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The Gospel Age and the Great Apostasy


Signs of the Times #1

The Gospel Age and the Great Apostasy

You will often hear people talking about the signs of the times and they will perhaps go on to declare some spectacular event, or some unusual occurrence. Such reckless speculation simply brings Christianity into disrepute. Matthew 24:3   If there are signs, what are they?

Well, first of all, let’s remember that we should never actually be seeking signs in the first place! Matthew 16:4.  Yet, there are two ‘signs’ given to us in Matthew 24, and they are: that the gospel age will be over, and a period of intense tribulation.

Great Tribulation

Context of Matthew 24: The disciples were with Jesus at the temple.  It’s a truly magnificent building, yet Jesus says, His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. V2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”  To a Jew of that era, the end of the temple would mean the end of the world.  Jesus puts them right in the equivalent passage in Luke, 21:9-20.  9 But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified; for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately.”  The destruction of the temple is NOT the end of the world, but it is SYMBOLIC of the end of the world.  So, we have here in Matthew and Luke, three separate time-frames:-

  • The time/day when Jesus was tracking to his disciples.  
  • The destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.  The Temple fell, and was destroyed, and the prophecy of Jesus was totally accurate.  Yet this terrible destruction is not the end.
  • The last day, when Christ will return.  We call this teaching technique ‘prophetic foreshortening.’  Jesus is using the coming fall of the temple to warn of the terrible destruction of the world on the very last day, when God will pour out his terrible judgement, burning up everything that is evil and wicked, before establishing the new earth.

Now, in this context, Jesus gives two signs, and we know that Jesus will not return until these two signs have been fulfilled.

1 The Gospel AgeMatthew 24:14  So, here is the first sign of the end of the world.  The Gospel will be preached throughout the whole world.

  • This does not means that everyone will have the opportunity to be saved.  The Gospel proclamation WILL be heard by EVERYONE who God has ordained to be saved, and all the elect will be gather into the kingdom before Christ returns.  So, the gospel message, the word of God, will have achieved its purpose, as Isaiah said it would.  Isaiah 55:11,  
  • This gospel message is a WITNESS.  A witness makes a statement, and you must be the judge, and decide whether the witness statement is true.  The acceptance or rejection of that witness will be decisive as to the hearer’s place in eternity.  If you reject the Lord now, and Jesus returns tomorrow, you are lost forever, and there is no second chance.
  • The Gospel Age is the fulfilment of the OT promise to Abraham.  Genesis 12:3. There are many other OT references to the Hebrew nation being a witness and a blessing to the whole world, about nations coming into their light, gentiles coming into the chosen, Covenant people of God, and on the same terms, through the death of the Messiah, who takes away the sins of the world.

So, the first sign of the end of the world is that the gospel will have run its course, have completed its work, and all the people of God will be saved.

2 Satan’s Little SeasonMatthew 24:15-30. ESP. 21-22  

Now, we come to this second sign, given by Jesus.  ‘Great Tribulation’.   A time when it seems that Satan has been ‘let off the leash’ and is running amok both in the world and in the visible church.  Rev 20:7-8There seems to be two aspects of this satanic season:

  • The Great Apostasy.  As the gospel age reaches an end there will be a time when there will be a great ‘falling away’ from then truth of God.  This ‘Apostasy’ is led, apparently by someone described as ‘the Antichrist.’ 2 Thessalonians 2:3  Now, let’s be sure, that when we talk about a ‘falling away’ we are not talking about true believers who fall away and be lost – that can not and will not happen.  But within the visible church, there will be a time of great decline.   Hendricksen argues that the great falling away will be characterised by:-
    • Gross materialism. Read Luke 17:26-37.  Jesus warns us that people will live their lives, completely ignoring the God who created them, and blotting out the simple fact that one day their life on this earth will be over, and they will stand before a divine judge and give account of their lives.  Of course there is nothing wrong with eating and drinking and building and marrying etc…  What is wrong is that they become so caught up in these things that the spiritual life is neglected and God is removed from his rightful place in the life. 
    • Division between apostates and true believers.  There are so many of these apostates who will oppose Christ and the Bible, but who will still want to pass themselves off as Christians.  People who claim to be Christians, who are opposed to Christ and his church.  That’s apostasy. In Matthew 24:28 these people are described as ‘rotten carcasses.’
  • Attacks on the Christians and the Church. There is always tribulation in this world for Christians, but it seems that in the last days, great tribulation will be a specific period, and it will be quite terrible, as terrible as the destruction of Jerusalem in AD70.  Matthew 24:29-30 shows that Jesus taught that this intensification of tribulation would occur BEFORE the Lord returns.  cf 2nd Thess 2:3.

Now, there is no indication that the Gospel Age, and Satan’s Little Season are separate times, that the Gospel Age ceases, and then the great apostasy and period of tribulation begins.  There is every reason to believe that they are overlapping periods. After all, great tribulation has been the lot of some believers at almost every period of church history.

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