There is much talk going around these daysabout how unified, triumphant and glorious the Church will be in the end times right before the return of Jesus, but it does not correspond with what the Bible prophesies. Already we've looked at how apostasy and cultism have ravished Christ's Bride, now we'll look at the third and fourth set of prophecies that characterize the Church in the end times.
A third group of prophecies indicate that in the end times the Church will be assailed by doctrinal error. These are doctrines that do not damn the soul but which confuse and weaken the spirit.
In II Timothy 4:3-4, Paul says: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths." There are many popular myths in Christendom today that either rob people of the power of their faith or else deceive them into practicing a presumptuous faith.
Among Fundamentalists there is a myth that God retired in the First Century and that with Him went all manifestations of the supernatural, including angels, demons, spiritual gifts, and miracles. Among Charismatics the doctrinal abuses have been epidemic, including the following myths:
Faith is to be placed in your faith and not in God.
It is always God's will to heal.
The believer has the authority of Jesus.
It is God's desire that believers be financially prosperous.
Believers can have what they want through positive confession.
The winds of doctrine (Eph. 4:14) are blowing through the Church at gale force and believers are being tossed here and there by the waves, all in the fulfillment of prophecy.
A fourth characteristic prophesied about the Church in the end times is that it will be compromised and corrupted by worldliness. The prophetic picture of this worldly church is found in Revelation 3:14-22, where the church at Laodicea is described.
The seven churches depicted in Revelation 2 and 3 are symbolic of seven periods of church history. The church at Laodicea, the last to be presented, is representative of the type of church that will prevail in Christendom at the end of the Church Age.
The picture is a pathetic one. The Church is apathetic, neither hot nor cold. The apathy is a product of the Church's adoption of a worldly attitude expressed in the words, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing." Jesus responds with a scathing rebuke: "You don not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked."
In fulfillment of this prophecy, our churches today are filled with cultural Christians who have accepted Jesus as Savior but not as Lord. They are schizophrenic Christians who walk with one foot in the Church and the other in the world. They are carnal Christians who shout "Hallelujah!" on the weekend but who live like pagans during the week. They are greedy Christians in pursuit of health, wealth, and power. The Cross and its message of sacrifice is as offensive to them as it is to the world.
Because of the apostasy, heresy, cultism, and worldliness that the Bible says will characterize the end time Church, the Bible prophesies that the Church will come under judgment. In Revelation 3:19 Jesus says to the church at Laodicea, "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline."
The glitzy, overindulgent church of the last few decaces is now tasting the judgment of God. Sin is being exposed. Religious empires are being dismantled. The Lord is calling us from the Cadillac to the Cross. Through discipline, the Spirit is motivating us to humility, righteousness and holiness.
Judgment has begun in the House of the Lord, where it always begins (Ezek. 9:6 and I Peter 4:17). The Lord is disciplining His Church as a prelude to the pouring out of His wrath upon the world.
In the third and last part of this series on the Church in prophecy, we'll look with hope at what good news there is about the Church in the end times and conclude with an exhortation.
There is much talk going around these days about how unified, triumphant and glorious the Church will be in the end times right before the return of Jesus. This pollyanna image of the Church is certainly attractive, but it does not correspond with what the Bible prophesies.
The picture of the Church in the end times that is portrayed in the Bible is not a very pretty one. For one thing, the Bible prophecies that the Church will be racked by apostasy. Jesus prophesied that "many will fall away" (Matt. 24:10). Likewise, Paul said the Anti-Christ cannot be revealed until "the great apostasy" takes place (II Thess. 2:3).
Paul reveals the source of the apostasy in II Timothy 3:5 — "Men will hold to form of religion but will deny its power." The fulfillment of this prophecy began in the 1920's with the ascendancy of the German School of Higher Criticism. This school of thought, which quickly swept American seminaries, advocated that the Bible should be approached like any other piece of literature — with a critical eye. The concepts of the special inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible were rejected. The Bible came to be viewed as Man's search for God rather than God's revelation to Man. As a human product, it was considered to be full of myth, legend, and superstition.
This assault on the integrity of God's Word opened the floodgates of apostasy. Before long Christian theologians and ministers were laughing about the virgin birth of Jesus, discounting His miracles, casting doubt on His resurrection, and flatly denying His second coming.
As the uniqueness of Jesus was downplayed, many denominations began to embrace the damnable doctrine of Universalism. And that is where we are today, caught up in the midst of a gross apostasy which says, "Believe what you want. The important thing is to be sincere. There are many roads to God." All of which makes a liar of Jesus who said: "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:16). The result is that there are a lot of sincere people who are sincerely going to Hell.
A second set of prophecies warn that the Church will be assaulted by cultic deception in the end times. Jesus emphasized this point repeatedly in His Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:5, 11 & 24). And Paul underlined it in the strongest possible language when he wrote: "The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (I Tim. 4:1).
The fulfillment of these prophecies began in the 19th Century with the rise of Mormonism and its demonic teaching that Jesus is the brother of Lucifer, one of thousands of Gods created by the super god, Adam, an exalted man. The Jehovah's Witnesses were next on the scene with their perverted teaching that Jesus is the Archangel Michael.
This century has witnessed the rapid multiplication of the cults, just as prophesied. Today, life long Christians who do not know why they believe what they profess to believe are being sucked into the cults by the tens of thousands.
Equally appalling is the direct penetration of the Church by cultic doctrine. Well known Christian leaders are advocating the ancient Shamanistic practice of visualization as the key to prayer. Others are teaching one of Satan's oldest lies — that those who have been born again are "little gods."
The latest cultic fad is the concept of Satanic salvation; namely, that we do not owe our salvation to the blood Jesus shed on the Cross but rather to some imaginary torment which He suffered at the hands of Satan for three days in Hell. And then, of course, there is Masonry, the oldest form of cultic penetration of the Church, with its secret blood oaths, its works salvation, and its Universalism.
The degree of cultic penetration into the Church is perhaps best illustrated by two recent events.
Not long ago the number one rated "Christian" televangelist in America served as the main speaker for the dedication of the new international headquarters of the Unity Church. The Unity Church is a classic cult that teaches reincarnation and denigrates the uniqueness of Jesus by advocating that the Christ potential resides in each of us. That same televangelist continues to hold church growth seminars for the Unity Church.
Meanwhile, one of the leading Charismatic spokesmen in America has called for Christians to embrace the Mormons!
In the next part of this series on the Church in prophecy, we'll look at the third and fourth set of prophecies that characterize the Church in the end times.
What type of Christian are you? Cultural? Born Again? Evangelical?
Cultural? — A Barna Group research survey revealed that America's churches are full of cultural Christians. Such people have grown up in Christianity, they attend church regularly, and they profess to be Christians. What distinguishes them from other Christians is their lack of a personal relationship with Jesus. In short, they are Christians in name only because they have never been born again.
Former President Jimmy Carter was the one who made American's conscious of the term "born again Christian." That is the label he applied to himself in 1976 when he was campaigning for the presidency. I remember how many Christian leaders rushed to the press to proclaim that they were not "one of those born again types." I found their protestations very interesting in view of the fact that Jesus Himself said that no one can enter Heaven unless they are born again (John 3:3).
The cultural Christian is just that — a person who considers himself to be a Christian because he has been raised in a Christian culture. Al Gore is a good example. He was raised in a Southern Baptist heritage, but during his presidential campaign, he made it clear that Christianity was only his "faith heritage" and nothing more. The cultural Christian, if he has any commitment at all, is committed to religion or a church, and not to Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior. Such a person is unsaved.
Born Again? — The Barna Group defines the next step up as the "born again Christian." These are people who have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior and who believe that salvation is dependent upon their relationship with Jesus. These people are saved.
Evangelical? — Barna defines the highest level of Christian commitment to be the "evangelical Christian." This is a born again person who strongly holds to certain fundamental biblical truths. Only 7% of Americans qualify as evangelicals, as opposed to 41% who could be classified as born again.
What are you? Could you qualify as an evangelical Christian? Take the test below to find out!
"What Type of Christian are You?" Test
The universe was originally created by God. True/False
There are some crimes or sins which people might commit which cannot be forgiven by God. True/False
You, personally, have a responsibility to tell other people your religious beliefs. True/False
Angels exist and influence people's lives. True/False
The Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves. True/False
When He lived on earth, Jesus was human and committed sins. True/False
The Bible is totally accurate in all of its teachings. True/False
It doesn't matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons. True/False
The whole idea of sin is outdated. True/False
All people will experience the same outcome after death, regardless of their religious beliefs. True/False
If a person is generally good, or does enough good things for others, they will earn a place in Heaven. True/False
The devil, or Satan, is not a living being but is a symbol of evil. True/False
After He was crucified and died, Jesus did not return to life physically. True/False
The Holy Spirit is a symbol of God's presence or power but is not a living entity. True/False
Good News — The Americans who were polled, whether Christian or not, strongly agreed on three biblical points.
Almost 75% agreed that God created the universe — an incredible number when you consider all the evolutionist propaganda we are bombarded with daily.
Almost 70% rejected the idea that sin is an outdate concept — another incredible response when you consider the "different strokes for different folks" mentality that seems to predominate today.
Not surprisingly, 50% stated that they believed in the reality of angels and their influence (I guess we can thank old shows like "Touched by an Angel" and "Highway to Heaven").
Bad News — The number of born again adults who held views contrary to the Bible was astonishing. Almost 70% agreed that the Bible teaches that God helps those who help themselves. Fifty-three percent denied the existence of the Holy Spirit as a person! Forty-seven percent stated that they did not believe in the existence of Satan. Thirty-one percent said they felt a good person could earn his way into heaven; 30% denied the physical resurrection of Jesus; and 24% said they thought Jesus had committed sins!
Such an abysmal lack of biblical knowledge about the fundamentals of the faith points to a famine of Bible study and preaching in the churches of America. People are obviously hearing inspirational ditties or warmed over homilies from the Reader's Digest.
We can be thankful that we are not saved by biblical knowledge but by a relationship with Jesus. But a lack of biblical knowledge stunts spiritual growth and opens people up to doctrinal heresies and cultic deception.
The churches of America need to stop focusing on entertaining people. They also need to stop tiptoeing through the tulips doctrinally for fear of being seeker insensitive. We need to get back to the Word of God, to the fundamentals of the faith, and we need to be willing to step on toes when necessary by confronting people with the truth of their sin and their need for repentance.
Does the timing of the census ordered by Caesar Augustus during Quirinius' governorship question the accuracy of the biblical account of the birth of Christ?
This question came in from Robert of Tennessee who wrote asking: "I saw a documentary on Smithsonian TV that said the First Century census ordered by Caesar Augustus didn't really occur until 6 A.D., well after Jesus was born. Can you either dispute or confirm that?"
In Luke's account of the birth of Jesus Christ, chapter 2 verses 1-2 gives the reader a historical marker. The passage declares, "In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)"
According to Josephus' Antiquities (18), Publius Sulpicius Quirinius was a well-known Roman military and political figure who was appointed to serve as governor of Syria — in 6 A.D. Jesus' birth happened prior to the death of Herod the Great, and it was recorded that he died — in 4 B.C. If Quirinius was supposed to be the governor at the time of Jesus' birth, then this late governorship in 6 A.D., some 10 years later, would seem to show a conflict within the biblical account.
According to the Archaeological Study Bible commentary (pg 1667), there are three possible explanations for this apparent contradiction:
1) The Lapis Tiburtinus fragment implies that Quirinius was governor of Syria twice, once during Jesus' birth and then later again in 6 A.D.
2) Some Greek scholars believe a better translation of the original Greek should be, "This census was before the one made when Quirinius was governor."
3) Though not much supported, the Early Church Father Tertullian believed Luke got his historical facts mixed up and should have written "Sentius Saturninus," or that there was later corruption in the copying.
Regardless, we today are still missing the definitive archaeological piece to properly corroborate or not extra-biblically Luke's statement. Does that mean that the Bible is in error here? No, for as archaeology has proven again and again, every spade turned over produces something that proves yet again the Bible's account as historic and accurate.
That Quirinius had two separate terms in office is supported by the existing archaeological evidence. The Bible contains the greatest cache of historical documentation every made. And, God's Word is divinely inspired. For these reasons and many more, believers in Christ can indeed take Luke's statement that Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world while Quirinius was governor of Syria as historical fact. We therefore can continue to trust the Bible as our inerrant foundation for our Christian faith.
Why is it important to have an eternal perspective?
What I have outlined in the previous parts are a series of glorious promises that are designed to give God's people a strong sense of hope as they live as strangers and pilgrims in the midst of an evil, God-rejecting world (Hebrews 11:13-16).
When you read these incredible promises, you can understand why Paul wrote these words in 1 Corinthians 2:9 — "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, nor has the mind of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him."
As this verse says, we cannot even begin to imagine the wonderful blessings God has in store for the Redeemed, but the very next verse says that the Holy Spirit has revealed those promises in God's Word.
The sad thing is that most Christians are ignorant of those promises and therefore have no idea what Paul meant when he wrote: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:18).
If You know Jesus as your Savior, you are an heir to some incredible promises, and if you know those promises and believe in them, you can live in the midst of this evil world with hope, joy, and great expectations.
C. S. Lewis on Hope (from Mere Christianity)
Hope is one of the theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.
It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the slave trade all left their mark on earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.
The Importance of an Eternal Perspective
It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.
It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of you main, direct objects, you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more food, games, work, fun, open air.
The Longing for Heaven
Most of us find it very difficult to want Heaven at all except insofar as Heaven means meeting again our friends who have died. One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained. Our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world.
Another reason is that when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognize it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.
The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not speaking of what would ordinarily be called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones.
There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job but something has evaded us.
What will we resurrected believers be doing during the Millennial reign of Christ? And, where is the eternal state located?
3) Activities — During the Millennial reign of Jesus, the Redeemed are going to be doing anything but floating around on clouds playing harps. We are going to reign with Jesus over those who are allowed to enter the Millennium in the flesh (which will be those believers who are alive at the end of the Tribulation). Jesus will reign over all the earth from Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:1-4) as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16). David in his glorified body will reign as the king of Israel (Ezekiel 37:24). The Saints will be scattered across the earth to assist with Jesus' reign (2 Timothy 2:12).
Every person on earth who is in a position of governing authority will be a glorified Saint. Some of us will be in administrative positions, sharing in Jesus' reign as presidents, governors, or mayors (Luke 19:11-27). Others will serve as judges (I Corinthians 6:3). Most of us will serve as "shepherds," or teachers, trying to bring those who are born during the Millennium to faith in Jesus (Isaiah 66:18-21 and Jeremiah 3:15).
In the process, we are going to be given the blessing of seeing this old sin-sick world flooded with peace, righteousness and justice as the waters cover the seas. I can hardly wait!
When the Millennium ends and we move into the Eternal State, the Bible does not go into detail as to what our activities will be. It simply says that we will "serve" God (Revelation 22:3). Whatever that means, I'm sure it will be a meaningful and fulfilling service. I would imagine that, for one thing, our gifts and talents will be magnified and that we will use them to glorify the Lord. Thus, a singer will be able to sing with a perfection never before achieved, and a painter will be able to paint with a glory never imagined.
4) Location — What will be the location of this Eternal State? Will it be in an ethereal, spirit world called Heaven?
Most Christians are amazed to discover that the Bible never promises that the Redeemed will spend eternity in Heaven. Instead, the Bible says that the eternal abode of the Redeemed will be in a new Jerusalem located on a new earth (Revelation 21).
Since the Bible says that the current earth is eternal (Psalms 78:69 and148:6), I have concluded that the "new earth" will be the current earth renovated by fire (2 Peter 3:12-13).
Instead of our going up to Heaven to live eternally with God, the Bible says He will come to earth to live with us (Revelation 21:3). Since Heaven is located wherever God resides, Heaven will come to earth, and in that sense only will we reside forever in Heaven.
God loves His creation, and He intends to redeem it all of it and not destroy it with some mythical "big bang." He is going to restore it to its original perfection when He created it.
Jesus died on the Cross not only to redeem Mankind but also to redeem the creation. That's the reason the High Priest in Old Testament times sprinkled the blood not only on the mercy seat but also on the ground (Leviticus 16:15).
The blood on the mercy seat of the ark was a symbolic prophecy pointing to the fact that the blood of the Messiah would cover the law of God (the tablets inside the ark) with the mercy and grace of God. The blood on the ground was a reminder that the sacrifice of the Messiah would make it possible for the Curse to be lifted and for the animal and plant kingdoms to be returned to their original perfection (Isaiah 11:6-9and Romans 8:18-23).
In the last part of this series on your Christian hope, I'll tell you why it's so important to have an eternal perspective so you can live with hope.