Day 211: Matthew 24:11-12

Then many false prophets will appear and fool many people. Such will be the spread of evil that many people’s love will grow cold.

[This is the one of 15 scriptures in which Jesus provides his disciples with some details about the Second Coming of Christ.  For more on the Second Coming see Day 150.  For more on the Messiah see Day 145.  For more on the End of the Age see Day 128.]

How will the disciples know that the end of the age is at hand?

Clue #6 – There will be false prophets.

This seems like sort of a no-brainer.  Was there ever a time when there weren’t false prophets?  There is always someone running around who claims to be speaking for God, and always plenty of people who are willing to follow anyone who has leadership skills and charisma.

The rules about false prophets were laid out in the Law of Moses, so it must have been problem way back then:

“Prophets or interpreters of dreams may promise a miracle or a wonder, in order to lead you to worship and serve gods that you have not worshiped before. Even if what they promise comes true, do not pay any attention to them. The Lord your God is using them to test you, to see if you love the Lord with all your heart.  Follow the Lord and honor him; obey him and keep his commands; worship him and be faithful to him.  But put to death any interpreters of dreams or prophets that tell you to rebel against the Lord, who rescued you from Egypt, where you were slaves. Such people are evil and are trying to lead you away from the life that the Lord has commanded you to live. They must be put to death, in order to rid yourselves of this evil. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

Being a false prophet was yet another one of many capital offenses back in Moses’ day.  They sure used the death penalty a lot back then.  If you don’t like it, kill it.  The Law of Moses also provides a basic guideline about how to tell an authentic prophet from a false one, indicating once again that there were indeed false prophets running around:

“You may wonder how you can tell when a prophet’s message does not come from the Lord.  If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord and what he says does not come true, then it is not the Lord’s message. That prophet has spoken on his own authority, and you are not to fear him. (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).

Here is some interesting info from Wikipedia on some of the prophets and Messiah wannabes who were running around in the time of Jesus:

The Talmud provides two examples of such Jewish miracle workers around the time of Jesus. Mishnah Ta’anit 3:8 tells of “Honi the Circledrawer” who, in the middle of the 1st century BCE, was famous for his ability to successfully pray for rain. On one occasion when God did not answer his prayer, he drew a circle in the dust, stood inside it, and informed God that he would not move until it rained. When it began to drizzle, Honi told God that he was not satisfied and expected more rain; it then began to pour. He explained that he wanted a calm rain, at which point the rain calmed to a normal rain.

Mishnah Berakot 5:5 tells of Hanina ben Dosa, who in the generation following Jesus cured Gamaliel’s son by prayer.  A later story tells of a lizard that used to injure passers-by. Hanina ben Dosa came and put his heel over the hole; the lizard bit him and died. Such men were respected for their relationship with God but not considered especially saintly; their abilities were seen as one more unknowable thing and not deemed a result of any ultra-strict observance of Jewish law. These men were sometimes doubted, often respected, and even addressed by their followers as “lord” — but never considered “saviors” or “messiahs.”

During this period a new class of prophets emerged who hearkened back to Moses and Joshua as harbingers of national liberation. These men did not claim to be messiahs, and did not rely on physical force, but did lead large movements of people (from the hundreds to the thousands) to act in ways that, they believed, would lead God to restore his kingdom. For example, in 36 AD a Samaritan led a large group up Mount Gerizim, where they believed Moses had buried sacred vessels (echoing Moses’ ascent up Mt. Sinai). Pilate blocked their route and killed their leaders.

Another such prophet was Theudas, who, sometime between 44 and 46 AD led a large group of people to the Jordan river, which he claimed he could part (echoing Moses at the Red Sea and Joshua at the Jordan river). Fadus, a procurator after Pilate, blocked their route and killed Theudas.

An “Egyptian Prophet” (it is unclear if the prophet came from Egypt, or was invoking Moses’ Egyptian origin) led thirty thousand around the Mount of Olives and sought to enter Jerusalem until stopped by Felix, a procurator after Fadus.

The existence of one of those prophets, Theudas, is mentioned in the Book of Acts when a religious council is trying to figure out what to do about the apostles:

Fellow Israelites, be careful what you do to these men.  You remember that Theudas appeared some time ago, claiming to be somebody great, and about four hundred men joined him. But he was killed, all his followers were scattered, and his movement died out.  After that, Judas the Galilean appeared during the time of the census; he drew a crowd after him, but he also was killed, and all his followers were scattered.  And so in this case, I tell you, do not take any action against these men. Leave them alone! If what they have planned and done is of human origin, it will disappear, but if it comes from God, you cannot possibly defeat them. You could find yourselves fighting against God!” (Acts 5:35-39).

And of course there are still false prophets.  Every pastor who claims to preach God’s word gets it wrong sometimes, but that doesn’t mean they are all false prophets.  When someone really goes off the rails and develops a large following we generally refer to them as cult leaders.  They typically manipulate people by trying to convince them that the “end of the world” is imminent.  A few famous ones are Jim Jones, Harold Camping, Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, and David Berg.  It usually ends bad.

So Jesus was right.  Seems like there have always been false prophets, and when people get involved with them they get hurt and disappointed.  Like Jesus says on Day 61, you can’t just watch what people say, you have to watch what they do:

Be on your guard against false prophets; they come to you looking like sheep on the outside, but on the inside they are really like wild wolves. You will know them by what they do. Thorn bushes do not bear grapes, and briers do not bear figs.

A healthy tree bears good fruit, but a poor tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a poor tree cannot bear good fruit. And any tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in the fire. So then, you will know the false prophets by what they do.

Such good advice.  You have to use a little common sense. If you don’t want to be disappointed by a spiritual leader, pay less attention to what they say and more attention to what they do.

What does this scripture say to you?