Bible Reference: Matthew 7.15-20.
This teaching is labeled “A Tree and Its Fruit” (NIV). Jesus began with “Watch out for false prophets” (Matthew 7.15 NIV). Then, he told hearers the reason for his warning: false prophets were ferocious wolves that acted like gentle sheep. The good news was that people could recognize false prophets by their fruit—by looking at both their words and actions. Just as a man can’t pick figs from a thistle, neither can a false prophet produce good fruit. False prophets could appear humble and mild like Jesus, or even blunt and rough like John the Baptist; yet, their words are filled with lies.
When Jesus compared words of false prophets to thistles, he was teaching in Galilee. Primarily, his listeners were from rural areas and small towns. They had experience growing and picking figs and grapes. They knew about productive and non-productive trees and plants, including thistles. They were well aware that thistles could be attractive to the eye, but had little value.
The plant associated with the thistle in Matthew 7.15-20 is the Centaurea iberica, known as the Spanish thistle or Iberian star thistle. The Spanish thistle grows in Israel from the northern Golan and Hermon areas, through the central mountains and plains including the Mediterranean coast, to the northern Negev Desert area. Spanish star thistle is an invasive plant that replaces pasture lands and displaces forage for livestock. The plant’s sharp spines impede recreational use and restrict access by wildlife. Seeds are spread by livestock, vehicles, equipment, and contaminated hay and seed crop. Seeds can be transported on clothes.
Jesus told followers that both plants and prophets could be recognized by what they produce. When we recognize someone, we are familiar with them, distinguish them from others, and comprehend what they do and say. God gave some guiding principles to differentiate between a true versus a false prophet.
1. A true prophet acknowledges that the historic Jesus is the son of God. When prophets, pastors, or theologians say that it isn’t important whether Jesus was truly God or in some way deny the deity of Jesus, they are false prophets.
2. True prophets read and obey God’s word. They preach the Bible because it contains God’s truths for personal salvation and for successful everyday life. Believers need to discerningly read the scriptures so they don’t get taken in by words of false prophets.
3. False prophets are recognized by sin in their lives. A prophet who breaks God’s commandments consistently and without repentance is a false prophet.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlined expectations for followers. Today’s false prophets contend that these standards are unrealistic; they are so high that people can’t meet them. False prophets argue these moral-ethical standards that Jesus described will only be achieved when Jesus returns to earth the second time. Prophets or pastors who advocate this view are denying Jesus’s teachings. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus outlined how individuals should live now, not in the new heaven and the new earth. False prophets commit sin, then and now, when they deny God’s word.
Reflection: List at least four activities/behaviors in your life that you could or will change so others more consistently recognize Jesus’s teachings in your life.