The question of whether the Antichrist will claim to be Jesus is more difficult than we might think. However, a number of passages might help us come to an answer. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus warns His followers about “false christs” on a few occasions; for example, Matthew 24:24 says that “false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”
Here we are warned of false christs. I would remind the reader that the word “christ” simply means “messiah”; it doesn’t necessarily refer to Jesus. So, it is difficult to determine if any of these christs will claim to be Jesus based on the use of this word alone. It could be referring to someone claiming to be the Messiah to the Jews, or it could indicate someone claiming to be Jesus.
The plural “christs” is interesting here, because in another verse in the same chapter, Jesus makes it clear that “many” of these false christs will come. I take these references to many false messiahs to mean that the end times will be marked by great messianic expectations. Messianic fervor, and with it messianic pretenders, always have arisen when during significant Jewish events in history. For example, of the twenty-five or so false Jewish messiahs who have arisen over the centuries, most were piggybacking on noteworthy events in Jewish history, when expectations of deliverance or victory were very high. The end times, as I understand them, will be nothing if not a series of significant events for Israel. So the fact that many false messiahs will put their hats into the ring during that time is to be expected.
It is clear that although Jesus warns of multiple false christs, He intends the reader to understand that one of these false messiahs stands alone as the main one—that is, the Antichrist—and that these warnings also apply to the Antichrist. Of all the warnings Jesus gives in this chapter, He spends the most time describing the danger of the “abomination of desolation” spoken of by Daniel the prophet “standing in the Holy Place” (Matthew 24:15), where only the Antichrist is in view. Paul explains and expands on this particular teaching of Jesus in 2 Thessalonians: 2–11, which is one of the most detailed descriptions of the doctrine of the Antichrist in Scripture describing in great detail this man’s actions: sitting in the temple declaring himself to be God, etc. In addition, Jesus mentions the false christs and false prophets showing “great signs and wonders to deceive,” a phrase Paul attributes to the “lawless one” in 2 Thessalonians 2:9, seeming to suggest that Paul saw Jesus’ warnings about the false messiahs to directly apply to the Antichrist. So there is a solid basis to believe that these phrases about the many false christs also pertain to the main and final False Messiah, the Antichrist.
One verse that seems to suggest the Antichrist will claim to be Jesus is found in Matthew 24:5: “For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.”
In parallel passages of this verse, like Mark 13:6, some translations use the words, “For many will come in My name, saying I am he,” instead of “I am the Messiah,” but it should be noted that the original Greek does not contain the word “he,” and it often appears in italics because it is an addition of the translators. The NET Bible includes a footnote after the “I am he” phrase, which says: “That is, ‘I am the Messiah.’”
The first part of this verse, “For many will come in My name,” seems to suggest that many of the false christs will claim to be Jesus because of the phrase “in My name,” though the second part of the verse, which gives us an example of what they will say, “I am the Christ,” leaves the matter open to debate, in my opinion. Is Jesus saying that the “many” will use His name specifically, or is He using the phrase “in My name” in the way that it is used in other places, to say that the they will be claiming His rightful title or authority?
One of the reasons I’m not too quick to say that this verse means that the Antichrist will claim to be Jesus is because of the use of a similar phrase in a similar context found in John chapter 5: “I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive” (John 5:43).
This says the Antichrist will come in his own name, which seems to contradict the idea that he comes in Jesus’ name in Matthew 24:5. A resolution could be that in this verse, coming in someone’s “name” refers to coming to do that person’s will, as opposed to that person calling himself by that name. Jesus, in the chapter where we find this verse, makes it clear that He has come to do His Father’s will (John 5:19, 30, 36), which is why He says He has come in His Father’s name; whereas the Antichrist, who is sometimes called the “willful king,” is said many times to do his own will (Daniel 11:16, 36). This is why Jesus says He comes in His own name. In Matthew 24:5, coming in Jesus’ name must mean something different, however, because we know that the false messiahs are not coming to do Jesus’ will, although they are said to come in His name. If this is true, it would be good evidence that the Antichrist will claim to be Jesus.
One of the reasons I lean toward the view that the Antichrist will in some way or another claim to be Jesus is because of Matthew 24:23–27, which says:
Then if anyone says to you, “Look, here is the Christ!” or “There!” do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. Therefore if they say to you, “Look, He is in the desert!” do not go out; or “Look, He is in the inner rooms!” do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.
This was spoken to people who were followers of Christ and understood that there would be a second coming of Christ. After all, disciples’ question cited at the beginning of this chapter was, “What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?” It seems to me that Jesus is warning His followers about false messiahs who are claiming to fulfill the second coming of Christ, which means the people He is warning them about, who are in the desert or inner rooms, must also be claiming to be Jesus, if they want believers to think the second coming has occurred. Jesus says these weak attempts at a second coming will not be true, because His coming will be as “the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west.” In other words, it will not be something that will be easily mistaken or missed. So, because Jesus seems intent on warning Christians about false messiahs claiming to be carrying out the second coming of Jesus, a first coming is presupposed, and these people necessarily must be claiming to be the return of Jesus.
If it is true that the Antichrist intends to deceive Christians into thinking that he is the second coming of Jesus, then that whole scenario will depend on either an ignorance of Scripture or a willingness on the part of professing Christians to minimize Scripture. I say this because the Antichrist is said to come on the scene as either a political or military leader from a place with ten kings or kingdoms. He presumably rises in the ranks and has a very earthly, though tremendously successful, kingdom. It is absurd for a Bible-believing Christian to think the second coming of Christ will be so mundane. The idea that His return will occur by rising in the ranks of some earthly kingdom as a political or military leader as opposed to a sudden and glorious appearance in the clouds with angels is just not possible unless one is willing to seriously allegorize and minimize the Scriptures, which state so clearly that His coming will be glorious and unmistakable. However, Jesus’ warnings in this passage seem to be against just such an error. He essentially says not to be fooled: “My coming will not be so obscure.”
Let’s explore some of the implications and questions that arise from the view that this false Jewish messiah will also claim to be Jesus. The first thing that comes to mind is how much more powerful this deception would be for professing Christians who would see the Antichrist, who would be claiming to be the return of Christ, miraculously conquer and subdue the Muslim world and set up a lookalike millennial kingdom. It would give new meaning to the warnings Jesus gave to His followers about the power of the end-times deception of the elect.1 The only thing that would prevent Christians from believing this lie, other than the Holy Spirit, would be a solid knowledge of the Scriptures. As we have seen, although the Antichrist will do a pretty good job of looking as if he is fulfilling the Scriptures concerning the return of Christ and the setting up of a millennial kingdom, there are numerous things that he won’t be able to do. For example, he almost certainly will not build the millennial temple Ezekiel describes, which is larger than the entire city of Jerusalem, nor will he be able to make a new heavens and new earth. I doubt lions will lay down with lambs under his reign, either.
This brings us to an important point: If the Antichrist does claim to be Jesus, he will be a much different Jesus, with a very different doctrine. As I have said, he must minimize the Scriptures to a large degree, perhaps even forbidding the reading of the New Testament, claiming it has been perverted, just like so many cult leaders before him. Though we can only get glimpses of the Antichrist’s doctrine, no matter which way we look at it, he will be teaching a perverted version of the Scriptures. We can only guess about the specifics of those teachings; unfortunately, we must wait to see.
Moving on to the Jewish view of the Messiah, it is very difficult to see how a man claiming to be Jesus could be embraced by the Jewish people who currently reject Jesus with such a passion. I am reminded of a quote from Rabbi Elaine Rose Glickman, who, in the book, The Messiah and the Jews: Three Thousand Years of Tradition, Belief and Hope, answers the question of how Jewish people will keep from falling for another false messiah:
We will know [who the Messiah is], Judaism counsels, as long as we seek redemption rather than a redeemer. After all, anyone can claim to be our redeemer, and many have. But not even the most successful Messianic pretenders were able to achieve redemption. It is so simple, and yet so clear and true: we will recognize the Messiah not because of the way he looks, not because of a forceful personality or esoteric origin, but because he will accomplish the Messianic tasks.2
Glickman defines those Messianic tasks as the “revival of the temple in Jerusalem” and the “triumph of Israel over enemies who sought her destruction.” So, it may be that if the Antichrist can offer these things, which Scripture says he will do, they will be willing to accept him, even if he claims to be Jesus.
Even though I favor the idea that the Antichrist will claim to be Jesus in some way, even a perverted version, I don’t consider any of the verses we have studied in this chapter conclusive enough to become dogmatic about the point. We need to be prepared to see a false messiah who blasphemes Jesus and claims that He wasn’t the fulfillment of the Scriptures, as well as a false messiah who claims to be the returning Jesus.