hich one do you want?” asked the man in New York City, as he rolled up his coat sleeve to show me a watch collection. And what a collection of gold and silver watches he had! All looked appealing, all were well-known expensive brands—at least they appeared that way. And then the good news: I could have any one of them for a very low price.
“How many do you want?” he inquired. The watches were very tempting and the price was attractive—too attractive, too low.
Even though I had just graduated from high school, somehow I knew that I should not even discuss prices with him. The watches looked like gold and silver, they looked expensive, but they had no value—they were cheap imitations of the real thing. Call them what you will—fake, counterfeit, phony—not one of them was worth anything.
In the same way, you can’t trust false prophets, even those who are bold enough to call themselves Christ. What they think of themselves does not matter; who they really are is the most important thing.
But How Do You Know?
It’s one thing to determine if a watch is a copy of the genuine; it’s another thing to determine if someone is just pretending to be a prophet, teacher, or even Christ. Yet that’s what we must do—separate the true from the false. Jesus gives us a timely warning: “For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect. . . . So be on your guard” (Mark 13:22, 23). Our spiritual enemy will use all means available to detour us on our journey. The apostle Peter adds one more group—false teachers (2 Peter 2:1). So there we have it—false prophets, false teachers, and false christs—Satan’s trio.
The warning is clear, identifying the enemies of the Christian. Their methods, however, challenge us because they “will secretly introduce destructive heresies among you” (2 Peter 2:1). Just as insects can invade a house without the occupants knowing until it’s too late, so these enemies try to invade the church.
We can and must take specific steps to fortify ourselves so that they do not fool us:
• We must critically evaluate them to determine if they come from God (1 John 4:1). Just as some people buy imitation watches, too many become fooled by spiritual imposters.
• We must determine whether these individuals are faithful to the Bible. No matter how appealing they sound, we should not pay attention to those who do not accept and practice basic biblical teachings.
• What kinds of lives do these individuals live? On the outside they may look like sheep, but they really are ferocious wolves (Matt. 7:15).
•We must ask, “Who is this person who proclaims a different message?”While we should be careful not to reject individuals who may have different views, we ought to evaluate their actions.
Once I was visiting a family who told me that they would no longer fellowship with the church members. They stated they had found a man whose life was in harmony with the Word of God. When I asked them if they really knew this man, they assured me that God had led them to him. A year or two after they followed their spiritual hero, it was revealed that this man was living a life of adultery. His talk and his walk did not match. He was a fraud.
By asking questions, using the mind God has given us, reading the Word, and by prayer, we can test and determine the true and the false. “None need be deceived,” wrote Ellen White (The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Nov. 17, 1885). And when we know we have met a false prophet, teacher, or Christ, the bravest thing we can do is rebound away from them—and run to the eternal Christ.
How Do They Deceive?
How do false teachers, prophets, and christs deceive? At the beginning we may not have anything more than curiosity. Or we have been convinced that we hold some special place—chosen to hear a message that is reserved for a few, for instance. Peter tells us that such individuals “secretly introduce false heresies among” us. They have entered the Christian family in illegal ways, or others have allowed them to come in, just as a city dweller might choose to open the city gates to the enemy. Because their forehead does not have the word “False” stamped on it, some find it difficult to spot them.
These counterfeits often express interest in our spiritual lives. A young man told me how an individual expressed interest in his spiritual journey. At first the interest seemed to be genuine, but one day the young man realized his spiritual life was under attack by this imposter. Why? Because very slowly the older man moved from concern for the young man to criticism of the church—nothing the church was doing was right. The young man was startled and told the older man that their friendship was over. This bold but necessary action was a blessing for the young man.
Speaking with authority, as Satan did, is another approach imposters use. During the temptations of Christ, Satan challenged Jesus to turn stones into bread, to jump from the Temple, and to bow down to him (Matt. 4:1-9). But speaking with authority isn’t the same as having authority. Often false teachers seem more interested in their personal authority than faithfulness to God’s Word.
Another source of protection is the unity of Christ’s church family. Jeremiah tells us how to relate to false prophets:
“Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord” (Jer. 23:16).
Unity of faith means that if we disagree about interpretation of the Scriptures or about a doctrinal issue, we must turn to our Lord for unity. In unity, false teachers, prophets, or christs cannot harm us since they have disunity as their goal.
God Raised Up This Movement for a Particular Purpose
What God starts, God completes. That should give hope to all of us. There have been and will be false teachers, prophets, and christs and they will do their best to confuse us. We need to know how to recognize them, but we don’t need to become experts of the false in order to know
One of my daughters and I wanted to visit my mother’s brother, but his country would not give us a visa. By the time we found this out it was too late for us to let Uncle know that we were not coming, for we were told that he had already left for the border. We headed for the same border, just in case we had an opportunity to meet. When we got there we saw many strangers, but then I spotted distant figure that I recognized. He had waited nine hours for us. What a joyous reunion.
You and I have been invited to a joyous reunion with Jesus. We need to focus on knowing and following Jesus now. That is the best assurance that we will not be fooled by the false. Jesus’ warning about false christs and prophets (Mark 13:22, 23) is a message of hope, for He assures His followers that they will not be deceived.
What kind of life should we live now? Paul tells us that we should be rooted in Jesus (Col. 2:7). Ellen White writes that “we need to be anchored in Christ, rooted and grounded in the faith” (The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Nov. 17, 1885). He will never let us down. That’s our assurance that we will not be fooled by the false teachers, prophets, and christs. Focus on the genuine, and you won’t have to worry about the counterfeit.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND SHARING
1. Why are there so many deceptions in the last days?
2. The author writes: “What God starts, God completes.” How does this statement encourage you as a Seventh-day Adventist?
Nikolaus Satelmajer is associate ministerial secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and editor of Ministry.