Many Christians believe that the second coming is close. The belief is incorrectly based on Matthew 24:4-7. In this passage, Jesus was warning his disciples about the destruction of Jerusalem. The disciples had asked for a sign that would indicate that the fall of Jerusalem was near. Before giving that specific sign, Jesus spoke of misleading signs. He warned that some people would be deceived.

Watch out that no one deceives you (Matt 24:4).

Jesus then listed some false signs. These are events that take place before the destruction of Jerusalem, but are not actual signs of that destruction. They are the "birth pangs" and not the death throes. They mark the beginning of a new age, not the end of the old one. They are more connected with the birth of the kingdom of God, than with the end of the Jewish kingdom. They would take place prior to the desolation of Jerusalem, but they are not immediate signs of it. Events of this kind will also take place throughout history. (This is especially true of the persecution.)

The false signs given by Jesus are listed below:

1. False Messiahs

For many will come in my name, claiming, "I am the Christ" (Matt 24:5).

Many false messiahs appeared during the years following Jesus ministry and many Jews were deceived. The Jews were looking for a political leader who would overthrow the Romans, so they were vulnerable to leaders promising deliverance. The centurion who arrested Paul in Jerusalem spoke of an Egyptian who started a revolt and led 4000 terrorists out into the desert (Acts 21:38; see also Acts 5:36-37; Acts 8:9-10).

False Messiahs became more common, as the destruction of Jerusalem got closer. Jesus had warned that false messiahs would come giving false hope to the people. They would even do signs and wonders that would deceive some people. His warning was proved correct when a great number of false messiahs arose in Jerusalem. Some were in the pay of Rome. One false prophet told the people that if they hid in the temple, they would be saved. Those who listened were killed when the temple was destroyed.

There were a number of strange signs. For half an hour, a bright light covered the temple. For a while, a star resembling a sword hung over the city. These signs were probably performed by false prophets using demonic power. If the Jews had listened to Jesus' warning, they would not have been deceived.

2. Wars.

You will hear of wars and rumours of wars... nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom (Matt 24:6, 7).

Rome had enjoyed a long period of peace, but not long after the ascension of Jesus, war and strife became widespread in the empire. Four Roman emperors died violently in the space of eighteen months. A war between the Syrians and the Jews led to the death of 20,000 Jews.

3. Famines

There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains (Matt 24:7,8).

Acts 11:28 records a famine that occurred during the reign of the Emperor Claudius. This famine spread to many parts of the empire and was followed by a pestilence in which thousands of people died.

4. Earthquakes

Earthquakes are recorded in a variety of places prior to AD 70. The city of Pompeii was severely damaged by an earthquake in AD 63. Other earthquakes occurred in Crete, Smyrna Miletus, Laodicea, Colossae, Rome and Judea.

5. Persecution and betrayal

Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other (Matt 24:9,10).

This persecution began when the gospel was first preached in Jerusalem at Pentecost. Peter and John were put into prison. Later James was put to death. Paul was beaten and imprisoned many times for his faith. Persecution was a normal experience for the early Christians (Acts 9:1). During these times of persecution, many denied their faith and betrayed their brethren. Many of the Epistles were written to encourage believers who were in danger of losing their faith.

All these false signs took place as Jesus said they would. They were events that could have easily misled the Christians into thinking the destruction of Jerusalem was at hand. Jesus did not want Jerusalem to be left without a gospel witness during this tumultuous time. He was advising that it would be quite safe to stay in Jerusalem and preach the gospel while they were taking place. The Christians were not to be alarmed by them. They could prepare, but they should not flee until the immediate sign occurred.

Many Christians believe that these are signs of the second coming of Christ. They spend a lot of time looking for earthquakes, wars and famines. This is foolish for two reasons. Firstly, Jesus was not talking about the second coming. Secondly, he warned that wars, famines and earthquakes were misleading signs. He specifically told Christians not to be deceived when they hear about them.

Watch out that no one deceives you (Matt 24:4).
Today, despite Jesus' warning, many Christians are being deceived by these very things.


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