Matthew 7: Beware the poisonous vipers. False prophets vs. true prophets; how to tell the difference. What is ‘fruit’?


True Prophets and false prophets. The Bible speaks of both. How can we tell the difference? Not every person who calls themselves an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher is from God. Jesus commanded basically that we are to not trust everybody who claims to speak for God, even pastors or people who look harmless, but to test the spirits – it’s a command: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

What does ‘beware’ mean?

be·ware/biˈwe(ə)r – verb: Be cautious and alert to the dangers of

“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS”’ (Matthew 7:16-23).

What makes a prophet true or false? We see in the Bible that after Christ was raised from the dead, there have been both true Prophets of God in Christ’s Body, the church (Ephesians 4; Acts 11:27; Acts 21:11; 1 Corinthians 14:29-32) and false prophets (Christ warned about them extensively). Remember, Jesus said ‘beware the false prophets’. He never said ‘beware the prophets’! There was a reason for that because in Scripture we see there were prophets and prophetesses in the churches after Christ was risen. True and false prophets have always been contemporaries for centuries – it’s in the Bible – both Old and New Testaments. Remember 1 Kings 18:22, “Then said Elijah unto the people, I, even I only, remain a prophet of the LORD; but Baal’s prophets are four hundred and fifty men”.

Here are some warning signs. Jesus said we are supposed to “beware” of the false prophets, and the Bible speaks of false apostles, false teachers, and of course…there can be false pastors as well (John 10:13)! There are many false shepherds these days; whatever self-appointed title they claim does not matter. The Bible speaks throughout the Old Testament and New Testament about false shepherds (for example, Jeremiah 23). There are a few major signs of a false prophet, someone who you should not follow or have anything to do with.  That includes sitting under their teaching, reading their books and listening to their shows.

So, if we will know them by their “fruit”, what is “fruit”?  Fruit is not only the fruit of the Spirit as seen in Galatians chapter five (even Mormons and atheists can seem to have the fruit of the Spirit, and be loving and kind people).  The fruit is also ‘righteousness and truth’, and last but certainly not least: doctrinal fruit. I have known many Mormons who are more kind than many Christians. This is where many people fail to use the correct test. Doctrinal fruit is absolutely crucial in determining true or false prophets. Furthermore, false prophets will not accept correction from the Word. They resist it. There are some sure signs that we must pay attention to before we start following someone’s teachings, reading their books, and attending their church:

– They would appear as harmless sheep, disguised as harmless, maybe even with many good deeds. They would be nice, harmless-looking, even humble people! We cannot trust people only because they carry a Bible, go on mission trips around the world, win converts, sell a lot of books, hold doors open for old ladies, hold massive revivals or do good deeds. “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).

– They would arise from the very churches we attend! They are not only the “obvious” false religions, like Jehovah’s Witness and Mormonism, but would be disguised even in our midst as ‘workers of righteousness’. They may even teach on false religions, in order to look true. “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). “So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. In the end they will get the punishment their wicked deeds deserve” (2 Cor. 11:15).

– They would distort/twist the Truth. Many may not recognize it and be deceived and follow their shameful ways. “Many will follow their evil teaching and shameful immorality. And because of these teachers, the way of truth will be slandered” (2 Peter 2:2).

– They will not create a scene. They will appear to be peaceful, like sheep. They will not be bothered by error. They may be spoken well of and be popular: “How terrible it will be for you when everyone says nice things about you, because that’s the way their ancestors used to treat the false prophets!” (Luke 6:26). TRUE PROPHETS ARE OFTEN DESPISED, AND VERY MUCH PERSECUTED, AS THE APOSTLE PAUL SAID GODLY PEOPLE WOULD (2 TIMOTHY 3:12). “God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way” (Matthew 5:11).

– Their words will be contrary to Christ’s teaching and God’s Word, their teachings will be thoughtless and careless, and perhaps based on traditions of men and doctrines from demons that oppose the Word. It will all be wrapped in a pretty, sheep-like package. “You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matthew 12:34). TRUE PROPHETS, PASTORS AND TEACHERS WILL SPEAK FORTH THE PURE WORD OF GOD, NOT ONLY FROM THE PULPIT ONLY IN AN EFFORT TO APPEAR TO BE TRUE, BUT ALWAYS. TRUE SHEPHERDS WILL NOT CHANGE AROUND AND TWIST GOD’S WORDS AND TEACHINGS TO SUIT THEIR OWN FLESHLY DESIRES OR FOR FAME OR GAIN. TRUE PROPHETS ARE OPEN TO CORRECTION. TRUE PROPHETS WILL POINT TO CHRIST AND GOD, AND WILL HONOR THE WORD OF GOD ALWAYS IN THEIR PUBLIC AND PRIVATE DEALINGS. TRUE SHEPHERDS WILL NOT TEACH “STRANGE DOCTRINES” (1 TIMOTHY 1:3) BUT WILL TEACH SOUND BIBLICAL DOCTRINE (1 TIMOTHY 6:3). THEY WILL NOT PREACH ANOTHER JESUS OR SPIRIT (2 COR. 11:4).

– They lead many to hell; they are blind. They are deceived. But they may look and be sincere! “Then Jesus gave the following illustration: ‘Can one blind person lead another? Won’t they both fall into a ditch?'” (Luke 6:39).

– They speak nice-sounding things that sound like truth, but are super deceptive – even to sincere Christians. They are deceived themselves and are “phony preachers” going from bad to worse (2 Tim. 3:13, nlv). They may be sincere. Sincere people have misled many. Their lies are so clever and satan-inspired, that their clever speeches even sound like truth even to Christians! “I say this so that no one will mislead you with nice-sounding rhetoric” (Colossians 2:4). “Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth” (Ephesians 4:14, nlv).

– They practice lawlessness, and false teaching, bad doctrinal fruit and an unwillingness to be corrected by the Bible is lawlessness, and therefore will be rejected by Christ, despite the fact that they may even do miracles and cast out demons. “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS’” (Matthew 7:16-23).

– They may or may not call themselves a ‘prophet’. There are many false prophets who go by the name of ‘pastor’, ‘evangelist’, ‘teacher’, etc.

– A true prophet’s predictions will come to pass, and if timing is provided, will come to pass at that time (like the famine that Agabus predicted by the Spirit; also see Acts 21:11). However, relying on someone only because their predictions come true is still not the only valid test.

False teachers need to be named and exposed to protect the flock. They are dangerous and poisonous – isn’t that why the Bible calls them “vipers”? If we find we are teaching false things and misleading others, we must repent and turn to God!

Remember doctrinal fruit. Further scriptures:
Romans 16:17; 2 Corinthians 11:4; 1 Timothy 1:3; 1 Timothy 6:3

The above is not an exhaustive list of Biblical tests, but is what I have learned this far. I hope what I have learned can be passed on to edify and teach the Body of Christ.

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