How to Beware of the "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing"

Pastor, writer
How to Beware of the "Wolf in Sheep's Clothing"

Wolf and sheep. These happen to be two of the most diametrically opposed creatures that you can find. Yet Jesus uses this complete contrast in nature to breach the subject of false prophets. In this article, we’ll take a look at a particular phrase that has been taken out of Matthew 7:15:

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”

From this verse is derived the familiar phrase, “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” What does it mean, and what was Jesus saying? As with all of Christ’s words, there is much that we can glean and apply to our lives from this verse, and from the phrase we will cover.

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Origin of "A Wolf in Sheeps Clothing" in the Bible

gospel of matthew, beware wolf in sheeps clothing

The book of Matthew, where we find our verse, named for its author, was written to a specific audience. Matthew is filled with references to Old Testament Scripture, indicating that Matthew’s goal in writing was to reveal Jesus to his Jewish brethren and to prove that He was the promised Messiah.

Matthew himself was a tax collector, who as a group, were despised by the people. This was because they were seen as allies and tools of the Roman government, in collecting sometimes exorbitant taxes from the people. Publicans, as they were known, had the freedom to set their own fees in addition to the taxes being collected, and were known to be unscrupulous in their dealings, hence gaining for themselves a terrible reputation.

Whether or not Matthew himself was as unprincipled as his counterparts we are not told, but when we first encounter Matthew, we find him sitting at a table, doing his job. Matthew’s life would be dramatically altered with a simple, yet direct command from the Savior. We read from Matthew 9:9:

“As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector's booth. ‘Follow me,’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

In Luke’s telling of this momentous event, he adds that Matthew (also known as Levi) “left all” (Luke 5:28). This tells us the extent of his departure and his level of his commitment as he began his walk with the Lord. Matthew would then in turn invite Jesus to his home for a great feast. Here, Jesus would be surrounded by the only people Matthew knew intimately: other publicans and sinners. The Pharisees, who without a doubt disagreed with nearly everything Jesus did, questioned Jesus’ presence there. But Jesus made a statement that would silence them – at least temporarily.

“And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Matthew 9:11-13).

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What Is Happening in Chapter 7?

man looking at mountain, matthew 7 beware of wolf in sheeps clothing

As we enter into the seventh chapter of Matthew, we are stepping into the middle of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, recorded sermons of Christ. This celebrated discourse is known traditionally as the Sermon on the Mount. In it, Jesus unleashes a collection of teachings that have endured the test of time, and continue to be the standard for Christian life and living. In the chapters leading up to this one, Jesus has already covered the beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the issue of forgiveness.

As Jesus spoke on marriage and divorce, prayer and fasting, forgiveness, and several other topics, the emotions of the people must have been varied. Some were excited, others were captivated, and still others may have been confused and doubting. But what a unique honor it must have been to be under the sound of Jesus’ teaching!  His voice must have been powerful as it resounded through the crowd!

I can see Jesus as He situated Himself on the mountain, as the multitudes began to gather; as he readied Himself to minister to the people He came to save. Not everyone would receive Him, or even believe Him; but that didn’t matter, because He loved them.

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What Is a False Prophet and How to Spot One

suspicious woman, watch out for wolf in sheeps clothing false prophet

As Jesus continued to speak, he directly confronted and warned the people of a group of individuals that were prominent in his day, and continue to be prominent in ours. Let’s restate our verse from Matthew 7:15 here:

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”

How can we accurately define what a false prophet is? Simply put, a false prophet is one who professes to speak forth that which God has spoken, but actually does not.

Before we pursue this subject further, let’s first make a statement about prophecy. For many, the immediate thought one has when hearing of or speaking of prophecy is the idea of “foretelling.” This is properly one of the aspects of prophecy; it is predictive. This side of prophecy has the unfortunate tendency to fascinate many. The other aspect of prophecy is that it is simply “forthtelling.” It is the man or woman of God being used to proclaim truth as the Lord has given it to them; though it may not be predictive in nature.

False prophets are those who, for several reasons, have opted to deceive God’s people. Here are three powerful verses which speak decisively of false prophets: 

“But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1).

“Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3).

These verses not only reveal to us the jaded character of the false prophet, but also show us how dangerous it is to be swayed by such a person.

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What Is a Wolf in Sheep's Clothing?

man with satan shadow, wolf in sheeps clothing

As an expression alone, a wolf in sheep’s clothing denotes a person who appears harmless and kind, but this attitude only hides their devious and malicious intent. This type of person is easily trusted, and is able to gain the favor of those who are unsuspecting. It is hard sometimes to fathom that there are actually people who would purposely do this, but we must not be naïve. 

From a purely biblical context, we have been given a divine help that warns against those false in their ways, or in their proclamation. That divine help is the power of discernment. Discernment protects us from the false words and purposes of the false prophet.

As we have read previously from 1 John 4:1, we are told to test the spirits to see whether they are of God or not. This has to do with the teachings and proclamations of those who claim to be speaking on behalf of God.

What Does This Verse Mean for Believers Today?

More than ever before, today’s Christian needs to be on guard against wolves in sheep’s clothing and the danger they bring. They cause instability in the child of God who is unprepared to deal with their wares.

Who are the unprepared? It is those who are undiscerning. While every child of God has a measure of discernment, since we all are indwelt by the Spirit, our spiritual senses are sharpened by the amount of time we spend in God’s Word. The Christian who does not read Scripture, or devote ample time to the study of the same, leaves themselves open to false teachings and the like.

The child of God need not be a scholar, surrounding themselves with degrees of every kind, but we do need to remain equipped and ready to stand against heresies and doctrines of demons. 

“While evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it” (2 Timothy 3:13-14).

The seducers spoken of here refer to both false teachers and false prophets. But the encouragement here is that we continue to learn of those things which we are sure of because they have been divinely planted in us.

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Stay Vigilant!

woman with magnifying glass, watch out for wolf in sheeps clothing

As long wolves in sheep’s clothing remain among us, we must keep our swords sharp. I speak of the Word of God which has the power to hold back the flood of false prophecies and teachings of the false prophet. While Satan himself is compared to a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), the false teacher is compared to a ravenous wolf.

Because both are predatory in nature, they each seek victims. This is why we must stay vigilant and sober minded. Only then will be able to stem the tide of wolves in sheep’s clothing. 

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

Our God always causes us to triumph! Amen! 

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Michael Jakes is a Bible teacher, and co-founder of That’s The Word! Ministries, a distinctly online Cross-centered outreach. He hosts several live weekly webcasts, including 'The Bible Speaks Live', 'The Cutting It Right Bible Study', and the 'Line By Line Webcast'. He has also authored three books, The Lights In The Windows, Churchified Or Sanctified?, and Living In Between Sundays. He and his wife Eddye have been married for over 40 years, and reside in New York. You can follow him on Facebook and Youtube , or listen to his podcasts on Spreaker.