“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 thornbushes, 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” (Matthew 7:15-20).

Jesus’ words presume that false teachers were already present. He was more than likely, based upon His harsh criticism of them, including the Pharisees among them (In Matthew 15 He calls them hypocrites and blind guides). Beyond that, when He is asked by His disciples about the end of the age, Jesus tells them of false teachers to come; “and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:11-13). References to false teachers appear in nearly all of the New Testament books. John also indicates the increase of false teacher predicates the nearing of the end (1 John 2:18).

Another assumption in this passage is that, as opposed to false teaching, there is true teaching. God’s word contains objective truth and, for the most part, we are able to discern that truth. There will always remain a remnant of teachers that study, learn, and teach the true message of our King and His Word. Sadly, their number is diminishing as the contemporary consumerized church has shown much evidence of Timothy’s prophecy – “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). A man-centered theme and secular psychology are superimposed over God’s word in such a way that current teaching rarely reflects the kind of challenging and deep truth that the Sermon on the Mount reveals.

Jesus says these false teachers look innocent enough (like sheep) but  really are inwardly evil (like ferocious wolves). This suggests an outward form of godliness but a lack of heart-righteousness. In essence their words sound good but their motives are not pure. Like the Pharisees they look beautiful on the outside inside but are filled with dead men’s bones on the inside (see Matthew 23:27).  And because they often look and sound religious the scripture indicates they will be popular (“many will follow their ways”). But beware – they are cloaked in deceptive garb! Through the Holy Spirit one must be discerning and peer below the surface of these false teacher’s outward appearance, teaching, and ministries.

How then will we identify them? Not by the number of followers, adherents, book-buyers, or church members they have. Not by the size of their building, ministry budget, the number of “healings” or baptisms. How then? Obviously by the scriptural accuracy of their doctrine. But also, according the Jesus here, by the fruit of their characters and lives! Paul depicts them this way – “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud …without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God– having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

Jesus warns of the false teacher’s eventual destruction. In a very frightening and graphic description He says they will be cut down and thrown into the fire serving us all with notice as to the consequences of false teaching and the following of false teachers.  Peter says it this way:

“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them–bringing swift destruction on themselves.  Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping” (2 Peter 2:1-3).

The Kingdom of Heaven is about truth – the truth of Jesus and His teachings. This passage should be a sobering reminder that there are those who do not teach the truth of the Kingdom. It also suggests that we are responsible to test the teachings and fruit of all so that we are not led to destruction by the false teachers and doctrines that so many follow. I believe that our King would have us to be as vigilant as the Bereans – “,  “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11).