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Who are the ‘false anointed and false prophets’ that Jesus warned us about? How do we identify them? And what does ‘anointed’ mean anyway?
When Jesus spoke of the difficult time (greek: thlipsis megale, or, great tribulation) that was to come upon Jerusalem (at Matthew 24:21), he went on to warn about certain people who would arise. Here’s a typical translation of his words from the International Standard Version:
‘At that time, if anyone says to you, Look! Here is the Messiah! or There he is!, don’t believe it, because false messiahs and false prophets will appear and display great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.’ –Matthew 24:23-24, ISV (see other translations)
However, there may be an error in translation here.
In the original Greek text, the highlighted words above are, “pseudochristoi kai pseudoprophetai”, that is, “false anointed and false prophets”. You see, the way these words are translated in most English Bibles gives the impression that Jesus was only warning about people who would appear and say ‘I am Jesus’! Perhaps that is what he meant. However, if we look at it more literally, we see that he simply said that some people will falsely claim to be anointed ones. That does not necessarily mean people will be predending to be Jesus or some other savior.
This is how Matthew 24:23-24 appears in our translation:
Then if anyone should say: Look! Here (or there) is the Anointed One, don’t believe it! Because, false anointed and false prophets will arise and they’ll perform such great omens and signs that they could possibly mislead even the elected!
Also Mark 13:21-22 repeats it:
Then if anyone says to you, Look; here’s the Anointed One! or, Look; there he is! Don’t believe it! For false anointed and false prophets will arise bringing signs and omens that could possibly mislead even the elected!
So while Jesus could have been warning that some persons may claim to be the real Christ, or even him in resurrected form, he could have been warning against anyone falsely claiming to be chosen and anointed by God as some sort of savior to follow during the great tribulation. Perhaps it is a new prophet, guide, or other teacher claiming to be from God.
What does the term ‘anointed’ mean exactly?
What ‘anointed’ means
Unfortunately, most English translations render the Greek word christos as Christ in every case. This is very misleading. People have come to believe that ‘Christ’ was Jesus’ last name, but it wasn’t. ‘Christ’ is not a name, it’s a title given to someone who has been chosen by God for a special purpose, and whose choosing has been visibly shown to everyone. This is called being anointed.
One good example is when King David was chosen by God to be the new King of Israel. At 1 Samuel 16:13 the prophet Samuel anointed him, that is, showed that God had chosen David, by pouring oil on David’s head, as was the custom at the time. You see, having oil poured over your head by a priest or prophet was as ceremony which was always testified to by witnesses. Thus everyone could see that the person had been chosen for a special position, perhaps to be a King, a priest, or a prophet in IsraEl. Well, a similar thing happened to Jesus, but not with oil.
After his baptism by John, the Holy Spirit came down upon Jesus in the form of a dove. This showed that Jehovah/Yahweh chose Jesus, or anointed him as the future King. Thereafter his followers referred to him as the Christ (greek: ho Christon), or the Anointed [One]. The Hebrew equivalent of the Greek term is mashiach, from which we get Messiah. So both Christ and Messiah simply mean anointed, or visibly chosen by God.
This term was in widespread use and used to describe many people who were chosen by God. In the Greek Septuagint translation (the Old Testament of Jesus’ day), all the kings were referred to as Christs! David even referred to unrighteous King Saul as ‘the Christ of the Lord’ (greek: ton christon kyriou) at 2 Samuel 1:16. In fact, this is exactly how experts translate those words in the Hebrew text of that verse!
In the example of David, notice how God sent His Prophet SamuEl to anoint him several years before David actually became king (see 1 Samuel 16:12-13). Therefore, first God chose them, and afterwards they were anointed, and this was the proof to him and to others that he had been chosen.
Even Jesus had a witness to his anointing, John the Baptist. In the case of David he was publicly anointed two more times, the first time as king of the tribe of Judah, and the second time as the king over all IsraEl. So realize that David’s anointing wasn’t when God looked down from heaven and picked him. No; rather it was the visible sign to others that he had been chosen.
Therefore, there is no description in the Bible of a ‘secret anointing’ that is only known by God and the person He chooses. The act of anointing is showing others that someone has been chosen.
One passage of scripture used to support the idea of a secret anointing is Romans 8:14-17:
Indeed, all that are led by God’s Breath are Sons of God!
[And because of this,] you didn’t receive a spirit of bondage to fear again; rather, you received a spirit of adoption, through which you can now call out, ‘Papa! Father!’
This is the same Spirit that testifies to the spirit within us that we are God’s children…
And if we’re [His] children, we’re also [His] heirs…
Yes, heirs of God and heirs along with the Anointed One!
If taken out of context this could sound like the Spirit tells someone secretly that they have been anointed. Perhaps that sometimes happens. However, this is ripping the verse out of its context. Did you notice what was said at the start? “...all that are led by God’s Breath are Sons of God”. When those words were written, it was quite obvious who was being led by God’s Breath since they could perform miracles! There was literally no such thing as a secret anointing when those words were written.
Therefore, the only concept of being ‘anointed’ in scripture is when God’s Breath has performed a sign to show others that you are chosen by Him. In David’s day, this was Jehovah/Yahweh directing Samuel the prophet to perform an anointing ceremony with oil. In the 1st century, this was the Spirit giving miraculous powers.
We are aware of no person being visibly anointed by God in the present day. It is, in fact, often impossible to tell true Christian from false. This is perfectly in line with Jesus’ parable of the field of wheat at Matthew 13:24-30 and 13:36-43.
Early Christians never called themselves ‘the Anointed’
The Jewish-Era scriptures used the words for anointed many times when referring to prophets, kings, and priests. However, in the Christian scriptures, the same term is used almost exclusively in reference to Jesus. There are no Bible references to Christians ever calling themselves the Anointed. Rather, it seems like the term is reserved for Jesus alone.
There are only two verses that refer to Christians as being ‘anointed’: 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 and 1 John 2:27. These only mention that the early Christians were anointed in passing. It is probably because they are to rule as ‘kings and priests’ (Revelation 1:6). There was indeed evidence that they were anointed. This first happened in Acts 2:1-3 when ‘tongues of fire’ appeared over them. From then on, many of the early Christians could perform miracles or had other special abilities. So they truly were anointed – having a physical sign from God that they were chosen.
Yet despite all of this, they did not use the term ‘anointed’ as a special title for themselves in some attempt to claim a more special relationship with God. Simple humility no doubt led them to leave the term anointed only for their Lord Jesus.
The False Anointed
Yet Jesus specifically warned his Apostles that ‘false anointed’ and ‘false prophets’ would arise. So this is a good reason for Christians to be very careful about applying the terms ‘anointed’ and ‘prophets’ to themselves. They may prove to be false! It is a snare for those who think too much of themselves.
Then, how could a Christian tell if he or she is in danger of becoming a false prophet or a false anointed one? It appears that making the claim of being anointed, or chosen, is the first step. As we have discussed, there is no allowance in the Bible for secret anointing. The Holy Spirit has always shown beyond any doubt who is anointed via miraculous means, and that is not happening today.
On the contrary, Jesus’ parable of the wheat field shows that it will not be clear who is a true Christian until the time when the angels come and extract the ‘weeds’ and burn them! Has that happened yet?
So claiming that “God told me in secret that I am chosen and anointed” is nothing more than an assertion. Anyone can say that, since evidence is not required! Further, it shows a lack of humility and a desire to rule over others.
Even if God did choose someone in secret (which is possible), they would technically not be ‘anointed’ until some miraculous visible sign was given to everyone else. In other words, while some may feel that they have the Spirit, and hope to share in the reward for the righteous, there are no ‘anointed’ people today because no miracles are happening today. Sure, perhaps in the future such chosen ones will be miraculously anointed via some sign visible to everyone else, but that’s not happened yet.
However, even if God did secrety anoint someone, would a true Christian ever take on that title and use it to elevate themselves over other Christians? Hardly!
Jesus warned against taking presumptuous titles (at Matthew 23:8-11):
‘Don’t [have people] call you rabbi, for you have but one teacher, while you are all just brothers. Nor should you address anyone on this earth as Father, because there’s just One that is your Father, the Heavenly One. Don’t even be called leaders, because you have but one Leader, the Anointed One. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever promotes himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be promoted.'
So according to Jesus, there would be no titles or division between true Christians. A truly anointed person would not use their status to elevate themselves over others. That would be, as Jesus said, promoting oneself, and promoting oneself would automatically disqualify you from being chosen! That would make as much sense as saying ‘I am the most humble person in the world.’
How can we recognize those who are falsely claiming to be ‘the anointed?’
One way to spot the false anointed is to use the same method recommended to spot ‘false prophets.’ The Bible provides a standard test to shows how to recognize true prophets from false prophets. It’s at Deuteronomy 18:20-22:
‘But, any prophet that uses My Name in an irreverent way by saying things that I didn’t tell him to say, or speaks in the name of other gods, must die! And if you ever wonder in your hearts which words Jehovah didn't say; [remember that] anything a prophet says in the Name of the Lord that doesn't come true, is something that Jehovah didn't say. So, that prophet has spoken wickedly; don’t have anything to do with him!’
Yes, the law instructed the Jews to have nothing to do with false prophets, and then if found guilty after going through the legal process (described elsewhere in the Law), they would be put to death.
Also, at Zechariah 13:3-4, we read this:
‘So if there's a man that still prophesies;
His father and the mother that bore him
Must tell him that he can no longer live,
Because he’s told lies in the Name of the Lord.
Then his father and the mother that bore him
Must bind him, because he has prophesied.
So anyone who claims to be ‘anointed’ and who teaches things supposedly inspired or directed by God, which then turn out to be wrong... these people are both false anointed and false prophets. In times past, they would have been executed!
Of course, there are other ways to tell who is a false anointed. For example, anyone teaching a ‘good news’ that wildly differs from what the Apostles preached would qualify. Galatians 1:8 says:
‘However, if we or even a messenger from heaven were to come preaching something to you as good news other than the good news that we’ve already preached to you; let him be cursed!’
Are anointed ones infallible?
Then, are we saying that those who are chosen by God for a particular service may never be wrong or change their minds on spiritual matters? Not at all. A person with true Christian humility would understand that the Holy Spirit may not have taught them everything yet; so they would never falsely claim to speak in the name of the Lord in the first place!
If a Christian did make predictions, or teach things that later turned out to be false, it would fine if they had also originally stated that their prediction or interpretation was just a guess or possibility. A true Christian would never insist that they are right. Nor would a true Christian condemn, insult, or threaten those who disagree with them. A true Christian who displays humility would never have a problem; they could never be false prophets because they would never claim to speak in the name of God!
The problem arises when religious leaders and some charasmatic prachers claim to be anointed, or chosen by God, and guided or directed by Him. They insist that others must believe and agree with everything that they teach, because it comes from the spirit of their anointing. Anyone who does not follow them, they condem as selfish or as acting against the Lord. This arrogance betrays them immediately as false anointed.
Now, obviously, false anointed ones are not receiving guidance from the Holy Spirit. So, their teachings and predictions will inevitably be proven to be wrong. It just takes time. When it happens, it gives us extra evidence that they are false anointed. What is more, the same arrogance that led them to promote themselves over others in the first place will also lead them to shift the blame onto their followers, sometimes even onto God Himself; sometimes they may try to play-down their mistakes, or even to cover them up!
Generally speaking, such ones do not apologize for their actions. Of course they don’t! To do so would require humility; and if they were humble, they would not have elevated themselves above everyone else and claimed to speak for God in the first place! A few may ‘apologize,’ but with insincere ‘crocodile tears’.
Then it’s very easy to see who are the ‘false prophets’ and ‘false anointed’ that Jesus warned us about, since God’s Spirit never lies, misleads, or gets things wrong. Also the Spirit would never motivate someone to elevate themselves over the flock. Such things are the marks of dishonest men: false prophets, false anointed, false Christians.