Elon, North Carolina
Today, we are going to look at some very advanced material. You are going to hear some things you do not normally hear in church. That is what happens when you go through the Bible chapter by chapter in an in-depth study. What you are going to learn about God today is shocking. Last week, we read Ezekiel 13. That chapter shows what God thinks of false religion.
It deals with the topic was false prophets. We talked about what a false prophet is. We said that false prophets are a little different from false teachers. False prophets pretend to give a message God never gave. False teachers misinterpret the message God already gave. We said that false prophets were a problem in Ezekiel’s day and are still a problem today.
Review of the Tests of a False Prophet
We also looked at how to tell if someone is a false prophet. What are some of the signs to look for? We looked at some of the tests last week. Let’s review. The first test is the HONESTY TEST. False prophets have lying visions. They have not seen a vision in most cases, so they just make one up. Their whole ministry is based on deception.
The second test is the SCRIPTURE. This is a doctrinal test. Does what the prophet say line up with Scripture. Islam is the second largest religion in the world. There are more than billion Muslims in the world today. Islam is a religion that follows a man who claims to be a prophet named Muhammad but he fails the first test of a genuine prophet.
What he taught completely contradicts the Bible. According to the Koran, Jesus never died on a cross. He was never crucified. That is how you can know if someone is a false prophet, if the person contradicts Scripture. We need to be discerning. We need to know what Scripture teaches so we can compare what the prophet says to Scripture. One says that Jesus is the Son of God. Islam says that God has no son, so Jesus cannot be the Son of God.
The third test is the ACCURACY TEST. If someone claims to have a word from God, and makes a prediction, does the prediction actually come true? If it is genuinely form God, it will come true. We all know many people, even in the charismatic movement, that make all kinds of predictions supposedly from God which do not come true. They did so in the last election.
The fourth test is the HOLINESS TEST. False prophets do not live godly lives themselves. Jesus said “by their fruits you will know them.” They also do not encourage it in their followers. False prophets do not preach against sin. They do not encourage holiness. They encourage wickedness.
Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have ENCOURAGED THE WICKED, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life (13:22 ESV). False prophets will try to make you comfortable in your sin. They call evil good and good evil. Our society does this all of the time. Have you ever tried to encourage someone in their wickedness? Even people in church do this. Some Christians have helped people live together before marriage.
The fifth test is THE DISAPPOINTMENT TEST. False prophets always disappoint people, because their whole ministry is based on deception. Eventually, the lies come out. They are revealed. They are exposed. The wall will come down. What was their message? They preached peace (13:10, 16). The prophets of Israel who prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her, when there was no peace, declares the Lord God. (13:16 ESV)
They gave people a false hope and a false sense of security. They made the people feel good about themselves. They told them what they wanted to hear. They flattered them. They made them confident about their future. They were the shalom prophets. They always talked about peace.
They were also prosperity preachers. Ezekiel was a prosperity preacher. We see that at the end of the book but that was not his entire message. He preached the whole counsel of God. He not only preached prosperity, he also preached repentance and judgment. They preached all of the promised but did not preach any of the warnings.
Many people still do this today. Some of them mean well but they give people false hope. They say peace when there is no peace. Politicians do that. Neville Chamberlain promised people peace. He talked about peace in our time after talking one-on-one to Adolf Hitler.
That was right before WWII. Bill Clinton made a deal with North Korea in 1994 because they promised to give up their nuclear weapons. We were told at the time that it was a good deal for North Korea and for us. It was a false promise of peace. Obama made the same mistake with Iran Nuclear Deal.
Preachers Who Give False Hope
Politicians are not the only ones who give false hope to people. Preachers do it as well. How do they give false hope today? You will be surprised how many different ways this is done. Let me mention five ways.
1. Preachers who teach universalism
One way they do that today is to tell people that everybody will be saved . It is the Rob Bell philosophy (love wins). Jesus said that there are two roads, a broad road leading to destruction and a narrow road leading to life.
Universalism teaches that there is only one road. It leads to life and everyone is on it. You say, “I do not know too many preachers who believe this.” Many preachers try to comfort people who lost a loved one by telling them that they will see them in heaven, even if they were not believers.
2. Preachers who teach it doesn’t matter how you live
A second way that preachers give people false hope today is to say that as long as you make a profession of faith, it does not matter how you live. You are going to heaven anyway. You can be a Christian and live in open sin. You can be a gay Christian. Many teach this. It is a lie. That gives people false hope.
3. Preachers who promise wealth to everyone who gives them money.
There is nothing wrong with being wealthy but some preachers give people a false promise of hope. They promise if you send them a certain amount of money, they will become a millionaire. The only one who ends up getting rich are the greedy preachers.
4. Preachers who do not preach the entire Bible
It is a terrible thing to only preach half of the Bible, to only talk about all of the wonderful promises in Scripture but not to talk about any of the warnings (and there are warnings to believers). Many pastors never talk about sin. They never preach on God’s wrath or judgment. Instead, they only preach positive lifting messages that people want to hear. They never talk about pain and suffering.
5. Preachers who teach that Christians will not go through the Tribulation
Many believe that Christians will not be on earth during the Tribulation Period. It is called the doctrine of the pre-tribulational rapture. We will not be here when the Antichrist is here. We will not be here when any of the plagues are falling on the earth. It is very popular in some circles. The church will be raptured first
It may be right. On the other hand, not everyone agrees with that interpretation. The Bible only mentions the rapture of the church in two or three verses. If they are wrong, they have given false hope to many people. All throughout church history, Christians have experienced persecution. Paul said all who live godly in Christ will suffer persecution. Why would Christians at the end of history be any different?
Does God Deceive People?
When we come to Ezekiel 14, God makes an astounding statement about false prophets that I would like us to look at.
And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel. 10 And they shall bear their punishment—the punishment of the prophet and the punishment of the inquirer shall be alike— 11 that the house of Israel may no more go astray from me, nor defile themselves anymore with all their transgressions, but that they may be my people and I may be their God, declares the Lord God.” (14:9-11 ESV).
God makes three astounding statements here. First, he says that He deceived the false prophets. Second, He says that he will judge the false prophets. Third, He says that he will judge the people who listen to false prophets.
Why are the poor people punished? Both partake in sin. Both partake in error and both partake in punishment. God holds people accountable for the churches they attend. He holds them accountable for the religion they are involved in. Jeremiah 5:30-31 says, “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land:
31 the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; MY PEOPLE LOVE TO HAVE IT SO” (ESV)
Now we come to a shocking statement. God says, “And if the prophet is deceived and speaks a word, I, THE LORD, HAVE DECEIVED THAT PROPHET, and I will stretch out my hand against him and will destroy him.” God says, “If a prophet is deceived, he did not deceive himself, I deceived him.”
The Hebrew word for “deceive” (pah-thaw) can be used in a GOOD SENSE sense (cf. Hosea 2:14; Proverbs 25:15) but most of the time it is used in a BAD SENSE (Proverbs 1:10; 16:29; Exodus 22:16; Deuteronomy 11:16). That is the way it is used here. We know that from the context.
God deceives people prophets and then judges them for being false prophets. They are deceived and then destroyed. Is that fair? Does God actually deceive people? Islam teaches that God is a deceiver. It teaches that He is a schemer and liar. In fact, it teaches that God is the greatest deceiver of all.
And they (the unbelievers) planned to deceive, and Allah planned to deceive (the unbelievers), and Allah is the best of deceivers. (Surah 3:54)
And (remember) when the unbelievers plotted deception against you (O Muhammad), to imprison you, or kill you, or expel you. They plotted deception, but Allah also plotted deception; and Allah is the best of deceivers. (Surah 8:30)
If we just look at this verse in the Book of Ezekiel and pull it out of context, we would have big problems. That is what cultists do. They take a difficult passage in an obscure book of the Bible, rip it out of its context and use it to contradict other clear passages of Scripture.
We need to compare this passage in Ezekiel to the rest of Scripture to find out if God actually deceives people and what this means. When we look at all of Scripture, we learn three things about God. If you do not see these three things, you will misinterpret this verse in Ezekiel.
1) God is not the immediate cause of deception
He does not sin. He does not deceive people. He does not lie. In fact, the Bible not only says that God DOES NOT lie (Titus 1:2), it says that He CANNOT lie (Hebrews 6:17-18). The Bible says that “God is light and in Him is NO DARKNESS at all” (I John 1:5). He does not tempt people to evil.
James 1:13 says “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God CANNOT be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” The God of the Bible is not the god of Islam, a liar and a schemer. The one who deceived the world is not God but Satan (Revelation 12:9).
2) God is completely sovereign over everything.
This involves evil. God does not commit evil but He is sovereign over evil. He is sovereign over sin. God uses the wicked for His own purposes. “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for a day of disaster” (Proverbs 16:4 ESV). This is all through the Bible. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. God used that to get him to Egypt. Potiphar’s wife accused him of rape. God used that to get him in prison, where he would have connections to Pharaoh.
Babylon was a wicked nation. They invaded the country, wiped it out and burned the Temple. They did it for their own purposes but God used them to judge Israel. The worst sin on the planet was the crucifixion of Jesus. Evil men did this with wicked hands but there was a purpose behind that act. God used it for good.
God can use the murder for His own purposes. He can use deception for His own purposes as well. God can use false religion. He can use it as judgment on people. God can use false prophets (cf. I Kings 22). He is not the direct cause of deception but He does allow it and even uses it as a form of judgment on some people.
The Hebrew word for deceive is active, not passive in Hebrew in Ezekiel 14:9 but the OT does not distinguish between primary and secondary causes. That is why in the OT the same event attributed to the devil (I Chronicles 21:1) is also attributed to God (II Samuel 24:1). Is that a contradiction? No. Satan was the immediate cause but everything ultimately comes from God.
3) The deception does not violate free will
The people in this chapter are not righteous but wicked. They worship idols. We see that in the first part of the chapter. God does not cause innocent people to be deceived and be led astray. God does not turn a good prophet into a bad one. He simply turns them over to the desired of their hearts.
“But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. 12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.” (Psalm 81:11-12 ESV). We see something similar to this passage of Ezekiel in the NT.
The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (II Thessalonians 2:9-12 ESV).
This is a really strange passage. It goes completely against the theology of a lot of people. It is like the one in Ezekiel. God does not just send a delusion on people (that would be hard enough), He sends a STRONG DELUSION on people. Why does He do that? He does it so they will not believe? Why does he do that? He does that so they will not be saved (2:11).
Doesn’t God want everybody to be saved? In one sense, He does. These people have made a choice. They have chosen unbelief. They have chosen wickedness. People who choose unbelief are often judged by God, so they cannot believe.
When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 Therefore they COULD NOT believe. For again Isaiah said, 40 “He has BLINDED their eyes and HARDENED their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.” (John 12:36-40 ESV)
How does God do this in II Thessalonians? It says that He will send a strong delusion on people. How could God be good and do this? How could He be holy? The answer is that God will not actually send a delusion on anyone. He will allow it to be sent. Satan is the active agent of deception. He is the one who performs false signs and wonders and deceives people (2:9). Satan is the one who does it. God allows it. He permits it. Why? God uses even Satan does for His own purposes of judgment.
But notice something important about this. This strong delusion was not arbitrary. It did not make anyone an unbeliever. It did not make anyone wicked. They were already BOTH. These people are perishing because “they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2:10 ESV).
They do not perish because God sends a strong delusion on them. They perish because they reject the truth. They already did not believe the truth and then the false signs and wonders come around and they are open to it. It is a dangerous thing to reject the truth.
Application for Today
What is the practical application of this chapter for today? We may learn something unusual about God here but how does this chapter speak to us today? There is a powerful application in the first few verses of the chapter.
Then certain of the elders of Israel came to me and sat before me. 2 And the word of the Lord came to me: 3 “Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces. Should I indeed let myself be consulted by them? 4 Therefore speak to them and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Any one of the house of Israel who takes his idols into his heart and sets the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to the prophet, I the Lord will answer him as he comes with the multitude of his idols, 5 that I may lay hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, who are all estranged from me through their idols. (14:1-5 ESV)
1) God judges everyone
In Ezekiel 13, He judged false prophets. In Ezekiel 14, He judges elders. Elders come to Ezekiel’s house and while he is there a word of the Lord comes to Ezekiel and God reveals to Ezekiel the sin of these leaders. You might be tempted to think that these were good men because they were elders, as Joseph Parker points out.
If they were not good, they would not have been elders. Even leaders have sins. The Bible says that we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. That means elders must be judged. It means Sunday School teachers will be judged. It means pastors will be judged. It means presidents will be judged.
2) Our problem is internal
God says, “Son of man, these men have taken their idols INTO THEIR HEARTS” (14:3). These elders had a heart problem. They had heart disease. It is mentioned about five times in this section. It is the same problem that people have today, spiritual heart disease. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (ESV).
Jesus said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19 ESV). Their idol were set up in their hearts, not on a mantel. These elders did not worship sticks and stones. They did not worship physical idols, like some Jews in Jerusalem. They had heart idols. Their idols were invisible. Not all idols are made of wood and stone.
They are the same kinds of idols that we have today. We make idols of sex, pleasure, entertainment, food, work, power, possessions (covetousness is idolatry). Christians are told to keep themselves from idols in the NT (I John 5:20). We do not have big statues in our home that we bow down to but we do have heart idols.
3) God sees our secret sin
We all have a heart problem. These elders thought that God could not see their sin because it was internal but God knows all of our thoughts. He knows what is on our heart. No one else knows but He knows what we think. God revealed their sin to Ezekiel. God can look at our heart and name any heart idols we have.
4) The solution is genhuine repentance
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: REPENT and TURN AWAY from your idols, and TURN AWAY your faces from all your abominations. For any one of the house of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn in Israel, who separates himself from me, taking his idols into his heart and putting the stumbling block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes to a prophet to consult me through him, I the Lord will answer him myself. And I will set my face against that man; I will make him a sign and a byword and cut him off from the midst of my people, and you shall know that I am the Lord. (14:6-8 ESV)
That is the same solution today. It is what Jesus told believers to do in the Book of Revelation. We should all examine our own hearts to see if we have any heart idols and if there is any reason that we need to repent. Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24 NIV).