by Mike Ratliff
4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. 6 “You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 “But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs. 9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 “At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 “Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12 “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. 13 “But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 14 “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. Matthew 24:4-14 (NASB)
When I encounter those whose theology and eschatology has been colored by presuppositions, philosophies, and the teachings of some theologians that the Church’s main function is to establish and prepare God’s Kingdom here on this Earth so the Lord will return and to claim it, I wonder how seriously these people take Scripture passages such as Matthew 24:4-14 (above). These same people are all about making secular culture conform to Christianity. I find it very difficult to line that up with what our Lord said in Matthew 24 about what things would be like before he actually did return. What is the reality? Will the Church totally take over the world in this age? From what I have studied in the New Testament, the Church is a called out “congregation” of people that are despised, persecuted, and put to death for their faith as they live for the glory of their Lord in this life. The point of that is to attain a greater resurrection in the next age. Let’s see what our Lord said about the reality of what we have to deal with in this age as the Church.
15 Προσέχετε ἀπὸ τῶν ψευδοπροφητῶν, οἵτινες ἔρχονται πρὸς ὑμᾶς ἐν ἐνδύμασιν προβάτων, ἔσωθεν δέ εἰσιν λύκοι ἅρπαγες. 16 ἀπὸ τῶν καρπῶν αὐτῶν ἐπιγνώσεσθε αὐτούς. μήτι συλλέγουσιν ἀπὸ ἀκανθῶν σταφυλὰς ἢ ἀπὸ τριβόλων σῦκα; 17 οὕτως πᾶν δένδρον ἀγαθὸν καρποὺς καλοὺς ποιεῖ, τὸ δὲ σαπρὸν δένδρον καρποὺς πονηροὺς ποιεῖ. 18 οὐ δύναται δένδρον ἀγαθὸν καρποὺς πονηροὺς ποιεῖν οὐδὲ δένδρον σαπρὸν καρποὺς καλοὺς ποιεῖν. 19 πᾶν δένδρον μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν ἐκκόπτεται καὶ εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται. Matthew 7:15-19 (NA28)
15 “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but within are ravenous wolves. 16 By their fruits you will know them. Are grapes gathered from thorns or figs from thistles? 17 So every good tree produces good fruit, but the rotten tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree is not able to produce bad fruit nor is a rotten tree able to produce good fruit. 19 Every tree not producing good fruit is cut off and is thrown into the fire. Matthew 7:15-19 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)
Who are false prophets? Why are they false prophets? Our Lord says that they come to the Church to deceive, but not disguised as a fellow sheep, but by impersonating true shepherds. They are false prophets because their “message” or “theology” or “ministry” or a combination of those things promote the wide gate and the wide way that our Lord warned us about in Matthew 7:13-14.
13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14 (NASB)
True prophets, true shepherds do the opposite. They care for the sheep. They evangelize and preach the Word and all of that works to direct the sheep to the narrow gate and the narrow way and away from the wide gate and the wide way. The reference to the false prophets wearing “sheep’s clothing” in v15 refers to the woolen attire that was what the shepherds of our Lord’s day wore.
Much has been speculated by what our Lord was referring to about the fruit in v16. Below is Matthew 3:5-10. Read it carefully.
5 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 10 The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Matthew 3:5-10 (NASB)
Proper shepherding by God’s servants, not these false shepherds, leads to their sheep producing the “fruit worthy of repentance.” This is the working out of one’s salvation as he or she is transformed through the renewing of their minds by being a living sacrifice, taking up their own cross and following Jesus. This develops the mind of Christ in the Christian and leads to holy living and walking in repentance. On the other hand the ministries of the false prophets are not of God and so cannot restrain the flesh. Therefore, these false prophets manifest wickedness (2 Peter 2:12-22).
Now, carefully read Matthew 7:17-19. Our Lord is very specific here. In God’s Kingdom, the only thing these “bad trees” are good for is to be burned. Also, bad trees do not produce good fruit. They are incapable of it, but the good tree always does. Why is this true? Who is the one working in and through the ministry of the good shepherds, the servants of our Lord who preach the Word and care for the sheep? God does and he does not fail.
In this age of darkness and deception, the false prophets seem to be those with the large churches and big crowds and it is as if people just line up to be deceived by them. However, we must not become discouraged. Our Lord has never forsaken his Church and those of us who know him and serve him and see the truth of the apostasy all around us must seek peace and joy from him alone as we submit to the refining fires of sanctification knowing that we are fully justified in Christ by faith.
Soli Deo Gloria!