When we think about Bible prophecy, our thoughts usually immediately go to the subjects of the Rapture, Tribulation, Millennial Kingdom or perhaps some future judgments. And this is good since truths about these coming events indeed are to powerfully impact our present thinking and our present living.
The Apostles, however, also included in their pronouncements truth which prophetically relate to how this church age will end. They were unusually concerned with what the church would be like when this age came to its end. Prior to the Rapture event when Jesus Christ suddenly and supernaturally takes His Bride, the Church, to heaven and out of this world; there will be an invasion of false teachers with their false teachings that come into the Church. Now we know that Satan, since the Garden of Eden, has used false and distorted ideas as his primary tool in countering God’s work in the world. This is nothing new. But the Apostle foresaw a time when falsehood in the church would explode leaving believers in grave danger. Large numbers of men and women would seduce the saints with their damaging doctrines. These terrible teachings would hurt believers in this life as well as affect the life to come. And while we cannot set dates and times, we are certainly seeing such an explosion of falsehood and distortion of God’s truth. Teachers and preachers today can get their teachings out to the public very easily and broadly because of the new and growing technologies that have come into existence.
But the fact remains, what the Apostles saw coming may well be with us now. A great deal of ink was used on this subject by the Apostles, but I want us to be reminded of five truths they predicted (direct by the Holy Spirit).
- A Departure. As the church age moves on and gets closer to its end, teachers will depart from healthy doctrine and in its place substitute man pleasing ideas (2 Tim. 3:1; 4:3-4) and over the church age this will get worse and worse (2 Tim. 3:13). And in the western church especially, this now seems to characterize much of the preaching and teaching. Chaff is everywhere but good wheat is hard to find.
- A Mega Movement. This distorted doctrinal preaching and teaching will attract large numbers of people (2 Pet. 2:2). Jesus had taught in His parables of the “mystery kingdom” (mainly the church age) that the “kingdom” would grow large but would also grow more corrupt (Matt. 13). People are attracted to these teachers in large numbers because they tell them things they like to hear. Gone from the teachings are the hard truths such as coming judgment for sin, the fear of God (which is to be in balance with the love of God), personal holiness and other doctrines which make demands on people.
- A Sinless Message. These teachers do not define and denounce sin which is such a real part of our experience and struggles. The Scriptures inform us that they avoid speaking about sin because they themselves indulge in sinful lifestyles (2 Tim. 3:2-5). Instead they promote both directly and indirectly hedonism and materialism to the immeasurable damage of believers (2 Pet. 2:18-20). Like the false prophets in Israel, their “ministries” are spiritually empty and actually lead people away from the Lord God (note Jeremiah 23 and Ezekiel 13). Their distorted view of God and His ways make it impossible for people to know Him and properly relate to Him.
- A Subversive Approach. The consistent warning by the Apostles is that these false teachers are within the church. They are not outsiders (Acts 20:28-30; Jude 4, 12; 2 Cor. 11:13-15). Special scrutiny is to be given to those in the church with positions and titles because they are the ones who have authority and are, therefore, most influential in the church. The idea that it is outside cults and movements that are the danger is simply not the case. Paul warned that “among your own selves (the elders) men will arise” who will promote distorted doctrines (Acts 20:30).
- A Sacred Responsibility. It is the God-given responsibility of the elders of the church to expose and refute these counterfeit doctrines (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:9-11). The sad reality, however, is that too many elders in the local church today seem incapable of this, as they appear to have neither the knowledge nor the courage to do this critical task, which protects the flock of God from these dangerous doctrines. Avoiding judging false teachings in the name of tolerance is not at all acceptable. As the Apostles Paul and Peter instruct (2 Tim. 2; 1 Pet. 3), they are not to be harsh or arrogant, but are to kindly refute those who are promoting satanic ideas (1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 2:24-26).
We can never declare that the Lord will be returning on such and such a date because sound doctrine no longer characterizes the western church. What we can say is that He might indeed be coming very soon because the ongoing departure from the truth of God in “the church” is yet another one of the props on the prophetic stage; pointing to the possibility that it is close to curtain time, and the beginning of the final act of human history known as the Tribulation.
In the meantime, until the curtain goes up, you and I need to become better students of the Scriptures, coming to understand them and apply them to life. And we need to increasingly “contend earnestly” (Jude 3) for God’s truth, and to “expose” the distorted doctrines that are being promoted in the church (1 Tim. 4:1; Eph. 5:11). This contending for the faith is part of what a faithful servant of Christ does. This may never be behind a pulpit speaking to thousands, but more likely will be one on one with a fellow believer who has been seduced by man pleasing ideas. We must never be proud or argumentative, but we must be clear, compelling and full of conviction in our handling of truth. Remember that it is only God’s truth (the wheat) that transforms lives. Chaff never does that.