False Prophets

Matthew 7:15-20


Dr. John Hoole

Dec. 31, 2017 & Jan. 7, 2018



In November 1978, the nations and the world were jolted during an unforgettable few days by news reports which described the horrible events occurring in the remote jungle of Guyana, South America.  Do you remember the events?


Jim Jones had always wanted to be remembered in history, and that wish was fulfilled before our very eyes in one of the most gruesome tragedies of modern times.  That small jungle encampment – called Jonestown – was named after a man who, up to that time, was no more familiar to Americans than John Doe.  But the place he ran soon became forever etched in the minds of millions as a place where more than 900 men, women and children had experienced the ultimate form of cultic victimization.


We are in the process of studying the final section of the Sermon on the Mount.  It is here that Jesus admonishes his listeners to now apply what He had just taught them.  He presses them to make some crucial decisions.


For the remainder of His message, Jesus places before us several sets of choices.  In each set, he gives us two, and only two, possible alternatives between which we must choose.  As Jesus sets the choices before his audience, He instructs us which of the two alternatives would be the right one.


After giving the invitation to “enter by the narrow gate,” – that is, to come to God by the only way He has provided, Jesus warns us that not everyone who claims to belong to God and to speak for Him actually does.


There will always be those who stand near the gate to the narrow road, or alongside the narrow road, trying to convince people from continuing on the “straight and narrow.”  Jesus warns his followers to be alert to the continual presence of these people.


The unprecedented media exposure given Jonestown alerted Americans to the fact that seemingly beneficent religious groups can mask something hellishly rotten.




                   1.      New Agers                      In its many forms.

                                                                   Such as “Channelers”….like J.Z. Knight


                   2.      Heaven’s Gate                Founded and led by Marshall Applewhite

                                                                   39 suicides on March 23, 1997

                                                                   They believed they would have a rendezvous with a UFO


                   3.      Aum Shinri Kyo               Founded in 1987 by Shoko Asahara.

                             (“Supreme Truth”)          Known for their nerve gas attack on a Japanese subway train.

                                                                   On March 20, 1995


                   4.      Branch Dividians            David Koresh (Waco Siege Feb. 28 to April 19, 1993.


In 2000, a “Christian” doomsday cult surpassed the record number of deaths held by Jonestown.  The group was known as “The movement for the restoration of the Ten Commandments of God”.  They were located in Uganda, Africa.


The group had compounds over a 50 mile area, making it difficult to assess how many died, but as of April 3, 2000, 924 bodies have been counted.  Most of the leaders of this cult were ex-Catholics, who had been excommunicated from that church for their beliefs.


Although Jim Jones often masqueraded as a “fundamental” or “evangelical” Christian he, in fact, preached another Jesus and another gospel than taught in the Bible.


Many times we find the Scriptures warning us against those who teach a false gospel.  Now, let’s read that portion of Scripture.


Matthew 7:15-20 NKJV


5       Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.

16     You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?

17     Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.

18     A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.

19     Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

20     Therefore by their fruits you will know them.


There will always be those who stand near the gate to the narrow road, or alongside the narrow road, trying to convince people from continuing on the “straight and narrow.”  Jesus warns his followers to be alert to the continual presence of these people.


Let’s start our study of this Passage with some discussion.  Look over this passage and tell me:




“every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit”  Each of us are represented by one tree or the other.


Jesus is warning those who were listening to him on the side of the mountain.  But He was also warning all his followers who would come after them to be aware of the presence of false teachers.  There is no sense in putting on your gate the notice “beware of the dog” if all you have is a cat and a parakeet.  No – Jesus is warning of false prophets because they already existed.


In the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is speaking to his followers.  If we were safe from them, then why the warning?


This is not to say that we can be judgmental or critical.  We will talk about how to examine fruit later.


The very notion of the existence of “false” prophets is meaningless otherwise.


They will look just like one of the sheep.


“Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”



As I said earlier, we find the Scriptures many times warning us against those who teach a false gospel.  Nearly every letter in the New Testament warns us of them.  Different terms are used to describe them.


Jesus refers to them elsewhere as “blind leaders of the blind.”  They are called “pseudo-prophets” (Gk. = pseudoprophetes) here and in other places, presumably because they claim divine inspiration.  Other times they are called “pseudo-apostles,” because they claimed apostolic authority (2 Corinthians 11:13)Or they are called “pseudo-teachers” (2 Peter 2:1)…..or even “pseudo-Christs.”


Jesus Himself said that the presence of False Prophets would increase as we get closer to His return.


Matthew 24:24 NKJV


24     For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.


Galatians 1:8-9 NKJV


8       But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed.

9       As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.


Peter likewise warns us about those who distort the Scriptures to their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16)


2 Timothy 4:2-4 NKJV


2       Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

3       For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;

4       and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.


In 2 Corinthians 11:4, Paul again speaks of those who are deceived by false doctrine into accepting another Jesus, another gospel, and another spirit.


When people come along purporting to be a vessel chosen by God to teach the truth, how are we to know what to believe about them?  Christ answers that question in the Passage under our consideration today.


But before we address what Christ tells us on how we can distinguish the preacher of a false gospel from the one who speaks the true gospel, I want to discuss two issues.



Why would people fall for a David Koresh?  How could people be taken in by a Jim Jones?  One writer observed: “The greater tragedy of Jonestown was not that nearly a thousand people died, but that they died believing they were serving God.


I am reminded of a story told by Chuck Swindoll.  He tells of an elegant reception in a physician’s home near Miami.  “Unbeknownst to any of the guests, dog food was served on delicate little crackers with a wedge of imported cheese, bacon chips, an olive, and a sliver of pimento on top.  That’s right – it was hors d’oeuvres ‘a la Alpo.’


“The hostess is a first-class nut!  She had just finished graduating from a gourmet cooking course.  So she decided it was time to put her skills to the ultimate test.  Did she ever.  After putting these morsels on a couple of silver trays with a sly grin she watched them disappear.  One guy couldn’t get enough and kept coming back for more.”


Ever since hearing this story – and Chuck Swindoll assures us that it was actually true, I have thought about how perfectly it illustrates what Christ says in this section of the Sermon on the Mount – about wolves in sheep’s clothing.  I am referring to counterfeit Christians.  In some cases they are professional charlatans who purposely defraud unsuspecting listeners -- telling them what they want to hear.  In other cases, the speakers are themselves deceived, and espouse false doctrines under the guise of pure Christianity.


2 Corinthians 11:13-15 NKJV


13     For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.

14     And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.

15     Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.


They serve up delectable dishes, camouflaged by logical-sounding phrases.  And, unfortunately, by the millions, people are duped into swallowing their lies, thinking all the while they are digesting truth. A glance at their silver platters, and everything looks delicious.  They not only look good, they feel good, and they smell good.  They may have a “new” look – feel and taste like the real thing but they are not.


As Screwtape once quoted to Wormwood (in C.S. Lewis“Screwtape Letters”)……


        “Old error in new dress,

         is ever error nonetheless.”


         --- which is another way of saying, “Dog food is dog food, no matter how you decorate it.”




Is it the persistent Jehovah’s Witness at your front door or the brainwashed Moonie selling flowers on the street corner?




There are several definitions of the word “cult” popular today.  There are basically 3 definitions of the word currently in use in our culture.


1.      The sociological definition – that tends to define a cult primarily in terms of style and psychosocial dynamics.


2.      The definition promoted by the media – that tends to focus on the sensational and bizarre.


3.      The religious or theological approach – that defines “cult” in terms of their belief system.


Jesus is not talking about just any false religion.  He is talking about those who claim to be a follower of His but are not.  These are people who outwardly look like one of the “flock.” – like one of the sheep.


For our purposes, I will use the word “cult” in a religious or theological sense.  I will be speaking of those groups that call themselves Christian but hold beliefs and practices clearly in opposition to historic and biblical Christianity.  By cultism, we mean the adherence to major doctrines which are pointedly contradictory to orthodox Christianity yet which claim to trace their origin to the Bible, and maintain they are in harmony with it.


By this definition, a cultic belief is any major deviation from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian Faith.  A cult is a religious perversion.  It is a religious belief and practice which calls for devotion to a religious view or to a leader centered in false doctrine.  In short, a cult is an “organized heresy.”


Earlier I mentioned that I wanted to address two issues today.


We have already begun answering the first of these questions by giving a definition to the word “cult.”  But in our definition, there is a least one gray area that needs further expansion.  A moment ago, in defining a cult, I stated: “By cultism, we mean the adherence to major doctrines which are pointedly contradictory to orthodox Christianity.”


The phrase “major doctrines” needs additional discussion.


Let me ask you some questions about some beliefs held by groups we might call cults today.  The old Worldwide Church of God, founded by Herbert W. Armstrong, believed the following:


       •  The unrighteous dead cease to exist, and do not go to the Lake of Fire.


Did any of these beliefs make this organization a cult?  No!  --- and yet they differ from most of orthodox Christianity.  Other orthodox Christian churches throughout its history have believed one or more of these.  For instance, Seventh Day Baptists exist today.




        •        They did not believe in the Trinity

        •        They denied the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ

        •        The Holy Spirit is an impersonal force

        •        Jesus Himself became saved at His resurrection (non-physical) and, at present,

                  is the only one “that has so far been saved.”

        •        None can know now whether they are going to be saved or not.

        •        They deny that the blood of Jesus can fully save a person. The O.T. law must still

                  be observed.


You can see, from the example of this one cult – and the same could be shown in each cult – that there are some beliefs which are allowable, and others which are not, and it is these deviations that make them a cult.




What they teach about Jesus Christ


One characteristic that is found in all cults is false teaching about the person of Jesus Christ.  The apostle Paul warned about following after “another Jesus” (2 Cor. 11:4).  The Jesus of the cults is always someone less than the Bible’s eternal God who became flesh, lived here on earth, and died for all our sins.


As a general rule, cults do not believe in the eternal deity of Christ.


         --- nor that Jesus was God in human flesh

         --- nor that His death can atone for all sins of all people


1 John 4:1-3 NKJV


4       Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

2       By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God,

3       and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.


The test that John instructs us to conduct – that of testing the spirits was much more easily understood in the first century than it is now.  In the world of John and Paul’s day – the 1st century – there was a widespread recognition of the existence of invisible spirits.  It was normal for most people to believe in the invisible realities behind the scenes of life.


Everywhere in the ancient world, there was recognition of gods and goddesses….to which they bowed.  Though they seriously deformed and twisted them, making them into mythological and legendary figures and worshiping them as demigods, there was still a widespread recognition that man does not exist in the universe by himself.  There was a strong belief in beings who influence the thinking and attitudes of men and women everywhere.


In the 20th and 21st centuries, we pride ourselves in the fact that we have grown beyond this.  We think we have come of age.  As a result, we expose ourselves to these spirits, without any defense at all.


But John tells us unseen spirits exist and instructs us to test them.  That is, to try them.  To examine them.


Well, what is the test?  There must be, according to 1 John 4, an acknowledgement of the historical incarnation of the Son of God.  Jesus was the Son of God for all eternity past, and will be forever and ever.


Now any teacher of spiritual matters who confesses this, John says, is of the truth, is of God.  But any teacher who stands up and professes to teach men about God but who does not confess this, is not of God.  Regardless of how beautiful he or she talks, they are not of God.


There are those who style themselves liberals who say that the Jesus of history is not important to us --- that the virgin birth, his miracles, his resurrection, even his crucifixion are but myths .and legends about the man, Jesus, which the church later added and exaggerated.


They tell us that these things are not important and it does not make any difference if he rose from the dead, or if he died on the cross, or if he was born in a manger, of a virgin.  But John says if they do not confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, come in the flesh this is the spirit of error – the spirit of antichrist.


And then there is the Christian Scientist, who says that Jesus – was a man upon whom the Spirit of Christ came.  The Spirit of Christ is the eternal One, and he came upon Jesus at his baptism and left him again just prior to his death upon the cross.  Jesus was, therefore, born as a mere man and died as a mere man and the only part of his ministry that is worth anything to us is his public ministry, where he taught and was influenced by the Spirit of Christ.


That is not what John says.  John says that the spirit which confesses that Jesus is the Christ – meaning, that Jesus and the Christ are identical, one and the same that is the spirit that is of God.


Take the gospel of the Mormons.  They say that Jesus never was the eternal unchangeable God, but he was a man who became God and came to show us how we, too, might become gods some day.  Is that the gospel?         Not according to John.  That, rather, is the spirit of antichrist.


The Jehovah’s Witnesses teach:  Jesus was the first and greatest of God’s creation.  He originally was Michael, the archangel and only since his resurrection (which was not bodily) is Jesus referred to as the Son of God.  But He is still not equal to the Father (Jehovah).


2 John 7 NKJV


7       For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist.


The Bible makes it clear that Jesus was God in human flesh, the second person of the Holy Trinity --- Who lived a sinless life on earth and died as the sacrifice for the sins of the entire world.  If anyone teaches that Jesus is anything less than equal with God the Father, they have not passed the test John tells us to give.  The Bible is repeatedly clear that Jesus was, is, and always will be divine.  And when He was on earth, He was God in human form.


The basis of Salvation


The Apostle Paul drew a distinction that is utterly basic to our understanding of truth when he said, “By grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: not of works lest any man should boast.”  (Ephesians 2:8-9).


One of the central doctrines of Biblical Christianity is the sacrificial death of Christ for our sins.  All cultic deviations tend to downplay the finished work of Christ.  They typically reject the biblical truth that salvation is a “free gift” from God by grace through faith alone.  This truth glorifies God and not man.


Instead, cults falsely say that people must “earn” their salvation by certain works and deeds.  There is an emphasis on earning moral acceptance before God through one’s own works of righteousness as the basis for salvation.  No one is taught in the cults that he can be saved from eternal damnation by simply placing his/her faith in Jesus Christ.  It is always belief in Jesus Christ, plus “do this” or “follow that.”

The basis of their authority


Biblical Christianity by definition takes the Bible as its yardstick of the true, the false, the necessary, the permitted, the forbidden and the irrelevant.  Cults, on the other hand, commonly refer to documents outside the Bible as being a more recent “revelation.”  And these writings become the greater basis of their theology.  They believe these other writings have equal or greater authority than the Bible.


The Mormons claim their “Book of Mormons” will help you more fully understand the Bible --- and yet, there are statements in the Book of Mormons that directly contradict what the Bible teaches.  It even contradicts with itself in places.


Sun Myung Moon has his book “The Divine Principle” outlining the doctrines of the Unification Church.  He acknowledges their doctrines are still evolving as he receives further revelations.


Some cults make no claim to new truth or extra-biblical revelation, but believe they alone have the key to interpreting the mysteries in the Bible.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim the Bible is their only authority.  But they also believe the Watchtower and Tract Society is the “only channel through which God disseminates His message today.”


They usually claim to be the true church


This is a natural follow-on to point number 3.  They often believe that they have received a “special” revelation allowing them to restore the “True Church” after it had fallen into centuries of apostasy.


The Mormons believe “true Christianity disappeared from about the 1st century until it was restored by Joseph Smith”  --- thus they are saying they are the lone voice for God in the world today.  The Jehovah’s Witnesses claim they are “The one remaining correct religion.”


As a general rule, a cult is a group that is polarized around a charismatic person and their interpretation of the Bible.


          •  thus we see the Mormons polarized around Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.

          •  the Christian Scientists around Mary Baker Eddy.

          •  the Jehovah’s Witnesses around Charles Russell and Judge Rutherford.

          •  the Moonies around Sun Myung Moon.


Almost without exception, cults are built, not upon what the Bible teaches, but upon what the founders of the respective cults said the Bible teaches.


The Church has many responsibilities.  Two of them are:


          •   guarding her sheep from being scattered, and

          •   evangelizing those who are lost.


         Cults pose a challenge to both of these purposes.


As Christians, you and I are responsible to study God’s Word.  According to I John 4:1-6  (NIV), we are commanded to discern truth from error.


1       Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

2       This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,

3       but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

4       You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

5       They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.

6       We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.


Christians do not need to remain fuzzy in distinguishing between truth and error.  There is an urgent need for discernment among Christians.  We are often too gullible.


Christians are also instructed to be students of Scripture.


2 Timothy 3:13-17 NKJV


13     But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.

14     But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them,

15     and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

16     All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

17     that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.


Cultic theology is a distortion of Biblical truth.  Therefore, we need to know what the Bible says.




         They can be.


An examination of well-known Western cults reveals that many began in an Evangelical church --- they were men and women who, for the most part, were from solid church backgrounds.


Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church, was reared in a Presbyterian home.


Jim Jones, founder of the People’s Temple, at one time attended a Nazarene church.  Later he pastored an interdenominational church, and later still, he pastored a Disciples of Christ congregation.


Moses David (David Berg), the founder of the Children of God, was the son of Evangelical parents.  He served as a minister in a Christian and Missionary Alliance church, and was involved for a time in Christian television ministry.


Victor Paul Wierwille, founder of The Way International, came out of the Reformed Church, where he served as a pastor to a number of active congregations.  At one time he served as an adjunct professor of New Testament at a leading Evangelical college.


Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Scientists, and Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we both raised in markedly Christian homes and churches.


John Moriconi was an Evangelical Christian, a good Baptist.  But then he spent eight years as a leader in the “Children of God,” also known as the “Family of Love.”


What happened to John?  If it happened to him could it happen to you?  To me?  During it all he had never wavered in his primary purpose.  He sincerely desired to know God’s truth and to relate personally to Jesus Christ.  Yet his search had led him down a path that ended in the cultic community.  Today John Moriconi is director of a ministry in Richmond, Virginia that helps others who have followed the same path as he.


One woman, raised in the home of an Assembly of God missionary, for a time, had been an active member of the People’s Temple led by Jim Jones.  Fortunately, she got out prior to the mass suicides.  But she relates how many of the leaders at Jonestown had been Sunday School teachers before joining Jim Jones’s cult.




As we answer this question, I need to say that what draws people into cultic groups is by and large the same thing that draws people into Renton Assembly of God.  80% of those who start coming to our church, do so through relationships    --- friends, family, neighbors, etc.  And people keep coming back to Renton Assembly for the same reason --- because of the person-to-person relationships


          •  the way we show our love for one another and for them.

          •  the encouragement we give.

          •  the bearing of one another’s burdens.


The same is true of the cults.


Here is a list of what makes cults so attractive.


The cults provide answers

We live in a very unsure world.  The cults are flourishing because they provide authoritative answers to mankind’s basic questions.


         •  Who am I?

         •  Why am I here?

         •  Where am I going?


Max Gunther, the writer, describes the plight of a young woman, common to many in our generation.


“I thought I wanted to become a nurse but I wasn’t sure.  I thought Christianity meant a lot to me but I wasn’t sure of that either.  I guess I was kind of desperately looking for somebody who had firm yes-and-no answers, somebody who was sure about things and could make me sure.”


Unfortunately, this young lady eventually joined a cult which willingly supplied her with answers.  She put it this way:


“I kept going back and asking them questions and they always knew the answers.  I mean, they really knew them.”


Thus cults offer certainty and easy answers to those who are unsatisfied with the present state of their lives.


The Cults meet human needs.


All of us need to be loved, to feel needed, to sense our lives have direction and meaning.People join cults because such groups will fulfill these very real or perceived needs.


As Ethel Romm has observed:


 “In looking-glass language, the new panaceas (cults) promise…..

…unity in a fractured society,

…peace in a warring society,

…liberation in a repressed society,

…balance in a shaken society,

…purity in a polluted society,

…goodness in a corrupt society,

…growth in a constricting society,

…psychic powers in an overbearing society,

…health in a sick society,

…relaxation in a tense society,

…happiness in a discontented society,

…awareness in a numb society,

…spirituality in a materialistic society.

A person does not usually join a cult because he/she has done an exhaustive analysis of world religions and has decided that a particular cult presents the best theology available.  Instead, a person usually joins a cult because he has problems that he is having trouble solving and the cults promise to solve them.


Cults are successful because they promise what one writer calls that elusive “something more.”


The Cults make a favorable impression


The cults prosper because Christians have sometimes failed to be a vital influence in the world.  They have stepped up to fill the void left by mainline Christians.  If the Church fails to carefully and seriously provide spiritual warmth and a true exposition of the Word of God those with spiritual needs will find other avenues of fulfillment.  When reflecting on their initial attraction to the Moonies, ex-members frequently say, “It all seemed so logical.”


To combat this, the believer must know what he or she believes, and why they believe it, and thus be able to expose the cult’s teachings.


Disciples of Christ are not very susceptible to open invitations to sin.  They are not likely to be taken in by the teacher/preacher who advocates raw hedonism, anarchy, or various forms of blatant unbelief.  The problem followers of Jesus have are where the false teachings are much more subtle.


The problem will lie with the preacher who seems pious, who prays, who at first glance seems to have all the marks of the Christian.  He uses all the right clichés and the dogmatism he exudes seems to testify to his orthodoxy.


Twice in our text, Jesus tells us how to ensure we are listening to the true teacher of God.  Verses 16 & 20 says we can know them “by their fruit.”  The question is:    “How do we test their fruit to determine if it is edible or rotten?”  We will address that next week.       There are at least four tests that can be used to determine the kind of fruit.