Pastor David B. Curtis

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Beware of False Prophets

Matthew 7:15-20

Delivered 05/18/2003

Jesus began chapter 7 of Matthew by saying, "Judge not". He was referring to a self-righteous judgmental attitude, a judgment of the motives of others and a hypocritical judgement. I believe that Jesus says this here because when you are striving to live a righteous, holy life, as Jesus has instructed in the previous chapters, there is a danger of becoming judgmental of anyone who is not.

The context of this section makes it clear that all judging is not forbidden. Believers are to exercise judgment, as verse 6 points out very clearly:

Matthew 7:6 (NKJV) "Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

This command necessitates discernment and judgment, because we must decide who the dogs and swine are. Then in the midst of this context, He commands believers to be persistent in prayer before God (Matthew 7:7-12). Jesus is saying that in order to exercise wisdom and discernment, which can only come from God, believers must be persistently beseeching the throne of grace. Only God can give the wisdom, perception, and understanding that will enable believers to carry out this responsibility. So in the next verse Jesus says:

Matthew 7:7 (NKJV) "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

We are not to pass judgment on a brother with a self-righteous "2X4" in our own eye. We are not to take that which is holy and cast it before dogs. How do we discern this? We are to judge between right and wrong, but not with a judgmental or condemning spirit. This is beyond us, so the Lord says, "Ask." Jesus commands prayer as a duty, as the appointed means of obtaining grace to obey the precepts He has given. We must ask that the Lord will give us wisdom in dealing with our fellow man; that the Lord will give us the right attitude and the Spirit of Christ.

Matthew 7:12 (NKJV) "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

The connecting word "therefore" is Jesus' admonition to hold this "golden rule" in context with the other verses of this section of His "Sermon on the Mount". We must see the meaning in the context with what lays before it. "Therefore" carries us back to the beginning of Chapter 7, considering that we judge others as we would want them to judge us. That is where judgment must begin, putting ourselves in the other man's position. How do I want to be judged? Jesus says that if we pass judgment, it must be on the basis of how we would want to be judged if we were in his place, and he was in ours.

The "Golden Rule" depends on what went before - therefore - on our relationship to God as our Father, who loves us and answers our prayers and gives us good things when we ask him (Matthew 7:9-11). In fact, this is a very profound key to how we are able to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. So God is here upholding the "Golden Rule" by his fatherly provision. His love for us and our trusting, dependant attitude to him is the source of power for living the "Golden Rule".

Matthew 7:13-14 (NKJV) "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 "Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

Jesus could be teaching here that Christianity is a very narrow way; you enter only by faith in Christ alone. This is what the Bible teaches. But I am not convinced that this is what Jesus is teaching in this text. It seems to me that Jesus is not talking about the gate and road to Christianity but to discipleship. Discipleship is a call to forsake all and follow Christ. All Christians are called to be disciples, but many will not pay the price. Discipleship is costly!

I believe that the "narrow and difficult" way is referring to all He has said in this sermon. He is calling us to live radically different lives.

Jesus says, "And few there be that find it." There are many on the broad road, but there are "few" on the narrow and difficult way. Among the many who have trusted Christ, there are few who truly follow Him. The narrow road leads to life. The word "life" as used in our text can refer to a quality of life - that glorious state of unclouded fellowship with God, the heart's being satisfied with Him, the realization of His unspeakable excellency and the fullness of joy there is in His immediate presence. The broad road leads to destruction, misery, pain, turmoil.

Now Jesus gives a warning about false prophets:

Matthew 7:15-20 (NKJV) "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 "Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

There are many godless guides who would lead us to the wide gate, and the way which leads to destruction. The context of our text warns us that the narrow way is difficult, it is difficult to live by the "Golden Rule". And there are false prophet who would lead and encourage you to walk the broad road which leads to destruction.

Jesus says, "Beware of the false prophets." The word translated "beware" is a strong word indicating the need to be on the alert about something. It is a command to give attention and to be watching out for false prophets.

Now, before we go any further, we must understand what a false prophet is. To do that we need to know what a prophet is. If we are going to beware of false prophets, we must first understand what a true prophet is. What is a prophet?

Biblically defined, a prophet is the mouth of God, he is someone who speaks for God:

Exodus 7:1 (NKJV) "So the LORD said to Moses: "See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet."

Aaron was to speak for Moses, who was as God to Pharaoh. Aaron was Moses' mouth, he spoke for Moses. So a prophet is someone who speaks for God.

In the New Testament prophet refers to one who has the insight into divine things and who speaks them forth. Sometimes prophecy was predictive, we see this use in;

Acts 11:27-28 (NKJV) "And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar."

Sometimes it was not predictive, but speaking for God. Not everything Isaiah said was predictive. So prophets gave two kinds of truth, Present and Future. When a prophet spoke of the future, they were to be 100% accurate or they were to die:

Deuteronomy 18:18-22 (NKJV) "I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. 19 'And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him. 20 'But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.' 21 "And if you 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 happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him."

Marvin Vincent says of prophecy, "Prophecy is utterance under immediate divine inspiration; delivering inspired exhortation, instructions or warnings." So, the prophets were inspired revealers of God's teaching to the churches. They told the infant churches what they should do, believe, and teach. When they spoke, they spoke for God so their word had better be headed.

Now that we know what a prophet is, let me ask you this, "Are there prophets today? Are there people today who are speaking under immediate divine inspiration?" No! The prophets were a temporary group. They were around only until the end of the Old Covenant age. That's easy to say, but can we back it up with Scripture? I think we can, look with me at:

1 Corinthians 13:8-10 (NKJV) Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

Paul says here,"Prophecies will fail". The word "fail" is the Greek word katargeo, which means: "to be (render) entirely idle (useless), literally or figuratively to abolish, cease, destroy, do away." Not only does he tell us that prophecy will cease, he also tells us when - "When that which is perfect has come...."

What is "that which is perfect?" This is the crucial phrase in the whole passage. How you interpret verse 8 and verses 11 &12 is all dependent on how you interpret "that which is perfect." So we need to understand this phrase. There are several interpretations attempting to explain the meaning of "that which is perfect."

Some say that "that which is perfect" refers to the completion of the Bible. Some say that "that which is perfect" refers to the rapture of the Church. This is one of the more popular views. Some say "that which is perfect" refers to the maturity of the Church. Another view says it is the Second Coming. Some say it is the coming of the New Heavens and New Earth of Revelation 21 & 22; the New Jerusalem, which is the "perfect."

Now which is it? Is it the completion of the cannon, or the rapture, or the maturing of the church, or the Second Coming, or the New Heavens and New Earth? The answer is-- yes! That which is perfect refers to the maturity of the body at the rapture of the church, which happened at the second coming of Christ, in AD 70; bringing in the New Heavens and New Earth which closed the cannon.

The word "perfect" is the Greek word teleion. The literature of the New Testament usually equates the Greek word teleion with maturity. In its eight occurrences in Paul's epistles, six are translated "mature." The phrase "that which is perfect" is often used in the Greek language to speak of purpose or a goal. In this context, it is the goal of God for the church. What was God's goal for the church?

Romans 8:29 (NKJV) For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

It is that we be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Positionally that took place in AD 70, when the Lord returned, bringing in the New Heaven and Earth where we see Him face to face. So the coming again of our Lord for his people brought them to full maturity and closed the cannon of Scripture. Spiritual gifts were for the purpose of maturing the body, and when the body was completely matured, we no longer needed spiritual gifts:

Ephesians 4:11-13 (NKJV) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

According to this passage, the gifts were to be used to bring the church from a state of infancy to adulthood. The word translated "mature" in verse 13 is the same word used in 1 Corinthians 13:10, teleion. The purpose of spiritual gifts is to build up the body; once the body is mature, we no longer need spiritual gifts. In this passage in Ephesians, maturity is defined as "attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." This happened at the Second Coming.

Can we prove that prophecy ended in AD 70, and thus all the gifts; and that the Lord Jesus Christ returned at that time bringing the church to full maturity? I think we can if we take a close look at some Old Testament verses. Let's start by looking at Daniel chapter 9. In Daniel 9, the 70 years for the Babylonian captivity were just about over.

Daniel 9:1-2 (NKJV) In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the lineage of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans; 2 in the first year of his reign I, Daniel, understood by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem.

In verses 1 & 2, Daniel had calculated the number of years of the Babylonian captivity based upon the prophecy of Jeremiah 29:10. He knew that the time was near, and he went to God in prayer asking God to remember his covenant and restore Israel. The restoration of Israel is at the heart and core of Daniel's prophecy. The angel was sent to speak unto Daniel and this is what he said:

Daniel 9:24 (NKJV) "Seventy weeks are determined For your people and for your holy city, To finish the transgression, To make an end of sins, To make reconciliation for iniquity, To bring in everlasting righteousness, To seal up vision and prophecy, And to anoint the Most Holy."

Daniel was told that 70 weeks had been determined on his people Israel and city Jerusalem. By the end of this prophetic time period God promised that six things would be accomplished. One of the things that Daniel was told would happen by the end of that period was that God would "seal up vision and prophecy". If you have done much studying using commentaries, you know that there is little that Bible scholars agree on. That gives great force to this phrase, which has almost unanimous agreement of Bible scholars across the board. The Hebrew commentaries are in agreement on the meaning of to "seal up vision and prophecy" -- they say it means: "to give or reveal, it is the process of inspiration", but it's not just that, it also means: "to confirm by the fulfilling of the prophecy". Keil and Delitzsch, highly respected Hebrew authorities, state in volume 9 page 344 that "seal up vision and prophecy" means:"Prophecies and prophets are sealed, when by the full realization of all prophecies prophecy ceases, no prophets any more appear." What does "seal up vision and prophecy" mean? Hebrew scholars agree that it means the end and complete fulfillment of all prophecy.

Even John Walvard, who is Mr. Dispensationalists, says this: "Probably 'seal up vision and prophecy' is best understood to mean the termination of unusual direct revelation by means of vision and oral prophecy. To seal means that no more is to be added and that what has been predicted will receive Divine conformation in the form of actual fulfillment."

To "seal up vision and prophecy" clearly means to give prophecy and fulfill it. Daniel's prophecy, then, tells of the time when all prophecy would cease to be given and what had been given would be fulfilled. When would this be? Daniel's vision ends with the destruction of Jerusalem, and we know that that occurred in 70 AD (v26). Let's compare Daniel 9:25-27 with Matthew 24:15 and following where Jesus said the Abomination of Desolation and his coming would occur in his generation.

Daniel 9:25 (NKJV) "Know therefore and understand, That from the going forth of the command To restore and build Jerusalem Until Messiah the Prince, There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, Even in troublesome times. 26 "And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; And the people of the prince who is to come Shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, And till the end of the war desolations are determined.

Who is, "the prince who is to come," of verse 26? Some say this is the beast. But the nearest antecedent for the coming prince in verse 26, would carry us back to the "Messiah the Prince" (verse 25), who was cut off (verse 26). Therefore, Christ becomes the one and only "Prince" in the whole context. The "people of the prince" speaks of the Jewish people who were the ones responsible for the destruction of the city Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70, when all of the facts of biblical and secular history are considered.

Daniel 9:27 Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; But in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, Even until the consummation, which is determined, Is poured out on the desolate."

In the middle of the 70th week, comes the abomination that makes desolate. When this happened, prophecy ceased. We know from the teaching of Jesus when this happened.

Matthew 24:15-16 (NKJV) "Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), 16 "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

The "abomination of desolation" is referring to the Roman army in the holy place, which is the city of Jerusalem.

Matthew 24:21 (NKJV) "For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.

"Then" - being when the Roman armies surrounded and laid siege to Jerusalem in AD 70. There is no tribulation to equal what happened in AD 70, prior to it or after it. The great tribulation is over, it happened in AD 70.

Matthew 24:34 (NKJV) "Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.

Who is the "YOU"? It is Jesus first century disciples (Matthew 24:1-4). "This generation" is the generation that Jesus was speaking to - the first century generation. The generation that was listening to Jesus speak would experience all he had spoken of, including the great tribulation and His Second coming.

So Daniel tells us that his vision ends with the destruction of Jerusalem, which would bring an end to all prophecy. This is exactly what Luke tells us:

Luke 21:20-22 (NKJV) "But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. 21 "Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. 22 "For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.

All prophecy was to cease and be fulfilled by the time Jerusalem was destroyed, which happened in AD 70. What Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 13, is prophecy will end when the perfect comes; this is what Daniel said hundreds of years earlier. Prophecy will cease at the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.

When Jesus spoke these words in Matthew 7, "Beware of false prophets" they were still living in the Old Covenant age: Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed, God was speaking to the infant church through prophets, so they needed to beware that they were not lead astray by false prophets.

Matthew 7:15 (NKJV) "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.

Sheep's clothing is not talking about a wolf with a sheepskin over him so he looks like a sheep. We have this image from the cartoons. When the shepherd watched the flocks on the hillside, his garment was a sheepskin, worn with the skin outside and the fleece inside. This sheepskin mantle become the uniform of the prophets, just as the Greek philosophers had worn the philosopher's robe. It was by that mantle that the prophet could be distinguished from other men. But sometimes that clothing was worn by those who had no right to wear it. There were those who wore the prophet's clothing that were not prophets of God, they were false prophets.

How were the first century believers to distinguish the true prophets from the false?

Matthew 7:16 (NKJV) "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?

What is fruit? I think it is two fold, it can refer to their doctrine. Their fruits are what they say, their words. Look at:

Matthew 12:33-34 (NKJV) "Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or else make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. 34 "Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

If you want to know a false prophet, you can tell he is false by what he says:

1 John 4:1-3 (NKJV) Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

You spot a false prophet by what he says. Out of his heart his mouth speaks.

Paul is also concerned that the Corinthian believers will be led astray by false teachers. So he warns them in:

2 Corinthians 11:3 (NKJV) But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.

He describes these false teachers in:

2 Corinthians 11:13-15 (NKJV) For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.

What does Paul say about how these false apostles look? They looked like the apostles of Christ. It wasn't by looking at them that you could tell they were false.

The word "transform" that Paul uses three times in these verses is the Greek word metaschematizo. This word is used five times in the New Testament. The connotation in all five refers to: "the act of assuming an outward expression that does not come from within." The false apostles were not apostles of Christ, Satan was not an angel of light, and his ministers were not ministers of righteousness. They were all assuming an outward expression that did not come from within. In other words, they looked good, but they were not. So be very careful in judging by appearances.

Jesus ends verse 16 by saying, "Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?" In biblical times in Palestine, there was a thorn bush that produced a berry which at first glance looked like a grape. There was also a thorn bush which had a leaf that from a distance looked like a fig. It was easy to be deceived. But if you examined it closer, you could see that it was not genuine.

So, fruit has to do with their doctrine and I think it also has to do with their Christlikeness. Fruit is not something which is attached to the branch, fastened on from without, but is the organic product of the inner life. Too often attention is directed to the outward services and actions, or the results of these services. Good fruit is a Christlike life produced by Christ through us as we abide in Him:

John 15:4-5 (NKJV) "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

Israel was God's vineyard; notice what the fruit was that He looked for in them:

Isaiah 5:7 (NKJV) For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant. He looked for justice, but behold, oppression; For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.

What God wants from our lives is justice and righteousness. Justice is how we treat our fellow man, the way in which we deal with each other. Righteousness is living in conformity to God's established laws. These are the fruit that God is looking for, and they are produced through us as we abide in Christ.

So they were to know a false prophet by his doctrine and his Christlikeness - was he correct in his doctrine of Christ and did his life reflect Christ?

Matthew 7:17-19 (NKJV) "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

If you trace this idea of being "thrown into the fire" in Matthew, it is clear that it is referring to the destruction of Jerusalem at the end of the age:

Matthew 3:10-12 (NKJV) "And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 "I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 "His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Matthew 13:40-42 (NKJV) "Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 "The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 "and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

When was this to happen? "At the end of this age" - what age was "this age"? It was the Old Covenant Age, the Jewish age. The New Covenant age has no end.

Matthew 13:49-50 (NKJV) "So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, 50 "and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth."

The judgement on Jerusalem was at the end of the age. Those who were trying to turn believers away from Christ would suffer God's wrath.

The Old Testament teaches us that false prophets deny unpleasant subjects such as impending judgment . Speaking of false prophets, Jeremiah said:

Jeremiah 6:14 (NKJV) They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, Saying, 'Peace, peace!' When there is no peace.

It is characteristic of false prophets to preach a message people want to hear. They teach that the broad road does not lead to destruction. I believe that the "false prophets", that Jesus is speaking of, were leading people away from the gospel and back to the Old Covenant law.

How can we apply this today? Since there are no prophets today, it should be real easy to spot a false prophet. We need to beware of teachers who are not teaching according to the Word of God. We need to be on guard against those who would lead us down the broad road that leads to destruction. There are multitudes of teachers that are wrong in their doctrine of Christ and are not living a Christlike life. As believers, we are to guard our lives by comparing everything that is taught with the Word of God.

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