As the end of the age draws nearer, Christians often wonder what is the next major event on God’s prophetic program. When we turn to today’s prophecy teachers, we are usually told that it will be — A: The rapture; or B: The Gog and Magog battle. Although I am not going out of my way to be “different,” I cannot agree with the popular consensus. If someone were to ask me what would be the next major prophetic event, my answer might surprise him. I think the next event will be the complete collapse of mainstream Christianity.
There are many reasons for my thinking so, and some of these have to do with the “signs of the times” (Matthew 16: 2-3). But I am not a futurologist. Although observations of current trends are important, it is best to get our info directly from the inspired Word of God. And when we look at the very last epistles that Paul wrote (around A.D. 67-68), before he suffered martyrdom in Rome, we’re told that at the end of the present dispensation there will be a great apostasy (1 Tim. 4: 1-3; 2 Tim. 3: 1-5; 4: 3-4). That’s where I believe we are today.
Now, I am not saying that the gates of hell have prevailed against Christ’s church — for that is impossible (Matt. 16: 18). But when Christ made that promise, we must keep in mind that He was talking about the church invisible, and not visible organized Christianity. To say that He meant the visible church is to make Him a liar, because for hundreds of years the mainstream church worshipped icons and images, before the Reformation set Christianity free. That was a corruption of the visible church.
So, at least we know that there is precedence for a widespread apostasy. It should come as no surprise, then, to find so many Christians wandering from the truth and taken in the nets of error. Various forms of false doctrine have seeped into the larger denominations, so that it may be said that the collapse of the western church is “even at the doors.”
These doctrines have taken diverse forms, from the “Purpose Driven” theology of Rick Warren, and the emergent iconoclasm of Brian McLaren, all the way down to the latest fad of the hour. Paul was right on the money when he wrote: “For the time will come when they shall not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Tim. 4: 3).
True, it took many centuries for this trend to become fully developed. As we know, the mystery of iniquity was working in Paul’s own day (2 Thess. 2: 7). Yet over the course of centuries, the final manifestation of this mystery never got a chance to ripen — until now. And so it’s here, the predicted apostasy. It’s only a matter of time before it attains full growth.
What will we do? Is there any place to run? And, if we could run, would we choose to do so? or would we stand our ground and remain on the field to fight the enemy? To those entangled in the things of “this life,” the proposition is a difficult one. For us, however, who remember our high and heavenly call, we recall the words of Jesus. “For whosoever shall save his life shall lose it: but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it” (Luke 9: 24). This thought will help keep us in the trenches, as we wage war for the Captain of our Salvation, and wait for the morning-star to appear on the horizon (2 Peter 1: 19) — and for that voice like a trumpet that will say, “Come up Hither!” (Rev. 4: 1).
Speaking of the rapture: Although many Christians feel that the rapture will occur before the apostasy is fully developed, I cannot agree with this concept. Remember, the apostasy involves the church, and the church will not be taken up until it has become Laodicean in thought and practice (see Rev. 2 & 3). Thankfully, there is a Philadelphian remnant (Rev. 3: 8) that remains pure in all ages, and it is this remnant that will be saved from the hour of temptation (Rev. 3: 10). But the rapture, when it occurs, will leave a church that is so corrupt that it will be nauseous in the sight of God (Rev. 3: 16).
There will be many reasons for this nausea. Lack of zeal to preach to the Gospel; an over-emphasis on formalism and ceremonialism; lack of prayer and spiritual preparation on the part of ordained ministers: all these will contribute to the problem. But the “killing factor,” the thing that will bring the whole to a state of putrefaction, will be the church’s final alliance with the world, and it’s love of men’s regard. Once this happens, and the church ceases to be distinct from the world, then the gangrene will be incurable.
Keep in mind, in Christ’s letter to the Laodicean church, he upbraids them for their boasted wealth and worldly prosperity (Rev. 3: 17). That is a sign of a church that has commingled with the world — a church that has no more witness. And when we look at the modern-day churches, what do we see? All the signs are in order, are they not? Again, that tells us how close we are to the full development of the apostasy.
With a spiritual collapse so widespread, it won’t be long before the smaller denominations start getting sucked down by the undertow. This is why it is essential to to the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ and His inspired apostles — come what may — and not to be entrapped by novelties. As Paul said: “Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines” (Hebrews 13: 9). Even if this entails leaving a church that has become corrupt in doctrine or practice, what is more important? our image before men? or our walk with Jesus Christ?
Let us make no mistake. When the apostasy comes, it will come like a flood, and take everything in its path. Only those who have remained spiritually pure will survive the epoch of darkness which will precede Christ’s second coming. As the night looms darker over our heads, let us put on all the armor of God, that we may stand in the evil day (Eph. 6: 13). And when the last trump sounds, and we are caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4: 17), then we’ll know the victory that is ours in Christ.