Jesus the mystical christ warned that there would be many “false christs” in the last days. Traditionally, we have been told that these false christs are egotistical leaders in religions outside the mainstream of Christianity. There are a host of new religions, each boasting their own guru or messiah, and the list seems to be growing each year.
But Jesus also said, “Many [of these false christs] will come in my name.” (Matthew 24:5 ) That brings the warning a bit closer to home. According to this, there must be false leaders who try to pass themselves off as followers of Jesus Christ (i.e. who come in his name), and we need to know how to recognise them. Most of us have been told that Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and other similar groups who are outside the mainstream of Christianity fit this description, and we have been trained in recognising errors in their teachings.
A “false christ” does not have to claim that he or she is equal to (or better than) Jesus to be a false christ. The word “christ” simply means “anointed by God”. In other words, anyone who claims to be speaking on behalf of God, (i.e. saying, “I am anointed by God”), is claiming to be a “christ” of sorts. If they really are pointing people to Jesus Christ and his teachings, then their anointing and authority is valid. But if not, then it is a “false anointing” and they are “false christs”.
It is our job as Christians to determine whether they actually do have God’s authority in what they are saying. (And it is the job of Christians everywhere, as his “body”, to have a true anointing ourselves that will result in turning people to Jesus and not to ourselves.)
The description Jesus gave of the false christs that would arise in the last days became more specific in Matthew 24:24: “There shall arise false christs and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” Signs and wonders are not the primary teaching of the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses; but they are emphasised by some other religious leaders. So there must be false teachers who appear to be even more genuine than the Mormons and the JW’s. But they may still be claiming authority that God never really gave them. How can we spot them?
When you read the writings of the apostle Paul, you see that he had some serious disagreements with leaders at the very top of the church at that time, and he argued that his own ministry was anointed by God, whereas some of the others were “false apostles”. (2 Corinthians 11:13 ) He brags about having withstood Peter “to the face” when he felt Peter was wrong. (Galatians 2:11 ) Paul knew that we have to be willing to stand up to anyone if we are to be loyal to the one true Jesus Christ. His example can be a source of encouragement to us if we find ourselves forced to disagree with people who seem overwhelmingly authoritative in the church world today.
Predictions about the last days (i.e. the days in which we are now living) indicate that there will be a great “falling away” (or “apostasy”) within the church. (2 Thessalonians 2:3; Matthew 24:12) Jesus was preparing his followers for the need to take a stand against the status quo in the church world.
If we are going to stay true to Jesus the Christ, then we must determine that we will follow Him and Him alone. We must determine that our loyalty will not be divided between Jesus Christ and any other human leader. The Apostle Paul said that if he should say anything that came across as being contrary to the gospel that Jesus Christ Himself preached, then he would rather be “cursed” than to let anyone use that as an excuse to turn away from the one true Christ. (Galatians 1:8 ) Such should be the attitude of every true follower of Jesus Christ.