Summary: Today, as we look at Matthew 7:15-20, we see Jesus warning us to look out for false prophets and teachers. He tells us we will know them by the fruit they produce.
THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT (part 21)
1) Watch out!
Matt. 7:15-20, “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."
A prophet is someone who told of forthcoming events. In Jesus' day they were also considered to be teachers. Albert Barnes' commentary reads, "The word prophet originally means, one who foretells future events. As prophets, however, were commonly regarded as public instructors on the subject of religion, the word came to denote all who were religious teachers. In this sense it is probably used here. A false prophet is a teacher of incorrect doctrine or who falsely and unjustly laid claims to divine inspiration. It probably had reference to the false teachers then among the Jews."
Here in Matthew Jesus would've predominantly been referring to the scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the law. A false prophet would say, 'thus saith the Lord' when the Lord had not spoken. In the OT, false prophets would go against the prophecies brought by the true prophets of God. God's prophets were giving proclamations of warning, pleas for repentance or declarations of judgment.
Because the people didn't want to hear that, the false prophets would preach nice things so they would become popular with the people. In lieu of the preceding verses in Matthew, one could surmise that Jesus talking about the road leading to destruction is broad and the road to eternal life is narrow, would not sit well with people. Neither would it sit well with people, especially the religious leaders, that the only way to get on the narrow road is through Jesus. The false teachers would contradict this.
It's the same today. Many false teachers will preach only what people want to hear; feel good messages. They won't talk about sin, judgment or hell; some even preach there is no hell. Some teach that it doesn't matter what you do or how you live because God loves you and accepts you with no need to change. But this goes against the word of God and it gives people false hope.
There are those who prey on weak people, getting them to send money, thinking the miraculous prayer towel or holy water they will receive for their donation will heal them or bring them riches. Rom. 16:17-18, "I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people."
There are false teachers and false healers who are all about putting on a good show and padding their bank accounts rather than doing the will of God. We have to be careful not to be deceived by such people. Jesus said they are wolves who wear sheep's clothing. They present themselves as real Christians but inside they are being devious and manipulative and their goal is to take advantage of people.
Jesus said we will know them by their fruit. "Grapes from thornbushes". In Palestine, the buckle berry bushes produce fruit that look like grapes. However, if you ate one of its berries it would be very bitter. Only by close examination could you tell the difference. "Figs from thistles". The Palestinian thistle plant produces flowers that closely resemble figs. However, if you were to eat one, you would actually experience pain. Examination is a key factor in determination. And it's not always easy to tell the difference.
Acts 20:28-31, "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears."
Paul uses words like, 'keep watch' and 'be on your guard'. This tells me that we have to look out for the wolves. Not that we need to be walking around paranoid or automatically distrusting of everyone, we just need to keep our guard up and not take what everyone says at face value. A few chapters earlier in Acts 17:11, Paul commended the Bereans for going away and studying the scriptures to see if what Paul said was true.