What if a prophecy is wrong?
What does it mean if a prophetic word is given and it is wrong or not entirely accurate? Does that mean the person is a false prophet? This is a real concern if we are faithful to the Scriptures, which command us to test spirits to see if they are from God.
So let’s take a few moments and do just that.
1 John 4:1-3 is a helpful passage in addressing the question of prophetic accuracy:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
This passage is clear that there will be false prophets in the world, but notice that this passage describes the definitive sign of a false prophet as “every spirit that does not confess Jesus is from God.“
This text is not speaking of believers who are earnestly seeking to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit and are unsure if it is him speaking. Rather, it is about people who have a deliberate plan of turning people away from Jesus and toward themselves or a false god.
What does it mean when a Christian gives a prophetic word and is not 100% accurate? Does this mean these believers are false prophets? To unpack this, let me take a few moments and share a bit of my personal story. Then we will look at this from a theological perspective.
Looking back at my journey in prophetic ministry brings a flood of memories. I have witnessed some incredible breakthroughs, multitudes of healings, and numerous salvations. I have also made many mistakes. One particular time that comes to mind was when I stepped out, in what I thought was faith, to share a prophetic word with a young man in line at a restaurant. As I gave this “prophetic word,” I was expecting him to be taken aback by my insight into specific details of his life.
On the contrary, as I shared what I thought was a prophetic word, I recall him looking at me with a blank stare. He responded by simply telling me I was completely wrong. Now I would love to spiritualize that story and say that my prophetic word was right and that he was mistaken, but I am not at liberty to do that. Sure, there is a possibility that what I spoke to him would come to pass in the future, and he was just confused about hearing it in the present moment. But there was something about his response that would not allow me to shake the fact that I was wrong.
After missing this prophetic word, I went back to my house that night and fell on my face in prayer, completely confused. Before that moment, I had given many prophetic words and seen the Holy Spirit dramatically impact people’s lives. In one moment, it all seemed to come crashing down like a house of cards. While I was lying on the ground praying, exaggerated pictures from Sunday school of false prophets being stoned to death began to flash through my mind. I felt that I had let God down. In one moment, I went from stepping out in faith to stepping into the role of a false prophet. That was quite a burden to carry as a 16-year-old boy.
As I got up from my floor, I made an internal commitment to no longer give prophetic words. The weeks and months after that commitment was difficult. I could sense the Holy Spirit inside of me, stirring my heart with prophetic words for people around me, but I could not overcome the feeling of being a false prophet.
Thankfully, I did not stay in this internal bondage for too long. This discomfort and confusion provoked me to take a closer look at what the Scripture says about false prophets. I discovered rather quickly that a false prophet is not a person who gives wrong words, but actually, a person who uses accurate words to deliberately turn people away from the one true God.
Look at what the book of Deuteronomy says:
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst (13:1-5).
Notice that this text identifies a false prophet’s mark: using a sign or dream that comes to pass to turn people away from the one true God. The entire chapter of Deuteronomy 13 is about purging people and things from Israel that would cause them to turn away from God.
The other key passage that deals with false prophets is Deuteronomy chapter 18:
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or [/and]who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die’ (18:20).
You will notice in your Bible that in verse 20, the word “or” is italicized. The reason for this is that the word “or” can and should be translated as “and.” This text is not talking about two separate categories of people—those that speak when they were not commanded or people who speak in the name of foreign gods—but one group of people. This text is about people who speak in foreign gods’ name and lead people away from the truth.
This is also consistent with the words of Jesus in the New Testament regarding false prophets:
“For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mt. 24:24).
I am trying to show you that, biblically, false prophets are closer to psychics, warlocks, and some TV preachers who use power and position to deceive people away from the one true living God. Christians who step out in what they believe to be a leading of the Holy Spirit simply don’t fit into this category.
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