Apocalyptic topics seem to be the favorite of many who are trying to navigate through this increasingly confusing world. But, of all the end-time themes revealed in the Bible—such as global disasters, the rise of a global super-state, the revelation of the Antichrist, the mark of the beast, and the Magog invasion — the topic of deception is referenced to more times than any other “sign of the end times.”
Jesus warned in His Olivet Discourse saying, “...Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many,” He then continued to warn, “And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.”
In both his letter to Timothy and his letter to the Thessalonians the apostle Paul warns that “in latter times some will depart from the faith,” and “Let no man deceive you by any means: for [that day shall not come], except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”
In both of these admonitions, Paul is writing about apostasy.
In describing the “falling away” he uses the Greek term apostasia which is a word that means to forsake, abandon or renounce a previously held belief. I believe that Paul is identifying two types of apostasy in these two letters. To Timothy, he warns of apostasy in the Church, and to the Thessalonian Church he warns of the apostasy in the world that will lead up to the revelation of the “man of sin.”
Apostasy in the Church
In recent months there have been a few well-known Christian celebrities who have publicly renounce their faith. For some, their own faith was shaken as they saw these high-profile leaders fall. Some may ask, “How can such famous followers of Jesus fall away?” I believe there are clear historic parallels that give us insight into both the condition and the cause of many church’s decline today. We will examine three causes—all three have an example in the history of Israel.
- Broken Cisterns - Jeremiah complained about the apostasy of Judah by saying,
Hath a nation changed [their] gods, which [are] yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for [that which] doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD. For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, [and] hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.
Today, Darwinian physical science has given the world something I call “Declaration over Exploration.” Sadly, many Churches are promoting “Theistic Evolution” as a needless compromise with the disastrous result of the killing of God the Creator.
Freudian mental science has given the world an “escape from sin” where everyone is a victim. Here, too many in the Church promote these unbiblical ideas and thereby kill God the Judge.
Biblical “Higher Criticism” and “Lower Criticism” from the 19th-20th Centuries gave the world spiritual doubt. The result? The absence of personal discernment as the Church promotes its own self-criticism. All three of these secular practices are like the “broken cisterns” spoken of by Jeremiah.
- Alliances of Weakness - Hosea helps us draw a historical parallel here. He observes that “Ephraim, he hath mixed himself among the people; Ephraim is a cake not turned. Strangers have devoured his strength, and he knoweth [it] not: yea, gray hairs are here and there upon him, yet he knoweth not.” He was warning against the infiltration, integration, and influence of evil.
The best example of this kind of compromise is King Solomon himself. The writer of 1 Kings reminds us,
But king Solomon loved many strange women, together with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, [and] Hittites; Of the nations [concerning] which the LORD said unto the children of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall they come in unto you: [for] surely they will turn away your heart after their gods: Solomon clave unto these in love. And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, [that] his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as [was] the heart of David his father.
1 Kings 11:1-4
The Worldwide Ecumenical Movement demonstrates this dangerous paradigm shift among some churches today, which results in pragmatic political positioning that dilutes and dims the “Salt and Light effect” of the true followers of Jesus Christ.
- Sheep Without Shepherds - Again, Hosea gives us the historic parallel the will help us understand the sad spiritual state of Israel at the time of their falling away. Concerning the backsliding of the northern nation of Israel He complains, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”
Jeremiah tells us that this is caused by the wayward spiritual leaders that have, “led them astray.” He warns, “‘Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!’ saith the LORD. Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD.”
False teachers in the end times are predicted by Jesus, by Paul, and Peter. The Letter of Jude describes in detail the characteristics of these false teachers. These apostates will use lying signs, wonders and covetousness and produce a strong deception to draw people into apostasy. Paul warned that the allurement into apostasy will come because “they will not endure sound doctrine.”
To the Corinthian Church, he warned,
But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or [if] ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with [him].
2 Corinthians 11:3,4
The apostate church is one that offers “another Jesus, another Spirit, and another gospel.” I cover this specific scriptural passage in more detail in my briefing package Doctrines of Demons.
Who are the apostates that come with another Jesus, or offer a different spirit and present a different gospel? Matthew 13:24-30 may well be a parable that gives us the insight we need to understand this disturbing end-times prophesy. After all, Jesus made it clear that
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
When you review the “perilous times” Paul describes to his disciple Timothy, he concludes that they are, “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Apostasy in the World
The apostle Paul gave the Thessalonian Church clear guidance concerning several end-times doctrines: the suffering the Church in the end times, the resurrection and rapture of the saints, and the Day of the Lord.
Paul’s second letter to this Church gave more explicit details of the coming judgment on the world.
We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth; So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: [Which is] a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: Seeing [it is] a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.
2 Thessalonians 1:3-10
This “tribulation” (or Day of the Lord) will come upon the world because those in the world have rejected the witness of a holy and righteous God.
Paul then puts this whole scenario into a sequence of key phases and events.
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and [by] our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for [that day shall not come], except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
I believe the “falling away” referenced here by Paul is identifying those in the world who have seen the reality of God through the rudimentary witness of creation and the ever-present drawing of the Holy Spirit but have chosen not to seek after God. They will now reap the fearful vengeance of a just God.
The apostle Paul explained it this way to the Church in Rome:
For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed [it] unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, [even] his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified [him] not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in [their] knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Today as you witness the irresistible, immoral tsunami that seems to be sweeping almost everyone away, you can see that, in a real sense, the world has “fallen away” from the clear revelation of God that surrounds them. This is preparing the heart of the masses to accept the “man of sin.”
What is the Antidote for Apostasy?
The prophet Hosea comes to our rescue here as he tells Israel to “Come, and let us return unto the LORD: for he hath torn, and he will heal us; he hath smitten, and he will bind us up. After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight. Then shall we know, [if] we follow on to know the LORD: his going forth is prepared as the morning; and he shall come unto us as the rain, as the latter [and] former rain unto the earth.”
What can we do?
- Stay Connected – Resist the temptation to fall out of fellowship. Don’t allow the fear of confronting the tares among the wheat to frighten you away from fellowship with other believers.
Let us hold fast the profession of [our] faith without wavering; (for he [is] faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some [is]; but exhorting [one another]: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
- Stay Sharp – Remain vigilant and always on your guard. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.” “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good. Abstain from all appearance of evil.”
- Stay on Target – Remember that the value of staying true to the Word of God is that it not only keeps you safe but it also is of eternal value to others that hear you.
Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.
1 Timothy 4:13-16
- Stay in God’s Word – Our best source of direction for the course of our life is the resource of God’s eternal Word. Most of us are familiar with 2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture [is] given by inspiration of God, and [is] profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Do we actually use the Word of God as our primary source for guidance and protection? Do we weigh our decisions on the scales of the Holy Scripture, do we drive our opinions through the gates of Biblical scrutiny, or do test our passions in the fire of God’s judgment?
Psalmist gives us the attitude we should have regarding the incorporation of God’s Word into our daily lives.
How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You. Blessed [are] You, O LORD! Teach me Your statutes. With my lips I have declared All the judgments of Your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, As [much as] in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts, And contemplate Your ways. I will delight myself in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word.
Don’t just Survive, Thrive!
- Stay Active for the Kingdom – With great opposition comes great opportunity. The Bible predicts that the state of the world will grow darker and darker as we reach the end of the age. But, the Great Commission of Christ is not accomplished if His disciples are hiding in a foxhole. Therefore, the responsibility of every Christian is to stand firm, stand bright, and stand tall in a world that still needs to know hope.
Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.