Characteristics of Our Time – the Great Falling Away of the Last Days

Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (February 2015)

The Bible sheds light on great changes that will occur in various spheres of life during the last days. From a spiritual point of view there will, on the one hand, be preparations among evangelical Christians to meet the heavenly Bridegroom during His secret coming and to subsequently share with Him in the further revelation of His kingdom (Rev. 5:9-10; 20:6). On the other hand, there will be a process of moral and spiritual falling away among the large number of spiritually deceived people in anticipation of receiving the multireligious prince of peace who is described in the Bible as the Antichrist or the beast (1 John 2:18; Rev. 13:1-2). He will institute a humanistic new world order (reminiscent of the ancient Babylonian Empire) which will be fallen man’s deliberate effort to rule himself without God, and specifically also in opposition to God’s kingdom (Rev. 13:7).

The supporters of these two kingdoms are both waiting on the appearance of a messianic leader to save the world from its serious political divisions, military confrontations, moral decline, health problems and economic crises, but their perceptions on who he is differ largely from one another. The one messiah will be God’s Son from heaven who will rule by His divine power (1 Thess. 1:10; Rev. 11:15; 19:15), while the other one will arise from the sea of nations to rule the world through Satan’s power (Rev. 13:1-3). Humanity are now confronted by a final choice between the true Christ of the Bible and the false christ of all faiths. The prevailing opinion in the world is rapidly changing in favour of an antichristian new world order, and that orientation daily renders the general acceptance of an interfaith messiah a more substantial possibility. The following tendencies in the world are operating in support of the coming deceiver:

Weakening faith

Since Christ is bodily in heaven we can only experience His presence spiritually through the working of the Holy Spirit. We cannot see Him and are only united with Him by faith: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). When our faith is weakened it negatively impacts upon the quality of our relationship with the Lord Jesus as we backslide into a position where we can merely be described as doubting people of little faith (Matt. 14:31). We should prevent such a situation by building ourselves up in our most holy faith (Jude v. 20) and, in a convincing way, take a stand before all the unbelievers and agnostics in favour of a dynamic relationship of faith with Christ: “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12). Are you also committed to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints”? (Jude 1:3).

There are various indications that a sound, biblical faith is everywhere on the decrease. This phenomenon is part of a worldwide programme to promote false religions and deception with a view to setting the scene for the revelation of the man of sin: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:1-2). Although the apostle clearly emphasises the demonic origin of apostasy, that does not minimise the accountability of the backsliders themselves for being apostatised. Their own part in denying the faith is evident from their receptivity to the lies of hypocritical liars. These preachers have a seared conscience, which alludes to the fact that they are slaves of false doctrines and hence collaborators of the devil.

Backsliding occurs when a believer acts contrary to his own conscience (an inner conviction, under the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, of right and wrong) and wilfully prefers a false teaching above the truth. Paul admonished Timothy never to expose himself to deception but to remain true to his faith and good conscience, even if it gives rise to conflict and rejection by others. He was encouraged to continue proclaiming the gospel which Paul entrusted to him, that by it “…you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck” (1 Tim. 1:18-19).

Today there are many people who departed from the faith and became spiritually shipwrecked. They exposed themselves to Satan’s lies by, for instance, listening to deceptive teachings in which biblical truths are distorted or denied, reading the wrong books or visiting the Internet websites of deceivers. Consequently, many of them have “rejected” the true faith and became teachers of deception themselves. Paul mentions examples of such false teachers who, during that early stage of the church history, have ruined the faith of many people by denying the hope on the resurrection from the dead and alleging that the resurrection has already occurred, thereby “overthrowing” the faith of some (2 Tim. 2:16-18).

In modern times it has become quite common to deny all references to the resurrection from the dead – including that of Jesus Himself. Paul says: “For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished” (1 Cor. 15:16-18). False doctrines of this nature inevitably lead to the ruining of people’s faith and doubting the relevance of the Bible.

The devil has a very clear agenda with apostatising, and that is to prepare the way for the acceptance of the great deceiver, the Antichrist, who will offer himself instead of Christ as the king and saviour of the world. Spiritual deception is a prerequisite for the appearance of the false world teacher. Jesus warned against this situation: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many” (Matt. 24:4-5).

Love that grows cold

Love for the Lord Jesus obliges us to faithfulness towards Him, holy living and to being rooted and grounded in His love as a basic moral and spiritual principle in our lives. The Antichrist will be the absolute opposite of these virtues and will be the man of sin, deception, lovelessness and double standards. It will be his objective to establish a culture of sin in the world, as evidenced by the fact that he is described as “the man of sin” and “the son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:3). While the spirit of the Antichrist operates more strongly in the world during the end-time, sin and iniquity (lawlessness) become more acceptable – even in many churches where behaviour which was regarded as sin in the past is now openly allowed and shamelessly practised.

The consequence of the proliferation of sin and unrighteousness is that Christians often adopt more carnal lifestyles and in the process inevitably become alienated from the Head of the church – Jesus Christ. In His Olivet Discourse on the end-time Jesus warned against a falling away of this nature: “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matt. 24:12). Sin will be rampant everywhere.

It is the express purpose of the kingdom of darkness to erode the love that believers have for Christ, to the point where they will ultimately turn their backs on the biblical Jesus and become followers of a false Jesus. In early church history there are various examples of serious apostatising. In His message to the church in Ephesus, Jesus said: “Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent” (Rev. 2:4). The congregation did not correct their serious spiritual errors and ultimately deteriorated to a position where they were forced to close their doors.

How do modern Christians react when distorted or biased presentations of the Lord Jesus, of the Bible and of the Holy Spirit are proclaimed in their churches, and when religious leaders openly start condoning sinful practices? Don’t they realise that this is the work of the devil which is aimed at completely destroying their relationship of faith with the true Jesus? Paul writes to such a congregation that started well but later became the victims of deception: “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted – you may well put up with it!” (2 Cor. 11:2-4).

People who have grown cold in their love have already embarked on a wrong journey, and because of their own choices they are carried away into a spiritual wilderness. On this journey the devil will meet them in the guise of an angel of light, offer many liberties and freedom of expression to them, including friendly relations with the non-Christians faiths, and in the process introduce them to another Jesus who represents all religions on earth. The major purpose with spiritual deception will then have been achieved.

Refuting promises on the second coming

A substantial part of the false messiah’s preparations to take control of the world and deceive all people is to deny that the true Messiah will descend from heaven to catch away His disciples from earth, thereby saving them from the great tribulation of the end-time. This blatant rejection of the truth has already penetrated various Christian churches and explains the suspension of preaching on the second coming since they regard all promises on the return of Christ as myths and figurative speech without any real substance. People who have adopted this view do not deem it necessary to watch and pray in order to be worthy to “escape” the coming tribulation period (Luke 21:36). Deceived believers who deny the literal fulfilment of biblical prophecies also reject as unreal the “catching away” (Gr. harpazo) of believers as described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 as it interferes with their plans to establish an earthly kingdom in which they will be the rulers.

According to the entire non-Christian world, as well as liberal theologians who have abandoned a biblical future expectation, there are no concrete reasons why we should “wait for His [God’s] Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess. 1:10). All the promises in the latter verse are denied by critics of the Bible, namely that there is a heaven, that God has a Son who was raised from the dead and ascended to heaven, and that He will return from there to save us from the wrath of the tribulation and from divine judgements. The sceptics also strongly deny that humanity is heading for a time of judgements and accountability to God. They prefer to proclaim the establishment of a kingdom on earth and to promote the deceptive assertion that man can positively change his own destiny by conquering and removing all evil from the world; consequently, they do not look forward to a Saviour from heaven to liberate them. This view has already taken root to such an extent that more and more people from various quarters are scoffing at evangelical believers who expect the second coming of Christ.

Unfortunately, there are also many Christians who do recognise certain aspects of biblical eschatology, but not everything. Some of them do believe in the reality of a tribulation period under the rule of the Antichrist, as well as divine intervention at the end of the tribulation during the public appearance of Christ, but they strongly deny the possibility of a pre-tribulation rapture. By doing so they remove the focus of believers away from the Lord Jesus and fix it on the coming tribulation period and the Antichrist. To such people, the devising of survival strategies during these trying times becomes their main concern, while the glad expectation of Christ’s soon coming for His bridal congregation is relegated to a “later event”, thereby losing its immediate relevance. An unbiblical teaching of this nature by Christians suits the deceptive views of the enemy as it deprives Christians of the anchor of Christ’s appearance to save them from impending judgements. People who proclaim this view are doing more harm than good as they partially support the agnostics’ theology of denial.

Doubting the Bible

From the inner circles of various Christian churches and their theological seminaries, an escalating campaign is waged against the Bible as the authentic and inspired Word of God. Not only is the divine origin of the Bible questioned, but also the correctness and applicability of evangelical doctrines – including the doctrine on the second coming. Paul unambiguously confirms the truth of the Bible as God’s Word, the necessity of heeding its teachings, the deity of the Lord Jesus, His capacity as Judge, as well as the obligation of Christians to keep on proclaiming these truths even though they may be rejected and oppressed by modern agnostics. We should abide by what we have been taught by the Lord and guard against the false teachings of the apostates:

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry” (2 Tim. 3:16–4:5).

The destructive campaign by various prominent “Christian leaders” against the Bible as the authentic Word of God gave rise to the fact that the outside world has even become less concerned about the Bible than ever before. Christian constitutions and state-supported Christian education are rare phenomena in the world. Because of this, fallen man has gone to greater extremes in regarding himself as the sole master of his own destiny. These developments have further opened the way towards the establishment of a humanistic and antichristian new world order, which will be used by Satan and his kingdom to declare war against the true Christ when He returns to earth after the tribulation period to judge His enemies and restore the throne of David in Jerusalem.

The scientific worldview

There is an increased abandoning of the Bible as the basis of a Christian worldview while modern man is embracing the scientific worldview. According to this cognitive orientation the Bible is regarded as mythological and primitive, since only phenomena which can be scientifically verified are accepted as truth. Consequently, everything which is supernatural and hence outside the field of scientific inquiry are classified as wishful thinking and fiction – that includes the existence of God, heaven and hell, the biblical account of creation, the virgin birth of Jesus, the atoning value of His crucifixion, His resurrection, ascension and second coming, the promised resurrection of all deceased people, eternal life, and the creation of new heavens and a new earth. Biblical morality is viewed as obsolete and intimidating rules which do not apply to modern societies. Science also denies the existence of an opposing kingdom of darkness under the control of Satan and his fallen angels (demons) and regards statements on these phenomena as metaphors and references to primitive superstition.

The more churches there are that give full recognition to the scientific worldview without realising its absolute inability to identify and verify supernatural phenomena, the more of them become spiritually impoverished by sacrificing their faith in favour of humanly conceived rational thinking with all its limitations, particularly in the field of assessing religious beliefs and practices. Man and his natural abilities are elevated to a supreme position, and thus becomes his own god. No wonder that a humanistic leader with unusual talents and charisma will be accepted as a world leader. It is precisely in this area where the devil will exploit the naivety of modern man with the sinister view of enslaving humanity to control every aspect of people’s lives.

When faith in the true God is everywhere on the verge of vanishing, and together with that also faith in the spiritual realities of the unseen world, fallen man will take full control of his own life. At the end of the tribulation period there will be very few people who still believe in the true Jesus and serve Him, and that is the reason why He said: “When the Son of Man comes, will He really fin faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).

Pursuing of a false peace

The peace which Christ offers differs radically from that which the world pursues. He said: “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you” (John 14:27). During New Testament times people commonly greeted one another by saying: “Peace” (Heb. “Shalom”). Through His death Jesus provided a legacy to His disciples of the peace of the forgiveness of sins, and because of that they enjoyed the peace of God which surpasses all understanding (Rom. 5:1; Phil. 4:7). The world cannot in any way offer an inner peace of this kind to people.

However, the peace which the Lord Jesus promises is not only confined to a spiritual peace in the heart as He will one day return to also establish a physical kingdom of peace on earth: “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David” (Isa. 9:7). Peace will prevail everywhere on earth: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isa. 2:4). There will be no need for military training as all people will live together peacefully. The Messiah Himself will be the personification and maintainer of peace on earth (Mic. 5:5; cf. Hos. 2:18).

The world tries everything possible to imitate the peace of Christ, but to no avail. They cannot offer anyone salvation from sin and peace in their hearts, neither can they bring about lasting peace among the divided and hostile nations. They do try to establish peace on earth, but their plans are based on compromise, persuasion, promises of financial assistance, and often also on intimidation and military threats. They can, at most, achieve a false peace which is not lasting and genuine, but they nevertheless see this as a last resort because they have rejected the peace which only Christ can give. They “speak peace to their neighbours but evil is in their hearts” (Ps. 28:3).

A false saviour

Because of rejecting the God of the Bible the world is inevitably moving towards a covenant with “the god of this age”, i.e. Satan who blinds the minds of people so they should not understand or accept the gospel of Christ (2 Cor. 4:4). In his continued war against Christ, Satan will offer the world an alternative, multireligious messiah who will establish a false unity and brotherhood on earth. Humanity will be overjoyed when this unity materialises, and all nations will serve and worship their newly-found leader: “And all the world marvelled and followed the beast … and they worshipped the beast, saying, Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him? … And he was given authority over every tribe, tongue and nation” (Rev. 13:3-4, 7).

This false saviour will initially come in the guise of a prince of peace who rides on white horse (Rev. 6:2), but when he later declares himself to be God in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem, he will order the summary execution of all who refuse to worship him in his new capacity as self-declared God (Rev. 13:15). This disillusionment will only occur in the middle of the tribulation period of seven years which means that, through deception and deceit, the false messiah will succeed in gaining the support of many people during the first 3½ years after his appearance. Daniel says of the Antichrist: “A king shall arise having fierce features, who understands sinister schemes. His power shall be mighty. … Through his cunning he shall cause deceit to prosper under his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart” (Dan. 8:23-25).

The great shock

An unprecedented shock in the modern history will strike humanity when the church dispensation is concluded and the hidden kingdoms of God and Satan are suddenly revealed. The first of these dramatic events will be the catching away of the true church of Christ during the rapture (1 Thess. 4:16-17). To evangelical, Bible-believing Christians, faith will be fulfilled in seeing when they meet Jesus and accompany Him to heaven (John 14:2-3). Their place on earth will suddenly be empty, but this situation will be exploited by Satan to reveal the king and false christ of his kingdom (the Antichrist) to the world.

The shock of the rapture will have various far-reaching consequences. Crumbling convictions on the existence of God and His heavenly kingdom will be rapidly and drastically reviewed. To those who remain behind, the kingdom of heaven will still be hidden from the eye and people will have to engage in a relationship with Christ by faith. However, they will be confronted by extreme hostility as the kingdom of darkness will offer the world a very popular but false christ who will conclude a covenant with all nations and religious groups – including Israel and the deceived part of Christianity. Only the small group of new converts in the tribulation period who follow the true Christ, will know that this new leader is false. They will be able to resist him and prevail over him spiritually in the name of Christ, but a martyr’s death will be the consequence of rejecting him and his global government (Rev. 6:9-11; 12:11).

When the popular leadership of the Antichrist is threatened by opposition in the middle of the tribulation period, he will institute a military dictatorship which will forcefully deal with his adversaries all over the world (Dan. 11:44). He will then show his true colours and, during a short period of 42 months, subject the entire world to the destructive nature of Satan’s fully revealed kingdom on earth.

The end of deception

The present process of increased deception will only be terminated when Christ returns to earth at the end of the seven-year tribulation to destroy the Antichrist and his followers (Rev. 19:19-21). The remnant of Israel and the nations will then all confess their sins with great sorrow and be reconciled to Jesus Christ who is the only true Saviour and King of the world (Zech. 12:10-14; Matt. 24:29-30; Acts 15:16-17). The second coming of Christ will bring an end to all false religions and idolatry: “In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness. It shall be in that day, says the Lord of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they shall no longer be remembered” (Zech. 13:1-2).

A similar spiritual awakening and reconciliation to God will also occur among members of all nations who survived the great tribulation. They will regularly go up to Jerusalem where the throne of the Messiah will be to celebrate religious feasts to the honour of His Name: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles” (Zech. 14:16). That will be true dedication motivated by changed hearts: “At that time Jerusalem shall be called The Throne of the Lord, and all the nations shall be gathered to it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem. No more shall they follow the dictates of their evil hearts” (Jer. 3:17).

Jerusalem will be the political and religious capital of the world where the Lord Jesus will rule from the throne of David. He will be honoured and served by all, while the spiritually revived people of Israel will be highly regarded by all nations: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us continue to go and pray before the Lord, and seek the Lord of hosts. I myself will go also. Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zech. 8:20-23).

The Lord also promised through Isaiah: “They [the nations] shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11:9). During the coming dispensation of the revealed kingdom of God on earth the saved Israel will be the special witnesses of the Messiah to evangelise future generations among all nations: “Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit” (Isa. 27:6).

However, we are still in the church dispensation in which we are spiritually subjected to influences from both the kingdoms of God and that of Satan. As Christians we are engaged in a war against evil, and because of that we have to put on the whole armour of God to remain standing against the wiles of the devil (Eph. 6:10-12). During this dispensation the majority of all people on earth are on the broad way of sin and thus hostile towards the true church of Christ and also towards Israel as God’s people. That is the reason why all nations will be gathered against Israel during the coming tribulation, where God will enter into judgement with them because of their anti-Jewish and anti-Christian beliefs and actions (Zech. 12:2-3; 14:2-3, 12-13; Joel 3:1-2). The deployment of military powers in the Middle East will be the consequence of intensive deception by the Antichrist. He will enjoy the assistance of deceiving spirits that will be sent out by the devil to further incite all nations against Israel, against Christianity and also against the coming Messiah from heaven (Rev. 16:13-14).

When the true church as the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16) has been removed from earth by way of the rapture, the Antichrist will be revealed (2 Thess. 2:7-12). After that, the deception and persecution of new believers who reject the Antichrist will soon begin and give rise to the great tribulation (Matt. 24:21). There is no room for any compromise with this deceiver and his false teachings; therefore, every person on earth has the responsibility of deciding to which kingdom he wishes to belong. This decision will determine his eternal destiny.