Before reading this brief study, please read the previous articles in this series,
- The Meaning of Eschatology
- Flashback to the Prophecy of Jesus Christ
- The Parable of the Vineyard – Part 1
- The Parable of the Vineyard – Part 2
- The Parable of the Vineyard – Part 3
- The Wedding Feast
- The Temple – Old and New
- The Questions
- The Beginning of Signs
- Misleading Sign 1 – False Messiahs
- Misleading Sign 2 – Wars and Rumours of Wars
- Misleading Sign 3 – Nation against Nation & Kingdom against Kingdom
- Misleading Sign 4 – Famines
- Misleading Sign 5 – Pestilences
- Misleading Sign 6 – Earthquakes
- Misleading Sign 7 – Signs and Disturbances in the Heavens
- Misleading Sign 8 – Persecutions
- Misleading Sign 9 – Apostasy
Matthew 24:11 — And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.
Mark 13:22 – 23 — For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.
MANY FALSE PROPHETS AROSE
Jesus had earlier warned His disciples of the rise of false prophets and false messiahs. He had also given them a standard to measure a prophet, which is by their fruits and not by their prophecies alone.
Matthew 7:15 – 16 — “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
As the Jews expected the Messiah was to come, several false prophets arose on the scene to deceive many. They promised Israel deliverance from the Romans and many gullible people believed in this sham.
Josephus writes how these false prophets deluded and deceived the Jews:
“There was also another body of wicked men gotten together, not so impure in their actions, but more wicked in their intentions, who laid waste the happy state of the city no less than did these murderers. These were such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretense of divine inspiration, but were for procuring innovations and changes of the government, and these prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them into the wilderness, as pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty…” [Josephus, Wars, 2.12.4]
An Egyptian false prophet He also writes about another false prophet:
“…There was an Egyptian false prophet that did the Jews more mischief than the former; for he was a cheat, and pretended to be a prophet also, and got together thirty thousand men that were deluded by him; these he led round about from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force from that place; and if he could but once conquer the Roman garrison and the people, he intended to domineer over them by the assistance of those guards of his that were to break into the city with him…” [Josephus, Wars, 2.12.5]
“The tyrannical zealots who ruled the city suborned many false prophets to declare that aid would be given to the people from heaven. This was done to prevent them from attempting to desert, and to inspire confidence in God.” [Josephus, Wars, 6.5.2]
Not only the Jews, but the early church was also under attack by numerous false prophets. Judaizers and Gnostics desperately tried to destroy the work of the apostles. They deceived many within the church.
The apostle Peter who was with Jesus on the Mount of Olives and heard the Lord’s warning of false prophets wrote:
2 Peter 2:1 – 3 — But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. Many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned; and in their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgement from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
Peter was writing what would happen in the early church; the first generation of believers. He was not speaking about some future day event. Peter declared that false prophets would arise from among them and “slander and damage the truth” and “in their self-indulgence” would “exploit and abuse” that generation of Christians.
The context demands that Peter spoke of the generation living during the first century.
Paul also wrote against the teachers of Judaism and Gnosticism saying:
2 Corinthians 11:13 — For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.
Paul warned the Ephesian Church elders against “savage wolves”:
Acts 20:29 – 30 — For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.
Paul wrote to Timothy:
2 Timothy 2:16 – 18 — But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.
The above warning was given to Timothy against Hymenaeus and Philetus who were falsely teaching that the resurrection of the body had already taken place.
John writes of his generation:
1 John 4:1 — “…because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
John did not warn the church of some future day when false prophets would go into the world to deceive them but that they have already gone into the world during his time. This does not mean there are no false prophets and false teachers today.
There are and always will be people who distort the truth; however, we must look at the entire discourse in context to understand what Jesus and His apostles meant. People get excited with prophecies but Jesus said to discern them by their fruit.
John warned the church of a false prophet named Cerinthus. He writes in his first letter:
1 John 2:18 – 19 — Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.
1 John 4:3 — and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.
The early church father Irenaeus writes concerning “Cerenthus”:
“John, the disciple of the Lord, preaches this faith, and seeks, by the proclamation of the gospel, to remove that error which by Cerinthus had been disseminated among men, and a long time previously by those termed Nicolaitans, who are an offset of that knowledge falsely so called, that he might confound them, and persuade them that there is but one God, who made all things by His Word.” [Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses, Book 3, Chapter 11, Verse 1 ]
CERINTHUS – FALSE TEACHER AND PROPHET
Cerinthus was the leader of a first-century Gnostic cult who came to be regarded by the early church fathers as the “heresiarch” or “the Arch-heretic.” He was identified by these church fathers as one of the “false apostles” who opposed the apostle Paul. It was against Cerinthus and others like him that Paul wrote:
Galatians 1:8 — But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!
According to another author:
“…Cerinthus was a Jew who joined the church and began drawing Christians away from the orthodox faith. He taught that a lesser deity and not the true God had created the world, this meant also a denial of the Incarnation since God would never take upon Himself a physical body and a real human personality.
Cerinthus declared that Jesus had merely been an ordinary man, not born of a virgin; that “the Christ” (a heavenly spirit) had descended upon the man Jesus at His baptism (enabling Him to perform miracles), but then left Him again at the crucifixion.
Cerinthus also advocated a doctrine of justification by works — in particular, the absolute necessity of observing the ceremonial ordinances of the old covenant to be saved.”
Adding to these cultic teachings which were contrary to the teaching of the original apostles, Cerinthus emerges as the first person in history to teach that at the second coming of Christ would then lead in a literal reign of Christ in Jerusalem for a thousand years. Irenaeus adds that Cerinthus, a man educated in the wisdom of the Egyptians claimed angelic inspiration.
According to Irenaeus, Polycarp told the story that John the apostle, in particular, is said to have so detested Cerinthus that he once fled a bathhouse yelling. This, John did when he found that Cerinthus was inside:
“Let us flee, lest the building fall down; for Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is inside!” [Irenaeus – ‘Adversus Haereses’. 3.3.4.]
The apostles’ John and Paul wrote sternly against false prophets and teachers such as Cerinthus and others in their writings.
“One of the greatest temptations in times of difficulty is to follow blindly any self-proclaimed savior who promises help” [Carson, 497].