Keeping the Faith in the Last Days
It has been said that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Regarding matters of faith in God and our ecclesial associations, this certainly seems to be the case. Expressed differently, Solomon wrote there is “no new thing under the sun.” (Eccl 1:9).
Taken in this vein, this subject is not “new.” The issue of those called who have left their calling is not peculiar to this age, nor to the age of the Apostles or even the children of Israel. It is not even restricted to matters of faith or religion but is common across all aspects of human endeavor. As human beings, we simply have a builtin tendency for shifting interests as time goes on. It is part of our nature.
In this article, we will look only at issues of our beliefs that affect each of us directly and personally. This will be extended to include the indirect effects that we see in our ecclesial associations.
A PROBLEM AS OLD AS MAN
Let us begin by noting that, from a Biblical viewpoint, the condition of falling away or losing interest in God’s ways goes back to the creation of man in the Garden of Eden. These issues are a common problem at any age, which is evident from all that is written in the Scriptures and sung in our hymns.
The fall of man had to have been anticipated, and consequently, the genius of the entire mode of salvation is that it is foreknown. It is an exhilarating thing to behold.
This is a far-reaching implication that must have been evident to the Father before the command, “Let us create man in our image,” (Gen 1:26) was ever given. Thus, all our foibles, strengths and, weaknesses were known and understood by the ones who executed the divine order to populate the earth on the “sixth day.”
This is what we would expect in a well-wrought engineering or business plan. The caveat, of course, is that with man’s limited insight, and no knowledge of the future, his plans often go astray.
What Adam and Eve did in the Garden by choosing to follow the advice of the serpent rather than the word of the LORD, was not therefore an unexpected result, but something planned. The fall of man had to have been anticipated, and consequently, the genius of the entire mode of salvation is that it is foreknown. It is an exhilarating thing to behold.
Incidentally, this must be the basic meaning of John’s statement in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the word.” (Greek: logos, involving both a spoken word and a plan of action.) The Almighty has always known entirely what He intended to do. James says as much in Acts 15:18 at the Jerusalem Conference:
These last points are obvious, it seems, yet their power is seen in what they foretell.
ARE THE LAST DAYS DIFFERENT FROM THE PAST?
There is a multitude of warnings about the “last days” and their dangers. But are the “last days” a specific time, and if so, when do they begin to appear?
Often it seems we are looking for some sort of political development (or sign) to indicate that time. We are perfectly correct to conclude that Israel must be in their land for the events foretold in Ezekiel 38-39 for the “last days” to be possible. You cannot be invaded in a land where you are not living. That those times are the “last days” is also clear since they conclude with God’s name and majesty being seen in all the earth, and His work with Israel understood correctly. So yes, from the Bible’s viewpoint, there are last days, and we are living in them.
Quiet, almost inconspicuous movements seem to be leading to a rapid “checkmate” conclusion.
Israel has now been in their land as a national entity since 1948. We are currently some 72 years past that point, and the Lord has not come, yet. Events in the world at large increasingly point to greater developments to come. But the events unfold more like a game of chess than of a football or soccer game. Quiet, almost inconspicuous movements seem to be leading to a rapid “checkmate” conclusion.
This raises the point of what Jesus meant in the Olivet prophecy, when he said,
And in the Apocalypse,
The parable of the ten virgins, five wise and five foolish, shows that the point is preparation, not scrutiny. For while they all waited for the bridegroom, they slumbered and slept (Matt 25:5). It was when the bridegroom appeared, that the lack of preparation of the five foolish virgins was revealed. But by then, they had no time to get prepared. So, the entire point of these parables and warnings is to encourage each disciple to be prepared. Along with the Lord’s teachings and those of the Apostles, there are ample cautions about the “last days” and what to expect.
THE LAST DAYS WARNINGS
Political instability will worsen. The Olivet prophecy is recorded in three of the Gospels, Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In each record, the Lord is quite clear there will be some confusing events, false claims of being “Christ,” and general tumult.
The phrase “the powers of the heavens shall be shaken” occurs in all three prophecies (Matt 24:29; Mark 13:25; Luke 21:26) and is most likely to be understood nationally or politically (the ruling authorities is referred to as the heavens) rather than an astronomical way.
It could well signify that the rulership of government will be shaken if not entirely broken. What we are not told is how long this condition will persist before, or if it is only in response to the sight of:
A note in Matthew 24:30 tells us that at this time
For those who have been called, but whose lamps are going out, there may not be anyone left from which to buy the oil of faith. As it is said today, it is “GAME OVER,” all has been lost. Weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth await. These are very sobering thoughts. The Apostles develop more details about the last days, from an ecclesial perspective.
Good societal influences will weaken dramatically. Paul writes to Timothy, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times, some shall depart from the faith.” (1 Tim 4:1). In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, he further elaborates on a developing form of society that emphasizes man is without moderation and restraint with examples of extreme self-will and a pleasure-bent nature. As it is commonly advertised today, “If you’ve got it, flaunt it.” In verse 5, Paul writes, “from such turn away.”
The believer should carry on. Timothy was urged to be diligent to preach the word, teach and not to give up, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine,” but will heap to themselves teachers who will tickle their ears with what they want to hear. They will turn away from the Truth to fables (2 Tim 4:1-5).
The influences undermining the gospel message were already in place and restrained only by the hand of the spirit.
Timothy was to watch and preach against this and make full proof (that his work was genuine) of his ministry. Given that this letter was written in the mid-60s AD, we can see the falling away was not about a far distant future time but was near at hand. In fact, it was well underway— “The mystery of iniquity doth already work.” (2 Thess 2:7). The influences undermining the gospel message were already in place and restrained only by the hand of the spirit.
Serious doubts from scoffers are to come. Peter (2 Pet 3:1-4) warns about times in which belief in the return of Jesus will be doubted (v. 4), referring to scoffers who make a pointed comparison to the beliefs of the fathers, who have now died and still the Lord has not come.
It takes only a moment to see that this reference can only refer to a time (or times) when this belief was strongly held but was then being doubted. This condition can only strongly impact those who are expecting the Lord to return to the earth
For those in the first century, it would have been a temptation to just give up after the fall of Jerusalem, had the Lord not specifically told them this would happen, and that end would not be yet.
For those in our day, who believe in heaven-going at death, this would be a pointless objection. It is only to those who expect a “rapture” or a visible return of Jesus that his Coming matters. So, this seems to be a specific warning to Christadelphians and the steadily declining cadre of others who also look for the Lord’s personal return to the earth.
The Antichrist. If we had any doubt, about our days being in the “last days,” the words of Epistle of 1 John 2:18, “Little children, it is the last time,” eliminates it. The emergence of the “anti-Christ” (literally “against Christ”) movement was first developed by the Jews. As time went on, it included the idea that Jesus had not ever come in bodily form or in flesh and was not therefore returning. It is not a recent concept.
MODERN ECCLESIAL CONDITIONS—SYMPTOMS OF DEEPER PROBLEMS?
A general comment should be made here. The references we have discussed above sketch the conditions of any age, not just the age in which we live.
Since the time of the printing press in the early middle ages, the availability of information has steadily increased. In recent times, the extraordinarily rapid spread of information, good, bad or otherwise, creates a new condition. Today, we see nearly instantaneous global accessibility of information. While new, this does not create new issues of faith and temptation. It only spreads their influences over a wider area and much more rapidly. One can hear and read about good or harmful things, nearly anywhere in the world, as they happen.
Biblical, historical, and scientific information, as well as all the speculation that can surround them, are available from internet sources and can be at our fingertips wherever we are, not just in the local library. But whether we spend our time playing online games, watching TV news, listening to bad or edifying ideas is still our choice. That has not changed at all. In the final analysis, we are both in charge and responsible just as before.
These articles addresses a specific condition or problem the ecclesia and individual believer might face, which might be termed a “falling away from the faith.” This places the author in the uncomfortable position of presenting himself as one who knows not only what the “Faith” is, but also what “falling away” from it means.
Thankfully, at least part of this responsibility is not difficult to see. The identity of “the Faith” is not something vague but is described as a definite concept, in numerous places in the New Testament. For example, Jude uses the phrase, “The faith which was once delivered unto the saints,” (Jude 1:3), which makes it clear to his mind (and the mind of the Spirit), there was a body of knowledge that could be legitimately called “the Faith.”
That there is a real and present danger always of losing sight of this “Faith” is evident from all we have shown so far. We may thus conclude that to teach otherwise and to conduct our ecclesial activities in a way contrary to “the Faith,” constitutes a falling away from “the Faith.”
This is an easy statement to make. But to justify and validate this description is where the going gets more difficult, partly, because we cannot foretell the course of events from any specific activity with the same direct knowledge those with the Spirit guidance of the first century, had. Thus, Jesus could tell the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 directly what he saw, and how their practices needed to change—or else. This is not something we can accomplish, except by following the examples where situations are similar.
To be continued…