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Matthew 7:15-20 meaning

Jesus gives His disciples a warning against false prophets and a test for unmasking them.

The parallel account of Matthew 7:15-20 is found in Luke 6:43-44.

Jesus gives another warning: Beware of the false prophets (v. 15). A prophet is someone who speaks on behalf of God. A false prophet is someone who claims to speak on God's behalf when in reality he is lying. Jesus tells His disciples to Beware of them. Given what Jesus just said about entering through the narrow gate (v. 13), it is natural to assume that false prophets will encourage many to enter the wide gate leading to destruction. Be on the lookout for them and do not listen to what they have to say.

Jesus warns that these false prophets will appear innocent and harmless, they will come to you in sheep's clothing, but they are not harmless (v. 15). Their appearance is deceptive and their effect is deadly. Inwardly they are ravenous wolves (v. 15). These false prophets are looking to take advantage of you. They will destroy and consume your soul to get what they want. Don't let them.

Jesus tells His disciples how to recognize false prophets. Jesus uses a clear parable to teach how they can do this. To recognize false prophets, His disciples will know them by their fruits (v. 16). Fruits is a metaphor for their works or what they produce. It refers to what comes out of their lives.

Christ then further explains the metaphor. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? (v. 16). (The rhetorical answer is "No! Neither grapes nor figs come from thorn bushes or thistles. Grapes come from grape vines and figs come from fig trees.") Assuming this response, Jesus continues with a straight-forward statement. So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit (v. 17). The good and bad trees represent good and bad men, or more specifically true prophets and false prophets. Good men and good prophets produce good fruit (good works). Bad men and false prophets produce bad fruit (bad works). Jesus then states the inverse of this truth. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit (v. 18).

Even though false prophets appear like you, talk like you, pretend to be like you, they are not like you. How can you detect them? Pay attention to their works. You will know them by their fruits (v. 16). If their works are bad, they do not represent God.

Before ending, Jesus adds: every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (v. 19). The remark informs His disciples that God will deal with false prophets. They will not get away with their lies. God will deal with them. He will not allow them to spoil His orchard. He won't even let them continue to take up space within His gardens. He will cut them down and throw them into the fire of His judgment.

Jesus closes the parable by repeating its primary point (which He began with): So then, you will know them by their fruits (v. 20).

This passage is sometimes used to justify judging whether or not a person is a believer in Jesus. "If they don't have good fruits, then they are not a Christian." But this is an incorrect interpretation and application of this scripture. This passage's purpose is to equip disciples with how to recognize and avoid false prophets and false teachers. The fruit test is given only in this context.

This passage does not apply to the general population. It applies to judging teachers, preachers and others who claim to represent or speak on behalf of God. Just a few verses earlier Jesus explicitly condemned judging others (Matthew 7:1-5). He is not reversing Himself here by saying, "Judge others." He is only saying if someone claims to speak for God, then pay attention to what comes out of their lives before following what they say. Test their fruit to see if it is good. If it is rotten, then do not follow them into the fire of God's judgement. It is also important to remember that God Himself is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). And His judgement fire will apply to the deeds of believers at the Judgment Seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

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