Most of us read Scripture through a foggy set of lens. For instance, let’s look at Judas.
Jesus chose twelve disciples, whose ages were probably between fourteen and twenty-two years old. Young kids. But oops! One of them was a teenager named Judas Iscariot.
Now think about it: was Judas a robot on auto-pilot to fulfill Scripture from the moment Jesus chose him until he kissed Jesus in the Garden?
No, of course not!
Jesus spent three years teaching and preparing the twelve chosen disciples to preach the Kingdom of God. He explained to them that He had to become the sacrificial Lamb and would need to die for the sake of others. He even told them, “One of you will betray Me.”
All of the disciples, including Judas, replied, “Is it I?”
Jesus answered, “It is he to whom I shall give a piece of bread when I have dipped it.” And having dipped the bread, He gave it to Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon. (John 13:26)
This was the pivotal scene, which I believe was staged mainly for Judas’ sake. The disciple had to know that Jesus would have forgiven him if he had confessed his sin to Him, but Judas hardened his heart and Satan entered him at that moment.
All Jewish boys memorized the Psalms. So, there’s no doubt that Judas knew Psalm 41 by heart, but obviously he never once considered he would be the one to fulfill a prophecy in it –
Even my own familiar friend, in whom I trusted (relied on and was confident), who ate of my bread, has lifted up his heel against me. (Psalm 41:9 AMP)
Bad choices by Judas caused his name to be linked to betrayal forever because he fulfilled this Old Testament prophecy.
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition (2 Thessalonians 2:3)
Almost every Christian has memorized this verse, written by Paul to the Thessalonians who were confused about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. We now look at the verse as a New Testament prophecy.
But like Judas, memorizing and knowing this verse doesn’t mean we’ll avoid being a part of the thousands and thousands who will fulfill Paul’s prophecy about the End-Times.
In His second year of ministry, Jesus taught His most important parable – the Parable of the Sower – to the multitudes. Afterward, when they were alone, His twelve disciples asked Him the meaning of the parable.
Jesus explained to them the various soils in the parable, especially the third one:
Now these are the ones sown among thorns; they are the ones who hear the word, and the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things entering in choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. (Mark 4:18-19)
Now, by this time, Judas Iscariot was the treasurer of the group and was siphoning off funds for his own use. He was a thief!
Since all of the twelve disciples inquired about the parable, what was going through Judas’ mind when he heard Jesus explain about the deceitfulness of riches?
Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition (2 Thessalonians 2:3)
Let’s be honest, okay?
None of us think we would ever be guilty of falling away from the faith. Why – we attend church, have Bible apps on our phones, listen to all of the latest worship songs – so this can’t possibly refer to any of us, right?
But remember this: Judas traveled with Jesus for three years, fellowshipped with Him, saw His miracles and heard His words, yet Judas was never delivered from the deceitfulness of riches.
Paul’s prophecy about the great falling away will be fulfilled by some of us. It’s going to happen! Even though I have walked with the Lord for 34 years, I don’t lightly skip over the prophecy. I have a reverent fear of the Lord about it.
So, what can we do to prepare ourselves ahead of time?
I have used this story before, but this time, I use it from a different angle.
In the early 1990’s, Larry Burkett told a story on his radio program, “Money Matters,” that still sends shivers down my spine. Burkett told about the time he attended a local church and heard a Chinese man tell his testimony.
It seems the man was a lieutenant of Mao Zedong when Mao’s communist army defeated Chiang Kai-Shek and took control of China. Mao then set out to cleanse China of all imperialist influences, especially American connections. Missionaries were sent home or killed. Chinese pastors were imprisoned or killed. Christians were killed. Political leaders, people who had visited America or attended schools there were killed. Historians estimate 40,000,000 Chinese were executed by Mao during his various purges.
The man, who told this testimony, was chosen by Mao as one of the leaders in the rural purges. He dispatched his tasks with cruel efficiency. But some Christians focused their prayers on him and he was miraculously saved. So convinced was the man that Christ was the answer for China he decided to return to Peking (Beijing) and tell Mao the good news of Jesus.
Mao was not impressed with his lieutenant’s message and commanded him to renounce his new found faith. The man refused and said, “I cannot deny the experience I’ve had with Jesus.”
Mao brought his wife and children before the man. Soldiers stood behind his family with guns aimed at their heads. Once again, Mao asked the man to renounce his faith. The man fell to his knees and said, “Please do not kill my family, but I cannot deny Jesus.”
His family was executed before his eyes.
Next, his parents, brothers, sisters and their families were brought before the man with soldiers standing behind them with guns at their heads. Mao insisted the man renounce Jesus. The man refused. His entire family was executed before his eyes.
All of his friends and their families were placed in front of him, but still he would not renounce Christ. They were executed.
Then, Mao decided death was too good for this reprobate of a man. He was stripped naked and placed in a cold cell. Once a day, guards were ordered to beat him.
His imprisonment and beatings continued for fifteen years. During that time, the man led 90% of the guards to Christ and the guards even risked their own freedoms by bringing Bibles to him.
When he finally emerged from prison, he walked down a road, heading toward his hometown. As he walked, people in the fields next to the road, fell to their knees and cried out to be saved by Jesus. Yet, the man said nothing because the presence of God was so heavy upon him that he just continued to walk.
Larry Burkett said that when the Chinese man finished his testimony he was asked, “What do you think of our American churches?”
The man gazed at the audience with tears in his eyes. “You American Christians do not know the Jesus I know,” he said.
But whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:33)
If we endure, we will also reign with Him; if we deny Him, He also will deny us (2 Timothy 2:12)
This man’s testimony shines a light on a worst-case scenario for us believers. We obviously all hope to never face such terrible circumstances, but what if we do? Could we still hold onto Jesus and not deny Him?
I don’t believe any of us can pass a test like this without having the following revelations:
- Our Father is a good God. We can trust Him with our lives and the lives of our family and friends.
- Our Father is omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (all-present everywhere at once) and omniscient (all-knowing). In His omniscience, He saw the circumstances before they happened and He still allowed us to go through them. He expects us to be faithful until the end, trusting Him till our last breath.
- God honors His word. God exalts His word about His authority and abides by His own rules.
If any of us do not have these revelations of our heavenly Father, we need to seek and ask Him for them. He desires to reveal Himself to us.
Remember: The number one reason for being a part of the Great Falling Away – now or in the future – will be denying Jesus and His character attributes.
I am seventy-three years old.
You can call it pride or whatever, but I have always wanted to see the Lord return in my lifetime. That is until recently when I felt the Lord speak to my heart, “I am not returning in your lifetime. Help prepare your children and grandchildren for the End-Times.”
Whatever disappointment I might have felt at the time was erased by the urgency of His words.
Many preachers talk about the “great falling away” as if it will be just a slight bump in the road for the American church. After all, America has the greatest concentration of Christians within its borders of any nation in the world. 80 to 90 million Evangelical or born again Christians by many estimates.
Let no one in any way deceive or entrap you, for that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first [that is, the great rebellion, the abandonment of the faith by professed Christians], and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction [the Antichrist, the one who is destined to be destroyed] (2 Thessalonians 2:3 AMP)
Do you actually believe the Apostle Paul was talking about a slight bump in the road when he wrote about the “great falling away?”
It’s my belief that if we don’t take drastic steps that 50 to 75% or more of America’s Christians will abandon their faith during the soon coming End-Times period. That’s forty to seventy million believers!
Why such a large number?
Corrie Ten Boom’s 1974 letter about the Rapture explains most of my reasoning:
There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days.
In China, the Christians were told, “Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.” Then came a terrible persecution. Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly, “We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution, rather than telling them Jesus would come first. Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when tribulation comes — to stand and not faint.”
Somehow, most American believers have swallowed the same poisonous Pre-Trib Rapture doctrine and believe we won’t suffer even though Jesus said –
For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened. See, I have told you beforehand. (Matthew 24:21-22, 25)
We believers are the elect and He is warning us to prepare ourselves ahead of time.
The second reason for being a part of the Great Falling Away – now or in the future – will be holding onto bad teaching not supported by scripture.
Recently, I talked with a youth pastor of a large denomination. “What are you reading right now?” I asked.
She mentioned the name of a book.
“Oh, is that a book on inner healing?” I replied.
“Yes,” she said, ” and it’s very good.”
“I struggle with inner healing. Every book on inner healing that I’ve ever seen is a takeoff on John and Mark Sandford’s book, one that I don’t recommend to anyone.”
“Well, a pastor in our denomination recently committed suicide. So our pastor wants to be proactive and help our staff handle the everyday stress of working with our church’s members. Plus, a counselor meets with each of us every week to help us.”
“Oh dear, I struggle with counselors, too.”
Thank God, the conversation died without me putting both of my feet in my mouth.
I understand there are numerous mental problems, such as bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and others, where we believers can’t heal the person by simply speaking in faith and saying, “Go, in Jesus’ name.” We just aren’t there yet! Maybe soon though!
But this was not a case of handling severe mental disorders, this was a pastor trying to protect his staff from stress and emotional strain. And what does he do? He reaches for what the world considers its best answer for these problems: psychology.
Although considered a science, psychology is anything but that. There are hundreds of different methods for every problem. Most of them backed by the works of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Both were ungodly men!
So, why not fast and pray and trust the Lord? Isn’t He more than able to protect a church’s staff?
I assume this same pastor preaches a sermon each Sunday telling the congregation to trust in Jesus, right? But shouldn’t the pastor be honest enough to declare his staff’s lack of faith in Jesus?
How would that play out? Probably not well.
Can you imagine telling Christians in North Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan and other nations where Christians are tortured and killed for their beliefs that they also need psychologists to help them handle their stress and anxiety? They’d laugh at our weak faith!
No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [money, possessions, fame, status, or whatever is valued more than the Lord]. (Matthew 6:24 AMP)
The third reason for becoming a part of the Great Falling Away – now or in the future – will be trusting in the world system more than in Christ and His ways.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was written by John Foxe in 1563. It details the deaths and sufferings of the early apostles and other Christians up through the inquisition and the medieval church.
It’s been nearly thirty years since I read the book as a young Christian but I still remember how it jarred my heart. In fact, I muttered aloud a short prayer. “Lord, if You want me to be a martyr for You, that’s okay with me. I can probably handle crucifixion, firing squad, hanging or being beheaded, but please don’t let me be burned at the stake. I’m not sure I will be a good witness for You if I die that way.”
At the time, I worked at a motel-restaurant and drove a catering van, delivering meals to senior citizens.
One day, I was running behind schedule and in a hurry. Using only pot holders, I removed a large pan of roast beef from an oven. My hand slipped and the pan’s liquid drenched over my hand. 170° of scalding juice.
I quickly set the pan down and looked at my hand. It was red, there was pain on the surface of my skin, but no inner pain. It did not bother me in the least.
Two cooks rushed over and wanted to rush me off to the hospital. I shook my head and put it under a cold water faucet. No problems.
That experience and the following testimony by Corrie Ten Boom has kept my heart open to the possibility of being a witness until death (martyr) for Jesus:
When I was a little girl, I went to my father and said, “Daddy, I am afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.”
“Tell me,” said Father. “When you take a train trip to Amsterdam, when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?”
“No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.”
“That is right,” my father said, “and so it is with God’s strength. Our Father in Heaven knows when you will need the strength to be a martyr for Jesus Christ. He will supply all you need – just in time…” (Tramp for the Lord)
So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)
The fourth reason for becoming a part of the Great Falling Away – now or in the future – will be fear that God’s grace cannot help us in our suffering.
“He’s dead! He’s dead!” exclaimed the courier from Rome as he trotted toward us.
I stopped working and stood up. The other tent makers did the same.
“Who’s dead?” I asked.
“The Apostle Paul’s dead!” said the courier, wiping the sweat from his forehead. “He was beheaded in Rome about a month ago.”
Even though I knew Paul’s ministry would probably have a sad ending, the news stunned me. O Lord, why? I thought.
I walked away from the group, not wanting to talk about the apostle at that moment. It was just too painful. I ended up walking down by the Aegean Sea and sitting on a rock by myself. There, I thought back over my years with Paul.
The first time I met Paul, I was not impressed. His stature was too puny, only 4 feet 6 inches tall and 110 pounds in weight, and his public speaking talents were too shallow when compared to Apollos and the other orators. Yes, he was brilliant and could write, but these were facts that I learned later and did not figure at all into my first impressions of him.
Yet, there was something about Paul which drew me to him. Maybe, it was his fiery passion for the gospel, his fierce boldness or his love for the church. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but anyway, I joined up with Paul and traveled along with him as his aide.
On our first journey to Rome, we ended up swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. Somehow, the Roman soldiers did not execute us and we were able to swim ashore to Malta. And eventually, we did arrive in Rome.
Next, I spent two years, waiting for Paul while he was under arrest. When we finally resumed traveling again, everything became a blur of afflictions, hardships, distresses, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, sleeplessness and hunger.
Then, the fire in Rome changed everything for us from bad to worse. Christians were blamed for the fire and Paul became a marked man. Nero sent soldiers to hunt him down in Asia.
Finally, I mentally collapsed under the stress.
“Paul, I didn’t join your ministry to be killed by Roman soldiers,” I said on the day of my departure. “I’m going to Thessalonica, start a business, maybe marry a young woman and start a family. I’m too young for a martyr’s death!”
Paul was disappointed, but what could he do? I fled on a boat.
It had been almost a year since I last saw Paul and now he was dead. My mind wandered here and there as the blue waves splashed against the rock I sat on.
Did I make the right decision when I left Paul? I wondered. And how will I be remembered by future Christians?
for Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica…(2 Timothy 4: 9)
Now, if we think that the three verses about Demas are added to Paul’s writings just to fill up space, then we’ve completely missed the point. I believe the Holy Spirit used Demas to give later believers a name and a face for fallen-away Christians.
Yes, I understand God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness handles problems like this, but still the words of 2 Timothy 4:9 are a part of God’s written Word forever!
(Continued in Part 7)