Matthew 24:23-28 (NIV) “At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 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. “So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.”
Jesus’ perspective overlaps and blurs between the judgment on Jerusalem and His second coming because there is much overlap between those two events. In both cases, He comes to deliver judgment on those who have rejected Him – in the fall of Jerusalem using the arm of Rome; in His second coming acting directly. In both cases, he will shelter those who truly follow Him from the judgement, taking them out of the way before the judgment falls. In both cases the judgment will be preceded by false messiahs and false prophets, trying to reassure people with false assurances of peace and prosperity while doom is hanging over their heads (just like Jeremiah had to deal with before the first fall of Jerusalem), and gathering followers for themselves, riding high on the public acclaim.
Jesus’ warning was that His people should not be taken in by these false prophets and false messiahs. They had known the real Messiah, had seen His power and glory revealed in His life, His miracles, and His teachings, so that they would not have to seek someone else.
And when Jesus does return at the end of the age, it won’t be in secret so that people will have to seek Him out in the wilderness, or in some hidden-away inner room. His next coming will be a completely public event, visible to all of the people of the world when it happens.
The last sentence has cause a lot of discussion, but, as is shown more clearly in Luke’s parallel (17:30-37), simply points to the fact that Jesus’ coming in judgment, both His soon coming to judge Jerusalem and His ultimate coming to judge the whole world, will result in the total destruction of all who oppose Him. This is also paralleled in Revelation 19:17-21 in the call to the birds to come and devour the bodies of Jesus’ enemies after the last great battle when Jesus returns.
The overall message of this section is simply for the followers of Jesus to not allow themselves to get caught up in the popular theological movements started by those who speak false reassurances, or follow after others who present themselves as the Messiah. To do so will result in us being deceived and falling subject to Jesus’ judgment when it falls.
Father, it is scary to think that we could be deceived, or would ever listen to false prophets who encourage us to compromise with the world, or who simply try to gather a following for themselves from among Your people. But even a quick read of Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Revelation shows that those things were already happening in the Church just a half century after He gave these clear warnings. The only strategy that will work is for us to stay so closely connected to You through Jesus that there is no opening for the enemy to use to draw us away. Help us, Lord, to stay true at all times, and instantly obedient in every way. Amen.