One of the strangest stories in the entire Old Testament appears in 1 Kings 13. In this story, God sends a young prophet to curse the idolatrous altar that Jeroboam has built at Bethel. God has told him not to eat or drink until he returns to Judah. On his way home, though, the young prophet encounters an old prophet who lies to him, claiming that an angel has told him that the young prophet is supposed to eat in the old prophet’s house.
The young prophet agrees to come with him, and in mid-meal, the old prophet prophesies that the young prophet will die because of his disobedience. Indeed, on the way home, the young prophet is attacked and killed by a lion. The old prophet, so far as we know, is never punished, even though his lie cost the life of another.
To us, this seems horribly unfair. The old prophet had evil intent. The young prophet was merely deceived. How come God killed the young prophet and not the old one???’
I think the story exists to lead us to a difficult spiritual truth. God sees two spiritual categories: faithful and unfaithful. Either we follow His revealed will, or we don’t. Past that point, the whys and wherefores don’t matter much. Disobedience for whatever reason is still disobedience. The gullible young prophet who is deceived by a lying revelation is in the same spiritual boat as a (hypothetical) rebellious young prophet who defies God to His face.
Sadly, there are countless millions of people who are in the same position as the young prophet. They are sincere people. They want to do what’s right. However, they have been deceived by somebody else about God’s revelation.
This deceit takes many different forms. Some false teachers have constructed entire lying gospels. Others simply say, “Don’t worry about reading the Bible on your own. We’ll tell you what you need to do.” No matter the form, though, the deadliness remains the same. All those sincere people who have been led from the truth will lose their souls as surely as the false prophet lost his life.
There are two crucial lessons that we must take from this. First, our salvation is too important to entrust to any other human being. When it comes to the things of the spirit, the only word we should take is God’s word. If anybody else wants us to believe something, fine. Show us where it’s written, and we’ll agree. This Berean spirit is not only noble-minded. It is soul-preserving.
Second, we must appreciate the danger that all those deceived millions are in. If they continue in their error, the Day of Judgment will come as a dreadful surprise. Our sacred responsibility is to point as many to the truth as possible. Maybe they won’t listen, but the danger is too great for us to remain silent.