show that the decimation of the Church began when destructive heresies were allowed to be taught unchallenged. For example, Arianism denied the deity of Christ. It’s doctrines were very similar to that of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, the Council of Nicea met and dealt with that heresy to the point that in a generation it was largely dead. However, in the late 19th Century the Jehovah’s Witnesses began and were not dealt with by the Church. They have deceived untold number of people who have followed them to destruction.
Heresies are self-designed religious lies which lead to division and faction. The Greek word that Peter used for “destructive” means “damnation.” These heresies are damnable in that those who are ensnared by them will end up damned forever in the Lake of Fire. In our day the cry from way to many religious leaders is “Tolerance!” This is tragic because it actually legitimatizes that which is heretical within a body of believers.
What does it mean that these false teachers and prophets are guilty of, “even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction?” The Greek word used for “Master” here is δεσποτην or “Despotes.” It describes a master of slaves or servants and not always in a good light. This word is used only 10 times in the New Testament. On the other hand, Jesus our Lord is called κυριον or “Kurios” throughout the New Testament. This word describes one who is a good master or owner. Both words are translated as “Lord” or “Master,” but they have very different meanings. Is Peter using δεσποτην to describe our Lord Jesus Christ here? This Master has bought these false teachers and they are so bad they are even denying him. What does this mean?
“Peter here warns that false prophets deny the sovereign lordship of Jesus Christ. Though their heresies may include the denial of the virgin birth, deity, bodily resurrection, and second coming of Christ, the false teacher’s basic error is that they will not submit their lives to the rule of Christ. All false religions have an erroneous Christology. [who bought them] The terms which Peter used here are more analogical than theological, speaking of a human master over a household. the master bought slaves, and the slaves owed the master allegiance as their sovereign. Doctrinally, this analogy can be viewed as responsibility for submission to God which the false teachers had refused. Beyond this, they are probably claiming that they were Christians, so that the Lord had bought them actually and personally. With some sarcasm, Peter mocks such a claim by writing of their coming damnation. Thus, the passage is describing the sinister character of the false teachers who claim Christ, but deny His lordship over their lives.” – John MacArthur
“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked(for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.” 2 Peter 2:4-10a ESV)
Here we see the doom awaiting all false teachers and prophets. There is not one sin that is going to be overlooked by God. All sin will be judged. The good news for the genuine Christian is that their sins have already been paid for. God has already exercised His judgment against them as He poured out His wrath on the Son as He died on the Cross. However, these false prophets and teachers are still in their sins and their egregious sins of heresy and leading others into destruction as they despised the authority of the Lord will lead them into a level of judgment that is reserved for them specifically.
“Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.” (2 Peter 2:10b-16 ESV)
Who does this sound like? Doesn’t this describe those “Word Faith” hucksters who use their “ministries” to bilk millions of dollars from those they have deceived? Every time I see Benny Hinn or Kenneth Copeland I think of Balaam, the son of Beor. He went to curse the Israelites for money. The Word Faith heresies are all about money. If you ever hear them “preach” you know that their doctrines, such as they are, are nothing but fanciful interpretations of scripture meant to tickle people’s ears.
“These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” (2 Peter 2:17-22 ESV)
Notice that these false teachers and prophets entice people by sensual passions of the flesh. They are not of the Spirit of God. Their promises are like waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. In other words, they are empty promises that only the gullible believe. False teachers and prophets are apostates. They have turned back from truth to pursue their lies. They are defectors. Their life choices reveal that they have actually rejected Christ. These people are found within the Church. They came into their “ministries” within the Church not outside of Christianity. They are those that are half in the Church and half in the World. Eventually, being unregenerate, they reject the truth then try to seduce others to follow them.
What we must do is examine ourselves. How loyal are we to the Lordship of Christ? Are we seeking to live in a way to appease our flesh, to be fulfilled by self-gratification or are we denying ourselves, taking up our crosses and following Jesus? We must rid ourselves of the contamination of these false teachers and prophets. When apostates seek to destroy our faith we must not listen to them. We must pray for wisdom and discernment then tell the truth. We must stand firm and trust in the armor that God has given us using the sword of the Spirit, His Word, along with prayer to be strengthened in Him.