Matthew 24:3-5: As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.
As Jesus gives his final sermon before his death, he does so from the Mount of Olives, where his disciples “came to him privately” (Mt. 24:3). That they came to Jesus in private, in contrast to the Sermon on the Mount where great crowds gathered, indicates that this is a message for only the disciples and the future church. Matthew chapter 24 is Jesus’ Sermon on the Signs of the End of the Age.
Over the last month, I have been reading and studying Jesus’ teachings on the signs of the end of the age, especially Matthew chapter 24. I have read and studied this subject in the past, but the events that are unfolding in our world today, have made me even more committed to hearing again these words from Jesus. We live in an age where many of the prophetic signs revealed in the Bible are coming true.
Before I go any further, let me give you a word of caution. By studying this end of time passage, I am not attempting to make any predictions on when the end of the age will come. There have been many throughout history that have made predictions about when Jesus would return and over time they have been proven wrong. Jesus makes it clear that we are not to know or attempt to predict exact times of the end of the age. “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mt. 24:36). Our mission, as followers of Christ, is to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). Spreading the Gospel message and showing people the way to Christ should always be our primary goal and mission as a Christian.
Jesus instructs his followers to “keep watch” (Mt. 24:42) and to continue being the “faithful and wise servant whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household” (Mt. 24:45). Because the day and hour of Christ’s return is unknown, we (the church) must be busy doing his work of spreading the Gospel throughout the world and bringing people to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. The church is called to be a faithful steward by correctly presenting the Gospel message of Christ.
The first warning that Jesus gives his followers (the church) is to be aware of those with false teachings. As the church today, we are to be constantly aware of any teaching that is not in line with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This passage warns us that false teachings are something that we must be constantly aware of as we live out our mission of leading others to Christ.
The false teachers that first come to my mind are those who proclaim the prosperity gospel; that if you follow their teachings you will prosper in every area of your life. False teachers attempt to take our focus away from the truth of the Gospel and entice us with a message that appeals to our materialistic and selfish desires. That seems to stand in stark contrast to the very words of Christ from Luke 9:23: Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” As faithful followers of Christ, we will, and can expect to face opposition in doing the work of Christ and spreading the Gospel message. We will be attacked by the forces of evil for trying to shine the light of Christ into a dark and sinful world. Following Jesus will not always be easy but it is the only way to eternal life.
There are many false teachers in the church today. When the church strays from the central Gospel message of Christ, be aware of false teachers. The problem with many leaders today is the desire to somehow preach the Gospel and yet conform to the world as well. The Gospel of Christ stands in direct opposition to the ways of the world that we live in. When church leaders preach a message that doesn’t match up with the Word of God, that person is a false teacher. Many teachers today are aware of the lack of scriptural knowledge of their followers so they distort the truth and tell people what they want to hear. Just because a congregation is large and growing doesn’t indicate the true teaching of the Gospel. It could be a sign that something other than the Gospel is being presented.
The first words from Jesus in this sermon are, “Watch out that no one deceives you” (Mt. 24:4). We are to be alert and know the Word of God in order to avoid being deceived. As the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy: For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3). And in Matthew 24:5, Jesus cautions that many will “come in my name.” Jesus is warning us that this deception will come from within the church, from those who claim to be proclaiming the Gospel in Jesus’ name.
Understanding and reading scripture is the best defense against false teachers. As I stated earlier, many teachers today prey on the fact that many believers are scripturally incompetent. With so many things competing for our attention today, the daily reading of the Bible is something that many faithful Christians fail to do on a regular basis. Paul again tells us that we can know who the false teachers are by knowing and applying the Word of God. 2 Timothy 2:15: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Any believer that “correctly handles the word of truth” and regularly studies their Bible, can identify false teachers.
In the next post, we will look at the next sign from Jesus: wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes from Matthew 24: 6-8.