Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceive you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” (verses 4-8)
The disciples say to Jesus, “Tell us … what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (verse 3). They are keenly interested in the end times, and rightly so. It’s our great hope. It will be a climactic moment.
But amid that intense longing, Jesus begins his response by saying, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” The key phrase here could also be translated “misleads you” or “leads you astray.” It’s the word that is used several times in Jesus’ parable of the one sheep that has “gone astray” (Matthew 18:12-13) – something has distracted that poor sheep and it has wandered off the path in its pursuit, leaving the Shepherd, and the safety of the flock, behind. Jesus uses it again in his response to the Sadducees who deny the concept of the resurrection, telling them they are “mistaken” about the Scriptures – they have wandered off from the truth.
This same word is used four times in this chapter as Jesus warns his disciples to beware of false Christs and prophets who will try to “mislead” them (verses 4, 5, 11, 24). He sees this as a clear and present danger in the midst of a rightly-held, earnest longing for his return.
So, how do we effectively “watch out”? These few beginning verses give us two responses.
The first is, don’t run after someone claiming, “I am the Christ.”Such claims spoken by someone with feet on the ground, present among us, will invariably be false. Jesus will later tell us that his coming will be “on the clouds of heaven” and absolutely unmistakable. All will see it. His power and great glory will be visible and striking, as a bolt of lightning flashing from east to west (verses 27, 30). So, don’t be “led astray” by any other claim. And don’t worry that somehow you might miss his coming. He won’t let you. It will be clear.
The second caution springs from the “signs of the time.” Yes, Jesus says, there will be many, many unsettling events – wars and rumours of wars, uprisings, conquests, famines and earthquakes – and aren’t we seeing them already! But these, he says, are simply “the beginning of birth pains,” they are not the real event.
My wife and I learned this reality as we eagerly anticipated the birth of our first child. We even knew the expected birth date, but when twinges of contractions started a month in advance, we were convinced our baby was right on the doorstep, ready for the crib! The contractions continued, day by day for more than a month, and our child (whom we love!) arrived two days late! Birth pains are not the real thing. Don’t be “deceived.”
To be “misled” is the ultimate distraction. It diverts us from keeping eyes on Jesus. Instead, we either rivet our eyes on some false prophet or we fixedly focus them on surrounding events.
Don’t do it. Rather, watch and pray. Keep eyes focused on Jesus himself.
Lord Jesus, I long for your coming. Keep my heart true to you. Keep my eyes focused on you alone.
Reflect: Are you more inclined to be distracted by the “signs of the time” or to be complacent about the reality of his coming? Whichever, focus afresh on Jesus now. Recommit to follow him only, each day. Recommit to yearn for his coming.