Turning Away: Apostasy as Sign of the Last Days
In Matthew 24:10-13, Jesus noted the signs of the last days will include the following:
At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
The larger context includes numerous signs. Some of these include famine, war, and earthquakes (24:6-7). Many have commented on these areas, yet we often overlook a key observation: there will be an increase in false teaching in the last days.
What does Jesus indicate will be included among the false teachers of the last days? The following five key aspects are specifically mentioned:
Sign 1: False Believers Turning Away from the Faith
The first aspect of the coming apostasy includes people who claim to follow Jesus yet turn away from the faith. Our culture seems to celebrate each time a leading evangelical chooses to reject biblical beliefs in key areas. They are now “liberated” from so-called traditional or outdated convictions and have become “woke” to culture’s changing trends.
In 2011, I released what I thought was a controversial book called Undefending Christianity. My goal was to do something different from traditional the defending of the faith and highlight the need for believers to emphasize speaking the truth in love as the apostle Paul taught in Ephesians 4:15.
However, Rob Bell’s New York Times bestselling book Love Wins appeared at the same time. As part of the book’s marketing, he released a video questioning how people get to heaven and whether God could be so mean as to turn people away from heaven just because they were born in another culture. His questioning of salvation, Scripture, and the afterlife poked fun at the biblical descriptions of heaven and Bell subsequently left the church he founded in Grand Rapids, Michigan to move with his family to Southern California and pursue other ventures. He has since continued to speak and write additional books that question the biblical worldview and emphasize personal experience over truth.
What I thought was controversial did not even compete with a leading evangelical rejecting biblical Christianity. Many of my interviews during the time dealt with how such a transition could occur, with leading Christian pastor John Piper tweeting “RIP Rob Bell.”
While Rob Bell’s story was notable, it is not unique. Popular author Brian McLaren began as a “change agent” in the church. However, his more recent books highlight The Secret Message of Jesus and We Make the Road by Walking that recast Christianity more along the lines of personal experience rather than a Savior who has redeemed us and has offered us a new way of life through the Scriptures of the Bible and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
More recently, I Kissed Dating Goodbye author Joshua Harris chose to kiss Christianity goodbye, choosing to no longer identify as a Christian. While his explanation sounds positive, his position change is quite the opposite. How can an innovative evangelical pastor turn agnostic?
Sign 2: False Believers Betraying and Hating One Another
One step beyond leaving the faith is the challenge of false believers betraying and hating one another. While this approach has often found more acceptance within the church, since it deals with actions rather than creeds, the impact has profoundly hurt the body of Christ. Many younger Americans see the church as unloving and hypocritical, quite the opposite of early believers and of Jesus himself, who promoted the belief of loving one another, serving one another, and encouraging one another.
The stereotype has now become so ingrained in our culture that I’ve sometimes surprised people be coming across as “nice” and a Christian. When a skeptic or unbeliever discovers I work in ministry, they are startled I’m not like “those people” or “those pastors.” I’m not sure who they have in mind, but there are far too many believers and Christian leaders who fail in the department of both knowing the truth and living it out through everyday actions.
Sign 3: A Rise in False Prophets and Their Deceptions
How did Jesus define a false prophet? If we use the standard of the Torah, the emphasis was on evaluating two things: the facts and the fulfillment of a prophet. If a prophet taught others to worship another god, the prophet was false. Also, if a prophet’s predictions did not come true, he or she was a false prophet.
In our culture, there are obvious examples of unfulfilled predictions. Many of these deal with those who set dates for the return of Jesus. However, there are subtler false prophets in many churches who claim those who tithe will avoid the Coronavirus or other related nonsense. All such false teachings continue to make the body of Christ appear foolish rather than the redeemed of the Lord that Christ has made us.
Sign 4: Increased Wickedness
Did you know one in 100 Americans are incarcerated? We have nearly become a penal society—and that is just for the crimes that include a conviction. Others have noted that more than 90 percent of rapists go unpunished. The rapid rise of anti-Semitism, politicians embracing radical views that even include infanticide, and open acceptance of every type of sinful practice reveal wickedness has certainly increased.
Yes, God may still send revival in our day. In fact, in some countries, spiritual awakening is taking place today. However, the overall trajectory of our world is focused on sinfulness. We are truly becoming a society that reflects the days of Noah, pointing to a soon coming of Christ.
Sign 5: Decreased Love
We are the most connected society in human history—and the loneliest. Many people lack one good friend to encourage them in times of need. Believers are called to show the love of Christ, and many do, yet our world’s love appears to grow cold.
The cultural kindness America may have once experienced is increasingly replaced with airport security and police-state like surveillance. We are told no person can be trusted. Cars and homes are locked and layered with security. ID theft and cybercrime hack our most personal details. We long for love, yet struggle to find living examples. All these indicators highlight our need to know Christ and to share Him with others, recognizing His coming is near.
A Positive Response: Standing Firm to the End
What does Jesus give as the “antidote” to the coming apostasy? His one response is to stand firm to the end. There is no magic formula, but rather and emphasis on endurance as followers of Christ. When we choose to follow Jesus regardless of others who turn away or the suffering we may endure, we faithfully acknowledge the Lord’s way as right until His coming.
Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi was sentenced to the death penalty for her faith in Jesus. Despite years of imprisonment, she refused to recant. After a global outcry, she was released from prison, yet continued to fear for her life. Many in her country continued to offer death threats for her conversion. She has since fled her home nation and now seeks to help others suffering for their faith.
While our headlines and bestselling books often highlight those who promise success or fame, her story reminds us of what matters in these last days. If we choose to faithfully follow the Lord, we will face rejection and persecution. We must recognize increased apostasy will come and choose to stand firm as our response in enduring for our Lord.
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