Signs of the end of the age 6 – Apostasy

“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it (the day of the Lord) will not come unless the apostasy comes first”, 2 Thessalonians 2: 3.

The Thessalonian Church had been disturbed by a message or letter falsely claiming to have come from Paul. It made out that the gathering of the believers to be with Christ had already taken place. The Thessalonian’s faith had been shaken by the report that they had been left behind. To assure the church that such teaching was nonsense Paul describes two events that will precede the day when our Lord comes for His own. One is the revealing of the man of sin. The other is a falling away from the truth.

Jesus also taught that there would be a falling away before His return. “And at that time many will fall away and will deliver up one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise, and will mislead many. And because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold.” Matthew 24: 10 – 12. The time He is referring to is the end of the age. This sign is closely interwoven with the previous sign of the followers of Christ being hated by all nations. The effect of widespread hatred on the church will be to cause many to fall away. In addition to hatred, false prophets and a disregard for God’s laws will also play their part. Not just a few will cease to follow Christ. Jesus foresees a time when the majority lose their love for Him.

Apostasy in the UK

Living in the UK it is easy to believe that this period has arrived. A once Christian country with laws based on the Bible has turned its back on that heritage. A hundred years ago it was only a small minority who did not go to church. Today it is a minority who regularly attend.

In Britain hatred was not the major cause of the falling away. It began long before the current hostility developed. False prophets deluded by secular knowledge undermined confidence in the infallibility of scripture. If the Bible cannot be trusted as the authoritive word of God then Christianity becomes just one of many competing philosophies. People are free to believe what they like.
Going back to Second Thessalonians Paul adds that a deluding influence will be sent by God to cause people to believe that which is false (2 Thess 2:11). God will send it because they did not love the truth. In Britain as in many other countries the falling away from the church has been fuelled by a delusion. Two hundred years ago it was impossible not to believe in a god. A person may not have wanted to obey God but the existence of a creator god in some form was beyond doubt. Then came the wide spread acceptance of Evolution. It now seemed that there was an intellectually credible alternative to belief in God. This has led on from abandoning the faith to open hostility toward God. Was this a delusion from God to demonstrate that out of the mass of church goers’ there were few who really loved Him?

Over time rejection of God has been followed by rebellion against His laws leading to lawlessness. Lawlessness is not just rioting on the streets of Britain as occurred in 2011. It is the fruit of apostasy. Any society which loses the fear of a righteous God who will hold each of us to account will end up as described in 2 Timothy 3: 1 – 5.

Jesus also spoke of those who fall away as having no roots (Luke 8:13). Once the authority of scripture is denied its study becomes less imperative. Faith not rooted in God’s word will fail when temptation comes. Therefore out of those who remain in the church there are many who are ill equipped to stand when the final rebellion comes.

Our first love

Jesus said that at this time most people’s love will grow cold. The book of Revelation contains a letter to the Church at Ephesus. Jesus commends the church for its stand against the Nicolations and for their hard work and perseverance. But they are also rebuked, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Revelation 2: 4. This is not a trivial matter. It is so serious that they are warned that if they do not repent their lamp stand will be removed. Put another way, they will be closed down.

My father told a story which must have taken place when either I was very young or before I was born. On holiday he saw someone in trouble out at sea. Being a strong swimmer he swam out and brought the boy back to land. It turned out that he had rescued the son of his bank manager. From then on as a business man he enjoyed an exceptionally good relationship with his bank manager. If someone renders us a real service it is natural to want to express our gratitude, the greater the service the greater our gratitude. At Ephesus they had forgotten just how much Jesus had done for them. Churches which are sound in doctrine can fall into this more subtle apostasy. It creeps in when we lose sight of the awfulness of sin, when we think in terms of rehabilitation rather than rescue.

First Chronicles contains a story which tells us the extent to which David inspired devotion from his men. The Philistines had a garrison in his home town of Bethlehem. One day David said that he longed for a drink from the well by the city gate of Bethlehem. On hearing this, three of his strong men broke through the enemy’s lines to fetch water from the well. They risked their lives to please their leader. David was humbled by their devotion. He knew that he was not worthy to receive a gift which could have cost the lives of his men (1 Chronicles 11: 16 – 19).

We serve a king who is worthy of far greater devotion than David ever was. David risked his life for his men and his people. Our King gave His life for us.

How much do we really love Him?

Jesus was invited to a meal at the house of Simon the Pharisee. A woman, a sinner, enters the house and pours perfume over Jesus’ feet. She washes his feet with her tears and wipes them with her hair. It is an expression of gratitude by a sinner who has been forgiven. Simon the Pharisee is offended that Jesus should allow such a person to touch him.

Jesus turns the issue round telling a story about two debtors, one who owed a lot the other only a little. Jesus asks Simon, if each were let off their debts who would be most grateful. Simon replies that the one who has been forgiven most. He then comments on how Simon had not shown any tokens of respect or courtesy. He had not greeted Jesus with a kiss, or supplied water to wash his feet. There was no oil for an honoured guest. But this woman who he holds in contempt had done all these things. “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which were many have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little loves little.” Luke 7: 47.

There is a danger that in an increasingly hostile world we become like the Ephesian church. We are so focused on the world’s disregard for God’s law or the need to defend the truth within the church that we lose the most important part of all, our love for Jesus. We forget that He gave everything for us. He is worthy of total devotion.

The World

A natural response to what has been written so far is that Britain and Europe are not the world. Decline here has been more than matched by growth elsewhere. Some claim that the church is reaping the greatest harvest in its history. If so, this would be a strong argument against the belief that we are in the middle of the falling away that will precede the coming of the Lord. Therefore we need an answer to the question; what is the real state of the global church?

This is a topic swamped with conflicting reports. For instance it has been claimed that in Mongolia over the last couple of decades over 60,000 have converted to Christianity with 500+ new churches. A missionary contact working in that country says that such claims are nonsense. In reality this supposed church growth is based on a fusion of traditional religion and the prosperity gospel. The intensely materialistic attitudes of these supposed Christians has brought the Christian faith into disrepute.

Another Asian country which has seen rapid church growth during the last 50 years has similar problems. An academic paper found that the growth was mainly due to emphasizing of the compatibility of the gospel with traditional religious values. The challenge that we are sinners in need of a saviour was played down by the more successful churches.  See: http://socrel.oxfordjournals.org/content/61/2/117.full.pdf.

Without doubt there are parts of the world where the Lord is working and where the true church is growing. But much claimed growth is the product of a false prosperity gospel. We conclude that only Jesus knows the true state of His Church in this world. Even if the church is experiencing growth today will it produce lasting fruit? The Bible clearly teaches that there will be a falling away before the Lord returns.

The falling away which we have seen in recent decades is a pointer to what is to come. It is paving the way for the final revealing of the man of sin. When that time comes all who do not love the truth as found in Jesus will be swept up by the final deception. The growing apostasy is the sixth sign that Jesus will soon return.