Beware of False Prophets! (Exposition of Matthew 7:15-20)

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. (16) You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? (17) Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. (18) A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. (19) Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (20) Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Matthew 7:15-20

In this morning’s text Jesus issues a serious warning to beware of false prophets. Sadly this warning is more needed today than ever before! Jesus said in Matthew 24:11 & 24 that in the last days there would be more and more false prophets. Paul warned the elders of the church of Ephesus in Acts 20:28-31 to be on guard because after his departure “salvage wolves” would come among them not sparing the flock. A few years later the apostle Peter warns in 2 Peter 2:1-3,

But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. (2) And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. (3) By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber.

The apostle John likewise warns at the end of the 1st century in 1 John 4:1-3,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (2) By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, (3) and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

What Jesus, Paul, and Peter warned of, John declared had already occurred before the end of the 1st century! How much more are John’s words that “many false prophets have gone out into the world” true today! Therefore I have a special responsibility as a shepherd of God’s sheep to resound the warning first made by Jesus in Matthew 7:15-20.

I. Beware of False Prophets because of their Deadly Deceitfulness, v. 15.

False prophets do not introduce themselves as such. They don’t wear name tags. They don’t go by the title Rev. Wolf. This is what makes false teachers so dangerous! They come as wolves dressed as sheep. The most ravenous of animals disguised as the most harmless of animals. This is the deceitfulness of the false prophets.

Jesus may have had a specific practice of the false prophets of his day in mind. During the 400 silent years between the Old and New Testaments in which no prophetic word from God was heard, many pretenders arose claiming to be prophets with a word from God. This continued into the first century. They would attempt to dress in animal skins as the prophets of old often had. Jesus may be saying here that all those who try to mimic the attire of a prophet are not prophets. Instead underneath their costume, for that’s all it is, they are ravenous wolves!

But false prophets were not just a problem in the 1st century, we have our share today and they still use the same tactic: trying to pass themselves off as the real thing by disguising their true nature.

Islam – who has its own false prophet in Mohammed, claims to have the same God, speaks well of Jesus, but claims Jesus is merely one of the prophets, not the eternally begotten Son of God. They also teach a salvation by works as opposed to a salvation by grace.

Mormonism – who has its own succession of false prophets beginning with Joseph Smith. Uses the same lingo, sings the same hymns, family friendly, passes itself off as another Christian church, but denies the uniqueness of Jesus as the eternal Son of God.

Jehovah’s Witnesses – Use same lingo, talk about Jesus, use the Bible, but affirm the ancient Arian heresy that there was a time when the Son was not which denies the deity of Jesus.

Word of Faith Movement (The TBN gang of Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Robert Tilton, Marilyn Hickey, Frederick K. C. Price, Paul and Jan Crouch)- talk a lot about faith and use the Scripture, but they declare that the purpose of Jesus was to deliver us from sickness and poverty in this present age.

Joel Osteen – Looks good, always smiling, large church, bestselling books in Christian bookstores, but no sin, no judgment, no gospel.

T. D. Jakes – Sounds good, knows how to preach, emotional, sweats a lot, but denies that God has always existed in three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

These are all false prophets who preach a false God, a false Christ, and a false gospel. As Paul describe them in Philippians 3:18-19,

For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: (19) Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.

I understand that these words may sound harsh to your ears, but this is serious business. Eternal destinies are at stake. I share a fear that was expressed by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4,

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. (4) For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.

There is such a thing as another Jesus, another spirit, and another gospel and we must be on guard that we be not deceived!

II. Beware of False Prophets because of their Devilish Deeds, vv. 16-18.

In verses 16-18 Jesus describes how a false prophet can be recognized: by their devilish deeds. These three verses provide an excellent counter-balance to the first five verses of this chapter. Those verses’ famous injunction to judge not is often taken as a command to excuse any kind of behavior and to forbid any kind of evaluation of the actions of another. That is clearly not what those verses mean in light of the context of verses 16-18. Here Jesus says that we should be fruit inspectors. The actions/lifestyles of false prophets tell on them.

This truth is stated to begin verse 16 and is then illustrated by the question of verse 16: “Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?” The obvious answer to this rhetorical question is “NO! Of course not.” Good trees bear good fruit. Bad trees bear bad fruit. This is a very simple horticultural principle that all of us can understand. This is then extrapolated from to form a conclusion: “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit (v. 18). It is impossible! Therefore if you see bad fruit, you intuitively know “bad tree.” If you see good fruit, you intuitively know “good tree.”

What is the implication here? False prophets are known by their bad deeds. They may be able to hide their deadliness temporarily under a coat of sheep skin, but eventually they will be exposed for what they are. Because no matter how much they look like sheep, they will always still behave like wolves!

I don’t need to recap the events of the past twenty years detailing the wicked deeds of many televangelists, pastors, and other supposedly Christian leaders for you to understand what I mean. And, there is no telling how many more will be revealed as charlatans during our lifetimes. But the greatest test of a false prophet is his/her teaching. Does it line up with the consistent teaching of the Word of God? If not, it is false. This means we must know our Bibles ourselves. The best defense against a counterfeit is to know the original. I am told that this is the way banks train their employees to recognize counterfeit money. They expose them to the real thing so much that the false is immediately apparent. That is the kind of people that we need to be. This is what we are called to be as Christians. This is part of my responsibility is to teach you the Word of God so thoroughly that you would be able to recognize the false teachers. A mature Christian shouldn’t need a master list of all the good teachers and all of the bad teachers. You should be able to recognize them if I’ve done my job and you’ve applied yourself to the study of God’s Word! By their fruits you will know them!

III. Beware of False Prophets because of their Destructive Destiny, v. 19.

There is a final reason to avoid false prophets in these words by Jesus. It is that they have a destiny of destruction. Verse 19 says, that “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

In 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 the apostle Paul describes those who preach another Jesus as:

For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. (14) And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. (15) Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.

These false apostles have preached words that lead to damnation and that’s exactly what their destiny shall be. Peter says in 2 Peter 3:16 that those who twist Scripture do so “to their own destruction.” James warns in the first verse of the third chapter of his epistle, “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.”

The warning is clear: Don’t be a false teacher and don’t associate with them, lest you share in their destructive destiny.

Conclusion:

The reason that this matters so much is that there is a true gospel about the True Prophet. Moses prophesied that a Prophet greater than he would come (Deut. 18:15) and the apostle Peter declared Jesus to be that Prophet (Acts 3). Therefore the existence of false prophets is an attack upon Him! All messages of hope of deliverance apart from faith in Christ are all false gospels of a false salvation declared by false prophets. Forsake whatever it is that you are clinging to and run to Jesus. Flee the wrath to come!

16 comments

  1. Thanks for naming names. There are a few out there that wince if we get specific, but can you imagine a firefighter knocking on someone’s door: “excuse me, but there is a fire somewhere in the city, but I don’t feel comfortable telling you exactly where”? They need to know that the fire is right next door so they can take the proper course of action!

  2. Klay,

    Thanks so much for the comment and the great analogy.

    I am personally uncomfortable being so specific, but I felt it my responsibility to God and the flock which God has entrusted to me. I have found that vague generalities about false teachers are not effective, so I got specific.

  3. Well, and boldly said.

    Let’s add Ron “Faith is about asking questions and seeking answers” “Nooma” Bell, Doug Pagitt, and the whole Jesus Seminar crowd (Crossan,Funk,Borg,Spong and many others) who continue to sell their books quite well to an unknowledgable audience.

    Far too many Christians today are not prepared for discernemnt because they think reading their Bibles is a Sunday activity. The Bible states very clearly that MANY will be deceived by the False Prophet. Sadly that includes many church goers who are like those Christ said “who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.” (Luke 8:13 ESV)

    The key to who survives is: “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
    (Matthew 13:23 ESV)

  4. NWProdigal,

    Thanks for your comment! I agree with your assessment of the other “false prophets.” I probably would have included them had my audience been different. My church congregation does not know and is not exposed to the authors you mentioned. I addressed those which I thought to be the greatest threat to them.

    Thanks again,
    Steve

  5. our preacher at church tonite(JAN 16 2008) preached on this subject about counterfeits..and when I read the paragraph about how bank tellers can tell the difference..He mentioned the very same thing in the sermon and GOD BLESS for warning People..and people need to know about the GOSPEL ,THAT WE ARE SINNERS,,Not just that GOD IS LOVING AND JESUS IS LOVING AND THAT YOU WILL BE AT PEACE..But not getting saved sends you to HELL..They need to be warned about that too. go KJV

  6. Hi…

    I was shocked at your naming T.D. Jakes as a false prophet. I am a member of the Potter’s House in Dallas and I have never been in such an annointed church before in my life. I find total truth in T.D Jakes as a true born again Christian man of God whom loves our true Lord Jesus Christ with his whole heart. The presence of the Holy Spirit fills this church. The praise and worship in the Potter’s House can be heard up to the throne of our Most High God and the presence of the Lord is in there. The word of God is preached by Jakes and all the associate pastors there also. T.D Jakes never takes any of the glory but is quick to first give ALL the glory to the Lord Jesus Christ before he begins to preach. I am a spirit filled believer and have been a Christian since I was 8 years old. I have seen it all and I know a deceiver when I see one because what they teach does not line up with the scriptures and the Holy Spirit gives us discernment. Please do not discredit this man anymore. Where did you get your information on him? Did you personally ask him about the trinity or did it come to you through another’s mouth? Many devils are working to destroy him and his church because of the favor of the Lord upon it. Have you actually heard Bishop Jakes deny the Father, Son and Holy Spirit always existing as one?

    May I ask that you please visit the Potter’s House Church before making such a claim because you may have to answer to the Lord Jesus for being wrong and for working harm against his good and faithful servant. Thank you.

  7. Kimberly,

    Thanks for your comment. However, we don’t judge whether a teacher is false or not by an emotional experience in a worship service. Though this seems to be your argument at first, you do acknowledge this when you said that you know a deceiver when you see one because “what they teach does not line up with the Scriptures.” I encourage you to examine the Bishop’s teachings on the Trinity in light of the biblical teaching that there is one God who exists in three distinct persons. Not, as the belief statement on The Potter’s House website “in three manifestations.” I challenge you to continue examining T. D. Jakes teaching. A good resource is my friend Jonathan Moorhead who has written a thesis on the topic. For more information click here. Much more documentation is provided there.

  8. Hey Steve, you forgot to include the “ROMAN” Catholic (Universal) Church, and her sister the Greek Orthodox Church.

    Please take a closer look at the website. Under the scriptural guidelines, these 2 churches, aside their cultish ways that deny the gospel and twist and construe it. More than a billion dollars has been paid in sex abuse case settlements JUST IN THE USA in the past few years! Don’t walk out of the catholic church, RUN!

  9. I actually have a question. I am a Born Again Christian, PRAISE the LORD. However, I was visiting a church that a friend invited me too. The speaker was a man by the name of Tim Storey, the entire time through his message I felt that what he was “preaching” was wrong. I was confused and set back by what this man was telling the church. I know you are not trying to name drop, but I need some guidance for sure!

  10. Tim Storey may be the most dangerous man when it comes to preaching the “word of God.” I have attended a service at which he preached and chose to leave because of his antics. During his hour plus of preaching he never once referenced the Bible but did lots of healing in the name of God. At one point he would either snap his fingers or blow on people and they were said to be “slain in the spirit.” The whole time he threw out names of all the famous celebrities he had rubbed elbows with as if this made him more trustworthy. However, he also dropped names he had associated with such as Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, and others. Unlike TD Jakes, Joyce Meyer, or Joel Osteen, I think very few people are familiar with the name of Tim Storey.

  11. Steve,
    Insightful commentary and I appreciate that you have taken this on. I see the potential for false prophets exploding as many Christians appear to be marrying their faith with their political beliefs. They are prone to believe, right or left, any teaching as long as it agrees with their political outlook. They are prone to ignore or dismiss teaching if it does not agree with their politics. I see many of well-meaning faith being led astray by false teaching such as the “prosperity gospel” so prevalent in our churches today. I see many Christians advocating/supporting violence or torture when Christ clearly demonstrated another more effective way to address our enemies. Conversely, I see whole denominations being neutralized in their faith effectiveness in an effort to be “inclusive,” looking away or permitting sinful behavior clearly against scriptural standards. All of these are examples of the all out attack on Christ’s church that Satan is currently engaged in.

    I challenge you to look more closely though at TD Jakes and ask yourself whether Pastor Jakes is guilty of false teaching or you simply have a disagreement regarding doctrine. I don’t believe that doctrine disagreements necessarily mean that one side is right and the other side is a false prophet. I have no personal opinion for/against Pastor Jakes, I simply haven’t seen much in his teaching that raises my discernment senses. I will be happy to do the research you have provided though. As for the other folks you call out, I would have to agree with you.

    Again, thanks for your insight.

  12. Hi everyone i have read all your comments and i now feel encouraged in the way more than ever. I have also been a WOF member but durring those years as a WOF it was not easy to follow the Spirit of God and the Word because of life styles and teachings which were inconsistent with the written Word. Internet has relieved me since i have discovered that there are still Biblical ministers today, ministers who believed what i original belived before i became a WOF. You do not have an idea how powerful are bold comments and exhortations. Grace of God and Lord of hosts Jesus be with you.

  13. “Judge Not, that ye be not judged.” Matt. 7:1

    Although I respect everyone’s opinion, I harshly disagree with yours and forgive me in these few words that I am being a judge of you.

    I start with Matthew 7:1 because in reading your commentary I am amazed that not only do you name specific religions, but persons in your OPINION of who is a false prophet and who is not. Jesus tells us in Matt. 7:15-20 that you can identify a false prophet because his words will not support his actions. Pray tell what personal knowledge of these people or these religions do you have in order to determine if they are not of God?

    As Believers, I think that we must be extremely careful when we place our own beliefs on others, especially when we do not have conclusive facts in which to base our accusations. Your actions, your ideals that Islam does not accept Jesus as Messiah is true, but no different than the Jewish faith who also do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, but I noticed that you did not mention them.

    In naming who you feel are False prophets in many ways you perpetuate a since of de-humanizing of others that Jesus did not stand for in his teachings (Matthew 7:3). Beware of what you say about other people because in many ways you represent yourself as a false prophet by portraying your personal beliefs as truth. That sense of false sense of self is what drove Adolph Hitler to his madness and subsequent persecution of the Jewish people. I pray that you are not a minister and repeating these falsehoods to potential followers.

    To be a true believer, we must focus on the Gospel in its purist form without replacing our personal crusades with the spreading of Gods word. We must approach every man, woman, child and his faith with a blank slate and pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:24), we must do so wisely and without judgment and ignorance (Ephesians 4:2).

    Humility, not Arrogance and Accusation is what wins souls. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

  14. What do you feel about the teachings of the pastors at Landover Baptist church? I feel like they are leading thousands of people away from the Word of God, and call Christians hypocrites because we do not follow Old Testament laws such as stoning children, killing gays, and such. (I’ve had a LONG banter with one of the pastors from there, and he has called me countless names such as Godmocker, Heathen, and Godmocking fool, not to mention teling me that he will be laughing when I am burning in hell.

  15. Wow, this was phenomenal. Been teaching on the sermon on the mount for the last 3 months :) I have learned so much breaking down Matt chapters 5-7. I was on line studying going to different sites and stumbled across your amazing teaching. Thank you so much. In Christ

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