Sheep, Wolves, Trees and Fruit: A Warning about False Teachers - Matthew 7:15-20

Back to Message Archive



In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus tells us about two paths and He calls us to enter the path with the narrow gate. This path is narrow and hard, but it’s the path that leads to life.

In verse 15 Jesus issues a warning, but it’s a warning that is connected to the teaching of the two paths. Jesus wants us to know that there will be many who will come along and teach things that aren’t true. While there is only one path that leads to life – there will be those who suggest otherwise.

In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus calls on His people, those who are on the narrow way, to watch out for those who would teach things contrary to the truth. This is a call and a responsibility that must be heard and obeyed for the sake of those who would be led astray.

A Four-Part Conclusion

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has been teaching us what it looks like to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God, but as He brings the sermon to a close, He shifts His focus slightly. He ends His sermon with a four-part conclusion about entrance into the Kingdom of God. 

His conclusion is made up of four parts – and each part reveals a contrast.  First, He speaks of two different paths (7:13-14) and then two different kinds of fruit (7:15-20). Third, He addresses two different professions of faith (7:21-23) followed by two different kinds of builders who build on different foundations (7:24-27).

While each of these contrasts emphasizes something slightly different, they all tell us something about entrance into the Kingdom of God, who will be welcomed and who will be excluded. 

The Warning – Beware of False Prophets (7:15)

  • A call to pay attention – When Jesus says, ‘beware’, this is a call to watch out, to be on guard, to pay attention. He wants us to recognize that there will be those who will be teaching things contrary to truth and it’s our responsibility to be aware.
  • An important warning – The importance of this warning is rooted in what’s at stake. For those who could be led astray by false prophets this is a matter of eternal significance.
  • A common warning – This important warning from Jesus is one that we have repeated often. The reality of false teachers is a subject Jesus returns to over and over (e.g., Matthew 15:14; 24:3-11). It’s also something we read about regularly in the rest of the New Testament (e.g., Romans 16:17-18; 2 Peter 2:1-3).
  • A specific warning – While the New Testament has a lot to say about false teachers, this particular warning is about a specific kind of false teacher – those who blend in and are difficult to recognize.
  • Wolves as sheep – The difficulty of identification – Jesus uses a metaphor to illustrate the subtlety of false teachers. While they are wolves who are anxious to devour sheep, they come in disguised as sheep. This is something else that we are told regularly in the Scriptures: that false teachers are uniquely dangerous, while at the same time skilled at blending in with those around them (Acts 20:28-30; Jude 3-4; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

The Test – You will know them by their fruits

  • The question – After hearing of the difficulty of identifying false prophets the natural question becomes, how then will we recognize them? Jesus answers with a second metaphor. How do we recognize wolves among the flock? We will recognize them by their fruit.
  • The metaphor – Two kinds of trees and two kinds of fruit – In this metaphor Jesus tells of two trees that look outwardly the same, and yet are very different. One is healthy and the other is diseased. The way to distinguish between the two is by their fruit – the healthy tree will produce good fruit and the diseased tree bad fruit – and the results are always consistent.
  • Understanding the metaphor – What Jesus is teaching us is that those who teach things contrary to the truth will also have lives that are at odds with the truth. So, the way we identify false teachers is by examining the fruit of their lives. Their lives will always reflect, eventually, what is true of their hearts (Mt. 12:33-37; Gal. 5:19-24). 
  • The fate of the bad tree – Trees that produce bad fruit will be recognized, and in the end, they will be destroyed. This is yet another teaching that is regularly repeated – those who deny and oppose the truth will be judged by God. 

Conclusion – As the people of God we should be people who know and love the truth, and we must also be ever ready to recognize those who would teach things contrary to the truth. As we recognize false teachers and their false teaching, we will be protecting both ourselves and others.