But now we must leave Zion's serene heights and descend into the valleys, where the visibility is poor, and the air less healthful. As we already discussed the nature of the Millennium, we must now talk about the events that shall lead up to Christ's return in glory. And this demands that we review the facts of the Great Apostasy, Coming of Antichrist, and the Tribulation. We've heard a lot of discussion of these topics in recent years, and although we do not agree with all we've heard, we nevertheless concur on one vital point-- that these things are future events, and will perhaps take place in the near future. Paul, when writing to the Thessalonian church, said: "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that the man of sin be revealed" (2 Thess. 2: 3). Thus we learn that two things shall occur before the Lord returns to gather His saints: 1): A great apostasy; 2): The revelation of Antichrist.
The apostasy itself is a difficult topic to discuss with people, inasmuch as so many have imbibed an evolutionary/ progressive view of mankind. Those who have their riches in this present evil world do not like to think of the possibility of it ever coming to end. Those who maintain that the coming of Christ is a strictly providential event tend to see the danger as past, and things getting better and better; while actually the Bible speaks of things growing worse and worse. I doubt any honest individual who really knows what is happening can deny that there has been a radical change in recent years, which has resulted in a falling away of whole nations from the profession of Christianity. This has resulted in a demoralization of the community at large. As I look around, it seems that people are not very interested in the things of God anymore. Anyhow, we are definitely not living in a society that is governed by Christian standards.
Of course, I attribute much of the present moral climate to the poisoning influence of network television. For years it has my personal practice to eschew all products of the mainstream media. I have preached from orthodox pulpits against the evils of network television, and have consequently gathered to myself many dissenters. Nevertheless, in most cases I felt that I drove the arguments home all too well. "What concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?" (2 Cor. 6: 15).
From the general reaction, it would appear than many men love the things of the devil more than the things of God. But the Bible explicitly warns us to keep separated from the world (1 John 2: 15); and those who fail to do so will become the surest candidates of apostatizing. So, it is really no surprise to me that such apathy now prevails in the community. Instead of striving against evil, Christians have a tendency to either fight with each other, or to adopt a "feel good" conciliatory attitude which opens the doors to the enemy camp. It is obvious that many people are not paying close attention to Jesus Christ.
Both our Lord and His inspired apostles, however, tell of a period in human affairs marked by a great apostasy. This is predicted to take place in the "last days." This term 'last days' may refer to any crucial turning point in the Divine administration of the world. It probably does not relate to any single period, albeit there are clear indications in Scripture that in many instances it points to the times preceding the Millennium; whereas the predictions regarding the Twelve Patriarchs will probably be fulfilled during the Millennium itself (see Gen. 49: 1 ff.). The Lord is said to have come "in these last days" (Hebrews 1: 2); that is, at the end of the law and the beginning of the Gospel (cf. Luke 16: 16). The prophet Isaiah sees the New Jerusalem established "in the last days" (Isaiah 2: 2). The prophet Joel envisions "the last days" as marked by outpourings of the Holy Spirit, and signs in the heavens which presage the Lord's return (Joel 2: 28-31). Many of these descriptions can only point to that epoch of history which ends with the coming of Jesus Christ with all His saints.
But the period is to be characterized by the aforesaid apostasy, which won't be confined to the church alone, but will spread to all classes of mankind. The general defection will be paralleled by an increase of wickedness and injustice in the earth. Although Paul gives the best delineation of the apostasy, Christ nevertheless provides a true exegetical platform in His Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24, Luke 21, Mark 13). When asked by His disciples, "When shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?" (Matt. 24: 3), Christ proceeds to describe the events which will transpire from His session at the right hand of the Father to the consummation of the present aeon, or age. Our Lord gives us the outline of the apostasy which shall occur before His coming. He speaks of "wars and rumors of wars" (Matt. 24: 6); "famines, earthquakes, and pestilences" (Matt. 24: 7); persecutions and betrayals (Matt. 24: 9-10); multitudes of false prophets (Matt. 24: 11); and a general prevalence of iniquity (Matt. 24: 12). These are the signs by which we may tell that the end is drawing near.
It is here that we must recur to the warnings given in Paul's epistles. For while the above portents shall herald the Great Tribulation and coming of Antichrist, we are more concerned now with the Apostasy itself. The real question that many people are asking is a vital one. Has the apostasy arrived? We are not sure. However, from what we've seen and heard personally throughout many sectors of the religious world, we believe that it has. Paul writes: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come, for men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof" (2 Tim. 3: 1-5). Thus he speaks of the state of the world in general. It would take large work to enumerate each of these wicked qualities one by one. Let us simply draw our attention to that one which stands as the spring-head from whence all the others flow: "Men shall be lovers of their own selves."
When Jesus Christ walked among us, He avowed it one of our foremost duties to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 19: 19, 22: 39). When we love our neighbor, we show our love of God, for man is made in the image of God. And when we follow the precept faithfully, though at many times we may stumble and fall, yet it will have the effect of purifying our hearts and drawing it off from vice. When the eye is single, the whole body is full of light (Luke 11: 34-36). A constant reminder of our own infirmity may do much to prevent ourselves from getting caught up in the things of 'self.' When we remember that man is not an individual unit existing by himself, on his own terms with God, but that he is part of a great whole, and that the co-operation of every part is needed to make the make the whole function soundly, we tend to see our own interests as connected with those of others. This is salutary.
But whenever we forget our relation to our fellow man, self rears its ugly head and takes dominion over the creature. The philosophy, theology, or whatever you call it, that holds as its prime tenet the acquisition of temporal goods and benefits, or the gratification of the individual, is one of the chief corrupters of society. Even the irrational beasts know enough to get for themselves, and to defend what they've gotten with violence. But as the body is perishable, so are its goods. They, then, who hoard up the goods of the body do so to the detriment of the soul. The goods of the soul are eternal. And love being the chief good of the soul, it has two objects: God and our neighbor.
When men become lovers of their own selves, they forget these things. Instead of remembering God, they blot out and darken their minds with temporal and passing pleasures. Instead of seeking the good of their fellow man, they seek what they can get in this present evil world. Both have a tendency to drive out righteousness, and bring into the foreground the fruits of sin. Jesus Christ did not speak in vain when He said, "Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many will wax cold" (Matt. 24: 12). Evil has its obverse and its reverse sides. When our love waxes cold, we fall into iniquity. When iniquity abounds, our love waxes cold. When the moral climate of the world runs low, men must look ever to their own perishable goods, inasmuch as security lessens with the increase of wickedness. Rather than share their resources with others, men erect iron fences around their possessions. Because life is short and uncertain, they place more value on the gratifying of themselves than on self-denial and sacrifice. All of these factors held to create a climate which Paul unqualifiedly marks as evil.
And yet, while Paul's description applies to the state of the world as a whole, it is also seen working its poison within the church of God. He writes: "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron" (1 Tim. 4: 2-3); and "For the time will come, when they will not endure endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4: 3-4).
Here we are given a two-fold depiction, in which antinomianism is seen working with novelty of dogma and its inevitable counterpart--the resistance to sound orthodoxy. How many times have we personally encountered those who preach a "shake and bake" theory of Christian salvation completely dissociated from the fruits of righteousness. The general notion of many seems to be that all one need do is make a profession, or "believe" in a few abstract doctrines, in order to attain eternal life. Then, too, we've seen a marked hostility toward creeds and confessions, in short, to any kind of dogmatic authority which restricts individual expression. The authority of the local church has been subverted, while the proverbial "57 Varieties" steals the day.
It is difficult to say how far the Protestant principle of 'private judgment' may be attributable to this spiritual disease. In the seventeenth century, John Dryden wrote ardently against the inconsistencies of Protestant churchmen who raise private judgment to the level of Popish infallibility. The tendency, while dangerous back then, has surely become worse in our own times. No matter where we look, new "isms" are popping out all over the place. And these doctrines would not be so reprehensive if they didn't evince a hostility toward all forms of orthodox Christianity. As one writer observed, we are engaged in a massive information war with Gnostic/ subjective Christianity. It is clearly a matter of who can more quickly and more effectively plant the seeds of information on the field of Christ's battleground before He returns. These seeds, of whatsoever quality they be, are now germinating with a rapidity that is inconceivable; and the upshot is that more and more Christians are leaving the waters of Siloam to drink from broken cisterns that can hold no water. And so an apostasy now rages in all quarters of professing Christianity.
As stated, the apostasy has a dual manifestation. On the one hand, it works within the church. On the other, it works upon the world in general. But however the leaven operates, it is evident that it will bring about precisely those conditions favorable for the rise of Antichrist. First, however, there must be "wars and rumors of wars." For coordinate with the apostasy is a gradual prevalence of violence and strife among the nations, which shall shatter governments and kingdoms, making way for that "Man of Sin," whose persecutions shall be brought to bear upon the people of the Most High during the last three-and-a-half years of the present age.
To be continued...