Recall that in response to the cataclysmic events Jesus had just spoken of in regard to Jerusalem and the temple His disciples had come to Him on the Mount of Olives and asked when those things would take place, and what would be the sign that they were about to happen. Those events would, and did, mark the end of an age for the Jews in fulfillment of Jesus’ words; it is also reasonable to believe that they typify an even greater end or consummation of our own present evil age. In answer to their questions, what is the very first thing Jesus says in Mat 23:4-5? Which of their two questions in particular—“When”, or “What will be the sign”—does Jesus appear to be answering in these and the following verses? Does He ever answer their first question? See Mat 24:36; cf. Act 1:6-7.
Recall that the main intent of the disciples’ questions was for their own preservation in regard to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple of which Jesus had just spoken; in what way then is the first thing Jesus answers a warning that addresses this very thing? Notice that the NAS “See to it” is also translated “Take heed” (KJV), “Watch out” (NET), “Beware” (NRS). Notice also that the NAS “mislead” is the same word for “deceive” as it is translated by the KJV and NIV. What is the significance that of all the signs Jesus gives about His coming that will sweep away in judgment the wicked who rejected Him as king, that which He gives first is in regard to being deceived, and in particular, deceived in regard to misidentifying the true Christ? Cf. 2Th 2:9-12 and its context of 2Th 2:1-4. What does the fact that He repeats this warning against being misled two more times in Mat 24:11,23-26 indicate about its importance? Cf. 2Co 13:1. When our Lord warns first and repeatedly to not be deceived, is it possible, and perhaps even likely, that we could be deceived? Cf. Mat 24:24. While we tend to think of deception primarily in regard to correct doctrine, in regard to what specifically did Jesus’ disciples warn repeatedly to not be deceived? See Rom 16:17-18, 1Co 6:9-10, 15:33, Gal 6:7, Eph 5:5-6, Jam 1:14-16, 1Jo 3:7-8. How is this deception they warned against directly related to the deception Jesus here warns against in regard to the nature of the true Christ whom the Jews had rejected, and the false Christs that would arise with a nature more appealing to their sinful flesh? Cf. 2Ti 4:3. What does this help us to understand about the nature of the deception that those against whom the Lord warns use to mislead people? Cf. 2Pe 2:18-19.
Today, when we think of the Christ, we think only or primarily of Jesus as our Savior from sin, understanding from history and our Christian heritage that the nature of His kingdom is spiritual and quite contrary to the nature of the kingdoms of this world. However, what did “the Christ” mean to most people then that not only made it difficult during His ministry for Jesus to reveal Himself as such, but would later make it easy for people to be deceived in regard to false Christs? See Joh 6:14-15; cf. Mat 8:4, 9:30, 12:16, 17:9, Mar 3:11-12, 5:42-43, 7:35-36, 8:30, Luk 4:41; also recall that “Christ” is the Greek form of Messiah, which means the anointed one and was nearly synonymous with “king”; cf. 1Sa 16:6, 24:6,10, 2Sa 22:51-23:1, Psa 2:2. Hence, when Jesus says that many will come in His name saying “I am the Christ”, does He necessarily mean that they will claim to be Jesus Himself? Or does He mean that they will come in His name claiming to represent His interests, present themselves as anointed leaders or rulers and successors of His cause, and promise deliverance to those who will follow them? Will those about whom Jesus warns be a Savior like Him who delivers from the sins of this world into a truly righteous and eternal kingdom of lasting peace? Or, by appealing to men’s sinful nature will they whitewash and justify sin—especially their own—in order to establish a worldly kingdom? In what many ways has this happened throughout history so that indeed many have been deceived? Cf. Mat 7:13-15. Is it possible that people today, even Christians, could still be deceived about the true nature of the true Christ, and be misled by others coming in His name but promising a worldly salvation of peace and prosperity through worldly means? Think: how many political leaders around the world claim to be Christian, and how many of their policies actually reflect His teachings? By what means do the rulers of this world build their kingdoms, and how does this contrast with the nature of Jesus’ kingdom and how it is built? See Mat 5:38-48 and think: how many people did Jesus and His disciples have to kill to establish His kingdom? Is Christ’s kingdom ever advanced by the violence of war and killing others in His name, or by love and forgiveness and forbearance, and laying down our lives in His name? See Mat 16:24-25, Luke 10:1-3, Rom 8:36 and note. In what way does war propaganda that is used to drum up support for the use of military force entice by fleshly desires? What do these things teach us about the danger of warmongering, of which many evangelical Christians are often supportive?
1. Hippolytus, c. 200 a.d., writes concerning persons coming for baptism: “A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to refuse to do so if he is commanded, and to refuse to take an oath. If he is unwilling to comply, he must be rejected for baptism. A military commander or civic magistrate who wears the purple must resign or be rejected. If an applicant or a believer seeks to become a soldier, he must be rejected, for he has despised God”.↩