“Beware of False Prophets”
INTRODUCTION What is the Meaning of Matthew 7.15-20
Matthew 7. One year April Fools’ Day fell on a Sunday and we had an April Fools’ Day party and we all brought food that was meant to trick us. Maybe you remember what you brought, but I’ve forgotten…however, I could imagine at least the deserts.
You stroll by potluck table of desserts and…that’s not a baked potato: It’s just ice cream that’s been molded into a potato shape, coated in cocoa powder to make it look brown and topped with whipped cream (as sour cream), green sprinkles (to look like chives).
And over there… that looks like a plate of spaghetti, but it’s actually a bunch of cupcakes covered in strands of icing piped through a frosting bag to look like noodlees, topped with strawberry preserves and truffles masked as meatballs.
Is that a fried bagel with egg? Nope. It’s a doughnut with white melting chocolate and yellow food coloring.
And on the other side, that looks like a plate of Buffalo wings … but it’ actually crispy treats, and a brown sugar and tangerine glaze simulating spicy hot sauce.
Thankfully, you were able to discern the truth.
But imagine going to a totally different country you knew nothing about with different cuisine and different tastes. And you go to that country and their doing that same kind of thing their own way. You would eat it and not think anything of it. Being from a different culture, you would just attempt to be nice!
Then, you would not able to discern the truth. If you do not understand how their food really looks and how the main meals actually taste, you will not be able to discern when you are being deceived.
It is the same with discerning the biblical truth and biblical error in Matthew 7. We’ll read vv13-20, but vv.15-20 is our text.
Matthew 7:13–20 13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. 15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 “So then, you will know them by their fruits.
You see, false teachers put their teaching on fancy platters, and make their false teaching look attractive. They want you to think it is the meat of the word, but actually it is chocolate covered cookies.
They want you to think that what they teach is the milk of the word, but they actually put jello in it so that you can’t pour it out. Kids, only with your parents permission. Fancy suits and garnished with smooth speech that sounds so encouraging…and you’ve got yourself a recipe for eternal destruction….you’ll be encouraged all the way to hell…
…Unless you can discern true from false teaching. Someone from another culture at our April Fool’s potluck cannot discern deception unless they are familiar with the real thing, with what is truly good.
And here is Jesus standing at the entrance of the narrow gate and as the few who will be saved file by on their way to Celestial City, Jesus, right out of the gate, warns about false prophets. But how do we know a true or a false prophet?
Discerning true prophets
Well, first, what is a false prophet? Turn to Deut. 18:20-22. A false prophet is someone who falsely claims to speak for God.
And as we’re turning to Deut, please keep in mind, Jesus is speaking to people before His death and resurrection. He is speaking to people under this Old Covenant law. Under the Old Covenant, there was a progressive revelation of the word of God.
Over hundreds of years, prophets would come and claim to speak for God. And so if you lived under the Old Covenant, how would you know if you were talking to a true prophet or not? The answer to that is in Deut 18:20-22. This passage told you whether the prophet was a true prophet or not.
Deuteronomy 18:20–22 20 ‘But the prophet who speaks a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ 21 “You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ 22 “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.
If a prophet makes a false prophesy, he is not from God. True prophets sent from God predict the future and it comes true. There were many false prophets in the OT, like Zedekiah 1 Ki. 22:11. Now, this is under the Old Covenant. We need to apply this to the New Covenant and we’ll do so to speak of false teachers.
Prophets predict the future and proclaim God’s truth. Teachers, like myself, claim only to proclaim God’s word.
No one is able to predict the future today, since the canon of Scripture has been closed; there are no more Bible books being written. Jesus promised to bring to the apostles remembrance the truth of Jesus’ words through the Holy Spirit. He has not given that promise to anyone else. Therefore, there are no more books of Scripture to be written, since all apostles are with the Lord.
However, there are people today who claim to be prophets. They take it upon themselves to predict the future. If their predictions are false, they are false prophets. For example, some so-called prophets predicted the Republicans would gain power in this past election in America, predicting a red tsumanai. They then squirm out of their prophecies when it doesn’t turn out. They are false prophets.
But, today, we’ll apply this to false teachers as Peter warns, 2 Peter 2:1 1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you… Now, back to Matthew 7:15.
TRANS: Just like with rightly discerning when there is deception with physical food, you need to know when their is deception with spiritual food. And you need to know the true food before discerning the false. You need to know a true teacher before knowing a false teacher.
Jesus says that you can discern a good prophet by its fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, they are gathered from grapevines. Figs are gathered from fig trees. Just like everything reproduces after its kind, prophets reproduce after their kind also.
Jesus also says that every good tree bears good fruit. Everything reproduces according to its nature, whether good or bad. A good tree produces good fruit. A true teacher produces good fruit also.
So a true teacher reproduces after his kind: a true teacher makes true disciples of Jesus Christ.
A true prophet will also produce good fruit: his doctrine and his life will bear good fruit.
Produces godly living and doctrine
A true teacher will be filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. He will have love, joy, peace and all the rest. He will be an example of godly living, of self-sacrifice, and other godly disciplines. Righteousness, transparent humility, purity, trusting and persistent prayerfulness, obedience to Jesus’ words, truthfulness, love, generosity, and a consistent rejection of all that is hypocritical.
His doctrine also will be according to the word of God. What he speaks will line up with the Bible. This is where it is important to understand true doctrine in order to discern false doctrine.
Beloved sheep, we must read our Bibles and pray every day in order to discern what is true and false teaching. If you did not know what a good tree look like, you would not know what is good fruit. If you did not know what a thorn bush or a grapevine looked like, you would be confused as to its fruit.
That’s why we insist here that if this pulpit produces wrong doctrine and refuses … refuses to mention certain other good doctrines, we are each responsible here the pastor and the other teachers accountable.
TRANS: But also this idea of ‘fruit’ could also be talking about how a good teacher will also make true disciples of Christ.
A true teacher makes true disciples of Jesus Christ.
Look at the people he’s discipled or those that attend his assembly. What kind of character are they? Btw, all disciples of Jesus are called to grow to the point where they can teach and make another disciple. So, do those that a certain teacher teaches, do they follow the Lord? Do they look like “little Christs” growing toward His likeness?
Also, look at the young people at the church. Now, granted, not every church is going to follow their pastor or teacher to the point that it perfectly mirrors what the pastor is preaching and teaching. But generally, the pew is a reflection of the pulpit like the lake reflects your image. Just like after a splash in the water and the water slowly flattens out to reflect your image, the pew will slowly grow toward being like what is behind the pulpit. So what does the pew look like? A godly teacher with regenerated people will grow to be like Jesus Christ as we read about Him in His word.
It all comes back to the Bible doesn’t it?
TRANS: So a godly and true teacher will live a godly life and produce doctrine according to the word of God. And generally speaking those whom he teaches will also be growing in godliness.
Now, that’s true teachers. And Jesus emphasizes false teachers in our passage.
We need to be able to spot a false teacher like finding a white cloud. There are plenty of them out there!
Discerning false prophets: Deceptive and Dangerous
They will come!
As we attempt to discern false teachers, first Jesus promises that they will come! Verse 15, beware of the false prophets who come to you. They will come! This is predicted elsewhere also. For example…
Paul prophesies in 1 Timothy 4, that some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. That has happened and is happening now.
That’ll all come about in 2 Timothy 4 because the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine… They will not be able to pay attention to and apply to their own life healthy teaching from the word of God, but instead they want their ears tickled and so they will gather to themselves teachers according to their own desires. And as we mentioned in 2 Peter 1, that false teachers will arise among you and introduce destructive heresies.
Jesus Himself says…Matthew 24:11 11 “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many.
The Bible predicted that they would arise, and they have. So the urgency is great! We are on eternal red alert! We must pray and we must prepare!
TRANS: That they have come isn’t very pleasant. Thankfully … on a more positive note…we can discern them!
The Bible gives many ways to determine who is a false teacher. This passage gives us 4 ways to discern a false teacher. And then we’ll conclude with a number of applications.
First, he is deceptive, he comes to you as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. If a wolf put on himself sheep hide and approached the flock, many sheep no doubt would be deceived.
A false teacher is a normal looking man and when he comes to us, he has the appearance of being nice. He is pleasant to talk to… He does not have a sign on his back saying that says that he is a false teacher.
He says all the Christian cliches and his teaching seems generally ok; his dogmatism makes a good case for his orthodoxy. He talks about God and Jesus and opens a Bible. And so it is difficult to see what is wrong. Plus, he is accepted by a large number of people. Nothing draws your attention to the wrong. But the powers of darkness are at work in him.
He is disguised as a true teacher, like Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
And so we should take Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders… Acts 20:29–31 29 “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 “Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.
Deception: You need to be greatly suspicious of religious teachers today. Not a few men behind pulpits are wolves.
TRANS: They are deceptive and second they are dangerous. They “do not spare the flock.”
Inwardly, Jesus says they are “ravenous.” This word ravenous is used five times in the New Testament. Four of those five times it is translated in the New American Standard, “swindler.” False teachers are swindlers. Perhaps Jesus is using a play on words here.
A swindler is somebody who scams people to make a buck. They are a con artist, a confidence artist. They attempt to defraud you and to gain your confidence.
They are using you for their own success: financial success or their desire for fame or to get more disciples to run after them, or whatever is politically expedient. They use the unsuspecting for their own benefit and they fleece the flock, they do not feed the true flock of God.
TRANS: They are deceptive, they are dangerous. And third, their teaching. They do not teach the narrow way.
3 Their doctrine: Do not advocate narrow way
They do not teach a narrow way. We read as part of the introduction to this message, Jesus’ teaching on the narrow gate…
Matthew 7:13–14 13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
And then He immediately begins to exhort you to beware of false prophets who come to you.
Therefore, what greater false teaching is there than not teach the narrow way?! So then, it is not so much what the teacher does teach, but what he does not teach. A false teacher will not teach the narrow gate and the narrow way.
He will simply leave that part out of his ministry.
How much easier is it to discern a false teacher when he actually says that Jesus is not the only way. Jesus and Jesus alone is the gate, He is the door to our Heavenly Father.
John 14:6 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
A false teacher will not teach the true gospel and its true response.
He may teach that Jesus is the only way or leave that part out. He may teach that Jesus effectively died for our sins…or He may leave that part out. He may or may not teach in the bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But a false teacher will most certainly not teach a true response to that gospel: He will not teach the narrow gate. He will not teach that “the way of the cross leads home” that the way of an instrument of execution leads home…he won’t teach that. That’s not pleasant enough to attract followers.
A false teacher will not teach that in order to follow Jesus, one must deny himself. He will not teach that in order to be saved, one must repent of sin and wrestling through that may feel like cutting off one’s hand, plucking out his eye, or cutting off the foot. He won’t teach that. Jesus teaches that… That is what is the proper response to the gospel.
A false teacher also will not teach that the way of the Christian life is difficult, that it is narrow, as Jesus does. Living for Christ is difficult because you must deny self. There is a going against the inclinations of the heart and the necessity to turn against your own self… That’s more difficult than a salmon swimming upstream because salmon are designed to swim upstream. But your sin nature will not be denied. But with God, all things are possible.
There is nothing in their preaching that will press on you the great need to be poor in spirit… There is nothing in their preaching that will cause you to search your conscience and to cause you to cry out to God for mercy… And they will not tell you that at least some measure persecution is inevitable if you live for Christ.
And it is quite likely that all of what they say is actually true, but it is what they leave out… They do not tell you the whole truth and so they are telling lies.
4 Their life: Not on the narrow way
Fourth, because they do not teach the narrow way, their life will show it. They themselves are not on that narrow way. If a false teacher believes people can be saved apart from Jesus, his life will show it. He will have no problems with other false teaching and teachers. And he will say so. Again, he may have false fruit and he probably doesn’t smoke, chew and go with the girls who do…he may even behave fairly decently behind closed doors, but his life doesn’t accord with the narrow gate and the narrow way. In his heart of hearts, he’s not a Christian; he’s not born again.
They are hell bound: thrown into the fire.
And so the result of this is that he is cast into hell. Matthew 7:19 19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
GOSPEL/ILL: I read of a man in Kenya who himself admitted to fleecing the flock and using people to earn a living. The day came when a preacher from Australia came and our man was called upon to translate. The preachers topic? “Justification by faith alone through the imputed righteousness of Christ.” To him, it sounded ridiculous. And through that message he says, “the sovereign Lord worked in my heart, calling forth reason through an inner witness to the truths proclaimed. The Holy Spirit planted sufficient doubt about the system I’d defended.”
He continues …
“Over the next three weeks I felt tortured by God for my errors, which became apparent with every Bible text I once thought supported my beliefs. The same verses now looked different, affirming that preacher’s message.” He goes on to recount that he trusted Christ for salvation and described his deep hunger for Jesus and His word.
LOOKING to Jesus alone saves from sin! Trusting in Him, turning against self is the only proper response to the glorious message of the cross.
Your sins on Jesus laid,
His righteousness on you is stayed!
By self-denying faith in Him.
So we must take Jesus admonition to heart! “Beware” of the false prophets!
To “beware” means to pay attention to, to be on guard, and ready to respond. It doesn’t mean to ignore.
So our churches need to beware and respond. In order to properly guard against them to beware of false teachers, we must be ready to do several things.
So, here is what it means to beware of false teachers. And I have several of these in rapid fire.
1. Our churches must test those who would desire to teach. Just like deacons must first be tested and pastors should pursue righteousness, and take hold of the eternal life to which they are called, and how they are commissioned to “preach the word” … We must ensure that those who would teach are indeed able to teach sound doctrine.
2. Our churches must have leaders and church members who guard sound doctrine. Our churches must have leaders in them that hold fast to the faithful word who are able to exhort in sound doctrine and refute those who contradict.
3. We must also challenge ungodly behavior. The majority of the qualifications for an elder are those of his character. The only exception is his ability to teach. False teachers will love themselves, money, and pleasure. Many are sexually immoral.
They appear to be godly, but it is all bogus! Through deceptive counsel, they will worm their way into various homes and take captive gullible women. We must challenge ungodly behavior.
4. We must warn ungodly teachers and then reject them.
Titus 3:10 Reject a factious man after a first and second warning,
We cannot ignore false teachers, we must reject them. Any meeting with those teachers, is to get them to repent.
5. Further, we should name names. 1 Ti. 1:20 and other texts indicate we are to tell others the names of false teachers.
1 Timothy 1:19–20 19 keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. 20 Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.
If it seems like Paul is airing Hymenaeus and Alexander’s dirty laundry… he is! If there are false teachers around who will not repent, we must warn others of who they are by name.
2 Timothy 4:14–15 14 Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Be on guard against him yourself, for he vigorously opposed our teaching.
It is not virtuous to allow false teachers to go anonymous; it is destructive and doesn’t allow others to be on guard. If Paul could have said, “There’s a false teacher out there but I’ll have him remain anonymous” but he didn’t.
6. We need to be aware of the potential for false teaching to spread rapidly.
2 Timothy 2:17–18 17 and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, (another name) 18 men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.
We need to be aware that false teaching spreads rapidly and it has! Be on guard! 7…
7. We need to be aware of how easy it is for our ownselves to desire teaching that is in accordance with our own desires. How easy it would be for my flesh to take control of my mind so as to negatively influence the direction of the ministry.
False prophets and teachers would not have an audience if there were not people who desire to hear them. My heart will deceive me and lead me astray so as to listen to false teaching if I do not take heed to God’s word.
8. Finally, 8, to beware of false teachers would mean finally to excommunicate them. 1 Timothy 1:20 Paul handed over Hymenaeus and Alexander “to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.” This is all in hopes that they might repent of their wicked teaching and come to understand the truth of Christ. 
CONCLUSION What is the Meaning of Matthew 7.15-20
Now somebody says, “All this ‘Beware of false teaching’ sounds so harsh and unloving. Dear sheep, He loves us so He warns us. To tell you who the false teachers are is loving.
Proverbs 3:11–12 11 My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord Or loathe His reproof, 12 For whom the Lord loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.
To warn you is to love you. If the Lord did not love you, He would not warn you. If you’re about to fall into a pit, issuing a warning would be the loving things to do. If you saw people headed for a pit and you didn’t warn them, you’re not loving them.
Those of us who follow the Lord are warned not to follow false teachers. Our loving Lord, who spilled His blood for our eternal joy in Him, carefully warns us while on earth. Jesus is our great protector, He is the great shepherd of the sheep. A loving shepherd that carefully guards and protects His sheep and warns us as like a faithful father. This warning shows us His love and it shows us His great care! He is a wonderful shepherd … “His rod and His staff they comfort me.”
Just like a shepherd has a rod to throw at predators, so the LORD has a rod to ward off those who would ravage us with damning deception. Let us praise the Lord that He warns us, as a faithful shepherd. We’ll sing along those lines song #503. Saviour, like a shepherd lead us.
D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World: An Exposition of Matthew 5–10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999), 135–136. ↑