A false christ or a false messiah is a pretender who claims to be the One sent from God to save humanity. In Matthew 24:23–24, Jesus says, “And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” This is part of a larger teaching about what to expect in the end times. In Matthew 24, Jesus repeats this teaching, adding, “So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (verses 26–27).
The “end times” means several things in the Bible. According to Hebrews 1:2, the “last days” is the New Testament era, starting with the first coming of Jesus Christ. This is also the sense in Acts 2:16–17, 1 John 2:18, and 1 Peter 1:20. In this sense, we are living in the “end times”; that is, we are in the final dispensation before the second coming of Christ. In Matthew 13:49, the “end of the age” refers to the time of judgment at the Lord’s second coming. The Lord’s return and the events leading up to it (see Revelation 6–16) are commonly referred to as the “end times” today. Although the “end times” may have begun 2,000 years ago, there will be a rapid escalation of the signs Jesus gave as time draws nearer to His return. We believe the “end times,” as commonly understood, will begin with the rapture of the church.
False christs have come and gone since the first century (Mark 13:22; 2 Peter 2:1). They arise when someone claims to be the Messiah or when a branch of Christianity veers from the clear teaching of God’s Word and tries to define Jesus as other than He is. The apostles dealt with false doctrine in many of their letters to the churches, warning believers about the false christs and false prophets in their midst (2 Corinthians 11:13). John gave a clear definition of accurate Christology: “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God” (I John 4:2–3).
False christs have continued to make their appearance. Even within the last century, certain men such as Jim Jones, Sun Myung Moon, and David Koresh have risen to prominence by claiming to be God or His right-hand man. They often started with the Bible but then seized one verse or idea and built their own theology around it, turning their group into a self-affirming cult. Cult leaders often attract their victims by presenting themselves as Bible-believing Christians. Groups such as the Mormons, the Church of Christ, Scientist, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses all claim to be Christian, but they all deny the deity and work of Jesus, the Son of God, as our only path to forgiveness and eternal life (see John 14:6).
Closer to home, a proliferation of false christs has arisen in unexpected places: Christian church pulpits. When a teaching reinvents Jesus as someone other than He is or intentionally minimizes the more difficult truths of His gospel, it presents a false christ. With the surge of hyper-grace teaching and Your Best Life Now theology, the glory of Jesus Christ has been minimized in favor of self-worship. Jesus, when mentioned at all, is often presented as merely the ticket to receiving God’s blessings. In this generation of biblical illiteracy, many hearers eagerly swallow this man-made version of Christ, never challenging the twisted doctrine that conceived it. Even when people are given an opportunity to “make a decision” for Jesus, one must wonder: to what Christ are they committing themselves?
Second Timothy 4:3–4 warned us that a time was coming when people would not tolerate sound doctrine. As the days grow darker and sin escalates, a more palatable christ becomes attractive to those who “loved the darkness rather than the light” (John 3:19). Second Thessalonians 2:11–12 explains why so many are attracted to false christs. Verse 10 says, “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” When people refuse to love the truth, the real Jesus, or God’s holy Word, God gives them over to their own ideas and their false christs, none of which have any power to save (Romans 1:21–23).