“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.Matthew 7:15-20 NIV
Watch Out for False Prophets
In the Scripture, a prophet is someone who claims to speak for God, relaying a message from God to the people. Sometimes they spoke of the future. But more commonly they addressed current events, usually to correct a people who had gone astray from their covenant relationship with God.
In the Old Testament, prophets often served in an advisory capacity to the king. But it seems the guidance most of these ‘court prophets’ gave was not from God. Rather they told the king what he wanted to hear (1 Kings 22:1-28). And in a way, that is understandable because they were supported by the king. Giving him contrary advice was not conducive to long term employment. But it would make them a false prophet.
Many today bear the title of prophet, or something similar. They claim to be in a position of authority and speak on behalf of God. But all too many of these self-proclaimed prophets are simply taking advantage of people for their own gain. These also are false prophets, and Jesus’ warning in this passage is just as applicable to them.
Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing
Jesus makes it clear that these false prophets don’t come announcing that they are false prophets. Rather they are disguised in a more appealing form. And the example he uses is a wolf that is dressed up like a sheep.
Jesus talks about sheep some, especially in the gospel of John. And when he does, he is referring to those who are his. He is the good shepherd and we are his sheep. And, if that analogy is true here as well, then he is telling us that these false prophets would come to us, claiming to belong to Jesus. Claiming to be one of the sheep. But they are not.
Wolves have only one purpose in hanging out with the sheep. And it is not for the benefit of the sheep. A wolf among the sheep is looking to satisfy their own appetite, caring nothing for the sheep themselves. The false prophets Jesus warns us about will not be looking to literally eat us. But they will be looking for personal gain at the expense of the sheep. Regardless the words that come out of their mouths, they care only for themselves and not for the sheep.
In 2 Corinthians 11:13 Paul identifies these people as “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ.” And then he identifies them as servants of Satan. The danger they pose to believers and Christ’s church is real. It is important that we learn to recognize these wolves in sheep’s clothing and expose them for what they are.
Being a Fruit Inspector
Outward appearances can be deceiving. And the false prophets moving among us are often well versed in being able to talk and act like a believer. So identification of these wolves among us can be challenging. But Jesus does give us one method for being able to distinguish the wolves from the sheep.
And that method is to look at the fruit they produce. Just like a tree or vine produces fruit in accordance with its nature, so people produce fruit that bears witness to who they really are. Are you a follower of Jesus? Then the fruit the Holy Spirit produces within you should be obvious.
In contrast to the believer, the fruit of these false prophets will center around self-gratification. Look at who or what is being advanced when they speak or minister. While Jesus name may be mentioned frequently, you will find that more often their own interests are at the center of what they are doing. You will also likely find that strife and division follows them like a dark cloud.
While Jesus earlier cautioned us against judging other people. He does make it clear here that we are to be fruit inspectors. Examine the fruit of those who claim to speak for God. And if their fruit does not glorify God, then have nothing to do with them.
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