“Watch out. Don’t be misled.”

by K.W. Leslie, 14 August 2022

Mk 13.3-6, Mt 24.3-5, Lk 21.7-8.

Nope, not talking about Christian nationalism today. Although good gracious, it surely feels like American Christianity has been utterly misled by power-hungry Sadducees who don’t know the Holy Spirit, and don’t know how to do anything with bible other than misquote and mangle it. But I suspect it mostly feels this way because of the company I keep.

Anyway, enough ranting about that. Today’s passage isn’t about our present-day drama anyway. The Olivet Discourse is almost entirely about the first century, and very little touches upon the second coming. Primarily it’s about what that generation of Christians would experience within four decades of Jesus saying this.

It began during Holy Week in the year 33, when Jesus was in temple and people commented on how nicely the fourth temple’s construction was coming along. Jesus’s reply was there “won’t be stone upon stone which won’t be pulled down.” Lk 21.6 KWL

Which stunned Jesus’s hearers. This isn’t at all part of the popular first-century Pharisee teachings about the End Times. In most of the rabbis’ timelines, Messiah came to Jerusalem, worshiped God at temple, then turn round and conquer the world. (Most Darbyists have pretty much duplicated the general Pharisee scenario—but swapped out Messiah for the Beast, who they claim will pettily desecrate a still-has-yet-to-be-built sixth temple instead of worshiping there. Where’s this warped idea come from? Well, we’ll get to that.)

Okay. So pulling the temple down is a big, big deal. It’s as if someone blew up the world trade center of a Mammonist country. You wanna cut the heart out of every devout Judean, no matter their denomination? This’d be how.

Understandably Jesus’s students wanted to know where on earth this falls within the End Times timeline. ’Cause they unthinkingly expected things to play out the way Pharisees taught. Since Messiah himself says it’s not gonna be the way, okay; how does it work? Luke makes it sound like they questioned Jesus right there, but Mark and Matthew say it was on Olivet Hill east of the temple. Mark also says only four of ’em asked, while the other eight were… I dunno, off playing soccer or something.

Mark 13.3-6 KWL
3 While sitting himself at Olivet Hill opposite the temple,
Simon Peter, James, John, and Andrew
are asking Jesus privately,
4 “Tell us when these things will be.
What’s the sign when all these things should end?”
5 Jesus begins to tell them,
“Watch out lest someone mislead you all:
6 Many will come in my name saying, ‘I’m Messiah,’
and will mislead many.”
Matthew 24.3-5 KWL
3 While sitting himself upon Olivet Hill,
the students came to Jesus on their own,
saying, “Tell us when these things will be.
What’s the sign of your second coming,
and the end of this age?
4 In reply, Jesus tells them,
“Watch out lest someone mislead you all:
5 Many will come in my name saying, ‘I’m Messiah,’
and will mislead many.”
Luke 21.7-8 KWL
7 They inquired of Jesus, saying, “Teacher,
so when will these things be?
What’s the sign when all these things should happen?”
8 Jesus says,
“Watch out. Don’t be misled:
People will come in my name saying, ‘I’m Messiah,’
and ‘The time has come.’
You ought not follow them.”

Okay. The most obvious sign the Olivet Discourse is about the first century, and neither our present nor the time before a future great tribulation, is right here in Jesus’s first warning of the discourse. “Don’t be misled; people are gonna come in my name and claim they’re Messiah.”

Our Messianic claimants don’t claim this.

Now yeah, you’re gonna tell me, “What are you talking about? There are loads of phony Messiahs out there. I heard of this one guy in Brazil who totally claims he’s Christ. And there was this other guy in Korea who said he’s the reincarnation of Christ. And this rabbi in New York whose followers insist he’s Messiah. And this terrorist in Syria whose followers say he’s the Mahdi, which is what Muslims call Messiah…” and so on, and so forth, yada yada yada.

I’m not saying there aren’t false Messiahs. There’ve always been false Messiahs, whether they claim to be Messiah, or their followers do. That’s nothing new.

But there are four little words Jesus said which seem to have created a massive blindspot among Christians. He said these false Messiahs would come ἐπὶ τῷ ὀνόματί μου/epí to onómatí mu, “in the name of me.” They’re gonna claim to be Messiah—and they’re gonna claim to follow Jesus. He made them Messiah.

Is that what’s happening with today’s false Messiahs? Nope.

Oh, they might claim they’re a successor of Jesus the Nazarene. Sun Myung Moon (1920–2012), founder of the Unification Church, tried that. But ultimately none of ’em come in Jesus’s name. They come in their own. They claim Jesus isn’t Messiah; they are. Or Jesus tried to be Messiah, but died, so they’re gonna succeed where he failed. They appeal to their own authority, not Jesus’s. They act in their own names, not his.

If they do claim Jesus’s name—that they work for him, and try to win Christians to their cause—they know better than to even claim they’re some new Messiah. More than likely they’ve read the Olivet Discourse and recognize even the dumbest Christians are gonna be triggered when anyone claims to be Messiah other than Jesus: “Hey, this guy’s claiming to be Christ! This makes him Antichrist!” So they deliberately, carefully avoid any of the Messiah/Christ talk: They’re Jesus’s great and mighty prophet, an infallible teacher, even the Lord’s anointed—but never our King of kings and Lord of lords. They regularly point back to Jesus. Even when they aren’t really following him any.

So Jesus’s prophecy is not being fulfilled in our day. Because it’s not about our day.

Darbyists insist the Olivet Discourse is about the future. So in the future, before the second coming, are there gonna be multiple false Messiahs who claim they’re acting in Jesus’s name? I admit I could be entirely wrong about this; 20 years ago I would’ve never predicted how many Nazis we’d now have in the United States. But as things currently stand: No. You don’t find one false Messiah nowadays who claims they ultimately work for Jesus; it’s extremely unlikely you’re gonna find many such claimants in the 12 to seven years before the second coming. That’s not how false Messiahs work. They don’t do humility.

Now, how about the days of the first apostles? Yep. Buncha times.

The actual great tribulation, the Jewish War, began with these false Messiahs. Wannabe revolutionaries showed up and claimed they were Messiah, the true king of Israel, divinely empowered to overthrow the mighty Roman Empire and reestablish the nation to the heights it reached under King Solomon ben David. “Make Israel Great Again,” as it were.

And some of these false Messiahs claimed to come in Jesus’s name. Because this behavior might attract Christians to their side. Or it might attract people who heard of Jesus, didn’t know a whole lot about him, but might be suckered into following someone who claimed to literally be the second coming of Jesus. Especially since these fake Messiahs were offering to do what the real Jesus wouldn’t: They were gonna take up arms and smite Romans.

Darbyists, who either don’t know history, or claim it doesn’t matter, totally ignore Jesus’s words, epí to onómatí mu. They focus on the very same false Messiahs we see throughout human history, and say, “See? These guys are the fulfillment of Jesus’s prophecy!” But these false Messiahs don’t claim they work for Jesus. They don’t pray, “In Jesus’s name.” They exalt themselves, not him. They don’t fulfill Jesus’s statement.

Point this out to a Darbyist, as I have, and they’ll sputter a little—“Well okay, they don’t claim they come in Jesus’s name, but they’re still antichrists.” Oh I agree they’re antichrists. But Jesus said they’d come in his name. It’s kinda important that they come in his name, ’cause all three synoptic gospels make sure to include the words epí to onómatí mu—whereas only one of ’em, Matthew, bluntly states they’re gonna claim to be Messiah. Mt 24.5 It’s therefore more important that these frauds claim to work for Jesus. Which they did in the first century. Which they don’t do now.

So… anyone claiming the Olivet Discourse is about our present day, or our future, is misleading you. And like Jesus said, watch out. Don’t let ’em do that!

“I’m Messiah” versus “I’m somebody.”

In Matthew, Jesus says the fake Messiahs will straight-up say ἐγώ εἰμι χριστός/eghó eími o hristós, “I’m Messiah,” or “I’m Christ.” But y’might notice in my translations of Mark and Luke, I had to put “Messiah” in a lighter shade of red, ’cause hristós isn’t part of the original text of Mark and Luke. Jesus only said eghó eími/“I am.” I am what? Well, somebody important. “I’m the guy!” Which guy? Well… that guy. The main guy. Messiah.

If we polled Christians, most of ’em would say as Matthew does. “Jesus said there’d be many who claim they’re Christ.” After all, it seems the best interpretation of what Mark and Luke meant, and of course there’s Matthew for confirmation. But it’s possible Jesus didn’t originally say “They’ll say ‘I’m Messiah,’ ”—just “They’ll say ‘I am [somebody]!’ and will mislead many.”

Bringing up the fact Jesus might not have even said “Messiah” in the Olivet Discourse is gonna bug certain literalists, who wanna insist every last Jesus-statement in the bible is his literal words. I remind you they can’t be. Jesus spoke Aramaic, y’know—and the New Testament is written in Greek. Yeah, the Peshitta exists—an ancient New Testament in Aramaic (or “Syriac,” as Syrian Christians prefer to call it) —but the Peshitta is a translation of the Greek text; it’s a translation of a translation. Same as our English-language bibles. This being the case, it’s understandable when the gospels’ translations don’t precisely sync up. They don’t have to.

Jesus’s literal original statement was likely אָנאָ/aná, “Me!” As in, “Look at me!” or “Follow me!”—because these guys were claiming to be somebody important. And what Jesus meant by aná is, “Follow me, ’cause I’m Messiah”—which is why Matthew chose to nail down this idea by putting the words, “I’m Messiah” in Jesus’s mouth. These frauds weren’t claiming to be just anyone; they were that guy. The one Israel’s been waiting for. Messiah.

But you probably remember Jesus didn’t like to fling around the title Messiah casually. Even though he is Messiah. He didn’t want people prematurely assassinating him over it, and he certainly didn’t like all the baggage Pharisees had attached to the Messiah idea, with the smiting and killing and empire-building. (Pretty sure he doesn’t care for the Darbyists and nationalists doing the very same thing.) So when he warned his students about fake Messiahs, he didn’t literally say, “They’ll say ‘I’m Messiah,’ ” but “They’ll say, ‘Me!’ ”—and Jesus’s kids knew just what he meant by that. (As we can see in Matthew, who spells it out for those slower Christians in the back.)

Today’s fake Messiahs kinda do the same thing. They don’t publicly call themselves Messiah; they leave that to their followers. Gives ’em plausible deniability: When cult-watchers say, “Hey waitaminnit, you’re an antichrist,” they can insist they never said any such thing. That’s their overzealous followers. They never would.

There have always been “somebodies” in popular culture—and if it weren’t for the hristós in Matthew’s gospel, we might find more Christians on the lookout for false “somebodies” to arise and mislead. Christianity has far too many of those. And Jesus did warn us about ’em:

Matthew 7.15-20 KJV
15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

For all the good that warning has done us.

Imagine if Jesus hadn’t warned us of false Messiahs.

Beyond a warning about all the false Messiahs of Jesus’s day, his warning also preemptively kicks the legs out from under anyone who tries to claim they’re his successor. ’Cause you know people would try that. Some still do

“Jesus ascended to heaven, and he’s king in heaven, but he made me king on earth, so I’m in charge now.” You realize every single king of a “Christian nation” has said that. You realize a lot of Christian nationalists likewise say that about our presidents (well, unless they’re from the wrong party). Certainly many a pastor and pope has. After all, they’re figuring Jesus isn’t really around to defend his kingship; he’s coming back someday, but not yet, and someone’s gotta take the reins in the meanwhile.

So they do. And regularly do a whole lotta damage in Jesus’s name.

But Jesus has no successors. He lives forever; he’s king forever. Jesus’s warning here helps make this clear: There are no Messiahs after Jesus. Don’t need to be.

For the most part his warning works. Very few false Messiahs have been able to pull off any claims of being Jesus’s successor. Christians have largely been on our guard against the frauds, and at best they can only get away with claiming they’re Jesus’s vicar or viceroy. But even that needs to be challenged. Jesus doesn’t need any second-in-command. He delegates things to many Christians, not one big boss who’d quickly be corrupted by that much authority.

There are always exceptions, of course. Christians are just as susceptible to being tricked by opportunists as anyone. Some of us who lack discernment (by which I mean the usual kind, not the supernatural kind; the stuff anyone can practice, and everyone should) get suckered by just about everyone; they’re prey for plenty of ravening wolves. Not for nothing does Jesus say, “Watch out lest someone mislead you all”—we got a lot of foolish Christians out there, and they are being misled.

Particularly by Darbyists, who find it in their best interests to keep them suspended in terror of a future great tribulation, and keep ’em perpetually seven years away from Jesus’s second coming. Don’t let them mislead you either.