Deception and Hearing God
There is a scripture that has been on my heart for weeks now. It's one I believe to be especially relevant in these days regardless of whether or not its time has truly come. Why? Well, allow me to share the scripture with you, then perhaps you'll see why.
The passage in question is found in Matthew 24:4-5. The disciples had just asked Jesus what the sign of His coming and the end of the age will be. This is the beginning of Jesus' response. It reads...
Matthew 24:4-5 (NIV) ... "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Messiah,' and will deceive many."
Sound familiar? I'm sure it does. This scripture is often quoted (or paraphrased) in the context of end time events. It’s also used to extol the virtues of being vigilant and discerning, and to warn people to be on guard from being led astray by false messiahs. Unfortunately, many of us, for whatever reason, fail to heed the Lord's warning.
Case in point: we are told point blank, by Jesus Himself, not to let anyone deceive us. A little later on, in the very same chapter, Jesus describes what His second coming will be like. He tells us how everyone will instantly know when He arrives, and warns us of false messiahs to come. It's the written word spoken by the Man Himself.
Nevertheless, there are still those who have been deceived by false messiahs, even in our lifetime. Even with all the warnings we have been given, and all the detailed descriptions of Jesus' return, there have been those who have claimed to be Jesus Christ Himself, and who have indeed deceived many. Talk about a complete and total failure of vigilance and discernment on the part of the deceived.
It's this lack of vigilance and discernment that concerns me. Not just over false messiahs, but all things. The fact is, deception is alive and well today. The very deception Jesus warned us about, the very deception that has ensnared and sidetracked many Christians, and the very deception I wrote an entire book about, is real, and not to be trifled with. However, some of us have not learned this lesson.
Here's the uncomfortable part. We can easily see deception in the world, but if we look closely, we can also see deception within the Church. It's in the teachings of ministers and spiritual leaders alike. It's in the videos on YouTube, and the writings on blogs. It's even on the lips of many believers who boldly proclaim what they believe to be the truth. In short, there is no lack of deception, and it's not hard to come by.
Please understand, I'm not pointing fingers at anyone, or singling anyone out, or chastising anyone, and most especially I am not condemning anyone. It is in no way my intention to disparage my brothers and sisters in Christ. No, the reason I say this is because I want us to see that deception can exist anywhere, even right before our eyes, yet go unseen. Let me give you an example.
Remember the scripture I quoted above -- Matthew 24:4-5? The scripture many people quote as Jesus' warning to watch out for false messiahs? Well, it actually has nothing to do with false messiahs. Yes, seriously. Jesus mentions false messiahs later on in the chapter, however, this passage in particular has nothing to do with them.
What Jesus was really warning about in this passage are Christians who believe in, and proclaim Jesus to be the Christ, yet knowingly or unknowingly propagate deception as truth. No doubt the vast majority do so innocently, truly believing what they say is the truth. Nevertheless, they help spread deception, and in turn, they also help lead many astray. Let's break this scripture down so we can see it from another perspective.
First of all, probably the biggest point that trips people up is when Jesus says "For many will come in my name." To some, this may sound as though there will be false messiahs who will call themselves Jesus. While it’s true, this has indeed happened, this isn't what Jesus meant.
To come in the name of someone or something means they come as a representative of that person or thing. We can see examples of this phrasing throughout the Bible, all of which refer to coming as a representative of someone or something else. It's pretty well established that this is what this phrase means. (See Deuteronomy 18:22, 1 Samuel 17:45, Ezra 5:1, Luke 19:38, Acts 2:38, and many more.) So when someone comes "in my name," as Jesus said, they are coming as a representative of Jesus Christ Himself. In other words, they are a believer, or at least they proclaim they are a believer.
This alone should show us that this passage isn’t about false messiahs. If it were, then according to Jesus, it would be like these false messiahs would come and say, "I come as a representative of Jesus. Oh, by the way, I’m Jesus." It simply makes no sense.
Secondly, when Jesus said "...claiming, 'I am the Messiah,'..." the phrase "I am the Messiah" shouldn't be in quotes. This misrepresents what Jesus was saying, making it appear as though He was quoting someone, but He wasn't. In reality, punctuation didn't exist in the original Greek text. In fact, they didn't even put spaces between words. So when the text was translated to English, there was some room for interpretation, and these quotes are an artifact of this interpretation. They were added for the sake of English readers, but they don't exist in the original text.
What Jesus was actually referring to, was, Himself, not the person who came in His name. Remember, this is Jesus speaking. When we reference Jesus being the Messiah, it makes sense for us to say "Jesus is the Messiah." Well, how else could the Messiah refer to Himself except to say "I am the Messiah?" I suppose He could refer to Himself in third person, but that would be pretty odd to say the least. It would be like if someone asked me if I wrote this article. I could respond with "Yes, I wrote this article," which would be proper. Or I could respond with "Yes, Mark wrote this article," which would be odd and confusing. The fact is, Jesus wasn't quoting anyone, He was simply speaking, and referring to Himself in a natural way like anyone else would.
One quick side note -- for those who might get hung up on the word "claiming," this too is an artifact of the translation process. A more correct translation would be "saying I am the Messiah." I'm guessing the word "claim" was used to emphasis the translator's belief that Jesus was quoting someone.
So knowing the proper perspective of these two parts, if we were to paraphrase them, what Jesus was really saying was, "Don't allow anyone to deceive you. Many will come as Christians, as fellow believers, and representatives of Christ, saying that Jesus is the Messiah, yet, they will deceive many." Jesus wasn't warning us about false messiahs, He was warning us about deceived and deceptive Christians, which is something we can see much of these days.
To be fair, we could argue Jesus was warning us about wolves in sheep’s clothing as well, and we would probably be right. But let's not lose sight of the point. Ultimately, Jesus' warning was to be mindful of those among us who deliver deception.
Let's take a moment to think about this and how it applies to us today. Jesus warned us of exactly what is happening all around us, yet His warning has been lost in translation. There are many among us who have made unqualified, untempered, hasty assumptions that appeal to their, and other’s, sensibilities and intellect -- they look good, they sound good, they feel good. And what's worse, many have declared these things to be truth, wholly believing they have God's revelation on a subject when they actually do not. Take these thoughts, theories, ideas, and speculations which have been carefully crafted and presented as truth, and add them to the popularity of the Internet, social media, streaming videos, electronic devices, and whatever else, and it has become easier than ever to get a message to thousands of people and potentially lead them astray.
I just showed you one such example of deception in action, which has been passed from one person to another, to another, many times over. Granted, it isn't an earth-shattering deception since the misinterpretation just so happens to line up with the word of God. However, it is a great example of how easy it is to inadvertently misconstrue God’s word without even realizing it. So if people can blur God’s word without even trying, how much more can they do when they work at it?
I say all of that to say this. For your own sake, watch out that no one deceives you. Be vigilant, and be discerning. Not skeptical, and not a wall-builder separating yourself from other thoughts and ideas. No, this too will get us in trouble. Just be careful who you listen to. There are many voices in this world, and few are going in the right direction. Don't judge truth or falsehood by the one who is speaking, or even by your own thoughts or beliefs. Rather, judge by the word of God, by the direction of His Holy Spirit, with all vigilance, and with discernment.
Stay close to God, and learn to discern His voice, but also learn to be conservative in what you accept as being from God. We always need to be careful, but if we haven’t walked with the Lord for many, many years, heard from Him for many years, and had the things He has spoken to us tested and proved correct and truthful over many years, then we need to be extra careful in what we receive as being from God. Let Him speak truth without leading Him to it, and without figuring it out. Then let Him confirm it in right and proper ways before receiving it as a revelation from God. Don't let your emotions or desires get the best of you and lead you astray.
By the same token, don't indulge in grandiose theories, or wild speculation. This doesn't necessarily mean we should cut ourselves off from any and all different perspectives or new ideas; no, these things could very well be good for us. But it does mean we shouldn’t go wading out in the weeds to find some revelation that isn't actually there. When we seek for something out of bounds, the enemy is glad to assist us in finding something to fill the gap. We need to let God open His word to us in His time, and in His way. Learn how to seek the Lord without pressuring Him or yourself for an answer. Learn to wait on Him, and especially, learn how to not add your own thoughts and ideas to His word. We will never figure God out on our own, and the moment we try, we go awry. All we can do is let Him show us His truth.
Also, be willing to lay down any belief that God may want to correct. If we have received deception -- and we should all be open to the possibility that we may have done so -- then for us to receive the truth, we must be willing to let go of what is false. We must be willing to allow God to tear down thoughts and beliefs we have built our whole life on should it come to that. In other words, we must be teachable.
There is much more to be said on this; more than I can say here. But in closing, let me just say, there are many things we take as truth which are not. There are also many things we take as deception which are not. Properly separating the two takes God, and it is only those who seek Him earnestly and correctly who will see their way clear.
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