John the Baptist had warned the people to repent before it was too late (Matthew 3:2). Jesus also came calling the rebels to repent, to lay down their lives, and follow Him to life instead of to destruction (Matthew 4:17). But when they refused Him, He pronounced dreaded woes upon their cities (Matthew 11:20-21; 12:41) and nation (23:13-36). He told them parables that vividly portrayed the downfall of their kingdom (Matthew 22:1-14). In Matthew 24:4-5, Jesus began answering His disciples’ questions about when these things would happen. He told them many false messiahs would arise in Judah and that they were to avoid such wicked men. The nation had rejected the true messiah. Now, it is only fitting that their demise came about at the hands of many false ones.
It Wasn’t Addressed to You
Suppose I told you that my great grandfather was a proud and noble German, who survived the first world war and began raising children before the second. I want you to imagine that sometime around the year 1920, my grandfather received a message from God, that he was commanded to write down and share with his children, which would detail events soon to take place in their lifetime and country.
In those letters, my great grandfather describes a rising German tyrant; a man who will reinvigorate the German economy, win an improbable election, convert many of their people into party loyalists, would build the greatest spy network in history to surveil his own people, and would kick off the bloodiest war ever waged by invading neighboring Poland. As the letter ends, imagine my great grandfather warns his oldest teenage son, “When you see these things happening, do not speak about them with anyone! Your own countrymen will certainly betray you. Instead, son, I want you to run for your life! Take your sisters and brothers and escape from the Fatherland. Do not speak to anyone and tell them what you are doing… Just go!”
If I were wise, I would see that my great grandfather perfectly predicted the rise of Nazi Germany and gave my grandfather a perfect road map to follow so that he and my family members would live. If I were a great fool I would begin reading that letter as if everything in it applied to me or some distant future generation.
Sadly, this is exactly what has happened in the study of eschatology. Many sit down and read the conversation notes between Jesus and His disciples in Matthew 24, where He was warning them with specific signs and evidence for the Roman invasion of Judah (that would happen in their lifetime) and ignorantly conclude: “yeah, this must be about me”.
To correct this egregious error, we have been studying the Biblical context of Matthew 24 and seeing how Malachi, Jesus, John the Baptist, and the immediate context of Matthew 21-23 all paint the same exact picture. Matthew 24 is not describing events that will happen in the far-off distant future. Jesus is not describing John Hagee’s blood moons, Left Behind’s Antichrist’s, Late Great Planet Earth’s tribulations, or locusts doubling as Apache helicopters. Matthew 24 is describing the downfall of Jerusalem by the invading Roman armies and today we will look at the first lines of evidence Jesus will give to His disciples.
The Appearance of False Messiah’s
After Jesus’ shocking prophecy of a destroyed Jewish temple (Matthew 23:37-24:2), His disciples come to Him asking questions such as: “when will these things happen?” In Matthew 24:4-5, Jesus begins answering His disciples’ questions. He says:
“See to it that no one misleads you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will mislead many. – Matthew 24:4-5
Before we look into the history books to see if an emergence of false messiahs occurred between the giving of this prophecy and the downfall of the Jewish temple, there are a couple of phrases we need to look at to confirm our suspicions.
“See to it”
When Jesus looks at His disciples and says “See to it”, He is communicating an expectation that applies to them. He is not telling them to be on the lookout for events that will happen in OUR future, long after they are dead. He is using a word that means “to watch out for”, “to be prepared for”, or “to direct your attention carefully to what is in front of you”. Why? Because these events will happen in THEIR lifetime and they will need to be fully awake and on guard if they are going to see them!
“That No One Misleads You”
Second, Jesus instructs His disciples on why they need to be on constant high alert. The reason is that liars and deceivers did arise in the days ahead, attempting to lead many of them away from Him. Jesus is saying, as the temple and Jerusalem are near imminent destruction, false messiahs will grow up in the land, among the people, and will attempt to lead many of them astray. Jesus warns them because He wants them to avoid such people at all costs so that they will be spared from their destruction. He does not mention this because He wants them to be worried about the future false messiahs that will be misleading all of us.
A Bit About “Messiahs”
Now, before I prove such a period of false messiahs occurred, I would like to give just a bit of history on why it happened. To do that, I want to talk about what the word “messiah” means, what expectations the word brings, and the historical events that created a messianic vacuum. Then, in conclusion, I want us to look and see how Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 24 came true with shocking accuracy.
The Meaning of the Word Messiah
The word for messiah originally comes from “χριστός” (khris-tos’) in the Greek and “הַמָּשִׁיחַ” (maw-shee’-akh) in the Hebrew. Instead of those words meaning a single person who is called “the Messiah”, both words originally just meant “a person who was anointed for service”. For instance, in the Old Testament, there were three kinds of people who would be anointed in Israel. There was the anointed high priest, who oversaw the worship of God at the temple. There was the anointed king, who made sure the enemies of God did not triumph over God’s people in the land. And then there were the anointed prophets, who called the people to repentance whenever they broke their covenant.
Here we see that the word messiah was a much older and more widely used word that was given partly to the high priests, partly the monarchs, and partly to the prophets of Old Testament Israel. Since the fullest expression of messianic identity included these three anointed roles, and since no Old Testament man held even one of these roles perfectly, the Old Testament anticipates a coming Messianic figure who would be anointed for all three, as true Prophet, Priest, and King.
The Socio-Political Expectation for Messiah
By the time Jesus burst upon the scene, many were trying to guess the identity and the role of the coming messiah. They were asking things like “Would he be the final anointed king who would throw off the tyranny of Rome? Or would he be the final prophet that leads the nation into covenant renewal and fellowship with God? Or would he be the final end-time priest that cleanses the people and ushers in an era of resurrection?” If you are interested, the first-century Jews have much to say within the Qumran writings about their expectations for the messiah.
And while no one at that time was thinking the Messiah would be the perfect embodiment of all three offices, they were anticipating an end-time priest, king, or prophet who would free them from their slavery to Rome and exalt them high above the other nations. Therefore, it should come as no surprise when the Pharisees ask John the Baptist if He is the messianic prophet they were looking for (John 1:19-23), or challenge Jesus if He had the authority of a messianic high priest to cleanse their temple (John 2:18).