by Mike Ratliff
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15 ESV)
The Church in our time appears huge, but this is only in appearance. It is thousands of miles wide, but only a fraction of an inch deep. Much of what claims to be Christian is not and proves it by what is actually its focus and what (or who) it actually worships. The focus has its foundation in pragmatism and its worship is nothing more than self-aggrandizement. They give lip service to their own version of “Jesus” who bears little if any resemblance to the Jesus we read of in God’s Word. This counterfeit Christianity is the majority while the true Church, which is made up of those saved by grace through faith because of God’s election and effectual calling is the minority. This should not surprise us because the Word of God tells us that this will be case as this age comes to a close to make way for the age to come.
Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matthew 24:1-3 ESV)
Carefully read this passage my brethren. There are three questions asked of our Lord by the disciples in response to his warning of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in v2. However, our Lord’s answer to these questions apparently intertwines prophecy concerning the destruction of Jerusalem and His second coming, which will end this age and usher in the age to come. Let us look at our Lord’s answer to these questions which is found in vv4-31 of Matthew 24, however, we will concentrate on vv4-14 in this study.
Before we look at those verses, I would like to look at v3 in the Greek for I like the emphasis of some of the words that is not as clear in the English.
3καθημενου δε αυτου επι του ορους των ελαιων προσηλθον αυτω οι μαθηται κατ ιδιαν λεγοντες ειπον ημιν ποτε ταυτα εσται και τι το σημειον της σης παρουσιας και συντελειας του αιωνος (Matthew 24:3 WHNU)
Here is a word for word translation of v3 into English:
“Sitting but him on the hill of the olives came toward him the learners by own saying, say to us, when these will be and what the sign of your presence and full completion of the age?”
I want to concentrate here on the last three words, συντελειας του αιωνος, which the KJV translates as, “end of the world.” The word συντελειας is used sparingly in the New Testament. It literally means, “the entire completion” or “consummation” of something. The something here is αιωνος. This word refers to an age or time, but here in Matthew 24:3 it is referring to an “age of providence.” The disciples were asking the Lord to give them the sign of the ending of God’s gracious providence in the world that we enjoy right now. When will He remove His hand and begin fulfilling His righteous judgment because the number of saved elect is full, which will coincide with the filling of the cup of God’s wrath against those who hate the truth and reject the Gospel. The ending of this age of God’s providence and the coming of the age to come, the fulfilling of the Kingdom of God will be separated by the event of our Lord’s return. The word used to refer to our Lord’s return, παρουσιας, is pronounced as “parousia.” It refers to our Lord coming again to this world as both the deliverer of the righteous and judge of the wicked.
Our Lord answers the disciples’ three questions in reverse order.
And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.” (Matthew 24:4-8 ESV)
Our Lord begins with a warning. The words, “no one leads you astray” in v4 are the words μη τις υμας πλανηση in the Greek, which literally say, “not someone you might deceive” referring to the fact that someone will attempt to deceive believers about the παρουσιας (return) of our Lord. The warning is this, “Do not believe anyone who claims that the Lord has already returned come and see.” When He returns there will be no doubt. It will not be in secret. It will be obvious to all. The beginning of the birth pains is what has been going on in this age from the beginning and will continue, but like the increasing in sequence as the time gets closer and closer just like the birth pains of a woman delivering a baby these things will also increase in magnitude and frequency. However, according to our Lord’s own words here, these are not the signs that end of this age is upon us, but that this age is marked by these things.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:9-14 ESV)
I am convinced that these seven verses describe succinctly what is going on right now in the world in relation to the Church. The truth is hated. It has become scandalous for Bible teachers and evangelists to preach the Gospel as it should be done. That is, with the brutal truth about the utter lostness of all people and their inability to do one thing to become righteous in God’s eyes. Then they are to be given the good news of the only way to be saved from the coming wrath from God. That is, salvation in and by and through the Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, notice that this message will be hated and persecuted. The seeker-sensitive paradigm has as its major tenet no reference to the true Gospel, but only an emphasis on easy-believism that saves no one. These advocates of the church-growth movement, the emergents, the new evangelicals all hate the truth. These false prophets have arisen and are leading many astray even telling their followers that other religions are just another way to God.
The reference to lawlessness increasing refers to the spiritual emptiness of those who have been victimized by this false paradigm. They are told that their salvation is assured even though they are not changed by it so they are unable to become conformed to Christ. They are told that it is okay to live like the world so they can draw others into their deception by relating positively to their politically correct version of the gospel. However, they absolutely hate hearing the real Gospel and they absolutely hate those who doggedly continue to preach and teach it. They have been deceived into the pragmatism of using numbers to verify the effectiveness of their new way of doing things. Yes, you can draw many from the world into a belief system that is no different than it. However, our Lord also says here that there will be some who endure to the end because they have not been deceived by this lie. They will continue to proclaim the Gospel throughout the world even if it costs them everything. This will continue right up to the end of this age. This is our Lord’s marker of when the end of this age of God’s gracious providence will come.
The Gospel will continue right up to the end of this age. Our Lord will continue to build His Church until then. Until then, we have our Lord’s commands that those who are deep in the deception have shunned and are going their own way.
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17 ESV)
The disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ is commanded to make other disciples from every part of the world in the Great Commission found in Matthew 2816-20 and we must not neglect this. However, our Lord also commanded us in John 21:15-17 to feed and tend to His sheep. This means we disciple them. We teach them the truth. We lead them to walk in repentance and become living sacrifices who are transformed into the Christians whose lives bring God glory because their minds are being continually renewed through their immersion in the Word of God and the godly teaching of the leaders He has ordained to be over them. We must not neglect this my brethren.
The current rebellion and falling away is the result of men seeking greater numbers to the detriment of the preaching and teaching of God’s truth and the effective discipleship of those given to them by God to tend and feed. Instead, they are seeking to be conformed to pop culture so they will be seen as non-threatening to the lost. However, the gospel they preach is not the Gospel. It has been diluted and changed so it appeals to the flesh rather than piercing the heart with God’s truth that the Holy Spirit uses to effectually draw people to salvation. These wolves in sheep’s clothing may have large dynamic churches, but since they absolutely refuse to preach the Gospel, they are actually false prophets leading many astray.
All those things the Lord warned us about in the passages above are markers that we are seeing right now in this age. Does this mean that we are quickly approaching the end of this age? The mass defections we are seeing right now with so many being deceived seems to suggest that we are indeed seeing an increase in the birth pains, but in Matthew 24:36-51 our Lord tells us that no one knows when the end of this age is coming so we must bear down in our obedience and remain faithful. Let us continue to serve the Lord with our all and pray for those in darkness that God will have mercy on them and draw them into the light unto eternal life in the Son.
Soli Deo Gloria!