Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. (Matt 24:4, NIV)
He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. (Luke 21:8, NIV)
Jesus warns that deception will characterize the age encompassing His climactic return.
Many events and signs are described including wars, famines, natural disasters, persecutions and others as listed above. But while the other signs at the end of the age are each mentioned once, there is one that Jesus warns of FOUR separate times in Matthew – deception. Jesus wanted to emphasize that deception would be the clearest sign that His return is imminent:
And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. (Matthew 24:4, emphasis added)
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. (Matthew 24:5, emphasis added)
And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. (Matthew 24:11, emphasis added)
Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. (Matthew 24:23-24, emphasis added)
Jesus stressed that deception will be the clearest and most dangerous sign preceding His return. Scripture indicates this deception will manifest both within the culture at-large and inside the church. We are warned of an increase of false messiahs with false gospels. The deception inside the church will be very subtle as we are told in the last passage quoted above that even the “elect” can be deceived – something echoed in 1 Tim 4:1 (The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. [NIV])
As the culture (and tragically much of the church) jettisons revealed truth, they leave themselves naked and vulnerable to deception. Having surrendered the only effective bulwark against it, deception (like an unstoppable destructive tsunami) is now flooding into every corner of the culture and rampaging through much of the church.
Deception ominously rears itself now everywhere. Politicians deceive the public as to their true intentions and agenda, the media deceives people by "creating" rather than reporting news, educators deceive students with the latest fashionable distortions of truth, social media deceives users with invented and imaginary adoration, the entertainment industry deceives consumers on morality ... and even science abdicates its original role and increasingly serves as the deceptive propaganda mouthpiece for human secularism. Worst of all, some religious leaders reject their God-given responsibility as repositors of revealed truth and deceive recipients of their ministry with man-made dogma. Peer pressure (social, professional, religious and political) comes to bear on those who refuse to buy into the delusion.
Deception is actually a form of judgment from God. 2 Tim 3:12-13 states that "Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (ESV).
And for the first time in history, technology makes global deception possible in real-time ... a sobering preview of Rev 13:14 where the False Prophet is said to deceive "the inhabitants of the earth."
Tragically some of the church is now casting off millennia of truth on marriage and sexuality and throwing its lot in with deception. Paul warns in 2 Cor. 11:3-4 that deception doesn't show its true poison, but rather masquerades as harmless kool-aid.
And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. [2 Cor. 11:14-15]
Earlier, as I chronicled here, deception is Satan's most powerful weapon.
Satan’s most potent weapon is not physical sickness, which he sometimes has the power to wield (as with Job, or Paul’s thorn in the flesh, or the woman in the synagogue in Luke 16), and not even physical destruction which he sometimes is permitted to bring about (as with Job’s possessions and children, or the martyrs at Pergamum in Rev 2:13). His most powerful weapon was unleashed in the Garden of Eden – deception (Gen 3:1-5; Rev 12:9). It is his nuclear weapon, his weapon of mass destruction that was successfully used for maximum devastation in the Garden of Eden. It is the same weapon unsuccessfully tried against his supreme opponent: the Son of God in the wilderness at the inauguration of His public ministry (Matt 4:1-10)
What counters deception? Truth. Truth renders deception impotent.
We are warned that deception at the end of the age will be widespread, enveloping "many". Unless one continually filters the world through the lens of absolute truth, deception is inevitable sooner or later.
As Jesus warned us, vigilance is necessary.