In His Olivet Discourse after forsaking the temple and predicting its destruction, Jesus is answering His disciples’ request for a sign of when such things would take place, which they associated with His coming and the end of the age (Mat 24:3). After warning of the deception of false Christs who would appeal to the same desire people had for a worldly, conquering king that caused them to reject Him as their Messiah, He has also warned that many would “fall away”. For following the precepts of His kingdom they would be hated by all nations and stigmatized as criminals by those who call evil good and good evil (Isa 5:20). As a result, tribulation would arise against them by the kingdoms of this world and cause many to stumble. Significantly, a “stumbling block” (Greek skandalon) is actually a snare or trap as it is used throughout the LXX, and is most properly the baited trigger that one is enticed to trip that results in him being ensnared (see Jos 23:13, Jdg 2:3, 8:27, 1Sa 18:21, Psa 106:36, 140:5, 141:9; Mat 18:7-9). Hence, in our present context, in what sense is affliction and tribulation the bait of a trap that lures one to fall away? In what sense is one caught when he takes the bait and denies Christ and His eternal kingdom in order to preserve his temporal life and its pleasures in the present kingdoms of this world? See Mat 10:28-33, 16:24-26, Act 14:22, and contrast Heb 11:24-26.
In addition to the other signs that would precede His coming and the end of the age, what other sign did Jesus give in Mat 24:11? What is the relationship between this sign, the tribulation to which Jesus says His followers would be delivered, and the many who will fall away as a result? See Mat 24:9 and recall from the immediate context who was responsible for the tribulation Jesus was experiencing that helps us understand who “they” are who would also deliver His disciples to tribulation. See also Mat 7:13-15 and think: when affliction and persecution arise because of the Word, who is it that baits that snare with enticing words that appeal to men’s flesh so that many are deceived and led down the broad road to destruction? Cf. 2Pe 2:18-19 and consider that the nature of a false prophet is inherently religious. But although they appear in sheep’s clothing, inwardly they are ravenous wolves who love the world and the things in it. They pretend to love God, to be the Bride of Christ, but have prostituted themselves with the world (Rev 17:1-6) and peddle the word of God for worldly gain (2Co 2:17). Hence they tell people what they want to hear rather than what the need to hear (2Ti 4:3). They dilute the choice wine of God’s word (Isa 1:22) so as to remove the sharp edge of that sword that would otherwise cut away men’s carnal flesh by calling upon those who would follow Jesus to take up their cross and lay down their lives (Mat 16:24-25). As a result, theirs is always a message of “peace and safety” (1Th 5:2, Jer 6:13-14) that ensnares those whose hearts are not pure and causes them to stumble, to take the bait that God really doesn’t want them to suffer in the flesh and there really isn’t any cost in this world to truly follow Him. In this way the message of this brood of vipers is the same as that of the original Serpent: “Yea, hath God said…?” (Gen 3:1). At the same time in their sheep’s clothing and also like the original Serpent they twist God’s words to turn His sword against those who are sincere in faith, not just as enticing bait for their snare, but as the pretense to punish those who disagree with them; see Jer 26:7-11 and cf. Mat 23:34,37. For as demonstrated throughout history, those who have fallen away to worldly religion are often the worst persecutors of those who follow true religion. They are the tares that in the time of harvest become apparent from their different fruit. And as Christ sifts the chaff with His winnowing fork to gather His wheat into the barn, those wolves are stripped of their sheep’s clothing to be seen for their true nature.
In the midst of such difficult circumstances when the power of deception is strongest against the weakness of our flesh, what advantage does a sincere faith, a pure heart, and a good conscience (1Ti 1:5) that simply obeys the plain meaning of Scripture have over an intellectual faith that like Eve engages the sophistry of serpents who parse God’s word in search of arguments for why it doesn’t mean what it plainly says? Cf. 1Co 1:26-31. Even when faced by such a dangerous snare at such times as our flesh is the very weakest, what is God’s promise to those who in simple faith “trust and obey”? See Psa 91:2-3.