Jude exhorts believers to contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints in his epistle to those who are called and sanctified by God the Father and preserved in Jesus Christ. Jude warns against those who are false by comparing them with evil workers revealed in the Old Testament.
10 But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. 11 Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam, for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah. Jude 10-11
God’s Word is wonderfully complete and perfect! His Word, the Bible, equips us so that we can identify those who are false and avoid them. By studying the account of the rebellion of Korah in Numbers chapter 16, the characteristics of those who are false are readily apparent and by God’s instruction through the Scriptures we gain the wisdom necessary to mark and avoid deceivers.
1 Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; 2 and they rose up before Moses with some of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, representatives of the congregation, men of renown. 3 They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?” Numbers 16:1-3
The Levites were set aside by the Lord to assist the priests in their service to the Lord on behalf of the Israelites. The Kohathites were in charge of the holy articles found in the tabernacle that were important in this priestly service to the Lord (Numbers 3). Korah, who was a descended from Kohath, had a job to do for the Lord on behalf of both the priests and the people, but he wasn’t satisfied with his holy calling from the Lord. Notice that he started a conspiracy against Moses and Aaron, God’s chosen leaders for the nation, with a few other men, and they were then able to enlist the support of a good number of leaders from the congregation. These weren’t just any leaders, but men who were well known and respected. They had clout amongst the Israelites. Bolstered by this entourage, Korah accused Moses and Aaron of being elitist and having a holier than thou attitude. He then made the remarkable statement that the entire congregation was holy and that the Lord was among them. This assertion is incredible given that the Lord had just threatened to wipe them out and make a great nation of Moses because of the gross disobedience and unbelief of the people! (Numbers 14:12)
Those who are false will make deceitful accusations against those who are true, casting dispersions upon their character and calling. They will then minimize the gross error and wickedness of those who are walking in disbelief and disobedience, attesting that the wicked are somehow holy and walking with the Lord. Those who are false will be able to gather those who are like-minded with them. Often times, those who join with them will have great, although undeserved, reputations. This reminds me of the treachery of Billy Graham, one who is well regarded by countless numbers of people, but who has been instrumental in promoting evangelical ecumenism with the Catholics and liberal modernists, both groups which directly contradict what God has said in His Word about His Son Jesus Christ and the way of salvation.
Moses, because he knew the Lord intimately (as do all of His children), trusted the Lord to defend and exalt him before the people. Moses, who God called the meekest man on earth, was always mindful of serving the Lord God and exalting Him as holy. He also genuinely loved the Israelites, although at times they tried his patience. Here is how he responded to Korah.
4 So when Moses heard it, he fell on his face; 5 and he spoke to Korah and all his company, saying, “Tomorrow morning the Lord will show who is His and who is holy, and will cause him to come near to Him. That one whom He chooses He will cause to come near to Him. 6 Do this: Take censers, Korah and all your company; 7 put fire in them and put incense in them before the Lord tomorrow, and it shall be that the man whom the Lord chooses is the holy one. You take too much upon yourselves, you sons of Levi!” 8 Then Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi: 9 Is it a small thing to you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the work of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to serve them; 10 and that He has brought you near to Himself, you and all your brethren, the sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking the priesthood also? 11 Therefore you and all your company are gathered together against the Lord. And what is Aaron that you complain against him?” Numbers 16:4-11
It is important to remember that those who are false will always be exposed by the Lord, and those who are His will call them out for their rebellion against the Lord God Almighty. Those who are false despise the blessings of Christ Jesus and want what is not bequeathed them by the Lord. They seek after those things that are not proper for them to desire. Those who are false are motivated by the lusts of the flesh. Korah lusted after power, prestige, and preeminence. We see the false desiring admiration and esteem because of “their calling”. Moses knew that God would expose the mutiny of Korah and show the people that he was called by God to be their leader.
12 And Moses sent to call Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, but they said, “We will not come up! 13 Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you should keep acting like a prince over us? 14 Moreover you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!” Numbers 16:12-14
These allies of Korah, just as steeped in rebellion, gainsaid the promise that God had given to the people. They twisted the truth of God into a lie! They called Egypt, the land of their slavery and oppression, an oasis, and accused Moses, and therefore God, of making false promises with the intent to cause injury. Those who are false will denigrate the truth of the Scriptures so they can put forward their own false notions about knowing God and going to heaven. They will pretend to point the way to God and the hope of heaven, all the while they will be promoting the desires of the flesh and appealing to the world. Joel Osteen does just that by his appeal to greed and human pride. He gets his followers to fixate on this world and its perks, getting their eyes off of Jesus Christ, following and knowing Him.
Moses looked to the Lord for His intervention and judgment upon these rebels who were rejecting the provisions of the Lord for themselves and the whole congregation. Even in waiting upon the Lord for His work, Moses showed great humility and love for the people. He distinguished between the deceivers and those who had been deceived.
15 Then Moses was very angry, and said to the Lord, “Do not respect their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them, nor have I hurt one of them.” 16 And Moses said to Korah, “Tomorrow, you and all your company be present before the Lord-you and they, as well as Aaron. 17 “Let each take his censer and put incense in it, and each of you bring his censer before the Lord, two hundred and fifty censers; both you and Aaron, each with his censer.” 18 So every man took his censer, put fire in it, laid incense on it, and stood at the door of the tabernacle of meeting with Moses and Aaron. 19 And Korah gathered all the congregation against them at the door of the tabernacle of meeting. Then the glory of the Lord appeared to all the congregation. 20 And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 21 “Separate yourselves from among this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.” 22 Then they fell on their faces, and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and You be angry with all the congregation?” 23 So the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get away from the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram.’” 25 Then Moses rose and went to Dathan and Abiram, and the elders of Israel followed him. 26 And he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart now from the tents of these wicked men! Touch nothing of theirs, lest you be consumed in all their sins.” Numbers 16:15-26
The deceived congregation were following these false men who were about to receive the judgment of God. When the Lord was ready to destroy the people, Moses and Aaron interceded for them, and petitioned the Lord to only judge those who had sinned against Him by rejecting His will and following their own wicked desires. The destruction from the Lord upon these insurgents would also involve their entire families. Those who are false not only bring judgment upon themselves but often also upon their families because of their noxious sin and they harm they cause those who live closest to them.
27 So they got away from around the tents of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the door of their tents, with their wives, their sons, and their little children. 28 And Moses said: “By this you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, for I have not done them of my own will. 29 “If these men die naturally like all men, or if they are visited by the common fate of all men, then the Lord has not sent me. 30 But if the Lord creates a new thing, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the pit, then you will understand that these men have rejected the Lord.” 31 Now it came to pass, as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground split apart under them, 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. 33 So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly. Then all Israel who were around them fled at their cry, for they said, “Lest the earth swallow us up also!” Numbers 16:27-34
These false workers had rejected the Lord and His chosen prophet, Moses and His priest Aaron. The Lord reestablished the authority of Moses and Aaron before the people by the manner in which He judged these wicked workers, specifically judging them by the words that Moses spoke. Those who are false can only ever expect the just judgment of God to come upon them because they reject the Lord. They disparage the Lord Jesus Christ by attacking the testimony that God has given us about His Son in His Word. Those who are false put forth a false christ and a false way of salvation. They are evil godless deceivers and justly receive God’s judgment and condemnation.
Although the leaders who willingly followed Korah, Dothan, and Abiram in their rebellion against God and His servant Moses did not experience that same just judgment, they did receive God’s wrath upon their ungodly delusion of thinking they were somehow doing the will of God. God calls His children to move away from the rebels and not to touch the unclean thing. Those who do not repent of following deceivers will likewise receive God’s judgment upon themselves.
35 And a fire came out from the Lord and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering incense. 36 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 37 “Tell Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, to pick up the censers out of the blaze, for they are holy, and scatter the fire some distance away. 38 The censers of these men who sinned against their own souls, let them be made into hammered plates as a covering for the altar. Because they presented them before the Lord, therefore they are holy; and they shall be a sign to the children of Israel.” 39 So Eleazar the priest took the bronze censers, which those who were burned up had presented, and they were hammered out as a covering on the altar, 40 to be a memorial to the children of Israel that no outsider, who is not a descendant of Aaron, should come near to offer incense before the Lord, that he might not become like Korah and his companions, just as the Lord had said to him through Moses. Numbers 16:35-40
Ultimately those who are false always want to demote Jesus Christ from His holy and lofty position, and desire to lift themselves up as those who are worthy of praise. They sin against their own souls and will receive the judgment that is due. The fire that consumed the two hundred and fifty men foretells the just judgment of hell for all rebels against God Almighty. If not for the mercy and grace given to us through God’s Son Jesus Christ and His sacrifice upon the cross for our sins and resurrection from the dead, no one would be saved from the just judgment of God.
1 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. 2 Peter 2:1-2
By studying God’s Word and reflecting upon the examples that He has left us for our learning and protection, we can identify those who are false and reject them, and so protect our own spiritual well-being and the well-being of others. May God in His mercy and grace keep us safe in the truth of His Word and direct us by the power of His Holy Spirit as we seek to know and glorify Jesus Christ His Son.