I imagine that this has been a bad year for Harold Camping. He had
quite energetically predicted that a date that would be the day of the Lord’s
return, the Rapture as it is called, and yet we’re all still here.
Apparently, he missed it.
There are, no doubt, a number of
consequences from such a public failure; it is not my intent to consider those.
I feel drawn to one thing.
He prophesied the Rapture, and he
Holy Spirit keeps drawing my
attention back to that issue: the prophecy was wrong. And he keeps asking me
this question: What's the difference between a false prophecy and an inaccurate
one? What is the difference between a false prophet and an inaccurate one?
Think about Baalam, son of Beor, the
famous false prophet of Numbers 22, the man with the talking donkey. While not
using the label “false prophet,” the NT castigates him as such (see 2 Peter
2:15, Jude 1:11, and Revelation 2:14). And yet, pretty much every single prophecy
he declared was fulfilled.
The false prophet spoke true
In the book of Acts, we meet the
prophet Agabus, who is received and treated as a true prophet of God. By
contrast, his prophecies, though accurate in general, missed some key details;
more importantly, the point of the prophecy (to go toJerusalemor not) completely missed what God had been speaking to the
The true prophet spoke inaccurate
It is clear that the old method of
judging a prophet – if his prophecies come to pass, he’s a true prophet, but if
his prophecies do not come to pass, he is a false prophet – is a complete
failure, at least by Biblical standards.
It appears that Baalam was judged a
false prophet, not for the accuracies of his prophetic words, but for his
loyalties. He spoke words that were nominally from the heart of God, but his
loyalties were mixed. From my perspective, it appears that in addition to
serving the Yahweh, he was also moved by his desire for honor and for money
(see Numbers 22:15-18). Baalam may have been living in the warning that Jesus
gave thousands of years later: “No man can serve two masters.”
By contrast, it appears that Agabus
did not suffer from a divided heart.
Agabus was not a false prophet, just
an inaccurate one. He got most of the revelation right (Paul would be arrested
when if he went toJerusalem), and he got most of the
interpretation right (though it was the Romans who arrested and bound Paul, not
the Jews), the people missed the application (“Paul, don’t go!”).
I have witnessed the ministry of
people who had a wonderful heart, but missed most of the details in what they
were saying, and missed the conclusion. They were bad prophets, terribly
inaccurate. But they were not false prophets. There was no motive other than
obeying God in their heart.
As I’ve been meditating on these
things, I have begun to suspect that it is the heart, not the words, that
determine whether someone is a true prophet or a false prophet. If we are
motivated by the need for fame, we cannot be moved by God alone. If I change
what I say in order that offerings won’t be hurt, we may need to ask some hard
questions. (Note: I am not addressing HOW a word is given, or even how it is
worded: wisdom has much to say about that. I’m addressing the WHAT of the word
This may be the biggest danger: If I
declare a word from a true word, but fame or fortune come as a result, then
whatever seeds have lain dormant in my heart will sprout quickly and reveal the
condition of my heart. If I speak a prophecy without the need for fame or the
lust for money, but fame and money come, the seeds of that need for fame, the
seeds of the lust for money, if they were present in my heart, may sprout and
grow and flower and bear fruit.
Harold Camping prophesied what time
has proved to be an inaccurate word. It is self-evident that his prophesy has
brought both fame and fortune (all those ads cost money!).
But is he a false prophet? Or is he
merely a bad prophet, an inaccurate one?
This is a time when I am thankful
for the apostle’s wisdom: “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own
master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to
make him stand.” (Romans 4:4) I am thankful that I have no responsibility to
judge Harold Camping, no responsibility to train him, no responsibility to make
him stand. He has another Master who has both that responsibility and that