Are there false Christs and prophets today? Of course, there are! What about in the first century? This article will explore that question. Jesus warned His first-century followers to “take heed.” The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke serve as warnings to the disciples of Jesus. Jesus was addressing His disciples in the first century.
Matthew 24:3-5 (KJV) – And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
Mark 13:21-22 (KJV) – And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not: For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.
Luke 21:8 (KJV) – And he said, Take heed that ye be not deceived: for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and the time draweth near: go ye not therefore after them.
False Christs in the Last Days
Jesus Christ declared that before His return in judgment there would be false Christs. When speaking of false Christs, the first thing that probably comes to mind is that since there are false Christs today that we must be living in the “last days.” While there certainly are false Christs today should we automatically assume that we are in the “last days”? What do the scriptures reveal about this important subject?
Scripture reveals that the first-century church believed they were living in the “last days” (Acts 2:17, Hebrews 1:2, James 5:3, 2 Peter 3:3). So that being the case are we to believe that the “last days” have lasted nearly 2,000 years? And what is the test of prophetic fulfillment? If a prophecy is made in scripture and fulfilled in scripture, we need to stand on the testimony of scripture.
False Christs Active In the First Century!
The tests in Matthew, Mark, and Luke are clear. The apostles asked Jesus for a sign of His future (to them) coming and the end of the world or age. The main question is this: were there false Christs during the lifetime of the apostles? Well if you study the scriptures and set aside previous biases you will find unanimous agreement among New Testament writers that false Christs and prophets had arisen during the first century. Therefore since scripture reveals false Christs during the days of the apostles, we can conclude that they were indeed living in the “last days” as foretold by Old Testament prophets. OK, so where is the New Testament evidence of the appearance of false Christs? Acts chapter five gives us the first example:
Acts 5:34-36 (KJV) – Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space; And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.
Theudas – Claimed to be Somebody
The book of Acts provides a chronicle of some of these impostors. Gamaliel, who was a Pharisee mentions “Theudas.” Theudas “claimed to be somebody.” Theudas was somebody all right, a false prophet! He must have had a gift of oratory because he was able to persuade a small multitude to follow him. The noted Jewish historian, Josephus also mentions Theudas (Jewish Antiquities 20.97-98).
Well, it didn’t end with Theudas. After his death, another false messiah rose up by the name of Judas of Galilee. This imposter is mentioned in Acts 5:37:
Acts 5:37 (KJV) – After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.
Simon the Sorcerer
Later in the book of Acts, we read of a man called Simon, who was a sorcerer.
Acts 8:9-11 (KJV) – But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.
So here we find Simon who had seduced the Samaritans convincing them that he was “the great power of God.” How did Simon pull that off? Well, Simon “had bewitched them with sorceries.” Scripture reveals that Simon had the Samaritans fooled “from the least to the greatest.” These bewitched Samaritans fulfilled Christ’s words “and shall deceive many.” The Samaritans fell for the false signs and wonders.
Elymas the Sorcerer
Another account of false prophets is found in Acts chapter 13. This is yet another example of Christ’s prediction that there would arise false prophets.
Acts 13:6-10 (KJV) – And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus: Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, And said, O full of all subtilty and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?
Paul and Barnabas had identified Elymas as a false prophet and a sorcerer. Elymas was good at turning men from the truth. Paul even labeled Elymas as a “child of the devil.” Not much of a compliment is it? Clearly, Elymas fit John’s definition of an antichrist.
A Damsel with a spirit of Divination
There’s an account of a false prophetess who was possessed with a devil:
Acts 16:16 (KJV) – And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying:
This woman was making her masters a lot of money from the practice of “soothsaying.” For those of you not familiar with the word “soothsaying” it is defined in Strong’s Concordance as “supposed to rave through inspiration; to divine, i.e. utter spells (under pretence of foretelling).” This woman clearly was another “antichrist” and false prophet.
Further proof of fulfillment is found in Matthew 24:23-24:
Matthew 24:23-24 (KJV) – Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
Many False Prophets in the First Century
Other references to false prophets are contained in the following scriptures:
2 Peter 2:1 (KJV) – But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
1 John 4:1-3 (KJV) – Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.
Modern prophecy teachers point out the great number of false prophets and Christs in our century and day. However, that same Antichrist spirit existed in the first-century churches and Jewish synagogues. The first century was filled with the spirit of Antichrist. But to identify an antichrist spirit, we must first define what that spirit is. The Apostle John does this for us in the books of 1st and 2nd John. John warns first century Christians (and by extension us as well) to be aware of the spirit of Antichrist. John confirmed that many false prophets had already gone into the world.
1 John 4:1-6 (KJV) – Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.
John makes it simple to discern between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Any spirit that doesn’t confess that Jesus Christ came in the flesh is not of God and is antichrist or opposed to Christ. John informed these first century Christians that the spirit of Antichrist was already in the world.
John lays it out in 1 John chapter two when he stated that anyone who would claim that Christ hadn’t come in the flesh was an antichrist.
1 John 2:22-23 (KJV) – Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also.
Here John is saying that if anyone denies that Jesus is the Christ, then he is antichrist. John points the reader to the fact that Jesus was the Christ. The Greek word Christ or “Christos” means anointed. The Hebrew word Messiah (mashiyach) is translated the same. The word anointed, in reference to Messiah, can be referring to either His anointing as King or His anointing as Priest. The first century Jewish Christians would have been familiar with the concept of anointing. These Christians would have understood when John used the word, Christ.
The Antichrist spirit Denies the Deity of Jesus Christ
These apostate Jews denied a fundamental aspect of Christ. Christ was the ultimate and final High Priest who would make an atonement for His people. Of course, they also denied the Deity of Christ. To deny Christ’s anointing is to deny His Deity. The anointing of Christ as High Priest is essential in understanding the significance of Antichrist or those that oppose Christ.
The spirit of Antichrist was already in the world in the first century A.D. This is why John could write with certainty that he (John) and his readers were in the “last hour.”
1 John 2:18-19 (KJV) – Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
Many today are claiming that we are living in the last days and that this is the last hour. However, John was inspired by God. While it’s true that there are false prophets today, it’s also clear that there were false prophets active at the time of Christ. These false prophets were antichrists because they opposed Christ.
False Christs as Reported by Josephus
The Bible is not the only source that documents the false prophets of the first century. Josephus, a Jewish historian, left a clear record of these false Christs. History reports that first century Judea was a hot bed for false messiahs. These charlatans not only came under the disapproval of the Roman government but they eventually set the whole of Jerusalem against itself. Consider this list of phony Christs and prophets:
- (A.D. 35) within one year after our Lord’s ascension, rose Dositheus the Samaritan, who had the boldness to assert that he was the Messiah. . . while his disciple Simon Magus deluded multitudes into a belief that he, himself, was the “GREAT POWER”
- (A.D. 38). . . three years afterward another Samaritan impostor appeared, and declared that he would shew the people the sacred utensils, said to have been deposited by Moses, in mount Gerizim. Induced by an idea that the Messiah, their great deliverer, was now come, an armed multitude assembled under him, but Pilate speedily defeated them, and slew their chief.
- While Cuspius Fadus was procurator in Judea, another deceiver arose, whose name was Theudas. This man actually succeeded so far as to persuade a very great multitude to take their effects and follow him to Jordan, assuring them, that the river would divide at his command.
- Under the government of Felix, deceivers rose up daily in Judea, and persuaded the people to follow them into the wilderness, assuring them that they should there behold conspicuous signs and wonders performed by the ALMIGHTY.
- (A.D. 55) About this period arose Felix the celebrated Egyptian impostor, who collected thirty-thousand followers, and persuaded them to accompany him to the Mount of Olives, telling, them that from thence they should see the walls of Jerusalem fall down at his command, as, a prelude to the capture of the Roman garrison, and to their obtaining the sovereignty of the city.
- (A.D.60) In the time of Porcius Festus, another distinguished impostor seduced the people, by promising them deliverance from the Roman yoke, if they would follow him into the wilderness.
Upon the death of Jesus, many leaders arose who captured the hearts of the Jewish people. How could this happen? Well, what we must consider is the culture of that day. The Jewish people were desperately yearning for a Messiah. But the Messiah they were looking for was one who would deliver them from Roman domination. They knew what was written in the Torah, Law, and Prophets what we today call the Old Testament. Their religious system was based on a coming Messiah. Many had looked to Jesus as that long-prophesied Messiah which He was.
However, their concept of the coming Messiah was warped by their fundamental misunderstanding of the Old Testament scriptures. It was this atmosphere that gave birth to numerous false Christs and prophets who led the people astray thus fulfilling the words of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
The signs of false Christs and prophets that Jesus referred to were fulfilled within the writings of the New Testament period. Paul, Peter, and Jude affirmed that the last days of the Old Covenant had arrived by the prevalence of false Christs. Because of all the false Christs in their day, the apostles knew that the end of the Old Covenant age was near and that the Lord would soon return to judge apostate Israel.
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