The Great Apostasy
by Steve Magill
In these two chapters of Revelation, John
saw what the church was presently like and would be like before
the events of the last seven years of earth’s history are
unleashed. He saw a deceived and compromised church. The Devil
began his great deception the day the church was born. It gained
momentum when popery and Constantine joined forces and took
Christianity captive; deception continued its increase with the
breakdown into denominations. Today the majority of those
claiming the name of Christ only resemble the church of the
first three centuries. This deceived church looks like the true
church, but without the power of the Holy Spirit to be the
church (2 Tim. 3:5). This apostasy may be seen as the
great retreat. Instead of becoming stronger through the years, the
church retreated through compromise. This compromise is outlined
in more detail in Appendix A and shows the movement of
compromise from the early church
through Constantine and then Martin Luther.
A book I like that contrasts today’s church with the
church of the first three centuries is
by Frank Viola.
As we continue our study through the Book of Revelation, keep in
mind that, throughout the horrors described, we are not to
retreat, but to engage in the battle, and when the going gets
tough, we are to
be even tougher and filled with the strength and power of the
Holy Spirit greater than ever before (Heb. 10:25).
In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, the Apostle Paul also warned of
this great apostasy (falling away) taking place before the
Antichrist appears. “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.” The phrase
that day refers to the return of Christ to the earth. The
falling away is the apostasy of the church. The
man of sin is the
Antichrist. This apostasy removes the restraining power of the
Holy Spirit that has kept the Antichrist from rising upon the
earth (2:7-8). An active, Spirit-led church is the light that
holds the darkness back. However,
merged with compromise (sin) is a great darkness—a darkness that
deceives a person into thinking that he is a Christian when he
is far removed from the Spirit of God (Matt. 6:23).
The apostasy of Revelation 2 and 3 is the welcome mat
that invites the Antichrist to make his appearance upon the
Revelation 6. Because we are living in the day when the
Antichrist could appear at any time, we must also
recognize that the majority of those who claim the name of
Christ are living in a fallen condition, thinking they are
the church and are
Revelation 2 and 3 indicate the majority of the church today is
far removed from God’s Holy Spirit, which is the distinguishing
mark of the true church. Without the Holy Spirit, the
Apostle Paul teaches that we are not Christian. “Now if any man
have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9b).
What are we to do then?
Because the messages to the seven churches were not
written only for those named by John, it would be wise to give
careful consideration to these messages and to ask ourselves,
“Do I need to change how I think about God and how I live my
life?” After each message, Jesus makes the statement, “He that
has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”
(Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, and 22).
ask yourself, “Do I hear what Jesus is saying to me? Am I willing
to do what is necessary to repent and become a true Christian?”
much as we may not want to admit that we may
be deceived, it is important to understand the deceived do not
know that they are. Webster’s Dictionary defines “deceive” as
misleading the mind, to cause to err, and to cause to believe
what is false or to disbelieve what is true.
In the time before the arrival of the Antichrist, it appears the
majority of those who claim the name of Christ will be misled to
believe they are Christians when many of their beliefs and
practices are not Christian.
Their good Christian works and beliefs have been made void
This can be a difficult position to be in, especially
is a pastor and believes everything is okay with their
Christianity. I had to come to this point in my own life in 2005
when I realized I might be deceived and not know it. My first
reaction was, “I’m okay in God’s eyes.” After all, I had been a
Christian for over twenty-nine years. When I realized people are
not deceived willingly, I questioned my own Christianity and
role as a pastor through an intensive search of the New
Testament concerning what a real Christian is. I came to the
conclusion that I did not measure up when I compared my
Christianity with God’s Word. This caused me to make changes to
my life. These changes included stepping down from my position
as a professional, career pastor after over seventeen years
behind the pulpit.
My “ministry” remains strong.
day I pray with people, share the gospel (online and in person),
pass out tracts, share my books, and teach in churches and
Often I tell people that in 1976 I gave up sin and then in 2008
I gave up everything I thought about Christianity and became a
the Holy Spirit continues to awaken His church, many
will come to similar revivals. Many will feel unrest about who
they are as a Christian and whether they are truly Christian.
They will seek for something more than what they presently havetheir hunger and thirst will find a greater intimacy with Goda great revival equal to
initial repentance from sin.
Continuing our look at Revelation 2 and 3, notice
how God recognizes many noteworthy characteristics of the
churches in Revelation 2 and 3. He acknowledged they were hard
workers for Christ, patient, untiring, defenders of correct
doctrine, charitable, faithful, and appearing to be devout
traits any Christian would want to emulate. However, Christ
condemned five of the seven because they
were living without the power of God, or were Christians for
monetary gain, or tolerated sin, or were involved with
immorality, or submersed themselves in the occult, or allowed
teachers to teach false doctrine, or lived on their reputations,
or would not take an all-out stand either for or against Christ,
preferring to compromise.
these last of the last
days, it is important that we pay close attention to Christ's
words and change what is not appropriate to God so we might be
counted worthy to enter eternal life. These messages in
Revelation were written to encourage all who claim the name of
Christ to reexamine their Christianity and to turn toward God
through repentance. At the same time, it gives hope to the few
who have not compromised their trust in God.
Just a word about repentance. It is not just asking God to
it is making changes in your behavior and life, stepping away
from displeasing God and turning toward pleasing Him. Often
those changes can be hard to make and come with a price. To be
in the position where we can see our true condition and are able
to repent, we must
be able to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice. At the end of each
message to the seven churches, Jesus emphasized this point when
He said, “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says
to the churches.” That’s us. We are the church. Which begs the
question: Do we hear the Holy Spirit when He speaks to us?
Even though the majority of those claiming the name of
Christ in the churches of Revelation 2 and 3 are not faithful,
two of the churches are identified without any encouragement to
repent. The first faithful church was the church in Smyrna (Rev.
2:8-11). When reading about this church, notice it is different
from all the others. It experienced much tribulation, lived in
poverty, and was lied about and criticized by those who said
they belonged to God. They were also thrown into prison and
killed because they placed their trust in Jesus.
The church in Philadelphia was the second church Jesus
spoke to without condemnation. It also was persecuted (3:7-13).
The contrast between these two churches and the other five
should create fear in everyone claiming the name of Christ,
causing each individual to cry out to God for understanding and
repentance. As unsettling as it may be to many, persecution and
Christianity go together like the positive and negative charge
of a battery. Both are necessary to move our vehicle forward.
Dear brothers and sisters, Do not think that when we are
a Christian that we are exempt from troubles. Jesus warned that
“In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). Paul
reminds us that, “Yes, and all that will live godly in Christ
Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). Too often,
prosperity and freedom from trouble are looked upon as God’s
light of what we just read, there is the great possibility the
devil is bringing the “blessing” in order to keep you from
we must go through much trouble as a Christian, we do not have
to look at trouble as negative. We are given a future hope that
makes our present troubles worth it all. With the Apostle Paul,
we are to “reckon that the sufferings of this present time are
not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed
in us” (Rom. 8:18). The Apostle James also records that as we
make patience a part of our day-to-day activities, our faith is
strengthened. “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into
various temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith
works patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye
may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing” (James 1:2-4).
Patience is the key to holding firm to your faith in the
most difficult of times and for growing in faith. Learning
patience in the day-to-day humdrums of life will give the
strength to endure the greater challenges that are coming.
After the great apostasy permeates the church, the
appearance of the Antichrist and the events outlined in the Book
of Revelation are then able to take place. The apostasy gives an
open door for the Antichrist to walk through.