The Bible warns against false prophets even if they sometimes become famous. According to Matthew 7:15 we should:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”
I know, I know. At first, this verse seems very dramatic: wolves, really? But when thinking about the consequences of some of these “prophecies,” it nearly took the livelihood and spirits of many people from biblical times to modern times. From figures in the Bible to folks like Harold Camping and Marshall Applewhite, false but famous prophets seem to be everywhere. In recognition (but not a positive one) of these wannabe “psychics,” we’ve compiled a list of the top 10 false prophets from the early times of Judaism and Christianity to just recently.
10. Hananiah – Mentioned in Jeremiah 28, he was the son of Azzur. While his father was considered a true prophet, Hananiah believed he was also genetically blessed with this gift. He made proclamations across the land about Yahweh (God). Jeremiah, the true prophet of Yahweh confronted Hananiah and told him that he would be sentenced to death due to his lies. He ended up dying later that year.
9. Shemaiah – Listed in Jeremiah 29 (this seems to be the most happening place for them). Another speaker who attempted to make proclamations about Yahweh, he believed he would replace another man as a priest. He received punishments from God again after acting as a false prophet.
8. Hon-Ming Chen and “Godland” – This leader and his Taiwanese Christian-Buddhist sect uprooted to Garland, Texas just to “seek out” God’s arrival in March 1998. According to them, God was expected to be broadcasted in a segment on the Channel 18 News. He would be reincarnated into a man on March 31 and a crowd of 1 million would be touched by God. Their leader chose Garland because it sounded like “God Land.” News segments from Taiwan revealed that they would commit mass suicide if God didn’t reveal Himself but these reports proved to be untrue. They also ended up building a church, predicted that the world would end from nuclear war and had found a couple of reincarnations of Christ.
7. In 1932 a famous self-proclaimed psychic named Edgar Cayce predicted that a chamber would be found between the paws of the Great Sphinx. Inside, would be information about the lost city of Atlantis which would announce the Second Coming of Christ. While nothing has happened since then, two studies have revealed that a structure is where Cayce said it would be.
6. In November 1997, Weekly World News reported that the CIA had found a space alien who had landed in June in the deserts of New Mexico. He originated from a species that was thought to be more developed physically and mentally than most of humanity. A survivor of a world 200 light years from the Earth, he was reported to say that: “God is furious with his creations everywhere.” God is working through the galaxies, setting fire to each planet. While science fiction has its purposes, I think we’ll keep our theology and our fantasy worlds separate.
5. Sun Magazine reported in 1997 that Noah’s Ark was discovered on a slope in Turkey. According to this magazine, inside the ark were 6 scrolls: Scroll 2 revealed that the sun would super-heat the Earth, melting polar ice caps and creating a flood. Scroll 3 revealed that the end of the world would happen on January 31, 2001. Good people would be saved while cruel ones would burn in Hell. 12 years later and nope, nothing has happened yet. We’re on a roll!
4. This prophecy turned political. In December 1997, Weekly World News reported that the biggest world crisis would happen since the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred. President Clinton ended up calling top Bible scholars in that week. It turns out that a message from the Pentagon sparked the prediction which predicted natural catastrophe happening across the Earth: the rise of earthquake activity and the shifting of the crust. I guess everyone really can be fooled, huh?
3. The Mayan Calendar – While this isn’t exactly an individual, it was one of the most hyped-up and famous prophecies on the list. From “end of the world,” parties to a huge blockbuster movie starring John Cusack, the end of the Mayan Long Calendar in 2012 led 1 in 10 Americans, one in five Turkish people, 6 percent of French citizens and 4 percent of Germans to believe we were headed to our doom. What really ended up happening, as I learned in my Anthropology class, was that 2012 really wasn’t the end of the world, it just signified the end of the Long Count Calendar in Mayan Civilization.
2. Harold Camping is possibly the most famous prophet or infamous of them all. While Camping announced several possible days in which the world would end, the most popular one was May 21, 2011. Whenever the dates would pass and nothing happened, he would insist that they were “spiritual” ends, not “physical” ones. He, his organization and his followers ended up wasting millions of dollars putting up advertisements around the country announcing the end of the world. He predicted 200 million people would be saved while the remainder of people would die in a flurry of natural disasters that would consume the Earth. The final prediction he made was for October 21, 2011 to be the end, and when nothing happened yet again, Camping and his organization issued an apology, stating that the end of the world would come in Christ’s timing, not in a human prediction. The fact that Camping and company finally admitted they didn’t know and were going to stop trying to prophesy the end is a mark of sanity that saves him from sitting at the top spot of this list.
1. Marshall Applewhite – Leader of the Heaven’s Gate religious cult in Texas, declared prophesies that drew from science fiction. After meeting Bonnie Lu Nettles, a nurse, they decided that they were “The Two” mentioned in the Book of Revelation who were meant to embark on a spiritual mission. He and Nettles claimed they were from the “Level Above Heaven,” a literal vision of Heaven in space who were sent to help others reach the “Next Level.” They believed the body was just a transporter and that people needed to separate themselves from the world and its earthly desires. They announced that a UFO would take them from this world to the Next Level. They eventually compiled a group of 200 people who traveled and spoke around the country. In 1995, when the Hale-Bopp comet was passing through, Applewhite took it as a sign that a spaceship was going to bring them to the Next Level. Before the Earth would become “recycled,” Applewhite and his group committed suicide by mixing alcohol and pills when the comet was closest to the planet.
After narrowing down each false prophecy from a list of many, I never realized how vast the range of prophecies were: from small sects to huge followings like Camping and his company. Who knows where this need to predict comes from? Whether it’s a desire to see Christ soon, a fear of the world actually ending randomly, or the need to prepare incessantly for Judgment Day, there could be several reasons to understand why humanity wants to take the place of the information already foretold to us: The Bible.
Matthew 24:36 already tells us:
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son but the Father only.”
The truth is, you do not have to uproot your entire life or post grand billboards to prepare for Judgment Day. The best you can do is to live an honorable life, making Christ the center of everything you do. That is the one truth that motivated the great God to form Himself into a baby and die on the cross. Ultimately, that is the greatest prophecy that all of Christianity will continue to live for.