Matthew 7:15-20 (NIV) “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
In this section of His teaching, Jesus not only warns of the false prophets who would try to lead His followers astray, He also shows how to recognize them, and pronounces His awful doom on them.
Jesus takes His followers and their welfare very seriously. He knows that simply by following Him, they are in the crosshairs of the enemy, and He wants us to be just as aware of that fact. Any time the enemy gets an opportunity, he will try to throw roadblocks or stumbling blocks in our way.
The problem with false prophets is that their words sound very much like those of true prophets, those who really do speak accurately for God. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, because satan himself knows how to quote Scripture to make sure that his temptations seem to have God’s support (cf. Matthew 4:5-7). If he can’t make God’s people doubt His words, as he did with Even (Genesis 3:1-5), he will twist God’s words or take them out of context, so that they will seem to say what they do not.
The key, especially when listening to a new teacher of prophet, especially one who seems to be teaching something novel or counter to how something is traditionally understood, is to look carefully at their life before simply swallowing whole what they are saying. If their life is not Christlike, if they seem to be self-seeking or self-centered, or primarily intent on gaining a following for themselves or their ideas, or on getting people to support them financially instead of being focused on God and His kingdom, those are big signs of bad fruit, indicating a bad tree. Don’t listen to them.
Some might argue that some of what these people say seems to be true. But even satan will say true things from time to time, especially if there is something in it that he can benefit from. If the tree is bad, avoid the fruit at all costs. Sifting through it, trying to find something that is edible and nutritious wastes time, and subjects us to additional bad information in the process.
The end of those who are false prophets, who speak false things in God’s name, or who are focused on themselves, is the same as for anyone who has no relationship with God: if they don’t repent, they will ultimately be cut down and thrown into the fire. This imagery needs no elaboration.
There are still false prophets among us today, those who come in God’s name, who even quote Scripture, not to grow God’s kingdom, but in an attempt to sway others to their point of view. Some take on the role of pastor or teacher, while others are politicians. In any case, before we believe what they teach in God’s name, the fruit, we need to check their lives, the tree. That’s really sound advice.
Father, this is a timely warning. I have seen and heard these people who claim to speak in Your name, but whose lives don’t bear the slightest resemblance to Jesus. Help us to keep our eyes focused on You, and to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16), so that we don’t fall prey to these ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing. Amen.