“see to it that no one misleads you.” The Greek word translated “mislead” is planaō (#4105 πλανάω, pronounced plan-ah’-ō). It means to cause to stray or to lead astray, lead aside from the right way; to go astray, wander, roam around. We get our English word “planet” from planaō, because unlike the fixed stars, the planets “wandered about” in the night sky. Planaō was used metaphorically for “to lead away from the truth, to lead into error, to deceive.”
It is a powerful truth that when the disciples asked Jesus about the end of the age, the very first thing he told them was to make sure they were not being misled and deceived. There will be much deception in the end times, and deception figures prominently in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24. There will be general deception (Matt. 24:4) and deception concerning the Messiah (Matt. 24:5). Also Jesus said that many false prophets will arise and deceive many (Matt. 24:11), and there will be false prophets and false Messiahs who even do lying signs and wonders (Matt. 24:24). It is important that we take the time to understand Jesus’ teaching about false prophets. In today’s world a “false prophet” is not some wild-eyed person who is dressed in some kind of long robe and is predicting the end of the world, although there will no doubt be some of those. A false prophet is someone who claims to have heard from God or ascertained some spiritual truth that supposedly is from God. They may be well educated, clean cut, and soft spoken, but their doctrine is of the Devil. Like the beast from the earth in Revelation 13:11, they may have the outward appearance of a lamb, but they speak like a dragon. These people will be very effective in deceiving people, and it will be due, at least in part, to the fact that they are “of the fold.” In our case, they will be, or say that they are, Christians.
When Jesus told the Apostles to beware of false prophets, he was not warning them to be wary of pagan prophets. The prophets, oracles, and spiritualists from the Greco-Roman culture that surrounded the Jews would not have misled the Apostles or many other Jews for that matter. The false prophets that would be able to mislead the Jews were Jewish false prophets. That same truth applies today. Most Christians are not in danger of being misled by a Muslim Imam or a Buddhist holy man, but they are in danger of being misled by a well-educated, soft spoken, “man of God” who teaches about “God’s love” and under that guise contradicts the basic truths of Scripture. For example, a modern false prophet might say that God loves everyone, but then misinterpret that and teach that God would never be so restrictive as to say that salvation only came through belief in Christ. Or that, God understands human faults and failures so He would never condemn anyone to the Lake of Fire but will insure that everyone is saved and lives forever. Or that, God is too compassionate to say that the only acceptable sexual relation is between a man and a woman inside a marriage relationship. God promotes love, and as long as two people love each other and their relationship is a free-will choice, God is okay with it. Or that, the Bible is a very old book, and teachings that applied thousands of years ago do not apply today, we have to be guided by “goodness and love.” These are all hollow and sinful teachings, but they sound good and logical to someone who does not know the Bible.
But how are we to know who is a false prophet? The fact that Jesus told us to see to it we are not deceived tells us that there is a way we can know a false prophet from a true one. The key to not being deceived is to know the Bible, and know it well. We cannot trust our heart and follow our own human logic and wisdom: “He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool” (Prov. 28:26 KJV), and “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jer. 17:9). We only get one life to live, and then comes Judgment Day. Is it really wise to ignore what God has said and had written down, and bet that God did not really mean what He said but instead relent and ignore His own words on that Day? Hebrews 4:12 says it is the Word of God that is sharper than any double-edged sword and is a discerner of the considerations and intentions of the heart. Revelation 20:12 says that on Judgment Day “the books” (the scrolls) will be opened and people will be judged “out of the things that were written in the books.” Wise people learn and live the Bible and biblical principles.