In 2017, National Graphic ran an article sharing the story of five men who believe they are the next Messiah or the Second Coming of Christ. They are spread across the world and range from 40 to 5,000 followers.
In Luke 21:8, Jesus said, “Many will come in my name, claiming ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.” Matthew 24:5 is worded this way: “For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many.”
Was it people, those five dudes, who think they are the next Savior that Jesus was talking about when he warned us of these “false messiahs”? Or does it mean something different?
Might we be prone to follow false messiahs? If so, how can we be sure that we aren’t following a false messiah?
What Does Messiah Mean?
In order to understand what a false Messiah is, I suppose it would be helpful to understand first what is meant by Messiah. Messiah is synonymous with Christ; the two terms are interchangeable. Christ is not Jesus’ last name. It is more of a title.
Messiah is Hebrew, and Christ is Greek. In the Old Testament, the term (mashiach) is mostly used in reference to the ruling king. It means “anointed one.” Eventually, the term took on a more metaphorical sense, especially after God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:11-16.
From that point forward, the people began looking for a future king, a future deliverer. Psalm 110, which is the most quoted psalm in the New Testament, outlined the Messianic hope.
Psalm 110 also adds another dimension to the Davidic promise. There we see a priestly nature to his rule as well. Eventually, the hope of a great prophet was also merged into this hope for a Messiah who would be the prophet-priest-king who would rescue His people.
The term simply means “anointed one.” People were anointed for a specific task. To be the “anointed one” would point to a special commission — to be the prophet-priest-king who would rescue the people. So, merging concepts like “one sent by God to rescue” is entirely appropriate.
What Does it Mean to Be False?
In Matthew 24:24, Jesus said, “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” The word there is pseudochristoi. You’re likely somewhat familiar with pseudo as a prefix.
Pseudo-science is known as bogus science. And a pseudonym is a fictious name that an author uses. Pseudochristoi, then, means a false/bogus/lying messiah.
There were indeed many who arose after Jesus’ resurrection claiming to be deliverers of the people. Most claimed that they would be the means by which God would save Jerusalem from destruction. But in our day, these false christs look a bit different. Daniel Doriani says it well in Matthew &2: Reformed Expository Commentary:
“The false prophets of our day make very different claims. Typically, they are religious figures of some kind. They offer spiritual or emotional deliverance, often through enlightenment. There is always a new book that captures the media’s attention, sells more copies than it should, and popularizes classic criticisms of the historic Christian faith. Behind them, there is always a far more scholarly version of some, even many, of the same ideas.”
While I appreciate Doriani’s words, I think he is missing one element that Jesus himself mentioned. He said they will “come in my name.”
The most deceptive attacks on the faith, which Christians are most prone to, are not the ones, which come from “out there” by those promising rescue through unbelief.
Instead, our greatest danger will be those who wear the banner of Christ but incite us to walk in a way that is not falling the path marked by Jesus.
In Luke 24:8, Jesus opened his warning with the phrase, “See that you are not led astray.” It means to wander off the path.
To be led astray means that you stop following the path of Jesus — the path marked by suffering, the fruit of the Spirit (like love and joy), care for the vulnerable, and profound hope.
To be led astray means to begin walking along a different path and following a different set of footprints.
Luke is especially set in the context of fear. Marshall is likely correct in The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary, “The stress of the last days will make men particularly open to any charlatan who promises them deliverance.”
Fear and emptiness will lead us to forsake our birthright for a convenient pot of stew (Genesis 25:29-34).
What Are False Messiahs in Our Day?
There are probably as many false messiahs as there are people. What I mean is that there is a myriad of things for us to be tempted to put our trust and faith in.
Anything which we are looking to for rescue can become a false messiah (if it isn’t already). These things which we look to become our functional saviors. Jerry Bridges gives us a quality definition of functional saviors:
“Sometimes we look to other things to satisfy and fulfill us — to ‘save’ us. These ‘functional saviors’ can be any object of dependence we embrace that isn’t God. They become the source of our identity, security, and significance because we hold an idolatrous affection for them in our hearts. They preoccupy our minds and consume our time and resources. They make us feel good and somehow even make us feel righteous. Whether we realize it or not, they control us, and we worship them.”
Not only are we adept at creating our own functional saviors, but there is no dearth within the world for claimants to the crown. One has to look no further than television ads to discover many of these functional saviors.
Whether it be a new drug, a new diet plan, a new food, or even those who have held sway for years, we are inundated with those who tell us not only what is wrong with us, but they reassure us that they have what is necessary to fix us.
It's not only ads where we can see a parade of false messiahs. Typically, our ballot boxes are filled with names of those who are would-be saviors.
Listen to some of the campaign promises. Notice how they are often playing into our fears. Whatever you value, they assure you that they will help you keep it or to gain it if you do not have it.
How many times have you heard, “This is the most important election you will ever vote in”? This is doing nothing more than playing into our fears and asking us to pick a messiah.
Rather unsurprisingly, Jesus was correct. False messiahs abound. Many claiming to be our rescuers. We do well to heed the words of Jesus and not follow them.
There is only one Rescuer. We are called to follow in his footsteps and find our rescue in Him alone.
How Can We Keep from Following a False Messiah?
There are three good ways to keep from following a false messiah. First, be so satisfied in Jesus that the appeals of a false messiah are empty. It is only when we are driven away from the security and hope of Christ that we begin to turn into functional saviors.
Secondly, we are kept from following false messiahs when we do real honest heart work. It’s helpful to ask questions of our hearts so we can know which areas we are prone to wander. What am I afraid of? It will be at precisely this point that the enemy can prop up a false messiah.
What am I passionate about? Where do I find myself getting angry? Where do I look for comfort? By asking some of these soul-searching questions, we can be aware of places where we need to especially see the provision of the Lord.
Lastly, unplug. You don’t have to listen to their messages. You don’t have to have a steady stream of talk radio or cable news in front of you. You don’t need the concept stream of social media.
You don’t have to read all the articles online about “what is really going on.” Ignore the ads. Simply refuse to listen to the message of false messiahs. Be especially attuned to those who are parading fear. It’s okay to not believe them and to rest in Jesus.
There are many false messiahs.
Thankfully there is One real Messiah. Trust Him.
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Mike Leake is husband to Nikki and father to Isaiah and Hannah. He is also the lead pastor at Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and Jesus Is All You Need. His writing home is http://mikeleake.net and you can connect with him on Twitter @mikeleake. Mike has a new writing project at Proverbs4Today.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.