In his article “Answers and Clarifications for Gary DeMar,” Thomas Ice has been trying to set me straight on issues related to the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24. This is my third response. You can read the first and second responses here and here.
Of all the signs listed in the Olivet Discourse, Tommy Ice points to Jesus’ comments regarding “false Christs.” He doesn’t say anything about the abundance wars, famines, and earthquakes during the period between A.D. 30 and 70, of which there were many. Instead, he argues that “there is scholarly consensus that there were not false Christs or Messiahs until around A.D. 130.” To support his claim, he cites the following from a commentary published in 1878:
“We possess no historical record of any false Messiahs having appeared previous to the destruction of Jerusalem (Barcochba did not make his appearance till the time of Hadrian); for Simon Magus (Acts viii. 9), Theudas (Acts v. 36), the Egyptian (Acts xxi. 38), Menander, Dositheus, who have been referred to as cases in point (Theophylact, Euthymius Zigabenus, Grotius, Calovinus, Bengel), did not pretend to be the Messiah. Comp. Joseph Antt. Xx. 5. 1; 8. 6; Bell. Ii. 13. 5.”1
First, it must be noted that Jesus said “this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Matt. 24:34). This would include false Christs. Jesus said there would be false Christs before that generation passed away, therefore, there must have been false Christs.
Second, the audience reference is contemporary with Jesus: “Then if anyone says to YOU, ‘Behold, here is the Christ,’ or ‘There He is,’ do not believe [πιστεύσητε: 2nd person plural] him” (Matt. 24:23). Why would Jesus warn His disciples about false Christs if there wouldn’t be any false Christs in their day?
Third, there is no “scholarly consensus” that there were no false Christs until around A.D. 130. Hebrew and Rabbinic scholar John Lightfoot (1602–1675) wrote:
“False Christs broke out, and appeared in public with their witchcrafts, so much the frequenter and more impudent, as the city and people drew nearer to its ruin; because the people believed the [Messiah] should be manifested before the destruction of the city; and each of them pretended to be the [Messiah] by these signs.”2
Grant R. Osbourne writes that [t]hese pretenders appeared often in the first century and throughout the history of the church. . . .” (Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010), 887.)) R. T. France also argues that there were false Christs leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem that took place in A.D. 70:
“The catastrophic situation in Jerusalem during those last days before its capture will provide a fertile breeding-ground for the sort of messianic claimants already predicted in vv. 5 and 11 as part of the more general upheaval of the period before the siege. Anyone who offered new hope of divine intervention would be eagerly listened to, and the more so if they were able to offer ‘signs and wonders’ to support their claim. And such miraculous proofs were, according to Josephus, offered by several of the nationalist leaders he mentions: he cites specifically the parting of the Jordan (Ant. 20.97), the collapse of the city walls (Ant. 20:170), the uncovering of Moses’ sacred vessels (Ant. 18:85), as well as more generally ‘conspicuous wonders and signs’ (Ant. 20:168) and God-given ‘signs of freedom’ (War 2:2.259).” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 916–917).))
In a footnote, France writes, “Such ‘false Messiahs and false prophets’ active during the siege might include Simon bar-Giora (Josephus, War 4:503-44 etc.), who was regarded as a ‘king’ (510) . . . and also ‘many’ false prophets noted anonymously in War 6.285-88; that last passage goes on to relate (6.289–300) a series of signs and wonders occurring in the period before the city was destroyed, which some took (wrongly) to be omens of deliverance.”3
There were so many impostors preying on the gullibility of the people that under the procuratorship of Felix (Acts 23:24), “many of them were apprehended and killed every day. They seduced great numbers of the people still expecting the Messiah; and well therefore might our Saviour caution his disciples against them.”4
Fourth, Dispensationalist Larry Spargimino states that “false messiahs were not limited to the first century.”5 This means, according to him, there were false messiahs in the first century. What’s interesting about Spargimino’s comment is that it appears in a book edited by Tommy Ice.
Fifth, James B. Jordan writes:
“There is plenty of evidence in the Scriptures . . . that there was a group of Christian leaders who claimed to have the anointing (messiah) of apostles, who claimed to be prophets and teachers, and who did indeed mislead many believers. They were a constant danger in the apostolic era, and a great deal of Paul’s writings in particular deal with their deceptions. We are thinking, of course, of the Judaizers.
“The Judaizers were the heirs of the tradition-serving Jewish teachers who were Jesus’ worst enemy. The Judaizers are the constant enemy in Acts and the epistles. They are the anti-christs of the Johannine letters, who claimed to have been sent out by the apostles but who were not “of us” (1 John 2:18-19; 4:1).6 They are the main enemy in the book of Revelation.
“The Judaizers fit perfectly Jesus’ predictions. They claimed to come in His name. They misled many. They claimed an anointing, but it was false. They were false prophets.”
To bring all of this to a conclusion, Tommy Ice is mistaken in his claim that “there is scholarly consensus that there were not false Christs or Messiahs until around A.D. 130.”
- Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to The Gospel of Matthew, 2 vols. (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1879), 2:128. [↩]
- John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica: Matthew –1 Corinthians, 4 vols. (Oxford University Press, 1859), 2:318). Also see pages 317–318. [↩]
- France, The Gospel of Matthew, 916, note 72. [↩]
- Thomas Newton, Dissertations on the Prophecies, Which Have Remarkably Been Fulfilled, and at This Time Are Fulfilling in the World (London: J. F. Dove, 1754), 333. [↩]
- Larry Spargimino, “How Preterists Misuse History to Advance Their View of Prophecy,” The End Times Controversy: The Second Coming Under Attack, eds. Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2003), 210. [↩]
- John is not writing about people who professed faith for a while and then departed from the church. That is a misuse of these passages. [↩]