SIGNS OF THE TIMES
Part 1 (There Shall Arise False Christs)

By Ward Fenley


FOR THERE SHALL ARISE FALSE CHRISTS

Matthew 24:4-5 And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. 5 For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.

Mark 13:22 For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall show signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.

The first of the signs we will investigate is the first sign the Lord gives that would be a sure indication of His return: the presence of false Christs. The first thing that would come into the mind of a twentieth-century Christian upon considering this verse might be something like, "We must be in the last days. There are so many false Christs arising." The observance of the presence of false Christs in the twentieth century is to be commended; however, when the testimony of Scripture is taken into consideration, it should cause us to reconsider whether we have the right to say we are in the last days. After all, the Scripture testifies with abundance that the first-century church was in the last days (Acts 2:17; Hebrews 1:2; James 5:3; 2 Peter 3:3). The appearance of false Christs in our century should no more cause us to believe we are in the last days than a twentieth-century virgin birth should cause us to believe that Jesus was born in the twentieth century. In other words, if a prophecy is made in Scripture and fulfilled in Scripture, we must lean entirely upon the Word of God in understanding and determining prophetic fulfillment. The text in Matthew is clear. The apostles asked for the signs that would precede the coming of Jesus Christ and the end of the age. The question is, did the appearance of false Christs take place within the apostlesí generation? There is unanimous support among the N.T. writers that false Christs had arisen and that this emergence of false Christs proved positively to the apostles that they were in the last days.

In the book of Acts we find several clear examples of these pseudo-Christs appearing. The first example is found in Acts 8:

Acts 8:9-11 But there was a certain man called Simon, who previously practiced sorcery in the city and astonished the people of Samaria, claiming that he was someone great, 10 to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, "This man is the great power of God." 11 And they heeded him because he had astonished them with his sorceries for a long time. The people of Samaria were seduced into thinking that Simon was "the great power of God." Simon accomplished this seduction by his astonishing sorceries. The Word teaches us that all the Samaritans gave heed to this man from the least to the greatest, thus fulfilling Christís words, "and shall deceive many." We also see the signs which Simon performed to persuade the people. He practiced sorcery to convince the people that he was "the great power of God." This title was not only by their claim but by Simonís also. This would accurately be a fulfillment of our Lordís words in the Olivet discourse: Matthew 24:11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.
Matthew 24:23-24 Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. 24 For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.
Jesus said "take heed that no man deceive you," yet these Samaritans "all gave heed" to Simon because of his signs and wonders.

Another account of antichrists arising is found in Acts 13. Here again, we see a fulfillment of Christís prediction that there would arise false prophets:

Acts 13:6-10 And when they had gone through the isle unto Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew, whose name was Barjesus: 7 Which was with the deputy of the country, Sergius Paulus, a prudent man; who called for Barnabas and Saul, and desired to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so is his name by interpretation) withstood them, seeking to turn away the deputy from the faith. 9 Then Saul, (who also is called Paul,) filled with the Holy Ghost, set his eyes on him, 10 And said, O full of all subtlety and all mischief, thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord? Elymas is identified as a false prophet. In this case, deception and turning men from the truth was his craft. His method was to pervert the right ways of the Lord and keep men from hearing the words of the Lord. Paul, in defense of the truth, classified Elymas as a child of the devil, an enemy of all righteousness, and full of subtlety and all mischief. Truly, Elymas was an antichrist and a false prophet.

In Acts 16 we see an account of a false prophetess who was possessed with a devil:

Acts 16:16 And it came to pass, as we went to prayer, a certain damsel possessed with a spirit of divination met us, which brought her masters much gain by soothsaying: The word "soothsaying" is defined by Strongís Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible as "supposed to rave through inspiration; to divine, i.e. utter spells (under pretence of foretelling)." Christ had foretold that there would arise antichrists and false prophets. This woman was clearly raving through her supposed foretelling or false prophesying.

Modern "eschatologists" rave about the prevalence of false prophets and antichrists in our century. These eschatologists often cite characteristics of both the antichrists and their followers. Some of the characteristics that these men have observed in these antichrists are eloquence of speech, denying "orthodox" Christianity, immoral lifestyles, etc. They also frequently notice that these antichrists have small congregations. This particular characteristic may be true in some instances. This, however, is not always the case. Consider the mass cult of Catholicism which dominated church history for over a thousand years with their pope-glorifying, Mary-worshipping heresies. What about the huge Judaizing movement of the "Church of Christ" with its diabolical doctrine of baptismal regeneration? The cult of "Jehovahís Witnesses" denying the deity of Jesus Christ? The polygamist, man-deifying sect of Mormonism? These congregations are enormous. Their speakers are often dull and dry, filled with liturgical spew. Or what about the man-centered, Arminian-based gatherings of the "Assembly of God," "Calvary Chapel," and other fellowships catering to the lusts of the unregenerate man? They all are fundamentally erring from apostolic Christianity. Therefore, we must conclude that just because a congregation is small does not mean it is a cult of an antichrist. This brings us to an important point regarding the true spirit of Antichrist that existed in the first-century Jewish synagogues.

More than in any other century, the first-century Jews were filled with the spirit of Antichrist. In order to identify this spirit, we must know the truth. The apostle John in his first epistle warned the Christians to be aware of the spirit of Antichrist and confirmed that many false prophets had already gone into the world.

1 John 4:1-6 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. 2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: 3 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. 4 Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. 5 They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. 6 We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. There is a way to discern between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. This way is being born of God and knowing the truth. John informed his readers that the spirit of Antichrist was already in the world. How were John and his readers able to identify this? What were the signs? John states in certain language the chief characteristic of the spirit of Antichrist: "And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world." Anyone that would claim that Christ or Messiah had not come in the flesh was antichrist: 1 John 2:22 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. The task at hand is to first identify the truth about the Messiah. That is, we must recognize His office as the Christ or the Anointed One. The Greek word Christ or Christos means anointed. The Hebrew word Messiah (mashiyach) is translated the same. It is imperative to understand that the word anointed, in reference to Messiah, can be referring to either His anointing as King, or His anointing as Priest (Exodus 28:41; 29:7; 40:12-15). It is His anointing as Priest or High Priest that must be understood in order to appreciate the significance of Johnís warning. In Exodus, the type and shadow of the anointing of Jesus is illustrated with the anointing of the Levitical high priest: Exodus 28:41 And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office.

Exodus 29:7 Then shalt thou take the anointing oil, and pour it upon his head, and anoint him.

Exodus 40:12-15 And thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and wash them with water. 13 And thou shalt put upon Aaron the holy garments, and anoint him, and sanctify him; that he may minister unto me in the priest's office. 14 And thou shalt bring his sons, and clothe them with coats: 15 And thou shalt anoint them, as thou didst anoint their father, that they may minister unto me in the priest's office: for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.

It is this anointing type with which first-century Jewish Christians were familiar. Any Jew reading Johnís epistle would understand Johnís intention when he used the word Christ. This intention is fully developed by the writer of Hebrews as he defended the superiority of Christ against the apostate Jews (Hebrews 3:1-6; 5:1-10; 6:20; 7:20-28; 9:11-28). These apostate Jews were denying a fundamental aspect of the Christ, and that is, His manifestation in the flesh as the High Priest who would make atonement for His people. It is true that the Deity of Christ was also denied by these same apostates; however, Christís Deity is implied in His claim as Messiah. To deny Christís anointing is to deny His Deity. John makes this implication evident: 1 John 2:22-23 Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. 23 Whosoever denieth the Son, the same hath not the Father: (but) he that acknowledgeth the Son hath the Father also. John summarizes the coming of the Messiah as God in the conclusion of his first epistle: 1 John 5:20 And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life. As we have seen, the anointing of Christ as the High Priest is essential in understanding the significance of Antichrist or, literally, the opponent of Messiah. Who could this be? The greatest blasphemy would be to deny the High Priestly sacrifice of Christ and affirm the continued sacrifices of a sinful high priest on earth. This also is confirmed in the book of Hebrews: Hebrews 10:26-30 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. 28 He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: 29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people.

Hebrews 10:38-39 Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.

The writer was warning these Hebrews in Jerusalem (13:14) that drawing back to perdition would only heap the fiery indignation of God upon their heads. The perdition when seen within the context of Hebrews is irrefutably referring to the affirmation of the continued sacrifices by sinful high priests. It is these men who, in their unbelief and wickedness, would exalt themselves above all that is called God by affirming that their sacrifice was greater than Christís. The immensity of this sin is seen when the chief end of the sacrifice of Christ is considered. It was Christís death that demonstrated the eternal wrath and love of God, for which He was to receive all glory (Philippians 2:8-9). To deny Jesus as the Christ is to deny His glory and the act which earned Him that glory. The antichrists/Antichrist would be punished with a much sorer punishment than those who died without mercy under the law of Moses. (Even today the same blasphemy is committed in affirming that Christ shed His blood for men in the lake of fire, thus making void the payment for sin and sacrifice that satisfied the wrath of an angry God. Universal atonement is merely a subtle residue inherited from its ancestors, the Pharisees.)

Once the truth of Christ as the eternal high Priest is established then the error becomes transparent:

1 John 4:3-6 And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. 4 Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. 5 They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. 6 We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. The spirit of Antichrist was already in the world, which is exactly why John could write with certainty that he and his reader were in the last hour: 1 John 2:18 Little children, it is the last time (hour-Gk.-hora): and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. There are many that are claiming that we are in the last hour. John, however, was the inspired apostle. It is true that there are, without a doubt, false prophets in our century, but John specifically cited the presence of antichrists as a fact whereby his hearers would know that it was the last time. How did John know that they were in the last hour? He was in the presence of Jesus when He admonished the disciples to be aware of the signs that would take place before the coming of Christ (Mark 13:3). Why would John incite his hearers to know they were in the last hour? We cannot dismiss Johnís time statement for two reasons: 1) The use of time statements in Scripture consistently pertains to real chronology, thus, agreeing with Johnís statement of imminence, and 2) John cited the presence of antichrists which proved he and his hearers were in the last hour.

The mere warnings in Scripture should be enough to convince students of the Word that the apostles actually believed Christ was returning in their generation. John, again, warning his readers of the antichrists which had arisen, lets them know why there is such urgency:

1 John 2:26 These things have I written unto you concerning them that seduce you. Paulís warnings against false teachers permeate virtually every one of his epistles. In second Corinthians, we see a blunt caution regarding the "ministers of unrighteousness": 2 Corinthians 11:1-4 Would to God ye could bear with me a little in my folly: and indeed bear with me. 2 For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 3 But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.

2 Corinthians 11:12-15 But what I do, that I will do, that I may cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that wherein they glory, they may be found even as we. 13 For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.

The book of Galatians commences with an abrupt signal concerning those who would bring another gospel to this Galatian congregation: Galatians 1:6-9 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. Paul actually confirms that these false apostles had already crept into the assembly at Jerusalem: Galatians 2:4-5 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: 5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. It should be made clear at this point that the apostles were convinced that anything in addition to the cross of Christ (Galatians 6:14) whether circumcision, baptism, free-will, or sacrifices, was another gospel. Therefore, those who propagated such false gospels were to be named false prophets.

Paul continued, in his letter to the Galatians, to tell them of his amazement that they would bear with these false teachers and their gospels:

Galatians 5:7-12 Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? 8 This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. 9 A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in you through the Lord, that ye will be none otherwise minded: but he that troubleth you shall bear his judgment, whosoever he be. 11 And I, brethren, if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased. 12 I would they were even cut off which trouble you. As far as Paul was concerned, he wished that those who taught another gospel would castrate themselves. These were those who would desire to make a fair show in the flesh and in othersí flesh as well.

In the book of Acts, Paul assures the Ephesian elders that these false prophets would arise after his departure:

Acts 20:29-30 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. These wolves were none other than those to whom the Lord was referring when He spoke to His disciples: Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. This subject of wolves is also found in found in Matthew 10, which contains a very strong statement concerning the coming of Christ: Matthew 10:16-23 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. 17 But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; 18 And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. 19 But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. 20 For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. 21 And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. 22 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. 23 But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. Jesus associates the presence of these wolves with His coming before the disciples would have gone through the cities of Israel.

Paul also, in keeping with the manner of His Savior, associates the presence of the enemies of the cross with the return of Christ in the book of Philippians:

Philippians 3:18-21 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: 19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) 20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: 21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. These Philippians were encouraged by Paulís excitement over the fact that Christ, for Whom Paul and his readers were eagerly awaiting, would return to give them their glorified bodies and subdue these very enemies.

These same enemies of the cross were the Judaizers of Colossians 2:

Colossians 2:8 Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. The false teachers were persuading men to return to the elements or rudiments of the Old Covenant. This is also seen in verses 16-23: Colossians 2:16-23 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. 18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. 20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, 21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not; 22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh. In his epistles to Timothy, Paul declares their position as being present in the latter times during which false prophets would arise. Paul even named those who were making a shipwreck of the faith: 1 Timothy 1:19-20 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: 20 Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.
1 Timothy 4:1-3 Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

2 Timothy 2:16-18 But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness. 17 And their word will eat as doth a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; 18 Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.

In the second epistle of Peter, we see a similar admonition: 2 Peter 3:1-4 This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: 2 That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: 3 Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, 4 And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. Peterís affirmation of the words spoken by the holy prophets and apostles confirms the knowledge these readers had concerning those false teachers who would arise in the last days. In this passage, these false teachers were scoffing the promise of the Lord to return in the generation in which they were living (Matthew 24:34). The generation of which the Lord spoke was almost ending, and these false teachers were mocking the integrity and words of Christ to fulfill His promise.

Jude goes to great length to describe the characteristics of these false teachers that had come in the last days of the Jewish age:

Jude 1:4-19 For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. 5 I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. 6 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. 7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. 8 Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities. 9 Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee. 10 But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves. 11 Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. 12 These are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear: clouds they are without water, carried about of winds; trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots; 13 Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. 14 And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, 15 To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. 16 These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men's persons in admiration because of advantage. 17 But, beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; 18 How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. 19 These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit. The signs of false Christs and false prophets were unequivocally fulfilled within the writings of the New Testament. They were fulfilled to such a degree that the apostle John could tell his readers with certainty that they were in the last hour and that the spirit of Antichrist was already in the world. Paul, Peter, and Jude likewise affirmed that the last days had come and were proven by the prevalence of false Christs. Because of this vast appearance of false Christs, the apostles knew that the time of the end of the Jewish age was near and that the coming of Jesus Christ was about to take place.

Ward Fenley


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