Discern by Fruits, Not Gifts (7:15-23)

True prophets obey Jesus' teachings. Like the false prophets of old (Jer 6:13-14; 8:11; 23:13-17; Ezek 13:1-16; Mic 3:5-8), those Matthew warns against in 7:15 probably proclaim a gospel of false peace, an easy way that neglects God's true demands (vv. 13-14; France 1985:147). Matthew elsewhere warns against false prophets (7:22; 24:5, 24) and apostate Christians and leaders in the church (24:12, 48-51). Jesus elsewhere applies the present denunciations of fruitless trees against the religious leaders of his day (12:33; compare 3:8, 10; 21:19; 23:3), but because his words in this context address prophets (which most Pharisees thought no longer existed in their day), one suspects that Matthew wants Christians of his own generation to take notice.

Jesus' words are not only polemic against enemies of the faith from the outside; they are also warnings to us who claim to be Jesus' followers. We dare not restrict the title "hypocrites" to Jesus' religious contemporaries (6:2, 5, 16; pace Did. 8:1-2); God's subsequent servants may share the same fate (24:51). This passage presents us with several lessons.

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