Luke 21:8 - Who Should We Really Avoid?
In his sign of the Last Days, Jesus warned his followers: “Look out that YOU are not misled; for many will come on the basis of my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The due time has approached.’ Do not go after them.” (Luke 21:8) Jesus provides clues that help us identify who to avoid. What are those clues? What can we learn from this warning and how can we avoid being misled?
“Many will come on the basis of my name’
First, we are told these deceivers will come on the basis of Jesus’ name. What does it mean to come on the basis of his name? This doesn’t necessarily mean they come claiming to be Jesus, but rather they come claiming to be authorized by him. For example, when we pray "in Jesus’ name" we are not claiming to be Jesus. Rather, we are expressing faith in Jesus Christ, recognizing him as the sole channel through which we are authorized to speak to God.
Jesus warns us of people or groups who would come on the basis of his name. In fact, this is why they could easily mislead the disciples, for they would appear to be authentic, expressing faith in Jesus and recognizing his role in God’s purposes. Coming on the basis of Christ’s name indicates that such deceivers are professing to be Christian. They will claim that they recognize Jesus’ headship, and are authorized and supported by Christ.
Since all Christians recognize Jesus’ headship, other traits of this deceptive group are also provided to assist us in identifying who we should avoid.
“Saying… ‘I am he’”
Next, Jesus reveals that these people or groups would be saying “I am [he].” Some translations render this verse as “I am the Messiah” or “I am Christ”, likely because the parallel scripture in Matthew 24:5 uses the Greek word Khri-stos', or Christ. However, in Luke’s account the actual Greek phrase literally says “I am.” Does this mean that those misleading the disciples would claim to be Christ or Messiah?
The fact that they come on the basis of Jesus’ name shows they do recognize Christ Jesus’ authority; therefore, they are not actually claiming to be Jesus Christ, but rather someone authorized by Jesus. In the Scriptures, the term “Christ” is frequently used as a title for anointed priests, kings, and prophets. For example, Aaron the high priest was regarded as "messiah" or “the anointed one” at Leviticus 4:5. In saying “I am he”, Jesus warned that those coming would claim to fulfill an anointed or Christ-like role in behalf of God’s people. They would profess to be the promised “Anointed One” authorized by Jesus to come and take the lead of his disciples.
“Saying… ‘The due time has approached’”
In addition to saying “I am he”, these people or groups would also proclaim that “the due time has approached.” To what "due time" or "appointed time" would they be alluding? Luke chapter 21 as well as the parallel accounts at Matthew chapter 24 and Mark chapter 13 are in response to the questions the apostles asked regarding when Jerusalem would be destroyed, and the signs indicative of Christ’s presence and the conclusion of the system of things (the Sign of the Son of Man). The “due time” they would proclaim, therefore, relates to the fulfillment of these events.
Yes, according to them, the “due time” will have “approached”, or “drawn near”. Some translations render the phrase as “at hand” or “has come”. However, the thought is clear: they would be teaching that the imminent fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy was at hand. By making this proclamation, it becomes obvious that these people are heavily focused on dates and times, and since they effectively mislead others, Scriptural calculations to support their proclamations are likely easily provided.
“Do not go after them”
Lastly, Jesus tells his disciples to “not go after them.” This implies that these deceivers would, indeed, require others to follow them. Why should they be avoided? If a person, or a group of people, should claim that they are fulfilling a saving Christ-like role for others in view of the approaching fulfillment of prophecy, and have been authorized by Christ Jesus to do so, then following them will be emphasized as vital for one’s survival; however, in doing so, the person or group would subtly replace Jesus Christ as the vehicle necessary for salvation. As the world of mankind faced imminent destruction from God, they would be the "ark" necessary for survival. Our committed association would be required as followers, and they would become our mediator for life. However, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) Likewise, the Bible states “Do not put YOUR trust in nobles, Nor in the son of earthling man, to whom no salvation belongs.” (Psalm 146:3) Yes, Jesus makes it clear that following men for salvation is wrong.
Do not be deceived!
Some teach that this part of Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled only in the first century prior to the fall of Jerusalem and not applicable to Christians in modern times. However, if this is true, then the other parts of the sign - the wars, disorders, earthquakes, and food shortages - are also applicable only to the first century and have no modern-day fulfillment. Yet, if we look at these other parts of Jesus’ sign as proof that we are currently living in the Last Days, then we cannot ignore the fact that there are also Christian-deceivers on the scene today actively misleading Christ’s disciples.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, let us not be deceived! Just as he clearly provided signs that would identify his presence as well as the conclusion of the system of things, he also provided a clear sign as to who his disciples should avoid following. Many people and groups would appear and successfully mislead a portion of Christ’s disciples. They would be effective at their deception because they would appear authentic. They would recognize Jesus as Head of the congregation, and provide evidence – even by using the Scriptures – that they have been chosen, or anointed, to lead Christ’s true disciples while proclaiming that the due time for the fulfillment of Bible prophecy has approached.
Unfortunately, countless individuals have been misled, and many more are at risk. Before following any person, group, or organization, it would behoove a Christian to meditate on Luke 21:8, using Jesus’ words as a litmus test to discern what course to take. Additionally, it would be wise to ask yourself: Would our Heavenly Father raise up a "prophet" or "true" religion" that exudes the same characteristics of those Jesus Christ warned his followers to avoid?