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False Prophet

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Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
Jesus, Matthew 7:15

Someone comes along and preaches a message about how they're going to make everyone's lives better. People will flock to them out of hope, or because they see an opportunity to increase their own power by aligning with the prophet. If they don't already have it, this figure will request assistance—physically, monetarily, or in some other way—so that their goals can be achieved. If the universe has a chosen one prophecy, this individual will likely claim they're The Chosen One.

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But in one way or another, this figure is deceiving their followers. Their true goals are different from what they preach, and they are inherently selfish goals. Money, power, revenge, lust, a combination of the aforementioned reasons—the False Prophet's true motives could be any of those or something else entirely.

Subtrope (and a basic form) of Hypocrite. See also Scam Religion. Compare Dark Messiah for another savior figure that uses unethical tactics, but may actually be genuine in their intentions unlike a False Prophet. Compare Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist. Sister trope to Phony Psychic.

It goes without saying this is No Real Life Examples, Please!.

Beware of spoilers.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk: Griffith, the main antagonist for a majority of Berserk's run. After betraying the band of the hawk in exchange for power and a position among the god hand, Griffith re-enters the human realm and poses as a savior for humanity who would "vanquish the shadow that blots out the sun" when he is actually a harbinger of death and destruction. His image as humanity's savior is mostly based on (a) a premonition seen by people throughout midland and (b) backing from the holy see, Berserk's equivalent of the catholic faith.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Father Cornello, the prophet of the religion worshiping the Sun God Leto in the village of Leor at the start of the manga and BOTH anime series, turns out to be nothing more than a con-man. His "miracles" are all the result of the power of an incomplete Philospoher's stone he has, and his sole reason for founding his religion is to establish a powerbase of religious fanatics he can use as foot soldiers.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Dark Knight Rises: Bane presents himself as a savior that would liberate Gotham's citizens from capitalist chains. His true objective is to destroy Gotham and get revenge on Batman.
  • Lord of Illusions: The Big Bad Nix, calling himself "the Puritan", leads a cult that believes he's the new messiah, and worships him through murder. He's really a sadistic dark magician who plans to wipe out mankind, and he embraces his role after his resurrection.
    Nix: I was not born to show people the error of their ways, I was born to murder the world.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: Thanos claims that he wants to kill half of all life in the universe so that the other half can will be saved from extinction by having more resources to consume. Joe Russo says in the DVD Commentary that the real reason he's committing genocide is to prove to himself that his rejected solution to save his species—killing half of them—would have worked. This is also why Thanos doesn't use benevolent methods to prevent extinction, like creating even more resources, granting immortality, or making a cure for every disease that's ever existed.
  • Revenge of the Sith: Palpatine, a Dark Lord of the Sith religious order, lies to Anakin Skywalker about being able to cheat death so the latter will become his apprentice out of desperation to save his wife and unborn child.
  • Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn: Jared-Syn tells the Nomads that he'll use his magic powers to help them win back their ancestral lands, causing them to accept him as chief. In fact, he's only using them as muscle while he gains power, and plans to enslave them all once he takes over Lemuria.
  • Mr. Ricco: Black militant Frankie Steele may once have had genuine ideals, like black people owning their own neighborhoods, but once he started getting media attention and government funding for his projects, he embezzled most of the money, leaving almost none of it for the people he was supposed to be helping. He strung along local blacks until almost everyone got sick of him, including the media, but he still has a small handful of followers.

    Literature 
  • The Last Battle: With the help of a lion skin and his dimwitted friend Puzzle the donkey, the talking ape Shift subjugates the Narnians by insisting Aslan wants them to submit to the invading Calormenes; in the meantime he sets himself up as a prophet and demands food and riches. Later he insists that Asian and the Calormene god Tash are the same being, Tashlan. Interestingly, Aslan doesn't punish Shift for his blasphemy... The demonic Tash himself does.
  • Small Gods: Deacon Vorbis deliberately lied about a missionary being killed when the Ephebians were not responsive to the Omnian message, so as to create a casus belli for invading and annexing the country, then converting the people, by force, to Omnianism.
  • In Weaveworld, the antagonist Shadwell the salesman assumes a false identity as a prophet, disguised by magic, to locate the titular Weaveworld after the trail goes cold. He uses promises of deliverance to convince magic-users who are living in the human world to work against their own best interest and find the Weaveworld for him. As always with Shadwell, caveat emptor is in effect, and the best his marks can hope for is disappointment.
  • The Treatise of the Three Impostors (Latin: De Tribus Impostoribus) was a long-rumored book denying all three Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, with the "impostors" of the title being Jesus, Moses, and Muhammad. Hearsay concerning such a book surfaced by the 13th century and circulated through the 17th century. Authorship of the hoax book was variously ascribed to Jewish and Muslim writers. Fabrications of the text eventually began clandestine circulation, with a notable French underground edition "Traité sur les trois imposteurs" first appearing in 1719.
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    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Charisma", the detectives deal with Abraham Ophion, a pedophilic priest who has convinced his followers that he is a prophet.
  • Misfits, "Christmas Special": A disillusioned priest buys himself several superpowers to inspire the masses but goes Drunk with Power. Naming himself the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, he fleeces money from the poor, uses women for sex, and forms a Cultlike mob.
  • Explored and zig-zagged in The Righteous Gemstones: Eli Gemstone is head pastor of a massive megachurch, and uses his wealth to live a lavish lifestyle, as well as providing mansions and endless perks for his three children. However, not only is he shown to be a diligent preacher, but he also struggles with justifying his riches after losing his wife, who is implied to have kept his feet on the ground. He also seems to be a genuine Christian.
  • In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "False Profits", two Ferengi, a materialistic alien race, land on a planet where the locals mistake them for three deities known as the Sages, who were said to arrive in a prophecy. The Ferengi go along with this and pretend to be the Sages for profit.
  • Supernatural: The Villain of the Week in "99 Problems" is the Whore of Babylon, whose goal is to damn as many souls to Hell as possible. She does this by convincing the citizens of a small town that she's a prophet and manipulating them to commit heinous crimes by using their devotion to God against them.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The Bible contains several denouncements of false prophets, especially towards the end of the Old Testament when Israel and Judah turn away from God and ignore the warnings that he's about to send them into exile. Jesus also warns his followers about false prophets more than once, in one case naming another trope in the process. He gives particular warnings about anyone claiming to be his Second Coming, essentially saying that it'll be blatantly obvious to everyone when it really happens and in the meantime anyone making such claims is a false prophet.

    Podcasts 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Several organizations preaching a slightly different version of the Imperial creed turned out to be genestealer cults preparing the planet for Tyranid invasion. Chaos cults tend to act similarly, at first out of a genuine desire for social reform in some cases.
    • Inverted by the God-Emperor of Mankind, who emphatically did not want to be considered a god, hoping to destroy Chaos by banning all religion. Ironically, faith in Him is now one of the most potent weapons against Chaos.

    Video Games 
  • Baldur's Gate II: Gaal is the High Priest of the Cult of the Unseeing Eye who preach that all other gods but his own are false and have swayed many to his cause. It turns out that his "god" is a Beholder. A powerful entity, but hardly a god, even in this setting.
  • Father Anthony Comstock of Bioshock Infinite passes himself as a prophet, using the Lutece twins' research about using tears in the space-time to predict the future and create advanced technology from other universes.
  • During EverQuest II's celebration of Bristlebane's Day, a group of stupid but not-malicious goblins known as the Gigglegibbers show up in the Enchanted Lands to partake in the festivities. Players who zone into the Enchanted Lands will find Bristlebane's Prophet and his altar waiting for anyone curious to worship him as a deity. Not too far away, you'll find a Gigglegibber who claims to be "Bristlebane's Profit", hoping to find an adventurer dumb enough to not notice the obviously fake altar. The Gigglegibbers are ultimately harmless in comparison to more aggressive goblin tribes, but their lack of intelligence makes them rather amusing.
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses: Archbishop Rhea tells Byleth to sit on a throne in the Holy Tomb to receive a divine revelation from the goddess, Sothis. The real reason Rhea wants Byleth to sit on the throne is to turn them into a vessel for Sothis. She apologizes to Byleth for this in the Silver Snow route.
  • Grandia II: Pope Zera Innocentus is the leader of the Church of Granas, and viewed by many to be the wisest and most powerful leader the church has had. With monsters on the rise and apparent curses appearing across the land, the people have turned to him to lead them lit of these dark times. In point of fact, Pope Zera and his subordinates are the one causing the curses and monsters because he knows his god Granas is dead, and he wants to revive, then later become, Valmar because humanity needs a god to serve. What keeps the Church of Granas from being a Scam Religion is that only Zera and his inner circle are aware of the spoiled information.
  • Halo: Dasc Gevadim is a cult leader who created the religion Triad, amassing followers and then retreating to a remote planet while his believers claimed he had "ascended". He later returned a decade later claiming to have "willed" himself back into the material world, and used the emergence of the Guardians and their curious effects on planets' local gravity to fake displaying telekinetic powers.
  • Thaos ix Arkannon from Pillars of Eternity is a complex case. He is legitimately the High Priest of one of the settings' gods, Woedica, however, the gods themselves are exposed at the end of the game as artificial constructs, created by ancient soul-smiths as means of ideological and moral control over the peoples of the world. What's more, said soul-smiths were led by one of Thaos' previous incarnations, whose memories and identity he has inherited. However, because the gods' artificiality is all but forgotten in modern times, the only time someone actually refers to Thaos as a false prophet is in a flashback of when his past incarnation's former disciple Iovara call him out on it.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic:
    • Darth Baras's Evil Plan is to deceive the entire Sith Empire into believing that he is the Voice of the Emperor, whose job is to speak on the The Emperor's behalf. If he were to succeed, he would become the defacto ruler of the Sith Empire, and everyone would worship and obey him just as they would The Emperor.
    • Darth Zash tells her apprentice that they're destined to become empowered by the artifacts they're hunting. The reality is that Zash needs them so she can take over the Inquisitor's body because her body is about to die from Dark Side overuse.
  • Super Paper Mario: Count Bleck claims that he wants to destroy the multiverse so that he can create a new one without any of the original's flaws. He's telling the truth about destroying the multiverse, but lying about the part where he'll replace it with a new one. And the reason he's doing this? He couldn't find any joy in life after he believed that his lover was dead, so he decided that everyone had to die with him.
  • Ultima VI: The Gargoyles believe that the Player Character is one; they think the Avatar is spreading corrupt values to make the Britannians loyal to them, and to start a war with the Gargoyles. The Gargoyles are wrong.
  • In World of Warcraft, Archbishop Benedictus was the leader of the Church of the Holy Light and one of the greatest religious leaders of Azeroth. In the Cataclysm expansion, it's revealed that Benedictus was secretly the Twilight Prophet, one of the leaders of the Twilight's Hammer Cult, and had been using his position in the church to recruit and brainwash new members into the Cult.

    Web Comics 
  • Subverted in Exterminatus Now, where two prophets burned at the stake as heretics turned out to have been legitimately sent by their god.

    Western Animation 
  • South Park: In the "Probably" episode, it turns out Cartman only started the church to con the other kids out of their money and make ten million dollars.

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