Who are the great impostors mentioned in the Bible? Who do they try to impersonate? Do people believe them? Do such impostors still exist in this time and age? What precautions can we take so as not to be deceived?
James Warren “Jim” Jones (May 13, 1931 – Nov 18, 1978) was an American religious leader and community organizer. Jones was the founder and the leader of the Peoples Temple, best known for the mass murder-suicide in November 1978 of 909 of its members in Jonestown, Guyana, the murder of five people at a nearby airstrip, including Congressman Leo Ryan, and the ordering of four additional Temple member deaths in Georgetown, the Guyanese capital. Over two hundred children were murdered at Jonestown, almost all of them by cyanide poisoning. Jones died from a gunshot wound to the head; it is suspected his death was a suicide. How could such situations be avoided?
Christ warned his disciples in Matthew 24:24-26: “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you ahead of time. So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the wilderness,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it.”
He shows the nature of the dangers to which believers will be subject. He does not confine his view to Jewish history; he foretells the appearance of pretenders who shall assume the part of Christ, and blasphemously assert that they are Messiah. False prophets. Without assuming the name of Christ, many impostors shall be found who, professing to be inspired or lawful teachers, shall lead hearers into false doctrine, or claim to possess a new revelation, or something additional and supplemental to the eternal gospel.
Signs and wonders, two usual terms for miracles, the former regarding rather the evidence afforded by them, the latter the element of the marvellous inherent in them (cf. John 4:48; Acts 2:22; Acts 7:36). That such men did work actual miracles, or what were regarded as such, cannot be reasonably doubted. Satan was on their side, and, as far as he was permitted, confirmed their teaching by supernatural assistance. St. Paul testifies that such should be the action of the antichrist, “whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9; cf. Revelation 13:13, 14). Whatever may have been their source, they were displayed in support of lies and errors, and had a certain success.
“The elect” are Christians, true followers of Jesus, and members of his Church. These may fall from the faith, for they are not yet finally safe, and on that chance Satan builds; but as long as they rest on Christ, looking to him for guidance and protection, trying the spirits by the Word of God and by the truths which they have learned in creed and worship, they stand firm against the strongest temptations.
The warning was needed in the first age; it will be needed in the last. The prediction was known before the ruin of Jerusalem, and doubtless preserved many from falling victims to the seducers at that period; it must be used now and till the end to preserve Christians from the errors of infidelity, false philosophy, agnosticism. That such attacks on their faith shall be made is a proof of Christ’s omniscience; that he gives here and in the next verses premonitions of danger, with counsel how to avoid it, is evidence of his love and care for his elect.
When Christ comes the second time, he will not come as at Bethlehem, in secret, in a corner. If any pretender should be announced under such conditions, they were to put no belief in him. These were simple tests which all could apply. To limit the Lord’s appearance to particular persons or to a particular place, was to incur fatal error.
The Apostle Paul warned the Thessalonians: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us–whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter–asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4)”
If errors arise among Christians, we should set them right; and good men will be careful to suppress errors which rise from mistaking their words and actions. We have a cunning adversary, who watches to do mischief, and will promote errors, even by the words of Scripture. Whatever uncertainty we are in, or whatever mistakes may arise about the time of Christ’s coming, that coming itself is certain. This has been the faith and hope of all Christians, in all ages of the church; it was the faith and hope of the Old Testament saints. All believers shall be gathered together to Christ, to be with him, and to be happy in his presence forever. We should firmly believe the second coming of Christ; but there was danger lest the Thessalonians, being mistaken as to the time, should question the truth or certainty of the thing itself. False doctrines are like the winds that toss the water to and fro; and they unsettle the minds of men, which are as unstable as water. It is enough for us to know that our Lord will come, and will gather all his saints unto him. A reason why they should not expect the coming of Christ, as at hand, is given. There would be a general falling away first, such as would occasion the rise of the antichrist, that man of sin. There have been great disputes who or what is intended by this man of sin and son of perdition. The man of sin not only practises wickedness, but also promotes and commands sin and wickedness in others; and is the son of perdition, because he is devoted to certain destruction, and is the instrument to destroy many others, both in soul and body. As God was in the temple of old, and worshipped there, and is in and with his church now; so the antichrist here mentioned, is a usurper of God’s authority in the Christian church, who claims Divine honours.
The Apostle Peter warned the early church: “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. (2 Peter 2:1-3)”
In all ages of the church, and under all dispensations, when God sends true prophets, the devil sends some to seduce and deceive, false prophets in the Old Testament, and false Christs, false apostles, and seducing teachers, in the New. Concerning these observe, 1. Their business is to bring in destructive errors, even damnable heresies, as the business of teachers sent of God is to show the way of truth, even the true way to everlasting life. 2. Damnable heresies are commonly brought in privily, under the cloak and colour of truth. Those who introduce destructive heresies deny the Lord that bought them. 3. They reject and refuse to hear and learn of the great teacher sent from God, though he is the only Saviour and Redeemer of men, who paid a price sufficient to redeem as many worlds of sinners as there are sinners in the world. 4. Those who bring in errors destructive to others bring swift (and therefore sure) destruction upon themselves. Those who are so hardened as to propagate errors destructive to others shall surely and suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.
Peter proceeds, in the second verse, to tell us the consequence with respect to others; and here we may learn, 1. Corrupt leaders seldom fail of many to follow them; though the way of error is a pernicious way, yet many are ready to walk therein. Men drink in iniquity like water, and are pleased to live in error. The prophets prophesy falsely, and the people love to have it so. 2. The spreading of error will bring up an evil report on the way of truth; that is, the way of salvation by Jesus Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life. The Christian religion is from the God of truth as the author, leads to true happiness in the enjoyment of the true God as the end, and works truth in the inward part as the means of acceptably serving God. And yet this way of truth is traduced and blasphemed by those who embrace and advance destructive errors. This the apostle has foretold as what should certainly come to pass.
Observe, in the next place, the method seducers take to draw disciples after them: they use feigned words; they flatter, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple, inducing them to yield entirely to the opinions which these seducers endeavour to propagate, and sell and deliver themselves over to the instruction and government of these false teacher, who make a gain of those whom they make their proselytes, serving themselves and making some advantage of them; for all this is through covetousness, with a desire and design to get more wealth, or credit, or commendation, by increasing the number of their followers. The faithful ministers of Christ, who show men the way of truth, desire the profit and advantage of their followers, that they may be saved; but these seducing teachers desire and design only their own temporal advantage and worldly grandeur.
It is not difficult to spot some common traits of the great impostors with the help of the above Bible verses. They claim to be the Messiah or God; they can perform signs and wonders to deceive people; they not only practise wickedness, but also promote and command sin and wickedness in others; they bring in destructive errors, even damnable heresies; they bring the way of truth into disrepute with their depraved conduct; they use feigned words and flattery to draw disciples after them to obtain worldly grandeur.
Let us praise God with the song “No Other Name, But The Name Of Jesus”: