The Basic Tools of Deception
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. (2 Thessalonians 2:1″“2)
These verses provide an opening to a larger teaching about the final person of the Antichrist to come, but if we rush past too quickly we might not appreciate the valuable gem of insight Paul provides. The overwhelming, repeated characteristic about the Antichrist and those who operate in the character and likeness of Satan is deception. It started with Satan as the serpent in the Garden with Eve and it continues throughout the whole of Scripture until the anticipated Last Days when deception multiplies to a level never before experienced. But notice that Paul provides us with the contents of the basic deception toolkit: “a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us“. All deception embraces one or more of these approaches.
“A spirit“ is rendered in some translations as “prophecy”. The first approach in our list is the work of false prophets. The Apostle John elaborates”¦
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
How do we “test the spirits to see whether they are from God“? It is not merely whether what they say comes true or not ““ not all prophecy is by definition predicting an event on a future date ““ but whether it is in perfect alignment with God’s Word. False prophets want to replace the authority of God’s Word with their own word. When a false prophet is accepted what is actually taking place is the relegation of God’s Word to minor league status.
The second approach mentioned is “a message“, the work of false teachers. Further on in 2 Thessalonians 2 Paul will reinforce the point by stating”¦
So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
How do we make the distinction between a true and false teacher? By the measure of God’s Word. Paul explains that what they were taught was either spoken (“by word of mouth“) or written (“or by letter“) by true conveyors of the Word of God. False teachers want to replace the authority of God’s Word with their own word. They most often come either in the character of the Pharisees who hold that God’s Word does not cover every issue or situation so you need them to interpret it for you, or in the character of the Sadducees who hold that since God’s Word is not literally true and simply allegories and stories that you need their guidance. At least the false prophet pretends to speak a word from God; false teachers in effect are trying to set themselves in God’s place outright.
The final approach mentioned is “a letter“. At the time of Paul’s writing this had a dual meaning not just referring to a written message, but carried with it the meaning of “authority”. In that time a letter was sent with someone to identify them as being in authority and provide guidelines to the boundaries and conditions of that authority. In New Testament terms, when we look at the “letters”, we see that they have the dual function of being authored by apostolic authority confirming both their position in Christ and place to speak on His behalf. Or as it says in Ephesians, “”¦built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone“. (Eph. 2:20) Paul is speaking about the work of false apostles.
“˜I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; (Revelation 2:2)
How do we “test those who call themselves apostles“? Yes, the very same way by which we test prophets and teachers: the Word. False apostles want to replace the WHOLE of God’s authority ““ His Word included ““ with their own word and personality. They are the sum of the separate agendas of false prophets and false teachers.
Of all the false personalities ever-present with us today, I personally find the strangest and most outrageous to be those claiming to be an apostle. On one end we have isolated individuals who insist that they be addressed as “apostle”; on the other extreme we have the New Apostolic Reformation which literally claims a membership of several hundred “apostles”. Their desire is to not just merely supplant God’s Word with their own like a false teacher, or speak in the place of God as a false prophet, but to exercise total authority. It is the ultimate fulfillment of what Satan attempted in the Garden.
This all serves as the proper background for a greater point that I want to make about how deception works. Contrary to the perceptions of some, false prophets, false teachers, and false prophets do not have the power to make people believe them against their will. They only exist because those following them allow it to happen. The sheep accept “a spirit or a message or letter as if from us“.
False prophets exist because rather than holding them to the strict standard of God’s Word, people willingly allow them to speak in God’s place. False teachers exist because rather than holding them to the strict standard of God’s Word, people willingly allow them to introduce “destructive heresies“. (1 Pe. 2:1) False apostles exist because rather than testing them by the standard of God’s Word, people willingly allow them to stand in the very place of God over them.
I am glad that there are good stewards in the Kingdom who sound the alarm where false prophets, false teachers, and false apostles are concerned. Christ and the Apostles named names where such false personalities were found and did not hesitate to publicly confront them. However, I would suggest that it does not and cannot stop with assembling a list of who is “naughty and nice” spiritually. I think some of the watchmen who have sounded the alarm about such individuals and organizations in our day are frustrated that so few seem to respond to their warning. Well, proclaiming the truth is only the first step; to bring such false leaders down and render them ineffective means the members of the flock following them must be reached. If no one listens to or follows them, they effectively go away.
It is an interesting pattern when we look at revival in both Scripture and history. It always begins by a return to the Word and the work of the cross. Even in Old Testament revivals it was not simply about throwing out the idols and false gods being worshiped or getting rid of false religious leaders, but leading the rank and file people of God back to the Word and back to the blood.
We might become personally enlightened by articles on Christian websites which correctly identify such false leaders by biblical standards, but the work of bringing those false ministries to an end is really in our hands. We are the ones who are in closest contact with the biblically lost who have willingly allowed someone to substitute themselves for God’s Word and/or authority. We are the ones who are far more likely to lead the lost back to the Word, back to the cross, and back into spiritual accountability to the true authority of God’s Word and ways. We are the ones who translate the knowledge and information provided about false leaders into something that can actually be done to bring them down by restoring those who have given authority to a false shepherd. Reconcile them to the Word and the cross and they will once again be reconciled to the True Shepherd.
In His Love,