by Spiros Zodhiates
At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:1-2), we saw that three groups surrounded Jesus: curious bystanders, interested inquirers, and committed disciples. Up to this point in the sermon, the Lord had instructed His disciples, while the rest listened. Now He extended an evangelistic invitation to the whole group.
Verse 13: The aorist tense of the imperative verb "enter" (from eisérchomai) indicates an initial entrance into "life" (v. 14) and an exit out of destruction (here), implying a permanent state, that is, without exit and reentry.
Jesus came into the world to introduce the Kingdom of Heaven (or Kingdom of God; Matt. 19:24). The proclamation of this coming kingdom is the gospel, the good news (4:23), and His invitation is, "Come unto me" (11:28). In this verse, "coming" is portrayed as an entry through a "strait [from stenós, narrow] gate." In the days of our Lord, entrances to cities or edifices often had wide gates ten or twenty feet high. Crowds could easily pass through them.
Here, Jesus spoke of two distinct gates, one that "leads to destruction" [from apoleia, ruin of soul and body]" and another that leads to life (see next verse). The gate that leads to destruction is "wide" (from platús, from which we get our English word "plateau"), and the path to it is "broad" (eurúchoros, comfortably spacious, roomy). And, Jesus added, many in His day were entering the wide gate and traveling down the path to destruction.
The frightening impression we get here is one of herd psychology, a mad rush of sin driving crowds through the gate with the same demonic momentum that once drove pigs over a precipice (see Mark 5:13). Breadth and width are quantitative terms, encompassing the vast number of deceivers in the world-religious leaders, philosophers, in general every savior but the one who said, "There is no saviour beside me" (Hos. 13:4).
Verse 14: The adjectives, "strait" or "straight" (stene, not wide, allowing people to pass one at a time) and "narrow" (from thlíbo, to press, like pressing an orange; related to thlípsis, tribulation), respectively highlight two truths: first, there is only one personal, direct way to the Father. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (John 14:6); second, the way is a path of tribulation: "We must through much tribulation [from thlípsis] enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22, cf. Rev. 1:9; 2:9, 10; 7:14).
Entry is only through personal faith in Jesus Christ who is God (John 1:1) but became man (John 1:14): "Whosoever [pás, everyone who] believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:15). The path is full of afflictions, but it is the most joyous and blessed life one can live (Col. 1:11).
Yet "few [from olígos] are finding [from heurísko; the Lord used the present tense, meaning in His day] it" (a.t.). For the rebellious who "[had] no king but Caesar" (John 19:15), the narrow gate was esoteric and repugnant. For others who lived in "kings' houses" (Matt. 11:8), the crushing path was restrictive and uncomfortable. Both path and gate would lead to probable persecution.
After Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father and poured out His Spirit of power (Acts 2:33), many more believers were added to the church. Within a generation of that event, the Lord revealed to the Apostle John a much brighter vision concerning the number of people saved: "After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes ." (Rev. 7:9, 10).
Verse 15: The Lord Jesus now expanded His exhortation concerning the broad path that leads to the gates of Hades: "Beware [from prosécho] of false prophets [pseudoprophetes from pseudes, false; and prophetes, a prophet, from pró, before; and phemí, to speak with certainty], which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves."
The verb prosécho is frequently used as a nautical term, meaning to hold a ship on course or to sail towards a point. As we hold our course, we must avoid all distractions. This is the first mention of pseudoprophetes. Matthew 24:11 tells us that in the latter days many such prophets will arise to "deceive [from planáo, to deviate, follow the wrong signal] many." In 24:24 Jesus said that among them will be "false Christs" (from pseudóchristos) claiming to be Israel's messiah.
"Prophets," according to the Bible, both reveal future events and declare God's revelation of Himself. The inseparability of these two functions is witnessed in the Old Testament teaching that the Lord tests ("proves") His people's adherence to truth with false prophets (see Deut. 13:1-3,5).
The purpose of the false prophet is to steer God's people toward other gods. The Lord's purpose in this, however, is different-not to destroy but to prove the integrity of His people. The warning to us in both Deuteronomy and in our Lord's "beware" is that the words spoken by a prophet are far more significant to the legitimacy and authority of his ministry than any signs and wonders he might perform. We should "prove all things," and "hold fast that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21). We should hold to what agrees with the Word of God and discard the rest.
False prophets are in the world now, but as the end of the age approaches, Jesus said their number will increase (Matt. 24:11). He cautioned that those who do not care about His sheep will not enter through the door into the sheepfold but will climb over the walls as thieves and robbers (see John 10:1). He warned here that these false prophets will wear sheep's clothing to give the appearance of docility and harmlessness but only to hide their tooth-and-claw "ravening" (from hárpax, rapacious) and their snatching away of prey. The wolf, like the thief in John 10:10, comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.
Verse 16: Wolves in sheeps' clothing cannot stay hidden for long. The Lord cautioned, "Ye shall know [from epiginosko, to know, from epí, an intensive; and ginosko, to fully or additionally know by experience] them by their fruits [from karpós]. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?"
A fig tree produces only figs and an orange tree, oranges. Each tree produces fruit according to its kind. If a tree has oranges on it, you know it is an orange tree. So the answer to the two-pronged question is: no, such is impossible. From this rhetorical question, the Lord intended His hearers to infer that logical consistency, particularly consistency with biblical revelation, is the test for truth: "For every tree is known by his own fruit" (Luke 6:44).
Verse 17: But truth is always logically consistent: "Even so every good [from agathós, beneficent; but here healthy'] tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt [from saprós, rotted] tree bringeth forth evil [from ponerós, malevolent, harmful, here inedible'] fruit."
In spite of sheep's clothing, a wolf can only be a wolf (cf. Jer. 13:23). The wolf can neither change his wolfness nor be sheepish. His stealthy advance toward a prey enables him to kill so he can eat. The danger Jesus warned His disciples about is very real.
"Wherefore," Jesus aptly concluded, "by their fruits ye shall know them" (v. 20). Eventually, the false prophet will say, "Let's seek other gods." What better reason do we have to memorize the "word of truth" (Ps. 119:43; 2 Cor. 6:7; Eph. 1:13; etc.)?
Dr. Zodhiates is president emeritus of AMG International and publisher emeritus of Pulpit Helps.