Watch out for False Messiahs!

At the very beginning of the Olivet Discourse, Jesus warns his disciples to watch out for people who will appear claiming to be the Messiah (ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ χριστός) (Matt 24:2-5). Similarly, in Matt 24:10-13 he warns against pseudo-prophets (ψευδοπροφῆται) and in 24:23-28 both false messiahs and false prophets (ψευδόχριστοι καὶ ψευδοπροφῆται). In each case, these false prophets/messiahs will cause people to wander (πλανάω), a verb usually denoting deception. It is used often for Israel’s “going astray” in the LXX (Deut 4:19; Isa 17:11, for example). In Jer 23:32 the people of Israel are led astray by “those who prophesy lying dreams” and these false-prophet’s “lies and recklessness.”

Not the MessiahIn the literature of the Second Temple Period, false prophets are associated with the eschatological age. In the post-Maccabean text Testament of Judah 21:9, “Like a whirlwind shall be the false prophets: They shall harass the righteous.” Following this prediction Judah says “each other and conflicts will persist in Israel…until the salvation of Israel comes, until the coming of the God of righteousness, so that Jacob may enjoy tranquility and peace, as well as all the nations” (22:1-2).

Qumran community had experience with false teachers and prophets, although most of these refer to the Temple aristocracy from whom they had separated. For example, in a commentary on Isaiah 9:13-16, the prophet, the Teacher of Lies is “the tail” cut off by the Lord in judgment, and “[Those who lead this people lead (them) astray, and those who are led by him are swa]llowed up.” In the Apocryphon of Moses (4Q375 Col. i:4), false prophets were to be punished harshly: “However, the prophet who rises up to preach [apostasy] to you, [to make] you [tu]rn away from God, shall die.” The Temple Scroll also warns of false prophets who will try and turn the community from the Lord.

The Temple Scroll (11Q19) Col. liv:8-13 If among you there arises a prophet or a dreamer of dreams and gives you a sign or an omen, and the sign {and} /or/ the omen comes to you about which he spoke to you saying: “Let us go and worship other gods whom you do not know” do not listen to the word of that prophet or of that dreamer of dreams because I am putting you to the test, in order to know whether you love YHWH, the God of your fathers, with all your heart and all your soul.

In the seventh Sibylline Oracle (late second century, possibly Christian), prior to the restoration of the world false prophets will attempt to persuade the righteous:

Sib. Or. 7.132–138 But they will endure extreme toil who, for gain, will prophesy base things, augmenting an evil time; who putting on the shaggy hides of sheep will falsely claim to be Hebrews, which is not their race. But speaking with words, making profit by woes, they will not change their life and will not persuade the righteous and those who propitiate God through the heart, most faithfully.

Jesus’ warning concerning false prophets and messiahs is therefore consistent with other warnings from before and after Jesus. But the presence of false teachers, prophets and even messianic pretenders is not an indication the end is near. What is important here is Jesus warning to not led astray by people who claim this war or that earthquake is a sign of the end, since they are not signs at all, but the normal course of life until tine final judgment happens.

There are quite a few ways to use this warning to evaluate contemporary preaching and teaching on the end times. I often agree with the general point a writer makes, but I become very skeptical with they “set dates” or claim an event somehow fulfills prophecy. How should we apply Jesus’ warning to “not be deceived” today?

17 thoughts on “Watch out for False Messiahs!

  1. When Jesus foretells the future, he warns us on the many dangers that will come. One of the first things that Jesus mentions is being misled or deceived by false Messiahs. This is not a new warning in the bible because there have been many false prophets and messiahs in the past. This warning can be found in Luke 21:8: “He replied, ‘don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah’, and saying, ‘The time has come!’ But don’t believe them” (NLT). As you can see, this is a very literal warning that we should not be deceived in the beginning of end times. But, this can also be applied to our lives today. There are many different ways that we can be deceived by the devil, whether it be by misunderstanding, rumors and many others. In our day and age, there are many people who put on a good show and trick us into believing that they are out for the right purpose. But many times, their purpose is to manipulate and deceive us for personal gain. Sometimes the money we think we are giving to a good cause ends up in a greedy pocket. I believe this is a warning to be wise and ask for wisdom and awareness. At all times, we must be conscious of our choices and who we follow. This is why we need to pray for wisdom in order to filter through the good and the bad so we are not deceived and manipulated.

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  2. Aren’t we always to be wary against those who seek to deceive us? Whether that deception comes now or in the future? This is true that we should always stand strong against those who seek to deceive us, however, I would agree that Jesus’ presentation of this is much different than the ones that came before. Perhaps, this is because in Matthew 24, Jesus was stating that false messiahs would come along with wars, rumors of wars, natural disasters and the like. In a sense, He was placing the false messiahs alongside the other birth pains and signs of the end of the age. That being said, these birth pains did not have an end date that we could pin point, like you’ve said, but rather were a continuing reminder that the kingdom of God should be presently active in believers’ lives, but also was coming when Christ would return. Jesus was challenging, rather, the hearts of His followers and encouraging them to stay strong underneath the pressures of the world, found through persecution and deception. So too, today, we should be acting like Christ in what we do and say so that the kingdom of God can be present, but also we should be preparing for a time when false prophets come to lead us astray. It is when we have prepared and armed ourselves for the coming judgement that we can be ready to decipher the truth from the lie.

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  3. In Matthew 24 Jesus cautions the believers to be wise and to be aware of what is happening in the world around them, but to not be overtaken by them. In verse 8 Jesus explains that all the signs of the end times are birth pains, and that it is just the beginning. Wars, earthquakes, famines, and persecution are normal events, they are not positive things, but they occur on a natural basis. People in today’s age are so caught up in eschatology that they will claim anyone as being a false messiah or the anti-christ. I’m sure everyone in the 1940’s thought Hitler was the anti-christ. Matthew 24:36, Jesus explains that no one will know the day or the hour of His return, only the Father knows. Today, we must not be deceived by those who claim they know the time of Christ’s return. Only God knows the time of Christ’s return. Even if we did know, to what benefit would that information be? Instead of focusing on the return of tomorrow, love God with all of your heart now, and do whatever you can to show that love to everyone.

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  4. I agree with you, Professor Long, in your skepticism when people try to give dates to the return of the Lord or what some would call ‘the end of the world’. I wonder where they have their proof; biblical support. The Bible clearly tells us that the time of the Lord’s return is unknown to us. It will come upon us like a thief in the night (Matthew 24:42).
    This Bible reference is a great reminder of that because the return of the Lord is unknown; we should not slack off in our preparation of His return. As in Luke 12:38-40, which gives the example of the owner having known when the thief would have come would have prepared for him and guarded against him. Just like this example, we will not know when Jesus returns and it gives us great conscious as to how we should be living our lives now in preparation for His return.

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  5. Acts 17 tells of a people who “received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” Today I’m afraid many of us are ready enough to believe whatever anyone says is the word, but are rather unwilling to search the Scriptures daily to see if the things taught are so. Jesus’ warning to “not be deceived” was true in Acts and is just as true today. I think the key when hearing claims about the end times and predictions from people is to do as the people in Acts 17, the Bereans, did. They searched the word daily to find the truth. We cannot think for a minute that any one of us mere mortals has all the answers. In fact, it is important to keep in mind that no matter how convinced anyone is that he/she has finally figured out when Jesus is coming back, we cannot believe them because Jesus said “no one knows.” This includes the angels and even Jesus Himself. Only the Father knows, and I’ve read nowhere in His word that He has any intention of telling any person before that Day.

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  6. I think Jesus’ warning to not be deceived could maybe be interpreted as him saying something more like, “Trust me, when it happens, you’ll know.” From the sounds of it, I don’t think the signs of the end times will be very cryptic. I think it will be pretty clear.
    Plus, having the signs be clear takes away the worry of trying to waste time waiting and looking for them. I think that is why Jesus tells us that nobody knows the time and date of his return (Matt. 24:36). Instead, some people sit around looking for these subtle hints of signs as if they can say, “Challenge accepted, Jesus” and figure it out.

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  7. As others have said I think that the sign for Jesus is coming again will be very clear to us. In Matthew 24:7 Jesus tells us what will be the starting of his return. Going back in verse 5-6 Jesus warns us that people will predict what will happen for his coming, like in my example I had a high school teacher who truly believes that one day the world will turn upside down, and we will know that the world would be upside down, and after seven days all the nuclear weapons in Russia will go off and destroy the world. He even wrote books on this, but all of us in our class didn’t quite believe him. I think that is what we should really do if we hear something like that. I think we should just shrug it off, and keep going on with our lives.

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  8. Many Christians today feel that the end times are near because of all of the false doctrine that is being spread throughout the church. People believe that postmodern culture is the root of all evil and Rob Bell is Satan with a pitchfork and that because of the rising controversy in modern theology, Jesus MUST be coming soon. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-5 says, “Now, brothers and sisters, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, 2 for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” I don’t think it is necessarily “sinful” to watch for fulfillment of prophecy for the end times, but I think people should recognize that there have been false teachers throughout all of history….so why would false doctrine all of a sudden now become an issue? Like the verse says, these are the birthing pains of the end times, and no matter how hard people try to set the date of the rapture, it is not going to be correct. I think Jesus’s warnings against false teachers should be seen as an authority to stay doctrinally sound. People are very influenced by good speakers who can say anything they want and not have scripture to back themselves up. I would say take these warnings, and apply them to how you respond to highly influential people. Don’t start believing things that teachers say just because they sound good when they say it.

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  9. I think that we as Christians today tend to be very fascinated with the idea of end-times events. We hold the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, trying to find any sort of parallels between current political events and natural disasters and the apocalyptic passages of Scripture. We even go so far as to buy into clever scare tactics put together by false prophets who predict exact dates and times for the end of the world as we know it. While I certainly believe that Jesus is coming back, and pray that He returns soon, I don’t think that a focus on the timeline of end-time events is productive or healthy.

    In Matthew 24, Jesus warns that false teachers and messiahs, wars and rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes are all signs of the end times. Yet He says that “all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come” (24:8). He continues, saying that believers will face intense persecution, more false prophets will come, and sin will be “rampant everywhere” (v. 12). Yet the final step that Jesus lists before the end coming is that “the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it” (v. 14). If we are really interested in end-times events and the return of Christ, it seems that the Church should focus more and more on preaching the Gospel throughout the whole world! After all, this is what Jesus commissioned the Church to do. We aren’t commanded to track every world event and evaluate its impact upon the return of Jesus, but we are compelled to focus on using all the time that we have to reach others with His message.

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  10. I think this warning goes beyond just talking about the end times. This is what is on people’s minds when something crazy and different happens-natural disasters, diseases, ideological violence, even the moon turning red. It’s tempting to put the “clues” together and figure out how close we are to Jesus’ second coming. But though Jesus warns against this, he also warns about things that aren’t necessarily related to the end times. For example, the “false prophets” of our day could very well be political leaders, teachers, scholars, and even pastors who lead people away from the Word. Some of these people may claim to be a messianic figure, a “false messiah”. I think the main point of Jesus with these warnings is that we don’t know when he will come back, but while we’re here, we should hold on to the truth and not be lead astray.

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  11. Believe it or not but everyone is always in search of the truth and people will search for it anywhere. Some believe that it is within themselves others believe it is on earth and some believe that it is in another being. Everyone expresses or shows what they believe to be true one way or another. With all the “truth” out there which one is true? Some people believe that if it feels good it’s correct. Christians have a difficult life to live because of all the corruption within the world. Christians are called to live separate. How can Christians live separate if the corruption looks pleasurable? The devil is a very coniving being who will go at any lengths to tear down the Church. Because the devil is so coniving it can be difficult to point out his deceit as being deceit. Matthew 24 talks about how there will be false prophets. The best way to avoid being deceived by false prophets or any corruption of the world is to have discernment by using God’s word. He gave it as a tool for his people to use. If someone knows their bible, they’ll be able to know when someone is not speaking out of truth. When Jesus tells His disciples something, it is the truth and he has always followed through with his word. Many people today are inconsistent and flaky. How many times has someone tried to predict Jesus’ return? How many were correct? none. Everything within Jesus’ teaching has already come to pass. When Jesus says that He will return again, we can be confident that He will follow through with His word even though the exact time and date has not been revealed to us. In Matthew 7, Jesus warns his disciples about false prophets. Matthew 7: 17,18says, ” 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.”

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  12. Jesus warns about watching out for false prophets, or people who are claiming to be the Messiah. This is a warning for the end times and what is to come when people will be preaching wrong beliefs and claiming to be the messiah. However, it could be applied to our daily lives as well, because there are always people every day that speak falsities or claim to be more than they are. We need to be careful of what influences us and who we allow to speak truth to us. It is only going to get worse, because Matthew 24:8 says, “All these are the beginning of birth pains”. The wars and rumors of war, the false prophets, and the natural disasters that are occurring now are just “birth pains” for what is to come with the end times.

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