By Pastor Glenn Pease
Jesus loved Israel, for the Jews were God's people. He was their King, and He was as patriotic as any of Israel's leaders or kings. We cannot doubt that Jesus loved the Jews more than either Moses or Paul, both of whom were ready to perish for the sake of Israel. Nevertheless, Jesus did not try and deceive Himself or His disciples. Love, devotion, and patriotism could not alter the truth that judgment was ahead because Judaism was dead. The prophets highest loyalty is to truth, and to God who is the author of truth. The prophets loved their people and nation, yet they denounced the evils of Israel, and warned of judgment. The false prophets were silent, or spoke soft words of false comfort. It is good for us to keep this Biblical role of the prophets in mind as we evaluate men and attitudes in our own day. The critic of the evil's of our nation is the true lover of America, if his motive is to bring us to a change for the better. The man who cries out against the evils and corruption is more likely to be the spokesman for God than the man who seeks to whitewash over the evils.
Just as it is the parent who most opposes the folly of their children who love them most, so it is the critics of national evil who are the nations best friends. In this context Jesus was sure of the judgment ahead, and, therefore, was not warning in the hope of diverting the judgment. He had already failed and knew that He was to be crucified. This kind of certainty is not known about the future of any other nation. We do not know if we will proceed into inevitable judgment, or repent as a nation and be restored to a place of even greater leadership in world evangelization. All we know for sure from Christ's attitude in this passage is that the church must escape from the rut that is leading us to the same dead institutionalism that characterized Judaism. We as Christians must escape from the influence of materialism that makes us think of the church in terms of buildings and rituals.
By His teaching and action Jesus made it clear that the essence of man's relationship to God is personal and spiritual, and not material. Jesus made no plans for a super structure in which to worship, for each believer was to be a temple of the Holy Spirit. Jesus gave the power of the Holy Spirit to the common people, and it was that people-empowered body that replaced the huge stones of the temple of Judaism. People with God's power: That is the church, and no matter how much marble, wood, steel, and stained glass you have put together, without people with God's power you don't have a church. Man is constantly trying to rebuild the temple that God destroyed thinking that is the secret of spiritual success. It's the age old spirit of those who built the tower of Babel. William Barclay wrote,
Pride of man and earthly glory
Sword and crown betray his trust;
With what care and toil he buildeth,
Tower and temple, fall to dust.
But God's power,
Hour by hour,
Is my temple and my tower.
A return to a personal encounter and dependence upon God rather than the impersonal, mechanical, and materialistic forms of worship is essential if the church is to escape the fate of the temple of Judaism. The power to witness, and the power to live a Christlike life, will not come through ceremony, but through surrender; not through ritual, but through revival of a dynamic personal response of believers to a living God. This is a clear conclusion that can be drawn from the very attitude that Christ reveals in this chapter. Men must learn from the destruction of the temple that aesthetics, and the beauty of art and architecture can never be a substitute for the beauty of holiness. The disciples came to this conclusion as time went on, but now they were interested when this event of the destruction of the temple would be.
Jesus had just wetted their appetite. He made this boldly shocking statement about the ruin of the temple, and then walked off to the Mt. of Olives. He, no doubt, expected them to follow Him with curiosity churning in their minds, and He was right, for when He sat down verse 3 tells us He was approached by the inner circle for a private conference on this matter. Andrew is for the first time included, and so we have two sets of brothers, and the first four that Jesus called to be His disciples. They, like most everyone, were interested in the future, and prophecy fascinated them. They were eager for more details, and verse 4 shows us that their first interest was in knowing when. We all love to nail things down and have an accurate time-table of events. Date setting is almost a compulsive urge for those interested in prophecy. What a thrill to be able to determine the date of future events.
All scholars want to be the first to discover truth so they can inform those who are still in the dark. To know is power, and so the disciples were no different than the non-believing Jews when it came to an interest in signs. They wanted a warning system so they could know when judgment was at hand. Who would not appreciate the security of such knowledge. The Jews of that day were fanatical in their speculation about the end, and many had to suffer the consequences of listening to some of these self-appointed prophets. Josephus in Wars Of The Jews tells of a tragic instance of false calculation of the end. Six thousand men, women, and children were burned alive by the Roman soldiers in the outer court of the temple. He writes, "A false prophet was the occasion of these people's destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day. That God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance." This prophecy rested on an interpretation of the 70 weeks of Daniel whereby the end was to fall in 70 A. D., a common calculation.
Before Jesus gives them the information they seek, He first gives them a warning about something that will be relevant to them long before the signs, and He also gives them a list of things that are not signs so they will not get alarmed before hand. In other words, He gives them a warning about warnings that are not authentic warnings. In verse 5 He warns them that their first concern is to avoid being deceived and led astray. Now keep in mind, He is not talking here to children, or to some recent disciples who just began to follow Him. He is speaking to the inner circle, the very foundation of His church; the most mature followers that He has at this point. If He needed to warn them about being led astray, we have better face it: Christians can be led astray by false prophets.
In the next verse Jesus states it as a fact that many will be led astray. There is no area in the Christian life where it is easier to get off the track than in the area of prophecy. Whenever a man wants to rob the saints He knows the quickest way to do it is to become a prophetic preacher, for people who won't pay a dime, or cross the street, for sound training in practical Christian living, will go for miles and sacrifice to be deceived by a false prophet. Jesus said it would be so, and those who are fulfilling His prophecy by being so foolish do so as a direct result of ignoring His warning to be cautious. Anyone who is careless and indifferent about accuracy and sound evidence in the area of Biblical prophecy has covered their ears to the voice of Christ. Their punishment will be that they will be led astray.
The warning of Christ gives us a warrant to be skeptical about all prophetic schemes of men. It gives us the authority to question and probe into the foundations and premises of all men's teachings, including our own. It gives us basis for withholding judgment until we are satisfied that a message is in harmony with the whole revelation of God. If these disciples had to be cautious, or be led astray, then there is no authority on earth that can ask us for unquestioning submission. We are duty bound to Christ to carefully evaluate the claims of every man who assumes the authority of teacher.
I may seem overly cautious, but I know from experience that what Jesus warned of is a fact which disrupts and weakens the witness of the entire church. I take this warning seriously because it is obvious that Jesus recognized it to be a serious matter. History has demonstrated that those who did not heed His warning, but instead rushed headlong into following one prophet or another, ended up making fools of themselves, and brought a bad name upon the cause of Christ. Men do not lose their salvation by going astray on matters dealing with the Second Coming, and the end of the world, but they can cause enough confusion through fanaticism to block others from approaching the Savior. No error is too minor to be a stumbling block to some, so let us not take it lightly as if it really didn't matter what we believe.
Our attitude ought to be, let us learn all we can for sure, and be willing to remain silent and uncommitted where we are ignorant. If this is our attitude, no one can lead us astray. In verse 6 Jesus says the false prophets will come in His name. This immediately throws many Christians off the track, for as soon as they hear that a man speaks in the name of Christ they let down their guard, and assume he is inspired if not infallible. We need to learn that a man can speak as a Christian and still be a false prophet. We often assume that anyone who can say praise the Lord must be a genuine prophet.
Barclay said, "The human mind has an infinite capacity for wishful thinking." We easily fall for anything we like to hear because we want it to be true. The false prophet just has to discover what appeals to people and then give it to them. In this verse Jesus gets very specific about their claims. He says that many will say they are Him. There will be many false messiahs. This seems irrelevant to us, for we do not know of anyone claiming to be Christ, nor does it seem to us we could be fooled if anyone made the claim. It was very relevant to the early church, however, and as Jesus said, many were led astray. Alexander says there has been 50 false messiahs from the fall of Jerusalem to the 17th century. No doubt, the invention of printing and wide distribution of Scripture eliminated the likelihood of such deception in the modern world.
We are not likely to be deceived by such a claim today, but we can be deceived by other forms of alarmism. Someone is always giving warning that the end is near, and they quote statistics about the increase of wars, famine, earthquakes, and all kinds of natural calamities. Jesus says to beware of such warnings. They can get you excited and unstable, and make you unprepared to do the will of God. Jesus says that all of these things are not signs of the end. Whenever anyone uses these things as signs of the end, he is contradicting Jesus who clearly tells His disciples that they are not. Jesus warns us about heeding false warnings. He says in verse 8 that all these things are but the beginning of sufferings. Let us, therefore, be calm and not alarmed by a world in turmoil. This is when the Christian has to be at his best in a applying Christian principles. We cannot afford to throw up our hands and wait for the rapture, for as Jesus said, these are not signs of the end. Let us keep busy in meeting the needs of a suffering world, and not be led astray by those who give false warnings.