“The whole world” is deceived. God inspired the Apostle John to write this in Revelation 12:9. That is a stunning statement. How is it possible that so many people could be deceived?
“The whole world” would have to include the various competing versions of professing Christianity, or else you can’t believe your Bible.
In Matthew 24, Jesus Christ talked about the “many” being deceived (verses 4-5), not the few. Yet He also said in that chapter that it is possible for you to understand the Bible so deeply that it is impossible to deceive you! You can become “the very elect,” and the very elect cannot be deceived (verse 24).
Yes, we can rise above deception! As incredible as it sounds, you and I can be part of Jesus Christ’s inner circle, His “little flock” (Luke 12:32)—the select, precious few who cannot be deceived.
Before a Sign of the End, a Warning
Matthew 24 is called the Olivet prophecy. The stage is set in verse 3: “And as [Jesus] sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”
That is quite a subject: the sign of the end of the world, the end of this age, and the return of Jesus Christ!
Human beings will listen to almost any preacher proclaiming his version of end-time events, almost any wild-eyed fanatic, almost any Hollywood movie depicting the end of the world. But almost nobody will listen to Jesus Christ! What does Christ say is the sign of the end of this age and the lead-up to His return and the beginning of a new age?
Look carefully at how Christ answered the disciples’ question. He didn’t come right out and answer it immediately! Why not?
Because He had to warn them: If they didn’t beware of a powerful deception, they wouldn’t even see the sign! He emphasized that this fog of deception was so thick, so monstrous that if they didn’t cut through it, they simply wouldn’t see what Christ was talking about. They wouldn’t recognize when the end was upon them!
And this critical warning was recorded and preserved for us—right now!
“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you” (verse 4). You, He said—you disciples. When Christ says you, He is not talking to the world in general, He is talking to His own followers.
And what is the specific deception that Christ’s followers need to heed? “For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many” (verse 5).
Here is the single greatest warning in the Bible! The whole New Testament revolves around this pivotal chapter of Scripture, and Christ’s imperative warning here is this: Beware of people who deceive you about me!
Christ was warning His disciples—and warning you and me—that people would try to deceive us about Him and His message. He went on to talk about how the “many”—not the few—would be deceived about war, pestilence, famine and other unconscionable cataclysms. But the confusion about all those catastrophes exists primarily because people are deceived about religion—even Christianity!
Jesus Christ Himself founded His Church (see Matthew 16:18). Most people know very little about the Church He founded. The history of that Church is a fascinating and deeply important subject to study.
Did you realize that soon after Christ completed His ministry on Earth, a controversy arose about the gospel? Church history shows that people violently disagreed over whether the Church would proclaim the very same gospel message Christ Himself proclaimed—or whether it would proclaim a message about Jesus.
The message about Jesus won out. The message He preached was largely silenced.
About 20 years after the Church was founded, the Apostle Paul—inspired by Christ—wrote his epistle to the Galatians, and he said, I marvel that you’ve already turned to another gospel! (see Galatians 1:6-7).
Paul went on to pronounce a double curse on any man, or even angel, who preached any gospel other than the one he had given them from Christ! (verses 8-9). God canonized that in the Bible, so He inspired it. These are the words of God: Anyone who preaches another gospel will receive a double curse! That is a serious warning that any minister should take to heart!
Are you sure you know what the true gospel is?
God’s Love, Waxed Cold
In His Olivet prophecy, Christ continued, “Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake” (Matthew 24:9). Again, He is talking to His own disciples and telling them what will happen to them prior to His return!
This is an end-time prophecy. Christ is talking about a time just before His Second Coming, and He says the lives of many of His own people will be in danger. Why? There are several scriptures where God promises to protect His people. But these people turned away from God and lost that protection.
Verse 12 makes that abundantly clear: “And because iniquity [or lawlessness] shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” The word love is translated from the Greek word agape, which specifically means the very love of God. That agape love can only reside within someone who is begotten by God’s Holy Spirit (e.g. Romans 5:5). God gave this love to these people, and many—the majority—allowed it to wax cold. They lost God’s love because of their lawlessness. The love of God is that we keep His commandments (1 John 5:3). These people—who were not deceived, who had God’s love—committed lawlessness. As a result, they are now deceived—right at the time when Christ is about to return!
Matthew 24:14 adds another crucial aspect to Christ’s prophecy: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”
Here is the sign! Christ has given His impassioned warning, and now He gives the monumental sign of the end of the world and His Second Coming!
Have you seen this sign? Have you seen the gospel preached around the world?
This is an astounding scripture that most people who study the Bible don’t understand. They don’t realize the truth: It has already been done!
It’s important to note that the end described here is not the same end discussed in verse 3. Verse 3 refers to the end of the age. Bible study aids will show you that this “end” is referring to the end of preaching the gospel to the world as a commission. Christ did not say that He would return as soon as the work of preaching the gospel message was completed.
Notice, however, Christ’s statement in verse 34: “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” “All these things” refers to everything Jesus is describing in this pivotal prophecy. But what did He mean by “this generation”?
This generation—the last generation before Christ’s Second Coming—is going to witness all these events in Matthew 24! A generation is roughly 30 years. So we need to know: When did that generation start?
Does Christ want us to know? Of course He does. We have to know when that generation began, or else we can’t understand the rest of the prophecies He is teaching us in Matthew 24!
So, when did that generation begin?
I believe strongly that this “last generation” began when the commission to preach this gospel around the world was stopped. When that work stopped, all the prophecies of Matthew 24 really began to be fulfilled.
Read the rest of the chapter, and you see that Christ prophesied that unparalleled suffering would occur at the close of this age, right before He returned. The 20th century was the bloodiest in human history. Two world wars killed 60 million people. Yet Matthew 24 says the time ahead will be far worse. Verses 21 and 22 say this will be an unparalleled time of tribulation that “no flesh” will survive if God doesn’t intervene. This has never been possible the way it is today. But now we have proliferating weapons of mass destruction that can do exactly that: extinguish all human life!
I think it is obvious that “this generation”—the last generation before Christ returns—began when the gospel commission ended. But if you don’t know what the gospel is, then you don’t know when that happened!
People can dispute what I’m saying if they want, but if it is true, it’s true. Christ said there would be one generation—a very short period of time—when all these prophecies in Matthew 24 would be fulfilled. You must prove when that generation is!
Don’t Believe It!
Notice verse 14 again: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.” That is the sign. This gospel would be preached around the world, and then that work would end—then all the prophecies of Matthew 24 would begin to be fulfilled, in a single generation.
Think deeply about this. How could the gospel being preached around the world be a sign of the end?
The gospel was preached around the world in the first century a.d. by the church that Christ founded. But this prophecy shows that it would not be preached around the world again until the very last century. Otherwise it couldn’t be a sign of Christ’s return! If the true gospel had been preached around the world in the 15th century—or the 16th or 17th century—then that would have been the end. But at that time, the Church was asleep! The people of God didn’t do their job the way they should have. You can read where Christ prophesied of this at the conclusion of Matthew 24 and in the first 10 verses of Matthew 25.
Most Christians would disagree with this, but Jesus Christ said there would be the sign, and that we must understand it. The reason people don’t agree with this is that they don’t understand what the gospel is! They believe a false gospel.
And Jesus said that would be the case! One of the signs He gave was that many Christians would be deceived.
Counterfeit gospels have been around from the beginning. The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 11 about people turning to another Christ and another gospel. He warned that they would have another spirit; that there would be false apostles talking about Christ, but not delivering Christ’s message. He said they would come as angels of light, just like Satan the devil does—and that most people would believe them.
In Matthew 24:23, Jesus warned, “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not”! He specifically warned against people simply talking about Him. He told His followers not to listen to such men. His primary concern was whether or not people understood and believed His message!
Do you see this situation extant today?
Listen to Christ! Listen to His message! Don’t listen to a man who only talks about the personality of Christ! Don’t listen to a man who says all you must do is believe in His name. Instead, listen to Christ Himself in Matthew 24. Read the Bible and believe not just the name, but the message.
When people don’t heed Christ’s words here, they get deceived! Instead of listening to Christ—they listen to men talk about Christ. Then they get deceived.
At the end of the age, just before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, the worst possible deception is taking place. “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” (verse 24). These are not just wild-eyed preachers on the fringe of society. These are powerful, persuasive men who deceive almost everyone. And if it was possible, they would even deceive the very elect! But it is impossible to deceive the very elect.
Whom Shall God Teach?
The Prophet Isaiah also warned about religious leaders who are off course. God warned about priests and prophets who “erred through wine, and through strong drink … they err in vision, they stumble in judgment” (Isaiah 28:7). The “strong drink” they are drunk on is spiritual. This prophecy is about lacking spiritual vision and judgment.
Verse 9 in this chapter is one of the most important verses in the entire Bible. Open your Bible and read it for yourself. This is how to be undeceived:
“Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts.”
The only people God can teach knowledge or doctrine to are those who have been weaned—weaned from the mother. In biblical terms, a woman is a symbol of the Church. We cannot be like nursing children. We must be weaned from following men, weaned from looking to men. We must grow up and learn to look to Jesus Christ.
How do we do that? Verse 10 explains: “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little.”
The Bible is Jesus Christ in print. It is like a jigsaw puzzle. You have to go over here and find some understanding, then put it together with what you find over there. You need to use the New Testament and the Old Testament, picking up a line here and a line over there, going back and forth and studying in great depth.
That is the way to follow Christ. It is not easy. Jesus Christ actually designed His Word to be difficult to understand. He coded the Bible! We have to closely follow what Christ says or we’re going to be deceived.
Believe it or not, Jesus Christ doesn’t want people in this world to understand until they are ready to obey.
This prophecy goes on to say that if you heed what Christ says, He will give you blessings. “To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing,” verse 12 says—but it concludes: “yet they would not hear.” So many people simply will not listen to what Christ says.
Get to Know Your Bible
Do you want to be educated in the Bible? If you aren’t receiving your education from God’s Word, then you are going to be following men—which is a curse (Jeremiah 17:5). You are going to be deceived.
We have to be weaned from following men. That’s why we get into so much trouble: We follow men who are deceived, and often led by the evil god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4). Don’t follow men. Don’t even follow me! Beware those who would deceive even by talking about Christ!
Instead, just follow Christ.
Christ wants you to not be deceived. And you can know the truth if you will study God’s Word in depth and believe what He says!
To help you learn what Christ reveals in your Bible, we have published a comprehensive Bible correspondence course. It will help you put the scriptures together so you can prove the truth for yourself.
Each lesson in this course takes an enigmatic subject that few people understand and helps you put together all the scriptures on that subject. As you study the course alongside your Bible, you will be amazed at how plain the truth becomes! You will find the clear, plain, simple truths of your Bible to be even more fascinating than you imagine.
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We have gone to extreme measures to make the Herbert W. Armstrong College Bible Correspondence Course an effective, wonderful teaching tool so you can understand and fall in love with your Bible. The Bible is such a wonderful tool. It shows you how to live a happy life and how to be a success in every way. And it teaches you how to avoid deception—and to experience the joy and excitement of knowing God. ▪