The Sermon on the Mount
by E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
In our last study, we began the closing remarks of Jesus — what we call the conclusion or application — to the Sermon on the Mount. We studied verses 13 and 14, which dealt with “The Two Ways.” Now we are going to deal with verses 15 to 20, which deal with the two kinds of prophets or teachers. I would like for us to read this section. It very important, especially as we approach the end, to understand the warning that Jesus is giving us here. Matthew 7:15-20:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
First of all, let’s look at the word “prophets,” because there are some people who think that prophets are only those who foretell the future. That is only one of the functions. A prophet is a person who claims to proclaim a message from God; not everyone who claims to be a prophet is a prophet. A prophet is one who proclaims a message from God. We had a sister in Ethiopia who claimed to have had visions. I hear it is popular in some parts of this country, too. The question is, “How do we know?” That is why this subject is important.
In the entire history of God’s people, they have always been plagued by false prophets. In the Old Testament times they had them, and in New Testament times, and in our day, they have them. Let me give you some examples. Turn to Jeremiah 23:16. Jeremiah was a true prophet and gives the same kind of warning that Jesus gives:
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.”
There were false prophets way back there. Now turn to the New Testament and I will give you a couple of examples. A false prophet and a false teacher are in the same category. A false prophet is one who teaches false messages.
Turn to Galatians 1:6-9. Galatia was an area that Paul had evangelized. After he left Galatia, some false teachers, called judaizers, came along and convinced them of a gospel that was different from the one they received from Paul. Paul heard about it and wrote this letter, one of the strongest letters that he ever wrote. There is very little commendation; it is a letter of rebuke:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ [false teachers]. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
Paul gives this warning, then he repeats the same thing for emphasis.
Right in the beginning of the Christian Church, false prophets came. I will give you another passage. Turn to 2 Corinthians 11:3-4. Here is a pastoral concern of this great preacher. Let’s look at verse 2 first, which gives us that concern:
I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. [This jealousy for God’s people is acceptable.] I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him. But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we [the apostles] preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough.
In other words, it is so easy for you to be sidetracked. Why? Because the Corinthians were so busy fighting among themselves that they had no time to study the Word of God and be established. I could give you other examples, but I would like to give you one more text that in a sense deals with our day. Matthew 24:11 deals with the great signs of the Second Coming and Jesus warns:
...And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.
Not a few false prophets, but many.
Now let’s go back to our study in Chapter 7. How does Jesus describe these false prophets? By the way, the fact there are false prophets implies that there are true prophets. If there were to be no prophets at all, Christ would have said, “The moment John the Apostle dies, no more prophets.” But he did not say that. There are many Christians that feel that the gift of prophecy ended with John the Apostle. But here is Christ pointing to the last days and saying, “Beware of false prophets,” implying that there are true prophets.
Let’s look at how Christ describes these false prophets in verse 15:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.
Please remember that, in the days of Christ, in first century Palestine, the natural enemy of the sheep were wolves. And one of the duties of the shepherd was to protect the sheep from the wolves. But these wolves looked like sheep. Normally, if the wolf comes for the sheep, the sheep know because wolves and sheep look differently. But can you imagine a wolf putting on the skin of the sheep. The shepherd would not even recognize him. Here is the problem. Christ is saying that these false prophets had two things that we need to watch. One is they are dangerous and they are deceptive because they don’t look like wolves. This is a problem that we need to be aware of because we cannot judge these false prophets by outward appearance. They look like sheep. The problem is inside of them. The trouble with human beings is we do not know how to see inside. That is why Christ says, “I’ll give you a text.” And He gives another metaphor.
But before we look at that, I would like for you to turn to another passage which talks about the same thing. Turn to Acts 20. Paul is returning from one of his missionary journeys and he stopped at Ephesus, where he had spent about three years previously as a pastor there. What does he do when he arrives at Ephesus? He doesn’t have time to visit the churches; in those days, they didn’t have one church building, but they had house churches. He didn’t have time because he was just passing by. So what did he do? When he arrived in Ephesus he called the elders or officers of the church (v. 17) and tells them many things. Now let’s read Acts 20:28-32:
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
The end was coming and he was telling his elders to be careful that they not allow false teachings to come into the church. I’ll tell you that these days are not any better. All kinds of teachings come and a lot of people are trapped by it. Now let’s go back to Matthew 7 and see how we can know who is the false prophet and who is not.
Now the first thing is this: you cannot know them by outward appearance. They appear like sheep, like innocent sheep. So what does Jesus say? He turns to another metaphor about trees and fruit. Matthew 7:16-20:
By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
“You will know them by their fruits.” Then He lays down a fact that we are all familiar with. A good tree will produce good fruit, and a bad tree will produce bad fruit. The only problem is that it sometimes takes a long time for the fruit to mature. When I first went to Idaho one of my members came up to me and had a very big concern for a family — a fine, brilliant family. Both parents were graduates of Harvard University — one in science and one in English — and they had very, very bright kids. I was absolutely amazed at the kids. They had 10 kids but they were brilliant. Their IQ was so high that they would put people to shame.
When I first visited them, the 11 year-old boy was quite an expert in calculus. The parents refused to send them to public school; they studied at home. One day the education officers of the government came up to them and told them it was illegal and that the boy had to go to some school. And the father said, “Okay, you give them some tests and, if they fail, I will put them in your school but, if they pass, leave them alone.” The two men brought them a test and these kids finished in one-third the normal time, then they bombarded these two education men, who both had degrees, with questions they could not answer.
Then one day, J.R. Simplot, the potato king who makes the french fries for McDonald’s and was a millionaire many times over, got a brilliant idea. The skins of the potatoes were being thrown away, so he decided to open another industry. He went into the fish trade. He built huge tanks and filled them with fish and tried to find out how the potato peelings could be converted into food. So he advertised for scientists who would experiment with bacteria to produce food from these peelings. Two of the boys, the 14 year-old and the 11 year-old, put in a request. So they were invited. The others who came were all Ph.D.s. Simplot said jokingly to his technician, “Give them a room, also; let them try.” Well, guess what? They came out on top and were given the job.
They were sincere people, were very educated. But one day a man from Australia called Fred Wright came and had campmeeting and swept this whole family away. I went and visited them because they were no longer coming to Church. They were holding their own meetings. I said, “Please, you have a measuring stick [the Bible]. I don’t care how sincere and earnest he was, you have a measuring stick.” But they would not listen. Five years later, they came to our Church and I asked what made them come back. The father said that they discovered that Wright was embezzling the tithe money they were sending him and living with another woman. It took five years before the fruit came out.
What are the tests? There is the immediate test and the ultimate test. What is the immediate test? Isaiah 8:20:
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.
If they do not teach according to this, they are wrong. But you say, “These people quote scripture.” Well, I’ll tell you, one day I passed through a church foyer and I saw a pile, seven or eight bundles of papers. And I wondered where they came from and I took one. I was horrified at what it was teaching. It looked good. It said, “Puzzled? Why Not Talk To God About the Sabbath?” It was six pages long but contained not one statement about how the Sabbath is linked to the gospel. But what bothered me was that a lot of the statements, which were very legalistic, were using Bible texts but they are out of context.
I am going to read two of them. It uses the question/answer method. Question #1 (as if asking a question of the Lord): Does my salvation depend upon my obedience to Your commandments? What would you say? Answer (a quotation from Hebrews 5:9):
...And, once made perfect, he [Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him....
If you look at the context of that text, it is the gospel. Now remember that faith is obedience. It is surrendering yourself to the truth as it is in Christ.
Question #2: Is it absolutely necessary to keep the commandments to receive eternal life? Answer (from Christ Himself, in Matthew 19:17b):
If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.
Have you read this in the context? The young man asks what good thing he must do to have eternal life. Jesus said there is nobody good but God. But, if you want to go to heaven by being good, then you must keep the commandments. But if you go on you will notice that the young man replied that he had kept the commandments and Jesus never promised him heaven. Instead He tested the young man. Did he pass the test? No. Jesus turns to the disciples and tells them that, with man, it is impossible. But here is a statement read by itself that, if you want to go to heaven, it is by keeping the commandments. No mention here of the Sabbath being kept as the fruit of salvation or as the evidence of salvation. Here the Law is used as a means of salvation.
Remember that, when you hear somebody who is ever so sincere, please remember that the Scripture is your measuring stick of truth. Turn to Matthew 12:33-37. When Jesus spoke the Sermon on the Mount and talked about the false prophets, He had in mind particularly the scribes and Pharisees. The same idea is here; if you want good fruit the tree has to be good. In Desire of Ages, Ellen G. White says, “In order to keep the Sabbath holy, man must first be holy.” How are we to be holy? Always in Christ. In Christ, we are holy and blameless and then we can keep the Sabbath holy. We must never put the cart before the horse. Jesus is saying the same thing in verse 33:
Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.
“First the tree must be made good and then fruit will be good.” Now Matthew 12:34-37:
You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.
Here Jesus is saying that one of the tests has to do with the teachings. Turn a few pages to Matthew 16:6-12:
“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
They discussed this among themselves and said, “It is because we didn’t bring any bread.”
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread? Do you still not understand? Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
It is not the bread but the teachings of the Pharisees. Why? Because it permeates the whole church, the way yeast does bread. This paper was like yeast.
I want to read you some quotations. In 1970, I was researching the 1888 Message at Andrews University and I came across this wonderful manuscript: Manuscript 36, dated 1890. It was a sermon that Ellen G. White preached to the pastors in Battle Creek [Michigan] two years after 1888. I got excited because it really opened my eyes, so I went to Mrs. Jemison who was in charge and said, “Can I have a copy?” and she said, “No.” “Why?” I asked. “Because it has not been released,” she said. So I told her I would be patient and to please try and release it. Five years later I returned on furlough and she saw me at Pioneer Memorial Church and she came running to me and said, “I have good news. I can give you a copy of that manuscript now. It has been released.” I asked who released it and she said Mervyn Maxwell. Thank God for some of our professors.
I want to read you a couple of quotations from this manuscript, because this has to do with false teachings that are creeping into our Church.
“The danger has been presented to me again and again of entertaining as a people false ideas of justification by faith. I have been shown for years that Satan would work in a special manner to confuse the mind on this point. The Law of God has been largely dwelt upon and has been presented to congregations almost as destitute of the knowledge of Jesus Christ and His relation to the Law as was the offering of Cain.”
When we preach the Sabbath let us preach it in the context of Christ our righteousness.
“I have been shown that many have been kept from the faith because of the mixed, confused ideas of salvation. The ministers have worked in a wrong manner to reach hearts. There is not a point that needs to be dwelt upon more earnestly, repeated more frequently, or established more firmly [Can you see the emphasis there?] in the minds of all than the impossibility of fallen man meriting anything by his own best good works. Salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone.”
This is now in the book Faith and Works, pages 18-20. Read the whole book; it is a very balanced presentation. I would prefer that they titled it “Faith That Works.” Genuine justification by faith always produces good works; the works are in harmony with the Law but they do not carry any merit. They are the fruits.
“Let the subject be made distinct and plain that it is not possible to effect anything in our standing before God or in the gift of God to us through creature merit. Should faith and works purchase the gift of salvation for anyone then the Creator is under obligation to the creature. Here is an opportunity for falsehood to be accepted as truth. [And how many have fallen for that.] If any man can merit salvation by anything he may do, then he is in the same position as the Catholic to do penance for his sins. Salvation, then, is partly of debt, that may be earned as wages, and partly by grace. If man cannot, by any of his good works, merit salvation, then it must be wholly of grace received by man as a sinner because he receives and believes in Jesus. It is wholly a free gift. Justification by faith is placed beyond controversy. And all of this controversy is ended, as soon as the matter is settled that the merits of fallen man in his good works can never procure eternal life for him.”
This (salvation by works) is what the Pharisees were teaching. This is what the judaizers came and taught the Galatians, which they fell for; this is the false teaching we are facing today. So one of the tests for truth is, “Does it agree with scripture?” If you hear a quote from either the Scriptures or The Spirit of Prophecy, please look at those quotations in their context. You can make statements from the Bible that sound right but perverts the truth. Sister White makes the statement that because the members will not study their Bibles, God will allow damnable heresies to creep into the Church that will force our members to go to Scripture.
I would like to remind you that, in 1980, when we reviewed our fundamental beliefs (in the Church Manual), we came up with some very clear statements. I want to read the introduction:
“Seventh-day Adventists accept the Bible as their only creed and hold certain fundamental beliefs to be the teaching of Holy Scripture. These beliefs as set forth here constitute the Church’s understanding and expression of teaching of Scripture.
The first one is the Holy Scriptures. After making a statement that we believe the Bible is inspired it says:
“The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrine, and the trustworthy record of God’s acts in history.”
Then, when they go to Spiritual Gifts, which is one of our beliefs, they make the statement:
“One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is prophecy.”
This gift was, of course, part of the many-faceted ministry of Ellen G. White. And they conclude with this statement. After saying that her writings are for instruction, guidance, and correction, they say:
“They also make clear that the Bible is the standard by which all teaching and experience must be tested.”
We must become Bible students. I am so glad when we study books instead of topics. Because when you study a book, the danger of side-tracking is less than if you simply take a text here and there.
The other fruit of a true prophet is their character, their lifestyle, their influence. If anyone who brings division in the church, be cautious about them. Anyone who appears holy at church but at home are like devils, then you can beware. But sometimes the influence or the character can take a long time to be revealed. They can be wolves inside. Those who split the Church and say, “They are wrong, you need to come and join my camp” — I am cautious about that because, no matter how wrong the Church is, we must lead people to Jesus Christ.
I will tell you my own experience in closing. Why it took me so long to become an Adventist — four years from the time I first heard the message until I became one. One of the main reasons was my loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church. I have learned one thing: our loyalty must be to Jesus Christ. Every other loyalty will fall. We must never be loyal to an individual, or to a movement, or a following. We must be loyal to Christ and His Word. Then we will be on our guard.
When someone tells me new light, then I want him to give me a Bible study that is in harmony with the Word of God following the rules of Bible interpretation. That is why, in this day, we must beware of false prophets. I believe that, as we approach the end, false prophets will increase in number. They will also increase in deception. It is worse here than in some other countries. When I first came here, I was shocked. There was one group studying about the end of the world and how we must be careful about the banks. Some of the brethren said to us that we must not leave our money in the banks because they were going to close. This was in 1975. They said to take our money and invest in land. So we did. The land we invested in went bankrupt and we lost all the money. The banks did not close; we should have left it there.
Be careful. Jesus says, “Be careful.” Paul says, “Be careful.” The devil wants to destroy this Church and its mission. So I warn you to please remember that one of the things that the devil wants to do is to side-track you from the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. It is important that we are established in Christ and then we are able to evaluate whether it is true or false. Any teaching that does not lead you to Christ as your Savior, as your righteousness, as your hope, as your security, as your sanctification — be careful. The true Christian is one who has no confidence in the flesh and is rejoicing in Christ Jesus.
Do not believe any man, including me; go to Scripture.