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False Christs

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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FALSE CHRISTS.—The term ψευδόχριστοι or pseudo-Christs occurs only in Mark 13:22 (cf. Mark 13:6) = Matthew 24:24 (cf. Matthew 24:5). Despite its omission in Mk. by D, etc., it probably belongs to the original text of the eschatological discourse. But this discourse forms one of the sections in the Synoptic narrative which are specially permeated by reflexions of the Apostolic Church; and even after a small Jewish or Jewish-Christian apocalypse has been disentangled from the discourse, the remaining logia, of which this forms one. require to be carefully scrutinized. They do not belong to the primitive tradition of Christ’s sayings. Over them lie traces of the experiences of the early Christians during the latter half of the seventh decade in Palestine, when the political convulsion of the country was accompanied by religious agitation and moral crises of a strange nature. The 1st cent. of our era was full of unrest for the Jews of Palestine. As the pages of Josephus testify, one rival Messiah followed another, each and all succeeding more or less in kindling the passions of the people against the Roman authorities. These popular leaders of revolt worked on the religious feeling of the nation. Messianic fanaticism became uncontrollable, and enthusiasts seduced the ardent by semi-political hopes (cf. Schürer, HJP [Note: JP History of the Jewish People.] i. ii. § 20, and Volz, Jüd. Eschatologie, 209–210).

If the words ‘in my name’ (Mark 13:6 = Matthew 24:5) mean ‘in the name of Jesus,’ it is difficult to understand them. For it is hard to think of any Christians claiming to be Jesus. Christian false prophets there might be, and were, but we have no evidence during the 1st cent. of pretenders to the name of Jesus. False Christs in this sense of the term are scarcely credible, though later ages have furnished specimens of the type, as, e.g., among some of the followers of George Fox the Quaker, who was himself accused of claiming to be Christ. Either, then, we must suppose that the phrase ‘in my name’ has been inserted by the Evangelists in order to stamp as Christian what was originally a Jewish prediction, or the phrase must be taken as equivalent to ‘in the name of Messiah,’ as is implied in ‘I am he.’ False Christs would thus be equivalent to false Messiahs (so Mark 13:21, Matthew 24:23), and the logion would be a warning against the claims and pretensions of the numerous impostors who swarmed in Palestine down to the days of Bar Cochba (131–135 a.d.), their last representative. It is in the light of this retrospect that Justin Martyr (about 155 a.d.) quotes this saying in his Dialogue (82. 308 C) thus: ‘Our Lord said many false prophets and false Christs would come in His name and deceive many; which is the case.’ The false prophets, of course, are the heralds of the false Messiahs; they guarantee the movement in question by means of miracles. But occasionally a false Messiah may have been, as Theudas was, a false prophet as well. The Didache, curiously enough, omits all mention of false Messiahs, though it notices the danger of false prophets (xvi. 3; cf., however, what is said in xvi. 4 about the appearing of the world-deceiver as Son of God).

The locale of the false Messiahs (Matthew 24:26) is either the wilderness (cf. Acts 21:38), as in the case of Simon son of Gioras, or the inner chambers, as in the case of John of Giscala (cf. 1 Kings 20:30)—alluding possibly to the current idea that the Messiah was to remain hidden for some time previous to His appearance in public. But whether the one or the other happened to be chosen, the salient point is that in either case the elect are to be kept right by a wholesome scepticism. Christians, at Israel’s great crisis, were to be saved by unbelief in pseudo-Messiahs and pseudo-prophets’ (Expos. Gr. Test. i. 294). The situation would also manifest the difference between credulity and faith. Desperate situations foster an avid appetite for deliverance, which is too often indifferent to the particular quality of the aid offered. But faith keeps its head. Belief in Christ imparts a sanity of judgment which makes men cool even in emergencies. Finally, there is the thought that miracles of themselves are no guarantee of Divine authority.

The allusion in John 5:43 may be, but is not necessarily, to a single anti-Christ or pseudo-Christ, who, however, comes in his own name (cf. Loisy, Le Quatriëme Évangile, p. 416). Neither here nor in Revelation 13:11; Revelation 20:10 have we to do with an epitome or individual incarnation of the deceivers foretold in the Synoptic narrative. The plane of thought is at once later and different.

Literature.—In addition to the literature cited above, consult the critical editors on the passages in question; and see V. H. Stanton, The Gospels as Historical Documents, i. 125; Keim, Jesus of Nazara, v. 238f.; and Bousset, The Antichrist Legend, p. 103f.

J. Moffatt.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'False Christs'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​f/false-christs.html. 1906-1918.
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