For this last scriptural witness, I would like to dig deeper into a characteristic that I introduced in a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago entitled “False Prophets, Fruit and the Unwitting Wolf.” I’ve included it in Appendix B for you, as supplemental information.
Producing bad fruit may seem like a cut-and-dried concept to grasp. One does not need to look very far to see the sexual immorality, error and greed that are rampant in the “Word of Faith” and “Prophetic” movements. But there is a lot more to the concept of “bad fruit” than meets the eye.
The core verse of this chapter (and the next) is going to be Matthew 7:15-16.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?
Most students of the Bible will gloss over this passage and assume that Jesus was only teaching on false prophets, and that you cannot get something good out of something bad. This is not an incorrect way of looking at this verse, but it is definitely an incomplete way.
If you had been an Israelite during the days that Jesus walked the earth, you would have had a much greater understanding of what our Master was teaching. You see, to the first century Jew, grapes, thorns, figs and thistles were much more significant.
Israel’s Promise – The Importance of Grapes and Figs
Unlike the modern day church, the nation of Israel heard the writings of the Prophets read in the synagogues every Sabbath. Because of this, they were very familiar with the concept and purpose of the grape and the fig. They knew that grapes and figs were some of the first fruits taken from the Promised Land when Israel first came to its border.
Then they came to the Valley of Eshcol, and there cut down a branch with one cluster of grapes; they carried it between two of them on a pole. They also brought some of the pomegranates and figs.
In the writings of the Prophets (and elsewhere in Scripture), there is a close association between the condition of the fig tree, the strength of the vine, and Israel’s relationship with God. When God blessed the land of Israel, His children would dwell securely “each man under his vine and his fig tree.”
For he had dominion over all the region on this side of the River from Tiphsah even to Gaza, namely over all the kings on this side of the River; and he had peace on every side all around him. And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, each man under his vine and his fig tree, from Dan as far as Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.
When they walked in disobedience to His commands and were punished, the vines and the fig trees were always affected adversely.
“Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination?
No! They were not at all ashamed,
Nor did they know how to blush.
Therefore they shall fall among those who fall;
In the time of their punishment
They shall be cast down,” says the LORD.
“No grapes shall be on the vine,
Nor figs on the fig tree,
And the leaf shall fade;
And the things I have given them shall pass away from them.”
And I will destroy her vines and her fig trees, Of which she has said, “These are my wages that my lovers have given me.” So I will make them a forest, and the beasts of the field shall eat them.
He has laid waste My vine, and ruined My fig tree;
He has stripped it bare and thrown it away; its branches are made white.
When Jesus walked the earth (the first time), the children of Israel were looking for a day when their Messiah would come and release them from Roman bondage. They were all well aware of what the Prophets said about this Kingdom.
But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow unto it.
“Hear, O Joshua, the high priest,
You and your companions who sit before you,
For they are a wondrous sign;
For behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH.
That I have laid before Joshua:
Upon the stone are seven eyes.
Behold, I will engrave its inscription,”
Says the LORD of hosts,
“And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day.”
So when Jesus spoke of grapes and figs, it caused His listeners to take notice! They knew what the message of a true prophet would sound like. Like I said earlier, every Sabbath they would hear readings from the Prophets in the synagogue! Jesus likened the fruit of the message and ministry of a true prophet to grapes and figs. Conversely, He likened the fruit of the message and ministry of a false prophet to thorns and thistles.
Are you making a connection here? Good!
In this chapter (and the next), we’re going to study these different types of fruit and what they symbolized. I understand that determining symbolism can be somewhat subjective in nature, but the Word is pretty specific about grapes, figs, thorns and thistles. I’m confident that, when you’re done reading these two chapters, you’ll have a better grasp of what Jesus was inferring and a clearer picture of the false prophet.
Grapes = Vessels of Restoration/Blessing
Restoration, which will be fully realized at the End of the Age, is the whole point of our salvation “walk” with God. We want to be restored back to the original, sinless state that Adam dwelt in when he walked with God in the Garden of Eden. We want to see our Father face-to-face and to speak with Him without this dimensional veil between us.
If you go by the “law of first mentions,” grapes are closely associated with this concept of restoration. The first time we see the word “grapes” being used is in Genesis 40.
Then the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “Behold, in my dream a vine was before me, and in the vine were three branches; it was as though it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and its clusters brought forth ripe grapes. Then Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”
We see here in the chief butler’s dream that, once the grapes are ripe, he is restored to his original position.
Israel knew that grapes (and figs) symbolized their nation at the first, when they were taken out of Egypt and wandered in the wilderness.
I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the first ripe in the fig tree at her first time: but they went to Baal Peor, and separated themselves unto that shame; and their abominations were according as they loved.
Go and cry in the hearing of Jerusalem, saying, “Thus says the LORD:
The kindness of your youth,
The love of your betrothal,
When you went after Me in the wilderness,
In a land not sown.
The firstfruits of His increase.
All that devour him will offend;
Disaster will come upon them,’ says the LORD.”
God intended Israel to be His priests, representatives and ambassadors to the world to show them the Way to serve the Father. This would fulfill His word to Abraham.
…blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.
“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.
Look, I now teach you these decrees and regulations just as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may obey them in the land you are about to enter and occupy.
God wanted the nation of Israel to be His “go-between” and assist Him in the restoration of planet Earth. Whoever would choose to change their ways and follow His ways would embark upon the path of restoration.
Isaiah said that grapes are containers of blessing.
Thus says the LORD: “As the new wine is found in the cluster, and one says, ‘Do not destroy it, for a blessing is in it,’ so will I do for My servants’ sake, that I may not destroy them all.”
So it’s only logical to draw the conclusion that, if Israelites were the grapes, then they were to be “containers of blessing” for the people of the earth. How would the blessing of God come to the people of the earth? When they repented and obeyed His Word!
You see, when an Israelite sought for grapes from an alleged prophet, he/she sought for fruit that would bless them (the seeker) and assist in their restoration as the people of God.
For further study: Where do grapes come from?
Answer: A vine! In the Old Testament, vines always represented nations. Israel was a nation who was portrayed as a vine (Hosea 10:1, Joel 1:7, Jeremiah 2:20-21) and so was Sodom (Deuteronomy 32:32).
More study: What was the “blessing” that Israel contained? It was the wine and the “new wine!”
Figs = Repentance, Freedom from Sin
When we read about figs in the Word of God, we find that they are closely associated with repentance and freedom from sin. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they sewed fig leaves together to cover their nakedness.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
Before we go on, notice that it wasn’t the fruits of the fig tree that covered their nakedness, but the leaves. There is a difference between having your sin covered and actually being rid of your sin. So, the LEAVES of the fig tree symbolize a covering for sin.
The FRUIT of the fig tree, however, symbolizes repentance. How do we know this?
We read in 2 Kings 20 that King Hezekiah was on the verge of death due to a boil, but because the king tearfully repented, God told the prophet Isaiah to have the King put a “lump of figs” on the boil, and it was healed.
Then Isaiah said, “Take a lump of figs.” So they took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered.
After Jesus spoke to His disciples of repentance in Luke 13:1-5, He told a parable of a fig tree.
He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’
We see in Mark that Jesus cursed the fig tree because He saw leaves on the tree (symbolic of the nation of Israel), but no fruit.
And seeing from afar a fig tree having leaves, He went to see if perhaps He would find something on it. When He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.
Jesus saw the artificial covering for sin, but no actual repentance.
For further study: Where do figs come from?
Answer: a fig tree! (Hosea 9:10, Joel 1:7)
The Ministry of the Grape/Fig
So, from the Scriptures provided, we can see that the nation of Israel is compared to many types of plant life:
- both the vine and the grapes ON the vine;
- both the fig tree and the figs ON the tree.
There is a reason for this.
The nation of Israel was to be a vessel of blessing and restoration to the world around them. They were to provide an example of what it meant to repent from earthly ways and take on the ways of the Most High. Not only that, they were to produce more vessels of blessing and restoration, who have repented and followed the Great King.
In other words, they were to be His prophets.
The covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, and confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel for an everlasting covenant, saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the allotment of your inheritance,” When you were few in number, indeed very few, and strangers in it.
Tying It All Together
Let’s come back to Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Matthew 7.
Speaking of false prophets, Jesus said that it was impossible to get grapes and figs from thorns and thistles (thornbushes).
The “fig” (repentance) and the “grape” (restoration/blessing) were the fruits of ALL the prophets up until that point in time when Jesus walked the earth. Jesus was affirming the use of this same criteria for the discernment of all future prophets.
Notice that the Messiah did not say, “There are going to be prophets after me who are only going to say nice things to you! And, if they do signs and wonders in my name, that’s who you need to follow! They are my chosen!”
Right after giving this “fruit comparison,” the Master says:
Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
In the next chapter, we will discuss thorns and thistles, the fruit of the false prophets.