We know that the world will end. God has told us that. What we don't know is the exact time when the world will end. But Jesus has assured us that God will send us signs when the end of the world approaches. And God will let us know that the signs come from him. He will not use false prophets as his messengers. We might think that the best thing we can do is to ignore false prophets. Most of us do that. We don't believe the predictions of false prophets and we refuse to get excited about them.
In this gospel reading Jesus gives his disciples different advice. He doesn't advise ignoring false prophets. He doesn't advise ridicule or making fun of them. He doesn't advise arguing or entering a dialogue with them. No, the advice of Jesus to his disciples is to beware of false prophets. He wants his disciples to be on guard against them. Jesus knows that the false prophets are very clever. They disguise themselves and appear to be very sincere in order to influence their hearers. Many people in Israel were susceptible to such tactics and taken in by them. But Jesus has chosen his disciples to be his close followers and the future leaders of his church. He is carefully instructing them to prepare them to take on these responsibilities. He wants them to concentrate on his teaching and avoid being deceived by the false prophets. Jesus knows that if the disciples can recognize the false prophets they will be better able to beware of them. And so he tells the disciples how to recognize the false prophets in spite of their clever disguises. In order to help the disciples to recognize them, Jesus uses the analogy of a tree and its fruit. As on many other occasions, Jesus here makes an important point by speaking of something that is very familiar to those to whom he is speaking. He speaks several times in the gospels about trees and their fruit. Here he makes the point that a tree may look healthy, but if the fruit of the tree is bad, the tree is really rotten in spite of its looks. In the same way, people may be disguised to look and speak very well, but if their words and deeds lead people away from Jesus, they are false prophets. So, by their fruits you shall know them.
As I read this gospel it seems to me that Jesus is telling us to beware of words and actions that lead us away from him. He wants us to beware of temptations that are very attractive but lead us into sin. These are the false prophets that Jesus wants us to beware of.
Collaborative Ministry Office Guestbook