“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
Verses 16 to 20 deal with exposure of false teachers. Jesus now distinguishes the “two ways” of verses 13 and 14. The “broad road” preachers are “false prophets.”
“Beware of false prophets,
A basic value of Christianity is to be on the alert about false prophets. The Greek expresses the idea of constant diligence: “be continually on guard against.” False teachers always appear appealing. “False prophets” are those who appear to teach the Bible with authority yet are fakers.
who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
False teachers appear as sheep, a non-threatening figure. Sheep are harmless. Although they appear non-threatening, they are “ravenous wolves.” False teachers are exceedingly dangerous. The Greek for “ravenous” is wild, greedy, preying. These are wolves ready to attack sheep by preying on them with false teaching.
You will know them by their fruits.
Different fruit manifest different characteristics. We recognize false teachers by what they teach. We distinguish false from true prophets by how they teach the Word of God. The word “know” is to know fully. We know them fully by what they teach.
Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?
Now we come to the two trees demonstration of mutually exclusive truth. Thornbushes do not produce grapes and thistles do not produce figs. The Greek answers with “no.” Trees always produce consistently with what they are.
Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
A healthy tree produces good fruit but an unhealthy tree produces poor fruit. The species always produces a specimen in kind.
A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.
This principle is true in the world of natural fruit bearing and it is true in the spiritual dimension. We test true teaching by “good fruit”—truth true to the Word of God.
To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. Is 8:20
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
As the farmer throws unhealthy trees into the fire to be burned, so God throws false teaching into the fire. Jesus could not have given a sterner warning about false teaching.
Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
We detect false teachers by what they teach, that is, their doctrine.
The acid test to lay bare false teachers is by what they teach.
False prophets look like sheep; they look like evangelicals but they are not. These people always appear biblical and seem to say the right things. They talk and act like true Christians, but underneath they carry false teaching to the church. Since they are attractive to untaught people, their work is disastrous to the church. We need to stand on guard against these people.
For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Ac 20:29
There are many wolves in sheep’s clothing today teaching all manner of unbiblical ideas. The evangelical sheep fall for it because of poor teaching and unwillingness to take the initiative to know what the Bible says. They fall for the appearance of authenticity rather than the real thing. Many false teachers have come as insiders to traffic in the evangelical world, bringing destructive teaching to the church. Many come with the idea that all that we need is personal authenticity rather than biblical authenticity; it is exceedingly dangerous to make this distinction.
Many false teachers in the church today no longer believe in justification by faith, in hell, or in the inerrancy of Scripture. They make a paradigm shift in category away from evangelicalism by redefining what evangelism is. This is best seen in the radical form of the emergent church movement.