The Fourth Sign
In our last two studies we looked at three of the signs marking the end of the age. We saw that spiritual deception, wars, earthquakes, famines and diseases and the persecution of faithful Christians would increase in intensity and frequency as this age come to its close. We will now look at the fourth sign the Lord Jesus mentioned.
Sign 4: The Global Apostasy in the Church.
(Vs. 10) “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other”
The apostasy or the falling away from the faith once delivered to the saints has already been at work in the professing Christian Church for centuries. Today the Pope is virtually worshipped by millions of Roman Catholics around the world as the supreme head of the Christian Church. The Church of Rome would never admit this publicly but the reality is clearly seen. According to the teaching of Rome when the Pope speaks he is speaking in the place of Jesus Christ even if what he says goes beyond or against what the Bible teaches. The Pope of Rome is considered infallible in matters of doctrine and faith. He is the supreme “Pontifices Maximus” of Rome, a title directly taken from the pagan Roman Emperors. The Roman Emperors title of “Pontiff” literally meant “bridge builder” or one who could build bridges between faiths.
In place of Christ
After the Emperors were deified they allowed the worship of other gods but expected to receive worship as a god before all the others and of course this included the Lord Jesus Christ who was worshipped by Christians as God manifest in the flesh. The born again bond slaves to the Lord Jesus could not say Jesus is Lord and Caesar is lord. For them it had to be one or the other and for true believers there was only one Lord and that was the Lord Jesus Christ. Now the Pope’s title in Latin is “Vicarious Christos” or “Vicar of Christ” and in Greek it is “Anti-Christos” or “Antichrist.”’ In the Greek language the word antichrist had two shades of meaning; firstly, it means to be “Against Christ” and secondly it means to be “In place of Christ” Satan’s foremost desire is to be worshipped as God in the professing Christian Church but first he must turn the Church against the true Christ so that he can replace Jesus Christ with the false Christ namely the Antichrist. Every Pope sits in the seat of an antichrist and teaches us about the final Antichrist who will demand to be worshipped as God in Israel and in the professing Christian Church. The final Antichrist will be someone who can combine and control religion and politics, money and military power. One thing that needs to be clarified is that the Antichrist will not claim to be Christ but will in fact hate Christ and persecute Christians and this is also implied in the meaning of the word Antichrist.
Kissing the Koran!
Some years ago the late Pope John Paul II appeared in a photograph kissing the Koran, which says, “God has no Son”’. This is the spirit of antichrist already at work in the Church. The spirit of antichrist denies the Father and Son relationship in the Godhead. As the Apostle John clearly said, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 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, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” (1 John 4:1-3) The spirit of antichrist can only operate where Christ has already been preached. The devil has the world deceived already. His desire is to deceive the Church. This is why Jesus and also the apostles constantly warn us about spiritual deception. Again the Apostle John said, “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (1John 2:18-19)
Can a Pope be the final Antichrist?
Historically by definition most of the Popes sat in the seat of Antichrist by virtue of their title and authority to declare doctrine. In fact anyone who seeks to be worshipped or deified in any way whether in the religious world or the secular world for that matter is a type of the Antichrist to come. However, the final Antichrist will deny the Eternal relationship between the Father and Son within the Godhead. Rome does not deny the Trinity but Islam does. In fact this is the main reason that Islam hates Christians. Also they hate the Jews as well because of their belief in the Bible, namely the Old Testament of course. As far as Islam is concerned Christians and Jews are “monkeys and pigs.” The Final Antichrist cannot be a Pope as he would have to deny the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. The Church of Rome would never do this. The Trinity is an unchangeable doctrine of the Church of Rome. It cannot be changed according to the Canonical law of the Church. The final Antichrist will be a Muslim! A denial of the deity of the Lord Jesus and the doctrine of the Trinity is one of the prime tenants of Islam.
(Vs. 11) “And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. “
Once more the Lord Jesus warns of spiritual deception. Many false prophets will appear and deceive many. These are not primarily the Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Mormons or other cults but false teachers in the professing Christian church. Paul writing to Timothy said, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” (1Timothy 4:1-2) The apostle Peter also said, “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them —bringing swift destruction on themselves” Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” (2 Peter 2:1-3)
Mixing truth with error
The devil is too clever to tell outright lies so he mixes truth with error. In fact the phrase used to “secretly introduce destructive heresies” describes the act of laying truth and error side by side. It is like bating a mouse. You use cheese in the trap! It is like arsenic, the slow acting poison. You put it in food a little bit at a time but eventually the poison accumulates and does its work! This teaching combined with the evil in the world will lead to the great apostasy and the coming of the Antichrist. We need the attitude of the Bereans who, “Received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:11) Today the spirit of the Bereans is by enlarge missing in most of the professing Christian Churches in the western democracies, especially in those European countries traditionally associated with Christianity for the past 500 years or so.
Before Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 586BC the people of Israel experienced a time of prosperity. There were a lot of religious activities and many false prophets and teachers were telling the people that judgment was not coming. Jeremiah the prophet saw things from the Lord’s perspective and the prophecies he made were of a totally different nature. Listen to what he said, “A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land; the prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end? From the least to the greatest all are greedy for gain; Prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush. So they will fall among the fallen; they will be brought down when I punish them,’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 5:30-31 6:13-15) These trends are now a conspicuous feature of the Church in these last days. Paul also wrote, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
Standing at the crossroads
Even in the Old Testament when God’s people were backsliders God still wanted them to turn back to Him to avoid judgment even though He knew that they would not do this. Listen to what Jeremiah said, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look: ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.’ But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.” (Jeremiah 6:16) If the Church in the west makes the right decision when standing at the crossroad of decision and throws out the faith prosperity preachers, its ecumenical and interfaith associations, its trendy fads, its false doctrine and turns away from its lukewarm, materialistic and backslidden state and returns to the authority of God’s word the Bible then God will withhold judgment.
586 BC and 70 AD
In 70 AD virtually the same scenario existed in Jerusalem that had existed in 586BC before the Babylonian Invasion and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Just prior to 70AD the Jewish people experienced a time of prosperity and ignored the warnings of the believers who were telling them what Jesus had said around forty years before. In virtually the same military circumstances that occurred in 586BC Jerusalem fell to the Romans as it had fallen to the Babylonians centuries before and on the same day of the Jewish calendar. This is why we must keep close to the Lord Jesus and love Him and cultivate faithfulness to Him through fellowship, prayer and by studying the Word of God. Only by living under the authority of God’s Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit will we be ready for the Second Coming of Christ. The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ will be either our best dream come true or our worst nightmare. In the last days it is vitally important for true believers to remain faithful to Jesus Christ and to the integrity of his Word, the Bible. When we see the word ‘faith’ used in the Bible it not only means, ‘to believe’ but also means ‘to be faithful’ and to act on what we believe. If we are faithful now then the Lord will enable us to be faithful when the Antichrist’s global empire begins its persecution of the faithful Church. (Revelation 13:7)
(Vs. 12-13) “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”
Notice the Lord Jesus says, “The love of most would grow cold.” The word “love” used here is “Agape” and it is speaking of Christians. When we look at the history of Israel and the Church there has always been a faithful remnant but they have always been in the minority. So it will be in the last days just before Jesus returns. The majority of the professing Christian Church will in fact commit apostasy. Paul spoke of this apostasy when he wrote, “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) The word “apostasy” used in Second Thessalonians means “to deliberately deny and to teach against the revealed truths of God’s word with the intention of turning others from the faith.” This kind of total apostasy will bring the Antichrist to power in the Church and in the world at large. The spirit of antichrist always begins in association with the Church. The apostle John said so, “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” (1 John 2:18-20) The ones John was writing about had once been members of the Church but had embraced and taught others false doctrine that denied the deity of Christ and encouraged and even approved of sin..
Multitudes, Multitudes, in the Valley of Decision
In verses twelve and thirteen of Matthew chapter twenty four the Lord Jesus was telling us that the falling away in the last days will be primarily due to the increase of wickedness. In the last days wickedness will be so prevalent that only those who are living close to Jesus will survive spiritually. Remember the words of the apostle Peter when he writes, “If the righteous are scarcely saved where will the ungodly, and sinners appear?” Notice the Lord Jesus also said, “He who stands firm to the end will be saved.” If we have been born again then we are saved now but in order to stay saved we must endure until the end. The Greek text of the Bible says, “He who has endured to the end will be saved.” As the coming of the Lord gets closer living for Jesus will not get easier. The pressure for us to compromise will increase at an alarming rate. The pressure will be so great that no one will be left in a vacuum. Just before Jesus returns everyone will be forced to decide, Christ or the Antichrist. Joel the prophet wrote, “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” (Joel 3:14) Multitudes of believers in the Church in the West are sitting on the fence trying to live in this world as well as in the Kingdom of God. However, God is starting to “electrify” the fence. Ultimately they will all have to jump one-way or the other. They will be forced to choose between Christ and the Antichrist! The apostles now knew about the general signs that would specifically precede His Second Coming. In the next study we will look at the second question.