Jesus declared that the Temple and its buildings would be destroyed, and the disciples, gripped with this stunning reality as presented by him, asked Him to tell them “when will this happen?” Jesus replied with eight signs of the coming destruction. They are:
1. False messiahs and false prophets (Matt. 14:4- 5,11,23-26)
2. Wars and rumors of wars, nation rising against nation (Matt. 24:6-7)
3. Famines (Matt. 24:7)
4. Earthquakes (Matt. 24:7)
5. Persecution of believers (Matt. 24:9)
6. Falling away from the faith (Matt. 24:10)
7. Love growing cold (Matt. 24:12)
8. Gospel preached in the whole world (Matt. 24:14)
We will look at these signs one after the other as it relates to their fulfillment within the generation that Jesus spoke about. For this study series our focus is the rise of false Messiahs and Prophets.
Matthew 24:4-5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. 5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
Mark 13:22 For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall show signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.
It’s easy for people now in the 21st century to state that we are in the last days that, especially as we have seen many arise as false Christs and prophets. However, as we consider the testimony of Scripture we need to inteprete based on audience/reader relevance. In the medical field a particular symptom is not always an indicator of a particular ailment. Further enquiry is made to know what the collective direction of symptoms because a doctor can state his final analysis and give the necessary prescriptions.
We have seen the questions of the disciples as it related to the Lord’s return in judgment over Jerusalem that would be occasioned by the destruction of the temple and the land.
We have also previously seen that the Scripture testify with abundant texts that the first-century church was living in the last days (Acts 2:17; Hebrews 1:2; James 5:3; 2 Peter 3:3).
And He said: “Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time has drawn near.’ Therefore do not go after them. (Luke 21:8 NKJV)
In Luke’s account we see the phrase added “the time has drawn near.” It is obvious that Jesus was not talking about something that would take place two thousands years later! Jesus was warning his disciples about something that was drawing very near in their time! Otherwise why would they take heed!
To take heed in scriptures means to be careful to consider. Why should be the disciples ask a direct question and get answer that would not bear a direct impact on them but for a generation 2,000 years later?
The text in Matthew 24 is clear. The apostles asked for the signs that would precede the coming of Jesus Christ and the end of the age. The main question people should be asking is this, did the appearance of false Christs take place within the apostles’ generation?
There is undisputed evidence among the New testament writers that false Christs had arisen and that their emergence proved to the apostles without a shadow of doubt that THEY were in the last days; The last days of that Mosaic age.
Did such false Messiahs arise and deceive many in those years before the destruction of Jerusalem?
The answer is a resounding Yes! We have both biblical and historical records of many such false Messiahs that came on the scene.
Acts 5:36 (NKJV) “For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing.
According to Josephus, the Jewish historian, twelve years after our Jesus’ death, Theudas persuaded a great multitude to follow him to the river Jordan which he claimed would divide for their passage. “The land,” says Josephus, “was overrun with magicians, seducers, and impostors, who drew the people after them in multitudes into solitudes and deserts, to see the signs and miracles which they promised to show by the power of God.”
At the time of Felix (who is mentioned in the book of Acts 23-25), the country of the Jews was filled with impostors who Felix had put to death every day; a statement which indicates their great number in those days!
It is also record that an Egyptian who “pretended to be a prophet” gathered 30,000 men, claiming that he would show “how, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down.” Origen mentions a certain wonder-worker, Dositheus, who claimed he was the Christ foretold by Moses.
About three years after Jesus left the earth, another Samaritan impostor appeared and declared that he would show the people the sacred utensils, said to have been deposited by Moses, in Mount Gerizim. Induced by an idea that the Messiah, their great deliverer, had now come, an armed multitude assembled under him, but Pilate speedily defeated them and slew their chief.
In the time of Porcius Festus (AD 60), another distinguished impostor seduced the people by promising them deliverance from the Roman yoke if they would follow him into the wilderness. But Festus sent out an armed force, which speedily destroyed both the deceiver and his followers. In short, impostors to a divine commission continually and fatally deceived the people, at once both justifying the caution and fulfilling the prediction of our Lord.
Another account of antichrists and false prophets arising is found in Acts 13:
Acts 13:6-10 And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus: 7 Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. 9 Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, 10 And said, O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?
Elymas is identified as a false prophet. In this case, deception and turning men from the truth was what he was known for. It was his craft. His method was to pervert the right ways of the Lord and keep men from hearing the gospel through the mouth of Paul .
Paul, in defense of the truth, classified Elymas as a child of the devil, an enemy of all righteousness, and full of subtlety and all mischief. Truly, Elymas was an example of a false prophet.
John in his writing indicated that even in their time and generation that many antichrists were living among them. The spirit of antichrist was already in the world, which is exactly why John could write with certainty that he and his reader were in the last hour:
“Little children, it is the last time (hour-Gk.-hora): and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.” (1 John 2:18)
Those who would say that we are in the last hour would go against the timeline of scriptures. John specifically cited the presence of antichrists as a fact whereby his hearers would know that it was the last time, when they would witness the consummation of all things as prophesied by Jesus.
How did John know that they were in the last hour? He was in the presence of Jesus when He admonished the disciples to be aware of the signs that would take place before the coming of Christ (Mark 13:3).
Why would John incite his hearers to know they were in the last hour? We cannot dismiss John’s time statement for two reasons:
1) The use of time statements in Scripture consistently pertains to real chronology, thus, agreeing with John’s statement of imminence, and
2) John cited the presence of antichrists which proved he and his hearers were in the last hour.
The mere warnings in Scripture should be enough to convince the original audience of those letters that the apostles actually believed Christ was returning in their generation.
Paul’s warnings against false teachers saturated virtually every one of his epistles. In second Corinthians, we see a straightforward caution regarding the “ministers of unrighteousness”:
“Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. 2 For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” (2 Corinthians 11:1-4)
“But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. 13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” (2 Corinthians 11:12-15)
Paul actually confirmed that these false apostles had already crept into the assembly at Jerusalem:
“And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: 5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. (Galatians 2:4-5)
It should be made clear at this point that the apostles were convinced that anything in addition to the cross of Christ which is the finished work (Galatians 6:14) whether circumcision, baptism, observance of festivals, or sacrifices, was another gospel. Therefore, those who propagated such false gospels were to be named false prophets. They were all in their message denying the finished word of Jesus.
In the book of Acts, Paul admonishes the Ephesian church leaders that these false prophets would arise after his departure:
“For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30)
Who were these wolves? They were none other than those to whom the Lord was referring when He spoke to His disciples:
“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)
This subject of wolves is also found in found in Matthew 10, which contains a very strong statement in relation to the coming of Christ:
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. 17 But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; 18 And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. 19 But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. 20 For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. 21 And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. 22 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. 23 But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.” (Matthew 10:16-23)
Jesus associates the presence of these wolves with His coming before the disciples would have gone through the cities of Israel. This same disciples were the ones given the commission of the preaching the gospel of the kingdom in all of Judea and the cities of Israel.
Paul also, in keeping with the same theme as of the manner of His Savior, associates the presence of the enemies of the cross with the return of Christ in the book of Philippians:
(For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) 20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. (Philippians 3:18-21)
These Philippians were encouraged by Paul’s excitement over the fact that Christ, for Whom Paul and his readers were eagerly awaiting, would return to give them their glorified bodies and subdue these very enemies.
The false teachers and prophets had one goal against the body of Christ. They were persuading men to return to the elements or rudiments of the Old Covenant. If they had returned to it they would also participate in the same judgment that hit that nation. The records have shown that church did survive by heeding the warning of Jesus as they left the city before the final conquest by the Roman army.
“Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” – Colossians 2:8
(To be continued)