Fear and anxiety abound in these days of global pandemic, a US presidential election, natural disasters related to climate change, and economic insecurity. People are searching for explanations, advice as to how to best prepare, spiritual direction, and prophetic counsel. There’s a vulnerability to deception, and false prophecy abounds, visible in declarations endorsing candidates, conspiracy theories like QAnon, and political promises and prognoses. Jesus offers strong warnings to his disciples:
“See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.” (Mat 24:4-5)
These “many” who come in Jesus’s name who “mislead” can include those who claim to be Christian prophets themselves—even a majority of them.
In a number of places in the Old Testament hundreds of “court” prophets stand with Israel’s King, over-and-against a lone prophet who speaks for God. Each king of Israel was anointed by a prophet and called Messiah/Christ (meaning “anointed”). God’s prophets brought words of challenge, direction, and rebuke—unless they were co-opted, which has largely happened now in the USA.
King Ahab gathered together 400 prophets, who prophesied success and counseled war. The lone, largely unknown prophet Micaiah is then consulted, who prophesied that Ahab would be killed in the battle—which subsequently happened (1 Kgs 22:6, 13-17, 37). Amos, Jeremiah, and others too stood alone, vastly outnumbered before a majority of prophets who stood with Israel’s king– a warning to not trust the validity of prophetic declarations based on who is all agreeing. God’s Kingdom does not operate based on majority opinion.
Ezekiel is called by the Lord to expose and prophesy against false prophets with words that ring true today.
“Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who prophesy, and say to those who prophesy from their own inspiration, Listen to the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God, ‘Woe to the foolish prophets who are following their own spirit and have seen nothing'” (Ez 13:2-3).
“They see falsehood and lying divination who are saying, ‘The Lord declares,’ when the Lord has not sent them; yet they hope for the fulfillment of their word” (Ez 13:6).
Jeremiah too, strongly critiques Israel’s false prophets:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; They speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord’” (Jer 23:16).
“They keep saying to those who despise me, ‘The Lord has said, “You will have peace”’; And as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, they say, ‘Calamity will not come upon you.’ “But who has stood in the council of the Lord, that he should see and hear his word? Who has given heed to his word and listened” (Jer 23:17-18)?
In Ezekiel 14 idolatry is identified as blocking prophecy. Ezekiel critiques the people and prophets who hold idols in their hearts, that keep them from seeing and hearing from God.
“And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts and have put right before their faces the stumbling block of their iniquity. Should I be consulted by them at all’” (Ez 14:2-3)?
Setting up an idol in our heart can easily happen whenever we elevate anything or anyone other than the revelation of God in Jesus to a place of prominence in our hearts. Materialism, nation, ethnicity, money, self, political party, ideology can all become idols. Human leaders are often deified, and Scripture prohibits this idolatry.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them” (Exodus 20:2-5).
Endorsing, pledging one’s allegiance, and putting undue hope and trust in a human leader counts as “worshipping and serving,” and idolatry that must be named and renounced. Jeremiah’s words ring as a highly relevant warning at this moment in America.
“Thus says the Lord, ‘Cursed is the person who trusts in humankind and makes flesh their strength, and whose heart turns away from the Lord. For they will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant'” (Jer 17:5-6).
Jesus himself warns against going after human leaders who claim to save.
“Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.”
The equivalent of saying “I am the Christ” is to say something like: “I am the one who will make you [or America] great again,” or “I am the one who will bring you prosperity.” Prophesies circulating now stating that a particular candidate will bring America (or any nation) back to God” or be the Jehu to rid the land of Jezebels mislead and must be exposed as false.
When Christians publicly endorse or prophesy in favor of a political leader, candidate or party as God’s choice, regardless of the values they embody, there’s a slippery elevation of that leader into a savior or Christ status, and their values (USA, constitution, constituency) easily becomes the false presence of God’s Kingdom.
When any thing or person takes the place of total devotion to Jesus as Savior and Christ in a believer’s heart, then people will prophesy “from their own inspiration,” “following their own spirit,” “of their own imagination,” “in the stubbornness of one’s own heart.” If false prophetic words end up being seen as fulfilled, then the body of Christ will be in even more danger of going further into deception and entering a false presence of God’s Kingdom.
Jesus states bluntly: “Do not go after them” (Lk 21:8)
The way forward into faithful adherence to God’s counsel begins with a commitment to total trust in only God, as Jeremiah states:
“Blessed is the person who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is the Lord. For they will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit” (Jer 17:7-8).
God’s Word through Ezekiel to those with idols in their hearts is bold and clear:
“Thus says the Lord God, ‘Repent and turn away from your idols and turn your faces away from all your abominations’” (Ez 14:6).
Ezekiel himself models a prophetic posture that is rooted in the following commitments.
1. Rootedness in a community of exiles. Ezekiel’s ministry is “among the exiles” by the river Chebar in Babylon (Ez 1:1) and not “among the powerful” at the top. Court prophets were informed from above, by news sources friendly to the privileged. They told the king and the people what he and they wanted to hear. In contrast, Ezekiel spoke from his friendship with slaves, prisoners and the excluded—who were experiencing firsthand the failures of the dominant powers. This gave him a perspective “from below.”
2. Divine revelation. The heavens were opened over Ezekiel, enabling him to receive visions from God, rather than ones inspired by his own spirit. The Word of the Lord came to him personally, right where he was among the exiles (Ez 1:1-2).
3. Perceiving God in human form. When Ezekiel caught sight of the heavenly throne, upon which there was “a figure with the appearance of a man” (Ez 1:26), and “the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord,” he was completely humbled, writing: “I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking” (Ez 1:28).
4. Hear God for yourself. Ezekiel heard the voice speak to him personally: “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!” This was followed by God’s Spirit empowering him to do so: “As he spoke to me the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet and I heard speaking to me” (Ezek 2:1).
5. Being sent by God. Once standing at attention before the voice of God, Ezekiel was then positioned to receive his sending, with precise instructions. The distinctive mark of a true prophet is being sent by God.
6. Speaking God’s Words on difficult missions. “Then he said to me, ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel [the people of God], to a rebellious people who have rebelled against me; they and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. I am sending you to them who are stubborn and obstinate children, and you shall say to them, Thus says the Lord God’” (Ez 2:3-4).
7. Faithfulness despite opposition. “As for them, whether they listen or not—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
8. Fearless obedience. God tells Ezekiel: “neither fear their words nor be dismayed at their presence, for they are a rebellious house. “But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious” (Ez 2:6-7).
9. Continuous receiving of spiritual nourishment from God’s Word. “Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you.” Then I looked, and behold, a hand was extended to me; and lo, a scroll was in it”(Ez 2:8-9).
10. Ongoing empowerment by the Spirit. Ezekiel is then led by the Spirit to bring God’s distinct messages to places where God sends him (Ez 3:12).
Jesus himself outlines the future, with no illusions of glory or prophesies of nations becoming great. Matthew 24 presents a highly relevant prognosis for our times.
“You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Mat 24:6-14).
Now is the time to offer our total devotion to God, standing before God to receive direct counsel, messages, and be sent on missions. May we be careful to not be misled in these perilous times, listening instead to God’s distinct communications. May we fix our eyes on Jesus, the only Christ and Savior of the world. May we attend to the preaching of Jesus’s message of the kingdom “to the whole world as a testimony to all the nations” as our primary mission until the end.