How can one recognize a false Christ?

Jesus warned that in the last days counterfeit christs would arise who would masquerade as the Messiah and claim to be the savior of the world. “Jesus answered and said to them: ‘Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many’ ” (Matthew 24:4, 5, NKJV).
In the New Testament, the original Greek word for Christ is Christos. The equivalent Hebrew word in the Old Testament is Mashiach, meaning “Messiah.” The literal translation of both the Greek and Hebrew words is “the anointed one.” It is the title and identity which Jesus assumed during His ministry on Earth. “The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He’ ” (John 4:25, 26, (NKJV).

Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus preached His great prophetic discourse regarding profound events that would occur at the end of the age just prior to His Second Coming. Among those events, He said, would be false prophets and false christs. He warned, “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it’ ” (Matthew 24:23-26, NKJV).

Jesus emphasized that these false christs will perform great signs and miracles and deceive many. Many Christians think that as long as they believe in Jesus, they will be shielded from the deceptions of the last days. However, these will not be crude deceptions that will be easy to identify. Jesus says that the deceptions of these false christs are so carefully planned and so skillfully carried out, that even God’s chosen ones would be deceived—if that were possible. And the only reason it is not possible is if we keep our focus on the real Jesus through study of His Word and through prayer.

Unfortunately, many will be deceived into following the wrong Jesus. The apostle Paul wrote, “I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:3, 4, NIV). The apostle is writing to the Christians of the early church. He warns them concerning false apostles who were preaching about a Jesus who is not the real Jesus of the Bible—a fictitious Jesus, a fabrication of the corrupt imaginations and erroneous thinking of those who want to deceive God’s people. The gospel associated with this false christ is a different gospel; it is not the gospel recorded in the Bible and preached by the true apostles. Further, this false gospel is accompanied by a counterfeit spirit—not the Holy Spirit.

Who is behind these false christs? It is none other than Satan himself. Speaking of these false christs and false prophets, Paul wrote, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. Is it not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, NIV). These false christs masquerade as “servants of righteousness,” just as their master, Satan, masquerades as an angel of light.

In addition to these false christs—false teachers and prophets—the Bible says that just before Jesus returns a “man of lawlessness will appear visibly on Earth. “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4, NIV). In this profound prophecy of last-day events, the Bible says there is going to be a rebellion, an apostasy, a great falling away from the faith. In conjunction with this apostasy, a “man of lawlessness will appear. This individual is truly a false christ of the greatest magnitude. He is also known as the Antichrist. This great false christ will set himself up in God’s temple and counterfeit the ministry of Jesus.

What will happen to this false Christ and how will we recognize him? The Bible says, “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10, NIV). The followers of the counterfeit christ are deceived because they refuse to love God’s truth as revealed in his Holy Bible.

Jesus emphasized that it is not enough to simply profess the name of the Lord in order to enter into heaven. Besides taking the name of a follower of Jesus, we also need to actually follow Him. We need to do the Father’s will. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21, NIV). Jesus also declares, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40, NIV). Thus we need to look to Jesus, God’s Son. We need to spend time contemplating His life and the words He spoke and the things He did. Jesus assures us, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24, NIV).

Tragically, those who are deceived in the last days by these false christs will sincerely regard themselves to be genuine believers, actively doing the work of Christ. They will even prophesy in the name of Jesus, cast out demons in the name of Jesus, and work miracles in His name. But they are serving a false Christ—not the real Jesus. “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers’ ” (Matthew 7:22, 23, NIV). The followers of the false Christ disregard the commandments of Jesus. In contrast, Jesus declares, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:21, NIV).

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