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Matthew 24:5
False Prophets in First Century

"For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many."

I John 2:18
"Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time."

I John 4:1
"..many false prophets are gone out into the world."

 

Simon Magus

Acts 8:9-10
"But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:
"To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God."

Henry Hammond (1681)
"Simon Magnus set himself to contend against the Apostles, that he might also appear glorious. He was for his Magick honored with a statue by Claudius Caesar. He was glorified by many as a God, and taught that himself was he that appeared as the Son among the Jews, that in Samaria he descended as the Father, and in other nations came as the Holy Ghost. That he was the most sublime virtue, that is, he which was the Father over all, and that he was content to be called by the highest titles that any man did call him." (A Paraphrase, p. 272)

J.P. Lange (1878)
"All those are essentially false Messiahs, who would assume the place which belongs to Christ in the kingdom of God. It includes, therefore, the enthusiasts who before the destruction of Jerusalem appeared as seducers of the people." (Commentary on Matthew xxiv, 5)

Leighton Pullan (1965)
"The Chief representatives of early Gnosticism were Simon Magus and his pupil Meander. There can be no reasonable doubt that Simon endeavoured to be a rival of Christ, and that he came to teach in Rome. He represented himself as God and the Word of God" (The Olivet Prophecy, p. 223)

Eusebius (325)
(Regarding Simon Magus) "After the Lord was taken up into heaven the demons put forth a number of men who claimed to be gods. These not only escape being persecuted by you, but were actually the objects of worship - for example Simon, a Samaritan from the village called Gittho, who in Claudius Caesar's time, thanks to the art of the demons who possessed him, worked wonders of magic, and in your imperial city of Rome was regarded as a god, and like a god was honoured by you with a statue in the River Tiber between the two bridges. It bears this inscription in Latin, SIMONI DEO SANCTO. Almost all Samaritans, and a few from other nations too, ackowledge him as their principle god, and worship him." (p. 86)

 

Theudas

Acts 5:36
"For before these days (12 years after the death of Christ) rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought."

Eusebius (325)
(Regarding Theudas) "When Fadus was procurator of Judea, an imposter called Theudas persuaded a vast crowd to take their belongings and follow him to the River Jordan; for he claimed to be a prophet, and promised to divide the river by his command and provide them with an easy crossing. A great many people were deceived by this talk. Fadus however did not allow them to enjoy their folly, but sent a troop of calvary against them. These attacked them without warning, killed many, and took many alive, capturing Theudas himself, whose head they cut off and conveyed to Jerusalem." (pp.84-85)

 

Egyptian Prophet

Acts 21:38
"Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?"

Eusebius (325)
(Regarding the Egyptian of Acts 21:38) "A greater blow than this was inflicted on the Jews by the Egyptian false prophet. Arriving in the country this man, a fraud who posed as a seer, collected about 30,000 dupes, led them round by the wild country to the Mount of Olives, and from there was ready to force an entry into Jerusalem, overwhelm the Roman garrison, and seize supreme power, with his fellow-raiders as bodyguards. But Felix anticipated his attempt by meeting him with the Roman heavy infantry, the whole population rallying to the defense, so that when the clash occurred the Egyptian fled with a handful of men and most of his followers were killed or captured." (pp. 96-97)

"These works, that were done by the robbers, filled the city with all sorts of impiety. And now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God. And many that were prevailed on by them suffered the punishments of their folly; for Felix brought them back, and then punished them. Moreover, there came out of Egypt about this time to Jerusalem one that said he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the Mount of Olives, as it was called, which lay over against the city, and at the distance of five furlongs. He said further, that he would show them from hence how, at his command, the walls of Jerusalem would fall down; and he promised them that he would procure them an entrance into the city through those walls, when they were fallen down. Now when Felix was informed of these things, he ordered his soldiers to take their weapons, and came against them with a great number of horsemen and footmen from Jerusalem, and attacked the Egyptian and the people that were with him. He also slew four hundred of them, and took two hundred alive. But the Egyptian himself escaped out of the fight, but did not appear any more. And again the robbers stirred up the people to make war with the Romans, and said they ought not to obey them at all; and when any persons would not comply with them, they set fire to their villages, and plundered them. (Book XX, Chapter VIII, Section 6)

Johann Philip Schabalie (1635)
"Josephus informs us that an Egyptian false prophet led 30,000 into the desert, who were almost entirely cut off by Felix, the Roman procurator.  And that in the reign of Claudius, "the land was overrun with magicians, seducers, and imposters, who drew the people after them in multitudes into solitudes and deserts, to see the signs and miracles, which they promised to show by the power of God.  Josephus, Antiq. lib. 20, c. viii., 6" (p. 409)

Judas of Galilee

Acts 5:37
"After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed."

False Prophet on Temple Mount

Martin Goodman
"It is admittedly now difficult to tell how much this was the case in the first-century Judaea, for neither Josephus nor the New Testament was likely to give an honest description of contemporary messianic fervour if it tended commonly to impel Jews towards irrational hostility to Rome.  Nonetheless it is striking that even when the siege of Jerusalem was at its height in A.D.70, the belief that God was about to deliver to the Jews the signs of their salvation led a crowd of six thousand, including women and children, to await their deliverance by just standing passively in the Temple court at the urging of a 'false prophet' (B.J. 6.283-5).  They were all burnt to death." (The Ruling Class of Judaea, pp. 90-91)

Others / General References

Chrysostom
"What then saith He? "Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many.(1) And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that ye be not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet."(2)

For since they felt as being told of vengeance falling on others when hearing of that which was to be brought upon Jerusalem and as though they were to be out of the turmoils, and were dreaming of good things only, and looked for these to befall them quite immediately; for this cause He again foretells to them grievous things, making them earnest, and commanding them on two grounds to watch, so as neither to be seduced by the deceit of them that would beguile them, nor to be overpowered by the violence of ills that should overtake them.

"For the war, saith He, shall be twofold that of the deceivers, and that of the enemies, but the former far more grievous, as coming upon them in the confusion and turmoils, and when men were terrified and troubled. For indeed great was the storm then, when the Roman power was beginning to flourish, and cities were taken, and camps and weapons were set in motion, and many were readily believed.

"But of wars in Jerusalem is He speaking; for it is not surely of those without, and everywhere in the world; for what did they care for these? And besides, He would thus say nothing new, if He were speaking of the calamities of the world at large, which are happening always. For before this, were wars, and tumults, and fightings; but He speaks of the Jewish wars coming upon them at no great distance, for henceforth the Roman arms were a matter of anxiety. Since then these things also were sufficient to confound them, He foretells them all." (HOMILY ST. MATTHEW )

Adam Clarke (1837)
"Verse 26. If they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert— Is it not worthy of remark that our Lord not only foretold the appearance of these impostors, but also the manner and circumstances of their conduct? Some he mentions as appearing in the desert. Josephus says, ANT. b. xx. c. 7, and WAR, book ii. c. 13: That many impostors and cheats persuaded the people to follow them to the desert, promising to show them signs and wonders done by the providence of God, is well attested. An Egyptian false prophet, mentioned by Josephus, ANT. b. xx. c. 7, and in the Acts, Acts 21:38, led out into the DESERT four thousand men, who were murderers, but these were all taken or destroyed by Felix. Another promised salvation to the people, if they would follow him to the DESERT, and he was destroyed by Festus, ANT. b. xx. c. 7. Also, one Jonathan, a weaver, persuaded a number to follow him to the DESERT, but he was taken and burnt alive by Vespasian. See WAR, b. vii. c. 11.

As some conducted their deluded followers to the DESERT, so did others to the secret chambers. Josephus mentions a false prophet, WAR, b. vi. c. 5, who declared to the people in the city, that God commanded them to go up into the temple, and there they should receive the signs of deliverance. A multitude of men, women, and children, went up accordingly; but, instead of deliverance, the place was set on fire by the Romans, and 6,000 perished miserably in the flames, or in attempting to escape them." (Adam Clarke's Commentary On Matthew 24)

Jonathan Edwards
2. "Tis evident that when Christ speaks of his coming; his being revealed; his coming in his Kingdom; or his Kingdom's coming; He has respect to his appearing in those great works of his Power Justice and Grace, which should be in the Destruction of Jerusalem and other extraordinary Providences which should attend it. so in Luke 17. 2[0] to the End with Chap. 18. 1---8. Christ speaks of the Kingdom of God's coming; of the coming of the Days of the son of man; of the son of mans being revealed & of the son of mans coming.   But yet tis Evident, He has Respect to the Destruction of Jerusalem, by Chap. 17. 37; "And They answered & said unto Him where Lord? [? by c] And He said unto Them, wheresoever the Body is, thither will the Eagles be gathered together." see also Chap. 19. 13, 14, 15. . so when the Disciples had been observing the magnificence of the Temple, and Christ had said to them, "verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down;" having Respect to the Destruction of Jerurusalem [sic]; The Disciples ask Him, when these Things should be? [c] and what should be the signs of his coming & of the End of the world? [c] by Christs coming, They have plainly a Respect to that Time of the Destruction of the Temple which Christ had spoken of; and therefore there <their c> Question is thus expressed by St Mark, Mark. 13. 3, 4, "Tell us when shall THESE THINGS be? [c] and what shall be the sign when all THESE THINGS shall be fulfilled" and in like manner by St Luke. Chap 21. 7. And Christ has many Things in his Answer agreable to this sense of his Question. In his Answer He proceeds to speak of his coming, & of the Destruction of Jerusalem, both in one. He warns em to beware of others that should COME in his stead; Matt. 24. 4, 5. Then He proceeds to tell em what will preceed [sic] the END: i.e the End of the T which the Disciples enquired after: and tells em what shall be signs of its approach. Matt. 24. 15--21. 28. & more plainly Luke 21. 20---24." (miscellany 1199)

Eusebius (325)
"Meander, who succeeded Simon Magus, exhibited himself in his conduct an instrument of diabolical wickedness, not inferior to the former. He also, was a Samaritan, and having made no less progress in his impostures than his master, revelled in still more arrogant pretensions to miracles; saying that he was in truth the Saviour, once sent from the invisible worlds for the salvation of men; teaching also, that no one could overcome even the very angels that formed the heavens in any other way, than by being first initiated into the magic discipline imparted by him, and by the baptism conferred by him for this purpose." (Book 3, Ch. 26)

John Gill (1809)
"It was usual for these imposters to lead their followers into deserts, pretending to work wonders in such solitary places: so during the siege, Simon, the son of Giora, collected together many thousands in the mountains and desert parts of Judaea; and the above-mentioned Jonathan, after the destruction of the city, lead great multitudes into the desert: behold, he is in the secret chambers, believe it not; or should others say, behold, or for certain, the Messiah is in some one of the secret and fortified places of the temple; where, during some time of the siege, were John and Eleazar, the heads of the zealots; do not believe them. Some reference may be had to the chamber of secrets, which was in the temple; 'for in the sanctuary there were two chambers; one was called ... the chamber of secrets, and the other the chamber of vessels' " (John Gill, on Matthew 24:26).

Flavius Josephus (A.D. 75)
"A false prophet was the occasion of these people's destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now, there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God; and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes. Now, a man that is in adversity does easily comply with such promises; for when such a seducer makes him believe that he shall be delivered from those miseries which oppress him, then it is that the patient is full of hopes of such deliverance." ( The History Of The Destruction Of Jerusalem Book VI, Chapter V, Section 2).

Kett's History
"... from the death of Herod the Great.. to the destruction of the Temple, the Jewish History is filled with the names of false Christs and false prophets who deceived both the Jews and Samaratins. None appeared before this period, and not more than one for five or six centuries after it." (Kett, 3rd Edit. vol I, o. 168)

Dr. Thomas Newton (1753)
(On Matthew 24:4-5)
"False Christs our Saviour mentions as the first sign of his coming, ver. 4 and 5 ,-- 'Take heed that no man deceive you, for many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.' With this he begins in all the evangelists, and in all useth almost the very same words; only in St. Luke, xxi. 8, he addeth 'the time draweth near;' and indeed within a little time this part of the prophecy began to be fulfilled. For very soon after our Saviour's decease appeared Simon Magus, Acts viii. 9, 10,-- ' and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one: to whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying This man is the great power of God! He boasted himself likewise among the Jews, as the Son of God. Of the same stamp and character was also Dositheus the Samaritan, who pretended that he was the Christ foretold by Moses. In the reign of Claudius, about twelve years after the death of our Saviour, when Cuspius Fadus was procurator of Judea, a certain impostor, named Theudas, persuaded a great mu1titude with their beat effects to follow him to the river Jordan; for he said that he was a prophet, and promised to divide the river for their passage, and "saying these things he deceived many," saith Josephus. But Fadus sent a troop of horse against them, who falling unexpectedly upon them, killed many, and made many prisoners; and having taken Theudas himself alive, they cut off his head, and brought it to Jerusalem. A few years afterwards, in the reign of Nero, and under the procuratorship of Felix, these impostors arose so frequent, that "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." (The Prophecy of Matthew 24, Dissertation XVIII)

(On Matthew 24:25-26) "But 'behold,' saith our Saviour, 'I have told you before,' --ver. 25. Behold I have given you sufficient warning. 'Wherefore if they shall say unto you, Behold, he is in the desert, go not forth; behold he is in the secret chambers, believe it not,'-- ver. 26. It is surprising that our Saviour should not only foretel the appearance of these impostors, but also the manner and circumstances of their conduct. For some be mentions as appearing in 'the desert,' and some in 'the secret chambers ;' and the event hath in all points answered to the prediction. Several of the false Christs and false prophets conducted their followers 'into the desert.' Josephus in his Antiquities saith expressly, that "many impostors and cheats persuaded the people to follow them into the desert," where they promised to show manifest wonders and signs done by the providence of God ; and many being persuaded suffered the punishment of their folly; for Felix brought them back, and chastised them." Again in his history of the Jewish war, speaking of the same persons, he saith, that "these impostors, under a pretence of divine inspiration, affecting innovations and changes, persuaded the multitude to grow mad, and led them forth 'into the desert,' as if God would there show them the signs of liberty. Against these Felix, for it seemed to be the foundation of a revolt, sent horse and foot soldiers, and slew a great number of them." The Egyptian false prophets, mentioned by Josephus, and in the Acts of the Apostles, xxi. 39,-- 'led out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers:' but Felix marching with his forces, and "coming to an engagement with him, the Egyptian himself with a few others fled away, and most of those who had been with him were slain or taken prisoners." There was likewise "another impostor" mentioned by Josephus, "who promised salvation to the people, and a cessation of all evils, if they would follow him 'into the desert;' but Festus sent horse and foot against him, and destroyed the deceiver himself, and those who followed him." These things happened before the destruction of Jerusalem; and, a little after, Jonathan a weaver persuaded not a few indigent fellows to adhere to him, and led them forth 'into the desert,' promising there to show signs and apparitions;" but of his followers most were slain, some were made prisoners, and he himself was afterwards taken, and burnt alive by order of Vespasian. As several of these impostors thus conducted their followers into 'the desert,' so did others into the secret chambers' or places of security : as particularly the pseudo-prophet mentioned by Josephus, who declared to the people in the city, that God commanded them to go up into the temple, and there they should receive the signs of deliverance." A multitude of men, women, and children, went up accordingly; but instead of deliverance, the place was set on fire by the Romans, and six thousand perished miserably in the flames, or by throwing themselves down to escape them." (The Prophecy of Matthew 24 - Dissertation XIX)

N. Nisbett (1787)
"St. Paul speaks of false prophets, as being among the Corinthians; calling them deceitful workers, who transformed themselves into Apostles of Christ. In the 2d epistle to the Thessalonians, he mentions one whom he characterizes as the Man of Sin, whose coming would be after the working of Satan, with all power and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish. St. John assured those to whom he wrote, that many antichrists and many false prophets, were already gone out into the world; whereby they knew it was the last time, or the time when the Jewish polity was arrived to its utmost period, and Jerusalem would be destroyed. St. Peter also mentions some false teachers, who would bring in damnable or destructive heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction." (ibid.)

Ernest Renan (1897)
"The extraordinary events of which Jerusalem was the scene, impressed the Christians indeed in the highest degree. The peaceful disciples of Jesus, deprived of their leader, James, brother of the Lord, at first continued to lead their ascetic life in the Holy City, and, huddled around the Temple, to await the great coming. They had with them the remaining survivors of the family of Jesus, the sons of Cleopas, who were regarded even by the Jews, with the highest veneration. All that was going on must have seemed to them an evident confirmation of the words of Jesus. What could these convulsions be if not the beginning of what was called 'the travail of the Messiah,' preluding the Messianic birth? It was held as certain that the triumphant coming of Christ would be preceded by the appearance of a great number of false prophets. In the eyes of the Christian community's chiefs, these false prophets were the leaders of the Zelotes" (Renan, pp. 147-148).(On Hebrews 9:26)

Johann Philip Schabalie (1635)
"Josephus informs us, that there were many who pretended to be inspired, and deceived many people; leading out numbers into deserts, that they would there show them signs of liberty - meaning redemption from the Roman yoke, which things the Jews expected the Messiah would do for them.  Josephus, de Bell, lib. 2, c. xiii., 4,5.)

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