Wolves in the Early Church
“For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29). Here, Paul sounded the alarm and stressed the watchfulness that is to characterize those who shepherd and pastor the churches. God’s people are often pictured as sheep, and God as their Shepherd (Psalms 23:1, 2; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:10–19; John 10:1–16).
The wolves that Paul warned against were the Judaizing and the paganizing teachings that by A.D. 400 had drastically altered Christianity. Paul cautioned of the apostatizing effects that will appear from within the church, like those of Demas (2 Timothy 4:10), Hymenaeus and Philetus (2 Timothy 2:17). The words of these persons “spread as cancer” and overthrow “the faith of some.” Those members of the Christian church who themselves fell away attracted others to join them in their sin.
The elders of the church in Ephesus were to protect their sheep from these wolves. Paul’s instructions to the elders were not new. For he had already written to the Thessalonians that a great falling will come (2 Thessalonians 2:1–12). Also, he later wrote to Timothy warning him against the coming perils of the same nature (1 Timothy 4:1–3; 2 Timothy 3:1–15).
Additionally, the apostle John, in the last part of the first century, predicted the falling away from the truth as a danger current in his day (1 John 4:1). In the Revelation he recorded visions of great apostasy and the paganizing of the church (Revelation 2:12–24; 6:3–11; 17; 18).
Christ, knew the great danger of the devil’s attacks especially towards the end of time. Therefore, He asked His followers to be watchful at all times (Matthew 24:42 also 25:13). He specifically warned against the deceiving wolves saying, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). These wolves were the false teachers who pretend to speak for God when in reality they speak only after their evil heart (Isaiah 30:10; Jeremiah 14:13–15; Ezekiel 13:2, 3, 10, 11).
The false prophets are all who profess that it is possible for men to enter God’s fold by the broad gate and the broad way (Matthew 7:13-15). They are the “thieves,” whose only purpose is to steal, to kill, and to destroy (John 10:7–10). These have no conversion experience, but only an outward resemblance of it to attract the sheep into a false sense of security (verse 12).
In His service,