“For there will arise false christs [messiahs] and false prophets. And they will show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”
False christs and prophets would arise in the time of calamity in order to call people after futile aspirations to establish a Jewish state. They would show great signs and wonders. These deceiving tricks would be so good that even Christians might by chance believe them to be real.
These “signs and wonders” could not be real supernatural events simply because Jesus says here that the elect might be deceived into believing them to be real. The point is that they would not be deceived if the supposed miracles were true. One is not deceived when he believes that which is true and real.
This context is similar to Paul’s warning in 2 Thessalonians 2:9: “The presence of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan with all deceiving power and signs and wonders.” In the 2 Thessalonians text the word “lying” would modify power, signs and wonders. All supposed miracles of Satan are false. Those who suppose to control the supernatural today to prove themselves and their message to be true are the instruments of Satan. Paul warns that “such are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Co 11:13). They are not instruments of Satan because they work real miracles. They are instruments of Satan because they claim that what they do is the miraculous work of either God or Satan. Jesus warned, “Be not deceived.”
Some ask how one can determine if the supposed supernatural work of an individual is true. The answer is simple. If one is not preaching the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, coronation and final consummation of all things, then he is a false prophet and his signs are fake. If one does not teach that one must obey the gospel of the incarnate Son of God through baptism for remission of sins, then he is a false prophet and his signs are fake. Upon such masquerading apostles, King Jesus will come with the following judgment:
“… rest with us when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who do not know God and who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Th 1:7,8).
“Behold, I have told you in advance.”
Jesus told the disciples these things beforehand in order to prepare them to believe in Him when it all happened. He made a similar statement in John 13:18 after quoting Psalm 41:9 in reference to the betrayal of Judas: “Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He” (Jn 13:19).
The false prophets about whom Jesus spoke existed in the times preceding the destruction of Jerusalem. We do not doubt that they have existed throughout history unto this day. Christians, therefore, would be wise to take heed to Jesus’ warning concerning such things. In the same historical context of the decade that led up to the conflict between Rome and the nationalistic Jews, Peter warned,
“Beloved, I now write to you this second epistle (in both of which I stir up your pure minds by way of reminder), that you may be mindful of the words that were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Savior, knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?” (2 Pt 3:1-4).
Peter personally remembered the prophecy of Jesus in Matthew 24. He stirred his audience to remembrance by reminding them that they were in the last days about which Jesus spoke. He wrote the letter of 2 Peter between A.D. 65 and 67. This was only a short time before the destruction was to begin.
Peter wrote that Jesus “was manifest in these last times for you” (1 Pt 1:20). God “has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Hb 1:2). This was the “fullness of the time” (Gl 4:4) and the “end of the age” of God’s special covenant with national Israel (Ep 1:10). It was in these last times of national Israel that God sent forth His Son. The last days did not refer to a dispensation, but to a time of ending, the end of national Israel with the revelation of the gospel through the Word who became flesh (See Jn 1:1,2,14).
It was the “last times,” the last times of God’s Sinai covenant He had specifically with Israel. Jude and James also wrote just a few years before the fall of Jerusalem. Both writers inferred the finality of Israel as a covenanted nation with God. Jude stated,
“Beloved, remember the words that were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts” (Jd 17,18).
Jude’s Christian readers were experiencing these mockers in their own lives at the very time he wrote. Therefore, Jude’s argument is that his Jewish Christian readers were in the last time of national Israel. These were not the beginning of the last times, but the last time.
The last times were the years between Pentecost in A.D. 30 to A.D. 70. These were the last days of national Israel. God was bringing judgment upon the wicked vine dressers (the Jewish religious leadership) who attempted to steal the fruit and inheritance of the vineyard by maintaining the religion of Judaism (See Mt 21:33-45). National Israel had rejected God, and thus, God was in the process of rejecting national Israel. National Israel’s persecution of the “Israel by faith” was coming to an end when national Israel came to an end.
James wrote to suffering Jewish Christians of the Roman Empire around A.D. 62 or 63. He comforted the persecuted “Israel by faith” (the church) by saying, “Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord…. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand” (Js 5:7,8). James was not talking about a “coming of the Lord” more than two thousand years later. Discussion concerning a coming at the end of time would not have been an encouragement to his immediate readers who were suffering under nationalistic Jewish mockers. The “coming” in the context of Matthew 24 is about judgment in time upon the nation of Israel.
Nationalistic Jewish mockers were the primary persecutors of Christians before A.D. 70. Jesus’ “coming in judgment” upon these mockers was at hand, that is, it was near unto happening. In Matthew 24 Jesus was “telling beforehand” of this deliverance that was coming in only a few years.
Those “end of time” proponents today who would reach into this historical contact and twist the Scriptures for their own fantasies have done a disservice to the early Christians. They are prophecy thieves who steal away the encouragement of these prophecies that were meant to encourage the initial readers to whom they were addressed. They seek to apply the prophecies to themselves and those they have deceived into following them. Prophecy thieves seek to generate an audience for themselves by stealing in-time prophecies in order to apply the same prophecies to end-of-time events.
[Next in series: Aug. 6]