Is there a false prophet in your church?

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Yesterday my husband and I were discussing the various ways that a demon might act in order to lead people astray.  We see in Scripture that there are demons who cause people to act irrationally and cause others to be mute, suffer from seizures, or roam around without cause.  We also see that there are demons who enable people to see supernaturally and thus work as diviners and fortune tellers.  I think, however, that one of Satan’s greatest tactics in hurting the Church and leading people astray is through false prophets and religious teaching that is so close but just not the complete Gospel:  assuring someone of a false salvation so that they never encounter Jesus is the greatest deception.

The fourth Church that Jesus addressed in His revelation to John was the Church at Thyatira.  In this warning, Jesus defined Himself as the one “who has eyes like a flame of fire” and “feet like burnished bronze”.  Jesus not only sees everything, but He is jealous for His glory and will ultimately and eternally cast into judgment (the lake of fire) anyone who does not repent of their sins and come to Him for salvation.  His feet are burnished bronze:  they will trample all of His enemies.  This self-description explains the wickedness that has infiltrated the Church:

“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: The Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and His feet are like burnished bronze, says this:  ‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.  I gave her time to repent, and she does not want to repent of her immorality.  Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.  And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.  But I say to you, the rest who are in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not known the deep things of Satan, as they call them—I place no other burden on you.  Nevertheless what you have, hold fast until I come.  He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, TO HIM I WILL GIVE AUTHORITY OVER THE NATIONSAND HE SHALL RULE THEM WITH A ROD OF IRON, AS THE VESSELS OF THE POTTER ARE BROKEN TO PIECES, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.”

– Rev 2.18-29

The Church at Thyatira had excelled in acts of service.  They met Jesus, they were transformed by His gospel, and they were growing in faith, love and persevering through life’s trials.  And they were continually adding to their faith by greater deeds of service.  In their determination to serve and in their hearts of love they chose, however, to tolerate a false prophet and not remove her from their midst.  Church discipline and inter-personal accountability is extremely difficult and many who have the Spiritual gift of service and compassion struggle with the confrontation that is required to remove someone who is walking in sin or teaching a false truth.  This is exactly what we see happening at Thyatira.

Jesus had no more patience for this false prophet.  He says that He has given her time to repent – whenever we encounter someone in sin, we should be patient with them as we attempt to hold them accountable – but there will come a point when a person either chooses obedience or chooses sin.  And once that decision is made, Jesus promises to destroy such a one.  This false prophet had led many in the Church to immorality and to idol worship.  While this might mean actually participating in worship of a foreign god or creating images of Jesus and offering sinful sacrifices to it, they had been led astray.  Jesus promises to destroy her while she is alive and all of those whom she has led astray will suffer severe tribulation with her.

Jesus then says that others will see the judgment that has come upon this church and know that He sees the hearts and minds of people and judged accordingly:  rendering to each one according to his deeds.  They will be an example.

Jesus then proclaims to the rest, who have not bought into this false teaching, to keep on keeping on.  He praises their perseverance and conviction and promises that if they continue until the end, they will be placed in a position of authority and saved on the day of judgment.  Romans 9 teaches us that God has created some people as “vessels of wrath”, who were created for destruction.  He uses the imagery of a potter creating some beautiful pots for honor and some worthless pots for destruction (picture a chamber pot), and the imagery is continued in this prophecy given to Thyatira,

“To him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces.”

Those who persevere will be welcomed into eternal rest, will rule (over the angels, Paul teaches us, 1 Cor 6.3), and will watch as God destroys and sends into an eternity separated from Him in Hell.

False prophets are wicked and have already infiltrated the Church, John says (1 John 4.1).  That is why we must be a wise as serpents but as innocent as doves (Matt 10.16).  We must hear teaching and immediately evaluate it against Scripture and test it to see if it is from God (Acts 17.11, 1 John 4.1).  We must intentionally protect our churches, our families and our own hearts from false prophets who would lead us astray and into destruction by God’s righteous judgment.  We should never be a passive listener.  When you go to church, when you listen to podcasts, when you read devotional material, test it.  No one is infallible and no one is guaranteed to always teach the truth.  That is why we have the Holy Spirit residing in us to help us discern sin and righteousness (John 16.8).

We must be on guard because the devil is prowling around looking for those whom he can devour (1 Peter 5.8).  He is actively against us, and he has sent out false prophets who will entice us and lead us astray with the smallest untruth which can lead to our destruction.  Stand firm in the faith.  Know the Word and know God, and rest in His perfect Truth.

Do the demons know you?

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Do the demons know who you are?  Sometimes when we consider the problem of evil, suffering in the world and the reality of Satan, we forget that he is a finite being.  God is everywhere, at all times.  Satan is a created being, and can only be in one place at one time.  Satan is not God’s equal and opposite force, He is an instrument created by God for a specific purpose.  And while God has given him power for the moment, the battle is already won.  Satan has been defeated and the end has already been written.  He knows that his eternity lies in Hell, as Scripture teaches.

God is not up in Heaven wringing His hands, wondering how everything will turn out.  He is not surprised at anything that happens, because He is sovereign over everything that happens.  Satan has to ask permission to test us and try us (Luke 22.31).

Knowing that his time is limited and his power mediated by God, Satan purposefully utilizes his time and demons to his best advantage.  Reflecting on that reality, I am reminded this morning of the seven sons of Sceva:

God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were even carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out.  But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.”  Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this.  And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?”  And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.  This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified.

– Acts 19.11-17

The demon recognized Jesus as the ultimate authority, and he knew of Paul and the movement of the kingdom that God was doing through him.  But these guys were posers.  They had no relationship with God through Jesus, and they were trying to exercise authority over the demons by proclaiming His name alone.  And the demons knew that the power and authority of Jesus was not resting within these guys.  “Who are you?”  And then he beat them silly and ripped off their clothes.

To me, there is a bit of humor in this story.  It sounds cartoonish, because it is rare to see seven grown men be beaten up by one, forced to run from the house naked.  Or maybe it sounds Jason Bourn-ish.  Except Jason Bourn would have to be the bad guy.

But let’s consider some of the depths here.  Have you ever read the Screwtape Letters?  The premise of the book is a master demon mentoring his understudy on how best to distract and destroy a human.  There are some people who will fall into the big sins like murder, embezzlement and grandiose failures.  But the average Joe will be keen to withstand those temptations.  And the enemy knows this truth.  So the plan of attack is to neutralize our impact by distraction.  Sometimes it is is minor sins like greed and discontentment.  Sometimes we get distracted by good deeds like feeding the poor and raking leaves.  And I believe the greatest scheme of the devil is to teach a false Christianity.  If people can be led to believe that raising their hands during a service will secure them eternally, without them ever meeting Christ, then the greatest of all deceptions is perpetrated.

The seven sons of Sceva were not intentionally posers.  They wanted the power of Jesus.  They clearly wanted it for the wrong reasons, but they were attracted to Jesus because of the ability to work miracles that Paul possessed.  So they approached a demon-possessed man and attempted to exorcise it in the name of Jesus.  Now, these guys were exorcists by trade, so they were familiar with the interaction, but it still takes some guts to walk into that situation.

So my question is this:  do the demons know you?  Are you impacting the kingdom such that you are a threat to their efforts?  Or are you neutralized by infatuation with the world, with materialism or with good deeds?  Have you been assured of a false salvation?  Are you banking on a prayer that you said when you were five years old to secure your eternity?  Or are you walking daily in the life and power of Jesus Christ?  Do you know yourself well enough to know the temptations and distractions that will make you become ineffective eternally?  Do you know the schemes and the wiles of the enemy well enough to stand guard?

Satan is not everywhere.  He will only invest his time and energy where he can have the most impact.  Chances are extremely high that you have never been personally attacked by him.  You probably have been attacked or influenced by one of his demons, but once he has deceived and neutralized you, he need not exert himself more on you.

So let’s get busy.  Let’s understand our own weaknesses, and let’s learn his craftiness.  Let’s remember that the only thing that matters eternally is our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and our primary and ultimate mandate is to let others know of the forgiveness that is available through grace.  Let’s get on the front lines of the battle and stand with the power and authority of Christ so that when we do come to the confrontation, we are not overtaken and flee naked and beaten up.