Wolf in sheep's clothing

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In the sermon on the mount, there is a progression in Christ’s teaching about the scribes and Pharisees.

They begin as standard-bearers for outward righteousness.  If anyone is to enter the kingdom, they must have a righteousness that exceeds the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20).  Of course that means that these do-gooders are not themselves in the kingdom – which would have shocked Christ’s hearers.  But it does mean that, in one sense, they “set the bar high.”  They have a “form of godliness”.

As the sermon continues we see how false that form is.  In chapter 6 Jesus refers to them as “hypocrites” – that is, masked actors (Matthew 6:2,5,16).  In chapter 7 Jesus speaks first in comical terms: they have beams in their eyes (v3).  Then he sticks in the knife: they are swine (v6).  Unclean.  Excluded.  The lowest of the low.

But it gets even worse.  Now in verse 15 Jesus says they are more dangerous than swine, they are wolves:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

To be sure, “false prophets” come from many religious groupings – not just “Pharisees.”  But it’s sensible to assume that Jesus is referring to the same kind of ‘hypocrite’ throughout the sermon.  They might go by the name “scribe”, they might go by the name “Pharisee”, they might go by the name “Evangelical” (as I do).  But the name is not what’s important.  The real problem is what they are “inwardly” – Wolves.  Ravening wolves.

And there’s nothing more dangerous to sheep than a ravening wolf.  A prophet is meant to feed the sheep with the word of God.  False prophets feed on the sheep, all the while masquerading as one of them.

This is the chilling truth about the church’s greatest earthly enemies.  They come from within.  The hypocrites wear a Christian mask.  The wolves wear sheep’s clothing. They appear innocent.  They appear to belong.  Yet underneath there is devastating violence and murder.

Imagine a wolf luring another sheep to itself, mimicking its mother’s bleeting.  Imagine the sheep blissfully unaware of the danger.  Now imagine the frenzy and blood of a vicious attack.  What have we just witnessed?  A Sunday sermon.  A best-selling book.  An archbishop’s address.  A popular conference speaker.  Simply the speaking of lies in God’s name.  And the flock is torn apart.

How seriously do you take false teaching?  Is it simply a doctrinal miscalculation?  Merely damaging for the church’s credibility?  No, it’s life or death.  Because the word of Christ is life or death (v24-27).

Therefore, says Jesus, Beware!

Next time, we’ll see how to spot such wolves.


10 Responses to “Wolf in sheep's clothing”

  1. J says:

    Looking forward to hearing how to ‘spot one’ tomorrow.

    I guess my question is, where do you draw the line between the ‘false teacher’ and the ‘false teaching’?

    Were all the pastors who preached pro slavery for 200+ years false teachers, or did they have a false teaching?

    Or is it just a case of more light and truth breaking forth? If so, then at what point can you identify the ‘false prophet’ – the next day, or the with the hindsight of 200 years?

    Looking forward to hear how to spot one!

  2. [...] has told us “Beware” of wolves in sheep’s clothing.  They look like Christians, they speak in Christ’s name but they are false prophets.  And [...]

  3. Glen says:

    Hey J!

    The way Jesus continues we see that there’s only two categories a “prophet” can fall into. There’s good trees and there’s bad trees. So if you wanted to cry “false prophet” in a Matthew 7 sense, you’d have to do so because you were convinced they were bad trees – i.e. not Christians after all. There might well have been pastors preaching for slavery who were doing so because their unregenerate hearts were being revealing in the greed and racism of their preaching. In that case their fruit was revealing them to be unconverted.

    I’m sure there were others who were born again but inconsistent. They taught falsely but were not “false prophets” in the Matthew 7 sense because they were actually good trees (and you’d reckon you could point to some good fruit in their lives that would verify that).

    Does that help?

    • J says:

      Yeah, thanks for the reply.

      I guess, ‘inconsistent’ is the key word. But that makes it even harder to establish the wolves!
      It’s both complicated and sad because essentially Jesus never takes on anyone else’s religion – only his own.
      So on that basis, we shouldn’t (as Christians) be harping on about Hindus or Muslims but we should be concerned about our religion, Christianity.
      At the same time there’s so much finger pointing and fighting amongst christians that it can be unproductive to the Kingdom of Heaven.

      Look at all that latest Rob Bell stuff about eschatology. All he’s done is quoted a load of other theologians and the guys got hammered because of it. At the same time CS Lewis remains unscathed for preaching (in the Great Divorce) at best ‘purgatory’ and at worst ‘a second chance’! Then you look at John Piper, who’s been ‘throwing rocks’ at Bell and Piper preaches that a Christian can lose their salvation – which many would say is a false teaching!

      Sometimes I wonder whether we’d do better to have a lot less teaching and a lot more compassion and kindness…..

  4. [...] Matthew 7 Jesus calls false prophets “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”  Now in Matthew 10,  He sends out some true prophets – the 12 disciples – and [...]

  5. Mark Carroll says:

    False teachers.. Within the body of Christ, there needs always to be the spirit of Jeremiah — to call to account every preaching and doctrine that departs in substance from the Word of God (which is the plumb). To my way of thinking there is none worse than the vested cleric who hypocritically stands before the congregation to lead them in the creeds, and yet does not believe the words spoken (virgin birth, resurrection, only Son, etc). I am reminded of the opening verses of Athanasian Creed… “Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith”

  6. This is an awesome article! There are many wolves in sheep’s clothing. The time is NOW – glad to see someone speaking the true WORD of GOD.

  7. Larry Deering says:

    Glen, I am interested in using the image of the wolf and sheep for the cover of my book. Do you own the rights to it or know who does? I am trying to gain permission to use it and I need it in 300 DPI or PPI.

    Thanks for your help.

  8. [...] has told us “Beware” of wolves in sheep’s clothing.  They look like Christians, they speak in Christ’s name but they are false prophets.  And [...]

  9. [...] Matthew 7 Jesus calls false prophets “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”  Now in Matthew 10,  He sends out some true prophets – the 12 disciples – and they will be [...]