Mystery of the church in the Last Days
What will the organized church be like in the Last Days?
First, what do we mean by church? Today, people refer to the church as the denomination they belong to or the building that they assemble in on Sunday. A denomination and a church building are both creations of man. True believers may be in a denomination or in a building, but that in no way makes the denomination or the building the Church as referenced in the Bible.
On the other hand, the Bible tends to refer to the Church as the body of true believers. Each believer is the Church and the total of all believers is the Church. The Church is a spiritual reality an organism of believers created and held together by God. The condition of the Church (all true believers in Christ Jesus) is righteous, pure and unblemished through faith in Christ.
I will distinguish between the two meanings of church this way:
o The visible organized church will be – church – small ‘c’
o All believers, true Church will be – Church – capital ‘C’
The church is principally an organization developed by man since the time of the apostles. The writers of the New Testament prophesied about the church in the last days. Here are some of the things they wrote.
Paul in his second letter to Timothy writes about various aspects of the church. In this particular passage he is prophesying about how the church in the last days.
But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-- having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them. They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth--men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone. You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings--what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Timothy 3:1-13).
Paul describes the condition of the organized church as going from bad to worse until it appears there is little or no faith left. This may explain the meaning of Jesus’ question when He asked,
“However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)
Paul also warned about the increase of false doctrine in the church.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths (2 Timothy 4:1-4).
Below Paul indicates that the church will even be following teachings introduced by demons.
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons (1 Timothy 4:1).
Teachings of demons and deceiving spirits in the church is that possible? Yes, even masquerading as apostles and servants of righteousness; pastors, teachers, prophets and evangelists.
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
Next, James warns the brothers about the last days. Reflect on this passage and compare it to what you see in the church today.
Now listen, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money." Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins. Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you. Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord's coming is near (James 4:13-5:8).
If you are still struggling to understand how this could be speaking of the church today, consider this “You have hoarded wealth in the last days.” Now imagine a small to medium sized church located in the wealthiest country in the world. The church, in the interest of increasing its membership, is constructing a new building to offer more services and comforts to its members and to attract more visitors. The building program will cost anywhere from about 500,000 to maybe $5,000,000. The church has an annual budget of from 200,000 to $2,000,000. Its pastor has a compensation package from 70,000 to $123,000.
Now that you have the picture of this church you must also realize that vast majority of the world’s population lives in abject poverty. Most do not even have access to potable drinking water.
To put this into perspective, Food for the Hungry can feed a small village in the third World for a week on a few hundred dollars.
Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God in parables. Some where about the kingdom on earth in the present age. He often described how conditions would continue until the end of the age when the angels would separate the sons of the kingdom from the sons of the devil.
Jesus answered, "The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. "As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age (Matthew 13:37-40).
Each of Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom provided a perspective of the kingdom on earth in the present evil age.
The next two parables may give us a perspective of the organized church at the end of the age. So what do these parables reveal?
First, the mustard seed that grows into a large plant and the birds of the air can perch in its shade.
Again he said, "What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest seed you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade" (Mark 4:30-32).
The organized church starts small but grows to be the largest church and the servants of the devil inhabit the church and enjoy its benefits. Jesus often used birds in his parables to represent the devil and evil. Here is how Jesus explains the meaning of the parable of the sower and the birds of the air.
"Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one [the birds] comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path (Matthew 13:18-19).
We also find the term "the kingdom of the air" which may shed light on the meaning of "the birds of the air" in Mark 4:32 above.
… in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient (Ephesians 2:2).
The parable of the yeast is similar.
Again he asked, "What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough" (Luke 13:20-21).
When yeast is introduced into the organized church its effects spread until they work their way all through the church. This parable is easy to decipher because yeast in the Bible always represents evil and unrighteousness. Lets read some examples.
“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. "Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees." … Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:6-12).
Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1).
Your boasting is not good. Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).
With the organized church going from bad to worse with evil and deception on the increase, how are we to relate to the church in these last days?
The Bible is replete with instructions and guidance of how we are to be with believers and unbelievers. Unfortunately, with both believers and non-believers in the organized church we must be on guard to false doctrine and false teachings. As the Word states we are to test everything. Here is God’s advice.
Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).
Be a Berean!
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true (Acts 17:11).
Richard H Perry