5

Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. (Matthew 24:5, KJV)

This statement when commented on is usually understood as others coming and convincing people that they themselves are Christ. I have found no other interpretation for this statement.

What irks me is that Christ states that many come in his name. Another example of this is how we are baptized in his name (Acts 2:38).

To clarify my question I will use the method of explanation provided by Susan below.

Scripture: "So many have come in my name."

This can be taken two ways:

It can be taken as:

To come in Jesus' authority, in the same manner Peter suggests a person should be baptized (Acts 2:38).

Or as:

I (person speaking the first person) am the Christ (and shall deceive many).

In many Protestant eschatological systems, secret Rapture enthusiasts tend to associate this verse as a false Christ proclaiming to be in fact Christ.

However, it may indicate people who are believers coming with a presumed authority, perhaps or perhaps not recognized by God, and spreading a false Gospel that leads others into deception.

Are there any denominations that see this statement as referring not to someone claiming to be Christ, but coming as a believer in Christ and using his good name to deceive many?

  • Does a believer in Christ come saying "I am Christ", or is it an imposter who comes saying "I am Christ"? – Andrew Leach Dec 31 '15 at 17:26
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    It took me a couple tries, but I think the OP is suggesting that "I am Christ" might be indirect speech reported from Jesus' s perspective (= "saying that I [Jesus] am Christ"). The deception is then not this statement but rather the "come in my name" part, and whatever mischief that claim is used to promulgate. Maybe? – Susan Dec 31 '15 at 17:57
  • @susan. Yes, let me see if I can make myself clearer – Marc Dec 31 '15 at 18:10
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    In support of the imposter interpretation: it seems from the literary evidence (epistles in particular) that first-century Christianity consisted of competing factions. Each faction claimed exclusive lineage from Jesus himself, so warning that its opponents were imposters and liars. – Dick Harfield Dec 31 '15 at 21:37
  • This article suggests the deceiver will literally claim to be "Jesus"... Who was the anti-Christ in Matthew 24? – Cannabijoy May 5 '17 at 4:22
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For many will come in my name, saying, "I am the Christ," and they will lead many astray. (Matt 24:5, ESV)

In addition to the account of Jesus' words in Matthew, we have parallel accounts in both Luke (21:8) and Mark (13:6). These both lack "the Christ", and the meaning of the claim is therefore somewhat less certain. The Lukan passage has occasionally been interpreted along the lines of what I think you're getting at:

ἐγώ εἰμι (lit. "I [emphatic] am") has most often been taken to mean "I am the Christ," but by some to mean "[that] I am here" (announcing Jesus’ secret presence), or as a mark of prophetic possession in which the speaker becomes the mouthpiece of the deity... The predominant view is the correct one. (Nolland).

Nolland does not explain here why "I am the Christ" is correct. (Here and elsewhere he refers us to his unpublished PhD dissertation, which apparently discusses at greater length the incorrect interpretations.) However, in the Matthew passage this is clear from the Greek.

Absence of ὅτι (*hoti)
The identification of the referent of "I" (imposter vs. Jesus) in Matthew's report of Jesus's citation of the words of the imposter rests on the distinction between direct and indirect speech. You probably realize that there are no quotation marks or commas in the original Greek of the New Testament. Instead, Greek has other ways to mark off reported speech. Unlike English, the language itself is unambiguous here.

Most commonly, reported speech is introduced in Biblical Greek with a form of "to say", usually a participle ("saying..."). Direct speech may be introduced with or without hoti ("that"); however, in Koine Greek indirect speech requires this word.1,2 When it is absent (as here), the words immediately following the participle λεγοντες (legontes, "saying") are direct speech. The word legontes may as well be translated (as it is in many modern versions): saying,"....".

Commentaries on the Matthew passage agreeing that this refers to the claims of the deceiver to be the messiah include Nolland himself, France, A.B. Bruce, Hagner, Plummer, Blomberg. I did not find any in disagreement. This interpretation is supported not only by the grammar but also by the context, where the claimants are again mentioned in verse 24:

For false christs (pseudochristoi) and false prophets pseudoprophetai) will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

It's hard to imagine that the pseudochristoi are envisioned as anything other than "bogus Messiahs" (BDAG).

OP:

In many Protestant Eschatological systems, secret Rapture enthusiasts tend to associat[e] this verse as a false Christ proclaiming to be in fact Christ.

Although it is clear from the passage that affectations of messiahship are in view, several commentators point out that "Christ" here is likely not a name (= Jesus Christ, impersonated) but rather a title (= the m/Messiah).

The first "false alarm" is in the form of messianic claimants. A Christian reader, prompted by the specific mention of the parousia in v. 3, might think that those who will come "in Jesus’ name" claiming to be Messiah are claiming actually to be Jesus, returning at the end of the age. But the declaration "I am the Messiah" would not be the most natural way to make that claim; it sounds more like a would-be liberator presenting himself to the Jewish people for the first time. He would be coming "in Jesus’ name" not because he is impersonating Jesus but because he is claiming the role and title which properly belong to Jesus. (France)

And again,

'In My Name' or 'on the basis of My Name'...means that a claim to the title of Messiah was the ground of their pretensions: it is not meant that they would call themselves 'Jesus.' (Plummer)

France and Plummer were both Anglican (the former ordained in the Church of England). It's not clear to me that any of the other commentators consulted would disagree with the quotes above, although it's true that many, particularly Carson, stress the eschatological nature of the claim in a way that France and Plummer do not. France does not deny that the claim is eschatological, but he does explicitly deny that this passage may be used as a pattern by which to work out eschatology, an idea which may resonate with the OP's concerns:

It is remarkable how often occurrences such as those mentioned in these verses are appealed to by those who are trying to work out a pattern for eschatological events, whereas in fact they are mentioned here precisely in order to discourage such speculation and to assert that the events described are not part of an eschatological scenario, but rather routine events within world history which must not be given more weight than they deserve.


1. This is the converse situation as English, where direct speech is more flexible (hence the OP's quandary), presumably due to the additional clarity offered by quotation marks.

2. The rule as described here a bit oversimplified, following the linked introductory grammar. It's actually possible to put an infinitive in that position to represent indirect speech (e.g. Matt 22:23: "saying not to-be resurrection" = "saying that there is no resurrection"). In our passage, though, "I am he" is a finite verb and can not have a subject other than the reported speaker. Of note, the clarity of this participle + quote construction is owed to Matthew's Semitizing style; ancient Greek (and, in fact, the parallel passages in Luke and Mark) generally used ὅτι to introduce both indirect and direct speech, making the distinction more complicated.

  • Excellent Answer, I have to give credit where it is due. There does not seem to be a diffinative interpretation leaving open the possiblility of not only one way of viewing the passage but understanding in both ways. It is not before the fullness of time that we will understand what he means. An example of this is the Messionic Prophecies, Nobody, not even the angels understood the words of God to point towards the incarnation. For that reason, and that of the current reality of Christianity, I see the passage pointing to both direct and indirect speech. Well done Susan. – Marc Jan 2 '16 at 18:44
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Yes.

The Swedenborgian or "New Church" denominations that accept the Christian theology and Bible interpretations of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) interpret Matthew 24:5 and similar verses in precisely this way: as referring, not to people claiming to be Christ, but to Christian churches and people teaching false doctrine as Christian truth, and in this way deceiving people and leading them astray.

Passages from Apocalypse Explained

Here are three statements to that effect from Swedenborg's unpublished (by him) commentary on the book of Revelation, Apocalypse Explained:

"Many shall come in my name, saying, I am: go ye not therefore after them." (Luke 21:8; Mark 13:6)

These people "coming in the name of the Lord" and saying "I am" denotes preaching false doctrines and declaring that they are true, and thus leading astray. The same is signified by these words in Matthew:

"Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many." (Matthew 24:5, 11, 23-27)

For by "Jesus" is meant the Lord as to Divine good, and by "Christ," the Lord as to Divine truth (Arcana Coelestia, #3004, 3005, 3009, 5502), and by not being Christ, is signified, not Divine truth, but falsity. (Apocalypse Explained #102:3, links added for references)

And another (where Swedenborg refers to the Bible as "the Word," which was the standard term for it in his day). Here he states very plainly that this passage does not mean people calling themselves Christ:

"See that no one seduce you; for many shall come in my name, saying, I am the Christ, and shall seduce many. If any one say to you, Lo, here is Christ, or there, believe it not, for there will arise false Christs and false prophets." (Matthew 24:4, 5, 23, 24; Mark 13:21-23)

This must not be understood as meaning that there will arise those who will call themselves the Christ or Christs, but those who will falsify the Word, and say that this or that is Divine Truth when it is not. Those who confirm falsities from the Word are meant by false Christs, and those who propagate falsities of doctrine are meant by false prophets. For these two chapters treat of the successive devastation of the church, thus of the falsification of the Word, and at length of the profanation of truth therefrom. But these things may be seen further explained in the Arcana Coelestia, #3353–3356, and #3897–3901. (Apocalypse Explained #684:7, links added for the first section in each range of references)

And another, where by "church" Swedenborg means the existing Christian Church:

"Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall lead many astray. But ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled; for nation shall rise up against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes." (Matt. 24:5–7; Mark 13:6–8; Luke 21:8–11)

This was said by the Lord to the disciples concerning the consummation of the age, which signifies the state of the church at its end, which is described in those chapters, therefore it also means the successive perversion and falsification of the truth and good of the Word, until nothing remains but falsity and evil therefrom. Those who shall come in His name and call themselves Christ, and shall lead many astray, signify that those shall come who will say that this is Divine Truth, when nevertheless it is truth falsified, which in itself is falsity; for by Christ is meant the Lord as to Divine Truth, but here, in the opposite sense, truth falsified. (Apocalypse Explained #734:24)

In other words, Swedenborg is saying that at the consummation of the age, by which he understood the spiritual end of the existing Christian Church, Christians and the various Christian churches would teach false doctrine as Christian truth, and that this is the meaning of "false Christs."

Passages from Arcana Coelestia

In Arcana Coelestia ("Secrets of Heaven"), Swedenborg provides a detailed commentary on the "Little Apocalypse" in Matthew 24. It is far too long to quote here, but it may be found in Arcana Coelestia #3353–3356, 3486–3489, 3650–3655, 3751–3757, 3897–3901, 4056–4060, 4229–4231, 4332–4335, and 4422–4424 (links are provided for the first section in each range).

Here are the parts of his commentary most relevant to the question.

First, he provides his overall view of the prophecies of the end times, which, he says, are not to be understood as relating to literal events that will take place physically in the material world, but rather as having a spiritual meaning relating to events that will take place spiritually in humanity in general and in the Christian Church in particular:

The majority of people believe that when the Last Judgement comes everything visible in the world is going to perish—that is to say, the earth will go up in flames, the sun and moon will be reduced to nothing, and the stars will disappear; and after that a new heaven and a new earth will come into being. They have acquired this idea from the prophetical revelations, among which such occurrences are mentioned. But what will in fact happen at that time is quite different, as becomes clear from what has been shown already concerning the Last Judgement in 900, 931, 1850, 2117-2133. Those paragraphs show that the Last Judgement is nothing else than the end of the Church with one group of people and the beginning of it with another. This end with one and beginning with another occurs when the Lord is not acknowledged any longer, or what amounts to the same, when there is no faith any longer. No acknowledgement or faith exists any longer when there is no charity any longer, for faith is in no way possible except with those in whom charity is present. In those circumstances the Church comes to an end and is transferred to others, as is plainly evident from all the things that the Lord Himself taught and foretold in the Gospels concerning the last day or the close of the age—in Matthew 24; Mark 13; and Luke 21. But since nobody without the key, which is the internal sense, is able to understand those things foretold by Him there, let them be explained one after another. (Arcana Coelestia #3353:1, links added)

He then goes on to provide a verse-by-verse explanation of the entire chapter, starting with this:

Here first let the following words be explained which appear in Matthew,

The disciples came to Jesus, saying, Tell us. when will those things take place, and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the close of the age? And Jesus answering said to them, See that no one leads you astray, for many will come in My name, saying, I am the Christ; and they will lead many astray. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, see that you are not alarmed; for all things must take place; but the end is not yet. For nation will be roused against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines, and plagues, and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of sorrows. (Matthew 24:3–8)

Those who confine themselves to the sense of the letter cannot know whether these words and those that follow in this chapter refer to the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of the Jews, or whether they refer to the end of days which is called the Last Judgement. But those admitted into the internal sense see clearly that the end of the Church is being referred to, this end being that which here and in other places is called "the coming of the Lord" and "the close of the age." And inasmuch as the end of the Church is meant one is able to see that all these statements made by the Lord mean such things as have to do with the Church. But their overall meaning may be seen from the individual meaning below which each of them has in the internal sense.

Many will come in My name, saying, I am the Christ; and they will lead many astray.

"Name" here does not mean name, nor "the Christ" the Christ, but "name" means that by which the Lord is worshipped, 2724, 3006, while "the Christ" means truth itself, 3009, 3010. Thus the meaning is that people will come who say that this is the sum and substance of faith, that is, it is the truth, when in fact it is neither the sum and substance of faith, nor the truth, but falsity. (Arcana Coelestia #3353:2, links added)

I have not quoted the rest of his explanation of the initial section of Matthew quoted, but you can see it at the final link provided.

In the next section, he steps back and comments on how the Christian Church began to become corrupt, and its teachings falsified:

These individual meanings show what the Lord's words are used to mean, namely the first state of the perversion of the Church, which occurs when people cease to know any longer what good is and what truth is, and instead argue with one another about them, which gives rise to falsities. But because this is only the first state it is said that the end is not yet, and that these are the beginning of sorrows; and that state is referred to as earthquakes in various places, which in the internal sense means an alteration of the state of the Church–a partial or initial alteration. The fact that this was told to the disciples means that it was addressed to all who belonged to the Church, for the twelve disciples represented these, 2089, 2129, 2130. This explains why they are told, "See that no one leads you astray," and also, "When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, see that you are not alarmed." (Arcana Coelestia #3354, links added)

When he speaks of this occurring "when people cease to know any longer what good is and what truth is, and instead argue with one another about them, which gives rise to falsities," he is referring to the division, discord, rancorous debate about doctrine within Christianity that led up to and followed the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD—which he saw as heralding the beginning of the end of the Christian Church both doctrinally and in terms of Christian charity.

The existing Christian Church as "false Christs"

Swedenborg, then, saw the "false Christs" as coming very early in the history of the existing Christian church, when various Christian theologians and bishops began arguing about doctrinal tenets instead of following the two Great Commandments given by Jesus Christ himself: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:34–40; Mark 12:28–34; Luke 10:25–28)—which had been the spirit and practice of the early Christians of the first century or so after Christ.

When, instead of loving one another as Christ commanded, the various leaders and parties within Christianity began attacking one another, anathematizing one another, excommunicating one another, exiling one another, and damning one another to hell, this, Swedenborg believed, marked the effective end of the Christian Church as a truly Christian church that followed the teachings of Jesus Christ as given in the Gospels. And the subsequent dark history of the institutions of Christianity and their internecine battles only added more evidence to Swedenborg's view that starting in at least 325 AD, the Christian church was "Christian in name only, but not in reality and essence" (True Christian Religion #668).

The resulting doctrines that came out of the First Council of Nicaea and the subsequent councils and creeds over the centuries, right up through the Protestant Reformation and its further degradation and falsification of Christian doctrine, Swedenborg believed, represented "false Christs" that deceived and led astray the entire Christian Church throughout the vast bulk of its history.

Summary and conclusion

I recognize that this view will not sit will with members of the existing Christian Church.

However, this serves to show that Emanuel Swedenborg and the various denominations that accept his Christian theology and Bible interpretations do indeed understand Matthew 25:4, "For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Christ' and they will lead many astray," as referring, not to people claiming to be Christ, but rather as people who are believers in Christ (meaning Christians) using Christ's good name to deceive many by teaching false doctrines.

I would simply ask that if you vote on this answer, you vote not based on whether or not you agree with this answer or even find the beliefs expressed troubling, but on whether it provides a solid answer to the question asked.

Whether or not you agree with Swedenborg's reasoning, conclusions, and views of the existing Christian Church in all of its major branches, he did teach precisely the alternative view of Matthew 24:5 that the question asks about—and that view is held to in the Swedenborgian or New Church denominations that follow his teachings.

  • A solid answer. And if Swedenborg's exegesis is correct then he would probably accept that many other Christians would see him and his followers in the same way as he saw them ;) – curiousdannii May 5 '17 at 9:46
  • @curiousdannii Thanks. And yes, Swedenborg was well aware of what traditional Christians thought of his theology. – Lee Woofenden May 6 '17 at 1:46

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