Deceivers and False Prophets

Jesus began his ‘Olivet Discourse’ with an ominous warning about coming deceivers who will claim his authority and spread rumors about wars and other calamities, thereby setting false expectations about the “end.” In this way, “many” individuals will be deceived. He repeated this warning at pivotal points in the Discourse. For example, prior to the “arrival of the Son of Man on the clouds, MANY false prophets will arise and deceive many.”

No subject receives more stress in the Discourse than warnings about deceivers and “false prophets.” Their purpose is to mislead his followers, “even the elect,” and they do so by spreading false information and setting incorrect expectations about the return of Jesus and the events leading up to it.

Storm Clouds over farm - Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash
[Photo by Dave Hoefler on Unsplash]

Jesus gave a list of natural and manmade calamities that he stated do
NOT signal the arrival of the “end.” Yet, these events constitute the very evidence offered by the deceivers as proof of the rapidly approaching return of the Lord.

In the passage, the emphasis is on what disciples will “HEAR,” presumably, from the very same “deceivers” he warned were coming.

  • (Mark 13:5-8) – “And Jesus began to say to them: Beware, lest anyone deceive you, for many will come on my name, SAYING, I am he, and will deceive many. And when you HEAR of wars and RUMORS of wars, be not alarmed; it must come to pass, but not yet is the end. For there will arise nation against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, there will be earthquakes in places, there will be famines. These things are a beginning of birth pains.

The point is not that disasters will not occur, but they are NOT signs of the “end,” things that may be used to calculate the nearness of his arrival and the “consummation of the age.”

For emphasis, the warning is placed at the start of the Discourse. Deceivers have plagued the church since its founding, and there is a long history of heightened end-time expectations caused by false teachers and prophets who point to these very events as harbingers of the Second Coming.

In the clause, “for many will come on the basis of my name,” the Greek conjunction gar translated as “for” is used to introduce the explanation of the preceding statement. Hence, many will be deceived BECAUSE false prophets make claims “on” (epi) Christ’s name about the future.

Moreover, you will hear of wars and reports of wars.” The Greek conjunction de or “moreover” signifies the further development of the subject. The Greek word translated as “rumors” or “reports” indicates something that is HEARD.

The stress is on the content of what the disciples will HEAR, and “reports of wars” reiterates the point. The issue is not whether wars will occur, or whether the reports are correct, but that deceivers will spread “rumors of wars” and thereby raise false expectations about the imminence of the “end.”

CALAMITIES AS SIGNS


Jesus affirmed that human and natural catastrophes will occur, including earthquakes, wars, political upheavals, famines, plagues, and “terrors and great signs from heaven,” but his disciples must “not be alarmed” when they see or hear of such events.

Chaos and violence have characterized every era of human history; therefore, events of this sort cannot be used to calculate the timing of the “end” - (“The end is not yet”). At most, they constitute a “beginning of birth pains,” harbingers pointing to the eventual end of this age, evidence that the present world order cannot continue forever.

Jesus acknowledged that such things do and will occur, but he never called them “signs” or designated them as chronological keys for forecasting the future.

In Scripture, the analogy of “birth pains” is used to illustrate the suddenness and inevitability of judgment and destruction. But nowhere did Jesus predict any increase in the frequency or intensity of said calamities in the immediate years prior to his return - (Isaiah 26:17, 66:8, Jeremiah 6:24, 13:21, Hosea 13:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3).

Attempts to calculate future milestones by wars, earthquakes, and the like are problematic - They occur in the world with regularity. What distinguishes one war or earthquake from another in its prophetic relevance?

In the version of the Discourse in the Gospel of Luke, an interesting element is added: “Many will come in my name, saying, I am he, and the SEASON IS AT HAND.” This confirms that deceivers and “false prophets” will point to wars, earthquakes, and famines as evidence that the final “SEASON” or Kairos is at hand - (Luke 21:8-9).

What “season” did he mean? Jesus warned that no one “knows the day and hour” when the “Son of Man” will arrive except “the Father.” Disciples must “watch and pray, for you know not when the SEASON (kairos) is. That is the “season” for which “false prophets” and other deceivers will claim foreknowledge based on the “signs of the times.”

Jesus did not provide any “signs” by which his disciples could ascertain the nearness of the end, but he did warn them NOT to heed claims by deceivers based on things like “wars” and “earthquakes.” Ironically, the very presence and activities of such deceivers provide indisputable proof that the “Last Days” are underway - (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32-33).

In the interim between the ascension and return of Jesus, “MANY false prophets will arise and deceive MANY.” In the Greek clause, the term rendered “many” has the definite article or “the, and it refers to the same group, “THE MANY” that will be deceived by “false prophets.” Moreover, the word is emphatic in the Greek sentence - (Matthew 24:11-12, Mark 13:9-13).

Hence, according to Jesus, “MANY deceivers” and “false prophets” will work to mislead his followers about the future and the “coming of the Son of Man.” However, what counts, in the end, is persevering in tribulations and bearing faithful witness until the very moment when Jesus returns since “he who endures to the end will be saved.”


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