by Mike Ratliff
1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 1 Timothy 4:1-2 (NASB)
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.
1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. 2 Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; 3 and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep. 2 Peter 2:1-3 (NASB)
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 with which I opened this post 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 (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 (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
4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; 5 and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 6 and if He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter; 7 and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day by their lawless deeds), 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who indulge the flesh in its corrupt desires and despise authority. 2 Peter 2:4-10a (NASB)
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.
Daring, self-willed, they do not tremble when they revile angelic majesties, 11 whereas angels who are greater in might and power do not bring a reviling judgment against them before the Lord. 12 But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed, 13 suffering wrong as the wages of doing wrong. They count it a pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, as they carouse with you, 14 having eyes full of adultery that never cease from sin, enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children; 15 forsaking the right way, they have gone astray, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; 16 but he received a rebuke for his own transgression, for a mute donkey, speaking with a voice of a man, restrained the madness of the prophet. 2 Peter 2:10b-16 (NASB)
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.
17 These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. 18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. 22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” 2 Peter 2:17-22 (NASB)
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.
Soli Deo Gloria!