In Jesus' response, He concentrates almost entirely on the second question—the signs of His coming and of the end—and the question of when is answered mostly in their aggregate. The closest He comes to answering when appears in verse 14: The end will come when the gospel has been preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations. Only He knows when this goal will be reached.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
The Four Horsemen (Part One): In the Saddle?
Christ is saying that an increase in lying and deceit will be a hallmark of the end time. Jesus speaks particularly of religious deception, especially of those who "will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many" (verse 5). Most likely, He did not mean those who acclaimed themselves to be the Messiah, but those who would use Jesus' name to preach falsehood. Every "Christian" church of this world professes Christ as Savior, but do their ministers preach the truth He brought? Are many "Christians"—1.9 billion strong around the world in 1996—being deceived by a false gospel? This prophecy is fulfilled every Sunday around the world.
But it affects not only Christians. The other religions of man are no more honest than this world's Christianity. Regarding the ninth commandment, Judaism's "great" rabbis of the past have made exceptions to allow for deceit and lying. For example, they would allow a Jew to lie to Christians and other "heathens," but it was a great sin to lie to another Jew. The Talmud maintains and endorses falsehoods about Jesus, vilifying Him with names and alleging He was illegitimate.
Islam fares no better. It purports that God chose Ishmael over Isaac and the Arab peoples over the Israelites, but it uses large chunks of Israelite history to fill out its past. It claims Mohammed is a greater prophet than Jesus, and that he ascended to heaven on his horse from the site of the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Its adherents believe that killing infidels will earn them a place in heaven, spawning worldwide, state-sponsored terrorism.
The many Eastern religions range from polytheism and animism to abstract, existential philosophies. None teach the truth about the great questions of life. For example, regarding life after death, Eastern religions run the gamut from nihilism to reincarnation, while none preach the Kingdom of God. Some espouse living a moral life, and others take a more epicurean stance, but none teach all of the Ten Commandments. Billions of people have been and are being deceived by these false faiths.
The latecomers to the smorgasbord of this world's religions are the New Age groups. They often blend, or syncretize, traditional beliefs with some form of mysticism, spiritism, or rank demonism. Some of these call Jesus one of the "enlightened masters" or call Him an embodiment of Lucifer or, like some of the Gnostics, believe He was "the first emanation [creation] of God." Whatever the case, such religions have deceived millions and led them farther away from the truth of God.
Jesus' instruction, however, is simple: Be vigilant not to be deceived. Through the apostle Paul, He teaches, "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (I Thessalonians 5:21). In I Timothy 6:20, he writes, "Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and vain babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge."
In his next letter to Timothy, Paul expounds further:
Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit [which] dwells in us. (II Timothy 1:13-14)
Once we have proved what is right and true by the faith and love of God, we must never let anyone persuade us otherwise! We have the strength to hang on to it through God's own power.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Deceptions of the End Time
It is no coincidence that the first warning Jesus gives about "the sign of [His] coming and the end of the age" is, "Take heed that no one deceives you" (Matthew 24:3-4). In fact, warnings about deception are frequent throughout His Olivet Prophecy (verses 4-5, 11, 23-26, 48). The time of the end, it seems, will be one of falsehood and deceit.
In the book of Revelation, this same warning appears as the first seal, also known as the first of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse:
Now I [John] saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, "Come and see." And I looked, and behold, a white horse. And he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer. (Revelation 6:1-2)
Comparing Jesus' comments in Matthew 24 with these verses in Revelation 6, it becomes apparent that this horseman is not Christ proclaiming the true gospel but a counterfeit spreading the news of a false Messiah. For instance, this horseman carries a bow, but in every case, Christ is pictured with a sword (see Revelation 1:16; 19:15). Jesus interprets this horseman for us in Matthew 24:5: "For many will come in My name, saying, I am the Christ, and will deceive many."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Let No One Deceive You
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Matthew 24:3: