Monday, October 13, 2008

Understanding the End-Times and the Antichrist

I for one believe that there is much confusion and even deception regarding the end-times, the coming of the Antichrist, and the church’s relationship to these events. While I do not understand or know everything about this subject, I do understand and know that the Word of God is clearer on this subject than all the confusion and deception indicates. The problems that we have in understanding the end-times has everything to do with our lack of knowledge of God’s Word and nothing at all to do with a lack of clarity or accuracy of God’s Word. Therefore it is our responsibility to study and know God’s Word, allowing it to renew and transform our minds, while not imposing our own wishes and ideas on this subject. We are to let God’s Word inform, instruct, and transform us in every branch of theology at the expense and destruction of our own preconceived ideas that we might bring to the table. We are to let God be found true, though every man be found a liar. God’s Word is truth because He is truth and He only speaks truth.

As to the confusion and deception regarding the end-times, the coming of the Antichrist, and the church’s relationship to these events there are many errors but two main ones. These two main errors are polar opposites of each other.

One extreme is to disregard the subject all together as either unimportant or unknowable as though God hasn’t made it clear or else He hasn’t really said that much about it. Those in this camp might refer to themselves as “pan-believers” – they believe that it will all pan out in the end. While that is true it reveals a lackadaisical and dangerous attitude. There is actually great benefit in knowing the difficulties that we must face and great danger in not knowing. The Lord Jesus spoke to His disciples of the future persecution and enmity that they would face for His name’s sake just before His crucifixion (John 15:18-27). Immediately after speaking to them about their future difficulties He said, “These things I have spoken to you so that you may be kept from stumbling” (John 16:1). Far too many “pan-believers” may find themselves to be unbelievers when they stumble because of the difficulties and persecutions that they were not prepared for. For the “pan-believer” I would suggest a careful reading and understanding of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5 with special focus on verse five – “Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?”

The other extreme is to devote all one’s energy to this subject alone and detach from the whole counsel of God. While the Bible has much to say on this subject, it isn’t the only subject and shouldn’t be treated as such. I have found that those who devote themselves almost entirely to the subject of end-times perpetuate more error concerning it than they do truth. The reason for this is simple – our growth in understanding the Word of God is progressive. There are lessons that must be learned and truths that are foundational to receiving and understanding more truth. The Lord Jesus put it this way in Matthew 13:11-12 – “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.” The Lord also put it this way, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). So for those who are overly intrigued with end-times I would say two things: (1) if you are going to properly understand the end-times and not be deceived then you must take the time to learn the truths that are foundational to receiving and understanding more truth. (2) I would suggest a careful reading and understanding of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5 with a special focus on verse 3 – “Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.”

What are the lessons that must be learned and the truths that are foundational to receiving and understanding more truth? The way I see it there are there are two primary categories of theology with one being foundational and the other fundamental that directly affect the category of eschatology (doctrine of the end-times). We need to keep in mind that if one errs in the foundational category this will alter the fundamental category and corrupt our final category.

Soteriology (the doctrine of salvation/gospel) is foundational. This is the first and most important lesson to be learned if we are to receive and believe more truth. We must know what God’s truth is concerning the gospel and how men are saved. We must receive and believe what God has revealed about Himself, about man, and about His Son. While we will not go into detail here on everything that is entailed in the doctrine of salvation, let me summarize some non-negotiables in it: God is holy, He is just, He is righteous, He is unchanging, and He will not compromise with sin. Man is a sinner, he is depraved, he is impotent, and he is ungodly. Man deserves to receive the wrath of the Almighty for his rebellion and anarchy against the rule of God in his life. God in His grace, mercy, and love has provided only one way by which He can justify sinful man while He Himself remains just and that is through His own sinless Son, living a life of perfect obedience, suffering the penalty of death for crimes that he didn’t commit in the place of those who did, and then being raised from the dead and exalted as the King of the kingdom of God so that we would be broken and repentant over that one act of love - the King died for me! This results in our no longer living for ourselves but for Him who loved us and gave Himself up for us. We confess that He is Lord and that we are not and we obey Him because we love Him. Salvation is a matter of loving submission to the Lordship of Christ because He first loved us. Only the gospel has the power to cause the transformation of totally depraved rebels into loving and loyal servants of the King.

Ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church) is fundamental. If we are going to know the truth about God’s purpose for His church then we must know the truth about the gospel. Those who don’t understand the doctrine of salvation are doomed to not understand the doctrine of the church. If one departs from the Word in the doctrine of salvation his next logical step is to defile himself with the world in his doctrine of the church. Here is how it works: when men do not understand the doctrine of salvation/gospel and reject God’s revealed truth about Himself, man, and God’s Son, he will resort to gospel gimmicks and turn the church into a man-centered gathering place rather than a God-centered equipping place. Instead of being the pillar and support of the truth and equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (which once accomplished will produce men and women who are able to stand against the schemes of the devil in this evil age), the church becomes the pillar and support of lies and the gathering place for unconverted sinners in some form of social organization.

Without a proper understanding of the doctrine of salvation the doctrine of the church becomes altered and then the perfect recipe for apostasy is brewing. As soon as men depart from God’s Word in the area of the doctrine of salvation they will quickly defile themselves with the world and the world’s methods in their evangelism and in their doctrine of the church. It doesn’t take long for this to be passed from one generation to the next as though this is the truth and then apostasy is perpetuated as the truth. No wonder we are warned to earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.

Soteriology is foundational and ecclesiology is fundamental. That brings us up to our final category and here we can now see that eschatology (the doctrine of end-times) is fathomable. In other words it is understandable once you understand how it is possible for men to depart from God’s Word and defile themselves with the world and thereby promote and perpetuate apostasy. Here is the reason apostasy is such a deluding and deceiving influence – it has the numbers. When you have departed from God’s Word and defiled yourself with the world you will deceive yourself with your works because the world loves its own and will join you.

As time marches on and fewer and fewer churches are true churches which are not ashamed of the Gospel and are the pillar and support of the truth, training and equipping Christians to stand against the schemes of the devil, then apostasy has a freer and more unhindered influence. This is what God’s Word says about end-times – “Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3).

What is God going to do about apostates who will not receive the truth so as to be saved? Enter the Antichrist!For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false (the lie), in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

For many, the apostasy and the Antichrist before we are gathered together to the Lord, is unfathomable. That is because their eschatology is corrupt and their ecclesiology has been altered based on the truth that they have erred in their soteriology. All of this must be understood if we are to receive and believe the truth about the end-times and the Antichrist.

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