Add the missing punctuation to Jesus’ saying:
take heed that no one deceives you for many shall come in my name saying I am the Christ and will deceive many
If you’re like most people familiar with the verse, you probably punctuated it in the way that’s been traditional in most translations of Matt. 24: 4b-5, something like:
Take heed that no one deceives you, for many shall come in my name, saying, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive many.
However, of course, the original Greek had no punctuation except (occasionally) for the ends of sentences. The King James Version, in fact renders it without quotation marks:
Take heed that no man deceive you.
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.
Are you beginning to get a different feel for the verse yet? What if the best translation were actually like this:
Take heed that no one deceives you, for many shall come in my name, saying that I am the Christ, and will deceive many.
Could Jesus have meant that the deception would be from future people coming in his name, saying that he is the Christ? I think this might well be what he meant. Consider the traditional translation again. “Many shall come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ.'” There’s a disconnect between the fact that Jesus says the deceivers come in his name, very plainly, and that they’re apparently claiming themselves, not him, to be the Christ. That sounds unlikely for the “many” who come in his name, and not their own.
In contrast, the simple translation “come in my name, saying I am the Christ,” implies that the deception comes from people coming in Jesus’ name, saying that he is the Christ.
What’s wrong with this picture? Maybe nothing. The traditional translation seems right because in Matt. 16, Peter recognizes Jesus as the Christ, and Jesus congratulates and blesses him for receiving the grace to see it.
Yet the canonical gospels also record that Jesus’ deepest prayer was that all of his disciples would attain the same unity with God, him, and each other, that he had, (John 17.21-23), and that they would do greater things than he (John 14.12).
The deception is that Jesus is the only one who is to be Christ. Paul went to great pains to show that all of us are to be Christ with him. Every master intends for his disciples to learn what he teaches, and to be able to do what he does. Let’s get on with it. Take away the sins of the world. Forgive. Heal. Love radically. It’s your turn to be the Christ.