A story ricocheted around the Internet for weeks: three teenagers in Long Island got busted. In the back of a pickup truck, they were making counterfeit U.S. dollars: fake 10s, 20s and 50s. And they did with a laser jet printer powered by a Radio Shack inverter plugged into the truck’s cigarette lighter outlet.
Counterfeiters, whether sophisticated criminals or kids in a pickup, all have one thing in common: they never fake three- or 45-dollar bills. And that’s because the first rule of counterfeiting is to make the fake as close to the genuine as possible. After all, who isn’t going to get suspicious when someone pays for a Mocha Frappuccino with a six-dollar greenback?
Of course, this isn’t just with money. People counterfeiting anything are going to make it as “real” as possible. And, if true with something as worldly as cash, how much more so in the spiritual or religious realm?
The Bible does talk about the prophetic gift in the New Testament era (Ephesians 4:11;1 Corinthians 14:11 Corinthians 14:39; Revelation 19:10). Unfortunately, as with everything else, the potential for fake and fraud abounds. And considering that issues in the spiritual realm have, potentially, eternal consequences, the question of who is a real prophet and who isn’t shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Look at these words of Jesus: “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it” (Matthew 24:23-26).
Jesus, in the context of last days, warns about false prophets. Why warn about the false if a true prophet wasn’t coming? Jesus didn’t say not to believe anyone who claims to be a prophet; He said just don’t believe the false ones.
How, then, can we know a real from a fake?
First, someone speaking for the God of the Bible will be faithful to the teachings of the Bible. “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). The most crucial test of anyone claiming the prophetic gift is that what they teach be in harmony with the Word of God. When Jesus was on earth, He constantly pointed to the Scripture to prove the validity of His work and mission. And if Jesus always pointed to the Scriptures in regards to Himself and His teachings, how much more so a person claiming the prophetic gift in His name?
Second, a prophet must exalt Jesus, not himself or herself. John the Baptist, a true prophet (Matthew 11:11), in reference to Jesus, said, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less,” (John 3:30, NLT). And though that was a specific context, the principle is clear: a real prophet will uplift Jesus and His sacrifice for the world above and beyond everything else.
Third, a real prophet must reveal the grace and character of Jesus; that is, though the prophet doesn’t need to be perfect, (no one is) his or her life must bear fruit to the glory of God (Matthew 7:16, 18-20).
Of course, not every person teaching solid biblical doctrine, and exalting Jesus, and even revealing the character of Christ is a prophet or is manifesting the prophetic gift. You can be sure that if they aren’t doing these three things, then they’re no more real than a six-dollar bill.