"Be not Deceived"
21 February 1999
Text: Matthew 24:4-14
We are charged at the outset of this passage, "Take heed that no one deceives you." The question which elicits this caution has to do with the end of the age, and the signs which they, the disciples might anticipate as companion events to the second coming of Christ. That caution is as pertinent today as it was when Christ first spoke it. Jesus foreknew the destruction of Jerusalem and He knew that it would follow fast upon the rejection by the Jews of His Messiahship. "He came unto His own and they received them not." Because He was their king, high priest and prophet, their rejection of Him was rank apostasy—He was the fulfillment of their Scriptures and when they received Him not, they incurred the wrath of God. And that is why Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, and that is why the Jewish nation was shattered, the temple destroyed and the Jews dispersed to the nations.
The first temporal reference point then of these prophetic utterances is historical: the events leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. That is the "now" of this prophecy. There is also the "not yet" dimension of this prophecy which we will need to attend to later. Sticking with the "now" we may understand that Jesus Christ did return in power after His resurrection—and for the fifty some-odd days following that return He was truly in the midst of His disciples teaching them and leading them into all truth regarding Himself. After that period of close instruction, He ascended to the right hand of the Father where He is presently in all His fullness. Spiritually, the Lord Jesus is really present in His church now, wheresoever two or three are gathered in His Name. That is the condition which prevails in the kingdom of grace known as the age of the church. That kingdom of grace is moving towards fulfillment, towards a spiritual culmination in a Kingdom of Glory that will replace this age. In the kingdom of glory, Christ will have returned in His fullness, in His glorified body making His presence holy, complete and perfect. For now, we live in anticipation of that future change.
So, the warning not to be deceived applies initially to the roughly forty years between Jesus’ death and the destruction of Jerusalem. Those who put to death true prophets are left with a serious consequence—they are left prey to the false ones! The same is true of the Messiah. Having rejected the true Messiah, Jesus Christ, the Jews have subjected themselves to a long, succession of false messiahs. Josephus, a great Jewish historian, amplifies what scriptures allude to. He names a certain false messiah, Theudas, who was defeated by Cospius Fadus, another was put down by Felix and yet another by Festus. Dosetheus was the name of still another such pretender. Acts 5:35,36 provide a scriptural point of reference for some of this deception. Simon Magus is identified in Acts 8:9-10 as a sorcerer claiming to be the "great power of God." Apparently, he became enlightened spiritually, but this fell far sort of salvation; he was "poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity." (8:23) While Simon repented, we don’t know of his subsequent history. This state of affairs, the emergence of false messiahs, continued even after the fall of Jerusalem: about 100 years after Christ’s death, a certain Bar-cochobas ("son of a star") arose who turned out to be Bar-cosba, "son of a lie." Matthew Henry refers to a man, Sabbati-Levi among the Turks in the late 1700’s and we know of several 19th and 20th century counterparts.
What we know of Jerusalem in this period of time is that the Jewish nation fell into a season of bitter, and violent partisan strife. They turned on each other as a judgment of God and made the defense of the city against the Roman siege a pitiable affair. Even the Roman conquerors were horrified by what they uncovered in Jerusalem’s last hours. The judgment of division for rejection of God’s messiah made the ruin of the Jewish nation both speedy and easy. It also produced an environment in which the perfection and truth of Jesus’ disciples and the church could shine brightly. The people in general, desperate to be delivered from their distresses became gullible and more easily lead: they went after those who proclaimed that the Christ was in the desert, or they went after those who claimed that he was in this or that shrine, or group—anywhere and anything but the church! Satan used their panic to sow confusion. There were signs and wonders performed, but their purpose, outside the church, was to lead people away from the one true God. . . they were lying wonders (See 2 Thess. 2:9.).
These were strong, spiritually motivated deceptions—albeit Satanic!--no wonder Christ counseled them not to be deceived. But the elect of God, stayed by God, wouldn’t fall for all this side show and distraction. Romans 8:30 "Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called: whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified."
The events unfolding in 1st century Jerusalem were acts of a war declared against a hypocritical nation by God Himself. The Jewish nation has been desolate ever since the rejection of Christ merited them ruin and exile. For centuries they have been under judgment for failing to listen to the messenger of peace. Instead they have heard the messengers of divine displeasure and of warfare. God judges them still, fomenting division and stirring them up against themselves with turning to Christ the only way out. Jewish intellectuals have been among the most violent and bitter opposers of God—Feud and Marx, amongst them, and we have been buffeted by their unbelieving fury in the deadly social movements of the 20th century.
BUT, we, who understand the mainspring of history (God’s judgment on unbelief and rejection of His Son), are not to be dismayed, or troubled because our hearts are fixed in God. There’s no confusion for us because we know that chastisement must follow rejection and unbelief. We know that God’s honor is at stake. His counsels are unchangeable and we know that yielding to God is the way of peace. We must not quarrel with God’s historical response to historical rebels. Furthermore, we must proclaim that His judgments are towards a purpose: restoration glory, the vindication of His Holy Name on earth!
Afflictions are the order of the day against all human pretensions to power, whether Jewish, Marxist or American. Famine, the black horse of the third seal, is one. Pestilence, the pale horse of the fourth seal is another. (See Rev. 6:6-8.) And earthquakes, which were often the deliverance of the saints from their prisons and persecutions, will be harnessed to shake the wicked out of the earth. They are quick, violent and tedious—as the long season of looting, social disorder, cleaning and clearing emphasize. These things occurred in the historic period to which the prophecies pertain and they will, no doubt, be pertinent again in the last days. We can be certain God will make a full end of the wrath which He has begun—not one stone was left upon another in the temple compound of Jerusalem. 1 Samuel 3:12 However, we must retain a sense of proportion: these things, horrible as they may be, pale in comparison with the horrors of eternal damnation which await those who defiantly refuse Christ!
Of course, the defiant will persecute others rather than to admit and abandon their denial. They will, as they historically have, blame Christians for all their troubles. Those who have no conscience prefer to murder those who do—claiming that the standards of any are an imposition on the many. "You have no right to tell me what’s right, or wrong," they say, "and even your choice to live by your own standards is an infringement of my rights. Join us in our amorality and wickedness, or die. Who are you to judge us?" Despite the guilt which riddles such self-serving defensiveness, they’d rather kill than repent. So they do. They try to break the Christian witness with restrictions, bonds, fines and imprisonments—they mock traditional values, making Christians a spectacle to the world. It’s okay to hate Christians. It’s okay to oppress them because they stand in the way of our decadent pleasure seeking—the answer to guilt and shame if, they claim, to have no rules at all. Moral anarchy, denial of truth, wickedness, murder, lies and extortion are just fine. And all this is informed by a barely suppressed blood thirstiness!
Why is there so much Christian-baiting? Because we are delivering death to Satan’s kingdom, we are destroying his kingdom. He is desperate with wrath and he harnesses gullible persons to his cause. Oh, do not be deceived. Many good folks get sucked into causes that serve anti-Christian ends thinking that they are doing good. There are three ill consequences of the intensification of this warfare: apostasy, malignity and a general decline of fervor among the saints. The bitterest foes of the saints will be those who once numbered themselves as Christians, again driven by fear and guilt. They begin by quarreling with their faith, sitting loose with its truth, growing weary of its demands for truth and holiness and finally revolting from it—Karl Marx was a former professor of faith! Secondly, unkindness will permeate all of life: envy, enmity and malice will come to characterize peoples’ interactions, public and private, driving out charity, tenderness and moderation. . .treachery and hatred will come to displace truth and love. There will be wholesale death of trust among the luke-warm. Some, not all, will find their Christian fervor cooled by the high cost of faithfulness in times of assault and difficulty. Their will privatize their faith, become socially invisible to survive and define their faith in terms of defensive quietism. We are in the "not yet" phase of these things today. Do not be deceived. Those whose favorite cry is "Christians to the lions" are here—just watch the evening news.
Do not be dismayed, for we have it on good authority that such things must be.
And then we come to verse 14: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world, as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." It seems so like a non-sequitur. This is the point. The faithful declaration of the mind and will of God ("this gospel of the kingdom") will occur within a context of persecution and apostasy. Furthermore, how that gospel is received will lead to judgment: many will stand and fall depending on their reception of the gospel as well their treatment of the gospel presenters. The whole of human history, the fate of the nations, all hinge upon this one thing: "Who do you say that Jesus Christ is?" Troubles will afflict those who deny Christ, they will eventually vanish in a judgment of oblivion. . . their gods forgotten, their splendor wiped away. No one escapes the question.