Deceivers and Catastrophes

Jesus began his final discourse on the Mount of Olives with a sharp warning - Beware of the “many deceivers” who would come and use his authority to spread misinformation about his imminent return based on common occurrences such as wars, earthquakes, and other calamities. They will “deceive many.” Contrary to their claims, the “END IS NOT YET.” Likewise, “False Prophets” will propagate lies about the whereabouts and coming of the “Son of Man.”

This is a phenomenon the church has witnessed since its founding, but especially so in recent decades as supposed “experts” in end-time prophecy point to wars in the Middle East and elsewhere, along with earthquakes, plagues, and famines, as evidence that we are living in the “last days.”

Lightning strikes - Photo by Josep Castells on Unsplash
[Photo by Josep Castells on Unsplash]

However, Jesus provided his disciples with a list of events that are 
NOT signs of the end, some of the very “signs” to which many “false prophets” point to prove that the “end is near.” In his REPEATED WARNING, the stress is on what his disciples will “HEAR” from 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’.

His point was NOT whether such disasters do occur, but that they are NOT “signs” by which anyone can calculate the proximity of the “end.” They are NOT keys for decoding prophetic timetables or predicting the arrival of the “Son of Man on the clouds.”

Ironically, the very types of calamities listed by Jesus as events that do NOT portend the “end” have been used time and again by deceivers, false prophets, and prophecy “experts” as “signs” of his soon arrival. To date, ALL such predictions and calculations based on Christ’s list of natural and manmade disasters have failed.

What distinguishes one war, earthquake or plague from another, prophetically speaking? Unfortunately, wars occur frequently, and multiple earthquakes occur daily on the Earth. Moreover, Jesus said nothing about any increases in the intensity or frequency of such events as the “end” drew near.

His warning is placed first in the Discourse because it is pivotal to the overall picture painted by Jesus. If his disciples hear and remember anything from what he says, this exhortation is by far the most important part of the ‘Olivet Discourse.’

According to Jesus, “Many will come upon the basis of my name.”  The Greek conjunction gar or “for” introduces the explanation of what just preceded it. Many disciples will be deceived BECAUSE OF the claims of false prophets made “on the basis of (epi)” his name.

Deceivers will claim his authority for their predictions and teachings. Their intended victims are not men and women in general, but the disciples of Jesus in particular. The goal is NOT to deceive the already deceived mass of humanity, but instead, to mislead the followers of Jesus.

NOT YET!


Jesus continued: “Moreover (de), you will hear of wars and reports of wars.”  The conjunction de signifies further development of the subject, and the Greek term rendered “rumors” points to SOMETHING THAT IS HEARD.

The stress falls on the content of what his disciples will hear from deceivers, and the clause, “reports of wars,” reiterates the point – WHAT THEY WILL HEAR – “reports” about wars, famines, and earthquakes occurring in different places.

Whether those reports prove accurate is NOT the issue. Rather, deceivers will point to those things as proof that the “end is near,” but they prove no such thing one way or the other. “False prophets” and other deceivers will spread rumors about wars, famines, and other catastrophes that raise false prophetic expectations among God’s people.

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 alarmed since THE END IS NOT YET.”

Chaos and violence have characterized every era of human history and cannot be used to calculate the “end.” At most, they constitute a “beginning of birth pains,” harbingers and proof that the present age will end one day. Jesus does not classify these events as “signs” by which anyone can ascertain the proximity of his return.

BEGINNING OF THE END


His words, “THESE THINGS MUST COME TO PASS,” allude to Daniel 2:26-28 when the Babylonian king received a troubling dream. The astrologers and monthly prognosticators of Babylon failed to disclose the contents or the interpretation of his dream. Only Daniel succeeded in doing so, and only through 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 later days” - (Septuagint version).

The verbal allusion links Christ’s description of the “beginning of labor pains” to the “later days” in the passage from Daniel. In the New Testament, his death and resurrection marked the start of the “Last Days.” With his exaltation, the final phase of History commenced.

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

Luke’s version of the Discourse adds an interesting element - “Many will come in my name, saying, I am he, and THE SEASON (kairos) IS AT HAND” - (Luke 21:8-9). What “season” did Jesus mean?

He warned that no one “knows of that day and hour” when the “Son of Man” will arrive except “the Father ALONE.” Therefore, his disciples must “watch and pray always since you know not when the SEASON (kairos) is”- (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32-33).

Once more, his words allude to a passage in Daniel, this time, when an angel commanded the prophet to “seal up the words and the book, even UNTIL THE SEASON (kairos) of the end” (Septuagint).

Thus, deceivers and “false prophets” claim to know what not even the “Son of Man” knew. Jesus was very explicit. Only the “Father” has this information, period - (Matthew 24:23-27).

The purpose of the ‘Olivet Discourse’ is not to provide us with the “signs of the times” whereby we can calculate the “end,” but to warn us NOT to heed deceivers and “false prophets” who all too often point to natural and man-made catastrophes as “signs” of the rapidly approaching end.

Precisely because no one except God “alone” knows the “day,” the “hour,” or the “season” of the Son’s return, constant vigilance and preparation are vital for every disciple of Jesus. What matters when he arrives is not our accurate knowledge of timetables, times, seasons, and “signs,” but whether we are faithful in our walk with him and busy doing his business.


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