By Mike Willis
Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they, are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or rigs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matt. 7:15-23).
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he warned men of the danger of false prophets. In the Pulpit Commentary, W.F. Adeney observed, “It is not enough for Christ to spread his own wholesome teaching; he must warn against the dangerous influence of bad teachers” (p. 297). We will do well to listen to his advice about these false prophets and do what we can to avoid them and their influence.
The Danger of False Prophets
Obviously there is no conflict in Jesus’ statement in vv. 15-23 and 7:1 where he said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Whatever judgment is there condemned does not prohibit the kind of judging necessary to determine whether or not a man is a false teacher.
1. False prophets exist. Some people seem to think that all of the false prophets in the world perished in the first century. They did not. There are plenty of men who are false prophets and false teachers today whose doctrines will lead men to damnation.
2. The danger false teachers pose to the soul. Why do false teachers pose a threat to man’s soul? I confess that I do not know, if what some of my brethren have written is correct. They have taught that, so long as a Christian is good, honest, and sincere, his sins do not separate him from God. If a false teacher leads a good, honest, and sincere man into sin, according to these brethren’s doctrine, his sins would not be separate him from the grace of God and lead him to damnation. Hence, the false teacher would only pose a threat to the soul of a dishonest, insincere, and wicked man, who is already lost.
That is not what Jesus taught, however. He warned of “blind guides” of “blind men,” telling us that both would fall into the pit of damnation. He said, “They be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matt. 15:14). Hence, Jesus warned that false teachers (even good, honest, and sincere unintentional false teachers) lead men into the pits of hell. P.C. Barker warned, “Let intention be what it may, if the fruit is bad, the prophet is a false prophet” (Pulpit Commentary: Matthew, p. 306). He continued to warn,
He wears the clothing of the sheep, and did not don it for the conscious purpose of deceiving; but he is deceived himself, and in nothing would be more individually surprised and mortified, if that could be brought home to him – than which nothing is more certain – that he is doing the odious work of the ravening wolf. Who can count the number of these deceived and deceivers, and the number of grievous wounds and rendings of limbs which these have made in the body of Christ in this one current half-century. We are entitled to say it, we are compelled to bewail it – “because of their fruits.” And in the seething multitude of those who name the Name of Christ now, one warning, one merciful, gracious caution, needs to be uttered aloud and to be listened to, “Beware of false prophets” (Ibid.).
The false teachers discussed by Jesus in this text apparently were good, honest, and sincere. They called Jesus “Lord” (Matt. 7:21), prophesied, cast out devils, and did many wonderful works in Jesus’ name (Matt. 7:22). The text indicates that these false teachers expected to enter heaven. However, their iniquities (Greek: anomid, lawlessness) caused Jesus to reject them. A false teacher can be the blind guide of the blind (Matt. 15:14); the term is not reserved to describe dishonest and insincere men.
3. The appearance of false teachers. One may be tempted to think that a false teacher is going to walk in the doors of a church building and announce, “I am a false teacher. I am here to lead men to hell. I want to announce my intentions beforehand so that I will be honorable.” That is not the manner in which false teachers operate.
False teachers appear in sheep’s clothing. Hence, they will transform themselves into apostles of light (2 Cor. 11: 1315). They will look like good, righteous men. In our day, false teachers appear so sweet spirited (until one challenges what they teach); they are too spiritually-minded to engage in debates and discussions so that their teachings may be examined openly. They preach only positive lessons (unless they are knifing in the back those “keepers of the orthodoxy” and “guardians” of the party). They are as cunning as a snake, and just as venomous.
4. The test of false teachers. Jesus told us how to test false teachers – by their fruit. This implies that the following are not criteria for testing whether. or not a man is a false teacher:
Tests of a Teacher Are Not
1 . Appearance
6. Professions (Lord, Lord)
None of the things mentioned here is legitimate means of determining whether or not a man is a false teacher. Rather, Jesus stated that the test of whether or not a man is a false teacher is his fruit. Writing in the Pulpit Commentary, P.C. Beware of False Barker spoke concerning the fruit which men must judge about false teachers:
The “fruits” of “false prophets,” of false teachers, who invest themselves with the abused title of “religious,” are both those fruits which appear in their own manner of life, and those which appear in their work, their ill work, among and in others. The false prophet often denounces himself in the utter incoherence of his doctrines, and in the inconsistency and impurity of his life. But whereas he is also a “ravening wolf,” on the highest authority, it is because of the dissensions, divisions, malice, and schism that his path is strewed with; and because of the falseness of his creed -erring now by defect, now by invention and addition, and now by contradiction of the Word and the Spirit (p. 305).
Here are some fruit which need to be judged:
a. He will claim to receive revelation from God. Prophets are men who receive divine revelations from God; false prophets claim to receive revelations which they never received from God. They will say, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?” How many times have you heard tele-evangelists claim to have received revelations from God? When men begin claiming to receive messages from God, especially in an age when revelation has ceased (1 Cor. 13:8-10; Jude 3; 2 Pet. 1:34), you can detect that he is a false prophet.
b. He will preach a “wide gate. ” Jesus had just stated, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat. Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13,14). When men begin preaching a “wide gate,” they are false prophets.
A “wide gate” is a gate which makes entrance into the kingdom of heaven easier and/or other than Jesus revealed. Jesus said that the entrance into the kingdom is a “strait gate.” When men preach manners of entering the kingdom which Jesus did not reveal, they are false teachers. The conditions for entrance in the kingdom of heaven are revealed by Jesus (hear, believe, repent, confess, and be baptized); when men start teaching that men are saved who have never complied with these conditions, they are false teachers.
c. He will preach a broad way. The false teacher will teach a “broad way.” The “broad way” implies that a man can live any manner he so chooses and still be approved of God. When men start releasing men from obligation to any of God’s law, they are false teachers. False teachers which preach a broad way include men who release men from responsibility to respect human life (abortion), sober-mindedness (allow social drinking), marriage (allowing divorce and remarriage for any reason), modest dress, and any other law which God has laid upon men.
d. He may lead an immoral life. He may be full of covetousness, preaching what he preaches as a means of obtaining financial gain (cf. 2 Pet. 2). Some have perceived godliness as a means of gain (1 Tim. 6:5-6), having become teachers who tickle the ears of those who pay them. Some have become involved with “silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts” (1 Tim. 6:6). This fruit exposes them as false teachers.
e. He will leave a path of destruction in the churches with which he labors. Paul wrote of the Judaizers in Galatia who “trouble you” (1:7). False teachers will have that impact. They will raise questions which undermine faith, leading disciples away from the truth. When they are opposed by those who stand fast for the gospel, schism, dissension, and division will result. Hence, false teachers will leave a trail of churches torn apart by their false teaching. This is a “fruit” which men can judge.
A word of caution needs to be added. A false teacher might not manifest all of these attributes (for example, he might teach a strait gate and a broad way, he may not be immoral, etc.). However, these are some fruit which men can test in judging whether or not a man is a false teacher.
It Is Your Soul
A person should never be intimidated from testing whether or not what a person is teaching is from God. The Lord himself charged, “Beware of false prophets.” Consequently, men should “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1). God-fearing men will search the Scriptures daily to see if the things taught are so (Acts 17:11), regardless of how respected the man is who is teaching them.
Remember, I am responsible for my soul. If I allow some false teacher to deceive me, he will lead me into eternal damnation. Therefore, I am not going to trust my soul to some other’s imprimatur that what another is teaching is pleasing to God, regardless of how well intentioned he might be. Rather, I am going to exercise my God-given right to test every teacher to see if what he teaches is from heaven or from men (Mat. 21:25). Frankly, I do not care whether he likes being so examined or not. There is too much at stake for me to irresponsibly accept what he is teaching without testing whether or not it is from God.
Remember the words of Jesus, “Beware of false prophets.”
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 5, pp. 130, 149-150
March 2, 1989