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Were there false Messiahs around the time of Jesus?



      

Mark 13:21 - 22

ESV - 21 And then if anyone says to you, 'Look, here is the Christ!' or 'Look, there he is!' do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.

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Closeup Jennifer Rothnie Supporter Housewife, Artist, Perpetually Curious
There were self-proclaimed Messiahs around the time of Christ, both before and after His incarnation. This is in the commonly understood sense of "Messiah" of the era – that of a “divinely appointed king.” A few are mentioned in scripture:

“…Some time ago, Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men joined him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing.” Acts 5:36

“After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and drew away people after him. He too perished, and all his followers were scattered.” Acts 5:37

Some other potential false Messiahs from scripture are: Bar-Jesus/Elymas the sorcerer in Acts 13:6-12; Simon Magus from Acts 8:9-24; and Barabbus, who among his other crimes is listed insurrection against Rome (Luke 23:19-20.) 

Christ also warns there will be many false Messiahs to come, some of which would use His own Name to deceive others and claim to be Christ Himself (Matt 13:6-22, Matt 24:5-17, Mark 13:6-22.)

Josephus records by name several men and attempts in his Jewish Antiquities, book 17 [Josephus, Antiquities Book XVII (earlyjewishwritings.com)], among them: Simon, a slave of Herod, who was crowned king by his fellows and turned to burning down palaces and king’s houses, believing he alone was worthy of the title; Anthronges, a shepherd who led the Jews in insurrection under Herod Archaelus around the same time (~3-4 B.C.); and Judas the Galilean. In addition to these, in Book 18, he references many deceivers and imposters, who would pretend to have received revelation or signs from God, and in so delude the masses into attacking Rome. Https://ccel.org/j/josephus/works/ant-20.htm (chapter 8, section 6.) In His “Jewish Wars,” Book Two (section 13) he describes an unnamed Egyptian who drew away 30,000 to follow him in the wilderness about the Mount of Olives, claiming to be a prophet, before he was eventually killed by Roman soldiers. Josephus, Wars Book II (earlyjewishwritings.com) He also records the works of Mehenem. (He was the son or grandson of Judas the Galilean, mentioned in Acts 5:37 as one who led a bloody rebellion against Rome.) He has his followers kill the High Priest Ananias, and he entered Jerusalem dressed as a king, taking over the Antonia Fortress before he tried the same at the temple and was killed by other zealots. 

Jerome says of Simon Magus that he claimed, "I am the Word of God, I am the Comforter, I am Almighty, I am all there is of God." Hippolytus of Rome records many of the arguments of Simon Magus made with, how he styled himself a creator god, and traces how Valentinian Gnosticism has its roots in the teaching of Simon. [Hippolytus of Rome: The Refutation of All Heresies, Book 6 (earlychristianwritings.com)]

The difficulty in the case of Simon Magus, however, is the variance of tradition and how most accusations sprung up against him over time, some wildly at odds – so it is difficult to ascertain the truth from legend, or be sure these all reference the same person. Simon Magus | Religious Studies Center (byu.edu)

And there were many later false claimants after this period. Some of the more dramatic are Simon Bar Kokhba, who was heralded as Messiah in the second century by Rabbi Akiba Ben Joseph and named, “Son of the Star” in reference to Numbers 24:17. He actually did manage to run an independent Jewish nation for two and a half years before Rome crushed him and his followers. A few hundred years after that, a man called “Moses” arose commanded his followers to throw themselves into the sea, which he promised to split, so they could return to Israel. Many of his followers drowned when he failed. 

Even while some of these attempted to claim God's appointment, or point to an old testament prophecy and make it about themselves, none have come close to fulfilling the prophecies Christ fulfilled, performing the signs He did, or proving it by rising from the dead.

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