“Evil men and howling impostors will wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
Christ’s final block of teaching given on the Mount of Olives includes several warnings about coming “deceivers” and “false prophets” who will be intent on misleading the saints, warnings reiterated and expanded in the writings of the apostles. His discourse began with stern warnings to “beware lest anyone deceive you.”
Liars and charlatans will come in his name and succeed at “deceiving many.” Likewise, “many false prophets” and “false messiahs” will infiltrate the church, not just a few. They will target the very “elect” of God with their false teachings, even using “signs and wonders” to achieve their plans – (Matthew 24:4-11, 24:23-24, 24:26).
The contents of their lies include false information about the return of Jesus. They claim he “is here” or “there.” Or that he is “in the wilderness” or “in the secret place.” Some set false expectations about the imminence of Christ’s return by declaring that the “season has drawn near,” claiming to possess knowledge that even the “Son of Man” does not have – (Matthew 24:23-26, Luke 21:8).
From such men, disciples will “hear of wars and reports of wars.” They will point to wars, earthquakes, and similar calamities as “signs” that the “end” is near.
Certainly, wars, seismic activities, and famines will occur over the course of human history as they always have, but they are not indicators of the nearness of the end. They constitute “birth pains,” evidence of the eventual and inevitable end of the present age. Nevertheless, as Jesus said, the “end is not yet” – (Matthew 24:4-6).
All this will contribute to an influx of “lawlessness” and the “love of many will grow cold,” descriptions of developments within the church rather than in the larger world. And it will cause many to apostatize (“And then shall many stumble. And shall deliver up one another and hate one another”).
Christ’s warnings are echoed in Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians when he warns of the coming “man of lawlessness,” a figure linked to the final “apostasy.”
This malevolent character will be energized by Satan. He will employ “signs and lying wonders” to deceive. He will “seat himself in the sanctuary of God,” the naos theou, a term Paul elsewhere consistently applies to the church, the “body of Christ.”
His deceits will cause many to perish because they “welcomed not the love of the truth.” The key to avoiding the coming deceptions is to “hold fast” to the apostolic teachings – (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).
To Timothy, the Apostle warns that in the last days “some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons.” Sound teaching will be rejected as men prefer the bizarre and the fantastical over rock-solid biblical principles. “Having itching ears, they will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts, and will turn away their ears from the truth and turn aside to fables” – (1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 4:3).
Moreover, “evil men and howling impostors will wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” The Greek term rendered “howling imposters” or goétes referred originally to what anthropologists today label ‘sorcerers,’ ‘witchdoctors,’ and ‘shamans,’ practitioners of magical rituals invoked to contact and manipulate the “spirit world” – (1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 3:13, 4:3).
Peter likewise warns us about the coming false prophets who will slither their way into the church, coming to prominence in the last days:
- “But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their lascivious doings by reason of whom the way of the truth shall be evil spoken of. And in covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” – (2 Peter 2:1-3).
He attributes their motivation to a desire for financial gain, to “make merchandise” of the saints. The description fits the modern phenomenon of the so-called “prosperity” preachers who promise disciples of Jesus material abundance if they give money to them. It is a seductive but all too “destructive” message.
And the book of Revelation portrays the final “false prophet,” a “beast who will ascend from the earth” to enforce the policies of the “beast from the sea.” He will have “two horns like a lamb” because he will imitate the true “Lamb,” Jesus Christ. He is a deceiver and charlatan.
Men who willingly embrace the “mark of the beast” will enjoy the benefits of commerce and prosperity, the ability to “buy and sell.” But those who refuse to give allegiance to the “Beast” will be denied participation in the economic system, causing them deprivation and hardship.
Like the “false prophets” spoken of by Jesus, and Paul’s “man of lawlessness,” this final deceiver will use “great signs” to coax men to give their absolute allegiance to the “Beast from the sea.”
This is a consistent warning given by Jesus and his apostles over several decades. Rather than promise a final super revival or endless good times, the New Testament warns repeatedly of the coming apostasy and this host of deceivers bent on misleading the followers of Jesus, including the appeal to “signs and wonders” to validate the lies and deceptions of these false prophets and deceivers.
God certainly works supernatural miracles for His children, but the miraculous is no guarantee that someone has been sent by God.
While the church has always been plagued with false teachers, there has been an increase in the number and effectiveness of deceivers in recent decades; frankly, an invasion.
Deceivers and charlatans have not only flooded the church with their “prosperity gospel” and its inherent covetousness, thereby turning the gospel of Jesus into little more than a narcissistic siren song, but they have also introduced occult practices – incantations, mysticism, conscious-altering meditation, astrology, numerology, Gnosticism, monthly prognostications, and other forms of divination.
In short, the warnings of Jesus, Paul, Peter, and John are unfolding before our eyes, and the final apostasy is well underway just as predicted in the New Testament. Are we listening?