Mt 24:4-5 (NKJ) And Jesus answered and said to them: "Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many."The context is clear enough: 1) those who come are false and deceptive in their essential message, and 2) that they are making the claim (thus the appropriate inner quotes) to be "Christ".
1Co 12:3 (NIV) Therefore I tell you that... no one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.You are on the right track to look for something deeper in this verse. I mean, there are not "many" well-known religious celebrities in the world claiming to "be Christ"; and the rare few who do are not gaining much of a following, and this does not seem likely to change in the near future. Was Jesus describing something as unimportant as a few kooks on the lunatic fringe that are hardly worth even noting?
1Jn 4:2 (NIV) This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.
Rather, I think when we turn to Greek we see what this verse really means, and you don't need to be a Greek expert to "get it".
You know what Christ means in Greek, right? Christ means: "Anointed". Messiah in Hebrew means the same thing: "Anointed One". If there is an error in our English translation, I think it was in transliterating this Greek word as a proper-noun rather than really translating it. No major harm done, as we can do it ourselves easily enough:
Mat 24:5 (DVP) "For many will come... claiming, 'I am Anointed,' and will deceive many."Could that ever happen? <smiles>
Jesus, interestingly, did not go around claiming to be anointed (to be Christ). When other people would recognize who He was, He would confirm it in no uncertain terms, but (with the possible exceptions of Lk 4, the woman at the well, and His trial) He did not assert this Himself in general in His ministry. Is this not odd? Why not? Perhaps Jesus was setting Himself up as an example in direct counterpoint to the false "anointed ones" who would come with their self-claims of "anointing" at the end of days.
John 5:31-32 (NIV) "If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that his testimony about me is valid."WWJD, then? Well, He did not go around claiming to be anointed, even though He was. And His true disciples are to "follow" Him, and "be like" Him, when fully trained, right? And He told us, I think rather plainly, that a time would come (and is now here) when it would become religiously hip-and-trendy to make self-claims to be "anointed". Even with this direct warning in scripture and the counter-example of His own life, Jesus is bold in saying it will occur nonetheless; and when it occurs we can be sure it is both a sign of the person claiming to be "anointed" is false and that when "many" are doing this it is a harbinger that the Day of the Lord is near.
To modify my paragraph above: I mean, there are "many" well-known religious celebrities in the world claiming to "be anointed", and these "many" who claim to be "anointed" are gaining a huge and noteworthy following of countless millions of people and dollars, and this is likely to get even more popular in the near future. Jesus "tells us in advance" that people would claim to "be anointed" and that this was a real and present danger that would commandeer and deceive many who would otherwise claim to be following Him, right? Such an interpretation fits exactly what is happening right now and right under our noses. Further, it would be odd for Jesus to have not prophecied about such a major trend in religious history, if this is not what the verse is about.
Thus, I interpret Mat 24:5 to mean that many will come and claim to be anointed, which is exactly what it says. Even in English is easy enough to understand if you know what "Christ" means. And it is exactly what is happening.
Imagine it, people coming in the opposite (anti) spirit of Christ: they are haughty, boastful, self-serving, greedy, arrogant, ignorant, lacking in personal righteousness, doing cheap magic tricks or worse and blaming this chicanery on the Holy Spirit, ordering God around, patting each other on the back, fleecing the flock, etc... and all the while claiming to be "christ", or "anointed". Imagine it, the polar opposite of Christ claming to be Christ, and people actually buying it.
Mt 24:24 (NIV) For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible.For more on the difference between the anti-anointing (anti-christ) and the genuine and singular Christ, see the posting on The Anointing if you have not already.
1Jo 2:27 (Wey) And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him remains within you, and there is no need for any one to teach you. But since His anointing gives you instruction in all things--and is true and is no falsehood--you are continuing in union with Him even as it has taught you to do.