1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. 2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” 3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. 9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
I must say, the Wikipedia article entitled “List of messiah claimants” is something to behold. Under the “Christian messiah claimants” heading, we find the following list of those who claimed to be Jesus or another Jesus or Jesus come again:
- Ann Lee (1736–1784), a central figure to the Shakers, who thought she “embodied all the perfections of God” in female form and considered herself to be Christ’s female counterpart in 1772.
- John Nichols Thom (1799–1838), who had achieved fame and followers as Sir William Courtenay and adopted the claim of Messiah after a period in a mental institute.
- Abd-ru-shin (Oskar Ernst Bernhardt, 18 April 1875 – 6 December 1941), founder of the Grail Movement.
- Lou de Palingboer (Louwrens Voorthuijzen) (1898-1968), a Dutch charismatic leader who claimed to be God as well as the Messiah from 1950 until his death in 1968.
- Father Divine (George Baker) (c. 1880 –1965), an African American spiritual leader from about 1907 until his death, who claimed to be God.
- André Matsoua (1899–1942), Congolese founder of Amicale, proponents of which subsequently adopted him as Messiah in the late 1920s.
- Samael Aun Weor (1917–1977), born Víctor Manuel Gómez Rodríguez, Colombian citizen and later Mexican, was an author, lecturer and founder of the ‘Universal Christian Gnostic Movement’, according to him, ‘the most powerful movement ever founded’. By 1972, he referenced that his death and resurrection would occur before 1978.
- Ahn Sahng-hong (1918–1985), founder of the World Mission Society Church of God and worshiped by the members as the Messiah.
- Sun Myung Moon (1920–2012), founder and leader of the Unification Church established in Seoul, South Korea, who considered himself the Second Coming of Christ, but not Jesus himself. It is generally believed by Unification Church members (“Moonies”) that he was the Messiah and the Second Coming of Christ and was anointed to fulfill Jesus’ unfinished mission.
- Anne Hamilton-Byrne (born Evelyn Grace Victoria Edwards; 30 December 1921 – 13 June 2019), founder of The Family, claimed to have been the reincarnation of Jesus.
- Cho Hee-seung[ko] (1931–2004), founder of the Victory Altar New Religious Movement, which refers to him as “the Victor Christ” and “God incarnated”. Died in the midst of a series of legal battles in which he was alternately convicted and acquitted on charges fraud and instigation of the murders of multiple opponents.
- Yahweh ben Yahweh (1935–2007), born as Hulon Mitchell, Jr., a black nationalist and separatist who created the Nation of Yahweh and allegedly orchestrated the murder of dozens of people.
- Laszlo Toth (born 1938) claimed he was Jesus Christ as he battered Michelangelo’s Pietawith a geologist hammer.
- Wayne Bent (born 1941), also known as Michael Travesser of the Lord Our Righteousness Church, also known as the “Strong City Cult”, convicted December 15, 2008 of one count of criminal sexual contact of a minor and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor in 2008.
- Iesu Matayoshi (1944–2018); in 1997 he established the World Economic Community Party based on his conviction that he was God and the Christ.
- Jung Myung-seok (born 1945), a South Korean who was a member of the Unification Church in the 1970s, before breaking off to found the dissenting group now known as Providence Church in 1980. He also considers himself the Second Coming of Christ, but not Jesus himself. He believes he has come to finish the incomplete message and mission of Jesus Christ, asserting that he is the Messiah and has the responsibility to save all mankind. He claims that the Christian doctrine of resurrection is false but that people can be saved through him.
- Claude Vorilhon, now known as Raël “messenger of the Elohim” (born 1946), a French professional test driver and former car journalist who became founder and leader of UFO religion the Raël Movement in 1972. Raëlism teaches that life on Earth was scientifically created by a species of extraterrestrials, which they call Elohim. He claimed he met an extraterrestrial humanoid in 1973 and became the Messiah. He then devoted himself to the task he said he was given by his “biological father”, an extraterrestrial named Yahweh.
- José Luis de Jesús (1946–2013), founder and leader of Creciendo en Graciasect (Growing In Grace International Ministry, Inc.), based in Miami, Florida. He claimed to be both Jesus Christ returned and the Antichrist, and exhibited a “666” tattoo on his forearm. He has referred to himself as Jesucristo Hombre, which translates to “Jesus Christ made Man”.
- Inri Cristo (born 1948) of Indaial, Brazil, a claimant to be the second Jesus.
- Apollo Quiboloy (born 1950), founder and leader of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ religious group, who claims that Jesus Christ is the “Almighty Father,” that Quiboloy is “His Appointed Son,” and that salvation is now completed. He proclaims himself to be the “Appointed Son of God”.
- Brian David Mitchell, (born 1953 in Salt Lake City, Utah), believed himself the fore-ordained angel born on earth to be the Davidic “servant” prepared by God as a type of Messiah who would restore the divinely led kingdom of Israel to the world in preparation for Christ’s second coming. Mitchell’s belief in such an end-times figure – also known among many fundamentalist Latter Day Saints as “the One Mighty and Strong” – appeared to be based in part on a reading of the biblical Book of Isaiah by the independent LDS Hebraist, Avraham Gileadi, with whom Mitchell became familiar as a result of his previous participation in Stirling Allan’s American Study Group.
- Ante Pavlović (1957–2020), a Croatian self-proclaimed chiropractor who claimed to be a reincarnation of Jesus Christ who he would soon become president of Croatia.
- David Koresh (Vernon Wayne Howell) (1959–1993), leader of the Branch Davidians, renaming himself in honor of King David and Cyrus the Great. He and his followers were killed after an ATF raid and siege which ended with their compound catching fire.
- Maria Devi Christos (born 1960), leader of the Great White Brotherhood popular in the former Soviet Union.
- Sergey Torop (born 1961), who started to call himself “Vissarion”, founder of the Church of the Last Testament and the spiritual community Ecopolis Tiberkul in Southern Siberia.
- Alan John Miller (born 1962), founder of Divine Truth, a new religious movement based in Australia. Also known as A.J. Miller, he claims to be Jesus of Nazareth through reincarnation. Miller was formerly a Jehovah’s Witness
That is quite the list! And it is as predictable as it is lengthy and depressing. After all, Jesus told His disciples that precisely this would happen! He did so on the Mount of Olives in what we now call “The Olivet Discourse.” As we approach the Olivet Discourse, let us begin by noting the disposition that Jesus says His followers should have as we consider and approach the end of all things.
Do not be deceived: Stay sharp!
Jesus’ lengthy exposition on the last days begins with the disciples being impressed or at least taking note of the grandeur of the temple.
1 Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple.
Craig Blomberg puts it well when he writes that while “Jesus’ followers continue to marvel at its grandeur…Jesus immediately redirects their attention to its transience.” Yes, its transience, and, with it, the transience of the whole world:
2 But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
Jesus’ “You see all these, do you not?” is His acknowledgment of their awe at the temple complex. Then, Jesus bluntly asserts that the whole thing will be “thrown down.” This would happen in AD 70 when the Romans besieged Jerusalem. Again, to the Jews, the destruction of the temple must have felt like the end of the world. In the Olivet Discourse it is part of the overall picture.
Let us not get lost in the tricky questions surrounding the various theories of prophesy. Clearly, this particular event happened in the past, but as Jesus continues to talk He points to events that will come in the future. We do not need a complex chart in reading this. What we need is to recognize, to use Blomberg’s phrase, the transience of all things fallen and corrupted.
The fallen earth will itself fall before the great day of the coming of the Lord. Jesus picks up the theme with a caution about being deceived:
3 As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray.
The first “sign of [Jesus’] coming and of the end of the age” will be the sign of false messiahs, those who say, “I am the Christ” and lead others astray. The caution here is clear: Do not be deceived: Stay sharp!
These false messiah’s, the names of many of which we have already heard, will have three marks, Jesus says:
- They will come in Jesus’ name.
- They will say, “I am the Christ.”
- They will lead many astray.
They will be, in a word, persuasive. They will be compelling. They will exhibit an attractive force. They will not come posturing as anti-Christ, but as “in the name of” Christ, in harmony with Christ. They will, in other words, claim a divine stamp of approval.
The most dangerous things in the world seldom proclaim their danger aloud. They are crafty. They sneak up on you. Their greatest danger is to convince you that there is no danger. They deceive. They lie. They manipulate. And, time and time again, people follow.
One thinks of Keith Ranier, for instance, and the NXIVM cult. He never claimed to be Jesus, but he certainly put himself forward as a messianic-type figure. And, astonishingly, a number of young people followed him. What is most surprising is the number of young women who allowed Ranier to literally have them branded with his initials. Predictably, he is in prison and a number of people are now trying to put their lives back together.
And Ranier is just one of many.
False messiahs wreak havoc in the world. Stay sharp! Do not be deceived!
Many will come claiming to be the anointed one of God.
Do not be alarmed: Remember!
Furthermore, do not be alarmed, Jesus tells us, by wars and rumors of wars and great upheavals. Rather, remember that these things were predicted and that God is not caught off guard.
6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
See here the rumblings of the beginning of the end:
- rumors of wars
- great upheavals
Jesus famously calls these things “birth pains.” The image is clear enough: these are the contractions that will culminate in the great cataclysmic moment when Christ the Son appears in clouds of glory.
We are living even now in these birth pains. We know not how long they will last. But this much is clear: we live now in the end times waiting for the end…which is the beginning.
Do not lose your nerve at the great social tremors that present themselves to us many times a day. It has been predicted. We knew this would happen. Christians for 2,000 years have known it would happen.
In the 4th century, Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, spoke to these verses in a way I find powerful and moving. He points to the examples of his own day and then offers an interesting nuance: there are wars around them, yes, but there are also wars within them. All of these things assault and assail them and all of these things tempt them to lose heart. But they must not lose heart against any of them. Listen to Ambrose:
No one can give better witness to the Lord’s words than we ourselves, since we have seen the end of the world come upon us! What wars we have witnessed, what rumors of wars we have heard! The Huns rise up against the Alani, the Alani against the Goths; the Goths rise against the Taifali and the Sarmatians, who force us from Illyria, our own native land. And that is not all. Everywhere there is famine; everywhere there is plague—plague among cattle; plague among people; plague among livestock of every kind. It has been so deadly that even where there are no wars, the land has been devastated as if by hostile forces. Since we are at the end of the world: famine is one sickness of the world, plague is another sickness of the world, and persecution is yet another sickness.
At the same time, the valiant Christian has other wars to face. There is combat against lust; there are conflicts with desire—the enemy within is worse than the enemy without. At one moment, lust excites us; at another moment, passion inflames us. At one moment, fear makes our blood run cold; at another moment, anger drives us mad. At one moment, ambition sorely tries us; on another occasion, it is demons, wicked spirits that dwell in the air (cf. Eph 6:12), who attempt to taunt us. Our passions are easily swayed—so to speak—easily agitated, and so these wars throw us down, and these earthquakes—so to speak—cause us to tremble.
But the brave of heart says: Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear. Though war break out against me, even then will I hope (Ps 27:3). Bravely he stands in the line of battle and faces the enemy. Even if some Goliath rises up, ferocious and gigantic, and even though others are filled with fear, our hero will withstand him. He will cast off the weapons offered him by the kings of this earth (cf. 1 Sam 17:39) and take up instead the lighter weapons of faith. With his sling, woven from three stout cords, he will hurl the missile of pure faith and fatally wound his mocking persecutor. He will despise the giant’s threats. He does not tremble before the great and powerful ones of this world, because Christ lives within him.
What a word! What a passionate call for resolve! Remember: these things were foretold! Stand firm: our God is greater!
Think of our own day. The nations are in an uproar. We too have seen plague and illness. We too have seen nation against nation and people against people and kingdom against kingdom. We too are watching social upheaval and political strife and deep unrest. We are witnessing, it seems, the possible fracturing of our own nation and of nations around the world. People seem angrier. People seem more frightened than ever.
What, then, should the church do? Simply this: Remember who our great God is and remember His might and power! Do not despair! Do not give up hope! We knew these things were coming. Our King is still on His throne. Our King will come again!
Do not give up: Persevere!
Finally, this: persevere! Do not give up!
9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
The church’s persecution is foretold, a persecution that many Christians in our day our literally experiencing even now. Jesus says:
- that persecution will come;
- that many will be killed;
- that many will fall away;
- that many will be led astray;
- that the one who endures will be saved;
- and that the gospel will be proclaimed throughout the world before the end comes.
This call for perseverance is hard for many of us to hear. We do not truly know what it is to suffer so we cannot really imagine what it would look like to persevere. Shane Clairborne writes that he has a pastor friend who said, “Our problem is that we no longer have martyrs. We only have celebrities.”
Too pessimistic? Maybe. Maybe not. Likely not. Regardless, let us ask ourselves if we are ready to pay a price if a price we must pay.
The key phrase here is in verse 9: “for my name’s sake.” The church will face persecution and death “for my name’s sake,” that is, for Jesus’ name’s sake. If this is so, then it means that churches that abandon the name of Jesus will face persecution. And this is exactly what we are seeing: the abandonment of Jesus and His way in an attempt to remove any and all hostility between the church and the world. Have we forgotten what we read in James 4:
4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
The word “world” is used in two different ways in the New Testament. Sometimes it simply means “all the people on the earth,” as in, “For God so loved the world…” But sometimes, like in James 4:4, it means the fallen world order that stands against God in a posture of hostility and opposition. To be a “friend” of the world in this sense is to be in compliance and harmony with that which is opposed to God and to the way of Christ, the fallen, rebellious world.
We have a choice: Christ or the world, life or death. The world will fall under judgment. This is what Jesus is preparing His people for. But the people of God shelter safely beneath the wings of Jesus.
Do not despair. Be at peace, church. Your King is in control.
 Blomberg Craig L. Matthew. The New American Commentary. Gen. ed. David S. Dockery. Vol. 22 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 19920), p.352.
 Williams, D. H., ed. Matthew. The Church’s Bible. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2018), p.445–446.
 Shane Clairborne, The Irresistible Revolution (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), p.27.