The Meaning of a ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’ with Modern Examples

In modern times, they can be anyone in a place of power to manipulate and even abuse. It is important to return to Matthew 7:16, “By their fruit, you will recognize them.” So that we may know how to detect a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Contributing Writer
Updated Feb 13, 2024
The Meaning of a ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’ with Modern Examples

According to the Book of Matthew, a 'wolf in sheep's clothing' is a false teacher who has bad intentions that may look like good intentions. They are deceitful and hateful, and they often twist the truth for their selfish gain.

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” This line from Matthew 7:15 warns us about a wolf in sheep’s clothing or someone who may look harmless from the outside but actually has a bad agenda on the inside.

Who are these people, and how do we know if they are a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Discover the Biblical meaning and significance of this warning from Jesus as well as examples of such a person in modern times with some examples of how to deal with them every time we encounter such a character.

Table of Contents

Meaning of a 'Wolf in Sheep's Clothing'

At its core, the metaphor symbolizes deception and hypocrisy. Just as a wolf takes on the disguise of a sheep to infiltrate the flock unnoticed, deceitful individuals cloak their true motives under a facade of righteousness, seeking to exploit and harm the unsuspecting. 

The biblical metaphor carries a moral imperative, urging believers to exercise vigilance and wisdom in discerning true intentions. It underscores the importance of looking beyond outward appearances and evaluating actions and character with discernment and insight.

A 'Wolf in Sheep's Clothing' in the Bible

In Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns his followers to beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but inwardly are ravenous wolves. This vivid imagery serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the deceptive nature of those who masquerade as virtuous and righteous while harboring malicious intentions.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20).

The usage of the symbolic “wolf” is not isolated in this particular warning. In Ezekiel 22:27, the prophet warned “Her officials within her are like wolves tearing their prey; they shed blood and kill people to make unjust gain.” This verse details many of the dangers of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Related Bible verses about False Teachers

"'How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.' Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees." (Matthew 16:11-12)

"For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

"Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." (2 Peter 3:17-18)

"This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them." (1 John 4:2-5)

Sheep as a Symbol

Sheep are the symbol of innocence and purity throughout the Bible. Sheep are also very perceptive animals. In John 10:27, Jesus taught that his “sheep” hear his voice, he knows them, and they follow him. Thus, it isn’t the appearance of the sheep, but its ability to ascertain the voice of the shepherd that differentiates it from other animals.

In John 21:17, Jesus instructed Simon and Peter to “feed my sheep.” Further, if the shepherd does not properly guide the sheep, the flock will scatter. Jesus in Mark 14:27 warned “all ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.” (KJV)

A true “sheep” desires both a regular and a nourishing diet from its shepherd. “Wolves” on the other hand feed upon whatever prey that is available because its “meals” are sporadic and unpredictable.   

In the Old Testament, sheep are representative of the people of Israel who betrayed and failed to follow the true path of its shepherd. Thus, they were primarily used as sacrifices and examples of disobedience.

The prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 53:6 used this comparison when he wrote, “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (KJV)

Modern Examples of a 'Wolf in Sheep's Clothing'

Here are some modern examples of what to look for to detect and avoid a wolf in sheep's clothing:

1. They love power and use it to get what they want.

Often, a person who is a wolf with sheep’s clothing is someone who loves to be in power. They will always try their best to be in power by whatever means possible. To attain more power, they will use their current role to enact it.

Just as the illustration depicts, their ways may seem like they don’t want to be in power — feigning humility. So, they use the act of cognitive dissonance to achieve power gain.

People who experience dealings with a person like this will often get confused as to why this person seems like they do not want it, yet can feel the disingenuousness of it.

That is because a person with a sheep’s clothing look may seem very confusing at first. It is not easy to spot them or their nature.

Peter warns us of this nature in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” We must be alert when someone tries to confuse us and others with their love for power. The symbolic “wolf” desires worldly gain and fame more so than the salvation of souls and the spreading of God’s true word.

2. They love themselves and do not think of others

Another characteristic of a wolf in sheep’s clothing is that they love themselves and think only of what will benefit them. They often disguise such focus by acting like they are helping another person, but it is still for their gain or self-inflated ego.

They want people to see them as angels helping and looking after their friends and families. However, behind their family and friends’ backs is a different story, putting themselves further from everyone.

Scripture warns us about this in James 2:19, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that — and shudder.” Wolves in sheep’s clothing may believe in God and even know his name, but James says that is no indication of faith, for even the demons believe.

The only way for us to have the wisdom to decipher the true bad intentions behind the sheep’s clothing is to pray and seek wisdom and guidance from God.

3. They manipulate the situation and others

Wolves in sheep’s clothing are often emotionally abusive to their friends, loved ones, and families. This is called gaslighting. It is abuse that manipulates a person into thinking that their understanding of a situation, thoughts, and memories are questionable and vague and, therefore, untrue.

It makes the abused feel very confused about the situation, and in the end, the abuser wins by making the abused feel wrong and unvalidated about what they are feeling.

This is the wolf’s ultimate mastery of manipulation. They can twist the situation for their benefit by making others feel confused and unworthy.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians reminds us to be wary and on guard, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). It is a comforting reminder to be strong and courageous in the Lord so the wolves cannot get past.

When we feel that we know someone, especially in a leadership capacity, who has this kind of personality, it is important that we be on guard to not let it continue.

4. They refuse to be corrected and use emotions when corrected

People with sheep’s clothing who are really wolves are those who do not want to be corrected. They use guilt and shame to pin the blame back on the person who first issued the correction.

It is a tricky scenario because they call into question the validity of the accuser with surprising skill.

How do we refute a person of this nature? We go back to the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.”

We use love, gentleness, and self-control when dealing with them because it is what we are called to do, even when preventative action needs to be taken.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).

However, let us not be deceived by their crying and heightened emotions when they get corrected. Rather, let us have the wisdom to do the right thing when encountering such a situation.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing has been mentioned in the Bible many times, and we have been warned about them. In Scripture, they were false prophets preaching as if they had good intentions but intended to confuse the people. 

In modern times, they can be anyone in a place of power to manipulate and even abuse. It is important to return to Matthew 7:16, “By their fruit, you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” So that we may know how to detect if a wolf is in sheep’s clothing.

Here are 15 Bible Verses Every Christian Should Know By Heart for you to download or share with loved ones!

For further reading:

What Is Gaslighting? Understanding the Warning Signs and Way of Escape

What Does the Bible Warn about False Prophets?

What Are the Fruits of the Spirit?

The Bible and Emotional Abuse

What Does it Mean to ‘Love Your Enemies’?

How Do We Pray for Those Who Hurt Us?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Animaflora

Glory Dy has been a content creator for more than 10 years. She lives in a quiet suburb with her family and four cats.


Christianity / Life / Bible / The Meaning of a ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’ with Modern Examples