"For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect � if that were possible." (Matthew 24:24)
The prophecy in Matthew 24 is not understood very well because it contains two distinct but parallel prophecies. Sitting on the Mount of Olives, Jesus told His disciples about Jerusalem�s coming destruction (A.D. 70) and also the destruction of the world at His Second Coming. Jesus combined these two events into one discourse because there are ominous parallels. However, it is very important that we do not merge these two prophecies together because the specifications about the destruction of Jerusalem do not apply to the end of the world and vice versa. If you study Matthew 24 closely, you will discover that Jesus introduced the "end of the world" portion of His discourse in verse 21: "For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now � and never to be equaled again." This is important to observe because it is within the context of the Great Tribulation that Jesus said: "For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect � if that were possible." (verse 24)
Inthe near future, 144,000 people will be selected and empowered to speak for Jesus. When the 144,000 begin their work, the devil will also be allowed to empower a large number of false messiahs and false prophets. These evil people will perform marvelous signs and miracles, just like the 144,000. These manifestations will be so convincing that if possible, Jesus said, the elect could be deceived! Of course, the ability to work a miracle does not mean that God is the source of power behind the miracle. Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, �Lord, Lord,� will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, �Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?� Then I will tell them plainly, �I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!� " (Matthew 7:21,22)
So, two issues in Matthew 24:24 need to be considered. The first issue is this: Why will God allow false prophets to appear � performing marvelous signs and miracles to deceive people? The second issue is this: Who are the elect?
An entire book could be devoted to the question, "Why does God allow the devil and his representatives to lead the world astray?" Because this is a short study, please consider the following summary: With infinite wisdom, God did not immediately destroy Lucifer and his followers when they first sinned because He wanted His children to obtain a thorough understanding of good and evil . By allowing Lucifer, the highest and brightest of created beings, to develop an opposition government, the all-knowing Father allowed His children to see and understand the differences between a government of selfishness and a government of selflessness. God knew that allowing two opposing governments to exist over an extended period of time would clearly demonstrate the superior government. So, He permitted Lucifer and his followers to live until this demonstration will be finished. In making this decision, God also foreknew that Lucifer�s stay of execution meant that His only Son must be executed. So, the decision to allow Lucifer to live for a season also came with a great price to God. God always sees the big picture and He foreknew that His best defense throughout eternity against a second occurrence of sin would be to allow His children to have a comprehensive understanding of good and evil .
For the past six thousand years, this fallen planet has been like a "theater" in God�s universe. Heaven�s angels have closely studied Lucifer�s actions and the actions of human beings. After Lucifer led Eve, and then Adam into rebellion against God (ironically, at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), the battle between Jesus and Lucifer began. This battle, which began in Heaven, intensified here on Earth. Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is pulling on the heart strings of each person, encouraging each one to submit to the will of God. On the other side, Lucifer is pulling on our carnal hearts, pushing us to rebel against God. The Father serves as a referee of sorts in this tug-of-war. He will not allow Jesus or Lucifer to have a clear and decided advantage over the other. Whatever Jesus does, Lucifer gets to do and vice versa. The Father insists on this balance because human beings were given the power of choice and by keeping the powers of Jesus and the powers of Lucifer in "a divine balance," the each person is truly free to choose whom he or she will serve.
Notice how this balance is maintained in various ways. Jesus took on the form of a man to save man. To balance this aspect of Jesus� ministry, Lucifer will be allowed to take on the form of a man to lead the world into destruction! Because God maintains a balance between the forces of good and evil, the prophets of Jesus (the 144,000) will compete with the wicked prophets of Lucifer during the Gr eat Tribulation. An Old Testament parallel of this competition was when Moses and Aaron competed with Pharaoh�s magicians. Another parallel was when Elijah competed with 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. This "balance" explains why Jesus warned His disciples that false messiahs and false prophets would appear during the end time and perform great signs and miracles to deceive mankind. Lucifer�s prophets will perform signs and miracles that appear so genuine and marvelous that if possible, the very elect could be deceived!
Since God will allow both true prophets and false prophets to perform signs and wonders during the Great Tribulation, an interesting effect will occur. The miracles of the prophets of God will be superior to those of false prophets (the miracles of Moses, Aaron and Elijah were superior to their counterparts). God allows true prophets a small degree of superiority because Lucifer has one advantage that Jesus does not have. Lucifer�s advantage is humankind�s carnal nature which is naturally inclined toward rebellion against God. Signs and miracles will be everywhere and wicked people, who have rebellious hearts like Pharaoh, will justify their rebellion against God�s demands with inferior miracles! Signs and miracles do not produce sorrow and repentance, but signs and wonders do produce credibility. Sincere and honest people will be able to detect the difference, but wicked people will harden their hearts and will reject the obvious and accept lesser signs and miracles to defend their rebellion. (Daniel 12:10, Matthew 12:39) This is why the appearing of Lucifer, masquerading as God, will become so important. When a majority of the world has rejected the truth, God will allow the devil to physically appear before mankind. (2 Thessalonians 2:8-12) Masquerading as God, the devil will work the ultimate deceptive miracle (which the 144,000 cannot reproduce). Lucifer will call fire down out of Heaven to prove that "he" is God. (Revelation 13:13) When wicked people see this miracle, many of them will be totally convinced that Almighty God lives among men!
Now, we need to consider the second question. Who are the elect � that if possible, could be deceived during the Great Tribulation?
Every four years the United States elects a president. The United States chooses its president and we call him an elected leader. The word "elect" stems from the idea of being chosen. Christians are widely divided on the definition and the identity of God�s elect. Some Christians say that "the elect" are selected individuals whom God has arbitrarily chosen for salvation (that is, God predestined selected people to be saved and all others to be destroyed). Naturally, those who advocate this view are confident that they have been predestined for salvation. Another group claims that "the elect" are members of God�s true church which people are free to join (that is, salvation comes through accepting the teachings of the true church). Naturally, those who hold to this view are convinced that their church is the true church of God. Another group believes "the elect" are the Jews (this is based on God�s original promise to Abraham�s descendants). Each of these views has some good points, but I think the Bible defines "the elect" in a different way. I believe the Bible indicates that everyone who elects to accept the penalty for obeying God during Great Tribulation will make up the elect of God.
Consider these verses (insertions and italics mine):
"He [the beast] was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast � all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. He who has an ear, let him hear. If anyone [among the saints] is to go into captivity, into captivity he will go. If anyone [among the saints] is to be killed with the sword, with the sword he will be killed. This [agony] calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of the saints ." (Revelation 13:7-10)
"I saw that the woman [harlot, Babylon] was drunk with the blood of the saints , the blood of those who bore testimony to Jesus. When I saw her, I was greatly astonished." (Revelation 17:6)
"Then I heard the angel in charge of the waters say: �You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged; for they [the recipients of this plague] have shed the blood of your saints and prophets , and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.� "
"And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens." (Mark 13:27)
When these four verses are aligned, I believe the elect will be those who remain loyal to Jesus when faced with death. In other words, God elects those that choose to put their faith in Him and obey His commands. In other words, if we choose to vote for God, He chooses us for eternal life!