Watch out [you do] not [want] someone [to] possibly lead you astray.
Mat 24:4 Take heed that no man deceive you.
Interesting and Hidden Aspects:
As is often the case, the Greek terms used to are less malicious and malevolent than the English words used.
The verb translated as " take heed " means "to see", "to look to", "to look like", "to beware", and "to look for." It is the more tangible sense of seeing, such as seeing what is right in front of you rather than understanding "look" in English or in a warning like this, "watch out."
There is no "that" in the Greek.
The negative used, "no," here is the Greek negative of a subjective opinion, commands, and requests. The sense is that "you don't want" to do something, not that it isn't done or don't think something that might be true. To capture the sense of this negative in English, we have to insert a verbal phrase that changes the form of the English verb from the Greek.
The Greek word translated as "man" in the singular means "anyone", "someone," and "anything." It is not the Greek word normally translated as "man".
"Deceive" is from a verb that means "to cause to wander", "to lead astray", "to mislead", "to wander", "to stray," and "to be misled." The form indicates something that "might" or "possibly happens.
NOTE: This verse is a response to a question from the apostles about the fall of the Temple. This question is translated as, "Tell us, when shall these things be? and what [shall be] the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" This question makes sense from our current perspective (and common church teaching), but is it a good translation of what the apostles really asked? At this point, Christ had predicted his death, but it really didn't seem like the apostles believed it. They certainly don't seem focussed on a "second coming," though Christ had talked about being raised from the dead and. Nor were they focused on the "end of the world." Those ideas actually come, rightly or wrongly, from what he is about to say, not what he has said before.
A better translation of this question is: Tell us, when will this happen and what does your presence signify about the end of the age? (See vocabulary below for more.) This question makes perfect sense given what the apostles were really thinking about after being told that the temple would fall. And this is a VERY different question and it changes the meaning (and translation) of the answers Christ gives in the next section. Out of this chapter, you can get the idea of a second coming, but Christ is talking generally about how his presence then leads to the end of an era, specifically, the end of the Old Testament era, the fall of the temple, and the scattering of the Jewish nation.
Do these statements also apply to the end of the world? Perhaps. More to the point, they also apply to end of any civilization or era. They also apply (in a way that is clear to me, anyway) to the end of every life. There is a greater meaning here, especially in terms of Christ's presence at culmination of these events.
The original translation of this specific verse makes this sound like others will claim to be Christ and lead people astray. However, this interpretation contradicts the first part of this verse that clearly says that these people come in the name of Jesus. While some have come in Christ name, claiming to be his reincarnation, there is a second reading of this line, which describes a situation common everyday in our lives: people claiming to represent Christ for their own benefit.
In terms of the historical end of Israel in Roman times, others, some following Jesus, others claiming to be the Christ, did lead the Jewish people astray, into a revolution against Rome. Many didn't believe that Jesus was the Christ because their expectation was the Christ would be a political leader, recreating the power of Israel under David and Solomon, an religious empire to take the place of the Roman empire.
Looking at the Greek, the way to read this and to apply it to our everday lives (which is the purpose of this blog) is to take take it as face value. Christ is saying that not everyone who claims to represent him are truly acting in his name. Even people who preach that Jesus is the promised Christ can mislead us for their own purposes. As Christ makes abundantly clear in the previous verse and previous chapter: there is a different between outward appearance and inner desires.
Remember, Christ spent the entire last chapter telling us about the shortcomings and deceptions of religious leaders. His recurring point in that chapter was the self-serving people always claim the prophets as their own once those prophets are safely dead. Christ starts this chapter in the same vein, pointing out the the Jewish temple, built of solid stone, will be torn down. Christ's view of the politics of a larger society was that it was inherently corrupt and that adding religion to it did not reform it. Instead, it corrupted the religion leaders involved, seducing them with the power of the state (the last of the three temptations).
It is very hard to find a place where Christ says anything good about a public, as opposed to a private, relationship with God. He certainly approves of religious custom and traditions both within the community and the family. But he consistently has a problem with people who make a public display of religion to enhance their social image. His instructions for his apostles was for them professing their faith publically and speading his teachings, but he makes it very clear that he didn't like it when people tried to control the dogma to enrich themselves, especially since they do it "in his name."
From the apostle's question:
"Coming" is from parousia, which means "presence", "arrival", "occasion", "situation", "substance," and "property." It is not the word consistenly used to describe something coming or "on its way," which is erchomai.
"World" is from aiôn, which means "lifetime", "life", "a space of time", "an age," an epoch," and "the present world." It is not the word that the Matthew uses when Christ is referring to the world or the earth. It is only translated as "world" in the phrase "end of the world," which is more directly translated as "end of the era."
"Sign" is from sêmeion, which means "mark", "sign", "omen", "sign from the gods", "signal," and "indication."
Βλέπετε (verb 2nd pl pres imperat act or verb 2nd pl pres/imperf ind act ) "Take heed" is from of blepo, which means "to look", "to see", "to look to", "to look like", "to rely on", "to look longingly", "to propose", "to beware", "to behold," and "to look for." --
μή (partic) "No" is from me , which is the negative used in prohibitions and expressions of doubt meaning "not" and "no." As οὐ (ou) negates fact and statement; μή rejects, οὐ denies; μή is relative, οὐ absolute; μή subjective, οὐ objective.
τις (pron sg masc nom) "Man" is from tis which can mean "someone", "any one", "everyone", "they [indefinite]", "many a one", "whoever", "anyone", "anything", "some sort", "some sort of", "each", "any", "the individual", "such," and so on. In a question, it can mean "who", "why," or "what."
The Spoken Version:
He settled on a root under a tree, and they all settled around him.
"Watch out," he said, not shouting a warning, but raising his voice among them so all could hear.
They all looked up.
"You don't want anyone," he announced. "To...maybe...mislead you."
He left the warning hanging. Everyone knew more was coming and were a little nervous because there was something different about his tone.