4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many.
23 “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe him. 24 “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. 25 “Behold, I have told you in advance. 26 “So if they say to you, ‘Behold, He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out, or, ‘Behold, He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe them.
5 And Jesus began to say to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 6 “Many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and will mislead many.
21 “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Behold, here is the Christ’; or, ‘Behold, He is there’; do not believe him; 22 for false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect.
8 And He said, “See to it that you are not misled; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not go after them.
Let’s do a very quick recap what we’ve covered so far. Jesus condemns the leaders of Jerusalem in Matt 23, telling them that their house will be left to them desolate. He leaves the temple, and His disciples approach him, pointing out the wonderful stones comprising the temple. Jesus tells them it will all be thrown down. The disciples then ask what the signs accompanying this event will be. This leads us to the first of these signs: False Christs.
Though I’ve witnessed a futurist or two consider natural disasters cautiously as a sign of the end, nothing seems to be clearer evidence to them than false Christs. In other words, when an earthquake happens, or natural disaster, I don’t normally hear Christians jumping to the text and quoting natural disaster verses. But whenever a false messiah comes on the scene, Mattew 24:4-5 is quickly pointed to. There seems to have been so many of them in recent years with guys like Jim Jones, Yahweh ben Yahweh, David Koresh, Sun Myung Moon, David Icke, and more recently, Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, Alan Miller and YouTube weirdo, Lord RA EL. Is it any wonder that many people interpret the Scriptures this way? Although we shouldn’t take guys like this lightly, it doesn’t necessarily follow that these recent false Christs are the ones to whom the Olivet Discourse points. It is important that we understand the Scriptures correctly. We should not allow what we see outside of Scripture to dictate our interpretation of it. This being said, let’s ask ourselves, “What’s with these verses? Were there false Christs back in the day surrounding the time of the destruction of Jerusalem?”
Well, what exactly were the Jews looking for in a messiah back then? Consider Gamaliel in Acts 5. He compares the followers of Jesus to followers of other men in the past. To Gamaliel, and others, Christ was perhaps just another revolutionary.
30 “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 “He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 “For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 “After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered.”
38 “So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
I’ve written about Daniels 70 weeks [here] in Daniel chapter 9. In that chapter we are given a specific outline for the coming of the kingdom after the coming of 4 kingdoms (Rome, MedoPersian, Greek, Roman). I don’t doubt that Jews had known this. So, what were they looking for? A powerful and valiant warrior like King David. This was supposed to be the “rock” that smashed the statue down (Daniel 2) who would throw down the nations and rule with a rod of iron (Psalm 110). Someone that, if gone unhonored, would destroy you (Psalm 2). They weren’t expecting a weakling of an unimpressive Jew to die on a cross in His 30’s. Even John the Baptist seemed to have expectations of the messiah that were militaristic when he had sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the One they sought after (Matthew 11). He had proclaimed a messiah who had the winnowing fork in his hand, ready to burn up the chaff and who had an axe laid at the root of every fruitless tree (Matt 3).
This being said, imagine you were a Jew back in the day. Let’s say that I came on the scene and I told you that I could overthrow Rome, asking you to follow me in the wilderness, build an army, and devise a plan against them. Do you suppose that little Messianic shaped gap in your heart would begin to fill up with a throbbing hope? Chances are, yes. But let’s pretend you weren’t convinced. Let’s imagine that you told me, “Dude, you’re crazy. Keep smoking that weed” – but as you were just about to walk away, I began to perform signs and wonders. That’d certainly be enough to convince someone. Believe it or not, there have been such cases.
Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian who was born in the late 30s AD and lived through the destruction of Jerusalem. He recorded events of what had happened surrounding the time of the temple’s destruction. He has been quoted on this site before and will be, Lord willing, in the future. Though his writings aren’t part of the Christian canon, they are still so valuable in understanding what happened, and really giving credibility to the words of Christ. That being said, let’s check out some of what he wrote, and notice the similarities between his words and Christ’s:
“Imposters and demagogues, under the guise of divine inspiration, provoked revolutionary actions and impelled the masses to act like madmen. They led them out into the wilderness so that there God would show them signs of imminent liberation. For they said that they would display unmistakable signs and wonders done according to God’s plan.”
– Flavius Josephus (Jewish Wars. 2.259)
“Thus it was that the wretched people were deluded at that time by charlatans and pretended messengers of the deity; while they neither heeded nor believed in the manifest portents that foretold the coming desolation, but, as if thunderstruck and bereft of eyes and mind, disregarded the plain warnings of God.”
– Josephus, (Jewish Wars 6:288)
I want to point out at least 4 guys who acted as false Christs between 35 and 70 AD. Josephus notes many more, and I recommend checking them out when you have the time – Manahem, Simon bar Giora, etc. Let’s take a look:
The Samaritan (36 AD)
There was a sect that had broken off of the Jews and resided in Samaria. The doctrinal split occured during the time of Alexander the Great and the Greeks preceding the Roman Empire. These men believed that the messenger that Moses spoke of (Deuteronomy 18:14-22) would reveal himself to them by showing them Moses’ sacred vessels. And in 36 AD, such a man arose, claiming to be Moses incarnate. Check out what Josephus says concerning this guy:
The Samaritan nation too was not exempt from disturbance. For a man who made light of mendacity and in all his designs catered to the mob, rallied them, bidding them go in a body with him to Mount Gerizim, which in their belief is the most sacred of mountains. He assured them that on their arrival he would show them the sacred vessels which were buried there, where Moses had deposited them.
His hearers, viewing this tale as plausible, appeared in arms. They posted themselves in a certain village named Tirathana, and, as they planned to climb the mountain in a great multitude, they welcomed to their ranks the new arrivals who kept coming. But before they could ascend, Pilate blocked their projected route up the mountain with a detachment of cavalry and heavily armed infantry, who in an encounter with the first comers in the village slew some in a pitched battle and put the others to flight. Many prisoners were taken, of whom Pilate put to death the principal leaders and those who were most influential among the fugitives.
When the uprising had been quelled, the council of the Samaritans went to Vitellius, a man of consular rank who was governor of Syria, and charged Pilate with the slaughter of the victims. For, they said, it was not as rebels against the Romans but as refugees from the persecution of Pilate that they had met in Tirathana. Vitellius thereupon dispatched Marcellus, one of his friends, to take charge of the administration of Judaea, and ordered Pilate to return to Rome to give the emperor his account of the matters with which he was charged by the Samaritans. And so Pilate, after having spent ten years in Judaea, hurried to Rome in obedience to the orders of Vitellius, since he could not refuse. But before he reached Rome, Tiberius had already passed away.
– Flavius Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 18.85-89)
Theudas (45 AD)
Theudas is one of the men mentioned by Gamaliel in Acts 5. 36 “For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. Josephus also mentions Theudas. Notice the imagery of splitting the waters and crossing through dry land as Joshua had (Joshua 3) to the redemption of Israel.
Now it came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain magician [charlatan], whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it; and many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them; who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them, and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, and cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem.
– Flavius Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 20.97-98)
The Egyptian (mid 50’s AD)
Josephus also spoke of a man from Egypt who claimed to be a prophet. He advised followers to come with him to the Mount of Olives and told them the walls of Jerusalem would fall down, affording them entry into the city. Notice the eschatalogical and Old Testament imagery here. The Mount of Olives was the place where the Messiah would set foot on the “day of battle” (Zechariah 14:3-4). Also notice the fallen walls imagery that resembles what had happened in Jericho with Joshua (Joshua 6). This man is mentioned in Acts 21:38, “Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?”
These works, that were done by the robbers, filled the city with all sorts of impiety. And now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God. And many that were prevailed on by them suffered the punishments of their folly; for Felix brought them back, and then punished them.
Moreover, there came out of Egypt about this time to Jerusalem one that said he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the Mount of Olives, as it was called, which lay over against the city, and at the distance of five furlongs. He said further, that he would show them from hence how, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down; and he promised them that he would procure them an entrance into the city through those walls, when they were fallen down.
Now when Felix was informed of these things, he ordered his soldiers to take their weapons, and came against them with a great number of horsemen and footmen from Jerusalem, and attacked the Egyptian and the people that were with him. He also slew four hundred of them, and took two hundred alive. But the Egyptian himself escaped out of the fight, but did not appear any more. And again the robbers stirred up the people to make war with the Romans, and said they ought not to obey them at all; and when any persons would not comply with them, they set fire to their villages, and plundered them.
– Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 20.8.6)
Simon Bar Giora (69-70 AD)
Simon bar Giora was considered a competent general who promised his tens of thousands of soldiers liberty for those enslaved and rewards for the free. Josephus tells us a bit about him:
Simon had been in the upper city during the siege of Jerusalem, but when the Roman army had got within the walls and were laying the city waste, he then took the most faithful of his friends with him, and among them several stone-cutters, with those iron tools which belonged to their occupation. Taking with them as great a quantity of provisions as would suffice them for a long time, he let himself and all them down into a certain subterranean cavern that was not visible above ground. Now, so far as had been digged of old, they went onward along it without disturbance; but where they met with solid earth, they dug a mine under ground, and hoping that they should be able to proceed so far as to rise from underground in a safe place, and by that means escape. But when they came to make the experiment, they were disappointed of their hope; for the miners could make but small progress, and that with difficulty also because their provisions, though they distributed them by measure, began to fail them.
Simon, thinking he might be able to astonish and elude the Romans, put on a white frock, and buttoned upon him a purple cloak, and appeared out of the ground in the place where the temple had formerly been. At the first, indeed, those that saw him were greatly astonished, and stood still where they were; but afterward they came nearer to him, and asked him who he was. Now Simon would not tell them, but bid them call for their captain; and when they ran to call him, Terentius Rufus (who was left to command the army there) came to Simon, and learned of him the whole truth, and kept him in bonds, and let Titus know that he was taken. Thus did God bring this man to be punished for what bitter and savage tyranny he had exercised against his countrymen.
[Flavius Josephus, Jewish War 7.26-32]