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'Many False Prophets Will Arise and Deceive Many'

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When Jesus Christ's disciples asked Him what would herald His coming to rule all nations, He answered by first relaying a series of developments that would lead up to the grand climax of the present age: religious deception, wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes (Matthew 24:3-8 Matthew 24:3-8 3 And as he sat on the mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world? 4 And Jesus answered and said to them, Take heed that no man deceive you. 5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. 6 And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that you be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. 8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.
American King James Version×
; Mark 13:3-8 Mark 13:3-8 3 And as he sat on the mount of Olives over against the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, 4 Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign when all these things shall be fulfilled? 5 And Jesus answering them began to say, Take heed lest any man deceive you: 6 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. 7 And when you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, be you not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet. 8 For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be earthquakes in divers places, and there shall be famines and troubles: these are the beginnings of sorrows.
American King James Version×
; Luke 21:7-11 Luke 21:7-11 7 And they asked him, saying, Master, but when shall these things be? and what sign will there be when these things shall come to pass? 8 And he said, Take heed that you be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draws near: go you not therefore after them. 9 But when you shall hear of wars and commotions, be not terrified: for these things must first come to pass; but the end is not by and by. 10 Then said he to them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: 11 And great earthquakes shall be in divers places, and famines, and pestilences; and fearful sights and great signs shall there be from heaven.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus said that these were just the “ beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:8 Matthew 24:8All these are the beginning of sorrows.
American King James Version×
, emphasis added throughout)—or, as the New International Version better renders this, the “beginning of birth pains.” As birth pangs—or labor contractions—get stronger and closer together as delivery approaches, so these trends would appear with increasing intensity and frequency as the end of the age approached.

Let's take a closer look at the first of these trends—religious deception.

“Many shall come in my name …”

Just what is the nature of this deception? Notice Jesus' specific warning: “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (verses 4-5, King James Version).

Modern Bible versions often place quotation marks around “I am Christ,” the translators assuming that Jesus was talking about people who would claim to actually be the Christ or Messiah themselves. There have been such people, and Jesus warned later in the same discourse of “false christs” at the end of the age (verse 24).

Yet there clearly have not been, as verse 5 requires, “many” such individuals who have been taken seriously—much less deceived the “many”—in the two millennia since Jesus said this. And there certainly has not been a great increase in such individuals in recent centuries—while there has been a marked increase in the other prophesied signs.

Some have proposed that Jesus was referring to false “savior” figures like the Roman emperors of New Testament times or Napoleon, Hitler, Mao and Saddam Hussein in the modern era. But this is stretching the concept of “the Christ” or “the Messiah” far beyond what Jesus' disciples would have understood it to mean—the prophesied anointed king of the line of David.

Indeed, notice again that Jesus said, “Many shall come in my name “—His name being Jesus . Furthermore, they would come in His name, not with His name or bearing His name. In other words, they would presume to represent Him—not assume His identity.

So a clearer rendering of what Jesus meant in verses 4-5 would be: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many shall come claiming to represent Me, saying that I [Jesus] am the Christ, yet shall deceive many.” That is, they would proclaim Jesus as the biblical Messiah and would claim to be His representatives—but they actually would be part of a massive religious deception.

It is these people—false preachers and teachers claiming to be Christian—who would proliferate and deceive ever more people as the end of the age neared.

The apostle Paul later affirmed, in a Christian context, that “evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13 2 Timothy 3:13But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
American King James Version×
). So not only do they deceive others. These false teachers themselves are deceived.

Lawless fruits

In His famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus issued the following warning regarding false prophets or preachers: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15 Matthew 7:15Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.
American King James Version×
). Jesus being the great Shepherd, His followers are portrayed as sheep. Yet these false prophets only appear to be Jesus' followers. Their true nature is one of devouring the lives of the unsuspecting—as a wolf among the flock.

Paul would later warn of this as well. He told the leaders of the church in Ephesus: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29-30 Acts 20:29-30 29 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.
American King James Version×
).

Yet such imposters would be identifiable. Jesus explained: “You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit” (Matthew 7:16-17 Matthew 7:16-17 16 You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree brings forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit.
American King James Version×
). By “fruits,” Jesus is referring metaphorically to visible results or outcomes.

He then gives us an example of something to look for in our evaluation: “Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord' [merely acknowledging Him as Lord], shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (verse 21). Then notice: “Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied [preached or taught] in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?'” (verse 22).

Again, as in Matthew 24, we see such preachers coming in Jesus' name —having done various works in His name. But their lives are not lives conformed to the will of God. Jesus concludes, “And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'” (Matthew 7:23 Matthew 7:23And then will I profess to them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.
American King James Version×
).

Practicing lawlessness means living as if God's law is done away or of no consequence. Notice that these individuals are deceived about their own spiritual state. They think they have a special relationship with Jesus—but He ends up telling them they are gravely mistaken. In reality, He doesn't know them at all.

Why? Because they don't honor God by obeying His law. As the apostle John would later explain: “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:3-4 1 John 2:3-4 3 And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He that said, I know him, and keeps not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
American King James Version×
).

Jesus is telling these false prophets that He doesn't know them and they don't know Him. For if they knew Him, they would understand what He required—obedience to God's law. As Jesus stated in Matthew 19:17 Matthew 19:17And he said to him, Why call you me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if you will enter into life, keep the commandments.
American King James Version×
, “If you want to enter into [eternal] life, keep the commandments. “

Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Whoever … breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called the least [by those] in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19 Matthew 5:19Whoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
American King James Version×
).

Notice that Jesus speaks here of those who would disobey God and those who would teach others to disobey Him. So it's not only a matter of practicing lawlessness —but also of teaching it, whether through word or example.

Exalting traditions over God's law

Jesus applied these principles to the religious leaders of His own day. For instance, Jesus chided the scribes and Pharisees for establishing many legalistic traditions that sidelined God's actual commandments. He said: “Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men'” (Matthew 15:6-9 Matthew 15:6-9 6 And honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have you made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. 7 You hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, 8 This people draws near to me with their mouth, and honors me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. 9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.
American King James Version×
).

Thus it is actually possible to worship God in vain—uselessly—in this case by putting the traditions of men ahead of the commandments of God.

Moreover, the scribes and Pharisees went beyond mere false teaching. As Jesus explained, “All their works they do to be seen by men” (Matthew 23:5 Matthew 23:5But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments,
American King James Version×
). He castigated them, “Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (verse 28).

Yet it should be made clear that it's not necessary to be a hypocrite to be a false preacher. A man preaching that God's law is done away may be completely sincere in his belief—yet he is nevertheless a false teacher and certainly not a true representative of Jesus Christ.

Counterfeit Christianity

Jesus' prophecy of false teachers coming in His name began to be fulfilled even during the era of the apostles. Paul mentioned a number of false teachers. He said a “different gospel” was already being preached (Galatians 1:6 Galatians 1:6I marvel that you are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ to another gospel:
American King James Version×
).

Paul even identified a heretical system he referred to as “the mystery of lawlessness,” which during his ministry was “already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7 2 Thessalonians 2:7For the mystery of iniquity does already work: only he who now lets will let, until he be taken out of the way.
American King James Version×
).

This system, he showed, would persist until the end of the age: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved ” (verses 8-10).

The book of Revelation refers to this lawless mystery religion as “MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT” (17:5) and shows it appearing with “two horns like a lamb” (presenting itself as Christ-like) but speaking “like a dragon” (13:11). The “dragon” in Revelation is Satan the devil, who deceives the whole world (12:9). So what we're seeing here is an extremely powerful “wolf in sheep's clothing.”

What Paul and this section of Revelation are describing is a great counterfeit of the true religion—a world-dominating false Christianity led by Satan and his ministers, who appear as ministers of righteousness (see 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 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.
American King James Version×
).

As shocking as it may sound, the world religion that now lays claim to the name of Christianity, having nearly 2 billion adherents, is that very lawless mystery system! This is not to question the sincerity of its many followers. Most are motivated by a sincere desire to please God. But sincerity is not the measure of right and wrong. God defines what is right by His laws and commandments, and Christianity in general has rejected many of God's clear instructions.

Early on, this religion shed many important biblical doctrines and commandments in favor of popular pagan concepts and traditions. Christmas and Easter, for instance (the name “Easter” even deriving from the pagan goddess Ishtar), are merely pagan holidays covered over with a Christian veneer—despite the Bible's explicit command that we not worship the true God with pagan customs (see Deuteronomy 12:29-32 Deuteronomy 12:29-32 29 When the LORD your God shall cut off the nations from before you, where you go to possess them, and you succeed them, and dwell in their land; 30 Take heed to yourself that you be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before you; and that you inquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. 31 You shall not do so to the LORD your God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hates, have they done to their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. 32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: you shall not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
American King James Version×
).

It is just as Jesus said of the Pharisees: “In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. “

The true Christian Church, holding fast to God's commandments throughout history, has remained, in the words of Jesus, a “little flock” (Luke 12:32 Luke 12:32Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
American King James Version×
). In contrast, the popular substitute for Christianity has grown enormous and powerful—just as Jesus foretold in Matthew 24.

The worst yet to come

Recall Christ's warning that false teachers would be on the rise through history, culminating in the vast and powerful deception of the last days. Of the time just before His return Jesus said, “False christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Matthew 24:24 Matthew 24:24For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; so that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
American King James Version×
).

These signs and wonders are the same ones Paul mentioned. They have happened at times throughout history—yet will grow in magnitude at the end of the age, reaching their height with the coming of the great false prophet, who also appears to be representing Christ but in reality is the Antichrist.

All of us need to be wary and watchful. We must examine the fruits of all those who claim to represent Jesus Christ—in the way they live and the doctrines they teach. Do they insist that we are required to obey God's commandments? Or do they preach a message of cheap grace—that we can come to God just as we are without making any fundamental changes in our behavior?

Remember, most of those who claim to represent Jesus actually don't. Moreover, as time goes on, ever more pretenders will arise, however sincere they may be. And finally, bear in mind that the greatest period of deception ever is just ahead of us. “See,” Jesus said, “I have told you beforehand” (verse 25).

He was warning us to be prepared. Are you? GN

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