If only I had a sign!
(Miracles, Prophecies, Signs and the Sign Givers,
Prophets and Miracle Workers -- for real?)

The Bible is a book filled with God's miraculous. Today many seek the same miracles and signs, with some pastors, teachers, and others claiming...

  1. God will give you your miracle if you have enough faith

  2. Miracles should be the norm for the church of today

  3. Signs are necessary (or beneficial) for evangelizing the lost

  4. Healing miracles are the right of the church

  5. Financial miracles are the right of believers

What is not in question here is whether or not God has the ability to do miracles, or whether God could do signs or miracles today. There is absolutely no question that God could if He so chooses.

Psalms 115:3 Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. (NIV)

Psalms 135:6 The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. (NIV)

Daniel 4:35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: "What have you done?" (NIV)

To begin with, from Scriptures, we need to see what miracles are and are not. Closely associated with the miracles and signs are those that God used to perform these amazing things, which in Bible times included prophets, apostles, and greatest of all, Jesus. We'll begin with Jesus' words on this subject.

Matthew 7:21-23 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23 Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (NIV)


  • Not everyone who performs miracles is a believer. No one should point to a person's miracles as proof that they are serving God. Performing miracles is not a test of sincerity either. These individuals called Jesus "Lord," prophesied, drove out demons, and performed miracles - most likely convinced that they were serving God, yet were counterfeit Christians.

  • There are false miracles. While many false miracles are so because there are no real results (or lasting results), some do have results. In verse 22, above, it does not question that there were actual miracles happening and actual demons being driven out. Even though these miracles "get results" they are not from God. Getting results is not proof that the miracle is from God.

Continuing the passage started above, the verses that follow show the way to test a false prophet (as these miracle workers would have been), which is the view of this entire section ("Watch out for false prophets" Matthew 7:15)

Matthew 7:24-27 "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." (NIV)

False prophets do not live out Jesus' words and merely professing to do so is insufficient. Changing His words, ignoring words, or adding to His words all become ways to not live it. Simply put, what matters is...

  • Doctrine. Sincere belief in wrong things is still wrong. Worship a Jesus that you have redefined and, regardless of how sincerely, you are still worshipping a false God. The "best" false prophets will look closest to the truth and even teach much truth mingled with a little error. A blatant lie is easy to recognize, the "best" lies always contain a whole lot of truth.

  • Believing. Faith alone in Jesus Christ. Faith cannot be mingled with works (or some idea of self merit), because then it becomes another gospel, one that does not rest in the grace of God but rather in the works of men. We are saved by faith and we live by faith. Faith will produce right works, but "right works" can never produce faith.

Passages concerning prophets apply to miracle workers and sign givers because they proclaim a future event, or a truth professed to come from God, in His name. As such this by definition makes them prophets too. With the true test of a miracle worker, sign giver, or prophet, being God's unchangeable word, we will now consider a multitude of passages on this subject.

From the very beginning God did not guarantee that there would always be a prophet around. While there were times in Israel's history that prophets were more common, other periods appeared to have none. God choose when to have a prophet speak and why. Regardless of the specific "why" the general purpose of all prophecy is to provide revelation of God (Revelation 19:10).

Numbers 12:5-6 Then the LORD came down in a pillar of cloud; he stood at the entrance to the Tent and summoned Aaron and Miriam. When both of them stepped forward, 6 he said, "Listen to my words: "When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams. (NIV)

Deuteronomy 13:1 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder... (NIV)

Notice both the passage in Numbers and Deuteronomy are conditional. In Numbers 12:6, the "When" is a Hebrew word also meaning "if" (as used in KJV, NKJV, NASB), both implying that there are times when there is not a prophet. The passage in Deuteronomy, using another Hebrew word, clearly opens with an "if!"

The passage in Numbers, one of the earliest references to prophets found in the Bible (only preceded by Genesis 20:7 and perhaps Exodus 7:1), shows that a prophet would appear when further revelation of God was necessary. If no new revelation was needed then there was no need of a prophet.

Since God gives a prophet the incredible task of revealing Him, several points became important:

    1. God had to call or send the prophet.

    Jeremiah 1:4-5 The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." (NIV)

    2. If the message wasn't perfectly true (God's word without error) it could never reveal the one true God.

    Jeremiah 1:6-7 "Ah, Sovereign LORD," I said, "I do not know how to speak; I am only a child." 7 But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am only a child.' You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. (NIV)

    3. The prophet's words were a message from God, making the people responsible to obey it.

    Deuteronomy 18:19 If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. (NIV)

    4. Since prophets weren't part of an office or institution (for example, the priesthood), appearing only as needed, God had to provide a means to know that they were His prophets.

We need to further define point four. Not surprisingly, early in Israel's history, God set up a means of testing a prophet, to prove if he or she was a prophet of God. (And yes, Biblically speaking, though rarer, there were prophets who were female as well. Consider: Exodus 15:20, Judges 4:4, 2 Kings 22:14, Nehemiah 6:14, Luke 2:36)

Deuteronomy 13:1-5 If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, 2 and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, "Let us follow other gods" (gods you have not known) "and let us worship them," 3 you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. 5 That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you. (NIV)


  • The test of a prophet must his message (doctrine), not the sign or wonder. God allows false signs and wonders to test us.

  • A false prophet wasn't to get a "second chance." During the time of the Mosaic law God assured this by having the false prophet put to death. Even when God's people couldn't carry out this death sentence He held them responsible to never again listen to such an individual. In New Testament times, where the church no longer has the civil authority for such punishment, the same admonition to count as dead such a false teacher still applies. (Though the church isn't under Mosaic Law, God restates or alludes to portions of it in the New Testament. On prophecy, the New Testament implies continuing the Old Testament tests already in place since God assigns no new test or standard when He warns the church to beware of false prophets.)


Immediately following a verse which stresses that it is important we listen to true prophets of God, He gives more of a prophet's test.

Deuteronomy 18:19-22 If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I myself will call him to account. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death." 21 You may say to yourselves, "How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?" 22 If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him. (NIV)


  • Some prophets presume to speak in God's name, though they are actually not (whether intentionally or through self-deception).

  • There are no second chances for false prophets

  • Beyond (or in association with) the earlier test given to judge the prophets' doctrine, the outcome of the prophecy must be in view also. If the prophecy does not happen or come true, the person is a false prophet.

Specific prophecies were the norm in the Biblical example. Even when there were prophecies given that would have far future fulfillment, they still are found to have very specific fulfillment. If a prophet or prophetess was only giving far future prophecies they could only be tested by their teaching and not by the second test, namely that the prophecy would be fulfilled. Since God put these tests in place, and knowing how easily someone could be mislead by false-prophets using only far-future prophecies, He also provided His prophets more immediate signs (or short term prophecies) that would be testable.

It makes sense that God would want the twin test applied, as such making the prophet subject to the testimony of two or more witnesses. In this case, the testimony of all the witnesses must be true to be accepted.

Deuteronomy 19:15b A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. (NIV)

In some of today's churches who have placed a focus on modern prophecy, they regularly ignore some or all of these basic rules (witnesses). For example:

  1. Doctrine is minimized. People are taught not to question the new revelation, often placing this "fresh word" over the "old (written) word."

  2. When their prophecies are not fulfilled, or only partially fulfilled, excuses are given, such as "they lacked faith, or the church wasn't ready, etc." as if God does not know and reveal with certainty the future, or that somehow someone could circumvent or delay God's plan.

    Isaiah 46:10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please. (NIV)

  3. Having had so many problems with false prophecies (though they would not call them this), they encourage general prophecies, as though the church or the prophet could tell God what needs to be revealed. These false prophets are given second (third, fourth...) chances. During a multi-church seminar I was speaking at, I was challenged about my teaching on this subject. A group of pastors, denying that prophets were to be any longer tested by this standard, even went so far as to claim that God changed the rules from the Old to the New Testament - yet, were completely unable to offer supporting Scripture to back up their claim.

Since Scripture warns us that we must listen to a prophet of God; when the church allows false prophets to continue, how do we know when we should listen or not? If the church or an individual is lead astray through a false prophecy are not they all still responsible for their actions?! And why would those mislead, having discovered it, ever want to listen again? It's time to start testing the prophets by God's standard.

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 Do not put out the Spirit's fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. (NIV)

Revelation 2:20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants... (NIV)

In Old Testament times, false prophets arose who likely looked and acted like good Jews, yet they regularly uttered false visions. Even though God had proclaimed a coming and specific judgment, they proclaimed a generalized message of "peace" - even though their peace was an illusion. I can almost see them now, working and reworking their teaching to try and ignore events that weren't lining up to their long-time prophecy of peace.

Ezekiel 13:1-12 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 "Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: 'Hear the word of the LORD! 3 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! 4 Your prophets, O Israel, are like jackals among ruins. 5 You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD. 6 Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. They say, "The LORD declares," when the LORD has not sent them; yet they expect their words to be fulfilled. 7 Have you not seen false visions and uttered lying divinations when you say, "The LORD declares," though I have not spoken? 8 "'Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign LORD. 9 My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD. 10 "'Because they lead my people astray, saying, "Peace," when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, 11 therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. 12 When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, "Where is the whitewash you covered it with?" (NIV)

Ezekiel 14:9-10 "'And if the prophet is enticed to utter a prophecy, I the LORD have enticed that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and destroy him from among my people Israel. 10 They will bear their guilt - the prophet will be as guilty as the one who consults him. (NIV)


  • The one who consults a false prophet is as guilty as the false prophet is.

  • A church that promotes, or enables, or encourages, a false prophet is just as guilty as the false prophet (even as Israel was as a nation).

It makes sense that God would consider the one who consults (or heeds) a false prophet guilty since He has clearly provided the means for testing them. The answer to the question, "Who are we to judge?" is clearly "God's people... the church!" Many false prophets discourage all or some of the tests because they know they will fail them. Their wording often sounds like this...

  • God revealed this to me, who are you to question what God said? Often the implication, expressed or not, is that they have a special "in" with God and since you don't that makes them superior (or more holy) that you - of course meaning your judgment would be flawed.

  • Touch not God's anointed. If you challenge them, you said to be working to tear down God's work and God's kingdom. This verse is often referred to...

    Psalms 105:15 "Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm." (NIV)

One verse can't be pulled from context, or held up in isolation. When any subject is established through many passages, the entirety of what is taught must be in view. To do otherwise is to misuse scriptures. The whole church is called to be testing the spirits. God will never be offended by His children doing what they are told to do (regardless of who says you shouldn't!).

1 John 4:1-3 Dear friends, 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. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. (NIV)

The very reason we are told to test the spirits, is because there are false prophets. These false prophets will look good, do seemingly good things, and mingle many good words with their error (or lies). The test, even as given in 1 John 4:1-3, is still all about the person's doctrine. Having a prophet merely say the words "Jesus Christ has come in the flesh" is not proper implementation of this test. Cults like Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons will even answer "yes" to such a statement, though they mean something far different than what is taught in scriptures. (JW's don't believe Jesus is God, while Mormon's hold that Jesus is merely one of a number of gods.) Proper use of this scriptural test includes determining...

  1. Is the Jesus they are teaching the Son of God, God in the flesh? (Colossians 2:9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form) Do they acknowledge the sufficiency and completeness of God's word in revealing Him to us? (Scriptures alone!)

  2. Are they teaching the completeness and sufficiency of Jesus coming in the flesh to live a perfect life on our behalf, plus His subsequent death, burial and resurrection - all to provide for our salvation apart from any merit or works of sinners? (Grace alone!)

  3. Do they teach that it is through faith in Jesus Christ, and what He did, that forgiveness of sins, and eternal live are given, that we can neither earn it nor do we have to work to keep it? (Faith alone!)

    Ephesians 2:8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (NIV)

While the first three are basic doctrine, these next two are also in view.

  1. Is the focus on Jesus Christ? Acknowledging Jesus is more than paying lip service, it's to focus on Him. If the focus becomes the miracle worker or prophet, self, the miracles, demons, or anything else, then Jesus has taken a back seat.

  2. Are the words backed by action? This is far more than merely looking at what is happening in the immediate or public view (as anyone can put on a good show). Acknowledging Jesus with words, while denying Him through lifestyle (which comes from ignoring or twisting Jesus' words... the Bible) shows the true spirit to not be of God.

Matthew 15:8-9 "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'" (NIV)

1 Timothy 6:3-5 If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions 5 and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. (NIV)

2 Timothy 3:4b-5 ...lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God- 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. (NIV)

As already said, "Who are we to judge?" is often the first question asked. Again, the answer is that we are God's children, His church, and we must judge by His standard (which takes care of Matthew 7:1's "judge not...," in view of Matthew 7:2).

1 Peter 4:17a For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God... (NIV)

Anyone can make up what sounds like prophecy; anyone can borrow bits and pieces of truth from other people and sources and weave it together with speculation or lies. Whether it is done maliciously or through well intentioned deception, God is against the false prophet and all believers should be too. The tests God has given must be applied for they serve the purpose of assuring that God's word is spoken faithfully as He desires.

Jeremiah 23:25-32 "I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, 'I had a dream! I had a dream!' 26 How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? 27 They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their fathers forgot my name through Baal worship. 28 Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?" declares the LORD. 29 "Is not my word like fire," declares the LORD, "and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? 30 "Therefore," declares the LORD, "I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me. 31 Yes," declares the LORD, "I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, 'The LORD declares.' 32 Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams," declares the LORD. "They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least," declares the LORD. (NIV)

In regards to the last days, Jesus warned that many people would be deceived by false prophets. We should expect, that outside the church, fortune tellers and other diviners of the future will abound, even as the pagan nations surrounding Israel of old were filled with the like. The focus here is on the false prophets in the church, or in the name of the church, or who come in the name of God.

Matthew 24:9-11 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. (NIV)

Notice that Jesus warned about many false prophets. As with numerous recorded times in the Old Testament, the false prophets outweighed numerically the true prophets (or prophet) of God (consider 1 Kings 22:6-8, where there was 400 versus 1). God does not need, and rarely employs, numerical majorities - perhaps because it shows even more clearly that it is God who is at work. This brings us to another sign of a false prophet, namely that they desire people to speak well of them. While this doesn't sound that bad, it becomes so if the message is crafted to gain favor with people versus obedience to God and faithfulness to His truth. Relating to our earlier examination, of whether the focus is on Jesus, the same can be said here. If our focus is Jesus, we will stand for the truth (of God's Word) even if the whole world be against us.

2 Timothy 3:12-17 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NIV)

Galatians 1:10 Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. (NIV)

Prophets seeking the applause of men will say whatever is needed to get (or keep) that applause. In fact, as in the Old Testament, they ultimately become prophets for hire, saying what was necessary to receive a reward. (Sometimes this sounds as innocent as; "I can't say that, or I will loose my job!")

Luke 6:26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets. (NIV)

Micah 2:11 If a liar and deceiver comes and says, 'I will prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer,' he would be just the prophet for this people! (NIV)

Balaam is probably the best example found in Scriptures of a prophet for hire. Peter refers to the account of Balaam as part of a longer passage speaking about false teachers, a category which includes false prophets. In case the severity of this misconduct isn't understood, Peter ends by focusing on eternal punishment for such unrepentant persons.

2 Peter 2:15-17 They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. 16 But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey - a beast without speech - who spoke with a man's voice and restrained the prophet's madness. 17 These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. (NIV)

Earlier in the chapter, Peter made it clear that false prophets were not merely phenomena of Old Testament times. Again, with the focus being on the teaching or doctrine of such individuals, Peter warns us that these people will equally be present as false teachers. His warning isn't that there will be false teachers outside of the church - of course there will be - it was that there will be false teacher "among you," speaking of the church. Can you recognize them?

2 Peter 2:1-3 But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them - bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 3 In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. (NIV)


  • False prophets and teacher secretly introduce destructive heresies. While they might subsequently teach publicly their false doctrine, it is secretly introduced by concealing the truth that would expose it.

  • They deny our Lord. Perhaps they deny the sufficiency of what Christ did to secure our salvation, or maybe they obscure the salvation that He purchased for us. Another clue is found in the words "sovereign Lord" or "absolute Ruler" as the Greek implies. Denying the absolute sovereignty of God, perhaps relegating Him to be a puppet of the wills of men, is another way they deny our Lord.

  • They have many who follow them. Quantity of followers is not a test of correctness or being blessed by God.

  • They bring the way of truth into disrepute. In and out of the church people look to them and justifiably say "If that's what it means to be a Christian, I don't want any of it." Hypocrisy, promotion of self, seeking after wealth at the expense of others (1 Timothy 6:5), and the like, characterize their "ministry."

  • They exploit people: Misusing authority, they pressure (directly or indirectly) people to do what benefits them (directly or indirectly). They exploit people financially to benefit themselves directly, or indirectly through building empires they control (making it easier to claim that it's not to benefit themselves). Others exploit by merely wanting multitudes of people in their sphere of influence, so as to claim power for themselves.

Balaam was willing to say whatever it took to get paid. Even after being supernaturally rebuked by a donkey (Numbers 22:27-30), warned by God (Numbers 22:12) and by an angel (Numbers 22:31-33), Balaam was still will to find another way to corrupt the people - all for a paycheck (and some prestige and authority). Unwillingness to be corrected is a staple of the false prophet and false teacher. When God restrained Balaam from cursing the people and caused him to utter a true prophecy, later Balaam still caused problems through his continued false teachings (doctrine).

Revelation 2:14 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. (NIV)

Numbers 31:8b They [as punishment] also killed Balaam son of Beor with the sword. (NIV)

It should be noted that speaking a few true prophecies (Numbers 24:2-9) did not remove the penalty for false prophecy from Balaam. If God can make a donkey speak the truth, He can make an obstinate false prophet speak truth for His purposes for a time. Also note that God's miraculous restraint of Balaam was for the benefit of pagans, not His people the Israelites. Nowhere were the Israelites commanded to listen to this false prophet and, in fact, they suffered consequences for subsequently doing so. All those who mingle lies with the truth are dangerous to the church, even more so than one who speaks only easily recognizable lies. In contrast to all these deceivers, God's shepherds are to be guiding people into His truth.

Zechariah 10:2 The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd. (NIV)

Beyond testing their doctrine, as we've already said, the people were also to examine the fulfillment of their prophecies. With some prophecies this could be done reasonably soon, for others their fulfillment would have to wait many years, if not generations. How could these be then tested for the initial hearers? Throughout the Bible, we find that when such prophecies were given, God gave the prophet more immediate prophecies as well, that could be tested, sometimes call "a sign." For example, Moses used many signs to show Pharaoh that he spoke on behalf of God. If Moses had proclaimed any of these signs and they had not happened he would have been branded a false prophet. Since it is God that tells the sign giver what to do, and God who makes the sign happen, God assures that His sign givers have infallible proofs. Signs display the omnipotent and omniscient power of God.

Exodus 4:28-31 Then Moses told Aaron everything the LORD had sent him to say, and also about all the miraculous signs he had commanded him to perform. 29 Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, 30 and Aaron told them everything the LORD had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, 31 and they believed. And when they heard that the LORD was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped. (NIV)

Signs are not guaranteed to persuade the unbeliever. For example, with Moses, the Israelites were the ones God had chosen and they were the ones who believed. As for Pharaoh, his heart continued to be hardened in his unbelief even in the face of many signs.

Exodus 7:10-13 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. 11 Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: 12 Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs. 13 Yet Pharaoh's heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had said. (NIV)

Note that those who don't believe in God are easily swayed and misled by false signs. Though limited, Pharaoh's magicians (false sign workers) were capable imitating true signs. Some have speculated that these imitations weren't truly supernatural, rather that they were just slight of hand. Scriptures doesn't dispute that they were supernatural imitations, but faked or not, they were perceived by the people as being real and their purpose was to deceive.

Exodus 8:6-7 So Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, and the frogs came up and covered the land. 7 But the magicians did the same things by their secret arts; they also made frogs come up on the land of Egypt. (NIV)

Even intelligent people can be deceived by false prophets. Until God showed him the truth, a proconsul (who was called "an intelligent man") had been listening to a false prophet named Bar-Jesus. Note that this false prophet was also a worker of false signs, this shown by scriptures referring to the man as a "sorcerer." Using this term made clear that the source of these false works was certainly not God and rather of demonic origins. Also note that this sorcerer was religious, a Jew, likely intertwining some of the truth of Judaism with his falsehood.

Acts 13:6-12 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 "You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun." Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord. (NIV)

One of the most amazing accounts of a false teacher and sign worker is that of the slave girl who could predict the future. Obviously she had been successful in giving testable prophecies or signs, or she wouldn't have been as popular (and making her masters wealthy). As an aside, consider the two primary ways a deceiving spirit can enable fortune-telling. Firstly, the spirit can always provide good sounding lies. Even as today, make something general enough and broad enough, and it appears that some of it happened. Secondly, in a means that cannot be discounted, the deceiving spirit proclaims future events, destructions and calamities, wherein these evil-beings intend to make them happen (short of God intervening and restraining them). Truly only God knows the future. Satan's minions can try and shape the future (as they see fit; lying, stealing, killing, destroying; see John 8:44, 10:10) - and successfully so when God allows for His sovereign purposes (Isaiah 64:10, 14:24, Psalms 33:11).

Acts 16:16-18 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved." 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!" At that moment the spirit left her.

Sadly, in many of today's churches, this demonically possessed girl would be proclaimed a prophet of God with all expectation that the church should listen to her. The grounds for doing so: (1) she had made a true statement about the apostles and their trying to lead people to God, and (2) she had likely made some "prophecies" that had come true. Even the fact that she asked money for such things, if couched in religious language, would be completely acceptable; just send a "faith gift," or some "seed money" to show you are serious about claiming your miracle (or prophecy). If error can be ignored or cancelled out by a few true things, virtually every false prophet can (and will) find a home in the church. They are masters at mingling lies with the truth. God provided His tests for a reason!

In the New Testament, Jesus warned that people would be using false signs and miracles to deceive while at the same time claiming to point people to Christ.

Matthew 24:21-26 For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now - and never to be equaled again. 22 If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or, 'There he is!' do not believe it. 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect - if that were possible. 25 See, I have told you ahead of time. 26 "So if anyone tells you, 'There he is, out in the desert,' do not go out; or, 'Here he is, in the inner rooms,' do not believe it. (NIV)

The book of Revelation, too, speaks about credible and miraculous signs that will be witnessed by many. Their purpose is to deceive and they are successful at doing so.

Revelation 13:11-14 Then I saw another beast, coming out of the earth. He had two horns like a lamb, but he spoke like a dragon. 12 He exercised all the authority of the first beast on his behalf, and made the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose fatal wound had been healed. 13 And he performed great and miraculous signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in full view of men. 14 Because of the signs he was given power to do on behalf of the first beast, he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. (NIV)

Revelation 16:13-14 Then I saw three evil spirits that looked like frogs; they came out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 They are spirits of demons performing miraculous signs, and they go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. (NIV)

These false miracles and signs are supposed to be very credible. Notice that they are designed to deceive "even the elect," perhaps meaning that they are focused on the church. The devil has no need to further deceive the lost; his primary focus will always be on those who are in a place to hear the truth. Sadly, in many churches today, a prophet proclaiming and fulfilling a prophecy of calling down fire from heaven (as in Revelation 13) would be embraced without question.

The great assurance given in the passage in Matthew chapter 24 is the "if that were possible." Since it is God who does the saving, God has promised that He will keep His elect from being led away to destruction by these false signs and miracles. The "how" has been already given, namely the means God has provided to His people to tests these false prophets and sign-workers. To ignore these tests is to do so at our own peril.


  • Those using false miracles and signs will often claim to be pointing people to Christ

  • False prophets will claim to be speaking the truth and likely will have some truth mixed into their teaching.

  • Counterfeit miracles and signs will be credible and deceive many.

  • Counterfeit miracles and signs will focus on those in the church or being drawn to the church.

  • God will keep His elect from being led to destruction by these counterfeits through the use of the tests He has provided.

Returning to the issue of signs. Signs are merely an authenticating miracle or fulfilled prophecy that is more immediate. As with all prophecy, the giving and fulfillment of a sign is only one factor that cannot outweigh what is being taught (doctrine). A nameless prophet of God provides an Old Testament example of how this worked. Notice that a far future prophecy is being given (functionally non-testable in the immediate), that a king by the name of Josiah would be born and remove the false places of worship. To authenticate that prophecy, a more immediate sign was proclaimed and subsequently fulfilled, namely the supernatural destruction of the altar. This sign was accomplished in their sight as a testable fulfillment.

1 Kings 13:1-5 By the word of the LORD a man of God came from Judah to Bethel, as Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make an offering. 2 He cried out against the altar by the word of the LORD: "O altar, altar! This is what the LORD says: 'A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who now make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you.'" 3 That same day the man of God gave a sign: "This is the sign the LORD has declared: The altar will be split apart and the ashes on it will be poured out." 4 When King Jeroboam heard what the man of God cried out against the altar at Bethel, he stretched out his hand from the altar and said, "Seize him!" But the hand he stretched out toward the man shriveled up, so that he could not pull it back. 5 Also, the altar was split apart and its ashes poured out according to the sign given by the man of God by the word of the LORD. (NIV)

An additional example is found later in 1 Kings. Here a more immediate sign was given to Hezekiah to confirm a future prophecy regarding Assyria (which would also still have to come true or the prophet would be a false prophet).

2 Kings 19:29 "This will be the sign for you, O Hezekiah: "This year you will eat what grows by itself, and the second year what springs from that. But in the third year sow and reap, plant vineyards and eat their fruit. (NIV)

Still another example of an immediate sign being given to Hezekiah is found in the book of Isaiah. This one preceded a 15 year prophecy:

Isaiah 38:4-8 Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: 5 "Go and tell Hezekiah, 'This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. 6 And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city. 7 "'This is the LORD's sign to you that the LORD will do what he has promised: 8 I will make the shadow cast by the sun go back the ten steps it has gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.'" So the sunlight went back the ten steps it had gone down. (NIV)

This final example shows how God provided a specific sign for a non-specific (or more general) prophecy that punishment would take place:

Jeremiah 44:29-30 "'This will be the sign to you that I will punish you in this place,' declares the LORD, 'so that you will know that my threats of harm against you will surely stand.' 30 This is what the LORD says: 'I am going to hand Pharaoh Hophra king of Egypt over to his enemies who seek his life, just as I handed Zedekiah king of Judah over to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, the enemy who was seeking his life.'" (NIV)


  • Future non-testable or general prophecies should be accompanied by more immediate testable signs

  • The sign should be clearly proclaimed and clearly fulfilled.

  • The sign being fulfilled should be clearly through supernatural fulfillment - even as the prophecy came from God, the fulfillment of the sign should be seen as coming only from God.

  • The later prophecy would also be fulfilled.

It's necessary to reemphasize that false prophecy is something that has infected the church from the time of the apostles to now. In the first century, Paul was struggling to calm down the Thessalonian church which had been misled by false prophecy.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Don't you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? (NIV)

That this false prophecy was concerning end-times events should be another warning. The last couple centuries, especially in the United States, have seen hosts of "prophets" proclaim their professed inside knowledge of end times fulfillment. A sad indictment on the church is that many of them have been allowed to predict, fail, and predict again. Some cults have grown out of the teachings of these false prophets, still other Christian denominations have been founded on their teachings, only to have to wrestle with the ramifications of their utterances in future years. I have personally heard one individual make a broad guarantee that it had been revealed to him that Jesus would return in his lifetime. He's dead now, but how many listened to him while he was still alive? Another popular Christian writer published his speculations in the form of alternative charts, openly claiming that the various possibilities showed that he was not setting a date, yet functionally He claimed that one of them had to be true. The dates of all the charts fell away in the following two-decades, yet Christians are still listening to him and buying his books.

Notice what Paul's response was to those being swayed by these false prophecies. Paul pointed them back to God's word, the word He revealed by the prophets and the apostles, in this case himself. His exact words were "Don't you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?" Know your source. No prophecy will ever contradict, take away from, or add to God's inspired word.

Matthew 24:36, 42 "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone. ... 42 "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. (NASU)

If we know our source, God's word, and the One who gave it, God Himself, we should not need a prophecy or sign. If we believe that God has revealed to us, in His word, all that we need to know about Him and how to live for Him (in other words, in the sufficiency and completeness of Scriptures) then why would we desire anything more. We live by faith in Christ and rest in His revealed promises.

If every prophecy, sign, and miracle were to cease, we still have everything we need in the perfection and completeness of God's Holy Word. To believe otherwise is to say that Scriptures is insufficient - the idea that has lead to the Roman Catholic inclusion of church tradition as equivalent to Scriptures and cultic add-ons to the Bible (such as the Book of Mormon, professing to be "another testimony" or continuation of the Bible).

1 Corinthians 13:8-10 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. (NIV)

Whether the perfection and completion of God's word, the Bible, has meant that all prophecies have had to cease has been a debate of theologians over the years. Some believe that only in the sinless perfection of eternity will this be fulfilled. Regardless, we do have with certainty the means to test all prophecies, professed prophets, and miraculous signs. Since we don't seek after them, we test them as they come along.

On the other hand, the wicked don't believe and naturally seek after miraculous confirmations, claiming that they would believe if only they could see.

Matthew 12:38-40 Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, "Teacher, we want to see a miraculous sign from you." 39 He answered, "A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (NIV)

As mentioned earlier, miracles didn't make everyone believe. Jesus, himself, usually had more opposition following a miracle. Even after knowing that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead the religious leaders weren't persuaded, actually becoming more determined to put Him to death. The ones who believed did so because of His words!

John 11:47-48 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. "What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. 48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." (NIV)

John 12:17-19 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!" (NIV)

True prophecies, signs, and miracles, will be explained away by those who don't believe, regardless of how convincing. Even many of those who went out to meet Jesus (John 12:18) were likely part of that same crowd that later cried out "Crucify Him!", having failed to believe in Jesus' message. Consider how many still refuse to believe when faced with the evidence of the greatest sign Jesus ever proclaimed. This well-attested sign pertained to His death, burial, and resurrection.

John 2:18-22 Then the Jews demanded of him, "What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?" 19 Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." 20 The Jews replied, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?" 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (NIV)

Signs and fulfilled prophecies are given to those who believe (or will believe), as a gracious gift of God. Those who refuse to believe will ignore the works as well as the teaching that underlies it. The unbelieving Pharisees equally ignored John the Baptist, who did no signs (John 10:41), and Jesus who did multitudes (though not on demand).

Again, we are not to seek after these, but to accept those that God has given (as He wills and desires) as being sufficient. Returning to John's words in his gospel, we are assured that enough have been recorded for us.

John 20:31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (NIV)

Even if God never gave another prophecy, sign, or miracle, those that He had recorded in Scriptures are sufficient witness to who He is and to authenticate all His designated witnesses; through which He gave His infallible word.

Want a sign that God is working in your life? Are you willing to accept the one given in His word?

Philippians 1:27-30 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved - and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have. (NIV)

Since it often comes up, I'll end on the topic of miraculous healing. Do I believe that God heals? Certainly! Do I believe that God uses others to effect that healing? Certainly!

James 5:14-16 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (NIV)

Has God guaranteed, in Jesus' atonement, our healing? Certainly! (Okay, before anyone panics at this statement, read on...) Where I find this is in a prophetic passage (about Jesus) which is often misused by the so-called faith healers, or professed miracle and sign workers.

Isaiah 53:4-6 Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (NIV)

Two extremes have been taken on this passage. Some knowing that God does not guarantee perfect daily health to his people, jump through semantic hoops trying to say that it has nothing to do with physical healing - and wrongly so. Others claim the exact opposite, that God has guaranteed perfect daily health (and healing) to all His children (so long as you believe and perhaps send a "love gift.") - also wrongly so. Even the apostle Paul, who God used to do a number of miraculous signs (Acts 14:8-10, 28:8), could not heal his companion Trophimus (2 Timothy 4:20). Signs and miracles are only as God desires, not by the will of man.

So, back to Isaiah 53, are we healed physically by Jesus' atonement on the cross of Calvary? The answer is clearly "yes!", but not in the way some think. Jesus' sacrifice secured our complete salvation; of our soul and spirit, and also our bodies. It is not until our bodies are sown in corruption and then raised incorruptible that we have this complete physical healing.

1 Corinthians 15:42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. (NKJV)

Can we pray for temporary physical healing here and now? Sure, but we rest in His will being done (Matthew 6:10). If God desires to heal us for a season, He will. If God desires to give us ultimate and final healing, let His will be done. Every person Jesus healed or raised to life ultimately grew sick, or old, and died again. Only those healed spiritually through the salvation found only in Christ have permanent healing, the physical aspects beginning with eternity. All for His glory!

Hebrews 7:25 Therefore He [Jesus] is also able to save to the uttermost [completely; body, soul and spirit] those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. (NKJV)

(c) 2005 Brent MacDonald/LTM. Duplication is permitted as long as the source is cited.