False teachers (Matthew 7:15-25)


Jesus informs his disciples that false teachers will look good because they wear sheep’s clothing. The danger is in their hearts. Yet how can we know false prophets since we cannot read their hearts. Jesus points out that we can know them by their fruits, which is another way of describing their followers. Their followers will be spiritually unhealthy. 

How can we discover the unhealthy fruit? Jesus says that we should not focus on what they say about him, but on how they react to his teaching about discipleship. He mentions that they will call him Lord quite earnestly (they say the title twice), but that in itself is not evidence that they are healthy. In addition, there must be submission to the revealed will of Jesus, which he calls here the will of his Father in heaven.

In verses 21-23, Jesus may be describing the false prophets themselves or he may be referring to both them and their followers. We are not meant to read those comments about prophesying and casting out demons, and then try and work out which groups today engage in those practices, and then condemn them. After all, Jesus and his disciples also did those activities. What we are seeing here is the solemn fact that those not connected to Jesus can do things that give the impression initially that they are serving Jesus.

Those persons are described by Jesus in two ways. One is that they are workers of lawlessness, which is another way of saying that they do not do his revealed will for his disciples. We have seen in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus prioritised the state of the heart. If the heart is not right, outward actions are meaningless.

The Saviour also mentioned that he will say to such persons on the Day of Judgement that he never knew them. He did not say that he did not know about them. From that point of view he knew everything about them. What he meant was that he and they did not have an intimate relationship. At as basic level, they had not spent time together. True disciples experience his presence as they read his Word, pray and obey his will. They have his company at such times and it can be said of them that he knows them very well from regular contact with him.

The obvious feature that stands out in this section of the passage is the emptiness of a merely external religion, even when right words are said and right actions are performed. Instead the question is, How well do I know Jesus by experience and how well does he know us by intimate contact?

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