What does the Bible have to say about the Church immediately before the return of Jesus Christ?
In Matthew chapter 14 we see an account of the feeding of the five thousand. In Acts chapter 1 and verse 15 we see that when the church was meeting on the day of Pentecost just a short time afterwards, there were only 120 people, 120 believers meeting in the room that day in Acts chapter 1 and verse 15, but in Matthew 14 we read about how 5,000 people saw a great miracle performed by Jesus Christ where 5,000 people were fed with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. So you wonder what happened to the other 4,880. How come they were not there in that room on the day of Pentecost? Luke chapter 12, in verse 32 is another scripture which tells us something about the church.
Luke 12:32 Luke 12:32Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
American King James Version× Do not fear, little flock, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Here we see Jesus Christ describing the church as a little flock. Elsewhere in the book of Revelation chapter 17 we see a great false church described as sitting on many waters, a very powerful church, a very political church, committing fornication with the kings of the earth, but the true church is described as a little flock. On the day of Pentecost it was just 120 at the start of the day, by the end of the day 3,000 more had been added to the church.
I think from this we can deduce from these scriptures that God’s church was going to be small and also that size doesn’t matter. That’s a point I often have to make in Ghana over the last few years. We had a group join us called the Remnant Church of God which initially had 1500 people and when we started to explain things to them and started to help them to understand some of the things they did not understand, it’s amazing how difficult it was for some of them. For example they were very much against alcohol and we showed them from the scriptures that wine must be drunk on the Passover. We were not asking them to drink alcohol at any other time. Biblically alcohol must be drunk at the Passover. We lost half the people over that, they could not change from the attitude they had that alcohol was a sin, they were not able to even drink a small glass of wine for the Passover each year.
Then we lost a few people over one or two other issues. Even military service was an obstacle for some because the military was seen as a way out of blinding poverty and gave people in Ghana an opportunity to travel around the world because they were often used as UN peacekeepers in different countries like Lebanon and the Congo and some other places around the world. Quite often during that time some people would say you know we’re going to lose people and well I said losing people is not as important as doing what is right. We have to do what is right, we have to follow Christ’s example and do what Jesus Christ said and did.
What about today? What does the Bible have to say about the church immediately before the return of Jesus Christ? During the problems we’ve been having in the recent months, I’ve often been struck at just how often in the scriptures the church is mentioned in the end time. Look at Daniel chapter 7 for example. Here’s a passage of scripture here in Daniel chapter 7 beginning in verses 24 and 25. This is still in the future, it is the end time.
Daniel 7:24 Daniel 7:24And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings.
American King James Version× The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom. And another shall rise after them; He shall be different from the first ones and shall subdue three kings.
Verse 25: He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time.
If you’ll look in the margin that word persecute, shall persecute the saints of the Most High is literally wear out. Now this prophecy is partly talking about the time of the end when the beast power rises up. But there’s duality because it’s also talking about the period of Roman domination that went on right up until the Protestant Reformation from the time of the Roman empire. But here the expression is used; He shall speak pompous words against the Most High that’s the false church, the false religious system which was the most powerful institution in the world 500 years ago. It wasn’t until the Protestant Reformation and the rise of the nation of Israel, the English speaking countries, that you saw an end to the power of the church. The church shall persecute the saints of the Most High. Shall wear out the saints of the Most High. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty worn out already and yet this is a prophecy about the future, about a trial that we’re going to have to go through when the beast power is ascended again, when a resurrected or revived Roman empire again dominates the world and we are going to be worn out. So persecute or wear out the saints of the Most High is the prophecy there and that’s still ahead of us.
So what I want to do today is look at the church in prophecy at the end time because there are so many things that is said about the church and in fact you’ll find more than what I’m going to cover today because not everything can be covered in the period of time that’s allotted for a sermon. Let’s look at another connection between then and now. Matthew 26 for example. Some prophecies as you know are dual, there are many prophecies that are dual. I had a letter from somebody awhile ago that said there’s no such thing as duality in the Bible when it comes to prophecy and so I just wrote to him the verse says in the book of Isaiah that says: For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given and the government will be upon His shoulders. That’s a dual prophecy right there, just those three lines, a prophecy of about the coming of Jesus Christ as a baby and about the fact that 2,000 years later the government will be upon His shoulders. That is an example of a dual prophecy and that’s a famous one that most people have heard because the words were set in music in Handel’s Messiah. But in Matthew chapter 26 we see these words here in verse 31.
Matthew 26:31 Matthew 26:31Then said Jesus to them, All you shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad.
American King James Version× Then Jesus said to them, "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night„ for it is written: 'I will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.'
That’s a dual prophecy again. It applied the night that Jesus Christ was arrested because the disciples fled.
In the book of Isaiah which is a great millennial prophecy in chapter 13 of Isaiah and verse 7 we see that it’s going to happen again at the time of the end. Chapters 12 and 14 deals specifically with end time events regarding Judah and it says here in verse 7 of chapter 13 in the middle of the book: (Zechariah) Strike the Shepherd and the sheep will be scattered, then I will turn my hand against the little ones. It will come to pass in all the land says the Lord that two thirds in it shall be cut off and die, the one third shall be left in it, I will bring the one third through the fire, will refine them as silver as silver is refined and test them as gold is tested. This is still in the future. So again here’s another example of the duality of prophecy.
So the first thing to notice about the church in the end time is that the church will be scattered at the time of the end, the church would be scattered at the time of the end. 1989 was the year we had our highest Feast attendance, about 150,000 people keeping the Feast around the world. Since then there’s been a great scattering exactly as the scripture said there would be. Maybe it’s not over yet. In Lansing, Michigan where we live there are at least five different congregations that all share the same trunk of the tree beliefs and when people from, let’s see three or maybe four of those congregations meet each other at funerals or weddings, they can be quite friendly for an hour or so. But, there’s one group that won’t even say hello if we ever bump into them, and we do occasionally have the same hall on a holy day and then they won’t even say hello to us even though we knew them, many years ago when we were all together in one church congregation. So the scattering has taken place and may continue to take place.
In Christ’s time there was also a scattering. At Christ’s arrest the disciples scattered. What is particularly interesting I think in more recent times is this: Just when the World Tomorrow television program got to be the biggest sponsored program on T.V. the church was scattered. Just when Beyond Today got on WGN, United entered a period of great turmoil. What or who could be behind this? Which brings me to the second point. Satan will be very busy attacking the church immediately prior to Christ’s return. Look at Revelation chapter 12. We’re going to read the whole of this chapter because it’s a very important chapter and reveals a great deal.
Revelation 12:1 Revelation 12:1And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars:
American King James Version× Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and on her head a garland of twelve stars.
This woman here is the true church. In the Old Testament the nation of Israel. In the new it is spiritual Israel, the church. The woman is called with the sun, the sun is symbolic of light which is the truth. With the moon under her feet, the moon is darkness, symbolic of false religion. It’s interesting that the moon is also the symbol of Islam but I don’t think it’s specifically about Islam. On her head a garland of twelve stars, the twelve patriarchs of Israel.
Verse 2: Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.
Now this prophecy is all over the place as far as in time. It’s not chronological. So this was the time when Jesus Christ was to be born.
Verse 3: And another sign appeared in heaven: behold a great fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns and seven diadems on his heads.
So this is the false political system, the gentile empires that Satan has been behind (look in Revelation 13) Satan is behind all of them. So this red dragon is Satan the devil and he is the one who has been behind these despotic authoritarian empires that have tried to destroy the nation of God, the people of Israel.
Verse 4: His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven (So that takes us all the way back to when Lucifer rebelled against God) and threw them to the earth. (Lucifer’s rebellion, when a third of the angels rebelled with him.) And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. Satan is always one step ahead. Why would he want to devour the child as soon as it was born? He did not want Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins which of course enabled all of us to have eternal life. He wanted to thwart the plan of God and the best time was when Jesus Christ was a baby and totally vulnerable. So here we see the dragon standing before the woman who was ready to give birth to devour her child as soon as it was born.
Verse 5: And she bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and to His throne.
In time, after the Crucifixion and after the Resurrection, then came the Ascension.
Verse 6: Then the woman fled into the wilderness where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
Well Mary and Joseph had to flee into Egypt because Herod was sending troops into the Bethlehem area
to kill all the young males because he wanted to kill Jesus Christ thinking that Jesus Christ was going to be a King that would threaten him and his throne. He did not understand that Jesus Christ was not going to inherit His throne for a long time. But also the woman, the church had to flee into the wilderness at the time that Jerusalem fell in 70 A.D. and again we’re going to see the woman, the church flee into the wilderness again just before Christ returns. And it mentions here one thousand two hundred and sixty days, the one thousand two hundred and sixty years which began in roughly around the council of Nicaea right up until the fifteen hundreds when you started to have some religious freedom with the Protestant Reformation. But again there’s literally one thousand two hundred and sixty days of tribulation which is still coming up. So there’s a lot of duality in this chapter.
Verse 7: And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought,
Michael who is the archangel that looks after the people of Israel fighting with Satan and the dragon and his angels fought.
Verse 8: but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer.
Verse 9: So the great dragon was cast out , that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth and his angels were cast out with him.
Verse 10: Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, "Now salvation and strength, and the kingdom of our God and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, (Never ceases, especially on the internet) has been cast down.
Verse 11: And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.
Verse 12: Therefore rejoice, O heavens, and you who dwell in them! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath because he knows that he has a short time."
So this is an end time prophecy about Satan coming down with great wrath because he knows that he has a short time and what’s he’s zeroed in on, he’s zeroed in on the true followers of Jesus Christ. He wants to stop them from doing a work, from preaching the gospel and again wants to thwart the plan of God which is what he was trying to do when he tried to have Jesus Christ killed two thousand years ago.
Verse 13: Now when the dragon saw that he had been cast to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child.
The same woman who symbolized physical Israel in the Old Testament and then spiritual Israel, the church throughout the generations right up until now, the end time. Here is a passage which is still definitely ahead.
Verse 14: But the woman was given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness to her place where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time from the presence of the serpent.
So here’s three and a half years of tribulation, three and a half years during which the church prophetically will be in a place of safety.
Verse 15: So the serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood.
This likely symbolizes a great military force.
Verse 16: But the earth helped the woman and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed up the flood which the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.
Verse 17: And the dragon was enraged with the woman and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
So if Satan goes to make war with the rest of her offspring, then obviously not everybody in the church have gone to a place of safety. Now some are left behind, they still keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ and Satan can go after them because he can’t get to those who are protected in the place of safety.
Well, this was a prophecy regarding the true church of God which proceeds the prophecy in Revelation 13 and again in chapter 17 which is about the false church which is also symbolizes by a woman, the great harlot that sits upon many waters and commits fornication with the kings of the earth. The great harlot, the false church has multiple numbers of members. The true church is a little flock, just a small group of people and a lot of persecution comes down upon the true church of God because Satan does not want the plan of God to come to fruition. He does not want us to receive eternal life. Lucifer and the angels have eternal life so they naturally resent the fact that people like us are being called to eternal life and would actually replace them in God’s favor and God will use us over them.
So Satan will be very busy attacking the church immediately prior to Christ’s return. Now let’s look at point number three. We find this in Matthew chapter 24 which again is an end time prophecy. Matthew 24 is a whole chapter of prophecy where the disciples came to Jesus Christ in verse 3 and said:
Matthew 24:3 Matthew 24:3And as he sat on the mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the world?
American King James Version× "Tell us when will these things be and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of this age?" The age of man’s rule.
Verse 4: And Jesus answered and said to them: "Take heed that no one deceives you.
Verse 5: For many will come in My name saying, 'I am the Christ,' and deceive many."
So many self appointed leaders and false teachers will rise up and deceive many. Not a few. Now the many that will be deceived by the way, are the disciples of Jesus Christ. It’s not talking about the false church which is of course totally deceived. He was being asked here by the disciples, tell us when will these things be and what will be the sign of Your coming and of the end of this age? Jesus said to the disciples take heed that no one deceives you for many will come in My name saying I am the Christ and will deceive many. Many of the few, many of the little flock will be deceived by these false self-appointed leaders and false teachers. So there is a warning here.
Now I don’t think people are going to literally come and say I am Jesus Christ. Now in a wider sense that may be true because you know it’s not just Christians that are expecting the Messiah, it’s not just true Christians, also many Christians who go to church on Sundays, they are also expecting the Messiah. Additionally the Jews are expecting a Messiah and to make things even more complicated, the Muslims are expecting a Madee who is also a Messiah, so in a wider sense this may even be applicable there too. But here He is talking to the disciples and is warning them not to be deceived and I don’t think most people will come and say I am the Christ but they might claim to be the one that God is working with.
You know I remember back when I was a student at Ambassador College in Bricket Wood, one of my jobs I think for one semester or maybe two, was to take people on tours of the gardens. Mr. Armstrong was very proud of the gardens that we had at Bricket Wood, they were quite beautiful and very English, but also they had a Japanese garden and I had to learn all the names of all the plants and flowers and I couldn’t repeat one of them now, but then I knew all of them. I remember during the brief time that I was doing these tours, we had a least two John the Baptist come wanting a tour, each one introducing himself as John the Baptist and we also had a Jesus Christ come and say that he was coming to look at his college. You realize when people come and say that kind of thing that they’re obviously not all there and they’ve got some serious issues so you try and be nice to them and just get then through the tour as quickly as possible. That’s the key there.
So I don’t think He’s talking about people like that. He’s talking about people who can deceive God’s elect. That’s what He’s talking about. Look at verse 24.
Verse 24: For false christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect. ( Those who have been called by God.)
We were very naive amidst Mr. Armstrong’s time. We always thought that false teachers would come from outside the church. We didn’t realize the problem would be within, which is why it’s so easy for people to be deceived and this is exacerbated by a human tendency obviously worse in our time than in the past. In this celebrity age it’s common for people to follow a man. A lot of people just have to have a man to follow. Look at Revelation chapter 3. Mr. Armstrong felt that the description of the church in Philadelphia area applied to us in Revelation 3. It’s interesting that in the passage relating to Philadelphia, it says in verse 11:
Revelation 3:11 Revelation 3:11Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which you have, that no man take your crown.
American King James Version× Behold I come quickly! Hold fast what you have that no one may take your crown.
There’s a warning there and you know Mr. Armstrong often talked about how people would have that tendency to just follow a man out the door and he’d get quite worked up about it. There’s a warning here as well to be careful because you could loose your crown of eternal life.
Romans 16, verses 17 and 18, the Apostle Paul wrote:
Romans 16:17 Romans 16:17Now I beseech you, brothers, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned; and avoid them.
American King James Version× Now I urge you brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.
Verse 18: For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly (they’re looking out to their own interests in other words) and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.
It’s not nice to be called simple, but you know we can all be deceived. Satan is the great deceiver and deceives people in different ways and so we have to be very careful and heed the Apostle Paul’s warning.
Acts chapter 20 is another jewel prophecy partially fulfilled in the fourth century but not completely.
Acts 20: 28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, (This is Paul addressing the elders in Ephesus) among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, (Administrators) to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
Verse 29: For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.
Verse 30: Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.
Verse 31: Therefore watch and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.
So they had a lot of problems in the church back then and the Apostle Paul was warning the elders in Ephesus about these things and of course that warning is still applicable to us today.
Point number four, another thing that’s mentioned about the church in prophecy at the time of the end it says the first will be last and the last first. Luke chapter 13, verse 23.
Luke 13:23 Luke 13:23Then said one to him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said to them,
American King James Version× Then one said to Him, "Lord are there few who are saved?" And He said to them:
Verse 24: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many I say to you will seek to enter and will not be able.
Verse 25: When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying 'Lord, Lord, open for us,' and He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know you, where you are from,'
Verse 26: then you will begin to say. 'We ate and drank in Your presence and You taught in our streets.'
Verse 27: But He will say, 'I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.'
Verse 28: There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and yourselves thrust out.
Verse 29: They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south and sit down in the Kingdom of God.
Verse 30: And indeed there are last who will be first and there are first who will be last."
I’ve often thought about this passage, again in the context of Ghana. When my wife and I lived there we worked with six hundred people, we had six hundred people in the church at the time; three hundred adults and three hundred children. Ghanaians have a lot of children and half the church was always under the age of fifteen. That’s somewhat different now so perhaps they’re having less children now. But the group we worked with today is 90% a completely different group of people. The people that we worked with thirty years ago in 1995, they had a pastor who believed all the changes that were coming out of headquarters went along with them, taught the people what he was believing himself and almost all of those people, let’s see it would be about 90% of them went along with him. Now God is working with a different group of people, the same number, roughly about six hundred people. It’s interesting actually and I’ve often thought about this in the past ten years in going back to Ghana and working with a new group, I’ve often thought of this passage of scripture, this verse that says that the last who will be first and the first who will be last. Those who were called first are no longer with us but there are those who are being called much closer to the time of Christ’s return. Maybe these will be the last and they will be first in the Kingdom of God.
It comes down to attitude as much as anything else. In verse 29 it says they will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south and sit down in the Kingdom of God. This was pointed at the religious leaders at the time. Now you had to have a very Pharisaical attitude in many cases, but you know they had all these strict rules and regulations and policies and procedures and so on in their beliefs. What Christ was saying is there are going to be a lot of gentiles that are going to be in the kingdom from the east, west, north and south. Gentiles, now that would have offended them, but He said a lot of you will not be in the Kingdom of God. Again, it’s something rather sobering but the first will be last and the last first.
Point number five. People will not have ears to hear. II Timothy chapter 4 beginning in verse 1.
II Timothy 4:1 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:
Verse 2: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching.
Verse 3: 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;
Verse 4: and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables.
Satan is the one who deceived the whole world, we saw that in Revelation 12, in verse 9. Turn aside to fables, people believe all kinds of things. A man and his wife claiming to be the two witnesses. Nobody here, but you know we’ve got that in the churches of God, a man and his wife claiming to be the two witnesses. There’s even a belief that the world economy is in a mess because we voted against moving to Texas. You know, these are fables, but some people sincerely believe some of these things. People will not have ears to hear is a prophecy there.
Number six. Offense, betrayal and hatred are all prophesied. Look in Matthew chapter 24, beginning in verses 9 and 10.
Matthew 24:9 Matthew 24:9Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and you shall be hated of all nations for my name’s sake.
American King James Version× Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.
Now in recent time this has not happened yet.
Verse 10: And then many will be offended, will betray one another and will hate one another.
I think we’ve seen quite a bit of that, not just in recent times but over the last twenty years. People often get offended over absolutely nothing. Does this apply to Christians? It should not. Look at Psalm 119 and verse 165, a familiar verse I think to all of you.
Psalms 119:165 Psalms 119:165Great peace have they which love your law: and nothing shall offend them.
American King James Version× Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble.
Or in the King James, nothing shall offend them.
God’s law should give us peace of mind. It should also help us realize that we are imperfect and we should not take offense. If we’re keeping the laws of God and we’re living as Jesus Christ lived, then we’re not going to be offended by what people say. We will have peace of mind at all times. We will not judge others either. I get a lot of what is sometimes called hate mail. Much of it comes in on the computer. I get phone calls too and sometimes letters that come by snail mail but most of it is e-mail and sometimes I just despair. I think how can anybody claiming to be a follower of Jesus Christ write something like this. But I don’t get offended. My general response is I don’t write back and say anything like this. Sometimes I write back, it just depends upon what they said and whether I’ve got the time. But my general feeling is I just repeat what Christ said: "Father forgive them, they know not what they do." Then I press the delete button, it’s a wonderful invention. But it doesn’t help to be offended.
Look at Hebrews chapter 12. A lot of people really do not know what they do.
Hebrews 12: 14 Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.
Verse 15: Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble and by this many become defiled.
You know a root of bitterness is something we all have to be careful of because it can easily enter into our lives. When a person becomes bitter, his mind is on himself, he doesn’t think about others or the impact his actions might have on others and that bitterness can soon spread and so there’s a warning here about allowing a root of bitterness to spring up inside of those that become bitter and resentful and angry, twisted over something real or imagined. Matthew 24 showed a progression. Matthew 24, verse 10 that we were looking at a few moments ago, Matthew 24 showed a progression, it’s the same as bitterness but here in verse 10 it says:
Matthew 24:10 Matthew 24:10And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another.
American King James Version× And then many will be offended. (Offense is taken which can lead to bitterness) they will betray one another and will hate one another.
You know we have to control the emotions, we have to at all times.
Number seven. The love of many will grow cold. Matthew 24 again in verses 12 and 13.
Matthew 24:12 Matthew 24:12And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
American King James Version× And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.
Verse 13: But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
This is again a reference to the fact that the world in which we live today, the western world anyway is devoid of love, lawlessness abounds and people have grown cold. I think that’s affected people in the church as well and often people are not as loving as they should be. Look at II Timothy, chapter 3. A more detailed prophecy here about the time of the end.
II Timothy 3:1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come.
Verse 2: For men will be lovers of themselves.
It’s interesting just to look back as to why this is a bigger problem today than it used to be and I’m talking about the western world here primarily, especially the nations of Israel. Somebody gave me a book recently titled "1959" and it was rather interesting because they claimed that 1959 would be the year that changed America. It was interesting because a lot of people think that it was 1963 when President Kennedy was assonated and one book came out many years ago titled "1964 the year that changed America" because that was when the Beatles arrived on American shores. It’s always good to blame everything on the English which is what they were doing. But then this book came out titled "1959". I’ve forgotten the name of the author, but you can probably pick it up now if you want to, but it brought up some interesting things that happened in 1959 that really did lay a foundation for the 1960's which was a great reforming, or you might say deforming decade because it changed the western world fundamentally.
This was the period known as the sexual revolution. To a certain age standing, put the blame on the Beatles, but even more so, I think it could be blamed on what looking back was the most significant invention of the 20th century and that was the birth control pill because nothing contributed to the destruction of western civilization more than that, even more so than nuclear weapons, the cold war, Communism and everything else. The pill changed everything because it turned upside down a family system that had gone on since the beginning of time and of course has led to the breakdown of the family and has led also to all the economic problems we’ve got because they cost billions of dollars to try and put right some of the broken families that we see around earth, the poverty, and so on, and the programs that have come with that. It all comes back to that one invention that was invented in December, 1959, it did not become available until 1960. As with so much else when it was invented, those that invented it said it would not change anything, but it changed everything because people could now have relations with each other without any thought about the consequences and the end result is that we have a generation today that finds it much more difficult to have a long term relationship with anybody because they’ve grown up in a very permissive environment. Of course our birth rate has gone down and we’ve had to replace the falling numbers with people from other parts of the world which led directly to September 11 and all the security concerns we’ve got now. So it was a major turning point, but it led as well to man becoming lovers of themselves. They no longer had to commit to one person as they did before that particular invention. Before that man had to, in order for a man to satisfy his drive, man had to get married and that meant they had to have a good job, they had to be able to provide for a wife and the children that would come along. But, with this one invention, all of that changed. The men now, they can go from woman to woman without a care in the world without ever thinking about having any sense of responsibility. Of course women can do the same thing too because women can also be permissive, something that was not the case before 1960 with this invention. So I think that’s part of why this prophecy is there regarding the end time. Men will be lovers of themselves. In verse 3 it says:
Verse 3: unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self control, (When it comes to the moral area so many people have no self control today) brutal, despisers of God.
Verse 4: lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God
Again this really does sum up our western world today, more so than other parts of the world because birth control is not acceptable and not generally practiced in most of the third world, not in Africa for example, but of course it is in the western world. So the love of many will wax cold.
Now in John chapter 13 and verse 35, we see Jesus Christ saying something which is very different. He says:
John 13:35 John 13:35By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.
American King James Version× By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
So at a time when people in the world are getting colder, the people of God are supposed to be getting warmer, loving each other more, drawing closer together and if we abide by the words of Jesus Christ and conduct ourselves in a way in which Jesus Christ conducted Himself, then that will be true in our lives as well and that’s what we need to be doing at all times.
Number eight. Many will not be prepared for the fulfillment of these end time prophecies. Look at Luke chapter 21. (I’m going to go three more points, 10 points.) Luke 21 is another chapter regarding the time of the end.
Luke 21: 34 But take heed to yourselves, (Be spiritually vigilant) lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and cares of this life (Which of course is what most of the people around us are thinking about, particularly at this time of the year. This is the peak period for carousing, drunkenness and the cares of this life and Jesus Christ warned us not to be weighed down by those things) because that day would come on you unexpectedly. That day is the time when Christ returns.
Verse 35: For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.
Verse 36: 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.
So take heed, be spiritually vigilant. When He says watch therefore, including in that is watching your spiritual state which is extremely important to make sure that you have a good relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ, that you pray and study and regularly fast. At the same time it’s also telling us in the context of the chapter to watch what is happening in the world because so many things are happening.
I’m often struck by how accurate Mr. Armstrong was in many of the things that he said. He was just forty years ahead of his time. When I first started reading the church’s literature in 1966, the main focus of prophecy at that time was the Middle East. In 1967 we had the six days war. In 1973 there was another war in the Middle East. Then also the continuing decline of the English speaking countries and relatively speaking that has been happening throughout the last forty plus years. Then thirdly, his other prime area of focus was the coming together of the European nations. At the time that I started reading the literature there were six countries in what is now called the European union. Today it’s twenty-seven. I was struck by something in the Economist just last week. The issue date is December 11th, two weeks ago now, it comes out on the weekend so there will be another one. But, there was an article
on how the world is dividing economically into three. The United States where the attitude of both parties is spend, spend, spend. The European approach which is austerity, don’t spend, cut spending and then there are the rapidly emerging countries like India, China, Brazil who don’t have to worry about spending because they are growing so fast that their economies are doing well, thank you. That was the point of the article, but something came out in the article that was interesting, it was just one line, but it said the fastest growing economy in the world by far right now is Germany. It took me back to what Mr. Armstrong used to write in the sixties and early seventies about the rise of Germany. The European union is in trouble, the euro may even be in trouble, but Germany itself is doing extremely well and is the fastest growing economy in the world. You know what we always said about Germany in prophecy. Again it just seems like all these things are coming together. Forty years after some of us hoped they would happen, but it’s still on track, it just takes longer or has taken longer than what we thought.
But, many will not be prepared for the fulfillment of these end time prophecies, distracted by all the physical things in this world. Right now it is very, very physical. Look at Revelation chapter 3. Here’s the familiar passage about Laodicea, the lukewarm church which certainly typifies the attitude that you see in all churches today, not just the churches of God, but I think in all churches. You see how this is very much the case, the people are more into physical things than the spiritual. A hundred years ago the typical Sunday was people went to church in the morning, they’d have like a Sunday school afterwards for the children, and then in the afternoon they’d go visit the poor and those less fortunate then themselves or they might go see their relatives and that was it, that was Sunday. Nobody did any work, nothing was open. People read their Bibles and this is just one hundred years ago. They were keeping the wrong day, but the point is they were zealous for what they were doing wrong by keeping the wrong day, but they were still zealous about it. Today most people don’t have time for God at all. They might go to church once a month for an hour and then afterwards they immediately go off to a restaurant, I know because if you ever go have breakfast late on a Sunday morning you can’t get in anywhere because they’ve all come from church. Then after they’ve had breakfast together, they’ll go home and watch a game of football which they couldn’t even do a hundred years ago. You know Cal Thomas had an article some time ago, he’s from a very conservative church, I think Southern Baptist or some group like that. He wrote this article where they’ve done a survey of what Christians do on a Sunday after they’ve gone to church. They asked people in many different churches to list all the things they do on Sunday and top of the list, number one, more people did than anything else was watch Desperate Housewives. His question was, what is it that makes conservative Christians who think about getting sin out of their lives when they’re in church on a Sunday morning during the lengthy ten minute sermon, what is it that makes them then rush out and try to take as much sin as possible in on a Sunday evening. That was a good question in this article, that was some time ago. You know we’ve become very worldly and not just in the churches of God. We’re affected by what’s happening in other churches too. Let’s face it, we are. In Revelation 3 it says this regarding Laodicea.
Revelation 3:17 Revelation 3:17Because you say, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that you are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
American King James Version× Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy , (We’ve got all these material possessions) and have need of nothing and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.
So in contrast to the physical state where we’ve never had it so good, is our spiritual state has never been so bad.
Verse 18: I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; (In reference to the trials that are going to come upon us and to go through those trials) and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see.
Laodicea was famous for their eye salve, its ointment. So symbolically you need to see yourself spiritually for what you really are.
Verse 19: As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent.
Now God is still going to work with us and is going to help us to effect the changes that He wants to see in us before we are ready for the marriage to Jesus Christ at His return.
Now not all prophesies regarding the church in the end time are negative. Let’s end on a positive note with a couple other passages we can look at here. Matthew 16 for example tells us that Jesus Christ is building the church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 16:18 Matthew 16:18And I say also to you, That you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
American King James Version× " And I also say to you that you are Peter and on this rock I will build My church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.
Verse 19: And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
These words if any of you have ever been over to Rome are written in the basilica of St. Peter’s, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church and they are right above where the Pope officiates the Mass. This is a great meaning to the Catholic Church because although they reject most of the Bible, they do believe these two verses and they believe that Christ was saying to Peter that I will build my church upon you (Peter) and they believe Peter was the first pope and so ever since then, every pope has been a descendant of Peter and they are all appointed by Jesus Christ and the pope has the keys to the kingdom of heaven and can do whatever he wants to do, make any decision he wants to make including changing the Sabbath to Sunday and changing the holy days to Christmas and Easter and so on. You know these beliefs of the church.
Peter Delarosa who was a Catholic, I don’t think he was a priest but he was a catholic, wrote a book called Vicar’s of Christ in which he explains this very thoroughly which we did as well as a church forty or fifty years ago, but what Jesus Christ was doing here was He was using a play on words. He was saying "You are Peter (Peter in Greek was a little pebble) and on this rock (meaning Jesus Christ Himself, the rock being a large boulder) I will build My church." So the church was to be built on Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ said that He did not come to change the law at all, but to fulfill it. Jesus Christ was Lord of the Sabbath but never intended that His church would change the Sabbath or the holy days, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, that’s talking about administrative matters, not doctrine which was taught by Jesus Christ and much of which was out of the Old Testament as well. But here we see that Jesus Christ was saying that He was building the church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it.
Matthew 24, verse 14 adds something else, it says:
Matthew 24:14 Matthew 24:14And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations; and then shall the end come.
American King James Version× And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.
So the gospel of the kingdom will be preached right up until the end. At the very end it will be preached by the two witnesses right up until the period of tribulation begins, the gospel will be preached.
Hebrews 13:5 Hebrews 13:5Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for he has said, I will never leave you, nor forsake you.
American King James Version× Let your conduct be without covetousness and be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
So Jesus Christ will not leave us nor forsake us. That was point number nine.
Now point number ten brings us back to the little flock again. James chapter 1, verse 18, we are the first fruits.
James 1:18 James 1:18Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
American King James Version× Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, the we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
We are the firstfruits, the small harvest that God is calling now as against the big harvest which we will not see until the fulfillment of the last great day at the end of the millennium. We are the firstfruits, a little flock, a small group of people. Yet at times we’ve been able to do a very powerful work, Daniel chapter 12 and I believe we will do again.
A final chapter of scripture, I just want to read these encouraging words.
Daniel 12:1 Daniel 12:1And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which stands for the children of your people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time your people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.
American King James Version× At that time Michael shall stand up (Again Michael the Archangel who looks after the people of Israel) the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. (This is kind of scary, not kind of scary, it’s very scary actually. I was in Auschwitz recently and going through Auschwitz really was one of the most moving things that I’ve ever done, it was just unbelievable, to think what happened to those people during the Holocaust and yet here is a prophecy regarding the time of the end that there shall be a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation. So in other words, something worse than the Holocaust.) And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book.
So here’s the promise of deliverance, the promise of eternal life for those that are faithful to God.
Verse 2: And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.
A very encouraging passage and we can encourage each other with words like these and other passages as well we can be very encouraging. We heard one in the sermonette.
Romans 8:28 Romans 8:28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
American King James Version× And we know that all things work together for good (I really believe that. If you consistently try to live as Jesus Christ lived and conduct yourself as He conducted Himself, walk in His shoes, walk as He walked as it says in I John and then all things will work together for good.) to those who love God.
In conclusion, I’ve been in the church for over forty years. Before that I worked in a bank, work which I often found boring, life in the church has never been boring. I just wish it would be for a while, but I think the reason why its never been boring it comes down primarily to two facts. One is that Jesus Christ is the head of the church, He leads us and guides us and the other is that Satan is always trying to destroy us. So we’ve had more than our fair share of challenges and even at times of turmoil. We should not expect it to be any different in the years ahead.