In the days when Jeroboam was king in Israel, a man of God (i.e., a prophet) from Judah was sent to the city of Bethel to preach against the idolatry there (1 Kings 13). God warned him not to eat or drink while at Bethel, nor to return home by the same way that he came.
Having finished his task, the man of God headed for home. As he stopped to rest, he was met by an old prophet from Bethel who had sought him out. The old prophet asked him to come home with him and eat and drink. The man of God refused, explaining that God had forbidden him to do so. But the old man answered that he was a prophet, too, and that an angel of God had told him to bring the man back with him to eat and drink. “But he lied to him” (verse 18).
The text doesn’t say why the old prophet lied, but it was likely because he condoned the very idolatry that the man from Judah opposed. Whatever his motive, the lie had disastrous results. The man of God from Judah believed this claim of new divine revelation and accepted the old prophet’s offer. He paid for the mistake with his life (verses 20-24).
Many of today’s religions exist because someone claimed to have received a new revelation from God. The alleged message from an angel of God to Joseph Smith, Jr. was the beginning of Mormonism (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). Supposed divine revelations to Ellen G. White formed part of the teaching of Seventh-Day Adventism. Mary Baker Eddy claimed to have communication from God as she wrote Science and Health and founded the Christian Science church. Charles T. Russell, who claimed that the Lord had revealed new truths to him, was instrumental in starting what would become the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Worldwide Church of God, under the leadership of Herbert W. Armstrong, began when Armstrong’s wife said an angel had spoken God’s will to her. Others likewise have claimed to receive some new divine message that adds to, changes, or replaces something taught in the Bible.
The old prophet of Bethel claimed to have a revelation from God that was more up-to-date. So have Smith, White, Eddy, Russell, Armstrong, and others like them. But God’s revelation of the gospel through the apostles and prophets doesn’t need updating. Jesus promised His apostles that the Holy Spirit would guide them into “all the truth”—that is, the truth in its entirety (John 16:13). If He kept that promise, then all the spiritual truth we need was revealed to those inspired men. They proclaimed what God revealed and wrote it down so that future generations would have access to it. Peter wrote “that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). And Jude called on disciples to “contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).
The old prophet claimed to have seen an angel. But we are exhorted to heed the gospel revealed through the Son of God, who is better than angels (Hebrews 1:1-4). Paul warned, “But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).
For the man of God from Judah, believing a false claim of new revelation proved deadly. So is the mistake of believing modern claims of new revelation; it will cost men their souls.
Perhaps an old saying about divine revelation is worth repeating: If it’s true, then it isn’t new; and if it’s new, then it isn’t true!