Testing Those Who Claim to be Special Teachers or Messengers Sent from God
In the Revelation of St. John, in the Bible, John wrote to the church at Ephesus, commending them that they had tested and detected the false teachers that came among them. Most of the following comes from a commentary about the Revelation of St. John, written by JJ Dewey with some of my own comments and observations.
“Thou canst not bear them which are evil.”
This is awkward to interpret in isolation. Many people have different definitions of what is “evil.” We are clearly told though that the aspiring disciple does not embrace that which he sees as evil or destructive, but is repulsed by it. Apparently he sees true evil for the inner voice acknowledges his intolerance as a good thing.
The next part of the verse identifies a particular evil that must be confronted:
“And thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:”
A particular evil faced by the aspiring disciple are those who say they are apostles and are not. Who are such people? The word “apostle” is generally linked with the twelve disciples of Jesus, but at the time of this writing all of them were dead except for John. Obviously many people surfaced with the claim of being the true successors of the original twelve.
Another possibility, and I emphasize possibility, is Paul or one of his associates could have been the “false apostles”. Paul said that he was an apostle, but was not recognized as such by the Twelve Apostles at Jerusalem. He was never numbered with the Twelve, never sat in council with them, and only met with them briefly. Paul didn’t meet Peter until 3 years after his “conversion” (Gal. 1:18), and he never met with any of the other apostles, except “James, the Lord’s brother” (Gal. 1:19). He never returned the Jerusalem again for another fourteen years (Gal. 2:1). Paul visited Ephesus, taught there, and wrote a letter to the Ephesians. He was in the city for over 2 years — from the autumn is AD 52 to spring of AD 55. (http://www.sacred-destinations.com/turkey/ephesus-paul.htm.) Paul claims to have been called as an apostle, not “of man”, but “of God”.
When the position of the fallen disciple Judas Iscariot was filled, the other eleven met in council and sought the guidance of God so that through their act of casting lots, God might act through them, to fill the vacancy with the man whom God had called. (Acts 1:20-26). Thus, Matthias was chosen by God, acting through the other Apostles. Paul makes no such claim, other than that he was called of God, and not of men. Paul also has a number of associates whom he terms “apostles”. Paul warns his readers about believing any other gospel other than that which he has taught, yet Paul teaches many unique precepts, which are not anywhere else in the New Testament. There have been volumes written by Biblical scholars, detailing the differences between the teachings of Paul and the teachings of John. And, churches have wrangled for years over the question of “faith and works”, pitting Paul and James against each other. Perhaps, there were deep splits in Christianity even back then, and Paul was seen by the main body of saints as a lone, self-styled renegade, going off on his own and teaching his own brand of gospel. And, perhaps, for this reason, John and the citizens of Ephesus considered him to be one who claimed to be an apostle, but turned out to be a liar.
Regardless of who those who claimed to be apostles were, let’s continue with the commentary.
The problem goes beyond this, however. “Apostle” comes from the Greek APOSTOLOS and means “one sent forth with orders.” This implies that such a person has strong authority.
Now let us look again at who the aspirant is dealing with. It is those “which say they are apostles.” In other words, as the seeker begins the path of liberation one of the first great evils he must confront and overcome are those who seek authority over him to give him marching orders. Where do they get their authority? They only seem to have it because they (or their followers) “say” so.
In order to make his first step of granting himself “permission” [The name Ephesus in Greek means “permission”.] to listen to the inner voice he must free himself from false unearned outer authorities. But note that he does not mindlessly reject an outer authority just because it is there and attempting to instruct or order him about. What does he do?
The Master gives him praise for testing such people and John himself in another scripture talks about the importance of such tests:
“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)
Speaking personally of myself, I am interesting in finding true messengers from God, especially one who is a true apostle, sent from Christ. Brigham Young, who was one of the first apostles of the LDS church, once said something to the effect that he would walk anywhere, anytime to hear an Apostle of Christ speak on any subject. I agree. But, how do you find such a person, and how do you verify that such a person is who and what they claim to be? The answer is simple: test them.
However, it is difficult to find a person these days who teaches and bears the kind of apostolic witness that one would expect to hear from a modern-day Peter or John, let alone Paul. There are those who claim the title “apostles”, but rather than bear personal eye-witness to the resurrection of Christ, they speak about the evils of the lottery and the importance of active church membership. There are others who appear to speak or write with the power of an “apostle”, but they, too, fail to stand up under the kind of testing that John proposes.
Now the question arises as to how the seeker is to test such people. The next verse seems to give a simplistic answer:
2 “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
3 “And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”
(1 John 4:2-3)
Here is another translation of this passage, given in modern English:
1 Beloved, there are many false prophets going out in the world, and there are many false spirits guiding them and would gladly guide you if they could. Do not believe every spirit or every teacher who comes to you, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God.
2 Here’s the test to determine the true Spirit of God: Every spirit that teaches the words of Christ which you have already received and who testifies that Jesus Christ, (who came and who will come in the flesh), is of God, is a true Spirit sent from God.
3 But, any spirit which does not bring you these same words and does not bear this same testimony is the spirit of antichrist, a substitute for Christ, which you have heard should come; and even now already is in the world.
4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome these evil spirits and false teachers: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
5 They who are of the world have been overcome of the world: therefore they speak about the world and the things in the world, and the world gladly listens to them.
6 We are of God. He who knows God listens to our message, but he who is not of God will not listen to us. And this is the way to tell the difference between the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
(1 John 4:1-6)
We return to the commentary.
So is that all there is to the test? If they confess that Jesus came in the flesh then we know they are of God, right?
I need to interject that “confession” is more than mere profession of belief, but to confess is speak from a deep personal knowledge and conviction. The word “confess” comes from the Greek homologeō. This is a legal term, used to describe testimony or witness in court. To testify falsely, which is to testify of the truth of a thing without actual knowledge of a thing, is subject to the crime of perjury. There are many who profess “belief” in Christ, but do not exercise faith (belief in action) in the works or words of Christ. Still, others commit an even greater error when they profess to having received knowledge through the Spirit, when they have received no such knowledge, and are merely parroting a popular mantra in order to gain social acceptance in some religious circle.
Not quite. First we know this is not correct based on observation alone. Many tyrants and people of great evil have confessed such things. Cortez and other Conquistadors confessed the coming of Jesus in the flesh and forced thousands of Native Americans to also make such a confession or die.
If this common interpretation is not correct then what is? To understand let us examine the verse more carefully. The key to the meaning is found in the phrase: “Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.” We have previously covered that the name Jesus Christ means “anointed to deliver” and applies not only to the Master in Galilee, but to all who successfully follow in his footsteps and seek to assist those who tread the path of deliverance.
“Is come” is from the Greek ERCHOMAI and is the middle voice of a primary verb used only in the present and imperfect tenses. Here it is used in the imperfect tense which implies a thing that is in the state of progress or happening in the now, whenever that now is occurring. If we take this into consideration then what is the verse really telling us? Who are those that pass the test?
The orthodox version reads: “Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:”
A more accurate rendering as far as the meaning is concerned would be:
“Everyone who confesses in spirit that the name of Jesus Christ is manifesting in the flesh of all who will receive is of God.”
This agrees with another scripture written by John:
“And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.” (Revelation 14:1)
The name given of the Father is Jesus Christ and is written in the minds and hearts of all true followers.
What then is the test of the true apostle? The seeker must search him out and discover this one thing. Does he see himself as a representative of Jesus Christ in a way that you are not or could not be if you so chose? Or does he see you and himself as equals in the opportunity of manifesting the Christ within our fleshly tabernacles? Does he allow you to speak the words of your innermost soul and allow you to follow them without trying to place his outer authority over you, above your own inner authority?
If he respects your inner voice as he does his own and if he allows you to manifest Christ with the same authority that he does for himself then he is of God. But if he seeks authority over you for the sake of glorifying his ego then he is not of God — no matter what words of support he gives to Jesus.
The seeker at this stage is thus praised by the Master’s voice. He has seen the deceit behind those who sought to control him and direct him toward their own ideal rather than that of the inner Christ.