In the last few months of his public ministry, Jesus talked about some of the things his followers should anticipate when he was gone. These teachings are concentrated in the “Olivet Discourse” (a sermon given on the Mount of Olives, near Jerusalem), which is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus told them to look for certain signs of impending doom, beginning with the destruction of the Jewish Temple (which happened in AD 70), continuing through numerous large-scale wars (which have escalated throughout history since) and culminating in a future final judgment (which is still to come).

At the beginning and at the end of this overview of human history to come there are important references to the role of the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of Man.

At the beginning of the Discourse: When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray. (Matthew 24:3-5)

At the end of the Discourse: Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘There he is!’ — do not believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce great signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look! He is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look! He is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:24-27).

Years ago, as an assignment for a seminary course, I read The Three Christs of Ypsilanti. More recently (2017), it has been made into a movie with the same title. It’s about a real-life study of three different men who had been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic and each of whom believed that he was Jesus Christ. Milton Rokeach, the lead psychiatrist in the study, wondered what would happen if all three men were made to live together: Would they fight about whose claims were true, or would they find some way to tone down their beliefs about themselves so they could co-exist? The three men were brought into the same living unit at Ypsilanti (Michigan) State Hospital. The experiment was very controversial, and the findings are debatable. Rokeach’s own conclusion was that each of the three men adjusted his views somewhat but found a way to maintain his Christ-belief. The Messiah Complex felt critical to each one’s survival.

Many religious leaders throughout Christian history have depended on their personal charisma to lead and control their followers. They’re usually smart enough to stop short of labeling themselves as Christ, but they mesmerize their “disciples” into accepting their pronouncements as being words from God. They often emphasize that they have a special anointing. Significantly, the words Messiah (in the Hebrew) and Christ (in the Greek) both mean Anointed One.

Be careful whom you follow and how blindly you follow them! There are all kinds of popular Christian movements in our day that are dominated by Messianic leaders. In fact, Christian media sometimes seem to be saying “Look, here is Christ!” “No, here is Christ!”

There is only one Christ. He gave the assurance, in the last words of this Olivet Discourse, that in the final episode of human history on earth there will be no doubt:

“Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory. (Matthew 24:30)