Skip to content

The Final Judge of False Prophets

After warning his disciples about false prophets, Jesus then (in Matthew 7:21-23) speaks of the final judgment of such prophets. He says on the final day (at the last judgment) such prophets will address him (the final judge) as “Lord, Lord.” For they think they have been faithful to Jesus as Lord. Indeed, they will remind him of how they spoke as prophets in his name, and cast out demons in his name and did many mighty works in his name. So they are confident Jesus, the final judge, will welcome them into the final great kingdom of heaven.

But Jesus does not agree. He says only the one who does the will of his Father in heaven will enter that final, eternal kingdom. And in the case of false prophets, he will speak the final word against them: “I never knew you; depart from me you evildoers.” They indeed prophesied in his name and confess him as Lord, but they were false prophets because they were also like wolves (in sheep’s clothing) who often preferred their own will as they presumed to be the powerful father of their followers.

Back in Mat. 7:1-4 Jesus warned against condemning another brother (in the family of the heavenly Father) because of a small speck in their eye. Such overbearing leadership would lead the condemned brother or sister to depart from the family, for this powerful judge (the earthly “father”) has condemned them as not part of God’s family. But the final result will be that these “fathers” who condemn others in the family will themselves be condemned in the end.

So Jesus’ words here are especially focused on “Christian” leaders who show strong leadership in their speaking as prophets for God and even doing certain mighty acts like casting out demons. A big temptation of such leaders is to promote what they think is especially important–at the expense of what the heavenly Father wants. Instead of forgiving those who sin against them, they condemn them; instead of showing patient kindness to those who fall short at times, they harshly judge them; instead of making peace among diverse brothers and sisters from various backgrounds and cultures, they dismiss them as unworthy to be part of the family of the Father. The final judge of these false prophets (wolves in sheep’s clothing) will rightly condemn them.

Advertisement

Wolves Pretending to be Sheep

In Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus warns his disciples about false prophets: these prophets seem to be admirable “sheep,” exhibiting religious righteousness and holiness; but they are actually hungry, greedy “wolves.” Their admirable public acts–giving alms, praying, and fasting–are done to impress other people (see Mat. 6:1-18). Impressed people can then be manipulated into serving them and their greedy interests–personal status, family wealth, and local or national power.

When such wolves want to weasel their way into groups of disciples, those “alpha dogs” should not be welcomed, and certainly not be given the holy name “father” (or any other form of authority). In Mt. 7:6 Jesus said not to give the dogs what is holy; in Mt. 6:9 Jesus said only their heavenly Father should be revered as the holy father.

Disciples should judge them rightly, according to their fruits, that is, their good or bad actions. Bad actions would show they are not children of their heavenly Father. Earlier, when Pharisees and Sadducees came to John the Baptist, he refused to baptize or welcome them as those who were truly repenting and turning to God; for their bad fruits showed they were bad “trees” who would be cut down and thrown in the fire in the end (Mat. 3:7-10). Those sneaky “snakes” will meet God’s final judgment.

Jewish prophets were messengers of God. John speaks as a true prophet; and Jesus also, both warning of wily leaders who presumed to speak for God. Jewish history was full of false prophets, greatly outnumbering God’s true messengers. Jesus is now warning his disciples that in the new kingdom of the heavenly Father and his obedient children, there will be many who want to join them and who presume to speak for God, but are really seeking their own selfish interests. Especially churches need to realize that many leaders and “holy fathers” and “reverends” are more about impressing others so they can gain personally from them. Such hungry wolves care little about leading people to give help to the poor and neglected among them and around them. Their periodic shows of giving alms are brief and trivial, meant only to disguise their usual greed.

The Road Less Traveled

In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus contrasts two ways or roads: their gates or doors lead to destruction or “life” in the end. Jesus’ little kingdom of righteous disciples has a narrow gate and road compared to the large kingdoms of earth. Most will prefer the wide gate and easy road of their kingdom of earth and its “righteousness.” Only a few in each kingdom of earth will take the narrow gate and road of the kingdom of heaven and its righteousness. The few who find the narrow way will be those who seek it; and the few who find the narrow door will be those who knock at it (see Mat. 7:7-8).

The narrow, seldom-used “alley” of the kingdom of heaven turns out to be the way that leads to “the life” (of the age to come); the wide and popular “broadway” of the kingdoms of earth turns out to be the way that leads to destruction (in the end). Each way involves two opposing kinds of righteousness. No kingdom of earth will seek Jesus’ way of life. His righteousness is too different, too hard. Only the few who continue to seek first Jesus’ kingdom of heaven and righteousness will find the empowering presence of the heavenly Father, the Son Jesus, and the Spirit from heaven.

Throughout Mat. 5:1-7:12 Jesus has taught disciples the details of his new kingdom and righteousness. It will be hard because of opposition and temptations to take the easier way. Like the prophets, God’s messengers in the old kingdom of Israel, Jesus says his disciples will also be persecuted for the righteousness they call others to turn to (to “repent”). And they will be tempted by the evil one (Satan) to detour from Jesus’ way of life and choose the easier and more popular pursuits of their proud kingdom of earth. Even the multitude of Christian churches could be mostly avoiding the provocative message of Jesus for the easier way of affirming the popular pursuits of others around them, or consoling people who have difficulties from the common bumps on the broad way to destruction.

Pray Daily for the Father’s Good Gifts

In Matthew 7:7-12 Jesus encourages his disciples to stay in touch with their heavenly Father. As they continue to ask the Father to give them good gifts, they will continue to receive from the Father. Jesus emphasizes that every disciple should be asking and seeking to receive good gifts. Prayer is not just a religious ritual, best done by religious “holy fathers;” prayer is a daily privilege and necessity for all children of the heavenly Father.

Since even (evil) earthly fathers give their children bread or fish when they ask, how much more will the disciples’ heavenly Father give good things when they ask. According to the prayer Jesus taught in Mat. 6:9-13, and the teaching of 6:19-34, the Father in heaven gives the following good things to those seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness: firstly, the coming of his kingdom–that is, his kingly power–that will enable them to do his will (and thus live righteously); then, simple daily bread for all their brothers and sisters; then, forgiveness for sins that fail to fulfill his righteousness; then, the power to overcome temptations (like seeking the “good life” of expensive food, clothes, prestige, and prosperity) and thus be delivered from the power of the evil one (Satan).

Those are the good things, the good gifts, true disciples are daily asking for (and receiving), are daily seeking (and finding). Right before this emphasis, in 7:6 Jesus has warned against giving what is holly to the “dogs,” meaning not giving wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing the revered title of father, master. Such dogs deceive disciples and sidetrack them from the one true Father and the good gifts of God. In 7:6 such dogs/fathers can also turn violently against disciples to force them to follow them. So in 7:12 Jesus refers to reacting to “the people” (outside the kingdom) by treating them as the disciples want to be treated by them. Especially when powerful fathers treat children of the heavenly Father badly, disciples should not do similar evil against them. This “golden rule” is a brief summary of Mat. 5:38-48 (about loving enemies), the climax of Jesus’ fulfillment of the law and prophets (in 5:17-48).

False Prophets

After warning his disciples not to judge–that is, condemn–fellow disciples (brothers and sisters) in Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus then warns them about deceitful and hateful leaders from outside the family of their heavenly Father (7:6). Jesus is speaking judgmental words against false prophets who are not true brothers and sisters in the family of God.

Jesus portrays these false prophets as “dogs” and “hogs.” Their interest in disciples is to mislead them and even attack them. In 7:15 Jesus will again refer to these “dogs,” warning of hungry “wolves” who present themselves as harmless “sheep” (wolves in sheep’s clothing). In 7:6 Jesus tells disciples not to give these “dogs” what is holy.

What is holy? It relates to reverence, to what is revered. In Mat. 6:9 Jesus teaches the disciples to pray to their heavenly Father, whose name is holy, revered. Later in Mat. 23:8-10, Jesus says the scribes and Pharisees love to be called father (and master), but disciples should not use such names, for they have only one Father, the one in the heavens. If certain disciples start calling scribes (rabbis) or Pharisees “father,” they are giving that revered (holy) name to “dogs.”

Similarly, disciples should not throw their pearls before “swine,” lest they trample them (the pearls) and attack them. In Mat. 13:-45-46 Jesus will compare the kingdom of heaven to a pearl of great value that a merchant finds, and then sells everything in order to buy the pearl. Throwing such pearls to “pigs” would mean not valuing this kingdom and its righteousness; they throw (give) it to “unclean” pigs like it was garbage. To welcome such “hogs” (and “dogs’) into the righteous family of Jesus’ kingdom is to welcome them trampling on what true disciples value–and attacking disciples who remain true to Jesus’ righteousness.

Judge Not

Jesus’ statement to disciples about not judging (in Matthew 7:1) is one of the most memorable sayings of Jesus. But it is usually remembered by those who don’t like judgmental or critical people. So is Jesus against confronting other people who say or do bad things? Hardly.

The context of verses that follow Mt. 7:1 show a more specific situation that Jesus is addressing. In 7:2-5 are references to different degrees of judgment, using illustrative words like specks or logs in eyes, and, above all, referring to “brothers” speaking to other “brothers.” Such language reflects an expansion of what Jesus introduced in 5:22, where he referred to harsh words against a brother, and degrees of judgment.

The word brother denotes a fellow disciple. Disciples in Jesus’ new kingdom become part of a new family who pray to their Father in heaven (as in 6:9) and who are to be peacemakers, who will be called the children of God (5:9). So in 5:22 Jesus is saying the old commandment about not murdering now relates to disciples who condemn other brothers, using angry words that condemn a brother for something they didn’t like. Such condemning words effectively dismiss the other brother from the family; it’s a form of “murder.”

So 7:1 is best translated as “condemn not, lest you be condemned.” Then 7:2 refers to the one condemning as one who will be condemned; the measure they use to condemn will be the measure used against them. Back in 5:22 Jesus warned disciples that angry words (like the Hebrew word raca) against a brother will make them liable for judgment before the “council” (of church leaders); and condemning a brother by calling him a “fool” will make them liable for the judgment of hell. The measure condemning disciples use against a brother will be the measure used against them.

In 7:3-5 Jesus illustrates this by using the “log” in the eye of the disciple who condemns a brother for the “speck” in his eye. The log is a big sin (like “murder”) while the speck is a little sin. Jesus calls the condemning disciple a hypocrite, associating him with the hypocrites (scribes and Pharisees) in the synagogues (see 6:2,5,16). Later, in 21:23, Jesus will strongly judge such hypocrites: they make “mountains out of (small) molehills;” they overvalue specks like tithing the smallest garden plants while neglecting weightier matters like justice, mercy, and faith. This is like straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel (see 23:24). These actors perform dramatic scenes of condemnation, based on a speck of evidence.

In the early churches, minor issues like eating certain foods, celebrating certain days, or performing certain rituals like circumcision led some Christians to condemn others (see Acts 15:1-5, Romans 14, or Colossians 2:16-17).

Stressed for Success

In Matthew 6:31 Jesus again warns his disciples that life is about much more than what they eat, drink, or wear; they should not be anxious or stressed about acquiring or accumulating the best of those things. Then he adds that the nations (kingdoms) of the earth are seeking all these things (6:32). They want the best, the most expensive, of the world’s foods, drinks, and clothes. Having those things would show they were a success. People want to impress others (those above them and below them); they want to look their best as they work their way up in the world.

Disciples in the kingdom of heaven, however, are called to give up such earthly desires and stresses and appearances. Jesus says their heavenly Father knows they need all these things: food, drink, clothes. But they do not need to make life a contest of acquiring success through the stress of accumulating more than others. Instead, they should be seeking first–above all–the kingdom and righteousness of heaven (6:33).

So when they pray, they should not be thanking God for all their “blessings” of rich food, strong drink, or fashionable clothes. Jesus had already taught them to pray first for the coming of God’s kingdom, God’s kingly power, so that it was their heavenly Father’s will that was done by empowered disciples, as they lived out the righteousness of God (Mat. 6:10). After praying for those things first, they should then pray that the Father gives them their daily bread (6:11).

Simple food comes after seeking first the heavenly Father’s kingly power and righteousness. Since the Father’s will is that they should help others in need of bread, the prayer is about “our bread”–not “my” bread. Disciples should thus seek heavenly power in order to do the righteous will of helping others in need of daily bread. As they do that, all these things–simple food and clothes now, and glorious food and clothes in the new heaven and new earth–will be theirs also.

Because they are not anxiously seeking the success of a richer tomorrow, disciples do not worry about tomorrow. It is enough to contend with the trouble (literally, “evil”) of the present day–temptations like greed, that seeks sumptuous feasts and stylish fashions (6:34). Thus Jesus’ prayer for disciples to pray ends with them asking their Father to keep them from entering into temptation, but deliver them from the evil one (6:13).

A Life Well Lived

After telling disciples not to store up treasures on earth (in Matthew 6:19), he goes on in 6:25 to say they should not be so concerned or anxious about the food that defines their life (as rich or poor) or the clothes that decorate their body. Is life not more than food, and the body more than clothes?

Jesus then says to look at the birds of the “air” (the Greek word here is usually translated “heaven” elsewhere). These birds are part of “heaven,” not the earth and its work of sowing, harvesting, and gathering into barns; and the heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t the disciples lives more important than those birds?

If disciples are part of the kingdom of heaven, they do not need to invest so much time and work (and worry) feeding themselves. Their heavenly Father knows what they need: simple daily bread (see 6:8,11). Working for “better” (more expensive) food cannot add to the length of one’s life (or body). Indeed rich food like animal products usually shorten the length of one’s life; more simple foods like plants–especially whole grains like wheat (bread) or brown rice, supplemented by a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables–provide the best nourishment. Eating like kings is not a life well lived.

As for (better) clothes, Jesus says the lilies of the field grow and bloom beautifully, even though they don’t work or spin (wool) to adorn themselves; they are even more beautiful than king Solomon in all his glory. Jesus’ disciples are much more important than such “grass” of the field that is here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow; if God clothes the flowering grass, how much more will God clothe them–in simple ways today, and gloriously in heaven, where they will shine like the sun (see Mat. 13:43).

Eating and dressing like kings now is unfaithful to the heavenly king. A life well lived as a faithful disciple of Christ, the anointed king, will humbly serve him now and will receive heavenly treasures when they “blossom” in heaven.

Pure Eyes or Evil Eyes

In Matthew 6:22-23 Jesus says the healthy (pure) eye is the light of the body; but the unhealthy (evil) eye darkens the whole body. The “evil eye” will return again in Mat. 20:15b–translated literally, “or is your eye evil because I am good?” The parable of 20:1-16 is about giving generously to those who come and work last in the vineyard; an evil eye rejects such generosity. Compare Deuteronomy 15:9, where a bad thought in one’s heart (mind) leads one’s eye to be evil against a poor brother: nothing is given him.

Since Mat. 6:22-23 follows Jesus’ teaching about not storing up expensive treasures on earth, Jesus is then contrasting the “pure eye” that is generous to the poor with the “evil eye” that looks down on the poor. The pure eye is the light that inspires one’s body to move into action and give to the poor; the evil eye leaves the body darkly detached from the poor.

In 6:24 Jesus then refers to mammon (possessions) as a rival lord to the one true Lord. A disciple who serves mammon as lord–and seeks or stores up treasures on earth–is not able to serve the Lord of heaven at the same time.

Most religious people want both earthly treasures and the heavenly Lord. Some Christians quote the law of Moses about God prospering obedient Israel. But the kingdom of heaven and the teaching of Jesus are now coming to pass; consequently, the kingdom of Israel and the law of Moses are passing away. Jesus and his disciples are a new, different kingdom that is now to be the focus of God’s work in the world. Disciples of Jesus who love money and possessions cannot also love God; pure hearts and eyes will not seek to become, or remain, wealthy.

Treasures in Heaven Versus Treasures on Earth

In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus contrasts treasures on earth–prized so highly by the kingdoms of earth–with treasures in heaven. Disciples of Jesus, who are part of the kingdom of heaven, should not store up treasures on earth. Earth’s treasures will not last: moths and other hungry insects destroy treasured clothes; thieves break in and steal treasured possessions. So disciples should instead store up treasures in heaven.

Disciples’ hearts (their thoughts, wants, and joys) will be where their treasure is. Those who store up treasures on earth pursue and take pride in those treasures; the more they gain, the happier they become, and the more they want. But Jesus says earthly treasures are not blessings from God; the true blessings of the kingdom of heaven are the treasures in heaven.

The word treasures suggests expensive clothes or jewelry, luxurious homes, or lots of land or money. The poor have no such treasures. But what about the middle class? They likely have some such treasures. Pure hearts in disciples would sell or give away expensive treasures on earth in order to show mercy to the most destitute; note how Jesus commands this for all disciples in Luke 12:33, in order for them to have treasure in heaven. Heavenly treasure for the pure in heart will be to see God (Mat. 5:8); heavenly treasure for the merciful will be to receive mercy from God (Mat. 5:7).

Middle-class disciples who have a change of heart will seek “downward mobility”–though not usually destitution–rather than the upward mobility of a greedy world. Instead of seeking more expensive houses or cars or land or clothes or jewelry, disciples will sell expensive treasures and live more simply. They can then give generously to the most destitute, not to help a few become middle class, but simply to soften the burden of poverty. There are different levels of poverty; even many of the poor have modest means to help the most destitute.