God's law will not allow His children to follow a false prophet:
"But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken?
When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him."
It is astonishing how many 'liberal' Christians, or those
in quest of the 'historical Jesus,' will, before they will believe
that Jesus is the God before whom John cleared a path, prefer to
believe that John and Jesus both were false prophets. If we follow
the self-identification of John and Jesus, we must conclude that
Malachi's first 'messenger' is John: "Behold, I will send my
messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me," and the second,
the 'messenger of the covenant,' is the Lord God: "and the Lord,
whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger
of the covenant, whom ye delight in. . ." This can be none
other than Jesus. Some people would rather explain these
references by asserting that both John and Jesus believed in the
imminent end of the world, and that they were mistaken because this
did not happen.
There is a gnostic sensibility which celebrates, and indeed will even
follow, a false prophet 'Jesus:'
"There is silence all around. The Baptist appears, and
cries: 'Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.' Soon after
that comes Jesus, and in the knowledge that He is the coming Son of
Man lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that
last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close.
It refuses to turn, and He throws Himself upon it. Then it
does turn; and crushes Him. Instead of bringing in the
eschatological conditions, He has destroyed them. The wheel rolls
onward, and the mangled body of the one immeasurably great Man, who
was strong enough to think of Himself as the spiritual ruler of
mankind and to bend history to His purpose, is hanging upon it
still. That is His victory and His reign." (Albert Schweitzer, The
Quest of the Historical Jesus, pp. 370-371).
Let us leave these gnostics to their dark vision.
When we drive through the country-side, our first glimpse of a
mountain-range in the distance reveals an undifferentiated lump. As we
approach closer, the mass defines itself into ridges with valleys
between. Likewise, prophecies which incorporate a number of different elements,
surmised as contemporaneous in the absence clear information to the contrary, resolve themselves
upon their nearer approach into different events occurring at
different times, as for instance the Messiah's first advent and
second advent. John himself may have become perplexed at the
unfolding sequence, because, though in receipt of
family lore that identified his relative Jesus as the coming one, he
began to wonder:
"And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?
When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?
And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight.
Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.
And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me." (Luke
Jesus' answer is telling; it reinforces John's
mission of fore-runner to the One on high: "Say to them that are
of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will
come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come
and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and
the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped." (Isaiah 35:4-5). God
will come, and not another. Some people prefer to believe He
didn't. But these people are not taking the scriptures literally
nor seriously, and if they say they are Christians, then by their own admission they follow one whom
their own mouths have condemned as a false prophet.