Matthew chapter 7 is one of the most familiar passages from the gospels. It contains a portion of Jesus’s sermon on the mount, in which he instructs his disciples on how they should live as they declare the message of his kingdom to Israel. The chapter begins with Jesus’s command to his disciples not to let their position as ministers of the word evolve into them becoming judges of the people. Rather than dealing with others’ faults, they should instead focus on their own. The Lord goes on to admonish them to be circumspect, not casting truth before those who will not hear it.
For all of this, they will need wisdom, and so Christ follows it up with a brief exhortation on the efficacy of prayer, that they might be encouraged to ask God’s guidance. He then continues to lay out the manner in which they should minister, and what they should teach. And this is where we will pick up, in verse 12.
The Strait Gate #
Matthew 7:12 Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Christ encourages his disciples to fulfill the law and the prophets by following a simple rule, which we know as the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Christ describes the way that the disciples should walk as being a narrow way, through a strait (confining) gate. But he also warns of a wide gate and broad way that leads to destruction. But what is that broad way? He doesn’t leave the apostles to guess, but expands on the thought in the next verses:
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
The strait gate is the simple rule that he has told them to live by, that is a summation of the law and the prophets. But they must beware of false prophets, who will offer alternative admonition purportedly from God. In addition to the word of God by his prophets and his Son, which he has neatly summed up for them, they will also encounter many other claims of direction from the Father. But this is a broad way into which false prophets direct them. They are instead to confine themselves only to the scriptures composed of the law and the prophets, and to the words of Christ. The false prophets would lead them out of the narrow way, and are ravening wolves, ultimately bringing those that follow them to destruction.
How will they identify these false prophets?
Ye Shall Know Them By Their Fruits #
16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?
17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.
Christ gives them another very simple rule, by which they will be able to identify these false prophets. It is not primarily by their words that the disciples will identify these false men. Rather, it is by their works—by their fruits. A tree will always bear the kind of fruit in keeping with its kind of tree. It is only a corrupted, hybrid tree that will bear a different kind of fruit than it appears that it should. Likewise, it is only a false prophet that will bring forth the wrong kind of fruit. And so this is a sure method of identifying deceivers.
19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
This is the criteria by which God will judge those who ministered alongside Christ—every tree that did not bring forth good fruit would be destroyed. And so it is by this same rule that the disciples should judge between true and false prophets.
And what is the fruit that they should be looking for?
The will of my Father #
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Again, Christ stresses that it is not their words that will be considered, but their works. And what are the works whereof he speaks?
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
It is not that of prophesying, or casting out devils, or performing miracles. Those that do such things, and work iniquity, will have no place in the kingdom that is being offered. We can see the truth of this in Judas, who must have done all of these things while ministering beside Christ, yet in the end died in his iniquity. It is only those that fulfilled the law and the prophets by keeping the saying of Christ, the golden rule, that would partake in his kingdom.
The Floods Came #
24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
Those who fulfilled the words of God’s true prophets, and of his Son, would not have their hope dashed by the destruction that would come upon the nation of Israel in 70 AD. That hope would be in an eternal kingdom, that they were made partakers of through faith in the words of Christ.
But those that did not have the true scriptures for their foundation would find both the earthly kingdom they had hoped in destroyed, and themselves unworthy to partake in the heavenly one. If they had been deceived by false prophets, if they had not fully served God and his word in their ministry, if they had not fulfilled it wholly, but also committed iniquity, then they were just following the broad road that would lead them to destruction.
Only those that had followed the strait way, remaining faithful to the word of God, would find at the end of Christ’s ministry a hope in his eternal kingdom.
The Takeaway #
Although the ministry of Christ’s disciples of which this passage speaks is no longer being carried out today, having ended prior to his crucifixion, there are some important principles that we can glean from it which are still relevant to us.
Despite the familiarity of these verses, the true significance of the strait gate is unfortunately lost on most Christians today. But we, like the disciples in Jesus’s day, encounter those who claim to have the word of God, but who in truth do not. Few would dispute that, pointing perhaps to cult writings, like the book of Mormon. Indeed, most would agree that anything which is not in the Bible is not scripture; we must confine ourselves to that strait way. But it is not sufficient to look at a book and ask whether it is the Bible or not; it is not sufficient to judge a false prophet only by his words. Ye shall know them by their fruits.
The false prophets Christ spoke of were certainly deceivers. They weren’t men claiming to be teaching things contrary to the scriptures or the doctrine of Christ. If they were, the Lord could have simply told his disciples to judge them by their words. But he didn’t. Because they were deceptive, seeming by word to be true ministers, it was necessary to judge them by their works. And today, we need to heed that same admonition. Just as every prophet claiming to be ministering the kingdom of heaven was not to be trusted, so every book claiming to be a Bible is not to be trusted either. Just because it sounds like the word of God doesn’t mean that it is.
Thus, though much is often made of words in the Bible version debate (and it is certainly right to point out alterations and contradictions in that which claims to be the word of God), the ultimate proof of a prophet claiming to be in the service of Christ is one of works. And it is not a question of miracles, of whether the book contains prophecy or is useful in casting out devils or performing other works. It is rather a question of whether it also causes men to work iniquity.
Consider then that some Christians are lead by many of the modern Bible versions to believe that it is OK to lie, because these “Bibles” imply that Christ himself was a liar. This is just one example, but more could be given, and the results can be truly disastrous. The difference in this case is just one tiny, easily overlooked word. But the fruit could not be more different.
The legacy of these versions can indeed be summed up by the ultimate overarching fruit that they bear: doubt. That isn’t the kind of good fruit that we’d expect from the words of a faithful God. But as Jesus pointed out, there is a foundation of rock, and one of sand. One which will support a house that the floods will not prevail against, and one which when put to the test will fall. And the modern Bible versions are surely a foundation of sand. They are not a stable, changeless rock, that will support faith. They are a shifting sand of the “oldest and best manuscripts.” And while that description is usually intended to build confidence, it is only ignorance that is confident in the “oldest and best” manuscripts of today, when they may be replaced by the “older and better” manuscripts uncovered tomorrow. Such a foundation will not support faith against every assault, and as such these “false prophets” bear evil fruit.
The solution is simple. If we want a strong foundation for our faith, we need but confine ourselves to the narrow way. To heed the scriptures, the words of the law, the prophets, and of Christ and his apostles. And these are all in a agreement:
Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.
Isaiah 40:8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.
Matthew 24:35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
God’s words do not need to be found in some older and better manuscripts. They are preserved to all generations in the received text, perfected in English in the King James Bible. The modern versions represent a broad way and a foundation of sand, and those who build their faith upon them may find it come crashing down. Being blissful in the thought that you are at least seeking to follow the strait way is not wise. As Jesus later admonished his disciples (Luke 13:24), it is necessary for us to strive earnestly to enter the strait gate, because many who are seeking to are unable, finding and following the broad way instead, leading them to destruction.
While the salvation of those whose faith is in the once-paid, eternal redemption of Christ is sure, without a firm foundation we cannot expect that true faith to long stand. Without a strong foundation for faith, how can we expect to win others to the gospel? Why should we be surprised when the faith of many children in the church is discarded by the time they reach adulthood? If we want to see our children believe and the world to hear the gospel, we need to heed Christ’s admonition, and return to the foundation of rock. We need once again to follow the strait and narrow. We need to bear only good fruit by following only God’s true words.
We must take Christ’s words to heart, and beware of false-prophet Bibles.