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UCGia Bible Insights Thursday, October 12 2023

Many false prophets will arise

When Jesus Christ's disciples asked Him what would herald His return, He answered by first listing a series of developments that would lead up to the climax of this age: religious deception, wars, famines, pestilences and earthquakes (Matthew 24:3-8; Mark 13:3-8; Luke 21:7-11).

Many false prophets will arise
Jesus likened false prophets to "ravenous wolves"
Tom Robinson

The first of these trends listed by Jesus is religious deception. He specifically warns: "Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many" (Matthew 24:4-5).

Some modern Bible versions place quotation marks around "I am Christ," the translators assuming Jesus was talking about people who would claim to actually be Christ or the Messiah themselves. There have been such people, and Jesus warned later in the same discourse of "false christs" at the end of the age (Matthew 24:24). Yet there clearly have not been "many" such individuals who have been taken seriously—much less deceive the "many". We are told 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.

A clearer rendering of what Jesus meant in Matthew 24:4-5 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. False preachers and teachers claiming to be Christian would deceive more people as the end of the age neared: "evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Timothy 3:13).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warned 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). These false prophets would appear to be followers of Jesus, but their true nature is one of devouring the lives of the unsuspecting—as a wolf among the flock. Paul warned of this as well, telling the leaders of the church in Ephesus: "... 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).

Jesus explained we would be able to identify these false shepherds “...by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit" (Matthew 7:16-17). Then He went on to tell us what 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. 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?'" (Matthew 7:21-22).

As in Matthew 24 this is referring to preachers coming in Jesus' name, but their lives are not 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). Practicing lawlessness means living as if God's law is done away or of no consequence. These individuals are deceived about their own spiritual state. They think they have a special relationship with Jesus when, in reality, He doesn't know them at all.

The Apostle John explains: "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). As Jesus stated in Matthew 19:17, "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 in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:19).

Jesus chided the Scribes and Pharisees for establishing many legalistic traditions that sidelined God's commandments: "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). It is possible to worship God in vain by, in this case, putting the traditions of men ahead of the commandments of God.

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), and even identified a heretical system he referred to as "the mystery of lawlessness," which during his ministry was "already at work" and would persist until the end of the age (2 Thessalonians 2:7-10).

The book of Revelation refers to this lawless mystery religion as "MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT" (Revelation 17:5) and shows it appearing with "two horns like a lamb" (presenting itself as Christ-like) but speaking "like a dragon" (Revelation 13:11). The "dragon" in Revelation is Satan the devil, who deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9). What Paul and this section of Revelation are describing is a counterfeit of the true religion—a world-dominating false Christianity (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

This is not to question the sincerity of its many followers, 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. Many important biblical doctrines and commandments have been discarded 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 with a Christian veneer—despite the Bible's explicit command that we not worship the true God with pagan customs (Deuteronomy 12:29-32). 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). In contrast, the popular substitute for Christianity has grown enormous and powerful—just as Jesus foretold in Matthew 24. Christ warned false teachings would culminate in the powerful deception of the last days, prophesying, "False christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect" (Matthew 24:24). These signs and wonders are the same ones Paul mentioned, and 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.

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 teach 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?