26 June 2021

Deceivers and False Prophets

Jesus warned disciples about coming deceivers and false prophets who will “deceive many” and propagate false information

Wolf Howling - Photo by Federico Di Dio photography on Unsplash
Jesus began with a sharp warning, beware of deceivers who will use his authority to spread rumors about wars, earthquakes, and other calamities. They will “deceive many.” But contrary to their claims, the “end is not yet.” Likewise, “false prophets” will propagate lies about the “coming of the Son of Man” - [
Photo by Federico Di Dio on Unsplash].

The Lord provided a list of calamitous events that are NOT signs of the end, some of the very “signs” to which the deceivers and “false prophets” would point for evidence of its proximity. In his warning, the stress falls on what his disciples would “hear,” presumably from the deceivers.
  • (Mark 13:5-8) – “And Jesus began to say unto them, ‘Beware that no man deceives you. Many will come in my name, saying, I am he; and deceive many. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, be not troubled; these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These things are the beginning of travail’.
The point is NOT that such disasters will not occur, but instead, that they are NOT “signs” by which anyone can ascertain the time of the “end.” They are not keys for decoding prophetic timetables or predicting future prophetic events.

Tragically, and ironically, the very types of calamities listed by Jesus for of things that do not portend the nearness of the “end” have been used time and again by deceivers within the church as “signs” of his soon arrival - The very things Jesus said do not signal the end.

Initially, the ‘Discourse’ was addressed to his twelve disciples. They were part of the first “Christian generation.” But they also represent all followers of Jesus throughout the present age. Projecting this warning exclusively onto the supposed “last generation” that lies centuries in the future ignores both the literary and historical contexts of the passage.

Deceivers - The warning about deceivers is placed first because it is pivotal to the overall ‘Discourse.’

For many will come upon the basis of my name.”  The Greek conjunction gar or “for” introduces the explanation. Many disciples will be deceived because of the claims by false prophets made “on the basis of (epi)” the name of Jesus. That is, on his authority. The victims of their deceptions are not men and women in general, but especially the disciples of Jesus.

Disasters and War - Jesus continued - “Moreover (de), you will hear of wars and reports of wars.”  The conjunction de signifies further development of the subject. The Greek for “rumors” points to something that is heard.  The stress is on the content of what the disciples will hear from the deceivers. “Reports of wars” reiterates the point – what they will hear – “reports” about wars, famines, and earthquakes occurring in different places.

The issue was not whether such catastrophes will occur, or the accuracy of such reports, but their source. “False prophets” and other deceivers spread rumors about wars and other catastrophes that raise prophetic expectations.
Jesus affirmed that catastrophes would occur; earthquakes, wars, political upheavals, famines, plagues, “terrors and great signs from heaven,” and the like, but his disciples must “not be alarmedThe end is not yet.”
Chaos and violence have characterized all eras of human history and cannot be used to calculate the time of the “end.” At most, they are a “beginning of birth-pangs,” harbingers of the eventual consummation of this age, proof that the present age cannot continue forever. They mark a “beginning”, not the “end.” Jesus acknowledged such things do occur, but he did not classify them as “signs.”

Beginning of the End - The words - “These things must come to pass” - allude to Daniel 2:26-28 when the Babylonian king received a troubling dream. The astrologers of Babylon failed to disclose and interpret his dream; only Daniel succeeded in doing so, and only by the intervention of Yahweh. The prophet prefaced his remarks to the king:
  • There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries; he has shown the king what things must come to pass in the latter days” - (Septuagint version).
The verbal allusion links Christ’s reference about the “beginning of labor pains” to the “latter days” from the words of Daniel. In the New Testament, the Death and Resurrection of Jesus marked the start of the “last days,” the era of fulfillment. With his exaltation to reign from the messianic throne, the final phase of history began. As Paul wrote, already “the forms of this age are passing away” – (Acts 2:16-21, 1 Corinthians 7:31, Hebrews 1:1-3).

Birth Pains - The image of “birth-pains” is common in Scripture for the suddenness and inevitability of destruction, not for the frequency or intensity of an event – (Isaiah 26:17, 66:8, Jeremiah 6:24, 13:21, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).

Nowhere did Jesus predict any increases in frequency or intensity of the listed calamities, whether in his day, throughout the long history ahead, or during history’s so-called “last generation.”

War - Photo by Stijn Swinnen on Unsplash
War - Photo by Stijn Swinnen on Unsplash

Attempts to calculate future chronologies by wars, earthquakes, and the like are problematic; 
such catastrophes occur with regularity. What distinguishes one war or earthquake from another in prophetic terms? Instead, Christ exhorted his disciples NOT to be alarmed when disasters struck, as they inevitably do.

The Season is Near - Luke’s version adds an interesting element - “Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The season is at hand’” (Luke 21:8-9). Again, deceivers would point to wars and calamities as “signs” of the rapidly approaching end.

What “season” did Jesus mean? He warned that no one “knows of that day and hour” when the “Son of Man” would arrive, except “the Father ALONE.” Disciples must “watch and pray, for you know not when the season (kairos) is”- (Matthew 24:36Mark 13:32-33).

His words allude to a passage from Daniel when the prophet was told to “seal up the words and the book, even until the season (kairos) of the end” (Septuagint). Deceivers would presume to know what not even Jesus knew. He warned further:
  • If anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ’, or ‘Here’; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets that will show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect…If, therefore, they say to you, ‘Behold, he is in the wilderness’; go not forth; ‘Behold, he is in the secret chambers’; believe it not. For, as the lightning shines forth from the east and is seen even unto the west; thus, will be the coming of the Son of man” - (Matthew 24:23-27).
Again, the deceptions perpetrated by the deceivers would be false information about the “coming of the Son of Man.” Here, Jesus used the terms “false christs” and “false prophets.” Most likely, this is the source for John’s term “antichrist” found in two of his letters - (1 John 2:18-22).

Avoid Deceivers - The purpose of Jesus was not to provide the “signs of the times” whereby one can calculate the end, but instead, to warn disciples NOT to heed deceivers and “false prophets” who point to such catastrophes as “signs” of the rapidly approaching end.

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