It should be a bit of a no-brainer, but any prophetic word you’re given should be able to stand up against Scripture in some way. Cults are often made up of people who form around someone who claims supernatural authority without Scriptural or traditional affirmation. Leaders throughout history have gotten so hung up on a word that they thought was divine that they end up leading their churches out of Christianity and into something that has a stake in Christianity, but is not Christianity at all.
There are typically two kinds of leaders that end up doing this: (1) Someone who thinks they’re following God but are actually chasing after heresy or (2), someone who is intentionally deceiving everyone around them. As for the first kind of leader, we can try to correct them and hope for repentance, showing them how they are contradicting the Scriptures. The second kind of leader, however, must be avoided at all costs; for there are warnings against them all over the Bible. Jesus Himself says “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mt 24:24). Yes, Jesus was so serious about the fact that people would try to mislead Christians that He feared these leaders might even win over those whom God had brought to salvation.
But before you go thinking that these wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing (Mt 7:15) can only deceive us by getting us to buy into deception and heretical teachings, note that Jesus said they win us over by performing signs and wonders. We’ve caught glimpses of ungodly power before in the Bible. If you just think back to Moses’ showdowns with Pharaoh, you’ll recall that the Egyptian sorcerers and magicians were able to turn sticks into snakes, water into blood and call forth frogs upon the land. Such techniques are beyond humanity and we know their source was not Yahweh; therefore, such power must have come from somewhere else. We can’t just follow signs and wonders. Just because a person has supernatural power does not mean they have Jesus in their life.
And in light of this discussion, it’s important to note that Jesus wasn’t concerned with proving His legitimacy as the messiah by wielding signs and wonders at the drop of a hat. When I was new to spiritual gifts I often found myself praying that God would heal people to prove to them that He was real—as though it was a win-win situation for Him. But then I started to see what Jesus does to the Pharisees time and time again throughout the gospels.
The Pharisees came and began to argue with him [Jesus], seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” (Mk 8:11-12)
Unlike Satan, who will happily dish out any supernatural power he can to get people to follow him, Jesus practices discernment when performing signs. In the same way that God doesn’t fix everything in a moment with signs and wonders, so God-in-flesh doesn’t fix everything in a moment with signs and wonders. And even when He does use supernatural power, the Pharisees’ hearts are too hardened to believe what they’re seeing anyways. And when they cannot deny His powers, they simply attribute it to Satan (Mt 12:24), which also proves that the culture of Jesus’ time believed that Satan had real supernatural power.
All of this being said, this is why it’s important that you test whatever you’re seeing or experiencing with Scripture. God has given us this inspired word and anyone who ignores it to put their own contrary revelation in place of it is either blinded by pride or working for Satan.
And it’s important to know the Scriptures well, because Satan knows them too, and therefore knows how to wield them against us. While trying to tempt Jesus into jumping off the temple, Satan quoted Psalm 91:11-12 as a prophetic word of sorts that Jesus could fulfill by jumping. But Jesus rebutted this temptation and Satan’s other temptations by quoting Scripture back at him.
False christs and false prophets will twist the Scriptures as well. Discern their words by testing them with the Holy Spirit. Test them against what you know to be true of God. Practice John’s advice:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 Jn 4:1-3)
Likewise, as Paul severely warned, “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8).