by Paul George
In the midst of the greatest time of upheaval and chaos in the history of the world, Jesus reminds his disciples that even then the most important thing in life is one’s relationship with Christ. As this passage moves into the events of the second half of the tribulation, the number one priority is to avoid deception.
It is important to avoid deception during the latter half of the tribulation because this is the time in which the antichrist, also known as the beast in Revelation, begins his global rule and requires all to take the mark of the beast in order to by or sell (Revelation 13:17). This is such an important time in history that God sends angelic messengers to specifically preach the gospel to the entire world and warn them of the consequences of accepting the mark of the beast (Revelation 14:6-13). This is an important time because individuals alive at this time will determine their eternal destiny based on their response to the gospel and antichrist appeal to take his mark.
Matthew 24 and Mark 13 are generally parallel to one another on this passage, while Luke 21 totally omits this text. Matthew and Mark speak of a future tribulation, while Luke’s focus is primarily on first century events.
Matthew 24: 23-25 reveal two major points about false Messiahs. First, the false Messiah will not be visible and out in the open. Second, the false Messiah will do miracles in order to mislead and deceive many.
Verse 23 speaks of the impending appearance of the Messiah. Here, our Lord is setting up a contrast between the false and the true. The false program of antichrist will be laden with rumor and innuendo, but the genuine coming of Messiah will be clear to all (v. 27). Why does Jesus come back to a warning about deception in this passage after having already addressed the issue in Matthew 24: 4-5, 11?
Following the evacuation of Judea, the false messengers of Satan will find it necessary to attempt to infiltrate those who have fled to the mountains. First, they will claim that Christ has already appeared (Matthew 24:23). In order to bolster such claims, they “shall show great signs and wonders” so that their counterfeit ministry “If possible” might deceive the very elect. Obviously, this will fail, yet the attempt will be made.
This passage is parallel to Paul’s writings in 2 Thessalonians 2 and John’s words in Revelation 13. Both passages speak of Antichrist’s deceptions. While Matthew 24:26 says that the elect will not be deceived, 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 says that the non-elect will be deceived. “The one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12). “Not only will the apostate part of the Jewish people be deceived by theses lying wonders, but also the apostate part of Christendom, left behind after the rapture of the church has taken place, will be deceived and swept away in the great judgments of that coming day. Interestingly Jesus says concerning these false announcements; “Do not believe!” This demonstrates that a believer should not just believe anything that comes down the pike, but it does matter what you believe.
Just as there are true prophets who prepare the way for the true Messiah, so also, Satan will have false prophets to prepare the way for his false Messiah often known as the antichrist. In fact, it is often said that the term “antichrist” only appears in 1 John (2:18; 4:3). This is true. However, the use of “false Christs” in verse 24 is similar to the language for antichrist in 1 John.
The “false Christs” clearly is a reference to the antichrist, which is also known as the beast and the man of sin and the man of lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2). The reference to “false prophets” would certainly include the false prophet of Revelation 13:11-18. Revelation 19:20 summarizes the career and destiny of the false prophet as follows: “And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.”
Jesus is looking toward a time that has not yet taken place in history. He is looking forward to the time of the tribulation where the Jewish remnant will have fled to the hills. The false prophets and Messiahs attempt to draw them out of their hiding, but true believers will not fall for it, because Jesus is warning them ahead of time about this tactic.
Here we have the same words, great signs and false prophets and false Messiahs perform wonders that describe the miracles of Christ and His apostles. Does this mean that Satan is merely deceptive, in that, he makes men think that they see a genuine miracle? On the other hand, should this be understood as happenings that cannot be understood based on merely human powers? The second view seems to be the right answer, these are genuine miracles, because every time there are statements about these false miracles the language used is that they actually do these things, as we have in this passage “will show great signs and wonders.” If the false prophets and messiahs were just tricking people into thinking that they were doing miracles with smoke and mirrors the scripture would have used language that indicates this. Instead, it uses words and phrases that say that they are actually doing these things.
For example, look at some of the satanic miracles performed by the false prophet in Revelation 13. “And he performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men” (v. 13). “And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which was given him to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who dwell on the earth to make an image to the beast who had the wound of the sword and has come to life” (v. 14). “And there was given to him to give breath to the image of the beast, that the image of the beast might even speak and cause as many as do not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (v. 15). These are the words of actual events, not slight of hand.
It appears that God grants temporary power to these false prophets and Messiahs so that they will be used of God to attract all unbelievers to themselves in unbelief. This is what is meant in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 when it says, “the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2: 9-10). Paul tells us the reason is that “God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. However, His elect will not be deceived, because Jesus has warned them in advance to watch out for these false miracles.
Matthew 24:26- 27
Previously, Jesus has been warning the Jewish remnant during the second half of the seven-year tribulation to watch out for spiritual deception. Jesus referenced ” the elect” (Matthew 24:24) for the second of three times in which that term is used in this passage, which refers to the Jewish remnant who will come to Christ during the tribulation. Jesus continues His instruction and warnings to “the elect” in Matthew 24:26-28.
Matthew 24:27 seems to indicate that Jesus is somehow participating in Jerusalem’s destruction. This is exactly the point. Jesus came “like lightning” to set Jerusalem “aflame all around.” If you recall, it was Titus, as God’s representative agent, who set the temple on fire and leveled the edifice. In a.d. 70 God sent Rome to fulfill a similar task. Our Lord forewarns His disciples that His coming to that judgment-scene would be conspicuous and sudden as the lightning-flash which reveals itself and seems to be everywhere at the same moment.