- WARNING: Social dishonesty: We must keep in mind that Jesus makes His statements in this context in view of the Jews’ nationalistic hope for the reestablishment of an independent Israel. Even the disciples had this misguided belief unto the final hours of His time on earth (See At 1:6). In order to recruit loyalty to the national/religious state (theocracy), insurrectionist Jews would use deception to convince fellow countrymen to take up arms against Rome. If Christians were not alert to this misguided patriotic call, then some Jewish disciples could possibly join the ranks of the resistance. Therefore, Jesus warned His disciples, “Take heed that no one deceives you” (Mt 24:4).
There would arise many who would come and claim to be the Messiah (the Christ), whom the Jews believed, would restore national independent Israel (Mt 24:5; see At 1:6). These religious/political deceivers would “show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect” (Mt 24:24). Because the nationalistic Jews had rejected Jesus as the Messiah, in the final years before A.D. 70 when political tensions began to rise between nationalistic Jews and Rome, there were numerous political messiahs who arose in order to recruit fellow Jews to rally around a nationalistic cause.
We would assume, therefore, from Jesus’ warning to His disciples that they be not deceive. The fact that they could be deceived indicates that the religious/political intimidation in the final years of national Israel would be strong. In fact, it became so strong that even Christians could possibly be led astray in answer to the patriotic call of the false messiahs. At least, when the book of Hebrews was written during the last decade before A.D. 70, there were some Christian Jews who were being intimidate into returning to the Sinai law and covenant that the nationalists were enshrining in the minds of the Jewish society (See Hb 2:1-3; 6:4-6; 10:36-39).
- WARNING: Popular leadership: The Jews were waiting for the coming of a national restorationist messiah. Their expectations were earthly, not spiritual. And because Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world, He did not have a great reception among the nationalistic Jews of His day (See Jn 1:11; 18:36).
In the final years of Israel, Jesus revealed that there were those who would appoint themselves to be the messiah (christ). These would be those who would stir up the patriotism of the people in order to gain a following to lead in rebellion against Rome (See At 21:38). These popular messiahs believed that they could lead the people to a restoration of an independent national Israel if the occupation of Roman could be overthrown. According to Josephus, even in the final days before the fall of Jerusalem, there were false messiahs springing up who were calling on the people to remain loyal to the cause.
Leaders who could make the loudest noise in appealing to the patriotism of the people were elected as the leaders of the day. “Make Israel Great Again” was the cry, and many joined the ranks of the rebellion against the establishment. If only Israel could separate herself from the Roman community, these false messiahs preached, then she would prosper. What actually happened in history was that all the nationalistic leaders passed on, national Israel was concluded, and history moved on.
When civilizations fall, no one individual can be the messiah to prevent the fall. Self-proclaimed messiahs can delay the process of falling, but we must not forget that self-proclaimed messiahs are always populace leaders. They are voted into office by a popular vote because the people are simply frustrated in their oppression. They are thus looking for anyone who will deliver them out of their social despair. But the people must not forget that their frustrations may be from within. They themselves are the problem, whether in cause or effect. There may be no outside force that is occupying the land.
If the fall of a civilization is coming from within, then the citizenship must consider the possibility that there are those from within who are seeking to overcome the land. A liberal or revolutionary movement is working from within society to change society to a new and different order.
When Jesus came into the world as the Messiah, He represented a new and different order. However, what He brought as the Messiah was contrary to the religious establishment of the day. The majority subsequently dispelled with Him because He did not conform to the religious norm of the day. He did not preach a nationalistic message that would please the populace Jews who were headed for the termination of their social order in A.D. 70.
Jesus’ message of Matthew 24 was an encouraging reminder to the disciples that they would continue to remain in the minority when the final day came. No populace messiah would change the final outcome of the misguided majority. In fact, the conclusion of the misguided majority would be the opportunity for the faithful minority to “shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (See Mt 13:36-44).
[More Matthew 24 warnings in next post.]