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4) Matthew 7 - Danger of False Prophets
THE DANGER OF BEING LED ASTRAY BY FALSE PROPHETS.  Matthew 7:15-20 (Parallel: Luke 6:43-45)

False leaders will hypocritically attempt to infiltrate the flock of God, but their overall conduct will give them away.  
Character and conduct are the final tests of any life and the surest test of any false leader.  Though motives many
times can never be known, the clear evidence of one's deeds is a sure indication of the nature of his heart.

Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, Matthew 24:4-5 and 11, Acts 20:29-30, Romans
16:17-18, 2nd Corinthians 11:13-15, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 2:4 and 8, 2nd Thessalonians 2:3-12, Titus
1:10-11, 2nd Peter 2, 1st John 4:1, 2nd John 7-11, Revelations 2:2, Revelations 19:20.  Examples: Acts 13:6-12, 1st
Kings 13, 1st Kings 22:5-23).  A false prophet is any teacher of false doctrine or any false teacher who unjustly
claims divine inspiration with a view to authenticate his pronouncements.  He pretends to deliver a message from
God but really says what is pleasant to his hearers and profitable to himself (Romans 16:18, Galatians 6:12-13, 1st
Timothy 6:3-5, 2nd Timothy 3:1-19, Titus 1:10-16).  There is no practical difference between a false prophet and a
false teacher, since the one pretends to reveal God's word, while the other pretends to expound and apply it.  
Jesus' word adequately applies to both (Galatians 1:6-9).  What are the presuppositions behind Jesus' warning
against them?
Error is possible in religion:  there is such a thing as objective truth and falsehood or error (Matthew 15:1-20, 1st
Timothy 1:12-17, Acts 18:24-28, Acts 19:1-5, Acts 17:16-34).

Error does matter, because false teachers lead men away from the truth which saves (Matthew 12:30-33, Matthew
10:24-39, Matthew 15:13-14).

Who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.  Why mention "wolves" disguised as sheep?
 Because it is the nature of such hungry wolves to eat sheep.  The man about whom Jesus is talking is not a simple,
self-deceived innocent Christian whose idea of the true doctrine has gotten twisted.  The disguise is deliberate; the
intention was destruction.
Jesus describes the false prophet as a tree whose fruit betrays his real nature.  He could have continued the first
metaphor by saying that a wolf betrays his real nature when he starts attacking the sheep and eating them.  But that
figure would not have been adequate to convey other points of comparison that will be brought out later.  By their
fruits:  not by the leaves of their professions, pretensions or appearances, but by the actual outcome of their lives
(Hebrews 13:7).  By their fruits alone will we know them, not by suspicion or hasty judgment, but by actual fruit, and
this takes time to mature.  Therefore, it requires patience in the fruit inspector.  There is no room in the Lord's
vineyard for over-zealous heresy hunters.

The whole point of the illustration which precedes this utterance of Jesus is that without a good tree there can be no
really good fruit, so a good character is essential to genuinely good conduct.

Another point to be made is the doctrine of the man's message.  A man may be morally sound through and through,
and yet the fruit of his doctrine, when logically worked out in the lives of others, produce evil consequences.  What
are the results of his preaching?  (Romans 16:17-18, 1st Timothy 1:3-7 and 19-20, 1st Timothy 4:1-7, 1st Timothy
6:3-5)  What is the character and conduct of those who follow his teaching?  Therefore, test both the doctrine and
the teacher by the fruit which each produces, as well as by their apparent consistency with Scripture.
Jesus asks two humorous rhetorical questions which put the truth in a more striking form and gets more attention
that if stated simply in an affirmative form:  "Just imagine people going out to a briar patch to pick grapes, or taking
their basket to a clump of thistles expecting to find figs!"  By this illustration, Jesus is saying what every observer of
nature knows:  every plant produces according to its kind.

Matthew 7:17 Two trees of the same species may be identical in every respect but the maturing of the fruit reveals
their true nature.  This general rule is completely applicable to all men, even though the immediate application of
Jesus' mind is to the false teachers.  It is to be noted that false teachers are to be judged.  False teachers are
judged not according to some exceptional rule pertaining to them only, but according to the universal rule which
applies to all.

Matthew 7:19 This warning is apparently more general than the single application to false prophets, but as a
reference to them it serves notice to others not to follow them lest they too share the same fate.
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