‘When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.’
Wow. This is one of those stories from Scripture that leaps off the page. And you’re either fascinated by it, or you kind of turn away and wonder why stories like it made their way into the Bible. Christians confess that Scripture is inspired and profitable for instruction and equipping (2 Timothy 3:16-17): In other words, God put it there for a reason, and we should try to find out why.
So… why? The existence of “false prophecy” is at stake in this dramatic confrontation between Paul and Elymas. Elymas opposes Paul (here called Saul) and Barnabas, because Elymas wants to protect the false prophet Bar-Jesus. And though the details are not filled in, Paul sees – and names – what comes with Bar-Jesus’ false prophecy: An evil and unrighteousness that prevents people from taking the shortest road to God.
The idea of false prophecy may sound strange to modern ears, but it is quite real – it is something to be on guard against. We may hear the charge of “false prophecy”, and think: “Isn’t Paul overreacting to what amounts to a different point of view; an equally valid, and potentially useful principle or teaching? Didn’t the proconsul have the right to hear from this person, claiming to speak for God, and that person, also making the same claim?”
The questions assume that we have not already been let in on the secret: Jesus Christ is God. When he stands at the center of what we are willing to say is – or is not – from God, then our standard for what – and who – we will listen to, changes. Whoever speaks to us, and especially whoever claims to have a word from the Lord for us, must be evaluated against what we already know of Jesus Christ in Holy Scripture: He is the test of false prophecy, just as he is the gauge of true prophecy (Revelation 19:10).
There are a lot of people, just a click or scroll away, who claim to have a word from God. And there are just as many who speak with prophetic certainty, even if they do not believe in God. That means we are living in dangerous spiritual territory.
So we must test the voices, to see whether they are from God, and the test is simple: “… 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.” (1 John 4:2-3) The ‘antichrist’ in the voice may not be immediately evident – “it sounds so good, so right!” – but sooner or later, truth will out.
When you want to hear from God, walk along this line and listen to this voice: Jesus Christ as he is spoken about in Scripture; Christ’s faithful ministers and servants, who speak on the basis of his call; and people who know Jesus – who have walked with him, in humility, for many years. God’s voice is in all of these, and it will never be hidden from us, if we walk that line.
Prayer: Lord, there are so many people who claim to know you, and to know what you want. I want to know you – to hear your voice. Help me to hear your voice, in Scripture, and help me to hear your voice, also, in people who love and serve you. Amen.