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.
It was Tuesday evening of the passion week, just three days before our Lord surrendered Himself to the death of the cross to bring the ransom for our sins. It had been a busy day, since it was the last time that Jesus would be teaching the people. Feelings were running high, for the chief priests and rulers would gladly have silenced Him, even as they were secretly plotting to kill Him, but they feared the people. Jesus in full confidence of His victory through the cross, spoke in parables concerning His second coming and the final judgment. He concluded His witness, shaking, as it were, Jerusalem’s dust from His feet, with the terrible indictment, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”
Deeply impressed by what they had just heard, the disciples are concerned about the temple, which for so many centuries had been the center of Israel’s worship, the very dwelling place of God among His people. Anxiously they ask: “What about these buildings when the Holy City is destroyed?” To which Jesus answers, “See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, there shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
In silent pondering they follow their Master, leaving the Holy City behind, to spend the night on the Mount of Olives. As they sit on the mount, overlooking the city, now bathed in the golden splendor of the sunset, they take up the subject once more. Mark informs us that particularly four of them, Andrew and Peter and James and John become the spokesmen for the rest, asking: “When shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of Thy coming and of the end of the world?”
These terrible judgments of God. The wrath of the Almighty poured out upon a rebellious nation that can piously keep its holy days even while their hands are stained with the blood of God’s servants, the prophets. Jerusalem in ashes, not one stone left upon another, a silent testimony that it will never be restored. When?
Surely there must be a connection between all this and the return of their Lord. They were convinced now more than ever that He was indeed the Christ, the promised Savior. Yet they were equally convinced from all that they had seen and heard that soon He would be torn from them. Yet He would return. He must return to restore the kingdom of Israel. But when? And how would they know?
Give us a sign! A sign of Thy coming and of the end of the ages.
Jesus complies with their request by giving them not just one sign, but many. He bears with their weaknesses by patiently pointing out that the destruction of Jerusalem and of its temple will not mark the end of the ages, but belongs with the signs of the end. This, as well as many, many other things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. He offers them signs, yet not only them, but also us, to whom belongs the fulness of time. For these signs are always present throughout this dispensation, ever increasing in number and in intensity as the end approaches. He who has eyes to see, let him see.
Be alert. Watch! Let no man deceive you.
For already the first of these signs carries with it all the cunning treachery of the devil. He will come as an angel of light. He will say through His representatives: “I myself am the Christ, the only real one: follow me.”
The Christ of Scripture is the Anointed of God, sent with the authority of God to speak His Word with an absolute “Thus saith the Lord.”
Already in the early church there were men who professed to have certain God-given powers, as sent of God. We read of Simon Magus (Acts 8:9), who through sorcery bewitched the people into thinking that he was a great power of God. Later he was exposed by Peter when he wanted to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit with money. Peter did not spare him, but laid God’s curse upon him.
We are all aware of the proud pretensions of the Romish pope, claiming to be the real successor of the apostle Peter and vicar of Christ. Although he plays the friend with his “erring brethren”, the protestants, whom in times past he anathematized and even caused the gutters to flow with their blood, he has never yet retracted any of his contentions as “head of the universal church.” The fathers referred to him as the antichrist in person. No doubt they were mistaken in that, since antichrist is a political figure, yet history may prove that he plays an important role in the reign of the beast of Revelation 13.
The chief pretender of the Christ as Saviour of the world is, of course, antichrist himself. His very name describes him as opposed to the Christ, setting himself over against the Christ of God in his attempt to destroy Him. He is described to us in Revelation 13:1-4, as the beast that arises out of the sea of the nations, having great power, so that the whole world wonders after the beast, accepts his blasphemy, and worships the dragon who gives him his power. He exerts such great power that no one dares to make war against him. He is hailed as the only real Savior of the world, the only one who ever has been able to solve the world’s problems and bring universal peace and blessedness.
Jesus warns us that these pseudo-christs also have their prophets, who are just as deceptive as they are. In verse 14 of this chapter He says, “And many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many.” And again in verses 23 and 24, “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall. deceive the very elect.”
Of these we read in II Peter 2:1, 2, “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them (the atonement of the cross), and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.”
False teachers bringing false doctrines are prevalent everywhere. The plea for ecumenism has helped to break down denominational walls and wipe out doctrinal differences. The word “love” is the slogan of the day, yet not love for God or for the truth is meant, but rather a sentimental love for humanity to make this a better world and to introduce a universal peace among men. Arminianism, Pelagianism and Modernism walk as companions together, despising all those who interfere with this friendship. The infallibility of the Bible is denied, while all kinds of pseudo-Bibles under appealing names are being introduced to replace the time-tried versions. The market is literally flooded with deliberate corruptions of the inspired Word of the living God. And these corruptions are written in such a way that they have a strong appeal to the unwary. Along with this there is a growing yearning for the mystical and emotional. The neopentecostals, for example, boast of living in a higher sphere than the common believer, where they sin no more, where they can indulge in speaking in tongues, faith healing, and driving out devils.
Our Lord forewarned us, “Many shall arise and say, I am Christ.” Today this Scripture is being fulfilled before our very eyes.
Be not deceived!
Jesus wants us to know that their earmark whereby we may recognize them is deceit. They are sincere in the sense that they deliberately seek to deceive. And, Jesus warns, they also succeed, for they deceive many.
They deceive. They come as wolves in sheep’s clothing to devour the sheep.
We should see the picture. Outwardly they have a strong appeal. They call themselves pastors, or radio pastors, or Christian psychologists, sent of God. They hold an open Bible in their hands. Maybe they are supported by an impressive choir, soloists, or other attractions. They draw huge crowds from miles away, for who is like unto this preacher, and who can appeal to so many? They have an appealing message. Jeremiah said of the false prophets of his day a word that can well be repeated here, “They heal the breach of the sin of my people lightly by crying ‘peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” They want to win the whole world for Christ, or they aim at banishing all warfare, poverty, and race hatred from the earth, to make this a wonderful place to live. It is often not even as much what they say as what they do not say. They have a form of godliness, yet they deny the work of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word, which is the power thereof. Outwardly they seem very pious, as if they would put true believers to shame. They speak of a zeal, an enthusiasm as can be found nowhere else. The crowds follow them, at least for a time. And sneeringly they ask the small minority that objects, “Do you think that you have a monopoly on the truth?” False prophets, blind leaders of blind followers, who are the instruments of darkness to introduce the false church of antichrist.
Now then, with that general description in mind, what are the fundamental errors that we must look for? With Scripture as our criterion what must we look for as characteristic of all their messages? The answer is: all the emphasis falls on man, with God disappearing ever farther in the background. All that the fathers fought, bled, and died for at the time of the Reformation is consistently denied. They want nothing of the truth of sovereign predestination. They consider election a cold doctrine, while they shudder at the very mention of reprobation. God’s justice and holiness are hardly mentioned, especially because they preach a God who loves all men and wants all men to be saved. They deny man’s depravity. ‘Sin’ has become a nasty word. Many may have faults, frustrations, or problems, but let’s not talk about sin. There is much good in the worst of men; we should strive to improve on that. Christ died for all men. It is considered rank heresy to maintain that Christ laid down His life only for His sheep. Even substitutionary atonement is become foreign to the average preacher. A Christ who died only to save sinners is not the full and complete Savior they seek. They want a Jesus Who also works toward social reform, world betterment, exerting His influence in every sphere of life. They deny that salvation is solely the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart. If they speak of the work of the Holy Spirit at all, they insist on a cooperation between Him and man. But they prefer to stress what man must do to overcome all the misery he sees round about him. From all this must follow that a teaching of eternal security simply does not fit. One must persevere; he must be active in society, doing good to all men. Heaven seems to be a matter of concern only when one dies.
Along with all this, the church seeks to make friends with the world, so that the antithesis between light and darkness becomes obliterated. The office in the church becomes a function, which women can fill as well as men. The preaching of the Word is substituted with dialogue, congregational participation, or even movies. The sacraments are desecrated to a love feast of sorts. Church discipline is not exercised any more, so that the keys of the kingdom have fallen into disuse. The portal of Sion’s fortress stands wide open for free access of whoever cares to enter.
Be not deceived. For the deceiver of men also knows how to seal his testimony with signs and wonders.Revelation 13 tells us of the second beast who has the appearance of the lamb, yet he speaks as a dragon. Although he calls himself the Christ, or representative of the Christ, he is instigated in all that he says by Satan from hell. “And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed. And he doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and. did live. And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed.” (Rev. 13:12-15.)
He appeals to his many converts. Or he tells of his ability to speak in tongues, to heal sicknesses and diseases, even to cast out devils. He penetrates the homes of thousands, if not millions, with his radio and TV programs. But a mere glance at some of our modern inventions gives us some idea of the powers he will exert in the future. Today what we see and hear is instantly recorded. A few seconds later a replay can be made of that very happening. This can be preserved indefinitely to be played back at will, anywhere, at any time. Powerful computers are now being used to store information and to produce it at will with uncanny accuracy. We cannot help but marvel at what these modern machines can do. Surely the time is not far off when those in authority will know more about us than we can remember of ourselves, and may know every move we make or every word we utter, whether in public or in the privacy of our homes. The devil is doing his utmost, since he knows that he has but a little while. He does all that he can to prevent the return of Christ and the final judgment, when he and his followers will have their own reward in utter darkness.
But God is King forever; let the nations tremble. He who sits in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord will hold them in derision. For already He has exalted His Christ as Lord over all. And Christ Himself assures us, “Behold, I come, quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give unto every man as his works shall be.”
Take heed! Beware! Be alert!
The church of Jesus Christ must keep her spiritual eyes wide open. We must recognize and be able to interpret correctly the signs of the times.
To do that we must know the truth. And to know the truth we must diligently study the Scriptures. The unfaithful perish because of lack of knowledge. The foolish virgins sleep the sleep of death even while they know they lack the oil of preparedness. The admonition of Scripture applies to all of us, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
But we must do this also with our families. Our children will see more precarious times than we see. They will undoubtedly face more severe trials than any of us have known. They must be equipped now with the whole armor of God, helmet, breastplate, girdle, shoes, sword and shield, to fight the battle of faith against all the onslaughts of the evil one in a day when the apostasy will be so great that they stand virtually alone. He that endures unto the end shall be saved; more than conqueror in Christ Jesus our Lord!