Don’t believe in fake Messiahs and fake second comings.

by K.W. Leslie, 23 January

Mk 13.21-23, Mt 24.23-28, Lk 17.22-24, 37.

The word χριστός/hristós is a loaded term. Nowadays we just translate it “Christ” and presume it means the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary. First-century Judeans figure it likewise meant Messiah, the king-like-David who’d conquer the Romans and the world and whose kingdom would never end… and we Christians believe that about Jesus too, although we figure all that takes place in his second coming, ’cause it clearly didn’t in his first. (Although he did conquer the Romans all the same.)

Thing is, hristós literally means “anointed one.” And you’re likely aware there are a lot of people nowadays who call themselves, or call their favorite gurus, Spirit-anointed leaders, or teachers, or prophets, or even politicians. People who follow those gurus as if they’re Jesus himself. People who worship those gurus, although they’d never, ever admit it: They claim they only worship Jesus, but y’notice how you’re never, ever allowed to dislike or criticize their gurus. Speak ill of them and their worshipers will call you heretic, or otherwise act as if Satan itself pooped you out.

When I was a kid and read this passage, I noticed how Jesus said these people would “seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.” Mk 13.22 KJV I actually found that hard to fathom. What Christian would be dumb enough to follow anyone other than Christ? But I’ve since lived and learned. All of us have witnessed Christians who let themselves get led astray—and if you’ve never seen any such thing, odds are you’re astray.

But like Jesus himself said, “But take ye heed; behold, I have foretold you all things.” Mk 13.23 KJV He gave us a heads-up. Don’t fall for the frauds! Worship only the actual Anointed One, and if anyone tries to tell you he’s pulled some kind of secret second coming, or is plotting some kind of secret rapture, tell ’em they’re absolutely wrong, and quote ’em these passages.

Mark 13.21-23 KWL
21 “Then when anyone tells you, ‘Look here; it’s Messiah!’
‘Look there!’—don’t believe it,
22 for fake Messiahs and fake prophets will be lifted up,
and will present signs and wonders,
to lead the chosen people astray, if doable.
23 You watch out.
I have foretold you everything.”
 
Matthew 24.23-28 KWL
23 “Then when anyone tells you, ‘Look here; it’s Messiah!’
or ‘There!’—don’t believe it,
24 for fake Messiahs and fake prophets will be lifted up,
and will present great signs and wonders
in order to lead even chosen people astray, if doable.
25 Look, I have foretold you.
26 So when they tell you, ‘Look, he’s in the desert,’
don’t go out!
‘Look, he’s in the private room,’
don’t believe it!
27 For just as lightning comes out of the east
and is visible all the way in the west,
thus is the Son of Man’s second coming.
28 Wherever the corpse might be,
there the eagles will gather.”
 
Luke 17.22-24, 37 KWL
22 Jesus tells the students, “The days will come
when you will long to see one of the Son of Man’s days,
and will not see it,
23 and people will tell you, ‘Look there!’
or ‘Look here!’
Don’t go, nor follow.
24 For just as lightning flashes from the sky
and gives light to all under the sky,
thus is the Son of Man in his day.
 
37 In reply the students told him, “Where, Master?”
Jesus told them, “Where the body is,
there also the eagles will gather.”

Fake Messiahs during the great tribulation—and today.

Jesus’s Olivet Discourse is about when he said the temple would come down—which happened 37 years after he foretold it, during the Roman-Jewish War in the year 70, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. That’s the great tribulation; it’s not a future seven-year End Times thing, where Jesus raptures the Christians out of it, then returns seven years later to put an end to it. Jesus can return at any time. Nothing’s gonna delay him for seven years. Nothing could.

And during the actual great tribulation, fake Messiahs appeared to tell the Judeans, “Follow me! God has anointed me to defeat the Romans! Yeah, they defeated Carthage and Germany, but not the Scots, and we can surely do as the Scots did,” and tried rallying the Judeans behind them. Maybe some of ’em even psyched themselves into believing God really had anointed them to rule Judea, same as lots of Christians psyche ourselves into imagining God “promised” us this or that. Or maybe they were all frauds, who figured they’d have a better shot at winning battles Maccabee-style if they had an army of true believers. Either way, fake Messiahs and fake prophets… and dead Judeans.

Now if you don’t know what the second coming is meant to look like, of course you’re gonna believe people when they claim it looks some other way. When phony Christs pop up and claim they’re a new incarnation or reincarnation of Jesus; when they claim the second coming required Jesus to get physically born a second time, and take on a new body, and they’re that body; or when they claim they achieved Christ-hood in the very same way Jesus supposedly achieved it: Ignorant people, or people who for various reasons refuse to trust Christian orthodoxy, are gonna follow them. And be exploited and harmed by them.

Likewise all the Christians who think the second coming is gonna be secret or hidden, or visible only to Christians or a select few, or happen in phases, or is gonna be political instead of cosmic, or is gonna be “spiritual” (by which they mean it only happens in their hearts) instead of material. Sometimes they aren’t aware of what Jesus and the apostles teach, and trust some “prophecy scholar” instead of the bible. Sometimes they are aware, but really like their own ideas more. Either way, wrong way.

All this stuff happened during the Jewish War; all this stuff still happens. Human behavior hasn’t changed any. We still think we can outsmart the End Times, or know more about it than Jesus cares to reveal, or wanna imagine we’re somebody relevant to its events, or want to claim an inside track. Humanity is still arrogant like that. And even if we’re Christian, we can be led astray by that arrogance. It’s why Jesus says, “Look, I have foretold you”—he’s fully aware of how people think, Jn 2.24-25 and knows we’d easily fall for these scams if he didn’t forewarn us. Heck, we still fall for these scams, even with his warnings!

Lastly, signs and wonders. I’m Pentecostal, and most of us really like to claim God’s involvement in our ministries is proven by his signs and wonders. After all, if God’s truly among us, shouldn’t miracles follow?—stands to reason. But stage magicians demonstrate all the time how clever people can fake a sign and wonder purely for entertainment, and it also stands to reason con artists can fake ’em to gain our trust and worship. Miracles alone aren’t proof of God’s involvement. We gotta also see the Spirit’s fruit, and if that’s missing, more than likely so is the Spirit.

The corpse and the eagles.

In Matthew Jesus caps this teaching with this odd saying, and in Luke Jesus says it after he teaches the same thing in chapter 17—which is not the Luke version of the Olivet Discourse, but a parallel teaching where Jesus is telling Pharisees and his students how the coming of God’s kingdom oughta look.

Matthew 24.28 KWL
“Wherever the corpse might be,
there the eagles will gather.”
 
Luke 17.37 KWL
In reply the students told him, “Where, Master?”
Jesus told them, “Where the body is,
there also the eagles will gather.”

This statement has confused a lot of Christians. It doesn’t feel like it fits the rest of Jesus’s statements about his second coming. Eagles consuming a carcass? What’s that have to do with it?

For most, the idea of corpses and birds immediately bring to mind one of the apostle John’s visions of the second coming in Revelation. Despite what you might’ve been taught about it, the book’s not in chronological order—as you should’ve recognized when Jesus gets born in chapter 12. Rv 12.1-6 The second coming happens a number of times, and is described a number of ways—apocalyptically, so we’re only told what it’ll be like, and we should know better than to take it literally. Unfortunately, plenty of Christians lazily go with literal interpretations. Wisdom’s too hard for them.

In chapter 19, Jesus returns in a red robe, riding a horse. There’s no one-world government in this vision, but “kings of the earth, and their armies,” Rv 19.19 KJV whom the beast has gathered to fight Jesus, and of course they lose. Jesus has a sharp sword coming out of his mouth, Rv 19.15 and this sword kills them, “and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.” Rv 19.21 KJV Eagles included, I guess.

Again: As an apocalypse, the second coming isn’t gonna literally look like this. It represents how the forces of evil (and there are a lot of evil governments in the world!) will be overthrown by Jesus. It’s a little gory, but historically revolutions have been gory. But in no way does this mean Jesus’s revolution will have to be gory. The fact Jesus rebuked Simon Peter for whipping out a sword at his arrest, Mt 26.52-53 implies he doesn’t need such primitive weapons to conquer his enemies, so it’s more likely the sword of this vision only represents what really overthrows them. It’s just that angry Christians would really love their enemies, whether real or perceived, to die horribly, and any excuse to ignore Jesus’s command to forgive will do them.

Anyway, since there are corpses and birds in that story, many a vengeful Christian has read their favorite spin on Revelation into Jesus’s saying, and claim Jesus is hinting about violently defeating his foes. No he’s not.

Proper scholars are pretty sure Jesus was quoting a popular proverb of his day; one which has the very same meaning as our saying, “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.” Where there’s a corpse there’s carrion birds. Since eagles tend to hunt rather than scavenge, a number of translators insist ἀετοί/a’etí would be better interpreted “vultures,” which is why we find that in a few bibles. But that’s not how a’etós has been interpreted by the Greeks—and read that proverb again: It doesn’t say the eagles found the corpse. It’s just as likely they’re eating something they killed.

And again: It means, and only means, whenever you see a convocation of eagles, they’re likely eating. There’s likely a body.

So where’s the second coming? Where you should expect to see the second coming. The skies split over Jerusalem. (Nope, not over Rome, Washington DC, New York City, the Hague, the plains of Megiddo, or any of the other places of popular Christian End Times fiction.) From the space inbetween, we see the Son of Man coming with the clouds and armies of heaven. Rushing upward to join his entourage are all the newly resurrected Christians from around the world and throughout time. Thus he’ll take possession the world he conquered long ago. You want further details?—I don’t have them; nobody does; we have guesses. Generally that’s what it’ll look like.

It’ll be public and obvious, with nothing secret about it. No grassroots campaign; no organization building it up and preparing the way; no coordinated efforts. Just the Father deciding, “Okay now,” and the millennium begins. Let no phony Messiahs tell you otherwise.