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For then shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be. And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved: but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not.For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. - Matthew 24:21-24 KJV

These verses, coupled with verse 31 where the elect are gathered from everywhere and no indication is given that these are only some of the elect or a remnant of the elect, give the impression that it were not possible to deceive the very elect.

Is it proper to view the shortening of the days of tribulation for the sake of the elect (without which no flesh is saved) as a fact which makes the "if it were possible" a conditional, contrary to fact statement expecting a negative? In other words, signs and wonders will be performed with the intention of deceiving even the elect "if it were possible" but it is not.

Simply put, is "if it were possible to deceive the elect" a figure of speech intended to be understood as "it is not possible" or are the days of tribulation shortened in order to preserve them only to allow (some of) them to then be deceived?

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    The way this text is written suggests the author himself does not know for sure, but doubts, whether the elect can be deceived by the beast. I think there is nothing wrong with leaving it at that, as I'm not sure the text has anything more to say on the matter.
    – Robert
    Commented Aug 24, 2022 at 2:49
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    This puzzled me for a while. But there are two senses of "decieved," final and temporary (or, in lesser matters). For example, the elect may be decieved by an antichrist or antichrist-type figure, because he seems to being doing something that seems to be for the good (how else could he decieve anyone), but they won't be decieved into rejecting Christ or following antichrist outright. In that sense there may be a dual sense of the word "decieved" here. Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 12:19
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    @Constantthin The elect or the remnant never refers to people in general but only the redeemed (whether actually in time or those who are foreknown). Wouldn't that mean that the days will be shortened for the sake of the elect who either have been or will be converted? Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 12:15
  • @SolaGratia Perhaps, but the passage in general has a rather final "flavor" to it and the word itself usually speaks of large scale, permanent wandering off course rather than being individually, temporarily knocked off course. (see Matthew 27:64, Ephesians 4:14, 2 Peter 2:18, Jude 1:11). Commented Aug 28, 2022 at 12:31
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    If the tribulation is not shortened for the elect, they won’t be able to stand strong in their faith. However, God will not let them be tested above what they are able to cope with (1 Cor 10:13). So, they will prevail and have both their soul and flesh saved in the coming resurrections (Mat 10:28). Thus, the elect can not be deceived because God will step in before they reach breaking point. Commented Aug 22, 2023 at 14:59

5 Answers 5

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A few things seem so solidly stated in scripture as to be safe to base an answer on.

(1) The text in question has "if possible", and there's no getting away from that.

(2) Other scripture texts dealing with this exact, future time shed light. More later.

(3) To be deceived is not the same thing as losing one's salvation, as deception of 'the elect' (the chosen) may be with regard to matters separate from salvation.

First, then, the Greek for 'possible' in the text is dunatos, in the sense of 'able, capable' It is the same in the parallel text of Mark 13:22. Interestingly, there is the Greek word adunatos for not possible, but that is not in the text. Had Jesus intended to make an adamant statement, that it was not possible for the elect to be deceived at that future time, he would have said that, surely? This means that the 'if' is important. There cannot have been a scribal error, omitting the 'a' before dunatos, given that the word for 'if' is related to dunatos.

Of further relevance is how Jesus used the same phrase, "if possible", in his prayer in Gethsemane: "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me" (Matthew 26:39 & Mark 14:35-36). Of course, it was not possible because the will of the Father was to have his Son sacrificed at that time, which is why Jesus went on to add, "Yet not my will, but yours be done." This indicates that the author, Matthew, who wrote both phrases expressed by Jesus at different times, had the same intended meaning. This deals with the 'authorial intent' tag.

(2) Noting how Jesus spoke about "false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders" at this future time reminds me instantly of what the risen Lord said later about the time just before his sudden return to earth, when many would be deceived by great signs and wonders. This is in Revelation 12:9 and chapter 13. Twice we are told of a time to come when satanic, beastly powers on earth will "deceive the whole world" and "deceive them that dwell on the earth". How? With lying signs and portents. It is Satan who is the invisible power behind the devices and systems he has, by then, put into operation all over the world, in order to make people give false worship.

Yet the prophecy also assures us that God's elect have, by then, been identified; only "the world" of mankind that has the mark of the beast continue to be be so deceived, and only they will be adversely judged at Christ's awesome appearing. That beast who blasphemes against God is allowed "to make war with the saints and to overcome them" (13:7) yet (3) their being overcome does not mean they are deceived! Many in the book of Revelation are martyred for their constant faith in Christ. They remain faithful to the last despite being overcome on earth by satanic blasphemers, false prophets, and deceivers. Back to (2). Notice what this second beast (out of the sea) does:

"And he doeth great signs, so that he maketh fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men, and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by those signs which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth that they should make an image to the beast which had the wound by a sword, and did live... and cause as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed." Revelation 13:13-17

Note that God's elect do not give this false worship and they are killed for that reason. But all those with the mark of the beast continue to be deceived.

Jesus told his followers in Matthew 24:24 of a terrible time of trouble, of great tribulation, that would come before the harvest of the world begins (29-31). But God is sovereign, and will not allow satanic deceptions to continue for so long as to see the deaths of all the elect. Satan will not be allowed to run the great tribulation deceptions for such a length of time as that. It was the risen Christ who gave the apostle John the final visions of that time. Put what he said in Matthew 24:24 with what he revealed about just before he returns, and there is perfect consistency.

(3) The elect will suffer great tribulation, but that does not mean they must be deceived. The elect will not give false worship and many will die for that reason. No matter what they make of false prophets and lying signs and portents, at the last they will refuse to worship the image of the beast (the intent of the deceivers). And those who know the prophetic scriptures well will be in the best position to identify those deceptions from the start. They will also know that God will not allow that time of tribulation to go on for so long that they will all be killed for their faithfulness.

In summary, and to answer your final question, "is "if it were possible to deceive the elect" a figure of speech intended to be understood as "it is not possible" or are the days of tribulation shortened in order to preserve them only to allow (some of) them to then be deceived?" - the answer to both those questions is, "No." There is a third possibility which I have striven to show; that the elect - at the end - will not be deceived into giving Satan worship, no matter how confusing and terrifying the times. Giving false worship ("strange fire" Numbers 3:4 cf. Rev. 13:13) at that time will result in damnation. None of the elect will do that because of knowing from the scriptures what's really going on, and because of knowing their Lord and Saviour. The elect will be prepared to be martyred rather than fall for the deceptions that the whole world falls for.

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    Agreed and up-voted. If it were possible to deceive the elect the conditions are such that they would be deceived, so grievous will be the conditions. But it is not possible. So it will not happen.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 8:34
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    The days will be shortened for the sake of the elect. This answer harmonizes very well with that notion. Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 12:49
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The Pulpit commentary expresses the problem in Matt 24:24 very well -

Insomuch that if it were possible, they shall deceive (ὤστε πλανῆσαι εἰ δυνατὸν) the very (καὶ, even) elect. The Authorized Version seems to make our Lord imply that such seduction was absolutely impossible. The translation ought to run, as in the Revised Version, so as to lead astray, if possible even the elect, signifying the difficulty, not the impossibility, of drawing them away from the truth. "The elect" are Christians, true followers of Jesus, and members of his Church. These may fall from the faith, for they are not yet finally safe, and on that chance Satan builds; but as long as they rest on Christ, looking to him for guidance and protection, trying the spirits by the Word of God and by the truths which they have learned in creed and worship, they stand firm against the strongest temptations. Matthew 24:24

Ultimately, whether converted and committed Christians can be led astray and fall away from the faith cannot be determined from Matt 24;24 alone and must be decided on the basis of other material in the NT. See the appendix below.

APPENDIX - Can Converted Christians fall away?

  • King Saul who was a statesman and prophet called by God (1 Sam 10:11, 12, 19:24), yet was ultimately lost when he consulted demons for advice and then committed suicide.
  • Ps 69:28 contains a plea for David’s enemies to be blotted out of the book of life!
  • Eze 18:21-28 also teaches that the wicked can reform and be saved, and the righteous can apostatize and be lost. Both situations are incompatible with Calvinism’s view of salvation and humanity.
  • Rom 11:17-21 discusses the warning that people who had been grafted into the “olive tree” of the Christian community could be broken off if they were unfaithful.
  • 1 Cor 9:27 Paul says he disciplines his body to keep it under control so that after preaching to others he does not become a castaway/disqualified. That is, Paul believed that it was possible that he could lose his way and become lost.
  • 1 Cor 10:12 also contains a stern warning from Paul, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”
  • 2 Cor 6:1, “As God’s fellow workers, then, we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.
  • Gal 1:6, I am amazed how quickly you are deserting the One who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—
  • Gal 5:4: “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace”
  • Gal 6:9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
  • 1 Tim 6:10, For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
  • Heb 2:1-3, We must pay closer attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every transgression and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?
  • Similarly, Heb 6:4-6 also teaches that some “who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit…” can fall away.
  • Heb 10:26: If we(!) deliberately keep on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left
  • Heb 10:29: How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them and who has insulted the Spirit of grace. This verse clearly shows that it is possible to be sanctified and subsequently lost.
  • Heb 10:35: Therefore, do not throw away your confidence which has a great reward.
  • Heb 10:36: You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God you will receive what he has promised.
  • Heb 13:9, “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace …”
  • 2 Peter 1:10, “make your calling and election sure”. This clearly allows for the possibility of losing one’s election.
  • 2 Peter 2:21, “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”
  • 2 Peter 3:17 contains a very stern and sobering warning to be on guard that we do not fall from our secure position. Verse 14 contains a similar warning.
  • Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins contains two classes of people called “wise” and “foolish”. All were invited to the wedding; All were virgins symbolizing purity, see Rev 14:5; All had lamps, ie, lights symbolizing Christ as the light of the world, John 1:4, 9, 8:12, 9:5, Matt 5:14-16; All, at least initially had oil - but this is the crux of the parable - five virgins had enough oil and five did not have enough because they complained that their lamps were going out. In the NT oil represents the gift of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18, Acts 10:38, 2 Cor 1:21, 22, 1 John 2:20). Thus, Jesus teaches that some who are called and have been given the Holy Spirit (see also Heb 6:4-6) can still be excluded from the Kingdom of God.
  • Jesus’ parable of the vine (John 15:1-8) says two interesting things: (a) that branches (connected to the vine of Jesus) that do not bear fruit are cut off (v2); and (b) the bearing of fruit is to prove that we are Jesus’ disciples.
  • Jesus’ parable of the sower, or perhaps the parable of the soils (Matt 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, Luke 8:4-15) contains several classes of people (soils) who start out well in the Christian life but lose their way. The conclusion is also significant: “by their constancy bear fruit”. (Luke 8:15)
  • Jesus’ parable of the banquet (Luke 14:16-24) contains a very good example of people rejecting the call (or “election”) of God as well as God having to ask some people more than once and begging them to the wedding banquet. Jesus’ conclusion is, again, significant, “not one of those men who have been invited shall taste of my banquet.” In the parallel passage of Matt 22:1-14, Jesus concludes by saying, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
  • Jesus' instruction to the church of Laodicea and its “lukewarm” members being “spued out” clearly shows that some will lose their salvation.
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  • Should a balanced answer include an appendix of verses such as John 6:39 (and many others)? Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 1:27
  • @MikeBorden - John 6:39 is contentious precisely because this is talking about the will of the Father and we are encouraged to do the will of the Father and those are not doers of the Father's will be condemned. That is, the will of the Father does not make the outcome certain.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 1:32
  • Isn't the will of the Father certain where Jesus is concerned? In v. 38 He says he came to do the Father's will. Verse 39 has to do with Jesus' ability to do the Father's will, which is to lose none of all He has been given and to raise them up at the last day. Can Jesus fail to do the Father's will to any extent? Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 1:43
  • @MikeBorden - I fully agree. But we are not discussing Jesus doing the Father's will; we are discussing people doing or not doing the Father's will. Indeed, Matt 18:14 says that it is the Father's will that all will be saved. Note the parable in Matt 21:31 about tow brother - one did the Father's will and the other did not.
    – Dottard
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 2:16
  • I'm sorry, you lost me. It is the Father's will that Jesus loses nothing of what he has been given. Has he not been given the elect from the foundation of the world? Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 3:28
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The answer depends on the viewpoint of the reader. If "the elect" are predestined in the sense that Calvin or Augustine used the the term, then it is not possible to seriously deceive them. Presuming that following a false prophet affects one's salvation, it is logically impossible for the elect to be deceived. God is Almighty and has predestined whom will be saved.

God's eternal decree, by which He compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others (Inst. III, 21, 5).

On the other hand, if election means "called" but not not necessarily "justified" or "glorified," (Romans 8:30) then it is possible for the elect to be deceived, if one presumes that justification and glorification involve free-will choices by the believer not also predestined by God. This, of course, contradicts the Calvinist/Augustine view in which God's predestination of salvation does not contradict the reality of free will.

Ultimately the answer to the question may depend on whether someone who is already "called" can be led astray temporarily by a false prophet without forfeiting their election. In other words, is it theoretically possible for someone who has be "elected" in the sense of "called" to fall away and then return without affecting his/her ultimate salvation. My answer would be yes.

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  • Is there nothing in the text which can direct the viewpoint of the reader? Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 13:27
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    If there is, I don't see it. This is one of those issues where it seems to me that Christians may disagree with each other agreeably. Commented Aug 23, 2022 at 13:35
  • This merely compares interpretations, then gives a personal opinion. It does not answer the question hermeneutically. Using the principles of this answer results in one receiving no truth from scripture whatsoever, only hypothetical possibilities or negative probabilities. @MikeBorden (for information only).
    – Nigel J
    Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 8:30
  • I tried. IMO the answer is within the guideline: "So long as you fully answer at least a part of the original question, then you can contribute the results of your research and anything additional you’ve tried. That way, even if you can’t figure it out, the next person has more to go on." Still learning the ropes here but as Otis Redding said "I can't do what ten people tell me to do." Commented Aug 27, 2022 at 19:16
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When it says "if it were possible", it also means it is possible when specific condition is fulfilled. I would like to first review what is meant by 'elect'.

We may find in the scripture three kinds of people related to God; the invited (called), the chosen and the elect. A brief definition of these is

  • The called or invited represent people who have received the call or invitation
  • The chosen are those who received the call or invitation and have chosen to accept it
  • The elect are those selected by God for a purpose

To understand the above, the Parable of the Wedding Banquet (Matthew 22:1-14) might shed a light. In this parable, the king's original guests were not coming, so he sent his servant to the streets to invite anyone found to participate. Many had chosen to accept and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes.

12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:11-14 NIV)

There were three kinds of people in the parable

  1. The people who were invited but chose not to accept
  2. The people who were invited and chose to accept but were ejected
  3. The people who were invited and chose to accept and stayed in the banquet

How is this answering the OP Question?

22 “If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. (Matthew 24:22 NIV)

The elect have the strongest faith. So when the distress came, the chosen people were the first to fail. If the distress prolonged, it will threaten the elect, and for this sake, God will shorten those days to save them.

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  • "and for this sake, God will shorten those days to save them." So it is not the strength of faith of the elect but the action of God on their behalf that actually saves them? Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 12:37
  • The strength of faith is surely a necessity in the sight of God, but it is not perfect in human, but perfect in Christ, as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 12:9, that Christ said to him; “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Why would Jesus said "no one would survive if those days had not been cut short"? No matter how strong the faith, it still has weakness. So Yes, God saves the elect according to their faith. Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 14:20
  • Consider Luke 17:1-6 regarding the size or strength of our faith. The smallest genuine faith moves mountains. Commented Jul 13, 2023 at 11:24
  • This is a hyperbole. Even the mountain moves, it is the work of Holy Spirit. The word 'genuine' is crucial, which means perfect. Jesus said only One is good (Matt 19:17). On earth, nobody is perfect. Every one has to humble before God, so that the work of God can work in him. Commented Jul 13, 2023 at 15:31
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εγερθησονται γαρ ψευδοχριστοι και ψευδοπροφηται και δωσουσιν σημεια μεγαλα και τερατα ωστε | πλανασθαι | πλανησαι | ει δυνατον και τους εκλεκτους (Matt 24:24) WH with NA variant

Yes, the sentence is indeed a conditional clause. If statements comes in the first class conditional clauses, see Boyer's article on the first class conditions. It is not a second class conditional contrary to fact, since there is no negation implied. It is an unambiguous warning that even the elect may get deceived, which expresses a positive likelihood that even the elect would be deceived. There should be no surprise to understand the likelihood of apostasy, and we cannot ignore the whole Jewish scripture, including the various examples like Judas.

If apostasy was not possible, there would have been no need of the commandments, preaching, warnings and caution. The view that denies apostasy belong to Gnostic doctrines such as fatalism (Manichaean/Augustinian) or Calvinism doctrines of OSAS which denies apostasy.

Thus, it is not possible to read the sentence any other way than the plain meaning. There is no indication of any hyperbole, irony or sarcasm in the text, and the warning is consistent with thoughout the Bible.

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  • Gee, thanks for telling me what my actual concerns are! :-) "The particle ει (ei) is a conditional conjunction and means if. It's pretty much on a par with our English word "if", and offers no major surprises. It is employed to introduce a situation or statement that is entirely hypothetical, typically without saying anything about the validity of the statement." Hence, the question. Commented Aug 31, 2022 at 11:28

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