It’s not too difficult. For one thing, the false prophet preached a popular, politically correct message:
· “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. "Peace, peace," they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when they are punished,” says the LORD. (Jeremiah 8:11-12)
The false prophets of Israel had been masters in presenting a message that was broadly marketable. They told the people what they wanted to hear:
· “They continually say to those who despise Me, 'The LORD has said, "You shall have peace" '; And to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, 'No evil shall come upon you.' I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.” (Jeremiah 23:17-18; 14:13-14)
In contrast to this comforting message, the Lord wanted Israel to hear the opposite – a warning to repent. However, this is a distasteful message.
It is little different today. The false prophet preaches a popular message, which attracts many. He teaches that we can and should be wealthy, if only we would just believe this false gospel. The Christian evolutionist preaches that we can be Christians and evolutionists. We can have professional respectability without compromising the Gospel. The mystic teaches that all can partake of the intimacy and grace of God with just a few simple exercises, apart from faith and repentance.
Instead, the true and loving message would be the uncomfortable one, the one that demanded repentance. However, Israel had little appreciation for such a message.
There is another way we can discern the true prophet from the false. The true prophet will be persecuted. The false prophet knows how to win popularity and approval.
The Prophets of Israel were all persecuted by the people they were trying to help:
· “Why do you contend with me? You have all transgressed against me,” declares the LORD. “In vain have I struck your children; they took no correction; your own sword devoured your prophets like a ravening lion.” (Jeremiah 2:29-30)
Ordinarily, humankind hates the light of God (John 3:19-20) and will attempt to extinguish it. The false prophet is not the source of light. Instead, he enables the people to remain comfortably in their darkness.
In prayer, the Levites under Nehemiah acknowledged that God had been good to Israel. However, this wasn’t enough to keep them from rebellion. Instead, they killed the Prophets of God, whom He had sent to warn Israel:
· “Nevertheless, they were disobedient and rebelled against you and cast your law behind their back and killed your prophets, who had warned them in order to turn them back to you, and they committed great blasphemies.” (Nehemiah 9:26)
In contrast, we have no record of the false prophets being persecuted. And why should they be! They were studiously giving the people just what they wanted to hear.
The author of the Chronicles concluded with an explanation of Israel’s tragic history:
· The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy. (2 Chronicles 36:15-16)
Jesus reaffirmed this indictment in many ways:
· Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town…O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Matthew 23:34, 37)
The same hatred of the light would also send Jesus to His death. However, Jesus warned us that it would also be the same for any who were determined to live for Him:
· “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues…Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” (Matthew 10:17, 21-22)
But why would we be hated? Because we too are of the light:
· “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept MY WORD, they will also keep yours.” (John 15:18-20)
True messengers of the light will love His Word more than their own lives. We will seek to honor Him through His Word above seeking our own honor. However, the world cannot tolerate such light and will seek to kill us. Therefore, Jesus said:
· “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” (John 16:1-2)
Gnosticism had been a popular heresy in the early church. It taught an affirming gospel. If you are one of the spiritual elite, you have the truth-within and don’t need the Bible. Unsurprisingly, the Gnostic Christians didn’t suffer persecution. They didn’t love the Word more than their own lives and were free to modify their truth-within to fit the times.
However, according to Jesus, true believers would be hated by all, even by so-called brothers:
· “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” (Matthew 24:9-11)
Even our brethren will turn on us, and we see this happening today. The Bible-believing Christian is held in contempt by many churches. These churches preach “Peace, peace” and embrace the prevailing culture. They prefer to be acceptable to the world and their professional communities than to God. They love the praise of men rather than the praise of God (Proverbs 29:25; John 5:42-44). They claim that the Word of God is not enough and seek to be culturally relevant.
However, Jesus provided an important test:
· “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.” (John 14:23-24)
This is how we can know if we truly are His. However, we will suffer persecution for His Word’s sake, but it is a blessing and also an encouragement that we are walking in the light:
· “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.” (Luke 6:22-23)
When we seek to please God through obedience to His Word, we will swim against the currents of the culture and will be hated. However, be of good cheer, for our Lord reigns.