Pastor Scott L. Harris
1/3/93; March 28, 1999
Beware of False Prophets
Last week we looked at one of the most decisive texts of Scripture. Jesus gives us a command, and our obedience to that command will determine our eternal destination. In Matthew 7:13,14 Jesus commands us to enter the narrow gate that leads to the narrow way. This is the way to life, but few are those that find it. There is another gate which is wide and it leads to a wide path. This is the way to eternal destruction. Many are those who are on that path. What decision have you made in regards to Jesus’ command? Is it one of obedience in righteousness resulting in eternal life, or is it one of disobedience resulting in eternal condemnation? The decision that you make will be based on what you believe to be true. (See: Which Way to Heaven?).
If you believe the revelation Jesus has given of Himself in the Scriptures, then the decision to obey Him is the only logical conclusion you can make. If you do not know Jesus, you doubt the truth of His revelation or you have been mislead about Him, then it may not make much sense to you to forsake your own way and trust and obey the Lord. It is sad enough that many people do not obey Jesus’ command to enter the narrow gate because they are ignorant of it. They have not yet heard a clear presentation of the gospel message. They are lost in the various false religions or vain philosophies. We have a responsibility to tell them so that they can follow Christ. It is even more sad that there are also many people that have heard of Jesus, but what they have heard about Him and His message has been distorted by false teachers. These people think that they have entered the narrow gate and are following the way of the Lord, but in reality they have been deceived. We have a responsibility to warn them as Jesus did in Matthew 7:15-20.
Turn there and follow with me as I read one of the great texts of warning in the Bible. Jesus said, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor fig’s from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”
Jesus is warning us of one of the greatest threats to our welfare, yet it is a warning that the vast majority of people, even if they read this passage, will not give much consideration to. Most people consider things such as the economy, personal finance, health, safety, politics and social values to be of much greater importance. Even though each of these can only affect us for only a relatively brief time at most, we give more consideration to them because they are what affects us now. The economy, and in particular my own personal finances, affect my standard of living, but however high or low that standard of living, we must remember that our life here on this earth is but “vapor” (Ecclesiastes 1). We would all like our lives to be comfortable and happy, but a more important question is, will you find comfort and happiness when you face death? The goal of life should be preparation for eternity. A good government can make life a lot more pleasant and a bad government can make it a lot more miserable. God commands us to pray for those in authority over us (1 Timothy 2) and I believe that we should also be involved in the political process to help determine whether we have a good or bad government. Yet, we must also understand that a government can only affect us outwardly. Even if persecuted for being Christians, a government can not change who we are internally. Society may crumble around us and make it more challenging to live a holy and pure life, but other people can not stop the work Christ has begun in you (Philippians 1:6). All of these are outward. They can affect how you live but they cannot affect who you are. In this passage, Jesus warns us about those who can affect us internally by presenting falsehood in the garb of truth, and getting us to believe and follow their lies. The greatest danger we face is what will affect us internally and determine our eternal destiny.
In a similar manner, the greatest danger and challenge to the church is not finances, government or social decline. History has shown that the church actually does best when troubled and persecuted because it then depends on God more, and those that are nor serious about following Christ are less inclined to join the church. Even so, in good times or hard times, the greatest danger to those that would follow God are false prophets who would have people follow a false God or trust in someone or something other than Jesus Christ.
False Prophets in the Old Testament
Jesus’ warning here about false prophets is not something new in the Scriptures. God has continually given warnings about those that would come and present lies and falsehoods as truth.
In Deuteronomy 18:20-22 God warns about false prophets that would come. “But the prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. And you may say in your heart, ‘How shall we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ 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 presumptuously? you shall not be afraid of him. “
These false prophets did come and they led many people astray because the people failed to heed God’s commands and warnings. The truth of the matter was that the people did not want to hear the truth. Isaiah said of them in Isaiah 30:9-11, “For this is a rebellious people, false sons. Sons who refuse to listen to the instruction of the LORD; Who say to the seers, ‘You must not see visions’; And to the prophets, ‘You must not prophesy to us what is right. Speak to us pleasant words. Prophesy illusions. Get our of the way, turn aside form the path. Let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.” The horrible response by the religious leaders was that they listened to the people. God, speaking through Jeremiah, rebukes them in Jeremiah 5:30,31, “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so!” Things were so bad that in Jeremiah 23, Jeremiah warned the people to stop listening to these self proclaimed prophets because they spoke of visions from their own imaginations and prophesied, but it was not from the LORD. The things these false prophets said were not true and the things they foretold did not come about. They should have been stoned, but the people were far from God and instead they listened to, and followed the lies. The eventual outcome of it all was the captivity of both Israel and Judah.
False Prophets in the New Testament
This was in the Old Testament, but the same theme of warning about false prophets continues throughout the New Testament. Jesus gives warning here in Matthew 7 and in Matthew 24. Peter warns in 2 Peter 2:1 telling us “But false prophets also arose among the people. Just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies . . .”. The Apostle John warned about them in all three of his epistles. Paul gives warnings in most of his epistles with 2 Timothy 4:3 even telling us that part of the reason for the rise of these false prophets and teachers is because the people “will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” That is the same thing Isaiah and Jeremiah described. False prophets will come and there will be plenty of people who will rejoice in their coming, because they want to hear the pleasant words that please their ears. They can not endure the truth.
False prophets claim to be something they are not. They also claim to speak for the Lord, but they do not. Their false identity is always eventually revealed because what they say does not match the truth and what they predict does not happen. But there is another kind of false prophet that is more deceiving because they wield demonic power. In Matthew 24:24 Jesus says, “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.” 2 Thessalonians 2:9 specifically points out that this activity is in “accord with Satan.”
Identifying False Prophets
How do you discern that someone is a false prophet when he performs these signs and wonders? There are two ways. First, as we have already seen in Deuteronomy 18, Scripture demands 100% accuracy when a person is giving revelation from God. If they are in error in anything they predict, then they are false. Even those who have demonic power will fail eventually because even though Satan is powerful and can do supernatural things we consider amazing, he does not control the future. Only God does.
Moses gave warning of a second kind of false prophet in Deuteronomy 13:1-5. “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them’, you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the LORD your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the LORD your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you.” The passage goes on to say that anyone who tries to entice you away from following the LORD God, even if it were your friend, brother, son or daughter or wife that you cherish, that person should be put to death.
The first test is 100% accuracy. The second test is true doctrine. What do they say about the Lord God? What do they say about Jesus Christ? This is what John tells us in I John 4:1-3. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus, is not from God; and this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now if is already in the world.”
We should never be impressed by people just because they can do supernatural things. The proof that others represent God is not in the signs and wonders that they do, the amazing, or the supernatural. What demonstrates they are actually from God is that 1) They are 100% accurate when they say they speak from God, and 2) They lead people into worship of the true God. This demands that they agree with what God has already revealed about Himself, otherwise they are directing worship to a false God. People may claim anything they want, but truth is always determined by God’s standards, not man’s gullibility. As we shall see in a couple of weeks, even sincerity is not the standard. There are those who are so self-deceived that they claim to do miraculous things on behalf of the Lord. The truth is that Jesus does not even know them, and in Matthew 7:23 He tells them to depart, for they are actually workers of lawlessness.
The warning that Jesus is giving in this passage is a serious matter. The Old Testament tells us that false prophets deceived people in history. The New Testament tells us that we face the same danger, so beware, take heed, be careful of, watch out for false prophets.
Now look at the next two phrases in Matthew 7:15. “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” These false prophets that Jesus is warning us about are not easily spotted. You must carefully examine them and what they say. That is why the warning is to “beware,” to take caution. Everyone would agree that it is easy to spot someone who is advocating a non-Christian religion. You can spot the Hare Krishna, the Buddhist, the pagan, the idol worshiper, the Hindu, and the Muslim. But it can be very difficult to identify false prophets when they claim to worship the God we worship, and even use the Bible in their teaching. They do not appear to be enemies of the flock, but rather friends.
There is some difference of opinion as to what it means that they come in “sheep’s clothing.” Some say it means they come looking like a sheep. This would be the proverbial wolf in a sheep’s skin. But the more I have looked at this, the more I believe this reference is not that they come looking like one of the other sheep, but that they come looking like the shepherd. They come appearing as the one that is supposed to be the protector of the flock. My reasons for understanding the passage in this way are simple.
First, the text says “sheep’s clothing,” not “sheep’s skin.” The word, “clothing” here refers not to an animal skin, but a garment made from some fiber, in this case, that of a sheep – wool. The same word is used back in Matthew 3:4 to describe John the Baptist having raiment (clothing) made of camel’s hair. It was not camel skin, but the hair of the animal woven into a garment. That brings up the second reason. A person’s trade was often identified by what the person wore, and the prophets often wore rough, hairy garments as did John the Baptist. False prophets would put on such clothing in order to look like the true prophets. Zachariah talks about such false prophets in Zechariah 13:4 who “put on a hairy robe in order to deceive.” Shepherd’s wore clothing made from sheep’s wool, and a false shepherd would wear similar clothing in order to look like the true shepherd.
Paul’s comment in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 gives us some insight into this. “For such men are false apostles, deceitful wonders, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds. “The false prophet does not come to be part of the flock as sheep, but to lead the flock as a shepherd. That is why they are so dangerous. False prophets may look like shepherds, but inside they are ravenous wolves. Their goal is not to feed the sheep, but to feed off the sheep.
It is interesting to note that the word (arpageV / arpages) “ravenous” here is translated as “swindler” or “extortioner” every other time it appears in the New Testament. Peter said of them in 2 Peter 2:3 that “in their greed they will exploit you with false words . . .”. They will take advantage of the sheep to get out of them what they want to fulfill their own desires. Their concern is themselves, not that of the sheep. It may be money, it may be a sense of power and control, it may be fame or a combination of all, but the bottom line is their own self gratification. They may talk about Jesus and the Scriptures and how wonderful it is to be a Christian, but ultimately, it is their own kingdom they are working for, not the kingdom of God.
Some false prophets are not very well hidden and can be spotted fairly easily if the time is taken to inspect what they believe. For example, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also called Mormonism, quickly demonstrates its true nature once its doctrines are examined. They teach that Jesus & Lucifer (Satan) are brothers, sons of a God named Elohim. Their Jesus is a glorified, exalted human who attained godhood. The goal of Mormonism is to reach the same state and become gods that will rule over their own planets.
Christian Science, founded by Mary Baker Glover Patterson Eddy, based on her book, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, among other heresies, denies the following doctrines: the deity of Jesus Christ (They split His being into the infallible spiritual Christ and Jesus the material man who was not Christ); the physical death of Jesus Christ; the existence of the Holy Spirit and Satan; and Salvation by substitutionary atonement.
Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, has spent millions of dollars trying to win acceptance as a Christian religion. Those efforts have failed and they remain a recognized cult group because of their denial of the physical life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as their teaching that salvation is found in following Moon’s Divine Principle rather than in Jesus Christ.
There are, of course, many other cult groups that are founded on a man or woman’s claim to speak for God. Many have been openly identified such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Way International, Children of God, Divine Light Mission, The Love Family, The Local Church, The Alamo Christian Foundation and many, many others. Some are well known and some are not. Each of these is dangerous, but because they have been identified they are easier to spot and deal with. More perilous are the false prophets that claim to be following orthodox Christianity. They speak favorably of Jesus Christ, the Bible, the Cross, the Holy Spirit, etc. They associate with true believers and may go out of their way to appear fundamental and evangelical. Their appearance, their vocabulary, their associations speak of being genuine, yet they are fakes. They are wolves clothed as shepherds.
These false prophets are in churches that we would easily associate with. They work in evangelical churches as Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, board members and even pastors. These false teachers are rarely caught by what they say for they sound very Biblical. They can freely quote the Bible and the arguments for their view often sound very logical. Remember that the context of the Sermon on the Mount is an exposure of the true nature of the Scribes and Pharisees. These were the religious leaders of the day. They were considered to be the supreme examples of godliness. How then can they be identified?
Jesus says in Matthew 7:16-20, “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor fig’s from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”
What fruits? The answer is not difficult though there has been much spilt ink on the subject. Remember that this section of Scripture fits in a context. The immediate context deals with the narrow and wide gates mentioned in verses 13,14. There are true prophets who are calling us to enter the narrow gate that leads to the narrow path that leads to life. But there are also many false prophets located at the wide gate that leads to the broad way that leads to destruction. Many are themselves deceived and with all sincerity they call people into a path that they believe leads to life, but in actuality is the way of destruction. They call to us, “Jesus went this way,” “Paul went this way,” “eternal life is this way.” Though they are wrong, they think they are telling the truth.
The broader context is that of judgement. Remember that subject was introduced at the beginning of the chapter. We are not to be censorious, condemning judges as were the Scribes and Pharisees, yet we are to be discerning and make wise analysis of what is occurring in the lives of others, and respond appropriately. One area of discernment is to beware of false prophets, and that requires judgement on our part regarding who may be a false prophet.
Recall as well that the context of the whole sermon is the nature of true righteousness from the heart as compared to self righteousness as seen in the Scribes and Pharisees. The fruit we are to be looking for is the fruit of righteousness. Do they exhibit by both what they say and what they do the fruit of true righteousness as Jesus has explained all they way through this sermon? In specific, does their character match the Beatitudes? Are they poor in spirit? mournful? meek? hungering and thirsting after righteousness? merciful? pure in heart? and a Biblical peacemaker? How do they respond when they are persecuted? Do they have joy when they suffer for the sake of Christ or do they have an attitude of revenge and plotting how to get even? Do they have an effect on the non-Christian world as salt and light? Do they view themselves in terms of rules and regulations they have kept? ( i.e., I have not murdered anyone, I haven’t committed adultery, I did the proper paper work for my divorce, I have fulfilled my important vows, I have taken out revenge only on those that deserved it, I have loved my neighbor). Or do they live from a heart of righteousness that strives not to hate or lust, to be a godly spouse, whose word is honorable and binding, who is meek and merciful even to those who abuse, and love even their enemies? Do they give to others in order to win their acclaim, or quietly so that God receives the glory? Do they pray so that others will think them pious, or in secret for the purpose of talking with God? Are they anxious about the things of this world because their true master is mammon, or are they at peace trusting in God to provide as they seek first His kingdom and His righteousness? Are they quick to condemn others that do not meet their personal standards, or are they humble in their approach to brothers who are in sin and strive to help them live for Christ?
The good fruit is true righteousness and it can only be borne out of a heart that has been regenerated. The bad fruit is self righteousness. And regardless how much an unregenerate heart may want to produce good fruit, it can only bring forth the corrupt fruit of self righteousness. You can not get righteous fruit from an unrighteous tree. The apostle John put it this way in I John 3:10, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.”
False prophets? They are all around. When you meet people, hear them on the radio, see them on TV, and they claim to speak for God, then you test them. If they prophesy the future, they must be 100% accurate, for anything less proves they are false. Flee from them. If they promote any other God than the Triune Creator God of Scripture, then they are false. Flee from them. If they are not in agreement with what God has revealed about Himself in Scripture, then they are false. Flee from them. This does not mean there can not be legitimate difference in minor points, but they must hold to and teach the true major doctrines of Scripture such as the Triunity of God, the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, the reality of the Holy Spirit as a person, and the substitutionary atonement by the vicarious sacrifice of Christ. God’s holiness and justice must be presented as well as His love and mercy. And finally, they must be living lives that are truly righteous as described in the Sermon on the Mount. I do not mean they are perfect and without sin, but when they do sin there is the true repentance of a person who is poor in spirit and hungering and thirsting after righteousness. If that is not the mark of their lives, then flee from them for they are false, regardless of what else they may say. They are wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing in an attempt to imitate the shepherd. Beware of false prophets. You will know them by their fruits.
In two weeks we will examine what I think is one of the most frightening passages in Scripture, when we see the utter deception that false prophets put upon themselves.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help.
Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon. You can look them up later. 2) Count how many times the term “False prophet” is used in the sermon. Talk with your parents about who false prophets are and what they teach.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Are you on the narrow path or the wide path (Mt. 7:13,14)? What is the greatest threat to your welfare? Why? What is the greatest threat to the church? Why? Explain the warning God gives in Deut. 18:20-22. Does that warning apply in our time? Who follows false prophets? Can some false prophets do “miracles”? If so, where do they get their power? What two tests can you use to find out if someone is a false prophet? Why does God allow false prophets (see Dt. 13:1-3)? What doctrines are so crucial that error in them would result in being a false prophet/teacher? What does it mean that they wear “sheep’s clothing”? Why are they called “ravenous wolves”? What are some cults that you are aware of? Why do you know they are false? Where do the most dangerous false prophets teach? Why are they so dangerous? What is their major and fatal error? What are the “fruits” Jesus says we by which we will know them?
Sermon Notes – 3/28/1999 a.m.
“Beware of False Prophets” – Matthew 7:15-20
Matthew 7:15 (NASB) “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?
Warning of Danger
False Prophets in the Old Testament
Deut. 18-20-22 ‘But the prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.’ 21 “And you may say in your heart, ‘How shall 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.
Isaiah 30:9-11 For this is a rebellious people, false sons, Sons who refuse to listen To the instruction of the Lord; 10 Who say to the seers, “You must not see [visions”;] And to the prophets, “You must not prophesy to us what is right, Speak to us pleasant words, Prophesy illusions. 11 “Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, Let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”
Jeremiah 5:30,31 “An appalling and horrible thing Has happened in the land: 31 The prophets prophesy falsely, And the priests rule on their [own] authority; And My people love it so! But what will you do at the end of it?
False Prophets in the New Testament
2 Peter 2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.
1, 2 & 3 John
2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but [wanting] to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires;
Demonically Empowered False Prophets
Matthew 24:24 “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect.
2 Thess. 2:9 [that is,] the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders,
False Prophets leading to Other Gods
1 John 4:1-3
Two Tests for False Prophets: 1) 100% Accuracy & 2) The God they promote
Prophets in Sheep’s Clothing (vs. 15) cf Zechariah 13:4 & 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
Ravenous Wolves cf. 2 Peter 2:3
Obvious & Identified Cults
The Most Dangerous False Prophets
Knowing Them by their Fruits cf. Matthew 5-6
1 John 3:10 (NASB) By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.
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