Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
And Jesus answered and said unto them: 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
As they were leaving the holy city Jesus’ disciples were deeply disturbed by the Lord’s powerful indictment upon Jerusalem and its inhabitants, since He had declared in no uncertain terms that Jerusalem would be destroyed and Israel as a nation would cease to exist. Likely they were discussing all these things among themselves, for when they reached the Mount of Olives Andrew and Peter with James and John approached Jesus with the question: “When shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” (Matt. 24:3).
Jesus gave them many signs, as recorded in Matthew 24, among which was the sign of false Christs (v. 24). These false Christs, Jesus warned, will be very many and very deceptive, and the Lord’s disciples must not allow themselves to be deceived.
The name Christ means “anointed,” that is, to be ordained of and qualified by God to a certain task, in this instance to be the Savior of the world.
As Jesus foretold, there have been many throughout this present dispensation who have presented themselves as saviors or deliverers, able to solve the problems of humanity. The Caesars, Alexander the Great, Napoleon, and Hitler have attempted to gain world power under the pretense of seeking the good of all.
There have also been many so-called religious leaders who claimed to have been sent of God. In a cloak of piety they have sought to bring about great revivals, attempting to spread Christianity far and wide and thus “convert” the whole world.
The apostle John writes in his first epistle: “Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now there are many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last time.”
At the time of the great Reformation in the sixteenth century, our fathers did not hesitate to brand the pope as the Antichrist. They did so because he calls himself the “Vicar of Christ,” the successor of the apostle Peter. He maintains that Christ is bodily present in the Eucharist, so that those who partake of the wafer actually eat the body of Christ. He also maintains that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was holy, and did not actually die but was taken up into heaven (the assumption of Mary). He believes that in heaven Mary is the Mediatrix, who intercedes with the Son for those who pray to her.
Today there are many in the Reformed church world who are ready to compromise with the Roman Catholic Church. Some seek a common bond of fellowship and talk of meetings to discuss uniting together. They argue that there are far more points of agreement than of disagreement between them, therefore the points of agreement should be stressed and the points of disagreement ignored. There are also those in Reformed circles who consider the statement in our Heidelberg Catechism that refers to the mass as an accursed idolatry to be too harsh, and who argue that it should therefore be removed.
But the Roman Catholic Church has not changed as far as its fundamental doctrines and tenets are concerned. The pope is still worshiped by thousands wherever he goes, even by many who profess to be protestants. He is still a power that should not be ignored.
There have been and still are many who call themselves evangelists, but who seek nothing more than their own popularity and profit. Peter speaks of them in his second epistle saying: “Through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not” (II Pet. 2:3).
It could not be said more emphatically. They are covetous, they seek themselves, they are hirelings who break into the fold in order to rob the sheepfold of God, to kill and destroy the sheep. They speak, Bible in hand, the language of the Scriptures, yet they deny its most fundamental truths. Often their lives are not in harmony with what they profess to preach.These so-called preachers emphasize love. Love is the solution to all the world’s problems and to everyone’s personal problems. They campaign for brotherly love among all peoples, languages, and races. Yet they fail to see that all true love is rooted in God, and that we cannot love the neighbor unless we love God.
Especially in our day there is also a strong influence of charismatic movements of various sorts. The charismatics speak of the power of the Holy Spirit. They profess to be able to prophesy, to speak in tongues, to heal the sick, and to cast out devils. Some maintain that they have a special gift of the Spirit whereby they are able to live sinless lives. While not claiming to be without sin, they insist that the ability not to sin is there.
Even the Jesus of the Arminian, and of all those who teach a free offer and who proclaim a Savior who died for all men and who is dependent upon man’s acceptance to save, is not the Jesus of the Scriptures. The Jesus of the Scriptures laid down His life for His sheep, for those given to Him of the Father, the elect. He does not merely offer or attempt to save, but He actually saves His own.
Jesus warns His disciples and us that these false Christs are very deceptive.
They come as ministers or preachers who profess to preach the Word of God. But a true minister is called of Christ to be His ambassador. He has but one message, the message of the King as contained in the infallible Scriptures. He proclaims to the utmost of his power: “So saith the Lord.” He is faithful, not to the whims of man, but to his God. The Holy Spirit works through the pure preaching of the Word, applying that Word to the hearts of God’s people.
All the false teachers mentioned above have one thing in common: they preach a doctrine that centers in man and appeals to man, they depend on man for the gathering of the church, or, as they say, “to win souls for Christ and stars for their crown.” They have a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof. They use choirs, soloists, drama, and all sorts of public entertainment to try to draw an audience and save, if possible, the whole world. From such turn away.
It must be stressed anew that the power unto salvation is in the Word of God, the holy Scriptures. God works through means, but that means is always the pure preaching of the Word. God is not dependent upon man. Christ alone gathers His church. And He does so through the preaching of His Word and by the Spirit, who works mightily in the hearts of God’s elect. Paul writes in I Corinthians 1:23, 24: “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” We read in Luke 16:31: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” And Romans 10:14, 15 teaches: “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent?”
Jesus Himself teaches us: “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. …And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:14, 16). It cannot be stressed too emphatically in our time that God Himself gathers His own unto Himself through Christ and the Spirit of Christ by means of the pure preaching of the Word.
Take heed that no man deceive you! That is the warning that Christ gives to the church throughout the new dispensation and most emphatically to us in these times.
Implied is that the end is not yet. God’s counsel must be fully carried out. But in our day it also implies that the end is drawing near, possibly much nearer than we realize.
In the meantime we are called to be alert, not to allow ourselves to be deceived. We must watch in prayer.
As the end approaches, the false church grows numerically and in power, while the true church is called to come out from among her and be separate.
The time is coming when the true church will undergo severe persecution at the hands of the false church. Then each must take a stand for the truth or be swallowed up by the powers of Antichrist. In that day there will be no hypocrites in the church, for the persecution will demand that we are ready to give up all our possessions, even members of our family and our own lives for Christ’s sake.
The true church will be very small in comparison with the multitudes who boast that they are the followers of Christ, yet their Christ is actually Antichrist. There will be a mere remnant, a mere 7,000, who do not bend their knee to the beast. They will be like a hut in the vineyard, a besieged city.
Jesus urges us: “Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” (Rev. 3:11).