Chapter 10: ~ “Take heed that no man deceive you.” {Matthew 24:4}

Before I get into what I said was going to be the main theme of this chapter I want to lay some kind of foundation first.

Do you know the circumstances under which Jesus made the above statement? It was in response to what were to the disciples two extremely important questions, the second of which should be equally important to us:

“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this happen (the destruction of the temple), and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the world?”  {Matthew 24:3 NIV, KJV}

Jesus then went on to give the most important and extensive glimpse into “what will be the sign of His coming and of the end of the world” that He ever gave, and in doing so He saw fit to begin with those words, “take heed that no man deceive you.” And not only did Jesus begin thus, but so real, and so important, was this danger to Him that He didn’t leave it at that:

“Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name… and shall deceive many.”  {vs. 4, 5 KJV}

 “Many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.”  {vs. 11 KJV}

“False Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones.”  {vs. 24 NIV, NLT}

Let me add a few more passages to those:

“Many…corrupt the word of God.”  {2 Corinthians 2:17 KJV}
“There are many false prophets in the world.”  {1 John 4:1 NLT}
“Many false teachers are in the world.”  {2 John 7 NCV}

 Just in case you didn’t notice: five of those six passages had the word “many.” And not only are there “many false teachers in the world,” but as Jesus warns, they “shall deceive many.” And I must tell you what I’ve come to believe: that there’s hardly a teaching in the Bible that’s given more clearly and more often, that’s less heeded—with the gravest consequences:

“O my people, your guides lead you in the wrong way. They turn you away from what is right… Those who lead the people lead them in the wrong direction. And those who follow them will be destroyed.”  {Isaiah 3:12; 9:16 KJV, NCV}

Do you remember that short verse I shared at the end of the last chapter: “test everything?” Obviously that applies here every bit as much as to those miracles we’re going to witness someday:

“Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.”  {1 John 4:1 NLT}

This brings us to what I said was going to be the theme of this chapter: that just as Satan used the Bible in his effort to lead Jesus astray, so he still uses the same tactic today. But as I said, today there’s one major difference: rarely is it Satan himself that comes to us quoting the Bible, but “his servants.”

“These people are false apostles. They have fooled you by disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. But I am not surprised! Even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder his servants can also do it by pretending to be godly ministers.”  {2 Corinthians 11:13-15 NLT}

Let me say something here before continuing on. I believe that many of those whom that passage describes as, “his servants who pretend to be godly ministers,” don’t realize that they’re the devil’s servants. I have no doubt that many of them honestly believe they’re God’s servants and that they’re truly leading people to heaven. At the same time, the Bible is clear that there are, as Jesus puts it, “false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matthew 7:15 KJV) But either way, for those who are led by them, the end result is the same: “Those who follow them will be destroyed.”

Now, since “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us” (Rom. 15:4 NIV), I’d like to once again take a look at some of what was written in the past to give you some kind of idea just how successful the devil has been by using this particular tactic—misapplying God’s word—and how the great majority of God’s professed people in the days of Christ lost their souls because of it.

First let me say—and this goes along with those words of Christ that I shared a few chapters back–“the Scriptures point to me”—the Old Testament has much to say about Jesus:

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”  {Luke 24:27 NIV}

Here are two pieces of “what was said in the Scriptures concerning him”:

“A child will be born to us. A son will be given to us. He will rule over us.”   {Isaiah 9:6 NIrV}

“But thou Bethlehem… out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel.”   {Micah 5:2 KJV}

So we see that the Bible clearly told of a Savior who was to “come forth to be ruler in Israel.” And that’s precisely what the priests and teachers and leaders taught the people—and as we just saw, they were able to teach it right from the Bible—that their Savior was coming “to be ruler in Israel.” They taught it, and they taught it, and they taught it; for hundreds and hundreds of years. They taught it so incessantly, and so successfully, that it was indelibly ingrained in the hearts and minds of every single Israelite. They taught is so thoroughly and effectively that it was the most natural and inevitable thing in the world that when Jesus came performing wonders and miracles the likes of which had never before been seen, we find this sentiment prevailing:

“When the people saw this miraculous sign, they exclaimed, “Surely he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” Jesus saw that they were ready to take him by force and make him king, so he withdrew again into the hills by himself.”  {John 6:14, 15 NLT, NIV}

“Surely,” they said—and they were right (sort of)—“he is the Prophet we have been expecting!” So naturally, “they were ready to make him king.” But there was only one problem. Jesus would have no part of it. And although the story doesn’t reveal to us their feelings, I think we can be fairly certain that they were feelings of great perplexity and disappointment, with possibly a certain amount of anger mixed in also.

From there we move on to another incident. An incident that shows just how strong a hold this understanding had, not only on the average Jew, but even on Christ’s own disciples. I’ll quote the preceding few verses to set the scene:

“When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do men say that I the Son of man am?” And they replied, “Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”  {Matthew 16:13-17 KJV, NIV}

As with that first group of people, Peter was convinced that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and obviously he was right. And Jesus wonderfully confirmed him in that belief: “Blessed art thou, Peter: for flesh and blood has not revealed this unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.”

Now, with all that fresh in your mind, read closely what then takes place:

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. But Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never Lord!” he said. “This will never happen to you!”  {Matthew 16:21, 22 NIV, NLT}

Stop and think about that a minute: Peter acknowledges that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” and then turns around and “rebukes him,” telling Him He’s got it all wrong, while in the very same breath calling Him “Lord.” Surely you can begin to see what kind of a hold that incorrect understanding of the Bible had on them.

Thankfully the time finally came when Peter and his fellow disciples got things straightened out. But it didn’t come easily, nor did it come quickly. Let me show you why I say that: two separate incidents recorded by Luke. We read of the first one in chapter nine.

“Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it.”  {Luke 9:44, 45 KJV, NIV}

Why do you think it was that they couldn’t understand what Jesus was trying to tell them? And maybe more importantly: Why was it that “they were afraid to ask him about it?”

Now see what Luke tells us nine chapters later (by now it’s getting very near the end of Christ’s life):

“Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled… They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.”  {Luke 18:31-34 NIV}

Things hadn’t changed much had they?

Let me stop here and point out something extremely important. As is often the case, there was more than one factor that came into play there. For mingled with that false understanding of Scripture, and greatly feeding off it, was a strong dose of what Jesus went on to describe in one of those above passages as “selfish ambition.” And it was this selfish ambition, ever being fed by that wrong understanding, that made even Christ’s closest disciples unable to hear what Jesus was trying to tell them, because they were unwilling to hear what He was trying to tell them. And why were they unwilling to hear? Because the way of the crown was much more pleasing to the natural heart than was the way of the cross. Or to be a little more explicit: it was much more pleasing to their selfish ambition to be known as close friends and followers of the soon to be new king, than to be known as the close friends and followers of someone who was soon to be hung on the cross as a despised and deluded criminal. Let me also point out: it was their selfish ambition, not God, that caused “its meaning to be hid from them.”

Now, getting back to our subject: What went wrong? (I’m sure many of you already know.)

We’ll, I don’t know if you caught it, but we got a glimpse of the answer in that statement Jesus made in that last passage: “everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled… They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him, and kill him.” So now we see that the Old Testament not only prophesied of a Messiah who was coming to rule, but also of one who was coming to suffer and die. As a matter of fact, the Old Testament has so much to say about this Messiah that the same Peter who had once been so unwilling to see it, later went on to say this:

“All the prophets had declared about the Messiah beforehand—that he must suffer.”  {Acts 3:18 NLT}

Once again, I would ask you to really ponder this: “All the prophets” had declared that the Messiah was to suffer, yet the vast majority of God’s people didn’t seem to know a thing about it! How can that possibly be? And what lessons are there in that for us?

So, very quickly, how is it that we have two sets of Scriptures, both pointing to the coming Savior, but saying two completely different things? Well, it’s really quite simple (especially looking at it from our point in time). There are two completely different sets of Scriptures describing the Savior’s coming, because there were going to be two completely different comings: His first coming to suffer and die for the sins of a lost world, and His second coming to return as “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” to put an end to sin and to take His people to heaven. And it should be just as easy for us to see that what they did was take those Scriptures that applied to Christ’s second coming and mistakenly apply them to His first coming, with absolutely disastrous results. So disastrous in fact, that it eventually ended in this:

“Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: Him… ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.”  {Acts 2:22, 23 KJV}

As we saw up above, “all the prophets had declared that the Messiah must suffer,” yet the vast majority of God’s people apparently didn’t know a thing about it. What does that tell you about their spiritual leaders? And what does that tell you about how much, or how little, the people were studying their Bibles for themselves? And we mustn’t forget that other absolutely critical factor: combined with those two problems was their desire to believe and to follow a teaching that was pleasing to their natural inclinations.

So, could something like that happen again? You better believe it could!

“All these things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us, upon whom the ends of the world are come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin!”  {1 Corinthians 10:11, 12 NLT, NIV, KJV}

Now I’d like you to come with me to the next chapter, where I’ll try to show you that not only could something like that happen again, but it has happened again.