In this series we have been looking at the Matthew 7 which is the closing of the Sermon on the Mount. We looked at Jesus’ warning about self righteousness, how ask, seek and knock works in the Kingdom and the truth of the narrow and wide paths. Today I want to continue to look at what Jesus says directly following that.
Here is the section we are looking at
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them.Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
Let’s think for a bit on the idea of the false prophets. What is a false prophet?
There are at the least two kinds. There are the ones within the Church (or at Jesus’s time the the Jewish religion) and there are those who are secular or of false religions that also say that they lead to life to the full using their way. If you follow either one, they can lead you off of the narrow path because they are not on it. In fact they can lead the already faithful off the narrow path and they can keep people who are on the wide path from entering the narrow one.
I believe in context here Jesus is mainly referring to the first kind. He is talking about many of the religious leaders of the day, for example the pharisees and sadducees among others. They are leaders who profess the religion but lead in bad directions. They take things that are true and twist them into some other truth. In many ways as someone trying to enter in the narrow gate these are the most dangerous because they profess to be leading us there using our own language. They don’t deny or twist the whole thing, just certain parts of it. They are not obedient to the teachings of Jesus, or at least some teachings of Jesus, but yet they claim Him.
These prophets ignore or change orthodox beliefs. Their end goal is not the Kingdom as it is set up by Jesus but some other Kingdom that sounds similar. In this way they can lead people who do desire the narrow path to the wrong one. A lot of times this happens when they get locked in on only one or certain parts of Jesus’ teaching instead of all of it. I want to say that they are not always intentionally leading people astray although there are certainly those who are doing it on purpose for their own benefit.
At the risk of hacking people off, here are some examples (not an exhaustive list): The Prosperity Gospel preachers, The Christian Nationalism people, people who use it to uphold prejudice against certain ethnic groups, those that use it to diminish sexual or other moral truths of the faith. Often this has to do with using it for power or to cover for sins they don’t want to be sins.
The second group are a much wider group of people. These could be either religious or secular. These are prophets in our culture that don’t really come from a Christian worldview at all (although in certain cases they may use some of the language that the Church uses). These are leaders who say there is another way to the truth and life other than Jesus. They promise a utopia of sorts but the path they lead to is not the Christian one.
They suggest a path that is different. Some suggest a governmental or societal ordering path. Others suggest a formula for personal advancement or a particular style of living. Some may even suggest other deities or spiritual activities. They often are leaders of movements. This is not to say that all of their ideas are bad. We are after all created in the image of God and have some good things in us. But they are not leading toward Jesus. None require submission to His Lordship.
These worldviews are often attractive because they sound good or true. They may seem congruent with our experiences. They often seem like they would allow us more freedom in our personal life. They may even in some cases be well intentioned so to speak. But again, they don’t lead towards Jesus or the Kingdom.
Again at the risk of making people uncomfortable here are some examples (not an exhaustive list): Wicca, cults, occult practices, eastern mysticism, self help gurus, marxism, fascism, the new atheists, and those in the spiritual but not religious movement. These all promise a path to better life.
Jesus says that we can know that all of these are false prophets (religious and non) by their fruit. Some of that fruit is harder to see than others but we can indeed see it. Some of the fruit is pretty obvious. At the very least we can see that they don’t lead towards the complete teaching of Jesus. They don’t lead to the fruits of the Spirit. They don’t lead to the dignity and worth of all humanity. They subvert the lordship of God. Some are completely anti-Chrisitan while others are imitations.
What they are though is appealing at some level. If they weren’t appealing then Jesus would not feel the need to warn us of them. We all need to watch out for them and avoid being sucked into following them.