The Falling Away 5

“For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.”  (Mt. 24:7)

From my book The Christian Church in the Last Days

The gospels tell us not to be afraid when we hear of wars, of nation rising against nation, of great earthquakes, and famines, and pestilences, as if we are still on the earth and not raptured yet (Matthew 24:6; Luke 21:9).  The Bible tells us that the whole world will be evangelized before the end comes (Matthew 24:14).  These scriptures suggest either an intense preliminary period of distress and spiritual activity containing all of these challenges for the church leading up to the tribulation, or the church still being on the earth for some period of time overlapping into the tribulation.

How might the falling away transpire?  If large numbers of people were attracted to a version of Christianity Light that promised positive-thinking outcomes with no discipleship costs involved, in keeping with our instant coffee, microwave popcorn culture, and they were transported back in time to one of the great persecutions under the Roman emperors in the first or second century, then we can easily see where a lot of these people would reconsider their membership in the church.  There was no opportunity for a Great Falling Away during the first three centuries of the Christian church, because there was not the time and population numbers to build up a watered-down, worldly attractive apostate church in existence that would draw in millions of nominal adherents.  Life-and-death persecutions under the Roman Empire from time to time sifted out nominal believers from the Christian fold, because it truly meant the possibility of death when the authorities would catch and put on trial a professing Christian during these periods of widespread persecution.

In our modern times, people who have joined a church because they are attracted to the positive-thinking, upbeat message of God helping us to obtain better jobs, bigger houses, nicer cars, and better relations with family and friends through what really amounts to self-realization, will in all probability abandon the Christian church at the first signs of trouble.  People who join a church because it is a friendly club for social networking, family activities, and to make business contacts, will have a difficult time re-evaluating the decision they made for this easy and worldly compromised version of Christianity, when it is compared to the alternate real version of Christianity where believers will have to take a courageous stand for their faith that will cost them their lives.  When the Antichrist changes his tactics from deceptive peace (Daniel 8:25) to deadly persecution, and begins to require people to take the mark of the beast or suffer the consequences, the nominal churchgoers will probably opt for survival (Daniel 3:7).

We can have large, arena-type sanctuaries, with comfortable stadium seating, state-of-the-art lighting and sound systems, worldly entertaining “rock and roll” style worship music having over-simplified Christian lyrics that appeal to large numbers of people, and positive-thinking motivational style messages mixed with watered-down Christian doctrines.  But what will it profit if the people who attend these churches do not get challenged and inspired to follow Jesus into an intimate journey of faith?  What will it profit if end-times persecution exposes these types of churches as being shallow and empty in terms of preparing Christians to live lives that would faithfully stand up in the heat of hard times?  What will it profit if people have been mistakenly taught that they could successfully have one foot in the world and one foot in Christ, without any future adverse consequences or reckoning? 

                What will it profit if the external environment of persecution and tribulation removes overnight the possibility of safely attending the currently popular mega-churches, and the churchgoer is left “high and dry” without having established a personal relationship with Jesus Christ with the ability to listen and follow the Holy Spirit on their own?  What will it profit if the end-times churchgoer cannot tell the difference between the counterfeit but worldly appealing Antichrist (Daniel 7:25), and the genuine Jesus Christ who calls us to pick up our cross and follow Him?

The Falling Away 4

“And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.”  (Mt. 24:6)

From my book The Christian Church in the Last Days

Another reason a falling away would not likely occur between a pretribulation rapture and the second coming of Christ seven years later, is that Paul is addressing this scripture directly to the Thessalonian church in the first century.  There is not the slightest hint that Paul is lobbing a football pass over the heads of the Thessalonians to a future group of “tribulation saints” who have missed the rapture.  Paul is telling the contemporary, first century Thessalonian church to watch for the sign of a falling away as a precursor to the “day of the Lord.”  This instruction of Paul to the Thessalonians directly applies to the Thessalonian church while it is still on the earth, a group of people Paul knows intimately well, and not to some unknown group of believers to be formed after the first-century church has left the scene through the rapture.

The expectation of the rapture, followed by the second coming of Christ, and the beginning of a new earth and a new heavens where peace and justice will reign, is a hope that is rightly supposed to reside within the hearts of Christians in every century leading up to today.  The fact that the rapture and the second coming did not occur in these past centuries, even though Christians were faithfully watching and looking for these events, is due to some overriding considerations that are more important than the timing of the rapture or the second coming of Christ.

One of these important considerations is the salvation of the many sheep that Jesus speaks about when He says He has other sheep to call that are not of this first century flock: “And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16).  Those sheep that Jesus is referring to, at this current time, happen to be us.

Because The Great Commission takes precedence over the rapture, the second coming, and the millennium, this John 10:16 concept of remaining lost sheep to be brought-in allows the prophetic 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 scriptures to continuously extend unbroken through each successive generation of Christians throughout the church age down to our present day.  This instruction by Paul to the Thessalonians is still in full force and effect, held in suspension until the appointed time.  In my opinion, therefore, this great falling away should occur before the rapture of the church, and not afterwards.

This view regarding the timing of the falling away and the revealing of the son of perdition refutes the traditional pretribulation scenario, because currently there is no rationale for the extreme magnitude of worldwide events that would facilitate both this mass falling away and a revelation of the son of perdition, other than the great tribulation itself.  Some worldwide events of colossal proportions must certainly occur to cause this falling away, but a pre-rapture falling away does not conveniently fit within the scheme of events currently hypothesized within the pretribulation rapture program.

Paul writes to Timothy: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.” (2 Timothy 3:1).  This verse, combined with 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 giving the sequence of a falling away and the revealing of the son of perdition before the rapture, implies that the fiery challenges of the tribulation period are in full play and producing noticeable prophetic results on a grand scale by the time the rapture occurs.

Many people believe and teach that all of the prophecies that are required to take place prior to the rapture were fulfilled with the formation of the nation of Israel in 1948.  I am not so sure.  The Bible talks about a great falling away before the coming of the Lord, as quoted above, regardless of whether the “day of the Lord” refers to the rapture or the second coming of Christ.  It talks about scoffers in the last days chiding Christians about the rapture or the second coming not having occurred yet (2 Peter 3:3-4).  It talks about perilous times, when people’s moral standards and sense of right and wrong will have noticeably deteriorated (2 Timothy 3:1-5).  The Bible talks about believers prophesying, seeing visions and having dreams, to the point that this prophesying is probably recognizable and notable to skeptics and believers alike (Joel 2:28-29; Acts 2:17-21).  2 Timothy 4:3-4 talks about a time when people will not endure sound doctrine, but will turn their ears away from the truth.

 

The Falling Away 3

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you.”  (Mt. 24:4)

From my book The Christian Church in the Last Days

If the Christian church is not raptured pretribulation and is on the earth for some of Daniel’s seven-year tribulation, a more plausible motivation for nominal churchgoers to fall away would be the hard choice of facing persecution along with the genuine church, compared to the easier choice of saving their own skins by compromising with the direction the world is going in accepting the mark of the beast.  Or some application of Daniel 8:23-25 might explain large numbers of nominal churchgoers mistakenly falling away to follow the deceptive and smooth-talking appeal of the Antichrist at the beginning of his reign of falsely promised peace and worldly prosperity.  This might presumably be followed up with a more complete falling away after persecution begins for the genuine Christians (saints of the Most High) who are not taken-in by the deceptive appeal of the Antichrist (Revelation 13:16-17).

Because of the unique character of post-rapture tribulation saints, the falling away that Paul describes in 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 would not likely occur between the time period of a pretribulation rapture of the church and the second coming of Christ seven years later.  In a pretribulation rapture scenario, the tribulation saints that become Christian believers after the rapture are probably a hard-core, uncompromising group of determined disciples, having themselves missed the rapture, who will not fall away in large numbers as a result of anything that comes against them during the tribulation period.  All of the “left behind” nominal churchgoers who do not become tribulation saints would quickly be absorbed into the world-at-large and quietly fade away into the background.  The characteristically hard-core, resolute commitment of last-days tribulation saints, steeled in their faith by the knowledge that their conversion came too late to participate in the rapture, eliminates them as plausible candidates to fall away under harsh persecution.

Continuing this argument, once the church is raptured (pretribulation) and gone, the contrasting spiritual makeup of the remaining cast of characters would be rigidly polarized and separated for the rest of the tribulation period.  Remove hundreds of millions of Spirit-born Christians from the earth, and the current reality of a large, undecided, unbelieving composite mix of people co-existing undetected within churches would overnight become a separate and homogenous group, totally distinct from the soon-to-be converted, immerging group of tribulation saints.  From that time forward, post-rapture, there would be no internal motivation based on shared common beliefs, nor the existence of external communication channels recently in place in organized Christian church structures, for these two dissimilar groups to merge.  The zeal and determined dedication of the tribulation saints to become and to remain faithful Christians “come what may,” would separate out tribulation saints as a uniquely zealous and distinct group of people for the remainder of the tribulation period.

Paul presents the falling away and the revelation of the son of perdition as signs leading up to the rapture.  The rapture and the falling away cannot be bundled together in reverse order within a short time-span.  The magnitude of the rapture would completely overshadow any subsequent falling away.

The Falling Away 2

“Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?”  (Mt. 24:3b)

From my book The Christian Church in the Last Days

The rapture would not generate the great falling away of 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3.  The three components that Paul lists here…the rapture, the falling away, and the revealing of the son of perdition, must occur in the sequential order he gives.  The question the Thessalonians are asking: “Did the rapture already occur and did we miss it?” is answered by Paul by saying that the rapture cannot happen until the falling away and the revelation of the son of perdition have occurred.

That this end-times prophetic question by the Thessalonians involves the rapture and not the second coming, is inferred by Paul and by the Thessalonian leaders writing to Paul, by the simple fact that both Paul and the Thessalonians are unquestionably saved but physically still on the earth and discussing this issue.

If the topic under discussion involved the second coming, the entire first-century church at that time understood correctly that Jesus Christ instead would then be openly ruling and reigning on earth, and the original question sent by letter to Paul would have been moot and nonsensical.  Like today, the timing of the rapture within the sequence of end-times events was an unsettled question, and Paul gives additional information to the Thessalonians to the limits and extent of his inspired understanding.

Again, the people who would be “left behind” in a pretribulation rapture are left behind in place.  “Left behind” is not synonymous with “falling away.”  There is no remarkable movement of the “falling away” group if the main body itself…the raptured church…is the entity that has done the actual moving away through a physical disappearance.  The world-at-large would not therefore view the non-raptured churchgoers, who would stop attending a non-existing church because it was now pointless to do so, as the New Testament prophesied “great falling away.”

If the true church of believers is lifted off the earth in large numbers pretribulation, who in the world would take much notice of, or care about leftover churchgoers “falling away” as the result of merely being left behind like everyone else following such a cataclysmic event as the rapture?  Such a falling away, after-the-fact of the rapture, would be anticlimactic, comparatively inconsequential, and barely worth noticing.  It would have trouble getting news-media coverage on the back page of the newspaper, because a post-rapture falling away would be a non-event.

To constitute a noticeable falling away capturing the attention of the world, worthy of mention in biblical end-times prophetic scripture, the Christian church must still be fully in attendance on earth.  This includes all of the saints of God who will eventually be martyred or raptured, and includes all of the nominal, unsaved churchgoers who will “fall away” as a result of an as-yet-to-be-determined, currently unknown reason.

The Falling Away 1

“That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter from us, as that the day of the Lord is at hand.  Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come the falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”  (2 Thessalonians 2:2-3)

From my book The Christian Church in the Last Days

The “falling away” (the Greek word apostasia, meaning the rebellion or the departure) presupposes that there will be a large enough group of people involved in this distinctive end-times event to be worth mentioning in Holy Scripture.  If the Christian church were to be raptured pretribulation into heaven before this falling away, so many hundreds of millions of Christians would be absent off the earth through an unexpected early rapture there would not be a large enough number of people physically present in orthodox Christian churches to have a rebellion, a departure, or a falling away from.

Certainly large numbers of unsaved people in modern-day, liberal, apostate churches would be left behind in a pretribulation rapture scenario, and some people in orthodox Christian churches, who were unsaved would be left behind.  But being “left behind” in a pretribulation rapture context would not be a rebellion, a departure, or a falling away.  It would more accurately be called an exposure.  It would be a decisively clear and public revelation of a nominal, unregenerate, hypocritical spiritual condition that before the rapture would not be openly apparent.

To accurately be called a falling away in this end-times prophetic context, we have to have something numerically substantial enough in place to fall away from.  Things that fall away from nothing do not fall away, they independently dissipate, dissolve, or collapse.  If a pretribulation rapture triggers a subsequent great falling away, as some people believe, how then does a person rebel, depart, or fall away from a church that essentially no longer exists?  How does a person fall away from a church that has ninety-five percent or more of its members disappearing instantly through the rapture?  In this case the raptured church lifted off the earth has done the “falling away”…the active movement…not the left behind person standing alone in an empty church that no longer has a congregation.  And why would a person rebel, depart, or fall away from an apostate church that has only five percent or less of its members disappear instantly through the rapture, with ninety-five percent or more left behind?

Paul is clearly differentiating the falling away from the rapture, because He says that one cannot happen before the occurrence of the other.  The point I am making here is that not only are the falling away and the rapture two different events, but also that the falling away is not plausibly a result or a by-product of a pretribulation rapture.  If this reasoning is correct, this has huge implications towards a better understanding of the dynamics of the upcoming tribulation for the Christian church.

The Counterfeit Messiah

“My Soul longeth, yea, even fainteth for the courts of the Lord: my heart and my flesh crieth out for the living God.”  (Ps. 84:2)

The my book Christian Church in the Last Days

Finally, if the universe is designed for human discovery, and if the scientific evidence is trending toward an acknowledgment of the existence of an intelligent designer, about the time this historic event would be persuasively decided by the scientific community, the upcoming Antichrist may come along and say: “Yes, God does exist, and He is me!”  The arrogance of the grand deception of undeservedly stealing the credit for the brilliance of creation, an appreciation of that brilliance being the result of centuries of human labor investigating the inner workings of the natural world, would truly be ironic on a “galactic” scale.

2 Thessalonians 2:3 tells us that in the end-times the “son of perdition” will finally be exposed as the deadly and deceptive fraud that he is.  In my opinion, the Antichrist will initially be a worldly acceptable rendition of the messiah, falsely promising salvation in a modified version of the temptation by Lucifer of Jesus in the wilderness…having short-cut, temporal worldly benefits but eternal, spiritual destruction.  The outwardly attractive, winning ways of the Antichrist would entirely sidestep the currently contentious debate of Darwinian evolution versus theistic creation, because the key worldview issues would immediately shift downward into the lower level of worldly horizontal, temporally appealing concerns.

This is the level at which Jesus of Nazareth was rejected as Messiah at His first advent.  Jesus of Nazareth as atoning Savior for sin fell short of people’s worldly expectations for the Messiah.  This is the same level that Jesus will again be rejected by the world, but this time in head-to-head comparison between the Christian church and an Antichrist on earth visibly representing all of the attractive allure of the “cares of this world” in contrast to the higher realm of the spiritual life that only God can produce.

Unbelieving Jews in the first century wanted worldly conventional salvation from their everyday cares, not an adventure of faith following God like Abraham, Moses, or David.  Christians operating at the higher spiritual level will recognize this subtle but deadly deception…the temporal promise of worldly counterfeit salvation at the cost of eternal damnation.  Lucifer is not God and his promises are empty, malice-filled, and misrepresented in the most heinously fraudulent way.

A genuine God-composed journey of faith, when viewed alongside recent scientific discoveries supporting intelligent design, removes randomness, blind chance, and whimsy from the narrative stories of faith recorded in the Bible.  Intricate, meticulous, brilliantly ingenious, and inventively arrayed bundles of information characterize the marvels we now better understand in the natural world.  This lends confidence to a present-day journey of faith following Jesus Christ in a new immerging way that is designed to bolster our resolve and determination to withstand the current attacks of radically skeptical unbelief, and the changing subtleties of the upcoming appeal that will mark the final world-class deceptive attractions of the counterfeit messiah the Antichrist.

Free-Will Moral Agency 2

“Teach me thy way, O Lord; I will walk in thy truth: unite my heart to fear thy name.”  (Ps. 86:11)

From my book The Christian Church in the Last Days

Random chance processes do not work when attempting to produce function in complex systems of any type…a college research paper, an outboard motor for a small boat, or a detailed schedule for new building construction.   A random chance search strategy likewise does not produce optimum function for exceedingly complex purpose, direction, and meaning in life while we are autonomously sitting on the decision-making thrones of our lives.  Evolution by blind random chance is the diametric opposite of intelligent input.  Just as there is a huge discontinuity between the non-living world and the living world of plants and animals, there is an unbridgeable discontinuity between a self-directed life and a God-directed life.

Today’s Christian must grasp the enormous importance of stepping into our predestined, God-composed journey of faith.  The New Covenant promise of Jeremiah 31:31-34 says that every believer from the least to the greatest will all know God personally.  A personal walk with God through this life via precisely crafted events and circumstances beyond our capacity to imagine is the God-blended solvent that dissolves the destructively subtle mixture of cynical unbelief allied with philosophical naturalism.

If science itself is discovering evidence for the existence of intelligent design in our natural world, then the materialistic basis for a liberal, hyper-critical, non-supernatural interpretation of the Bible no longer has a rational leg to stand on.  This purely philosophical approach of naturalism based upon unbelief in God, is then unhooked from its undeserved false connection to the prestige and authority of the empirical scientific method.

If Jesus Christ lived a perfect life as the spotless Lamb of God sacrifice for our sins, this then means that the expression of unselfish love through the cross is at the very pinnacle of the precision of design in the moral realm of truth.  The cross of Jesus Christ in the moral realm is the equivalent of the creative precision found in a solar eclipse in the natural realm.  Like a solar eclipse is perfectly crafted to open up the discovery of the cosmos, the cross of Christ is perfectly crafted to open up an understanding of eternally valid moral themes.

If our journey of faith leads us toward becoming more Christ-like, then the cross is in actuality a positive component of this imaginative moral engineering just like the positive aspects of the fine-tuning of the laws of physics and chemistry are perfectly designed to support complex life.  The cross in our lives is therefore not something to avoid or to be afraid of.  In Jesus Christ the cross is the divine expression of the utter lack of any self-centeredness, in pure and perfect love for us.

The good detective work of recent scientific investigation, revealing the presence of intelligent design and the mathematical improbability of random chance as the cause for our existence, restores order and sense to our universe.  It reinstates the legitimacy of a biblical journey of faith following the capable leadership of God.

This has enormous consequences for Christians, the gospel message, and evangelism.  It has the potential for partially or completely overturning the present naturalistic worldview responsible for the modern-day cynicism towards life.  If people can see that God is as close to us as His design of a perfect solar eclipse, as well-intentioned as the precise placing of our earth in the “habitable zone” in our solar system, has the capacity to create the indescribable precision of the activities we see inside a living cell, and has clear purpose behind our optimum location in the Milky Way Galaxy for both survival and to be able to view deep into outer space, this means that once again our world has meaning and purpose.

Like the scientific acceptance of the evidence for the Big Bang beginning of the universe, at some point in the near future the accumulation of evidence for design may also establish the existence of a Creator God as a given.  A naturalistic world without meaning, purpose, and hope based upon the arbitrariness of relative truths without any connection to absolute truth, gives way to the true reality of a universe managed by a brilliantly creative God.

To our amazement and admiration of God as Christians, we now discover that this recent concept of a world designed both to support complex life and to encourage scientific investigation, also dovetails beautifully with the biblical idea that God has also set up a perfectly orchestrated way to discover eternal moral truth in this broken world.  This comes to us through the investigative lens of a biblical journey of faith following Jesus Christ our Savior.