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Jesus’ specifically warned: “Take heed that no man deceives you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (Matthew 24:4-5).
Some conclude from these verses Jesus was just talking about those who would claim to actually be Christ or the Messiah. There certainly have been such people, and Jesus did warn that at the end of the age, “...false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect" (Matthew 24:24).
When Christ said “...many shall come in my name" (verse 5) He was not indicating they would assume His identity, but that they would falsely claim to serve God and speak on His behalf. Not only would they deceive others about the truth of the Bible, but these false teachers would also be deceived.
Jesus gives many strong warnings about false ministers and teachers: “Be on your guard against false religious teachers, who come to you dressed up as sheep but are really greedy wolves” (Matthew 7:15). He also explained how we can identify these imposters: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
Simply calling Jesus “Lord,” won’t be enough as Matthew 7:22 indicates: “Many people will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not preach in Your Name? Did we not put out demons in Your Name? Did we not do many powerful works in Your Name? And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:22-23).
These individuals thought they had a special relationship with Jesus, but they were gravely mistaken because they don’t honour God by obeying His law: “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). Christ clearly stated in Matthew 19:17, “...if you want to enter eternal life, keep the commandments.”
A critical factor Jesus also emphasized was that it is not just a matter of disregarding God’s commandments, but also of promoting and teaching others the same attitude towards God’s way of life: “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 corrected the religious leaders of His day for having many religious sounding traditions that discarded God’s actual commandments: “...why do you break God’s commandment through your tradition?... ‘These people draw near to me with their mouth, and honour 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 15:3-9).
Remember—just being nice is not the measure of godliness. Being sincere is not the measure of right and wrong. God defines what is right and He does it by His laws and His commandments. Unfortunately, Christianity in general has rejected many of God’s clear instructions. For example Jesus said, “...the Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28). The Sabbath is not Sunday (Exodus 20:8-11). Jesus set the example and taught that He is Lord of the Sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset.
The book of Revelation refers to a deceptive mystery religion that appears “like a lamb”—looking Christ-like, but speaking “like a dragon” (Revelation 13:11). What the book of Revelation is describing is a great counterfeit, world-dominating false Christianity that has ignored important biblical truth and God’s commandments in favour of popular traditions.
It’s hard to imagine that it’s actually possible to go to church and not really be following Jesus. It’s more important than ever to discern the genuine teachings of Jesus Christ, especially when we’re drawing so near to the end of the age.