note: Dan Juster, Ariel Blumenthal and Asher Intrater contributed to this paper.
Is someone who prophesies mistakenly a “false prophet”? Is someone who teaches in error a “false teacher”? For instance, we believe strongly in the Gifts of the Spirit. If another teacher teaches cessation (the idea that those gifts have ceased), is one of us a false teacher?
We maintain that there is a difference between teaching in error and being a false teacher. A false teacher is teaching false doctrine about Yeshua and leading people away from the true gospel doctrine. It is not merely someone who has made a mistake in his or her theology. If our standard is that we must be 100% right all the time in doctrine, then we all are false teachers to some degree—as we have all changed and/or tweaked our doctrinal understanding over the years.
The New Covenant is clear that false teachers and false prophets are not those who merely made a mistake, but are deceivers.
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. (1 Peter 2:1)
Yeshua gave us a clear warning about the emergence of false prophets in the End Times:
And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many…(they) will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. (Matthew 24:11, 24)
A false prophet in the New Covenant is not a believer who loves Yeshua, preaches the Gospel, moves in the power of the Holy Spirit, and is a recognized leader of the Body of Messiah, and yet happens to make a predictive prophecy that does not come to pass! (That’s just one way we might prophecy incorrectly).
This might have happened because they allowed their hopes and emotions to boil over, resulting in a kind of presumption—or for any other number of reasons. Biblically, a false prophet is an unbeliever (or former believer!) using demonic inspiration to draw people away from God and faith in Yeshua. The Torah also makes it clear that the primary issue was prophets/teachers whose words would lead the people astray, to abandon their faith and follow after “other gods.” (Deut. 13:1-5; 18:9-22)
Under Moses there were two ways to identify a false prophet.
He spoke in the name of other gods.
His word did not come to pass.
But in the New Testament Yeshua says, referring to false prophets:
By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. (Matt. 7:16-18)
So, again, when we speak of false prophets were not speaking of believers who preach Yeshua and have long lasting fruit in the kingdom—but one time publicly gave a presumptuous word, but rather we are speaking about cult leaders like David Koresh, Jim Jones or Charles Manson. In most cases the false prophet claims to be a messiah or the Messiah.
Let’s take a closer look at how the Scriptures teach this whole idea of prophecy under the New Covenant versus the Old.
New Testament Prophet/Prophecy
Revelation contains an important statement about the true nature of prophecy since Yeshua’s death, resurrection, ascension and outpouring of the Spirit. John sees the return of Yeshua and the wedding supper of the Lamb. An angel rebukes John for seeking to worship him and says:
“Do not do that; I am a fellow servant of yours and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus; worship God. For the testimony of Yeshua is the spirit of prophecy.” (Rev. 19:10)
What does this mean? “For the testimony of Yeshua is the spirit of prophecy.”
This is a fundamental difference between Old and New Covenant prophecy: We prophesy to confirm the Gospel, the message of His life, the cross, resurrection, ascension, the new birth and indwelling and empowering of the Holy Spirit to all who believe, and the hope of His Second Coming to fully establish the Kingdom on earth…we have the full, prophetic revelation of everything God wants men to know in order to be saved!
Before Yeshua fulfilled all of these prophetic acts, the prophets:
…searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Messiah in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Messiah and the glories that would follow. (1 Peter 1:10-11)
By the Holy Spirit, the best the Old Testament prophets could do was to search for and predict the timing and nature of the events of the coming of the Messiah. But for us, we got it! It’s happened, it’s been preached, passed down and recorded in Holy Scripture. When we respond to that prophetic message—Yeshua can save you—the Spirit of the Messiah himself causes us to be “born again” from above; and then the Holy Spirit makes His home in us, giving us an “anointing from the Holy One,” which leads us into all truth. (1 John 2:20, John 16:13).
This means that NT prophecy, and the gift/office of prophet is not what it used to be! We no longer predict the coming of Messiah, we proclaim it and prophetically call all men embrace it.