The Trojan Horse is a story by Homer about the deception that the Greeks used to enter the city of Troy and win the Trojan War. After a 10-year siege, the Greeks constructed a huge wooden horse, and hid a select force of men inside. The Greeks pretended to sail away, and the Trojans pulled the horse into their city as a victory trophy. That night the Greek force crept out of the horse and opened the gates for the rest of the Greek army, which had sailed back under cover of night. The Greeks entered and destroyed the city of Troy, ending the war.
In this post we look at an older example of deception.
A promise and warning
After king Solomon had finished building the temple, God promised that if he was obedient his dynasty would always rule over Israel (1 Ki. 9:1-9; 2 Chron. 7:17-22). But if his descendants turned to follow other gods there would be disaster and they would be cut off from their land and the temple would be destroyed.
The Israelites were told not to intermarry with other nations because this would cause them to follow other gods (1 Ki. 11:1-8). But king Solomon “loved many foreign women”, and “his wives led him astray”. “As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done. On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. He did the same for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods” (v.4-8NIV).
The punishment for this disobedience was that the kingdom of Israel would be divided (1 Ki. 11:9-13). And that’s what happened. Ten tribes followed Jeroboam and set up the kingdom of Israel in the north and two tribes followed Rehoboam and set up the kingdom of Judah in the south.
The kingdom of Israel rebels against God
As Jerusalem was in Judah, Jeroboam set up golden calves to worship in Bethel and Dan and led the Israelites into idolatry. At first Jeroboam was based at Shechem, but then he moved to Tirzah (1 Ki. 12:25; 14:17). The first five kings of Israel reigned from Tirzah, the capital of the northern kingdom. The next king Omri reigned in Tirzah for 6 years before buying the hill of Samaria and building his palace and the city there in about 925BC (1 Ki. 16:23-24). Samaria is 55 km (35 miles) north of Jerusalem.
Omni’s son, king Ahab built, an altar in Samaria to Baal, a pagan god, under the influence of his wife, Jezebel. The palace was called the “Ivory house” (1 Kings 22:39), the furniture and some of the wall decor was made of ivory. In the Bible, Samaria was condemned by the Hebrew prophets for its “ivory houses” and luxury palaces displaying pagan riches.
Ahab was the most evil of the kings of Samaria: “There was never anyone like Ahab, who sold himself to do evil in the eyes of the Lord, urged on by Jezebel his wife. He behaved in the vilest manner by going after idols, like the Amorites the Lord drove out before Israel” (1 Ki. 21:25).
All the remaining kings of Israel ruled from Samaria. They all “did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (1 Ki. 22:52) and followed the sins of Jeroboam (2 Ki. 13:2) despite the warnings of the prophets Micaiah, Ahijah, Jehu, Elijah, Elisha, Hosea, Amos, and Jonah.
The false prophets deceive Israel
There were many false prophets in Samaria. During the reign of Ahab there were 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (1 Ki. 18:19; 22:6).
After Aram (Syria) captured Ramoth Gilead from Israel, king Ahab planned a war against them (2 Chron. 18:1-34). He asked for help from the king of Judah. When they asked the false prophets for a message from God, they were told to go ahead because they would be victorious. The Arameans would be destroyed. But Micaiah, a true prophet, predicted their defeat and Ahab’s death. And that’s what happened. Meanwhile, king Ahab had Micaiah imprisoned.
Although the Israelites in Samaria continued to follow the false prophets rather than the true ones, and they continued to worship idols, God didn’t punish them yet.
In His mercy God delayed His punishment and so provided Israel with an opportunity to repent and obey the covenant once again. The kingdom continued for 130 years after the reign of king Ahab. Although they sinned, God didn’t forget the covenant He had with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God was patient with them. For example:
– Aram (Syria) besieged Samaria and they were starving. But God miraculously rescued them (2 Ki. 6:24 – 7:20).
– “Hazael king of Aram oppressed Israel throughout the reign of Jehoahaz. But the Lord was gracious to them and had compassion and showed concern for them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To this day he has been unwilling to destroy them or banish them from his presence” (2 Ki. 13:22-23).
– “Since the Lord had not said he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash” (2 Ki. 14:26-27).
God’s judgment – The kingdom destroyed
The climax of the covenant curses for disobedience was Israel’s expulsion from Canaan (Lev. 26; Dt. 28). During the reign of Jeru the kingdom of Israel experienced the beginnings of this curse. God judged Israel at this time by giving some of their land to the Arameans (2 Ki. 10:32-33). Then Pul the king of Assyria invaded Israel and taxed the wealthy (2 Ki. 15:19-20). And Tiglath-Pileser the king of Assyria attacked the northern tribes in 738-732 BC and deported people to Assyria (2 Ki. 15:29). Israel was a vassal under Shalmaneser the king of Assyria (2 Ki. 17:3-6). But when they stopped paying tribute, the Assyrians besieged Samaria for three years and captured the city in 722 BC.
The Assyrians then deported many of the people out of the northern kingdom, and brought in many people from Babylon and other countries to live in Israel. Sargon II claimed to have deported 27,290 Israelites to Assyria. This policy of deportation and re-population was intended to weaken the countries that Assyria dominated, to make it more difficult for a group of people to rise up and try to reclaim independence for their homeland. In time, these different groups of people intermarried and the whole area around the city of Samaria became known as Samaria, and the people became known as the Samaritans. The leadership of Samaria was taken away and replaced by foreign peoples. So the Jews in Judea regarded the Samaritans as a mixed race, and not true Israelites.
God’s promise to Solomon was fulfilled. After they rebelled against God for many years, Israel was eventually “cut off from their land”. They suffered a similar fate to the Canaanites who were driven from their land about 780 years earlier. The Bible says that Israel was exiled because of their sin (2 Ki. 17:7-23). They had repeatedly refused to heed the prophet’s warnings of impending judgment. Instead, they followed idols and disobeyed the covenant obligations. They had been deceived by their leaders and by the false prophets.
Samaria only lasted about 200 years as a capital city. But its name continued as it was used to describe that region of the kingdom of Israel. The Bible says that those who resettled in Samaria continued to worship their national deities (2 Ki. 17:24-41). They also practiced syncretism – they mixed different religions together (this has been confirmed by archaeologists).
In 332 BC, Alexander the Great captured the city and settled Macedonian soldiers there following a revolt by the Samaritans. And in 108 BC, John Hyrcanus (a Jewish Maccabean) conquered and destroyed the city. King Herod the Great later rebuilt the city and named it Sebaste. Today the ruins of the Israelite town, as well the ruins of towns built at this same location later in history, are all adjacent or within the modern Palestinian village of Sebastia.
Samaritans oppose the rebuilding of Jerusalem
In about 627BC, the prophet Jeremiah warned the people of Jerusalem that like Samaria, because of their idolatry, they would be invaded and deported (Jer. 7:15). And in 586 BC, Judea was invaded and Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians. Many of the Jews were exiled to Babylon. After the 70 year exile, Zerubbabel returned to rebuild the temple and Nehemiah returned to rebuild the city wall. Both of them were opposed by Samaritans. For example, the Samaritans:
– Pretended that they wanted to assist in the rebuilding of the temple when in fact they wanted to disrupt the work (Ezra 4:1-3).
– Tried to “discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building” (Ezra 4:4).
– “Bribed officials to work against them and frustrate their plans” (Ezra 4:4). They succeeded in having work on the temple stopped for 20 years until the second year of Darius’s reign (Ezra 4:24).
– Wrote letters to Xerxes and Artaxerxes to try to stop the rebuilding of the city wall (Ezra 4:6-23).
Sanballat and Tobiah led the opposition to Nehemiah. Sanballat was a prominent Samaritan – he held a position of authority in Samaria (Neh. 4:1-2). Sanballat and Tobiah:
– Ridiculed the Jews.
– Plotted to fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it (Neh. 4:8).
– Tried to get Nehemiah to leave his work and meet with them in the plain of Ono in order to assassinate him (Neh. 6:1-4). They did this four times!
– Sent a letter with false accusations to Nehemiah (Neh. 6:5).
– Hired false prophets to trick Nehemiah into sinning so they could discredit him (Neh. 6:10-13).
– Tried to intimidate Nehemiah (Neh. 6:14).
One of Nehemiah’s reforms was to banish the high priest’s son because he was son-in-law of Sanballat the Samaritan!
So the Samaritans opposed those who returned to Judah from the exile in Babylon. This rebellion against the God of Judah was similar to the rebellion that had occurred in the kingdom of Israel.
Good news for Samaritans
In New Testament times the country of Samaria was the area bounded by the Mediterranean Sea (west), the Jordan Valley (east), Judea (south) and Galilee (north). During the time of Jesus there was continuing hostility between Jews and Samaritans (Jn. 4:9; 8:48; Lk. 9:52-53). When the Jews wanted to ridicule Jesus, they said that He was a Samaritan, which was a racial slur (Jn. 8:48).
The disciples were surprised to find Jesus speaking with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (Jn. 4:7-9). He revealed to her that He was the Messiah. And she believed and so did many other Samaritans (Jn. 4:28-42). This showed that salvation was being extended to all the people of the world and not just Jews.
In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus shows that the Samaritan acted as a neighbour who helped the injured man, whereas the Jewish Priest and the Levite didn’t help the man. So the one that Jesus commended was a hated foreigner. Jesus is saying that the command to “love your neighbour as yourself” crosses national and racial boundaries.
When Jesus healed ten men with leprosy, the only one who thanked Him was a Samaritan (Lk. 17:11-19). This indicates that Jesus didn’t show favoritism to the Jews, but included the marginalized in His ministry.
Jesus told His disciples to be His witnesses “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Philip took the gospel to Samaria and churches were established there (Acts 8:5-14; 9:31). And Peter and John also preached in Samaria (Acts 8:25).
Lessons for us
We have looked at what the Bible says about the 200 year history of Samaria as a capital city and about the following 750 year history of Samaria as a region in Palestine. Although it was settled by God’s people, it was a center of disobedience and rebellion against God. The people were deceived by the leaders and the false prophets. And they suffered the consequences. But God kept the promises He made to Moses and Solomon. He said that disobedience would lead to being removed from their land. And that’s what happened.
God was patient, giving them lots of time to repent and change to obey the covenant. But in the long term, judgement comes to those who rebel against God. And in the long term, false prophets will be shown to be wrong.
Jesus reached out to the Samaritans even though they followed a corrupted version of the Pentateuch. And the apostles preached the gospel to the Samaritans and set up churches.
From these events we learn that:
– If God kept the promises He made in the Old Testament, then He will also keep the promises He makes to us in the New Testament.
– If God was patient in judging the Israelites, He will be patient in judging people today. Peter confirms this, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9).
– Let’s beware of deceivers (false teachers or false prophets) whose message isn’t consistent with that of the New Testament.
– Let’s include marginalized people in our ministries, not exclude them.
– Let’s spread the good news about Jesus to all nations and races; and not write off anyone as being unworthy of God’s love and mercy.
Written, January 2019
Also see other posts on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles at Jericho
Nineveh experienced God’s mercy and justice
A measure of maturity
Have you ever googled a Biblical or spiritual topic? You’ll find an amazing the range of ideas and interpretations, because anyone can post their thoughts on the web. There is no quality control! So, how should we deal with teachings which don’t match Scripture? There are many of these posted on the internet for anyone to read. Today we see how Paul addressed such a situation in Thessalonica.
In our previous article we looked at the first chapter of Paul’s second letter to the believers at Thessalonica. Paul encouraged them to persevere in their trials, suffering and persecution by reminding them that their primary relationship was with the Father and the Son; who are the source of grace, peace and endurance. By holding out against the pressures and temptations of this life it was evident that God was at work in their lives in developing character and maturity. The Thessalonians were so occupied with suffering and persecution that they forgot about their hope for the future. So Paul gave them an eternal perspective with a vision of the appearing when their suffering will be replaced by glory. There will be great power and glory when the Lord and His followers are revealed for all to see. He also reminded them that in future things will be set right and the truth will be evident to all. God is going to punish the persecutors and those guilty of wicked deeds. There will be retribution. This would have helped them to cope.
Not only were the believers in Thessalonica suffering physically, but they were being attacked by a false teaching. A rumour was spreading about the end of the age.
The False Teaching (2 Th. 2:1-2NIV)
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.
Paul now addresses a misunderstanding that had arisen in Thessalonica. Because of the persecution they were enduring, some thought that they were in the tribulation—the first part of the day of the Lord (1 Th. 5:1-11). If this was so, then the rapture must have already occurred and they had been left behind. False teachings such as this are unsettling and alarming—they introduce doubt and uncertainty about the truth and can destroy the unity within a church. Paul now addresses this false teaching. Firstly, he says that it didn’t come from him and secondly, he corrects it.
There was a rumour that the idea that they were in the day of the Lord came from Paul. Some said it was a prophecy—a direct revelation from God, others that Paul had taught it by word of mouth, and others that he had written it in a letter. Paul says that these were only allegations; they were not true. He also refers to the rapture: “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him”. The Greek word before this clause is translated “concerning” in most bibles, but a better translation is “because of” or “by”. It is clear from 1 Thess 4:13 – 5:11, that the rapture and the day of the Lord are different events; in fact they have been divided into separate chapters in this instance. The word “concerning” implies that 2 Thess 2 is about the rapture, but this is not the case. Instead, Paul is saying that because of the rapture they should not think they were in the day of the Lord. By the rapture they will be taken to heaven before the day of the Lord occurs on earth.
The sequence of future events is evident in the book of Revelation. At present the church is on earth. The next event is the rapture when all believers (dead and alive) will be resurrected to heaven. Then while the church is in heaven, there will be a period of tribulation on the earth, which will end with the appearing of the Lord in great power and glory. This will be followed by the 1,000 year reign of the Lord on the earth and then the eternal state of the new heaven and the new earth.
The false teaching said that they were in the tribulation period, which was not the case as the church was still present on earth.
The Antichrist (2 Th. 2:3-5)
Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?
Paul then helps them not to be deceived again on this topic. He says that two things need to happen before the day of the Lord is present. First, there is a “rebellion”. This Greek word, which is also used in Acts 21:21, means “defection from the truth” or “apostasy”. This seems to indicate a major rejection of faith in God during the tribulation. During a time of great persecution many will turn away from the faith rather than suffer and die (Mt. 24:10-12). Instead of love there will be betrayal, hate, wickedness and false prophets.
Then the “man of lawlessness” will be revealed. He is the antichrist, because he sets himself up as God and no other form of worship will be allowed. He even has an idol of himself in the temple in Jerusalem (Rev. 13:14). This event, which marks the middle of the tribulation period, had been described earlier by Daniel and Christ (Dan. 9:27; Mt. 24:15). Furthermore, the antichrist is a “man doomed to destruction”, because he is destined to be tormented forever in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10). The same description was also given to Judas Iscariot (Jn. 17:12). Paul had previously told them about these things, but they had forgotten them.
The Restrainer (2 Th. 2:6-8)
And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of His coming.
Paul says that the antichrist will not be revealed until that which is holding him back is taken away (v.6). He will certainly be revealed when he displays miraculous power through signs and wonders (v.9).
In v.7 it is evident that the antichrist and the power of evil are being held back by a person or a group of people. The Greek word for the restrainer means to “hold fast or down” and is used as a metaphor. Paul doesn’t say who the restrainer is; some have suggested it the principal of law and order as found in human government or the Holy Spirit or believers as indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit indwelling believers seems to fit best. Jesus said, “When He comes, He will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” (Jn. 16:8). The Spirit is here because the world rejected Christ and He went back to heaven. The fact that He is here demonstrates the world’s guilt. Also, when he wrote about testing false teachers, John said “every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:3-4). Those who do not acknowledge that Jesus was divine are following the spirit of antichrist. But believers can overcome such false teachers because the Holy Spirit helps them detect error.
Believers are like salt and light in this world: in this sense they hold back the “power of lawlessness” (Mt. 5:13-14). Salt preserves and light removes darkness. Their influence on the world through the indwelling Holy Spirit will be removed at the rapture and the restraint on lawlessness will be gone (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19). We see that the power of lawlessness was already at work in Paul’s time and we know that evil is present in our world today (v.7). But it will be fully revealed during the tribulation. This universal evil will be present on earth until the restrainer is removed—then it will be judged. For example, the great flood didn’t come until Noah’s family were safely in the boat and Sodom was not destroyed until Lot’s family were safely away from the city. So, God will not judge the evil in this world until He has taken His people to safety in heaven.
Although the Holy Spirit is omnipresent, He came to the earth on the day of Pentecost to indwell believers (Jn. 14:16-17). He will leave the earth in this sense when all believers are raptured to heaven. Of course in the tribulation He will still be in the world convicting people of sin in the same way as in Old Testament times.
So in v.8 we see that the antichrist will be revealed during the tribulation and his reign of terror is described in the next section. At the end of this period, the antichrist will be destroyed when the Lord appears in great power and glory (Is. 11:4).
How evil works (2 Th. 2:9-12)
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
The antichrist will work like Satan works. He will be able to do miracles and people will be amazed at his signs and wonders. Many will be deceived and believe that these miracles prove that he is divine (v.10). But this is a lie; Satan and demons can also perform miracles. In that day, God will send a powerful delusion so that those who deliberately rejected the truth will believe the lie that the antichrist is the Messiah (v.11); God on earth. As most people rejected the real Messiah, most people in the tribulation will accept the false Messiah. This shows how much Satan and sin have affected humanity.
Those deceived are described as: “perishing”, “they refused to love the truth”, they “have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness”. Because of their unbelief, they will be condemned by God—their names will not be written in the book of life (v.12; Rev. 20:15). However, we also know that many people will be saved in the tribulation (Rev. 7:9-14).
So how does this evil work?
- In the unseen spiritual world—that’s how Satan works.
- It can use counterfeit miracles.
- Deceptively—things that seem to be good finish up being destructive.
- In those who have no time for God or the Scriptures.
Thanksgiving (2 Th. 2:13-14)
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
After describing the antichrist and his followers, Paul now contrasts them with the Christians at Thessalonica. This change from bad news to good news is indicated by the word “but”. He thanks God for saving them (v.13). This salvation involves the past, the present and the future. In the past, God chose them to be believers in the early church. But the Bible doesn’t teach that God chose others to be destined for hell. Instead His desire is that all would be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9), but many reject this offer of salvation. In the present, the Holy Spirit convicts people of sin and the need to accept the gift of salvation. In the future, Christians will share in the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, because they will be with Him and like Him forever (v.14). That’s a summary of God’s work throughout history and in our world today.
Both God and humanity play roles in this salvation. The three members of the trinity are mentioned in v.13; God chose them, the Lord loved them and the Spirit sanctified them. On the human side, the Thessalonians were called to be believers when God used Paul to preach the gospel to them (v.14). Also, the people needed to believe (v.13) and act on the truth of the gospel.
Paul now concludes his message saying despite the hard times they were going through, they should “stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you” (v.15). This is the key verse of this chapter. In those days doctrine was taught verbally by apostolic and prophetic messages and written in letters. But we now have the teachings of the apostle Paul and the other inspired authors written in the Bible, which should be the foundation and anchor of our faith. So, the defence and remedy against false teachings is to follow and obey the instructions and principles in God’s Word.
Paul urged them not to quit or give in to evil but to draw on the resources that God had given them to handle the pressures of life. Similarly, he told those in Ephesus to—“stand against the devil’s schemes”; “stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand”; and to “stand firm” (Eph. 6:10-18).
Paul’s Prayer (2 Th. 2:15-17)
May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.
Then he prayed that God would encourage and strengthen them inwardly in order to produce good deeds and good speech outwardly. Their greatest resource was God Himself. By mentioning both the Son and the Father, he is emphasizing their unity. Paul also mentions three things about God: He loved them, He gave them “eternal encouragement”, and He gave them “good hope”. Likewise, because of the gift of His Son for us, our sin has been forgiven and so believers have the eternal encouragement now and the hope of a future with the Lord. So our source of encouragement and hope should be God’s promises in the Bible. Also, note that the Christian life is not just words to know, but deeds to do. All the principles of God’s word need to be put into practice. Otherwise, we are hypocrites if we say the right words but never apply these to ourselves.
Other false teachings
There are many references to false teachings in the New Testament. These often related to mixing Jewish religion or Greek religions with Christianity. Paul faced Jewish legalism, the gospel of good works and those forcing Jewish customs on others. The Gnostics, who believed that matter was evil, had myths that required special knowledge and wisdom to interpret. For example, Hymenaeus and Philetus denied the bodily resurrection and thought there was only a spiritual resurrection (2 Tim. 2:17-18). Such philosophy (Col. 2:8) is seeking wisdom outside God’s revelation—it puts human reason above God.
Others: opposed the truth (2 Tim. 3:8); taught false doctrines, myths and endless genealogies (1 Tim. 1:3-7); worshipped angels, and promoted harsh rules and treatment of the body (Col. 2:16-23); prohibited marriage and certain foods (1 Tim. 4: 1-3); and promoted controversies and quarrels over words (1 Tim. 6:3-5). These false teachers were conceited (1 Tim. 6:4), selfish (Rom. 16:18), cunning, crafty and deceitful (Eph. 4:14). They were influenced by demons (1 Tim. 4:1). Their teachings brought strife and spread like gangrene and cancer and destroyed peoples faith like these diseases destroy bodily tissue (1 Tim. 6:4; 2 Tim. 2:17-18).
We need maturity in order to distinguish good from evil and to avoid being blown off course by false teachings (Eph. 4:13-14; Heb. 5:14). False teachers could be recognised by their false view of Jesus (1 Jn. 4:1-3), their false gospel (Gal. 1:6-9), and their bad fruit (Mt. 7:15-20). Don’t welcome false teachers or false teachings into your house or the local church (2 Jn. 7-11), instead keep away from them and have nothing to do with them (Rom. 16:17-18; 2 Tim. 2:21; 3:5-9). Finally, false teachers will be judged by God (2 Pet. 2:1-21).
Lessons for us
Paul taught the young believers at Thessalonica about future prophetic events. This gave them an eternal perspective and helped them endure suffering and persecution. Likewise, we should include prophecy when teaching young believers.
But the Thessalonians had forgotten what Paul had told them about the future. This shows the importance of being reminded of the truths of scripture. Just because we have heard or read them in the past, doesn’t mean that we will remember them in the future. We can be reminded by personal Bible study and by listening to teaching from the Bible.
Two of our greatest resources are God and the truths of scripture. Like the Thessalonians we should also “stand firm and hold fast” to the principles of God’s Word. Let’s live by the true teachings, so we won’t be deceived by the false ones. This will lead to maturity and being able to distinguish between what is true and what is false.
When we hear new teachings, don’t ignore them. Instead check with the Bible as we may have forgotten what we have learnt from it. If you are uncertain about a particular teaching consult with someone who is “able to teach” (1 Tim. 3:2).
What is “the lie” that Satan is spreading today? You can run your own life. You can do whatever you want to. It’s called humanism; the worship of humanity. It is opposite to the gospel, which says we should hand our life over to the Lord, who will encourage and strengthen us to live with Him.
Written, April 2007
There are a lot of religions for people to follow today. Eastern religions are spreading all over the world. Extreme cults (that lead to tragedies such as the mass suicides of the Branch Davidians in Texas and Heaven’s Gate in California) continue to appear. Other more established cults continue to spread their message by door-to-door canvassing. And then there are numerous spin-offs from established denominations, that over-emphasize one aspect of biblical truth at the expense of all others.
While false teachers seem to characterize these religions, the Bible says, “Beware of false prophets” (Mt. 7:15 NIV), because they can also appear in any church. They are also referred to as “false teachers” and “false apostles.” All of them will be called “false teachers” in this series.
False teachers are mentioned somehow in all except two of the 27 books in the New Testament. For example, Christ warned against the Pharisees and Sadducees in the Gospels. The Book of Acts tells us of false teachers who promoted idolatry, occult practices and Jewish traditions. In the Epistles, many verses warn of false teachers within the Church, including two whole books, Galatians and Jude. And much of Romans urges believers to turn away from Jewish legalism.
The most common word used to describe false teachers is that they are deceivers, who lead people astray. They distort the truth in order to draw followers after themselves (Acts 20:30), and make them zealous for their cause (Gal. 4:17). False teachers can leave a trail of destruction, like savage wolves among sheep (Acts 20:29). They can also bring teachings from demons (1 Tim. 4:1).
Paul reminded those in Ephesus daily for three years to “be on your guard” against false teachers (Acts 20:31). The Bible indicates that the best defense against false teachers is to become mature in the Christian faith.
A Sign Of Maturity
The immature are “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Eph. 4:14). They are blown off course like a sail boat in a storm. However, the mature are not deceived or blown off course because they “have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:14).
The Three Tests
It is important to evaluate those that promote a new or different teaching. In fact, all teachers should be tested “to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). In a more general sense, believers should “test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Th. 5:21-22).
The church at Ephesus must have heeded Paul’s warning, as it was commended: “I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false” (Rev. 2:2).
There are three clear tests for recognizing false teachers: the Jesus Test, the Gospel Test and the Fruit Test.
The Jesus Test
The Jesus Test for distinguishing good from evil states that, “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist … This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 Jn. 4:2,3,6).
Similarly, the Bible also asks, “Who is the liar? It is the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist – he denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 Jn. 2:22-23). Such people do not agree with what the Bible says about Jesus Christ (2 Jn. 7; Jude 4).
In Matthew 16:13-16, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This conversation occurred after Christ warned the disciples of the false teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
So, the question to be answered in the Jesus Test is this: Who is Jesus Christ? False teachers deny that Christ is the divine Son of God, believing him to be nothing more than a great teacher. Some of those who fail the Jesus Test are: Animist, Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian Scientist, Hare Krishna, Hindu, Jehovah’s Witness, Humanist, practicing Jew, Mormon, Muslim, New Ager, occult worshiper and Scientologist. All these groups worship physical things or follow false beliefs (Rom. 1:23,25; Col. 2:8; 1 Tim. 6:20). Christians believe that Christ is divine and human (Jn. 1:14; 10:30; Phil. 2:5-8), sinless (Heb. 4:15), eternal (Jn. 17:24), and the Creator (Col.1:16). Jesus is truly unique.
The Gospel Test
Besides believing in a different Jesus, the Bible also states that false teachers promote a different gospel: “For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted … such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:4,13).
To the Galatians, Paul writes: “I am astonished that you are … turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Gal. 1:6-7). He then states that these false teachers were “trying to pervert the gospel of Christ” and should be “eternally condemned” (Gal. 1:7-9). These strong words are repeated to emphasize their importance.
So, the question to be answered in this test is: What is their gospel? The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s requirements – resulting in death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23). The only means of rescue is salvation by faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8,9). “Different gospels” do not present this truth. They either add to it or take away from it, and Revelation warns against this tampering with aspects of the Gospel (ch. 22:18-19; 1:5; 4:11; 21:1-22:6).
A “different gospel” may also deceive by using words similar to the true gospel, but giving them different meanings. Three examples are the works gospel, the pleasure gospel and the greed gospel.
The works gospel adds extra requirements to the true gospel, such as the rules and regulations of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Mt. 16:5-12). Simply put, it says there are things you must do to get saved and stay saved.
Followers of the pleasure gospel “never stop sinning” and entice others by “appealing to the lustful desires of the sinful human nature,” while they are “slaves of depravity” (2 Pet. 2:13-22). They “change the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4).
Those caught up in the greed gospel “think that godliness is a means to financial gain,” despite the warning that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” that causes people to “wander from the faith” and “pierce themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:5,10). Examples of the greed gospel would be the “health” and “wealth” gospels so prevalent today.
The Fruit Test
It is God’s will that we be fruitful. Jesus said “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing … I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last” (Jn. 15:5,16).
Jesus warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Mt. 7:15,16,20). He also said, “Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briars. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Lk. 6:44-45).
So, the question of this test is: What kind of fruit is evident? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident? The former is characterized by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The sinful nature may involve idolatry, sexual immorality, selfish ambition, pride and dissension (Gal. 5:19-23).
A related question would be: Is there evidence of spiritual growth? For example, in another book that deals with false teachers, John writes, “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us” (2 Jn. 4).
It can be seen that the three tests get at the core of Christianity. If we use them to distinguish good and evil, then there are two possibilities, a pass or a failure. The consequences of these are now considered in turn.
Those That Fail The Tests
False teachers within the Church are a serious issue because they lead to divisions rather than unity (Rom. 16:17; Ti. 3:10; Jude 19). The biblical response is to warn them twice and then “have nothing to do with them” (Ti. 3:10). For example, at Galatia Paul resisted false teachers by not giving in to them for a moment and standing firm against them (Gal. 2:5; 5:1). He also opposed Peter, a fellow-worker, to his face when Peter failed the gospel test (Gal. 2:11-13). The reason for this is that false teachings can spread as yeast works through a batch of dough (1 Cor. 5: 6-7; Gal. 5:9).
False teachers within the Church should be confronted (Ti. 1:13; Rev. 2:2), in order to silence them and stop their influence on other believers (1 Tim. 1:3; Ti. 1:11). If they do not cease, they should be expelled in order to avoid contaminating the local church (Rom. 16:17; Gal. 4:30; 1 Tim. 4:7; 2 Tim. 2:21). This also applies to those practicing sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:1-13). It is the method to be followed when contending for the faith (Jude 3). Elders are responsible for this – they are to be on their guard and protect the church as a shepherd protects the sheep (Acts 20:28-31). They should not ignore false teachers, hoping they will go away.
We should not welcome or help false teachers from outside the church, as this causes us to share in their wicked work (2 Jn. 10-11). This is consistent with keeping ourselves from idols (1 Cor. 10:14; 1 Jn. 5:21). We should also “have nothing to do with them” (2 Tim. 3:5). In all situations involving false teachers we must remember this warning: “Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Cor. 15:33).
Those That Pass The Tests
We need to make sure we correctly identify those that pass the Jesus Test, the Gospel Test and the Fruit Test. For example, John told Jesus, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” Jesus replied, “Do not stop him. No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us” (Mk. 9:38-40). The disciples were rebuked for using the wrong test. Likewise, we should be careful not to use the wrong test when assessing other believers. It would be wrong to treat other believers as false teachers, just because they are “not one of us.”
It is interesting to note that the Lord told Peter in Corinth, “I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Likewise, God has people in every town and nation, and we should not be afraid to associate with people who pass the tests, otherwise we become like Peter in Galatians 2. If God accepts them, we should too (Acts 10:34-35; Rom. 15:7).
Finally, we should test ourselves: “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5).
Do we live as though Jesus is God? Do we add to or take away from the gospel of salvation by faith in Christ? Do we drift into different gospels such as that of works, pleasure or greed? What sort of fruit is evident? Is there spiritual growth?
The Bible contains all the principles we need to live the Christian life. Yet it is possible to over-emphasize minor parts of the Bible and under-emphasize major parts. It is wrong to build a major theology from a Bible passage taken out of context. For example, there are numerous verses in the New Testament about loving one another – a major part of the Christian faith (Jn. 15:17) – while there are only a few about speaking in tongues. It would be wrong to act as though speaking in tongues was a more important issue than loving one another. As has often been said, we should never major in the minors!
Published, July – September 1998