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*Reading Time: 10 minutes*

Before reading this brief study, please read,

  1. The Meaning of Eschatology
  2. Flashback to the Prophecy of Jesus Christ
  3. The Parable of the Vineyard – Part 1 
  4. The Parable of the Vineyard – Part 2 
  5. The Parable of the Vineyard – Part 3
  6. The Wedding Feast
  7. The Temple – Old and New
  8. The Questions
  9. The Beginning of Signs

THE JEWS EXPECTING THE MESSIAH

Matthew 24:5 — For many will come in (on the strength of) My name [appropriating the name which belongs to Me], saying, I am the Christ (the Messiah), and they will lead many astray.  

Mark 13:6 — Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 

Luke 21:8 — And he said, “See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is at hand!’ Do not go after them. 

There was an expectancy of the coming of the “Messiah” in the generation in which Jesus and His disciples lived. They were expecting the Messiah to be a great political leader who would overthrow the Romans and establish the Jewish kingdom. 

 The Jews studied the prophecies of Daniel and so expected the Messiah to come soon. Through his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel had precisely pointed to the time of the Messiah’s coming. Daniel had clearly stated that during the fourth kingdom God would establish His kingdom:

 Daniel 2:40 — And there shall be a fourth kingdom, strong as iron, because iron breaks to pieces and shatters all things. And like iron that crushes, it shall break and crush all these. 

 Daniel 2:44 — And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever…”

Daniel had identified these four kingdoms. The Jews knew all about these prophecies. 

The four kingdoms mentioned in Daniel 2:28:

  1.  The first kingdom was Babylon, 
  2. The second was Medo-Persia (Medes & Persians), 
  3. The third was Grecian (Greece),  
  4. And, the fourth were the Romans (Rome). 

During the time of the Roman Empire, the Jews began to expect the Messiah, as it was the fourth kingdom according to the prophecies of Daniel. Luke commented on the frame of mind of the Jewish people as they awaited the expected Messiah: 

Luke 3:15 — “As the people were in suspense and waiting expectantly, and everybody reasoned and questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether he perhaps might be the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One).”  

Soon after the death of Jesus, numerous false messiahs appeared in Israel. These deceivers claimed that they were the Christ or ones sent by God and deception was their primary agenda.                                                             

Jesus had warned the church not to be caught off guard. False messiahs came on the scene early in the church’s history. As Luke wrote the Book of Acts, he made several references to the impostors. Please note that this prophecy was fulfilled in the first century before the destruction of the temple.

A RECORD OF FALSE MESSIAHS AND DECEIVERS 

Theudas 

Acts 5:33-37 — When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 

Secular historians have recorded the activities and teachings of many false messiahs.

Josephus writes: 

“NOW it came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain magician, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it; and many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them; who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them, and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, and cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem. This was what befell the Jews in the time of Cuspius Fadus’s government.” [Josephus, Antiquities 20.5.1 54]

 Simon Magus or Simon the Sorcerer 

Acts 8:9 – 12 — But there was a man named Simon, who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the people of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all paid attention to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is the power of God that is called Great.” And they paid attention to him because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. 

The early church father Irenaeus informs us of Simon Magus:  

“…claimed to be the Son of God and creator of angels”

Jerome, the fourth century translator and commentator of the scriptures quotes Simon Magus as saying:   

“I am the Word of God, I am the Comforter, I am Almighty, I am all there is of God…” [Mansel, The Gnostic Heresies, p.82. 56 Spence and Excell eds., “Matthew,” in The Pulpit Commentary Vol. 15, p. 431 57 Gangel, Acts, p. 131 ]

Several distinguished Christian historians and theologians have long acknowledged the problem the early church faced with false messiahs.

Spence and Excell: 

“There were doubtless many false Messiahs whose names are little known, and critics have enumerated twenty-nine such. The pretensions of these persons were generally admitted, and their adherents were commonly few and uninfluential. But we may observe that the warning may include such deceivers as Simon Magus and those many false teachers who vexed the early church, and, without assuming the name of Christ, did Satan’s work by undermining the faith.”

 “In the second century, Justin Martyr, himself a Samaritan, claimed that his countrymen revered Simon as a high god. Other second-century sources describe a Simon Magus whose heresy reached as far as Rome and whose teachings Peter was often required to refute. In the late second century, Tertullian talked about Simon, honored with a statue in Rome carrying the inscription ‘To Simon the holy god,’ though some scholars believe that was merely the misreading of another well-known statue to an ancient Sabine deity.” 

Judas of Galilee 

Acts 5:37 – 38 — And after this one rose up Judas the Galilean, [who led an uprising] during the time of the census, and drew away a popular following after him; he also perished and all his adherents were scattered. 38 Now in the present case let me say to you, stand off (withdraw) from these men and let them alone. For if this doctrine or purpose or undertaking or movement is of human origin, it will fail (be overthrown and come to nothing); 

An unknown Egyptian who stirred up a rebellion 

Acts 21:37 – 39 — Just as Paul was about to be taken into the barracks, he asked the commandant, May I say something to you? And the man replied, Can you speak Greek? Are you not then [as I supposed] the Egyptian who not long ago stirred up a rebellion and led those 4,000 men who were cutthroats out into the wilderness (desert)? Paul answered, I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant or undistinguished city. I beg you, allow me to address the people.” 

 Another Egyptian false prophet

Josephus reports of another Egyptian, saying, 

“There was an Egyptian false prophet that did the Jews more mischief than the former; for he was a cheat, and pretended to be a prophet also, and got together 30,000 men that were deluded by him; these he led round from the wilderness to the mount which was called the Mount of Olives, and was ready to break into Jerusalem by force from that place.” [Josephus, War of the Jews, 2.3.5]                                                          

 He quotes in the Antiquities:  

“These works, that were done by the robbers, filled the city with all sorts of impiety. And now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God. And many that were prevailed on by them suffered the punishments of their folly; for Felix brought them back, and then punished them. Moreover, there came out of Egypt about this time to Jerusalem one that said he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the Mount of Olives, as it was called, which lay over against the city, and at the distance of five furlongs. He said further, that he would show them from hence how, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down; and he promised them that he would procure them an entrance into the city through those walls, when they were fallen down. Now when Felix was informed of these things, he ordered his soldiers to take their weapons, and came against them with a great number of horsemen and footmen from Jerusalem, and attacked the Egyptian and the people that were with him. He also slew four hundred of them, and took two hundred alive. But the Egyptian himself escaped out of the fight, but did not appear any more. And again the robbers stirred up the people to make war with the Romans, and said they ought not to obey them at all; and when any persons would not comply with them, they set fire to their villages, and plundered them”. [Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 20.8.6 ]

Josephus comments in the Wars of the Jews:                                                             

 “A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose on the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God; and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes. Now a man that is in adversity does easily comply with such promises; for when such a seducer makes him believe that he shall be delivered from those miseries which oppress him, then it is that the patient is full of hopes of such his deliverance.” [Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 6.5.2] 

Dositheus the Samaritan 

According to Hegesippus, Dositheus lived later than Simon Magus, the first heresiarch of the church; other authors speak of him as the teacher of Simon, at the same time confounding him with Simon Magus, connecting his name with Helena, and stating that he was the “being.” 

Origen says that Dositheus pretended to be the Christ (Messiah), applying Deuteronomy 18:15 to himself, and he compares him with Theudas and Judas the Galilean.

[Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 4.22.5][Clement of Rome, l.c. ii. 8; several passages in Origen; Epiphanius, l.c.] [“Contra Celsum,” i. 57, vi. 11; in Matth. Comm. ser. xxxiii.; “Homil.” xxv. in Lucam; “De Principiis,” iv. 17.]

Origen also says that Dositheus’ disciples pretended to possess books by him, and related concerning him that he never suffered death, but was still alive. [Dositheus (Samaritan), Wiki.]

Other False Prophets and Messiahs

Josephus, records in the Antiquities, 

“Now as for the affairs of the Jews, they grew worse and worse continually, for the country was again filled with robbers and impostors, who deluded the multitude. Yet did Felix catch and put to death many of those impostors every day, together with the robbers.” [ Josephus, Antiquities, 20.8.5 ]  

Josephus again mentions more false prophets pretending they would show signs and wonders to deliver the people:

“A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now, there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God; and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes.” [Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 7.5.2 ]

 Albert Barnes in his notes on ‘Matthew,’ quotes Josephus,                                                            

“The land was overrun with magicians, seducers, and impostors, who drew the people after them in multitudes into solitudes and deserts, to see signs and miracles which they promised to show by the power of God.” [Albert Barnes, “Matthew,” Notes, Explanatory and Practical, on the new testament, eds. Ingram Cobbin and E. Henderson, London: James S. Virtue, n.d.), p. 251.]

Thomas Newton observes that during the reign of procurator Felix from AD. 52-60, there were many impostors who preyed on the gullibility of the people. He writes saying: 

“many of them were apprehended and killed every day. They seduced great numbers of people still expecting the Messiah…” [Thomas Newton, Dissertations on the Prophecies, vol. 2, p. 239]

Similarly, John Wesley, the legendary revivalist and leader of the First Great Awakening, wrote, 

“…never did so many imposters appear in the world as a few years before the destruction of Jerusalem, undoubtedly because that was the time wherein the Jews in general expected the Messiah.” [John Welsey, Explanatory Notes Upon the new testament, Matthew 24:5 ]

 The famous church Historian Eusebius (AD. 263–339) provided additional testimony to many of these false prophets in his Ecclesiastical History: [Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.11.2–3. (Herafter abb. as H.E.)

Notably, he calls Theudas a “false prophet” where the Book of Acts simply calls him a “man”.

APOSTLE JOHN WARNS THE CHURCH

The apostle John under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit warned of deceivers and antichrists, claiming it to be the last hour (which means the last days of the old covenant) and the destruction of the temple is sooner than expected:

 1 John 2:18 – 19 — Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

 2 John: 7 – 8 — For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. 

The Venerable Bede (AD. 673–735) wrote, 

“…many came forward, when destruction was hanging over Jerusalem, saying that they were christs.” [The Venerable Bede quoted in Aquinas, Catena Aurea, the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 13]

The Messianic hope was not only among the Jewish people but also all over the world. The Roman historian Tacitus spoke of the world-wide expectation of a King rising from Israel, who would be the King and the ruler of the world. And so, Jesus warned His disciples saying:

 Matthew 24:5 — For many will come in (on the strength of) My name [appropriating the name which belongs to Me], saying, I am the Christ (the Messiah), and they will lead many astray.

Blessings,

Godwin.

All content © Godwin Sequeira, 2019.

error: *Blessings*