Summary: At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns his hearers against false prophets, giving them criteria by which they may recognize them when they come.
Beware False Prophets
I do not know many words spoken by Jesus which are more OBVIOUSLY compelling for Christians today that those read in the gospel appointed for today. These words appear at the very end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, and they are a warning against false prophets.
Let me say at the very beginning how we should apply these words today, so we keep this subject in focus as we look at Jesus’ warning. In a day when God used men to be his mouthpiece – for example, in the days of the Prophets of the Old Testament – the Prophet would have some of the greatest authority among God’s people. But, in a day when God is not using men as his mouth piece – for example, in our day – then Jesus’ words apply to those who speak in God’s name – not in the sense of giving new revelation, but rather in the sense of teaching, interpreting, and applying God’s word in their capacity as leaders of God’s people. In blunt terms today, Jesus’ words have in view the preachers and teachers in the church – whether they have the name pastor, or elder, teacher, or theologian, or priest, or bishop. Some of these folks are going to be “false,” and Jesus at the end of the Sermon on the Mount gives a warning about these kinds of leaders.
First of all, you will know these people by the fruits of their ministries. Jesus said, “15"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16You will know them by their fruits.” It was very much the same words which Paul used many years later when speaking to the elders at Ephesus. In his farewell to them, Paul gave this warning,
“29For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” [Acts 20]
Peter also gave a similar warning to his readers: “1 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 Peter 2]
What is important here is the fruit. Is the fruit good? Or is it evil. Please note that it is not the appearance of the fruit that’s important. Grapes are for eating, not for looking at. You don’t pick figs in order to gaze at them. And it doesn’t take a degree in horticulture to know whether the figs taste good, or if the grapes are good for eating, or making wine, or for turning them into raisens. The proof is in the tasting, not the looking. If you’ve got good grapes, it’s because they came from a good vine. If you’re eating tasty and nourishing apples, it’s because they came from a good apple tree.
So it is with those who lead God’s people. What does their ministry produce? Something wholesome? Something nourishing? Or something prickly, or bitter, or sour?
The second part of Jesus’ warning is to avoid making judgments on what the false prophets are saying. “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my father.”
If you want examples in abundance of what Jesus is talking about here, the wonderful world of religious television will show it to you. Men AND women speaking boastful things in the name of the Lord. Prophesying in the name of the Lord. Casting out demons in the name of the Lord, and claiming or doing many wonders in the name of the Lord. Jesus will say to these people, one day, “I never knew you. Depart from me you who work lawlessness.”
That last phrase is the clue to how we can recognize these kinds of people today – it is not their claim to do things in the name of the Lord. It is not even the wonders themselves. Paul warned the Corinthians about those who work wonders in 2 Corinthians 11: “13For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, ….” No – it is not the appearance which matters, it is the fact that these people – for all their appearances as ministers of righteousness, are actually workers of lawlessness. They despise responsibility to someone or something else. They are a law unto themselves. And, you can detect this by comparing what they do with what God has commanded in his Word. In fact, you do not even have to compare their actions with the Word of God. Compare their actions to the words of men to which they are accountable. You will find that here, too, they easily depart from what is supposed to govern their actions. They are lawless, accountable to nothing and to no one, because their actions do not comply with what is delivered to them to do.