PRINCIPLES OF PROPHETIC INTERPRETATION
(MATTHEW 24; I KINGS 13:1-24; JEREMIAH 23:30-32)
Copr. 1999, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are
New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984 International
Bible Society, unless otherwise noted. Quotations from the NIV are used
by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Suggested answers are found
within parentheses. The lesson assumes the teacher uses a blackboard or
some other visual aid. This lesson can be found at:
Introduction: So far this quarter we have generally been looking at
"how" of prophecy -- how God reveals Himself and His will to us. This
week we take a turn to discover how God does not reveal Himself through
prophecy. Let's dig into the Bible!
I. FALSE PROPHETS
Turn with me to Matthew 24. (Yes, back to Matthew 24 again.)
Remember last week we looked closely at this prophecy? Let's look at
portions of this chapter again. Read vv. 3-5, 10-13. Will there be
1. Will they be easy to spot?
2. How can we tell false prophets?
3. How does this text suggest we will not
be able to tell? That is,
what is not a test of a false prophet?
a. In whose name do the false prophets come?
(In Jesus' name. The
fact that they use Jesus' name does not make them a true prophet.)
b. If, as the verse says, they claim to be
Christ, how are they
coming in Jesus' name? (They are not saying that they are a follower of
Jesus, they are saying that they actually are Jesus returning!)
4. What, if anything, do you think verse
12 has to do with false
prophets? (It has to do with spiritual discernment. As we participate
in wickedness our love of God grows cold. That opens the way for us to
be deceived by false prophets.)
II. A FALSE PROPHET ILLUSTRATION
Let's look at a story of two prophets to see if they are true or
false. Turn with me to 1 Kings 13:1-5. Read.
1. Is this a true or false prophet that has come to Bethel?
a. What is the basis for your opinion? (The
miracle? The correct
statement of the altar splitting?)
b. If the performance of a miracle a sign of a true prophet?
c. Let's switch away from our story for a
minute to Deuteronomy
(1) Now what do you say about a miracle being a
sign of a true
prophet? (This text teaches us that fidelity to God is the test and not
whether the prophet performs miracles.)
d. If miracles are out as a tests, does this
prophet say anything
that accords with Deuteronomy 13? (Yes. He condemns Jeroboam who was
promoting calf worship on the altar. So he is turning people back to
the true God. Note the exact fulfillment of his prophecy about Josiah in
2 Kings 23:15-18.)
Let's read on in 1 Kings 13. Read vv.6-10. What is your opinion now?
Has it changed with this new information? True or false prophet? Why?
1. Why do you think God gave him this command
about eating and
drinking and travel routes? (Perhaps it would make the people take the
prophecy less seriously if he stayed to have a great meal with them.
Perhaps this would make it appear that he approved of the king after
Read 1 Kings 13:11-18. Enter a second ("old") prophet. Is the old
prophet a true or false prophet? (You noticed the parenthetical in v.18
"But he was lying to him!")
1. I don't think the first prophet had the
benefit of looking up 1
Kings 13:18 to figure this out! How should the first prophet have
correctly determined whether the old prophet was a true or false
prophet? ("New light" should not contradict "old light." In our case,
"old light" is the Bible.)
a. Any other suggestions on how he could
have known? (He could have
inquired of God himself.)
Let's find out how our prophet decides this question. Read 1 Kings
13:19-22. Did the first prophet do the wrong thing?
1. Now the old prophet makes a statement
about how the first prophet
will not be buried at home. How could the first prophet determine
whether the old prophet's first or second statements were true?
2. We have discussed before the idea that
"modern" prophets can be
wrong from time to time and that is "OK." They can misunderstand the
prophecy or misinterpret it. Last week, we saw how this can be true in
the context of "dual meaning" and "conditional" prophecies.
a. Can a prophet, even in Old Testament times,
give both true and
(1) How do you determine which is true and which
teaches us to focus on the message more than the instrument. In this
case, the old prophet's second message was consistent with what the
first prophet had originally be told by God. This underscores the idea
that we need to look very closely at the message.)
Read 1 Kings 13:23-25. How important is it to be sincere as opposed
to being right? (Looks like being right is very important. Sincere gets
you eaten by lions.)
1. Satan is pictured in the Bible as a lion
looking to devour us (1
Peter 5:8). Can mere sincerity get us devoured today?
III. OTHER SIGNS OF A FALSE PROPHET
A. Let's look at Jeremiah 23:30-32.
1. What signs of a false prophet do we find
here? (That he steals the
words from some other person, yet attributes that to God. He claims
"the Lord declares" and then gives his own opinion.)
a. How would you, as the listener or reader
of the prophet, know that
he had taken his words from someone else or was just making things up?
(1) Is simple plagiarizing by the prophet enough
to show that
a false prophet? Or is more required?
Are there false prophets today outside the church? Are we warned
against them? Or, is this just an "in church" thing?
1. Do you know about the "Psychic Hot-line?"
Have you ever seen
someone who advertised as a medium? Do you read your horoscope?
a. Should we avoid these sources of advice?
b. Let's read Isaiah 8:19-20. What sources
of advice does this
(1) If we are uncertain about a "source of advice,"
do? (God gives us two suggestions. First, in v.19 He tells us to come to
Him for advice, not these other sources. Second, He says in v.20 that if
these other sources of advice do not agree with the Bible, we should not
C. Turn with me to 2 Peter 2:1-3.
1. What other signs of a false prophet do
we find here? (Introduce
heresy, deny the Lordship of Christ, exploit and embarrass God's
a. Will it be obvious that they are teaching heresy?
(1) Will the teaching of any heresy be enough to
false prophet? (There are two things going on here. First, the heresy is
being secretly introduced. Second, the heresy is destructive and brings
disrepute upon the church.
It is critical that we carefully determine whether a prophet is true
or false. The story of the prophet and the lion teach us to be very
careful in following advice from those who claim to be a "prophet."
IV. NEXT WEEK: UNDERSTANDING BIBLICAL LITERATURE