“in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah’” There are three aspects to this statement, and they seem to be in conflict, but actually they add depth to one another. The first is that Jesus said that many will come “in my name.” A quick perusal of the many uses of the phrase “in my name” in the Bible shows that it refers to representing someone or the authority of someone. For example, prophets who prophesy “in my [God’s] name,” speak as God’s representatives or with His authority. Those who pray “in the name” of the Lord call upon his authority.
There are no examples in the Bible of someone coming “in the name of” God who is passing himself off as God, or anyone praying in the name of Jesus who is claiming to be Jesus. So here in Matthew 24:5 (cp. Mark 13:6; Luke 21:8), the fact that the person comes “in my name” suggests that he is not claiming to be the Messiah himself, but rather is coming as a representative of the Messiah or in the power and authority of the Messiah. However, the second part of the phrase seems to be saying that the person who comes is saying, “I am the Messiah,” and thus claiming to be the Messiah—the anointed one or savior—or even Jesus Christ himself.
How do we reconcile these seeming contradictory statements? One thing we should do is recognize that all three things are true: there will be people who claim to come in the authority of Jesus or to have special revelation from him but who are deceivers (even if they are deceived themselves), there will be people who will actually claim to be the Messiah, the anointed savior, and there will even be some people who will claim to be Jesus Christ himself. Thus, this verse is not speaking about only one particular type of person, but three.
To more fully understand Jesus’ statement, we must have the same concept of “Messiah” as the people in biblical times. If we translate the verse as it appears in most English versions, “I am the Christ,” most Christians will get the wrong idea about the verse: they will think that many people will actually claim to be Jesus Christ. Although there may be people who will make that claim, that is not the primary meaning of the verse. In Greek, the word christos (#5547 Χριστός) meant “anointed” or “anointed one.” It was a translation of the Hebrew word mashiyach (#04899 מָשִׁיחַ), which gets transliterated into English as “Messiah,” but which means “anointed” or “anointed one.”
Linguistically, the Hebrew word mashiyach (Messiah) means the same as the Greek word christos (Christ), which is “anointed one.” But the term “anointed one” was widely used of different people. Throughout the Bible, many people were “anointed ones,” thus Messiahs or Christs. For example, Leviticus 4:5 mentions the priest that is “anointed,” which is mashiyach (Messiah) in the Hebrew text and christos (Christ) in the Septuagint. So the priest was a Messiah or Christ. (Lev. 4:16; 6:22). In 1 Samuel 2:10, the king is called a Messiah or Christ (1 Sam. 12:3, 5). In 1 Samuel 16:6, when Samuel saw Jesse’s son Eliab, he thought he was the Messiah, the Christ (i.e., the next king). In 1 Samuel 24:6 (and other verses as well), David refers to King Saul as God’s Messiah, or Christ. In 2 Samuel 19:22, Abishai called David the Messiah, or Christ. The Bible even says the pagan Persian king Cyrus is a Messiah, a Christ, because he did God’s work (Isa. 45:1).
Nobody thought that these different Messiahs or Christs were THE Messiah or Christ that God promised who would bring salvation to the world. The people who lived in the biblical culture and spoke the biblical languages understood that God anointed many different people for many different tasks. That is why when the angels appeared to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth, they made themselves clear by saying this baby was “Savior,” “Christ” and “Lord,” not just “Christ.”
The average Christian does not know that priests, kings, and people commissioned to do God’s work were called “Messiah” or “Christ” because when mashiyach (Messiah) appears in the Hebrew Old Testament (and christos in the Septuagint) those words are not transliterated as “Messiah” or “Christ,” but are instead are typically translated as “anointed” or “anointed one.” That means that the average Christian never sees that there are many Messiahs, or Christs, in the Bible. However, once we know that there were many “Messiahs” in the Bible, we are in a better position to understand what Christ was saying, which in its fullness was that as we approach the final days, many deceivers will come. Some will say they represent Christ or have his authority. Others will say they are anointed by God (“I am the anointed one”) and demand that people follow them. And still others will actually claim to be Christ himself.
Mark and Luke record the same basic statements as Matthew does (Mark 13:6; Luke 21:8). Just like in Matthew, both Mark and Luke say deceivers will come “in my [Jesus’] name.” However, instead of then saying, “I am the Messiah,” like Matthew does, they have, “I am the one” or “I am he.” But in the culture, the phrases “I am the Anointed One” and “I am the one” can be equivalent. It is likely that when Jesus was speaking to his disciples on the Mount of Olives, he made the statement both ways to be sure they understood him, and Matthew records one way Jesus said it while Mark and Luke record the other way. Just like “I am the Messiah,” the phrase “I am the one,” could mean someone was claiming to come in the authority of Jesus Christ with a special revelation, or that he was claiming to be an “anointed one” and people should follow him, or that he was actually Jesus Christ.
In the REV translation, we chose to use “Messiah” rather than “Christ” for clarity, although we also thought about using “Anointed One” (cp. Nyland’s, The Source New Testament). We used “Messiah” for the Greek christos in several other places, so we continued with that pattern in Matthew 24:5 as well.
What we should clearly learn from Matthew, Mark, and Luke is that in the last days there will be liars and deceivers who will try to get believers to follow them instead of the true Messiah who brings salvation to the world. Some will claim to come with authority and revelation from the Messiah, others will come claiming to be a Messiah, and still others will actually claim to be Jesus Christ (Jesus “the Messiah”). The believer’s best defense against these false Messiahs and prophets is to know the Word and train ourselves to hear God’s still, small voice. Jesus Christ knew the Word and heard God’s voice, and in cases when he could have been misled, he said, “It is written.” We need to do the same.