Christ’s warning against false prophets
Text: Matthew 7:15-20
In these verses there is a practical example of the discernment that the disciple of Christ is to have and exercise. Here is a kind of judgement (7:1) that is not only not forbidden but is positively commanded. The last days are such that false prophets proliferate. Cp 1Tim 4:1-5. This is an important aspect of the perilous or ‘fierce’ times at the end.
It is no coincidence that the Saviour speaks of the false prophet and his ministry at this juncture. He has just spoken of the character of the road to heaven and the easy alternative in the broad road that is often proposed. Men like to widen what God has made narrow to make it more accommodating for their sinful desires. It is precisely at this point that the false prophet is most likely to make his voice heard. He proposes a different way to God. It is ever the character of the false prophet’s ministry that he preaches ease, liberty and broadness.
I THE DANGER POSED BY THE FALSE PROPHET.
1. This is a danger that arises even in the most blessed circumstances. The false prophet is one who makes his evil presence known in the most sublime environments. The Son of God is preaching and yet must warn of these liars. The question might arise, When Christ Himself is to be heard, who would listen to the devil’s men? Cp 2 Pet 1:21-2:1. The situation envisaged is also one of the most blessed — a man right at the gate of life! The narrow gate and the narrow way to Heaven are targeted by these false prophets.
2. This danger is of the most serious kind. This danger is of such a nature that the Saviour Himself issues a warning against it. The context makes it clear that this is a deadly danger. Cp v13 – the eternal consequences of being influenced to make the wrong choice, destruction; v15 – the analogy of the ravening wolf among sheep; v19 – the fire that destroys all that do not bear the fruits of grace. It is clear that the false prophets make no such demands either of themselves or of their hearers!
3. The danger could well be overlooked. The false prophet does not immediately appear to be so. In v15 even though he is a ‘wolf’ at heart he has donned sheep’s clothing. On the exterior he looks like a sheep. In this he demonstrates the subtilty of Satan, 2 Cor 11:13-15. Some short-sighted Christians are ready to decry the warnings against the wolf.
4. The false prophet is aggressively dangerous. The false prophet is one who makes the approach to the sheep, v15 – come unto you. Cp Jude 4. The disciple can expect to be the target of the false teacher, just as the wolf targets sheep. Cp Ezekiel 13:18.
II THE FALSE PROPHET IS TO BE DETECTED AND REJECTED AS AN EVIL THREAT TO THE SOULS OF MEN.
1. It is of the utmost importance for the well-being of men’s souls that the wolf in sheep’s clothing is detected and action taken to preserve the sheep from the wolf. He must be exposed! A cry of alarm must be raised. This church takes a stand against the lying false prophets of today because we have a desire to see the sheep spared from wolves in sheep’s clothing who will only bring them to ruin.
a. The disciple can only detect the false prophet by the diligent and careful application of the principles of Christ’s teaching. There is no other means of identifying these men. We must measure every preacher against the standard of God’s word and determine him to be true of false according to how he compares with that standard.
b. There is to be a testing that goes beyond the superficial. Cp v15, 1 John 4:1 — his words to be tested, v2, 5-6. It is essential that what a man is inwardly is known. It is true that man cannot look on the heart yet the nature of a man’s heart is seen in his life. Christ’s teaching is to be known and applied to the life.
c. The Saviour gives an infallible rule, v16-20. The fruits of a man’s life indicate his real nature and whether or not he is on the narrow way. The false prophet is known by evil fruit which demonstrates the corruption of his nature. Cp Deut 13:1-4, Is 8:20, Ezek 13:6, 22, II Pet 2:13-15, 18-19. This rule is one which may be applied specifically to determine a false prophet but it also applies in every case, v17-18, I John 3:7. It is a rule the Lord Himself applied, 12:33-34. Cp Matt 3:8-10.
d. Such testing may take more or less time according to the case. In the example of the fruit bearing tree this point is clear. Some time may elapse before the fruit can be really examined. Cp Matthew 13:26. Sooner or later the difference will be seen and it will be seen in the critical matter of bearing fruit.
2. When that which is false and fruitless is detected it is to be rejected.
a. This applies to the false prophet. He is dangerous! Having determined that the man produces thorns we are not to go searching for grapes there etc, v16. Even common sense tells us as much. Such action will only lead to wounding and hurt! The Lord uses the thorn/thistle as if to highlight these are fallen and depraved men by nature and the absolute lack of benefit to the hungry souls of men. The analogy of the wolf indicates just how urgent it is that we discern and flee from false teaching.
b. This also applies to the false professor. Where there is no fruit of grace in your own life then you must recognize that there is something radically wrong. A fruitless profession of faith is dead, James 2:20 — faith without works is dead.
In these days, God’s people seem to lack this discernment. False prophets creep in unawares and have brought ruin to many souls. A militant, vigorous exposure of these men is necessary to the continued existence and health of God’s people.