This initial study explores the possibility that believers can be deceived by adhering to a single-minded interpretation of prophetic end times events.
For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect-- if that were possible.
Here are some questions this scripture may suggest:
Here are additional studies on end times Bible prophecy. They are presented in a logical order, but if you have limited time, the most important one is "A Prophetic View of Christ's Second Coming." Also, the study on the Old Testament is instructive, but quite long, and could be saved for last.
Last update June, 1999.
The Greek phrase, "if that were possible," is used in several other verses.
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Matthew 26:39
Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost. Acts 20:16
When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. Acts 27:39
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:18
What has happened to all your joy? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Galatians 4:15
In each case, the sense is that the event is technically possible, although it may be difficult to see how it will come about. In Acts 20:16, for example, Paul subsequently went to Jerusalem for Pentecost, although with much trouble, and the trip ultimately cost him his life. Also, there are many other scriptures warning believers to prepare so that they will not be deceived (see the study "A Prophetic View of Christ's Second Coming"). Therefore, we must take seriously the possibility of the elect being deceived.
Christians use paradigms (models or rules by which we process information) to interpret the scriptures. Many of these paradigms are essential to the Christian faith. For example, one useful paradigm is that every scripture is given by the Holy Spirit through godly men for our instruction (2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21). This paradigm implies that even though the scriptures reflect the human writer's characteristics, the Holy Spirit is speaking God's words to us, not man's words. We therefore can take the essential meaning of the words as coming directly from God himself. This paradigm allows us to not get caught up in "higher criticism" that whittles away at the authenticity of the scriptures while ignoring God's ability to use imperfect vehicles for his perfect purpose. Sincere Christians validate this paradigm through their personal experiences with God's word. They know in their spirits that God speaks to them practical words of love and wisdom throughout every book and verse of the Bible.
There are other paradigms, however, that can lead to problems. One such paradigm is that all scriptures have a particular interpretation that provides, implies, or supports a doctrinal position. Much instructional scripture should be looked at through this paradigm, but the mere description of historical events and future events should not. The famous stories of the Old and New Testaments have many lessons for us and may be used to illustrate doctrinal positions, but they do not in themselves contain doctrine. For example, the story of the apostles choosing a replacement for Judas before being filled with the Holy Spirit may be used as an illustration of presumption but does not necessarily give doctrinal direction on how to choose a leader. However, Paul's instruction to Timothy on the qualifications of elders is intended to provide such guidance and may be taken as doctrine.
Likewise, end time prophecies which depict future events do not necessarily contain doctrine. However, we are so accustomed to using biblical stories to illustrate principles of doctrine that we often feel obliged to build doctrinal positions from end times prophecy.
One of the most common examples of this is the use of end times prophecies to establish, or support, various positions on when the rapture will occur. This is not harmful if we understand that such positions are speculative and merely represent possible scenarios. However, using the paradigm of interpreting stories and events to support doctrine, many such positions unwittingly become equivalent to doctrine. There are, in fact, conservative denominations or groups who hold a particular view of the rapture as a doctrinal requirement. However, we must be very careful in dealing with unfulfilled end times prophecies. Detailed interpretations resulting in specific scenarios are only possibilities and should not be taken as doctrine.
To illustrate the danger, suppose one believes, as a matter of doctrine, that the rapture will occur prior to the antichrist being revealed. If end times events do not play out exactly this way, then the believer is placed in the uncomfortable position of claiming that a specific person cannot be the antichrist, massive evidence to the contrary, simply because the believer is still on the earth!
Another paradigm that leads to similar problems is "there is one interpretation but many applications of a scripture." This typically means that there is one basic meaning of the words, but the principle can be applied in many situations. Again, this is valid for instructional scriptures and even historical stories. However, with end times prophecy, there can be multiple interpretations, depending, for example, on whether the prophecy is literal or figurative. A good example of the difficulty in supporting one interpretation is Matthew 24:40-41.
Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
Like many other parables, the interpretation is not given explicitly so that the hearer will have to use discernment. But interpreters have many different meanings about who is left and who is taken. Is this something that should be clear to us, or is it an example of prophetic scripture that will only become clear in the light of fulfillment? Given this uncertainty, is it appropriate to use a particular interpretation to support a doctrinal position about end times?
God is able to preserve and protect his people from all forms of danger and error. Then why would he say that in end times there would be deception so great that if possible even the elect would be deceived? Does God intend to tempt his people to see if they are paying attention? Does he want to threaten us to make us draw closer to him?
No, the answer is that God is a loving God, and he wants us to know what is coming so that we can prepare. He is warning us about the enemy's tricks so we can defeat him by turning his devices back on him and pulling down his strongholds.
But we have to be aware of Satan's devices. We need to know what he is up to and be able to discern clearly what spirits are working to deceive us. Several kinds of deceit are mentioned in the Bible in relation to end times, such as the following:
There are a number of examples of this type of deceit. By examining these in detail we can derive some principles that will allow us to avoid similar traps.
As the examples above show, it is very tempting to want to cling to what is familiar and definite, especially if it is in line with the lifestyle we have come to expect. Although we don't like to admit it, we really would like to put God in a box made from our own abilities to conceive precise systems of interpretation. However, God is not only "bigger than all our problems and fears"--he is also bigger than our imaginations and finely reasoned charts with sequences of events that "must" take place.
We need to be knowledgeable of these prophetic scriptures and use our imagination--not to develop single minded scenarios--but to practice flexibility and openness to what God may do. The wonder of prophecy is that God is going to fulfill a large number of scriptures in a very precise way, and yet in a very creative way that no man would ever devise. If he wanted simply to tell us precise events, he would not use metaphors and mysterious language. Instead, he wants us to get our eyes off the events and focus on him. We can be fooled by people and events, but we will not be deceived if we keep our gaze on him.
In order to filter through the large number of events that will rapidly transpire in the last days, however, we need to be knowledgeable of the scriptures so that we may know we are on the right track and what our response should be as we come upon clear milestones. This is where many missed it at Christ's first coming. They were not open and flexible enough to see prophecies being fulfilled in ways that differed from their preconceptions, even though the precise scriptures were put before them. And therefore, they acted in very inappropriate ways, from not fully recognizing or appreciating him, to ultimately causing his death.
So neither scripture knowledge will do without openness, nor will openness do without knowledge. Both are necessary to bring events into focus so that God's people may know that the time is right for action. There are times to be passive and times to be aggressive, and we need to know when each is needed. Only an intimate awareness of end times scripture can provide the framework to interpret prophetic events as they occur. And then only an intimacy with the Holy Spirit can give us the ability to step out in faith to do not what we expect, but what he directs.
Matthew is referring to God's elect, or chosen ones, who believe in Jesus Christ as their savior. These are the ones who will be with him in heaven:
And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other. Matthew 24:31
The "elect" is not an exclusive group that God chooses because they are perfect. They are people who believe that God's Son, Jesus, died for their sins, taking the punishment on himself, and then rose from the dead to conquer sin once and for all. All they have to do is ask forgiveness for their sins, confess Jesus Christ as their Lord, and then choose to turn from their sins by following the Word of God. When they do this, they are chosen, or elected, by God to be his representative on earth, and ultimately to live with him forever.
If you would like to be one of God's elect, you just have to pray to him, right now, that you believe in Jesus as God's Son, that he died for your sins, and that he rose from the dead so that you don't have to die for your sins, but instead you can have eternal life with him. Ask forgiveness for your sins. Commit to God that you are turning from your sins. Proclaim that Jesus is Lord of your life, and that you will do everything you can to learn about his Word and obey it. You may slip and fall from time to time, but you will get back up, ask forgiveness, and do your best to keep on living for God. Now thank him for giving you this new, eternal life, and for making you part of his chosen family.
More end times prophecy studies.
Copyright 1999 by Clay Watts, Tulsa, Oklahoma. All rights reserved.
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Ephesians 5:6
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Ephesians 4:14
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 2 Timothy 4:3-4
"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. Matthew 7:15
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Matthew 24:10-11
For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect-- if that were possible. See, I have told you ahead of time. Matthew 24:24-25
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. Colossians 2:8
For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough...For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:4,13
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them-- bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Peter 2:1
Jesus answered: "Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many. Matthew 24:4-5
Her deception was then compounded when Adam saw that she did not die and assumed that God's warning must not be valid because the results that he was expecting did not occur. She and her husband paid the ultimate price for refusing to take God's word on simple faith and instead were led astray by their own twisted ideas of what God's word said.
In Christ's temptation by Satan using scripture in Matthew 4 , Jesus demonstrated that we must guard against improper interpretation to meet ungodly motives. We must know the complete Word of God to not be deceived.
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'?" The woman said to the serpent, "We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, 'You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.'" "You will not surely die," the serpent said to the woman. "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, "The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her." Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, "You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me." "Your servant is in your hands," Abram said. "Do with her whatever you think best." Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him." Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD." So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry. Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'
However, when the people of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and Ai, they resorted to a ruse: They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. The men put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy.
Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the men of Israel, "We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us." The men of Israel said to the Hivites, "But perhaps you live near us. How then can we make a treaty with you?" "We are your servants," they said to Joshua. But Joshua asked, "Who are you and where do you come from They answered: "Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the LORD your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan-- Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth. And our elders and all those living in our country said to us, 'Take provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, "We are your servants; make a treaty with us." ' This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is. And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey."
The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the LORD. Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath. Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them. So the Israelites set out and on the third day came to their cities: Gibeon, Kephirah, Beeroth and Kiriath Jearim. But the Israelites did not attack them, because the leaders of the assembly had sworn an oath to them by the LORD, the God of Israel. The whole assembly grumbled against the leaders, but all the leaders answered, "We have given them our oath by the LORD, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now.
1 Sam 13:11-14
"What have you done?" asked Samuel. Saul replied, "When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Micmash, I thought, 'Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the LORD's favor.' So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering." "You acted foolishly," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD's command."
"They were the ones who followed Balaam's advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the LORD in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the LORD's people.
Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.
2 Pet 2:15-16
They have left the straight way and wandered off to follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. But he was rebuked for his wrongdoing by a donkey-- a beast without speech-- who spoke with a man's voice and restrained the prophet's madness.
Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"...Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"...Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"
Your summary of events seems to indicate that you believe in a post-tribulation rapture. Is that true? What is your opinion on the rapture?
The Summary of End Times Events was intended to follow roughly the order of Revelation. The major point of the rest of my material is that it is not helpful to be dogmatic about the chronology or sequence of end times events. So the summary was intended to be a catalog of these events, with Revelation as a helpful, but arbitrary, reference point. Some people believe that Revelation is sequential, but I do not mean to imply this or even that the list is in approximate chronological sequence.
As far as my personal opinions on the rapture, I really believe that it will happen in a very unexpected way that doesn't fit any of the popular paradigms, and that to hold rigid views is to invite disappointment, and at the worst, deception. I want to be open to what God is going to do, to be sensitive and alert as events progress, and then to be eagerly awaiting that last trumpet call to glory. How about you?
A metaphor that I may develop more fully in a future update to the material is that of a passenger in an airplane who is generally familiar with the topology and landmarks around his destination. He doesn't know (or care) the exact route the pilot is going to take, but as he looks out the window, he is able to tell when he is getting closer. Depending on the flight pattern, the landmarks may appear in a completely different sequence than he might have expected, but if he is knowledgeable enough, he will have a pretty good idea of when he is nearing his destination.
I understand that the Bible teaches us that my salvation is not dependent on anything good in me, or by any action on my part, but that it solely rests on the sovereign grace of God. Do you agree?
I certainly agree with you that our salvation is a sovereign gift from God and that there is nothing we can do to earn it. We do, of course, have to receive the gift by believing and confessing that Jesus is Lord of our life, for there is no other name by which we may be saved. The rest, confessing and turning from our sin, and leading godly lives of obedience, are part of the Christian walk that we would naturally want to do. I did not mean that our salvation was dependent of these things, but was just trying to give some direction and encouragement to a new believer.
I would like to use some of your material in a Bible study. May I have your permission?
Yes, feel free to use the material in any way you see fit, as long as you identify the source.
What is your background? How did you come to write this material?
I'm an internal business consultant for an electric utility in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I have worked for the company for over 25 years, primarily in computer systems planning and development. My degrees are in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. I've been saved since 1975, attend a large pentecostal church, and have served in a variety of capacities in previous churches, including children and adult Sunday school teacher and board member. I have a loving wife of 30 years, three sons, one daughter, two daughters-in-law, and two grandchildren. I was called to an end times ministry a few years after I was saved, and have taught adult classes on various subjects. Some of the material was developed initially in these classes.
As a long time church attendee and past Sunday school teacher and board member, I am conscious of the need to be accountable to those who are in authority in the church. Since this unique media allows one to publish without such accountability, I appeal to those readers who are in the full-time ministry to provide me with constructive critique. I commit to taking such feedback seriously and making the appropriate changes to my material. I am particularly concerned that I not make any errors in following sound, conservative, evangelical, Christian doctrine. If you are taking issue with the basic thesis of the material, then the only consideration I ask is that you review all of the studies before passing judgment.
To those who remain convinced that a specific end times scenario is indicated by scripture, I would ask two questions:
What is the benefit to your audience in believing that scenario?
What harm would be done if it doesn't happen that way?
Thank you for taking an interest in this layman's material. Whether you agree or disagree, I hope it has at least stimulated your thinking. Please email me with your comments in either case.
Yours in Christ,
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Much of the material in the study "The Basics of Bible Prophecy" is adapted from books by Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin.
Because of the casual manner in which this material was originally prepared, many citations of other authors were unfortunately not included. Some of the other sources relied on for historical background and basic exposition include the following. I apologize for not being more diligent in identifying the specific passages.