False Shepherds at the End of the Age
At the end of the age there will be a satanic onslaught -- Jesus said many false prophets will appear (Matthew 24:11) and deceive many people (but not necessarily believers). He added that false Christs and false prophets would perform great (false) signs and miracles in order to try and deceive the elect – but He adds, “if that were possible” (Matthew 24:24). It is not usual for the elect to be so easily deceived, but it all depends on their hearts.
I would make a number of points about the coming proliferation of false prophets and Christs, etc.
Firstly, this is no different to the initial apostolic age of the church, which had to struggle to sort out the false from the real in many matters. This is to be expected in a time when God is working to bring about great things in a new way, since the enemy seeks to control the gains of the Kingdom of Christ. The apostle John gave this report of such false activity in the days of the first apostles. “Many deceivers... have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully” (2 John 7-8).
Secondly, the number of false prophets or apostles will be minimal compared to the number of genuine apostles and prophets released into the church in the last days. This, as we observed earlier, is just as it was in the times of the New Testament authors.
Thirdly, they are a counterfeit. There can only be a counterfeit if there is also a genuine, otherwise the counterfeit is meaningless. Counterfeit money only has value if it is an attempt to copy real money. No criminal produces a $99 note, or a $110 note, because these do not exist. If at the end of the age there will be a resurgence of false apostles and prophets, it will be because the genuine article abounds. Satan will only be attempting to copy what God is doing. Furthermore, criminals counterfeit the more valuable notes, because this is worth more to them. This can only mean that apostles and prophets will be of great value to Christ and the church at the end of the age.
Avoiding the Counterfeit
We are most safely kept from being deceived by a counterfeit when we are completely familiar with the genuine. In a bank, the employees easily identify counterfeit banknotes simply because they are so familiar with the real, which they handle everyday. They know the feel of good money. In their hands and before their eyes, they can tell the difference easily. It is the people who do not handle money constantly that are fooled by the counterfeit.
Likewise, this principle is true in every spiritual matter. The way to guard against false prophecy is to be, by constant use, completely familiar with genuine prophecy. I have often advised that the way to protect the church from false intercessors is to train, not just the volunteer intercessors, but the whole church, in intercession, and the way to protect against false prophecy is to train, again, not a few but the whole church in prophecy. Then, if someone with false motives, claiming to be an intercessor or prophetically gifted, begins to fellowship with the saints, say in a cell or a prayer meeting, their falseness is readily apparent to the saints – it ‘smells’ to them . Potential problems are cut off early, and these wolves will not have power to draw sheep after themselves. Those churches and pastors who avoid these matters are far more likely to be deceived by the false.
Today, leaders and churches need to be fully informed and totally involved in the restoration of apostles and prophets to the church. In this way we can most safely guard our people against falsehood and deception.
We come to possibly the saddest aspect of all. It is possible, and it has occurred, that a genuine apostle might fall from grace, into backsliding and sin, and become a false apostle. The principle also applies to prophets, teachers, elders, and to every believer.
The classic examples of this phenomena are those of Balaam the prophet in the Old Testament, and Judas the apostle of the Lamb in the New. There is no question but that both of these were genuinely called and anointed servants of Christ, who ministered in His name and with His anointings.
Every word recorded in the Bible as prophecy from the prophet Balaam is exceptional and holy prophecy. None of it constitutes a false word. Every word is of the Spirit of God, and Balaam's words are amongst the most beautiful and inspiring in all of scripture. For example, “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it” (Numbers 23:19-20).
The witness of the Holy Spirit concerning the actual prophetic utterances of Balaam is this, "The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly, the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened” (Numbers 24:15-16). Nevertheless, he is considered the greatest, i.e. the worst and most evil, of the false prophets, such that he is the New Testament example of a false leader who loved the wages of wickedness.
Every word Balaam spoke was true, but the man became false. He caused Israel to sin, so that the curse that he was not able to pronounce by oracle (because his prophetic gift was so accurate and anointed of God), would come upon God's people.
We see then, that falsehood is not defined by the quality of the ministry, but by the heart of the minister. We also understand that where people present outwardly a good quality of ministry, this is not the proof of their righteousness or their walk with Christ.
Judas fell from what should have been a very secure position -- next to Jesus Himself. Satan also fell from such a position, close to the throne of God. It will do us good to remember that we are kept secure by a humble dependent heart, not by position in the ministry. The closer we get to God by means of revelation, experience, ministry anointing and the like, the more we need to always remember that we are on God's Holy Mountain, and this is from where Satan fell.
Paul was conscious of the dangers of taking God for granted, and failing to press on in humble pursuit of our holy Saviour. “I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:27). The word here translated ‘disqualified’ literally means "reprobate, unapproved, rejected as worthless".
The Apostle John’s Observation
The apostle John writes very revealingly of a church leader called Diotrephes, in his third epistle (3 John 9-10). John said Diotrephes "loves to be first". This is a telling piece of information. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:28 that in the church it is to be "first, apostles,", and this can only mean that Diotrephes was claiming apostolic authority over the local church. John also said that he "will have nothing to do with us". This makes Diotrephes, by definition, a false apostle. Possibly he was originally a genuine leader of God’s people who had fallen, or was falling. He fails the test of the true apostle on both the following points.
Firstly, the true apostle is marked by humility, gentleness, considering others better than oneself, love and hospitality. Yet Diotrephes was "gossiping maliciously" about the apostles, he refused :to welcome the brothers", he stopped others from offering hospitality to the brothers, and he "puts them out of the church".
Secondly, he rejected the true apostle (John), and exercised malicious and manipulative control of the local church. We have here a classic example of the false apostle/prophet/shepherd. Further, John implied that Diotrephes was not of God when he made the comment found in 3 John 11.
On the other hand, John proceeds immediately to commend Demetrius, who stands in stark contrast to Diotrephes. He is well spoken of by the believers, and by the truth itself. As well, the apostle commends him, which is a faithful testimony.
A Pattern for Validating True Grace Gifts
This gives us the pattern for recognising the true apostle or prophet. God will provide two or three witnesses to establish every truth. This will come from the testimony of the believers who are around them, the testimony of just how their life compares to the Word of God, and the testimony of the apostles who are over them in the Lord.
In assessing the validity of leadership ministry, let the body of Christ takes note of John's words in his second epistle, found at 2 John 7-11, and consider especially these instructions, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work” (2 John 10-11).