Apostasy And The End Times
By J. Dwight Pentecost
Abundant evidence on every hand shows that men are departing from the faith. Not only do they doubt the Word, they openly reject it. This phenomenon has never been as prevalent as today. In the period of church history known as the Dark Ages, men were ignorant of the truth; but never was there an age when men openly denied and repudiated the truth. This open, deliberate, willful repudiation of the truth of the Bible is described in Scripture as one of the major characteristics of the last days of the church on earth. Several passages of Scripture tell about false teaching and false teachers and describe the doctrines these apostates will deny.
Put Teachers to the Test
That there would be false teachers was recognized by all of the New Testament writers. In First John 4:1 the apostle exhorts the believers: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." Notice that he is writing to his "beloved," his children in the faith. They have received and known the truth and have been grounded in it by John himself. But to those who have this knowledge of the truth, John gives a warning: "Believe not every spirit." John recognized that many teachers would come to an assembly of believers to impart knowledge to them. But just because a man claims to be a minister of the Gospel does not guarantee that what he says is the Gospel. Just because he professes to be a prophet for God, that does not mean that he is sent by God; nor does the fact that he purports to lead men into the truth of God mean that what he speaks is the truth. Therefore, John is really saying, "Do not believe every teacher who comes to you simply because he professes to come from God, but rather try the teachers."
The word try means "to put to a test." This is the word that would be used of assaying ore. If someone were to offer you a carload of ore which he claimed had high gold content, you would be a fool if you did not have it assayed before you paid on it. Thus, the apostle says it is necessary for you to test every teacher and his teaching. It is made very clear in other places in the Bible that the test of any man’s doctrine is the Word of God. If he goes contrary to "Thus saith the Lord," and "Thus it is written," no matter what his profession, he is a false teacher. But if he presents the truth of God according to the Word of God empowered by the Spirit of God, that man is God-sent.
Therefore, John says, "You must put the teachers to the test as to whether they actually do come from God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world." If a teacher comes with academic preparation or with eloquence and oratory it would be easy to conclude that he is evidently from God and all that he says is to be believed. Thus one who sits under that teacher may become lax and indifferent. He will not test the man’s pronouncements in the light of the revealed Word of God; and if he does not do that, he may be led astray. Notice that John warns of the coming of false teachers and says every teacher is to have his teaching subjected to the test as to whether it conforms to the standard – the Bible.
Deception and Hypocrisy
Another passage dealing with the advent of these false teachers is Second Corinthians 11, where Paul says, "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ" (v. 13). These teachers make a profession that is not backed up by reality. They do not stand up to publicly confess that they are denying Bible doctrines because they do not believe them. They are claiming to be Christ’s apostles and the word apostle means "one who has been sent." So they profess to have Christ’s authority and claim that they are His representatives and spokesmen. But, this is a lie, and they are changing themselves into something that they are not.
Paul further explains this in verse 14, where he says it is not surprising that these false apostles will change themselves into apostles of Christ, for "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light." The kingdom of Satan is a kingdom of darkness, and he is the prince of the powers of darkness; and yet, he professes to come with light. He professes to have spiritual illumination to give to men, but his illumination is darkness itself. Satan does not stand before men in order to reveal his true character; he transforms himself into an angel of light. "Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works" (v. 15).
The apostle says Satan is subtle and clever, and when he comes he will not reveal his true character until men are prepared to receive his diabolical doctrines without question. He will begin by persuading men that he is God’s representative and that the truth that he has to present is God’s truth, and step by step he will lead men down the path of darkness until they are so blinded that it will be safe for him to take away the mask. He will then step out from behind that guise of light and let men see that he is darkness because they will have ceased to care whatsoever about the truth. Thus Satan will be an imposter, professing to bring men that which he cannot bring – the light of the knowledge of God; and he will lead men little by little down the path of darkness until they have become confirmed in it.
These two passages have to do with the methodology of the false teachers: their deception, hypocrisy, imitation of God’s truth and imitation of the Word of God. Several passages speak of the denials made by these false teachers. In the two passages already discussed, John and Paul warned of a danger present in their own day, when Satan’s emissaries would seek to darken the minds of men to the truth of the Bible. But First Timothy 4 shows the development of false doctrine and false teachers: "The Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times..." (v. 1).
Departure from the Faith in the Latter Times
Notice the phrase latter times. Paul, in his writing, moves from the danger that surrounded him to that which would be a chief characteristic of the end times. He says, "The Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith." He is not speaking of "the faith" as the faith principle. True, false teachers will try to convince men that they can be saved by their own works, and they thus will leave the faith principle to trust in a works principle.
But that is not what he means by "the faith" here. Instead, it refers to the revealed body of divine truth given by the Holy Spirit of God and contained in the Word of God. The Bible was inspired by the Spirit of God, and the Holy Spirit controlled the writers so they were kept from error. Consequently, this book is inerrant and infallible, and every word is inspired. That belief in the Bible characterized men who received the truth down through the ages. But today it is a minority view, and men have departed from the faith. They have repudiated the authority, integrity, and infallibility of the Word of God. Not only do they reject the Bible itself but they despise and hate the doctrines concerning the person and work of Christ revealed therein. "Some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" (1 Tim. 4:1).
Gradual Dangerous Steps Toward Denial
Frequently people ask, "Should I get out of such and such a church?" It is God’s prerogative to tell a man what he should do and when he should do it. While I cannot tell them what to do about membership, I do have to say there is a danger in continuously sitting under a man who professes to be a man of God who does not believe the Word of God and does not propagate the truths contained therein; for he will begin absorbing false doctrine without realizing it, and will begin to believe what he hears because he has heard it so often. I do not believe that the person who eventually denies the Bible intended to do so when he began. He listened to a false teacher, enjoyed his oratory, and came back the next week and listened again. He was taking steps toward denial. Soon he says, "I used to believe that, but I don’t know anymore." Why? Because he constantly gave heed to seducing spirits, false teachers, and the doctrines propagated by these devils.
Peter adds his testimony to that of Paul: "But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily [secretly] shall bring in damnable heresies" (2 Pet. 2:1).
Denial of the Person and Work of Christ
Notice how he speaks of their doctrine as a damnable heresy. What are these heresies? Peter says, "Denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction" (v. 1). Notice the phrase, "denying the Lord that bought them." That is a reference to the denial of the work of Christ.
"Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world" (1 John 4:2-3).
Put these two passages together: Second Peter 2 and First John 4. The denial of doctrine centers in the person and the work of Jesus Christ – two doctrines that Satan hates above everything else. Satan will take away from a man all of the truth of God that he can. And if he can come to a university intellectual and lead that person to deny all of the Bible, he is delighted. But if he comes to a young man who was brought up in the Scriptures and in the church, and insists on believing the Bible, Satan will make his concessions. If Satan has to concede, he will; but one thing that he cannot concede under any circumstances and permit a man to believe is the revealed truth concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Apostasy and the People
But there is another kind of apostasy, and that is the kind to which we would be more subject perhaps. Paul tells Timothy to "preach the Word." He is to "be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim. 4:2-4). Notice he is not talking here about a departure on the part of the preacher but about a departure by the congregation. The first apostasy referred to was a denial by the teacher, but here is an apostasy that pervades those who are taught; it is not so much an outward denial of the Bible as it is indifference to God’s Word. The teacher does not have itching ears; those who are taught have them.
To turn away from God’s Word because it reproves or rebukes or exhorts us to godliness and holiness is a form of apostasy, and multitudes of men, without realizing it, have become Satan’s emissaries because they have listened to what the congregation says they want, with their eye on ecclesiastical endorsement and advancement. They are silent on the truths of the Bible lest they be cast aside by the hierarchy and, as a result, they have withheld the full counsel of God. When Paul left Ephesus he could say to them, "I have not shunned to declare unto you all [the whole] counsel of God" (Acts 20:27). I do not want to stand before the judgment seat of Christ and have the One who put me into the ministry say that I was false to that privilege and responsibility because I tried to please people in my preaching and neglected the full counsel of God. God grant that we who hold so wholly and completely to the revealed Word of truth should fall heir to this kind of apostasy so prevalent today that we neglect the truth that is presented because it is displeasing to us.
When the preacher descends to the level of taking orders from the people of God instead of from the Spirit of God, he will produce nothing but a nauseous mess that God has to cast out. Thus there is apostasy in the teacher’s denial and another form of apostasy in the listener’s neglect.
It is not necessary to labor the point that today the visible professing church is characterized by unbelieving teachers and ear-tickling members in the congregation. This fact is so prevalent it need not be demonstrated. Because of the danger, Christians must put every teacher to the test by seeing if what he says is in keeping with the Word of the Lord, and then cleave to the truth. Study the truth, love the truth that you might be found faithful at His coming.
– Used by permission.