Apostasy, Divine Judgements and the Great Escape

Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (May 2016)

Biblical prophecies present a disturbing picture of spiritual and moral depravity which will occur worldwide in the end-time. Jesus Christ Himself likens this period in human history with the times of Noah and Lot (Luke 17:26-30) when the true God and His messengers were repeatedly and openly rejected. In their arrogance and self-exaltation, Noah’s contemporaries shunned the restrictive nature of God’s righteousness and preferred to indulge in a culture of sin which was characterised by fully-fledged materialism associated with evil life-styles such as corruption, violence and unbridled immorality. In the case of Sodom and Gomorrah the depravity also coincided with the loss of a God-given sexual identity, as homosexuality (sodomy) was socially accepted and widely practised. Because of this unnatural inclination, the communities in question were heading for self-destruction since they did not (and would not) conclude heterosexual relations to procreate in the normal way.

In Old Testament times there were instances when, in cases of extreme depravity and rebellion against God, He intervened through judgements. However, there was always escape from the judgements offered to a small group of true believers. We read the following on the great judgement of the Flood: “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. … Noah walked with God. … [But] the earth was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth. And God said to Noah, The end of all flesh has come before Me, for the earth is filled with violence through them; and behold, I will destroy them with the earth. Make yourself an ark of gopherwood” (Gen. 6:5, 9, 11-14). Noah and his family escaped this great judgement upon their evil contemporaries because they were believers who trusted in the Lord’s saving grace.

However, during the course of time the descendants of the believing Noah also apostatised into open rebellion against God. In their wicked arrogance they said: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4). This Babylonian fusion of nations constituted a new world order which was based upon self-exaltation, the mustering of power, and hostility against the true God of heaven. The participating nations had to relinquish their sovereign rights over their own land, as well as their cultures, governments and religions, for the sake of international unity. Nimrod, the mastermind behind the Babylonian world culture, was an outspoken enemy of the true God, and was himself the personification of the Babylonian sun-god. He was also worshipped. Astrology and other forms of occult mysticism were integrated into his false world religion.

The Lord intervened through the confusion of tongues to ensure that this demonic world order with its compulsory idolatry would collapse. Independent, sovereign nations within their own geographical area, is still God’s order to ensure internal harmony and a sense of belonging. Externally, it offers the only basis for peaceful co-existence with other nations (Acts 17:26). It is in the interest of all people to respect these geographical, cultural, economic and political boundaries. A mixed, Babylonian order of society gives rise to a high degree of intimidation, coercion towards conformity, the exploitation of minority groups, the loss of cultural identity, a language of one’s own, and personal liberties – all for the sake of global unity which is forcibly imposed.

The different nations who dispersed from Babylon each adopted their own form of idolatry and false beliefs, and eventually the entire inhabited world was paganised. Together with the religious deception, moral depravity also set in, and at times became so grave that the Lord destroyed Sodom, Gomorrah and other cities in the Jordan Valley. In this case it was also ensured that the true believers were not judged. The two angels who were sent to execute the judgements, urged Lot to hastily flee to the mountains: “Arise, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be consumed in the punishment of the city” (Gen. 19:15). The wicked people were judged only after the believers had left.

With the calling of Abraham and the ultimate establishment of Israel as God’s Chosen People in the Promised Land, there was a clear boundary – geographical, ethnic, religious and political – between God’s people and the pagan nations under the control of Satan. On different occasions God poured out judgements upon Israel’s enemies, e.g. during Israel’s exodus from Egypt (Ex. 7 to 11 and 14), the destruction of heathen nations in Canaan (Jos. 6 to 12), as well as different interventions by God during wars between Israel and their enemies. The last and very obvious judgement of God was upon Israel themselves, including the demolishing of Jerusalem, because of Israel’s extended history of apostasy which culminated in their rejection of the Messiah (Lev. 26:33; Deut. 28:52, 64; Matt. 23:37-39; Luke 19:41-44; 21:20-24). However, the judgements upon Israel did not lead to their utter destruction and rejection as God’s people (Lev. 26:44-45), and that explains why they are again restored in the end-time – physically, politically and spiritually (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-28; 37:21-22; Rom. 11:25-26).

The dispensation of grace

Subsequent to this judgement upon Israel, and all its grievous consequences for the apostatised people of God, the New Testament dispensation of grace for all nations was ushered in (Matt. 28:19). During this entire dispensation the Lord offers all peoples, tongues and nations on earth (including the dispersed Jews) the opportunity to be saved and thereby coming over from the darkness of sin into the marvellous light of the Lord’s kingdom. However, the majority of people do not make this transition into eternal life as they love darkness rather than the light (John 3:19). Consequently, the broad way of the lost carries much more traffic than the narrow way to heaven. This situation explains why, even during the dispensation of grace, the whole world is largely under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19), and therefore spiritually and morally a dark and wicked place to live in.

Since this entire dispensation is destined for the worldwide proclaiming of God’s saving grace by virtue of the atoning death of His Son, Jesus Christ, the wicked people are not yet judged. False churches, pagan beliefs and wicked political ideologies have in some cases existed for several centuries without God judging them. Even when some nations went under and vanished from the scene, it was not due to God’s judgements but caused by the people themselves, under the provocation of the devil as the great murderer of men. Neither were natural disasters that occurred during the past two millennia caused by God, as both believers and unbelievers were killed or harmed by these catastrophes. God’s judgements are always righteous and only strike the guilty party – not the just.

In the present dispensation, God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). We are also living in a time when the entire creation is subjected to futility and corruption (Rom. 8:19-21), which explains phenomena such as droughts, floods, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, germs, viruses, poisonous substances, a wide range of diseases, dangerous animals, hostile and wicked people, crime, tribulation, persecution, and many other dangers. Christians are also afflicted by these things – not because God is judging them but because they are living in an imperfect, sinful world in which Satan enjoys majority support (Eph. 6:10-13). The Lord Jesus Himself said that we should expect hostility, tribulation and difficult times in the world (John 15:18-20; 16:33). However, we do not suffer because of divine retribution for our sins (many sins nevertheless have the ability to inflict their own pain and suffering on their victims), but we basically suffer because we are living in a hostile and dangerous world which has persecuted Christ and therefore also hates and persecutes His followers (Luke 6:22-23).

Peter says it is an honour to suffer for Christ, but it is shameful when you are suffering because of wilful sinning: “Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter” (1 Pet. 4:12-16).

It is in view of the struggle against evil and all the threatening dangers in an imperfect world that we regularly have to pray for the Lord’s protection against diseases, accidents, dangers, deception and temptations. It is critically important to put on the whole armour of God to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. But why doesn’t God judge the perpetrators of evil during this dispensation? Because Christians and unsaved sinners are living together in the same societies, without any physical boundaries separating them. They are like wheat and tares growing side by side in the same field, as explained by Jesus to His disciples:

“Another parable He put forth to them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares? He said to them, An enemy has done this. The servants said to him, Do you want us then to go and gather them up? But he said, No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn” (Matt. 13:24-30).

The moment of separation

In the end-time there will be a separation between the just and the unjust. It is inevitable that this separation takes place prior to the tribulation period, since the seven-year tribulation will also be a time of divine judgement upon sinners, and the Lord definitely does not judge His own children (cf. Gen. 18:23). There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1); that is why we expect God’s Son from heaven who will deliver us from the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10). After we have left, the Lord will pour out His judgements upon the wicked: “Behold, the day of the LORD comes, cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land [the whole earth] desolate; and He will destroy its sinners from it” (Isa 13:9; cf. Matt. 24:21; Rev. 6:15-17).

It is important to clearly distinguish between the tribulation which Christians presently experience in a wicked world because of their faith (it is not the Lord who judges them), and the great tribulation at the end of the church dispensation when the unbelievers, sinners, backsliders and apostatised Israel will be judged by God. The coming tribulation will be a time of trouble for Jacob and all the nations who, like deceived Israel, have rejected Jesus as Messiah (Jer. 30:7; Rev. 3:10). Christians are not destined for the wrath of the day of the Lord, and He encourages us as follows: “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:36). The escape of Christians before the beginning of the tribulation period will be in harmony with a fixed biblical pattern of the escape of believers before the outpouring of divine wrath upon the wicked:

·         During the Flood, Noah and his family were first secured in a place of safety before God turned to the wicked people and judged them because of their refusal to repent. There were no believers among them when this happened.

·         During the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah the true believers were ordered to leave the disaster area of divine judgements shortly before the judgements were poured out.

·         During Israel’s exodus from Egypt all the plagues always struck the unbelieving Egyptians – never did they inflict the people of God.

·         During Israel’s many wars in Old Testament times, God’s judgements were equally selective and only aimed at a specific target of evildoers.

·         During the judgements upon unbelieving Israel after the coming and rejection of their Messiah, the judgements only fell on unbelieving Jews; and when that happened, all the disciples had fled Jerusalem and crossed the Jordan to a place of safety (Luke 21:20-22).

·         During the coming rapture, Christians will be caught away from the earth as the judgements of God will be poured out upon the entire unsaved world (Isa 24:3-6; Rev. 6 to 19). Believers will be physically snatched away to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:16-18). The tribulation will be a time of trouble to Israel and the unbelieving nations (Jer. 30:7; Matt. 24:21) – it will not be the time of the church’s trouble.

Run-up to the tribulation

While we are closing in on the end of the church dispensation, intensive preparations are made for the revelation of God’s kingdom on earth under the rule of Jesus Christ as King, and also for the revelation of Satan’s kingdom under the leadership of the Antichrist. After the resurrection of believers has taken place and all of them have been caught away to heaven with glorified bodies, the end-time judgements of God upon the unbelievers will be executed. After that, Christ as the King of kings will return to earth with His saints to establish a government of righteousness (Rev. 5:9-10; 19:11-15).

During the seven years of judgements upon the unbelievers the true church will be with Christ in heaven. The devil will use the opportunity to establish his kingdom of unrighteousness, sin and rebellion against the true God on earth under the leadership of the Antichrist and false prophet. That will happen shortly after the rapture, as there will be no resistance to his evil plans during the absence of the true church as a temple of the Holy Spirit. Paul also describes the removing of the restrainer, and its consequences: “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thess. 2:7-8).

This is a further irrefutable proof that the rapture will occur before the revelation of the Antichrist. The New Testament church is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and as such a withholder against the revelation of the Antichrist. When the withholder has been taken away from the earth by way of the rapture, the Antichrist will be able to reveal himself without resistance. The Holy Spirit will then still be present on earth because of God’s omnipresence, but not as pronounced as during the period after Pentecost as the true church through whom He worked has been taken away. However, He will again find other channels to manifest Himself, particularly in Israel (cf. Rev. 7:2-8), but during the short period of complete darkness after the rapture the Antichrist and false prophet will have the full opportunity to reveal themselves and take physical control over a deceived world.

We are definitely close to this situation as it is evident that people are now finally preparing to either appear before Christ and be part of the revelation of His kingdom, or to receive and follow the Antichrist as a multireligious world leader. Those who are waiting for the Lord Jesus purify themselves just as He is pure (1 John 3:3). He is thoroughly purging His threshing-floor to unmitigatingly separate the wheat and chaff. Soon, the harvest of saved souls will be gathered in heaven. The tares are being bound in bundles and will be cast into the fire of God’s judgements during the seven-year tribulation period. These two groups are increasingly being separated as the vile continue along their evil ways and the holy ones pursue greater holiness (Rev. 22:11).

There is already a marked departing from biblical truths among the great majority of people, also among nominal believers in apostatised churches. They become increasingly more blinded and alienated from evangelical Christian principles – to such an extent that they will embrace and worship the multireligious Antichrist as the true Christ and saviour of the world. In the process, they increasingly turn their backs upon the true God and His Word and even blaspheme against Him. At the same time, sin and unrighteousness such as lies, corruption, immoral lifestyles, and double standards are rapidly increasing, thereby paving the way for humanity to also, from a moral point of view, become enthusiastic followers of the Antichrist as “the man of sin” (2 Thess. 2:3). While we are entering deeper into the end-time and the Bridegroom tarries to come, the problems related to apostatising take on greater proportions.

Only a small group of faithful Christians continue to watch and pray while cleansing themselves. As the night is growing darker, the morning star shines brighter, and that is the symbol of hope on the coming of the heavenly King. Only He can, through His second coming, establish a reign of peace which will bring durable change to this depraved world.

The dark destination of the broad way

The unsaved world, as well as the millions of nominal Christians who do not have changed (born again) hearts, do not have such a future vision and are only looking to the world in an effort to make it more hospitable to them. They are eagerly engaged in promoting a larger degree of global unity in an effort to counter the increasing number of problems which are experienced internationally. This approach does not only give rise to political and economic globalism with a view to establishing a world government as well as control over the world economy, but it can also be clearly seen in the current process of religious globalism. Within the framework of this initiative, plans are made to create an alliance of world religions which can assist in fostering world peace and unity. The ecumenical movement is founded on the deceptive idea that all faiths worship the same God, and therefore also await the same world messiah who will further unite them. Together, they will endeavour to promote tolerance, love and peaceful coexistence with the mystical brotherhood of all faiths, but this false unity will pave the way towards the revelation of their common saviour – the Antichrist.

According to Revelation 13, the global initiatives of fallen and deceived humanity will, in the end-time under the influence of the devil, give rise to the establishment of a world government under the leadership of the Antichrist, a centrally-controlled world economy in which nobody can buy or sell without the number of the Antichrist, as well as a world religion in which all people will worship the Antichrist as their common saviour. Initially, all people on earth will be amazed about the fulfilment of their globalist dreams, and they will spontaneously follow and worship the Antichrist. However, it will not be long before they will be reduced to slaves in his military dictatorship. All who would refuse to worship him as God will be summarily executed, and without an oath of allegiance to him nobody will have any economic rights.

The closer we get to the coming of the true Christ, the closer is the time also for the revelation of the false christ of all faiths. The fulfilment of biblical prophecies on the end-time – particularly the restoration of Israel and the creation of global structures for the world government of the Antichrist – emphasise the fact that the coming of Christ as the heavenly Bridegroom can take place any time now. The prophetic scenario for this highly significant event has been ready for quite a number of years; consequently, we are living in the time when the Bridegroom tarries to come (cf. Matt. 25:5). During this time, the worldly-minded people make feverish preparations to establish their new world order of globalism and to receive their common world messiah as their leader. Committed Christians are awaiting the blowing of the trump of God, which will announce their meeting with the heavenly Bridegroom. All those who remain behind will be subjected to the most severe deception of all time, and because of following the Antichrist they will be the victims of a great tribulation which will also be unprecedented in world history.