Last week we began a new sermon series titled “Signs of the End Times”. During this series we are going to name and discuss several signs and indicators of the last days and the imminent return of Christ. Though we do not know and should not speculate about the exact day or hour of His coming (Mark 13:32), we can recognize the warning signals that will precede it and should always be watchful and prepared for His arrival.
In our previous message, we considered a few historical patterns and a prophecy-fulfilling event that seems to suggest Jesus’ kingdom is near. This morning we will focus on another end-time sign - widespread spiritual delusion. In the last days there will be many charlatans who grossly mislead the gullible masses. People will reject the truth and believe lies, as God will permit Satan to spread his malicious deceit far and wide.
Jesus compares this spiritual delusion, and many other signs of the end times, to birth pangs or contractions (Matthew 24:8). There have always been false teachers among the people of God who have lied about Him or misrepresented His Word. They have caused great hardship and caused many to fall away from the LORD. Yet, just as in the pains of childbirth, the instances of spiritual delusion and deception will become increasingly frequent, intense, and severe in the last days.
I. FALSE MESSIAHS (Matthew 24:4-5, 24)
According to the dictionary, the title messiah refers to “the promised deliverer of the Jewish nation prophesied in the Hebrew Bible (ie, Old Testament).” The true Messiah is clearly identified in the New Testament as Jesus Christ. Therefore, a false messiah is anyone (other than Jesus) who claims to be a divine savior sent by God to save His people.
There have been false messiahs since the beginning of Christianity. The New Testament mentions 2 of them, namely Theudas and Judas of Galilee, in Acts 5:36-37. The writings of the Jewish historian Josephus record that both of these men claimed to have supernatural abilities and a divine mandate to liberate the Jews. Both developed a large following of people who adhered to their claims. In the end, both of these false messiahs died or were killed, their followers scattered, and their movements ended.
Over the centuries many other individuals have falsely claimed to be the messiah - even into modern times. Many were Jewish, but others were not. Sadly, thousands of people have been deceived by such leaders and foolishly followed them. Typically, those who present themselves as the messiah are often quite charismatic and alluring. They have a commanding presence about them. They speak eloquently and convincingly, in a manner that is seems trustworthy and believable. Yet, all of these false messiahs are liars who lead people away from the truth.
One of the most prolific examples in my lifetime was David Koresh. He was the leader of a sect called the Branch Davidians. Koresh claimed to be the messiah, and he and his followers withdrew to a compound located near Waco, Texas. When the FBI learned of various illegal activities taking place there, they confronted the Branch Davidians. This led to a stand-off that lasted for almost 2 full months. In the end, the compound was set on fire resulting in the tragic death of almost 80 people.
Scripture teaches that God is jealous (Exodus 34:14). He will not share His glory with others who falsely claim to be divine (Isaiah 42:8). Those who profess to be God or the Son of God provoke His fury and wrath. Unfortunately, the harsh judgment that befalls them often impacts their weak-minded followers as well. The predictable end for many of these false messiahs and their cults is typically sudden and violent.
II. FALSE PROPHETS (Matthew 24:11, 23-24)
False prophets do not necessarily claim themselves to be divine, but rather teach spurious messages and doctrines that are contrary to the gospel and the Word of God. It is common for false messiahs and false prophets to work in conjunction with one another. In such cases, the teachings and confessions of the false prophet support and provide credibility to the misguided claims of the false messiah. Ultimately, this is the model that will be used by the Antichrist and his Prophet during the last days.
Other false prophets mislead people by distorting and misrepresenting the truths of God found in the Bible. They undermine or even deny fundamental Christine doctrines. False prophets do not speak on behalf of God, though they may claim to. Jesus describes such teachers as “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matthew 7:15). Though they appear to be godly and righteous, they are actually deceivers who lead people astray. They were common in ancient times, advocating heresies during both the Old and New Testament eras.
False prophets are typically motivated by their own self-interests. They regularly take advantage of people in order to satisfy their own lusts and sensualities (2 Peter 2:1-3). They sometimes advocate that material success is the premiere sign of God’s blessing. They may claim that God speaks directly to them through revelations that go beyond or even refute what is already recorded in scripture. False prophets generally shy away from uncomfortable topics such as sin and judgment. They preach that Jesus isn’t the Christ at all or that faith in Him isn’t the exclusive way unto salvation.
Today our churches are filled with false prophets. Some have become quite prominent and well-known, while others remain more obscure and localized. Some are intentionally deceptive for personal gain while others are blissfully deceived themselves. Despite their sincerity or lack thereof, thousands of people are being misled by their fraudulent teachings. Unfortunately, this will continue until the second coming of Christ.
III. FANTASY AND DENIAL (2 Timothy 4:3-4, Matthew 24:37-39)
False messiahs and prophets are effective because most people are unfamiliar with the basic truths of God. They have never read the Bible or availed themselves to the timeless principles contained within it. As such, they have no absolute standard by which to judge or discern the reliability of what is being taught. They are ripe for deception. They stand for nothing and will fall for almost anything. Sadly, many people will believe whatever they read or hear if it is presented in a persuasive manner by someone who seems authoritative and genuine.
Scripture warns of a time when people will not endure sound doctrine, but instead will follow teachers who “tickle their ears” with feel-good messages that they want to hear. They will turn away from truth and embrace myths. They will accept that which conforms to their personal worldview and resist everything else. In fact, many will reject the notion of absolute truth altogether and instead insist that all truth is relative. Such absurdity will only lead to more confusion and bewilderment within society. People will even deny basic and obvious realities, such as the clear distinctions between men and women.
Jesus warned that the final days before His return will be like those in the time of Noah. A foolish and naive people will carry on about their business with a total disregard for His coming. Many will actively deny and even mock the truth. They will be completely charmed and mesmerized by the teachings of this world, accepting fantasy as fact, groping in darkness, and wholly unable to recognize and grasp the truths of God. Such pervasive delusion will be rampant in the end times.
Does the picture Jesus described to His disciples and that we’ve discussed at length this morning resemble our world today? Is there any evidence of spiritual delusion in modern society? Absolutely yes! People everywhere are being led astray by all sorts of wicked philosophies and ideologies. Spiritual blindness and deception reigns over entire cities and regions. Fanatics and radicals openly advance vile and despicable agendas. False messiahs, preachers, and teachers can be found in abundance. Pretty much anyone with a pretty face, a charismatic personality, a compelling presentation, and/or a fat wallet can garner a following of enchanted disciples. Humanity has very little appetite for the truth.
If spiritual delusion is a sign of the end times - and it is - then it seems pretty obvious to me that we are living in them right now. Are you a victim of the Devil’s lies and trickery? If so, I urge to come to Jesus today. He is the Truth, and the truth will set you free.