False Messiahs and False Prophets

“Then [at the end of the age] if any one says to you, ‘Lo, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders.” —Matthew 24:3,23,24, RSV

WE ARE surely living in extraordinary, if not happy, times. We are living in an era of universal instability, of change and overturning in the internal affairs and boundaries of nations, in social consciousness and conduct; of deteriorating moral principles and ethical values. More and more, old standards of conduct, old precepts, old moral principles are coming to be regarded as outmoded and inapplicable in this onrushing world, while the voice of conscience and concern for one’s fellowman are stifled in the all-consuming race for power, money, and honor of men.

It is not unusual on any given day to be exposed to reports of corruption in high places; street muggings and murders of blind or helpless old people; dishonesty among legislators, executives, judges, or police; kidnappings, hijackings, and skyjackings; racial wars and religious uprisings; even the abandonment of helpless hospital patients by workers on strike—just to name a few.

Rather, such items are commonplace and provide daily grist for the news mills of the nation and the world. Indeed, so prevalent are the never-ending stories of wars, crime, disasters, and dishonesty that they have well-nigh come to be accepted in the public mind as the norm for human conduct—so much so that their ability to shock and arouse indignation or corrective action has become almost completely dulled.

In the past month, however, an event occurred that jolted the consciousness of people around the world and took its place among the most gruesome incidents of recorded human history. It was the senseless, appalling mass murder, suicide, and infanticide that took place in Guyana, involving the deaths of over 900 members of a religious cult known as the Peoples Temple. The group, under the leadership of its founder, one Jim Jones, had migrated in 1974 from their headquarters in San Francisco to establish a commune in the South American jungle. From the beginning of their association with Jones to the very end, these people gave fanatical, unquestioning loyalty and devotion to their domineering but gifted leader, even to destroying their own children and themselves.

As news of the horror spread, the common question that rose in the minds of all was, Why? Why did Jones order the extinction of his followers? What kind of man was this Jones? What strange power did he have over these people? What man could or would order his trusting followers to poison their own babies and children and then to commit suicide? How, indeed, could they have submitted to such an order?

The dictionary defines a cult as “a system of religious rites and observances; zealous devotion to a person, ideal, or thing.” The word itself does not carry a derogatory connotation; indeed, according to the same dictionary there is little discernible difference between a cult and a religion, which latter relates to “the beliefs, attitudes, emotions, behavior, etc., constituting man’s relationship with the powers and principles of the universe, especially with a deity or deities; also, any particular system of such beliefs, attitudes, etc.” In the minds of many, however, there is a difference between cults and religions.

In the world are many well-known religions, some of which have existed for thousands of years and have gained many followers. Hinduism, for instance, with 400 million adherents, was founded about 1,000 years B.C.; Confucianism, claiming 350 million followers, and Buddhism, with some 160 million worshipers, both appeared on the scene about 600 B.C. Islam came into being about A.D. 600 and has approximately 500 million followers.

Oddly enough, Judaism, one of the very oldest religions, having begun with Abraham about 2,000 years before Christ, is also one of the smallest, numbering but some 15 millions; while Christianity, which had its roots in Judaism, presently claims roughly one billion followers and thus is the largest of all religions. These various religions, perhaps because of their antiquity and size, are generally regarded as recognized religions; to claim adherence to one of them is not considered unconventional.

The teachings of these different major religions of the world cover a wide range of variation. Indeed, the fact that their basic doctrines differ substantially from religion to religion is clear evidence that all do not possess the whole truth.

And then there are the so-called cults. These, too, though embracing different tenets and claiming smaller numbers of adherents, have come and gone all down through the ages. But in latter decades, spawned by talented leaders, they have so proliferated that today they literally number in the hundreds. But although their beliefs and practices vary from cult to cult, they are generally distinguished by a common characteristic—most profess to offer quick and easy solutions to personal problems, and a peace and security not found by all in other systems of religion. The Peoples Temple group, led by Jones, was one of these.

As for Jones himself, from all accounts he was a man of considerable intelligence and charm, and a powerful, convincing speaker. As do certain other false leaders of false religions, Jones claimed to possess the power to heal, “performing fake miracles in which he pretended to draw out of human bodies cancerous tumors that were really chicken organs.” Another report said, “He was a self-proclaimed messiah … who played God from behind mysterious dark glasses that gave his followers the impression that he was omniscient. With … ‘miracles’ of healing that were pure medicine-show hokum, he mesmerized his flock and demanded fanatical loyalty and adoration.” But Jones did not stop at healing; he went even further. “He pretended to raise people from the dead.”—U.S. News & World Report, December 4, 1978

His misguided followers were mostly old, relatively poor, possessing little education, and some were sick. They were generally from that sad segment of society and in that condition of life where so many feel the need to have others order their lives and make their decisions. In a sense, too, they were the product of the troubled and confusing times in which we live.

It is therefore not surprising that, in this tormented world and in the presence of the babel of tongues issuing forth from all segments of the religious world, many troubled people are unable to discern fact from falsehood, truth from error, and know not which way to turn for the guidance, comfort, peace, and security for which they so avidly hunger.

“Through radio, television and the pulpit so-called religious pundits are able to attract gullible, distraught persons, indoctrinate them in certain beliefs and make them work for the economic benefit of the cults,” said one writer recently. These unfortunate people are the pathetic victims of an understandable desire to escape from their problems, from reality; these are the ones who so readily fall prey to unscrupulous, charismatic leaders, to false prophets, and false messiahs, both in and out of the cults. Of such stuff was the tragedy of Jonestown created.

In his remarkable prophecy as recorded in the 24th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus linked a number of events that would all take place at the end of the world, or age. He said he would then be present at his second advent, at which time there would also be a great time of trouble. He further foretold that at that same time “impostors will come claiming to be messiahs or prophets, and they will produce great signs and wonders to mislead even God’s chosen, if such a thing were possible. See, I have forewarned you.”—Matt. 24:3,21,24,25, NEB

In Luke’s account of this prophecy, which covers the same period in human history, our Lord tells us that these events would occur just prior to the establishment in the earth of the kingdom. After setting forth additional details of the great time of trouble that would identify his second presence and mark the end of the Gospel Age, Jesus said, “When ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”—Luke 21:31

We believe we have already seen many signs indicating the world has already entered into the time of trouble which Jesus said would precede the establishment of the kingdom. The presence in the world today of the foretold false messiahs and false prophets is but an additional sign that the kingdom is, indeed, nigh at hand.

It is interesting to note that the Prophet Isaiah also describes this evil, upside-down world in which we live in language similar to that of our Lord Jesus, who, as we have seen, places these decadent, troubled conditions chronologically as just preceding the establishment of his kingdom.

Isaiah writes: “Behold, the Lord maketh the earth empty, and maketh it waste, and turneth it upside down, and scattereth abroad the inhabitants thereof. … The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled: for the Lord hath spoken this word. … The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore hath the curse devoured the earth, and they that dwell therein are desolate.”—Isa. 24:1,3,5,6

Following the destruction of the various elements that make up this so-called world civilization (which, however, the Apostle Paul calls “this present evil world”), the Prophet Isaiah foretells the establishment of Christ’s kingdom: “Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed, when the Lord of hosts shall reign in mount Zion, and in Jerusalem, and before his ancients gloriously.”—Isa. 24:23; Matt. 24:21,29; Luke 21:25,31

In still another prophecy Isaiah describes the climax of that same time of trouble that Jesus said would come upon the earth and with which our Lord associated the presence in the world of false prophets of false messiahs. In the opening verses of this prophecy Isaiah calls attention to a commission to be accomplished by the Lord’s people before that final terrible cataclysm bursts upon the world. He says they are to raise the banner of truth, pure and free from all error and superstition, so that all, even in this late and troubled day, who are truly and humbly seeking to know and love and reverence the one true and loving God of the universe may find him, and serve him, and be unspeakably blessed.

Isaiah writes: “The burden of Babylon [the prophecy concerning mystic Babylon, with its confusion of ecclesiastical tongues], which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see. Lift ye up a banner [of truth] upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them [the sheep, seeking the truth], shake the hand, that they may go into the gates of the nobles [laying hold on the blessings of sonship to God, and joint-heirship with Jesus in the heavenly kingdom]. … The noise of a multitude in the mountains, like as a great people; a tumultuous noise of the kingdoms of nations gathered together [rising anarchistic masses in the nations of the earth]; the Lord of hosts mustereth the host of the battle.” (Isa. 13:1-4) To this agree the words of Jesus, wherein he instructed his followers, “This Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”—Matt. 24:14

Today it is only the few who seek to know, to love, and to serve the Heavenly Father. Jesus called them a little flock. “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) He also explained why it is but a little flock: the way is difficult, and there are but few who have the appreciation, desire, and fortitude to enter and follow it to its glorious end. “Strait [difficult] is the gate, and narrow [troubled, involving tribulation, Strong's] is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt. 7:14) In fact, our Lord Jesus said it was a way of sacrificial death. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”—Matt. 16:24

The Apostle Paul describes the characteristics of those who answer the call: they are lowly, and they are humble. “Consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is [regarded as] foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, … so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (I Cor. 1:26,29, RSV) It was thus at the beginning of the Gospel Age; and it has been the same all down through the age, even to the present time.

But these few who answer the call are truly blessed. To these Jesus said: “Blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them.”—Matt. 13:16,17

But it will not be thus in Christ’s approaching thousand-year kingdom! Following the resurrection of the sleeping world of mankind, the banner of truth will float grandly over all the world, inviting all men to come and to know and to love the great Lord God of the universe. False leaders and false prophets and false messiahs will find no place in the kingdom, and the veil of ignorance and superstition that presently blinds and binds mankind will be removed. “He will destroy in this mountain [Christ’s kingdom] the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations.” The truth concerning God’s loving plans and purposes toward all mankind, both living and dead, both just and unjust, will be made plain for all to see and understand.—Isa. 25:7

“In that day” the glory of the Lord will be revealed to all men. The whole world will say: “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us; this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isa. 25:9) At that time, says Jehovah God: “They shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord; for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”—Jer. 31:34

For every one of those poor, deluded souls who have followed false prophets and false messiahs into death in the greater or lesser Jonestown quagmires all down through the ages the loving Heavenly Father has a glorious future in store. Indeed, so great is the love of our great God in heaven that even the false leaders will be resurrected and given an opportunity to gain everlasting life on this earth, along with all their poor, misguided victims. For “Christ Jesus … gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.”—I Tim. 2:5,6

And so, through the loving gift by God of his only begotten Son and the obedient sacrifice of our Lord Jesus, the only true Messiah, there shall be a resurrection of all the dead, “both of the just and unjust.” (Acts 24:15) “The Lord of hosts … will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth; for the Lord hath spoken it.”—Isa. 25:6,8

This is the glorious time for which the whole world has unwittingly been longing; it is the time for which Jesus taught his followers to pray: “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9,10) How dear to our hearts are those other words of our Lord, when he said: “When these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption [deliverance] draweth nigh. … So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.”—Luke 21:28,31

Dawn Bible Students Association
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