Recall that Jesus had just previously spoken of the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, which was portended by the Jewish leaders’ rejection of Him as their Messiah. Now as they are returning to Bethany Jesus’ disciples have come to Him on the Mount of Olives overlooking the city and the temple mount and asked when such things would occur and what sign would precede the fulfillment of His words, which they associated with His coming and the end of the age. In order that they not be swept away in that destruction, which was the intent of their question, the very first thing Jesus answers and then repeats two additional times was for them to beware against being deceived, and in particular, deceived about misidentifying the Christ; Mat 24:4-5,11,23-25. For He knew that many would come in His name and present themselves as the sort of Christ the Jewish people were expecting—including His own disciples: an anointed leader with the promise of deliverance from their Roman enemies. As with all deception, the salvation they would offer would appeal to people’s fleshly desires, but be a worldly salvation to be obtained by worldly means and not the true eternal salvation from sin offered by the true Christ. Such a delusion was in fact a part of God’s judgment upon those who refused to love the truth that Jesus brought to set the Jewish nation free, and also a type of the deluding influence that God will give men over to believe prior to Christ’s second coming that will result in a great falling away from the faith when the man of lawlessness is revealed; 2Th 2:1-3,9-12.
In what way was God’s justice manifest in the deception of false prophets and false Christs that He would give those Jews over to believe who had rejected Jesus, and that He here warns His own disciples against? Consider: was it not just that those who refused to believe but persecuted and killed God’s true prophets should be given over to the lies of the false prophets that they wished instead to believe? Cf. 1Ki 22:1-40. And was it not just for those who rejected and crucified the true Christ to be led astray by false Christs who would promise them a deliverance more amenable to their fleshly desires? Cf. Psa 33:16-18, Isa 30:1-5, 31:1-3, Eze 29:6-7. Shall we suppose that it will be any different for those today or in any age who love their flesh more than they love the truth and refuse to heed God’s holy messengers who call them away from sin? What does Jesus’ warning that He gave His disciples for their preservation teach us about the great danger of supposing we can ever be truly saved apart from being saved from our sins? Cf. Tit 2:11-14, KJV.
How many did Jesus say would come in His name, and how many did He say they would deceive? See Mat 24:5,11; cf. Mat 7:13-15. In light of our previous discussion, why is this understandable? Cf. 2Ti 4:3. Were there in fact such false prophets and false Christs who arose after Jesus and before the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple? Cf. Act 5:36-37, 21:38, and the history of this period chronicled by Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews. Is it possible that Christians could be deceived in this same way still today? What evidence do we see that this could easily be the case, and is perhaps happening right now? Think: in what way is the expectation that most Christians have today for the salvation they believe Christ will bring when He appears a second time like that of those who were deceived in the first century who were looking for a Messiah to save them from their enemies but not preparing themselves to be the holy people who will inhabit His kingdom of righteousness? See Heb 9:27-28 and think: is it at Jesus’ second coming that His people will be delivered from their sins to be righteous and holy, or was that the purpose of His first coming? See also 2Pe 3:10-14 and cf. Eph 5:26-27, Rev 19:7-8. What should these things teach us about the danger of being deceived in the same way as was the Jewish nation by those who promise a worldly salvation apart from the true salvation from sin from which the true Christ delivers?
1. Antiquities of the Jews 20:97-98 97 Now, it came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea [44-46 a.d.??], that a certain magician, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it; 98 and many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them; who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them, and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, and cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem.
Antiquities of the Jews 20:160-161 160 Now, as for the affairs of the Jews, they grew worse and worse continually; for the country was again filled with robbers and impostors, who deluded the multitude. 161 Yet did Felix catch and put to death many of those impostors every day, together with the robbers.
Antiquities of the Jews 20:167-172 167 These works, that were done by the robbers, filled the city with impiety. And now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, 168 and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God. And many that were prevailed on by them suffered the punishments of their folly; for Felix brought them back, and then punished them. 169 Moreover, there came out of Egypt about this time to Jerusalem, one that said he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the Mount of Olives, as it was called, which lay opposite the city, and at the distance of about a half a mile. 170 He said further, that he would show them from there how, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down; and he promised them that he would procure them an entrance into the city through those walls, when they had fallen down. 171 Now when Felix was informed of these things, he ordered his soldiers to take their weapons, and came against them with a great number of horsemen and footmen, from Jerusalem, and attacked the Egyptian and the people that were with him. He also slew four hundred of them, and took two hundred alive. 172 But the Egyptian himself escaped out of the fight, but did not appear any more. And again the robbers stirred up the people to make war with the Romans, and said they ought not to obey them at all; and when anyone would not comply with them, they set fire to their villages, and plundered them.
Antiquities of the Jews 20:188 188 So Festus sent forces, both horsemen and footmen, to attack those that had been seduced by a certain impostor, who promised them deliverance and freedom from the miseries they were under, if they would but follow him as far as the wilderness. Accordingly, those forces that were sent killed both him who had deluded them, and those who were his followers also.↩