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How to Tell Between the Promised Christ and False Christs

I write on diverse religious issues, often analysing perspectives from the Abrahamic faiths (Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and Bahá’í).

How do you tell a true Christ from false Christs?

How do you tell a true Christ from false Christs?

Warnings About False Prophets

Some time ago, while discoursing with an acquaintance about the Bahá’í Faith (the new religion founded by Bahá’u’lláh in Persia in 1844), I was curtly reminded of a warning in the Bible—that in the end-times people would come falsely claiming to be the Christ, that wily religious movements would arise in the world trying to say they were from God. And notwithstanding the warning, many would fall prey to their deceptive messages.

We now examine the meaning, purpose, and implications of such a warning.

The international archives building of the Bahá’í Faith, on the slopes of Mount Carmel, in Haifa, Israel.

The international archives building of the Bahá’í Faith, on the slopes of Mount Carmel, in Haifa, Israel.

The Gospel Warnings in Context

Before embarking on our exploration, let’s identify the context of the warnings about which there is broad consensus among worshippers:

1. Jesus Will Return

What all can agree on is that Jesus did indeed promise the coming of the Son of man, the Christ, at the end times. There is going to be an Advent, and a Christ will appear on earth once again in person. Prophecies were given pertaining to this Advent to help Christian believers attain.

2. There Will Be False Christs

The second thing all can acknowledge is that Jesus did indeed warn the faithful, in the context of trying to attain to the Son of man, to beware of false prophets, false teachers, and false claims. One such warning can be found in the Gospel of Mark:

And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not: For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. (Mark 13:21-22)

(The King James Version is the source of biblical references in this article)

What the End-Time Warnings Do Not Mean

All the same, these warnings must surely come with a caveat. Although Jesus did warn about false prophets, one must be careful not to let that warning, which was meant to be a guide, become an obstacle to the truth. The warning that false prophets will arise is not the same as no true Prophet will appear. False Christs will come does not mean the True One will not come. It simply means one must be vigilant and not allow oneself to be misled by false claims when they are made.

How different are the appearances of a true and false prophet?

How different are the appearances of a true and false prophet?

A Second Look at the Bible

So, what can a believer do amid such clear warnings?

What a believer can first do is take a closer look at the Bible itself, because ironically this is what is often missing in discourses of this nature.

The Prophetic Themes of the Bible

The Bible, as we know, is the source of divine teachings, heavenly exhortations, and amazing prophecies. There are prophecies in both the Old and the New Testaments. The prophecies of the Old Testament touch on the circumstances of (what turned out to be) the original ministry of Jesus as well as on his promised return. The prophecies of the New Testament are mostly focused on the Return, the Second Coming, of the Christ.

The Historical Themes of the Bible

Now, the teachings, exhortations, and prophecies constitute one part of the Bible. Unlike some other holy books, the Bible has a second part, and this is historical in nature. Being part of scripture means this second part is also incredibly important and has profound lessons to offer the faithful.

Unfortunately, and this is where things often go wrong, not every believer tries to learn lessons from the historical part of the Bible. This part is seen more like an interesting saga for a believer to read and move on. But that should not be the case. Every biblical story has profound lessons for worshippers.

The historical narratives of the Bible have profound lessons for the faithful.

The historical narratives of the Bible have profound lessons for the faithful.

The Main Protagonists of the Bible Narrative

In the main, the historical part of the Bible is a narrative about a people, the children of Israel. They were a people chosen by God, who were led, guided, and protected by Him. They were blessed when they were obedient to His commandments and punished when they rebelled. At some point in their long history, they were given the glad tidings of the advent of a Messiah in their midst—a Holy Personage who would act as a powerful Mediator between them and God. His coming, they were promised, would bring about the exaltation of their nation and usher in a long-lasting era of peace and tranquility.

Naturally, this promise was conditioned on their acceptance of the Messiah’s presence and submission to his commands.

The Messiah came, he was denied.

The Relevance of the Jewish Story

The Jewish story does provide a compelling model for the guidance of the Christian believer, on the following grounds:

It offers insights into how the promises of the First Coming were fulfilled thus providing clues for the general understanding of prophecy. It also helps one to see how the Jews got it so wrong with the coming of their promised Messiah. From these, lessons can be learned to serve as a guide in any quest to attain to the Second Coming.

The Challenge Facing Christians

The point is, if the Jews, God’s chosen people, got it wrong at the appearance of Jesus, it stands to reason that the Christians can get it even more wrong if the lessons of the Jewish story have not been learned. This is because Christians have the lessons of history to learn from, lessons that the Jews never had.

For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required… (Luke 12:48)

Christians have been given much, much more in knowledge, in insight, than the Jews ever had. They have the benefit of hindsight that the Jews never had. Their failure, the failure of the Christians to attain to the end-time Christ, must therefore come with a bigger penalty.

And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. (Luke 12:47)

Reasons for the Failure of the Jews

Let’s now try to understand why the Jews, despite all the prophecies at their disposal from so many of their own prophets, got it all wrong and in the end crucified their Messiah.

1. Nazareth, the Home of Jesus

The Gospel often referred to him as Jesus of Nazareth. This is because Jesus was known to the Jewish populace as hailing from Nazareth, a city in the region of Galilee. Yet the coming of the Messiah from the city of Nazareth and the region of Galilee was problematic for the Jews in terms of biblical prophecy. Even Nathanael, a convert to the new cause, had questioned when he first heard of Jesus:

Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? (John 1:46)

Nicodemus was castigated by fellow Pharisees thus:

Art thou also of Galilee? Search, and look: for out of Galilee ariseth no prophet. (John 7:52)

Therefore, the fact that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and even the fact that his family was known to the Jews, made him appear as a false prophet. It was generally believed, after all, that the Messiah would appear suddenly from an unknown place and his background would be unknown.

And that is exactly what the Jews said:

Do the rulers know indeed that this is the very Christ? Howbeit we know this man whence he is: but when Christ cometh, no man knoweth whence he is. (John 7:26-27)

In other words, the Jews reasoned: “We know where this man comes from, but the Christ will come from an unknown place. And because we know where this man comes from, he cannot be the Christ in spite of everything else.”

What would you have done if you were a Jew living in Israel in those days and confronted with this anomaly?

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

2. The Return of Elijah

It had long been prophesied in Malachi 4:5 that Elijah the Prophet (also known as Elias) would return before that great day of the Messiah. This prophecy was well-known to the Jews. And so, as soon as information came that John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness of Judaea, they did what was needful. They (according to John 1:19-24) dispatched priests and Levites from the ranks of the Pharisees to confirm his identity.

They asked him if he was any of these three: The Christ, Elijah, or “that prophet” — “that prophet” presumably a reference to the Prophet promised by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18. To all three questions John the Baptist replied in the negative.

Those answers should have settled the matter: John was not the promised Elijah. Yet it was deeply problematic in the sense that to the Jews, it meant Jesus could in no way be the Messiah, and the scribes made that clear to his disciples. And although Jesus did subsequently clarify that John the Baptist was in fact the promised Elijah (see Matthew 17:10-13), what would you have done if you were a Jew in those days?

Whose account would have been more credible to you: John the Baptist who said he was not Elijah or Jesus of Nazareth whom many suspected was a false prophet anyway? How could the arguments coming solely from the mouth of Jesus, the Messianic claimant, be considered credible?

That is another question to be pondered over.

John the Baptist even baptised Jesus on the banks of the Jordan River.

John the Baptist even baptised Jesus on the banks of the Jordan River.

3. The Law of the Sabbath

This is what God had commanded the children of Israel:

Ye shall keep the sabbath… for it is holy unto you: every one that defileth it shall surely be put to death… (Exodus 31:14)

And further:

Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the sabbath, to observe the sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever… (Exodus 31:16-17)

Here we see that the Sabbath is holy; anyone who defiles it will have to be put to death; it is a sign between God and the children of Israel forever. Forever.

And yet Jesus, the supposed Prophet, was seen to break what was meant to be a perpetual covenant and a sign between the children of Israel and God forever. When confronted by the Pharisees for that sacrilegious act, Jesus’ seemingly bizarre response was:

The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: Therefore the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. (Mark 2:27-28)

Because of his apparent lukewarm attitude towards the observance of the Sabbath, some of the Pharisees concluded:

This man is not of God, because he keepeth not the sabbath day. (John 9:16)

What would you have done if you were a Jew in those days? After appearing to violate what was to the Jews an inviolable law of God, would you have regarded Jesus as a true Christ or a false prophet?

4. Miscellaneous Episodes

There were other incidents involving Jesus that were equally unsettling for the Jews. In their eyes, therefore, Jesus could not be anything more than a charlatan. Thus, we read in the Gospel:

And there was much murmuring among the people concerning him: for some said, He is a good man: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth the people. (John 7:12)

The Lessons From Biblical History

Why are these well-known narratives being rehearsed here? They are because there are profound lessons to be learned from them. In spite of all that has been narrated, we know that Jesus was true, and the Jews were the ones in the wrong.

We now go over some of the lessons that can be learned from the Jewish experience:

1. Man’s Interpretation of Prophecy Is Unreliable

So, the first lesson in all these is that one needs to exercise a lot of caution when trying to understand the prophecies, because one may likely not get it right. It is for this reason the Apostle Peter warned the faithful in the following stark terms:

Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (II Peter 1:20-21)

Here, Peter cautions us not to even attempt an interpretation of the prophecies.

2. All Judgment Is With the Christ Alone

The second lesson is that at the time of the Advent, the Holy One it is who has the final say. He is the Judge and the only one with the mandate to judge. That is why the coming of the Son of man is also the Day of Judgment because he comes to judge all things, reorder all things, and re-interpret all things.

This point must be carefully noted: It is not bishops, not theologians, who decide how events unfold at the end times. It is the Christ of the Second Coming and he alone who has the right to interpret what was meant by the end-time prophecies.

No wonder the Apostle Paul also warned:

Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who… will bring to light the hidden things of darkness…. (I Corinthians 4:5)

No theologian can infallibly predict when or how the Christ comes.

No theologian can infallibly predict when or how the Christ comes.

3. The True and the False Can Look Alike

This point must be carefully noted: Despite issuing warnings to his followers to beware of false Christs and false prophets, Jesus himself was denounced as a false Christ and a false prophet. This was the reason for his crucifixion.

So, another lesson from the past is that it is extremely easy to mistake the True One for a false prophet. And that is precisely because he is unlikely to appear and act according to the general expectations, prevailing doctrines, and popular interpretations among the masses of believers.

Jesus was crucified because he was suspected of being a false Christ and a false prophet.

Jesus was crucified because he was suspected of being a false Christ and a false prophet.

4. The Lingering Effect of False Expectations

So, the Jews failed miserably when Jesus appeared in their midst. Given the circumstances, they could be forgiven for their failure. What is rather strange is what happened later.

Having been driven out of, and dispersed from, their homeland after the Crucifixion (as Jesus had predicted in Matthew 23:37-38), it is strange that they still failed to recognise the station of Jesus while sheltering as refugees among his followers. They were dispersed among Christian nations of Europe and elsewhere around the world. And down the centuries, they witnessed the overwhelming majesty, reach, power, prestige, and ascendancy of the faith of Jesus, the one they had earlier despised. Oddly enough, they took no pride in seeing the universal influence of Jesus, who was one of their own—a man of Jewish descent, and not a Gentile.

And all this because of a little misinterpretation of prophecy. All this because of their misguided belief that he had been a false prophet. Under other circumstances, they would have been proud, extremely proud, of what he had achieved. In this case, however, they were not—because they mistook him, and still mistake him, for a false Messiah. And this story should also serve as a warning to Christians.

This is what unfortunately happens when undue emphasis is placed on prophecy (the true import of which is often lost on believers).

How to Search for the True One

So, no matter the warnings about false prophets, the first port of call for a Christian when apprised of a Messianic claim should not be to prophecy. To attempt to investigate any Messianic claim through the prism of prophecy is ill-advised. Such a route can be fraught with tremendous danger, as we have seen.

In trying to attain to the truth of the Last Day, believers should tread the spiritual route, focus less on prophecy, and learn to strictly follow what Jesus and the Apostles had exhorted the faithful to do:

1. Watch for the Signs and Pray Always

Jesus exhorts seekers as follows:

Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. (Luke 21:36)

And Peter also counsels:

But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. (I Peter 4:7)

By "watching" is meant to search and investigate any news that comes, no matter how implausible. And to pray is to acknowledge that it is only through divine assistance rather than through one’s own faculties or reliance on man-made doctrines that one would ultimately attain to the truth of the Advent.

Watch at all times because no aspect of the Messianic appearance is likely to conform to the popular expectations.

Watch at all times because no aspect of the Messianic appearance is likely to conform to the popular expectations.

2. Seek for Truth With the Attitude of a Child

Before proceeding to investigate any Messianic claim, one must also adopt the attitude of a child:

Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Jesus, in Matthew 18:3)

The attitude of humility, purity, and innocence as found in children allows one to investigate matters of this nature with the right frame of mind—free of any prejudices and unencumbered by doctrines and superstitions.

In other words, one must first free one’s mind and heart of all the preconceived interpretations of prophecy, of any attachment to church dogmas, or of all man-made expectations of the Advent. This is one of the most important lessons of the First Coming.

When it comes to the Promised Advent, the doctrines espoused by the Church may be of little help to worshippers.

When it comes to the Promised Advent, the doctrines espoused by the Church may be of little help to worshippers.

3. Investigate the Life of the Claimant

In attempting to understand the claims of any Messianic pretender, one would have no choice but to take an earnest look at his life and teachings. After all the proof of the sun is the sun itself. What is the point of proving the existence of the sun by mathematical measurements and astronomical predictions when the sun is visible in the sky for all to see? The sun is its own proof. In the same way, the true Mediator of God is his own proof, not prophecy.

And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. (John 1:5)

You don't need mathematical computations to prove the existence of the sun.

You don't need mathematical computations to prove the existence of the sun.

4. Taste the Fruits of the Claimant

As part of one’s investigation, one would also want to take a hard look at the fruits of the claimant. Such an effort would align with the infallible standard set by Jesus himself for distinguishing between a true and a false prophet:

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits.

By this, Jesus has given believers a very simple way of separating a true Prophet from a false one. First look at the fruit of the claimant.

Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

If the fruit is good, then automatically the tree is good. If the fruit is bad, the tree is automatically bad. And this is because a tree that is good cannot give bad fruit, and neither can a bad tree give good fruit.

Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matthew 7:15-20)

A tree that does not yield good fruit will not last but will inevitably be cut down and burnt. In other words, a false religion cannot last; it will disappear sooner or later.

A true Prophet can be recognised by his fruits.

A true Prophet can be recognised by his fruits.

5. Approach the Claimant for His Interpretations

Yet confirming the wholesomeness of the fruits of a Messianic claimant may still not be enough for some seekers. So there remains one more step, especially for those intoxicated by the opiate of prophecy.

This is what the Jews failed to do in relation to Jesus, unlike the disciples. This step involves humbly approaching the claimant himself to seek clarification about how his coming brings the prophecies to complete fulfilment, or in other words how he himself interprets the prophecies of the Last Day.

The Only One With the Truth

The reality is that the only one who fully understands the prophecies of the Bible is God Himself, not man. And this knowledge of God flows to man through His Mediator. So it is to the Mediator, the Christ, and the Christ alone, that one goes to seek enlightenment about the prophecies.

In other words, do not look at the claimant and assess him through your own defective eyes, but try to do so through his eyes. If he is the True One, you will be surprised at how, with his interpretations and his insights, all the prophecies and scriptural mysteries begin to fall into place and make perfect sense.

False prophets will come, and many have already done so. Our inescapable responsibility, however, is to unerringly discover the True One.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Kobina Amissah-Fynn