You will recognize them by their fruit. Can people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?
This analogy is so sharp and cutting, I can’t help but smile. Something about the direct and forceful way of G-d delights me. You may not like it, but the Torah is full of harsh truths and there is plenty of tough talk sprinkled throughout. It is an honest document, so it shows both sides or reality. There are some passages that make me uncomfortable, like Joshua 7 when Israel stones Achan as well as his wife and sons and daughters. That’s terrible, that’s ugly, but it’s true. I think it teaches a good lesson too, but I wrote about that earlier.
Back to Matthew 7, I don’t think Yeshua is saying anything wrong here, but it almost feels like an insult. It does make a very clear point though, and this isn’t a license to be judgmental, but we can look to results to assess what a person is doing. Thistles don’t produce figs, so they are no good, for figs that is. Thistles are thistles, they have their function and you know how to deal with them by seeing them for what they are. If a believer is having struggles, if their character is lacking, if they aren’t producing the fruit they should be, that is a sign that something is wrong. I know Yochanon and Yeshua both talk about bad trees being chopped down and thrown into the fire, but that is not your call to make. That decision will be made by the Almighty and he will bring down the axe when the time is right. To extend the metaphor, when we see a tree that isn’t producing the good fruit it should, we can tend to that tree and help restore it to its natural state. That might mean pruning, binding, adding fertilizer or something else, but the intention is to edify the tree. This tending should be as tender as possible, whether the tree is us a fellow believer.