False prophets who call themselves servants of God for their own personal gain are nothing new. Religious teachers who tweak the Bible’s message in order to build their own kingdoms have always been around. Throughout the Bible there are accounts of God’s truth being distorted for personal gain.
One prime illustration is found in the book of Jeremiah. God had had enough of His people’s idolatry, so He decided to have wicked Babylon take them away to judgment if they would not repent. His warning and call to repentance was to be given through Jeremiah. But Jeremiah wasn’t the only prophet in Judah. There were false prophets, too. These false messengers opposed Jeremiah’s negative preaching about the coming judgment, and instead preached only positive sermons.
God said they did this out of the greed of their hearts, for personal gain. In Jeremiah 6, God describes them:
For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain; and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.
So God warned His people not to believe everything they hear, but to listen only to the Word of the Lord.
Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” (Jer. 23:16)
Sadly, the people listened to the false prophets who only preached a positive message, and threw Jeremiah into a cistern of mud.
This pattern is repeated throughout the Old Testament. The greedy liars are believed by the masses, and the faithful preachers of truth are silenced and sometimes even put to death. So much so that Jesus said in His day: 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!
Sadly, even after the fullness of God’s redemptive plan arrived in Jesus—and He was crucified, died, and rose again—Satan continued to empower his deceitful messengers. They continue to do this through deception that is rooted in self-interest and personal gain. The apostle Paul said of the false apostles who had infiltrated the church at Corinth:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds. (2 Cor. 11:13-15)
Warnings like these are found in many places in the New Testament, but none is stronger and more pointed than the book of Jude. As you read the little letter, you see that Jude holds nothing back. He is so burdened to protect true believers that he writes the longest and strongest warning found in the New Testament concerning apostasy. William MacDonald says: “Jude does not mince words! He pulls out all the stops, as it were, to unmask these notorious heretics.”
Intending to write an encouraging letter about the wonders of God’s salvation, Jude was instead directed by the Holy Spirit to write a different type of letter. Not only is this a warning, but it is a call to believers to defend the true gospel, to contend for sound doctrine, and stand up for the faith that was once for all delivered to Christians. In this sobering letter, Jude, a younger half-brother of Jesus, calls us to stand up for the faith. This humble servant of God compels us to not only listen, but to take action.
Here we see four ongoing disciplines that are necessary to standing up for the faith.
- Rest in God’s Punishment (vv. 3-13).
- Remember God’s Prophecies (vv. 14-19).
- Return to God’s Priorities (vv. 20-23).
- Rely on God’s Power (vv. 24-25).
Brothers and sisters, we are living in the last days. Paul’s description to Timothy sounds like something we might read in today’s news.
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim 3:1-7).
Let us heed the warning of Jesus himself: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matt. 7:15)