The Great Deception

The role of deception in end-time events.

J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.


Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 contain Christ's skeleton outline of important events that transpire prior to the end of time. As He presented this to His disciples He skillfully intermingled prophecies of two events—the destruction of Jerusalem and the terrors of earth's final hours, the former prefiguring the latter.

In answer to the disciples' question as to when these things would take place, each of the three accounts begins with the unequivocal warning: "Take heed that no man deceive you" (see Matt. 24:4; Mark 13:5; Luke 21:8). It is evident that the danger of deception was upper most in our Lord's mind. This is evident not only from the introduction but also from the repeated emphasis it receives throughout the rest of His discourse.

The outstanding sign in Christ's lengthy answer as to when the end would come for both Jerusalem and the world can be summed up in one word— deception! In fact, Satan's great master piece of deception will be his counterfeit of Christ's return (see Matt. 24:23, 24; 2 Cor. 11:14; Eph. 6:12; 2 Thess. 2:8-12).

Christ's concern lest His followers be deceived was voiced again and again. He declared: "For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many." "And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many." "If any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before. Where fore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert; go not forth: behold, he is in the secret chambers; believe it not. For as the lightning cometh out of the east, and shineth even unto the west; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be" (Matt. 24:5, 11, 23-27).

A careful reading of these startling words of warning reveals among other things the following:

1. That He will return again (verse 27).

2. That the deception relating to His return centers not only on the fact of His return but on the manner of His coming (verses 23-27).

3. That charletanism among pro fessed Christians will flourish (verse 5).

4. Miraculous deceptive exhibitions will be rampant (verse 24).

5. The deceptions relative to the time, place, and manner of His return will be so severe that even God's elect will be in jeopardy (verse 24).

6. His coming will be literal and visible (verse 27).

Today, more than ever before, Bible students are proclaiming and anticipating the second coming of Christ. The plan of salvation has two focal points the first and second advents. Christ's first coming involving His incarnation, sinless life, supreme sacrifice, and wonderful resurrection would be meaning less without His glorious return. Little wonder that we find more than 1,500 references in the Old Testament and 300 in the New regarding His second advent!

Yet the urgent, oft-repeated warnings of Christ should cause us as ministers to consider most prayerfully the how, when, and why of His return, re-examining the positions we hold, lest we be in error. Have we carefully searched and compared all scriptural passages on the subject? Even long-established teachings on this subject may be based more on tradition than Scripture.

An entire church-nation, with the exception of a few, was deceived over the manner of His first coming. Christ's closest followers and companions, the twelve disciples, to a man were deceived over the establishment of His kingdom. It took the shattering of their theological conceptual empire before their understanding could be opened (see Luke 18:34; 24:45).

Today we face a similar situation. The major difference is that our understanding must be correct before He returns. Deception over the Second Coming will be fatal. Christ has given ample details regarding His return so none need be deceived (see chart, p. 7).

Merely to seek for the truth of Christ's return is not enough, however. Love for the One who is the truth, the way, and the life must possess our hearts. When the hope of His return based on a sincere search and acceptance of the Word becomes a part of our deepest emotions, then and only then can we claim protection from the delusive schemes of the evil one that play upon the senses. As the last great crisis comes, as it will to all, the lover of Christ who earnestly awaits His coming will find refuge and absolute safety in clinging to the Scriptures and the Scriptures alone. "Every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure" (1 John 3:3).

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J.R. Spangler is editor of Ministry.

January 1976

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