NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
by Dr. Robert R. Seyda
GOSPEL OF MATTHEW
Verse 23: “Someone might say to you at that time, ‘Look, that’s the Messiah!’ Or someone else might say, ‘There he is!’ But don’t believe them.”
We find a similar warning in what one Rabbi taught. He cautioned: “If someone tells you when the day of redemption is coming, don’t believe him, for it is written, ‘The day of vengeance is in my heart.’1 If the heart does not tell its secrets to the mouth, how can the mouth tell anything?”2 In other words, Jesus warned about those who would go around saying they know where the Messiah is, but they are only speculating, so why should you believe them. Jesus warns that during these days there will be many who will try to take advantage of people’s confusion. The subtle deceptions of these false messiahs and false prophets will be great, even to the point of confusing and deceiving many who are not firmly rooted in the Word of God.
Early church scholar Jerome provides some insight as to the way this advice was seen in his day. He writes: “At the time of the Jewish captivity by Rome, many Jewish elders claimed to be the Christ. There were so many, in fact, that there were three distinct camps of them when the Romans besieged Jerusalem. This saying [of Jesus] is better understood as referring to the end of the world, however. ‘False Christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders so that even the elect might be led into error… This passage is to be explained in one of three ways. It either refers to the Roman siege of Jerusalem or to the end of the world or to the war waged by heretics against the church and by Antichrists who oppose Christ under the pretext of false knowledge. If anyone were to tell you that Christ dwells in the wilderness of the pagans or in the doctrine of the philosophers or within the inner chambers of heretics who promise to reveal the secrets of God, do not follow or believe them. And lest false prophets find an opportunity for deceiving you at a time of persecution and anxiety, you should not trust just anyone who claims to speak in the name of Christ.”3
Unfortunately, these remarks by Jerome were also aimed at those who began to question the Roman Catholic interpretation Scriptures and their tendency toward rites, rituals, and use of the sacraments as a source of grace. A lot has happened since Jerome wrote these words some 1,600 years ago, but that would be like looking into the rear-view mirror. We must take it as he saw it in his day. Whatever the case, these false Messiahs have continued to sprout and pop-up down through the centuries since. You can certainly find many from the time of Jesus’ ascension until now. Let me mention a few.
For instance, in 1973 a man named Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda claimed to have received the divine revelation that he was both the Antichrist and the Messiah. He even had the number 666, a symbol of the Antichrist, tattooed on his arm. Miranda was the leader of the Growing in Grace church, a movement that is based in Miami, Florida. He was a very charismatic person who held a strong influence on his congregation. In 2007, 30 members of Miranda’s church decided to have the number 666 tattooed on their bodies as a sign of their devotion and love to him. Miranda also taught the doctrine that sin and Satan don’t exist. According to him, “his followers…literally can do no wrong in God’s eyes.”
In 1978, a female member of the Witnesses of Jesus Christ Church of God in Korea claimed that through a chain of scriptural eisegesis that she was “our mother who has come down from heaven, and that Ahn Sahng-hong, the founder of the church was Jesus Christ.” Sahng-hong died on February 25, 1985. His wife followed him on September 4, 2008. Next to the grave is a single marker that reads: “The grave of the prophet Elijah Ahn Sahng-hong.”
In 1979, a man named Inri Cristo, who lives on farmland outside of Brasilia, claims that God spoke to him revealing that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. Since then, he has been to 27 countries to publicly declare this “truth.” In his efforts to convince the lost that he is the “savior” they need, he has been arrested by the police a couple of times and has even been expelled from the United Kingdom, Venezuela, and the United States. He not only claims to be the Messiah but dresses very much like he believes Jesus dressed. But instead of walking, the 66-year-old rides a motor-scooter wherever he goes.
Then, there is a certain man named Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop who on August 18, 1990, claimed to have received a revelation from God, a revelation that changed his life and the 10,000 people who believe in his teachings. Also known as “Vissarion,” or the Teacher, Sergey Anatolyevitch Torop claims to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ and has founded his own church called the Church of the Last Testament in Petropavlovka, Russia.
There is a former Seventh-Day Adventist pastor named Wayne Bent, also known as Michael Travesser to his followers, is the leader of the Lord Our Righteousness Church, a cult based in New Mexico. Bent founded this group in 1987. It was in 2000 that, according to Bent, God showed him a divine revelation that he was Jesus Christ.
We also have Apollo Quiboloy, the founder and leader of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ the Name Above Every Name Church based in Davao City, Philippines, who on April 13, 2005, declared that God has entrusted him with the Kingship. This Kingship that God has supposedly given to Quiboloy gave him the authority to govern God’s Kingdom and execute His laws throughout the world. He also claimed that since 2005 he has been living in a state of “sinless” existence.
Also, we have David Shayler, a former British agent who worked for M15, who got into trouble and was dismissed. But these misfortunes led him to begin meditating and then explore Freemasonry, the Knights Templar, and Jewish Kabbalah. So, by 2005 the more he studied the more he became convinced that he was in fact the Messiah, but not Jesus Christ. Yet, he does claim to have been crucified with a crown of thorns and nails then incarnated as Astronges, a Jewish revolutionary put to death by the Romans. He strongly claims that he has supernatural powers and that he can control football results, affect the weather, and even stop terrorist threats. But surprisingly, this self-proclaimed, powerful Messiah admits that he uses marijuana He justifies his use of drugs by saying that marijuana “makes you more spiritual…and takes you closer to the light.”
Then, an IT specialist for an Australian company whose name is Alan John Miller, a former elder in the Jehovah’s Witnesses, suddenly made claims that He was Jesus Christ and publicly declared that he has vivid memories of the crucifixion. But he says that it wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be. He also claimed that his partner, fellow Australian Mary Luck is, in fact, Mary Magdalene. His cult is named “Divine Truth,” which was started in 2007. It has become very popular not only in Australia but also in other parts of the world. For instance, Louise Faver, a 39-year-old British woman, left her job as a neuroscientist in the UK to go to Australia to live near AJ. Aside from Faver, other people, just like George Hamel who abandoned his family and business in California, are forsaking their “earthly” lives to be near their “savior.”
It was in 2013 that a South African man appeared on the eNews Channel Africa to declare publicly that he is the black reincarnation of Jesus Christ. This man whose name is Moses Hlongwane also claims that he is immortal. In that TV interview, Hlongwane said that he was “getting ready” to perform miracles like curing the lame and blind and even resurrecting the dead by “opening the graves.” Although it seems so obvious to many how ridiculous these claims may be, yet they have fooled many into following such self-appointed messiahs.
Verse 24: “False messiahs and false prophets will come and do great miracles and wonders, trying to fool the people God has chosen, if that is possible.”
The tense and context of the original language used here infer that the elect will not be deluded. The idea of the verse is to show the cleverness and influence of the false Christs and prophets. The signs and wonders will appear so real that if it were possible (which it will not be) even the strongest, most mature believer could be disillusioned and quit. Here we see a dual phenomenon: the power of the false prophets and the steadfastness of the true believer. Jesus said the faithful and true believer will be strong enough not to be misled.
Then, speaking from their perspectives in the 5th and 6th centuries AD, several early church writers give us their interpretation of what was thought to be the understanding of these false messiahs and prophets. For instance, Epiphanius writes: “We are warned by the Lord so that if anyone were to come to us falsely in His name, none of us would believe in such a person, having already been prepared. Henceforth, how great will be the signs by which the faith of the elect is demonstrated! But whoever builds his house on the rock, that is, establishes his faith on Christ, cannot be destroyed by winds or rains. The rock represents Christ, the floods are the kings, and the winds are the kings’ orders to persecute the servants of God.4”5
So for Epiphanius, the key to being safe from deception was by being anchored in one’s faith in Christ and whose life is built upon the solid rock of Christ’s teachings. He goes on to address his readers: “You see then, beloved, what great love the Lord displays toward us. He carefully instructs each one of us individually regarding the future so that even if we see all these signs come to pass (having been forewarned by him) we will be wise to the enemy and accept nothing contrary to Christ and the catholic faith. In the Acts of the Apostles, Simon declared himself to be the power of God.6 Likewise, in the last days, the Antichrist will declare himself to be God, as the apostle says, ‘Thus he will sit in the temple of God, calling himself God … whom the Lord Jesus Christ will kill with the breath of His mouth.’7 The day of judgment will come upon the Antichrist also, and the Lord will kill him with the sword of His mouth.”8
1 Isaiah 63:4
2 Rabbi Shmu’el taught the following in the name or Rabbi Y’hudah: Midrash on Psalm 9:1
3 Jerome: Commentary on Matthew, Bk. 4, Ch. 24:23-26
4 Matthew 7:24-25
5 Epiphanius the Latin: Interpretation of the Gospels 33
6 Acts 8:19
7 2 Thessalonians 2:4-8
8 Epiphanius, ibid.