When His disciples asked Jesus what the signs would be of the nearness of His return and the end of the world, the first sign He gave them was religious deception: “Take heed that no man deceive you” (Matthew:24:4). His reply came as a warning. He went on to explain the nature of the deception, repeating this first and most important sign three times:
“For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many…. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many…. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told [warned] you before.” (verses 5,11,24,25)
Obviously, Christ’s warning is not about atheists or rank unbelievers or leaders of some opposing non-Christian religion. There is no deceit involved in such frontal assaults. Christ’s warning is about a deception which is all the more subtle because it comes from within the church—and in His name!