"The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; According to all that thou desiredst of the LORD thy God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.
And the LORD said unto me, They have well spoken that which they have spoken. I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19)
We usually think of a prophet as foretelling the future, but the Hebrew word actually means an inspired man. Moses said that God would raise up a prophet like him from among them. Moses spent forty years telling Israel what God said, but most of it was confined to what God wanted them to do rather than about what would happen in the future. They had chosen not to speak to God directly, so when He needed to communicate with them, God would raise up a prophet like Moses.
This prophet would be authorized by God and was to speak exactly what God told him. Failure to obey his instructions would be considered rebellion against God. Though God sent many prophets over the years, this passage is especially about Jesus Christ.
“But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.” (Deuteronomy 18:20)
Unfortunately, from time to time men claim the authority as prophets of God in an effort to accomplish their own agenda. Prophets who claimed divine authority were to be killed either by the people or by God, as were those who claimed authority from some other God. II Peter 2:1 tells us that nothing has changed in our day. “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” There are false prophets in our churches just as there were in back then.
“And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:21-22)
God had already told them that if a prophet came claiming authority from another god, he was to be executed, regardless what evidence he might present to support his claims in Deuteronomy 13:1-10. Those would be relatively easy to spot. Unfortunately many churches today are like the Church in Thyatira in Revelation 2:18-29, allowing such doctrine to be taught in their church. They will face the same judgment.
The more insidious false prophets were those who came claiming to have authority from God. Their false prophecies may not be immediately apparent. Nevertheless, by paying attention to what they taught and examining the results, the truth of their teaching could be determined. If the events they predicted didn’t happen, they were to be considered false teachers and executed. There was no reason to fear doing so, because they were slandering of blaspheming God.
In Matthew 7:15-20 we are given a very similar way of identifying false prophets. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
Frequently false prophets are able to make their messages sound almost exactly like what God says, but looking at what it produces in their own lives and in the lives of others we can see whether it is from God or not.
Several years ago a “missionary”(the quotes are deliberate) started a Christian school near us and convinced a number of parents to send their children to the school. I know about thirty of the students that have attended the school over the years who have refused to attend church for several years because of things that happened in the school. About a year ago one of the guys described going to a basket ball tournament and the next morning seeing a woman he thought was a prostitute coming out of the missionaries room. Since that time at least three others have mentioned similar incidents, and one of the girls talked about incidents of incest while another woman was sent to live with another family after being sexually involved with the missionary.
Because none of them have dared to come forward, the man has been able to continue as a missionary, and periodically I am told what a wonderful missionary he is. His supporting churches refuse to even check out the charges against him.
While most cases are less extreme than this, examining the lives of their hearers furnishes an indication of whether they are of God or not. It is one reason churches are to examine the potential pastor’s family before placing him in that position.
I Corinthians 13 declares that the office of prophet would cease when direct revelation was no longer needed.