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APOSTASY
The Great Apostasy
Revelation 2-3

by Steve Magill
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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 Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola.[1] 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,  light 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 earth in 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 Christians. However, 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).  Now 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?”

 As 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.[2] 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 through compromise.

 This can be a difficult position to be in, especially when one 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. Nearly every day I pray with people, share the gospel (online and in person), pass out tracts, share my books, and teach in churches and homes. 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 “true” Christian.

 As the movement of 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 have. In their hunger and thirst they will find a greater intimacy with God. I know I did. I experienced  a great revival equal to my 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 Christians—all traits any Christian would want to emulate. However, Christ condemned five of the seven because they also 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.

 In 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 forgive you, 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 blessing. In light of what we just read, there is the great possibility the devil is bringing the “blessing” in order to keep you from trusting God.

 Though 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.

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Copyright 2016