“Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he’, and will deceive many”.
Mk 13:5, 6 NIV
In the uncertain and insecure times in which Jesus and his disciples lived the apocalyptic thinking that was prevalent encouraged strange movements and ideas. One of the common ideas was that the long-promised Messiah was about to come. This put ideas into people’s heads and several people with inflated ideas of their own importance thought they would give “this Messiah thing” a try. Two of them who drew a following are mentioned by name in Acts 5:36 and 37. And the desire to liberate Israel from Roman rule was strong.
Jesus knew about some of these “Messianic movements”. And he could see that there was trouble ahead for those gullible enough to swallow the false claims of these leaders. Hence he warned his disciples to be aware of what might happen. He was saying, “Avoid them like the plague”.
That is still a warning we need to heed. And some of the false Messiahs of the modern era are masquerading in apparently normal churches. Reports of “resurrections”, teachers telling their worshipers to eat snakes, “miracles on order” (for financial payments of course) are all indications of showmanship. So are the pastors who demand sexual favors of female followers. These religious leaders are wolves in sheep’s clothing. How do faithful disciples discern these bogus “prophets” and distinguish them from the genuine Christian leaders? You ask the Holy Spirit for his guidance if you have any doubt or suspicion about any specific leader. One of the spiritual gifts listed by St Paul is “the ability to tell the difference between gifts that come from the Spirit and those that do not” (1 Cor 12:10 GNB).
Lord, give me the gift of discernment.