Revival or Apostasy?
April 1 2015
Knowing that we are in the last of the last days, with an imminent return of the Lord a very real hope, our thoughts often (and indeed should) turn to the signs that Christ said would herald the nearness of His return. The signs that are most widely cited include “wars and rumours of wars…[when] nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…and…famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes…these are the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:6-8).
Unquestionably, these specific “sorrows” have been both prominent and accelerating since Israel again became a nation in 1948. Since that time, the intensity and frequency of these signs have increased like the birth pangs of a woman approaching her time of delivery, exactly as Christ foretold. However, the first sign that Christ gave has been largely overlooked and His solemn warning neglected:
And Jesus answered and said…Take heed that no man deceive you.
For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many….
And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many….
For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. (Matthew 24:4,5,11,24) [Emphasis added.]
Concern for this prophesied deception has marked this ministry. Let us take a closer look at the religious deception that Christ foretold. He issued a warning: “Take heed [beware] that no man deceive you.” Its seriousness is emphasized by being thrice stated. Its nature is specified: false Christs, false prophets, and false signs and wonders. His repetition four times of the word “many” indicates a worldwide deception of multitudes.
Paul issued a similar warning: “Let no man deceive you by any means….” He explains that the spiritual deception to which Christ referred will infect the professing church. That is evident from his words “falling away,” or apostasy:
For that day [of the Lord] shall not come except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin [Antichrist] be revealed, the son of perdition.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3)
Although a true Christian cannot fall away, a false Christian can. Fall away from what? From the faith in Christ that he or she has outwardly professed without inward reality. Those few apostates who announce themselves as atheists or convert to Buddhism or Hinduism are not the concern of Christ and Paul in this verse. They are warning of a turning from the truth within the professing church. Other scriptures confirm this, as we shall see.
Paul warns us not to be deceived into thinking that the apostasy won’t come. It must. Such a warning can mean only that in the last days many will reject the biblical teaching that apostasy is inevitable. The false prophets to whom Christ refers will use their signs and wonders to support their false teaching that revival, not apostasy, is underway. Paul therefore warns us not to be deceived with talk about revival: the apostasy must come, or Christ will not return!
False signs and wonders will be an integral part of the apostasy. The departure from the truth will be spearheaded by apparent miracle workers, and the delusion will be made possible by a prevailing emphasis upon experience over doctrine: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:3). Christ declares,
Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity. (Matthew 7:22-23)
These apostates of whom Christ speaks do not lose their salvation; they were never saved (“I never knew you”). Yet they are high-profile Christian leaders apparently performing signs and wonders in the name of Christ. Tragically, they seem to think that their ability to prophesy and to perform wonders proves that they belong to Him. The signs and wonders are so impressive that doctrine no longer matters—exactly what we see today!
Surely these of whom Christ speaks in Matthew 7 must be the same “false Christs and false prophets” to whom He refers in Matthew 24. Moreover, the signs and wonders they are able to perform are apparently so impressive that without discernment by the Holy Spirit even the very elect would be deceived by them. Obviously, something more than mere trickery is involved. These miracle workers are backed by the power of Satan, whom they unwittingly serve in the name of the Lord.
The Bible clearly predicts a last-days signs and wonders movement—but it will be of Satan, and thus a delusion that will deceive many. After a solemn warning that in the last days “perilous times [not revival!] shall come,” Paul makes this remarkable statement:
Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these [apostates] also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith. (2 Timothy 3:8)
Jannes and Jambres were the magicians in Pharaoh’s court who, through the power of Satan, duplicated (up to a point) the miracles that God did through Moses and Aaron. Paul thus declares that the last-days opposition to the truth will not come so much from outside the church but from those within who are reprobate concerning the faith: depraved men who corrupt the truth. And they do so by performing apparent miracles in Christ’s name some of which (when more than mere trickery) are actually of Satan. In that way, they deceive and lead many astray—not out of the church but into false doctrine and thus a false hope within the church. Satan has no more effective tactic to damn souls!
Such [deception] involving the whole gamut of today’s revival scene must be seriously faced! Videos of the services show people crawling on the floor, howling like wolves, barking like dogs, roaring like lions, going through bodily contortions impossible without the aid of some spiritual power, unable to speak or even remember their names when they try to give a testimony—and worse. Many of those being baptized seem to lose consciousness or shake so violently that they must be carried out of the baptismal tank or they would drown. Others flail about so wildly as to require several men to handle them. That such things could now be widely accepted as evidence of the Holy Spirit can only testify to the depths of the delusion!
Jude exhorts us to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Contend against whom? Surely not primarily against godless enemies outside the church. The warning concerns those within: “For there are certain men crept in unawares” (v. 4). Crept in can only mean inside the church.
Paul confirms Jude in addressing the Ephesian elders: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). The spiritual deception of which Christ warned would be rampant within the church.
In further confirmation, Christ warned His disciples that “the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (John 16:2)—a most remarkable prophecy. He can’t be referring to the slaughter of Christians by the Caesars or by Mao or Stalin or Hitler, for they did not believe they were thereby serving God. Yes, when the Jews of Jesus’ day killed the early Christians, they thought they were serving God; so did the Roman Catholics when they slaughtered the true Christians before and after the Reformation; and so it was when Muslims killed Christians. But none of this was the complete fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy.
“Whosoever” is the key. Neither the Pharisees, the popes, nor the Muslims were alone in killing Christians. Others pursued them to the death at the same time. But Christ is saying that a time is coming when whosoever (in other words, everyone) who kills Christians will think he is serving God thereby. That can only mean that a world religion to which everyone must belong is coming, a religion that will seek to exterminate true Christians in the name of God. John saw the same scene in the future:
And it was given unto him [Antichrist] to make war with the saints, and to overcome them….
And I beheld another beast…he exerciseth all the power of the first beast…and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast….
And he had power to…cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. (Revelation 13:7-15)
To summarize, the scriptural warnings foretell the very delusion we find in our day: 1) a false signs and wonders movement led by many false prophets; 2) many being deceived through these seeming miracles; 3) the rejection of the biblical teaching concerning apostasy, and the insistence that we are in the midst of, or at least building up to, the “greatest revival in the history of the church.” The promise of revival will be part of the last-days deception, Paul warns, so beware! Instead, in the days preceding the Rapture there will be a great apostasy, a falling away from the faith. Don’t be part of it!
That we must earnestly contend for the faith against those who have crept into the church implies that the battle is not so much one of faith against unbelief, but rather of true faith against false faith. And that, too, is precisely what we see today. Articles in leading medical journals cite studies showing that those who have any “religious faith” are more likely to recover from illness. Christianity Today ran a major article naïvely promoting these studies as though they were supportive of the truth.1 Thus God has been reduced to a placebo that can come in any shape, size, or color.
Multitudes of Christians imagine that faith is believing that what they are praying for will happen and that if they truly believe, they will have whatever they ask. Obviously, if things happen because one believes they will, then one doesnʼt need God. This is mind power, not the faith in God that Christ taught (Mark 11:22)….
The topic on everyone’s lips and mind today is revival. Christian TV and radio and best-selling books persuasively argue that we are in the midst of the greatest revival of Christianity in the history of the world….It comes as a shock to many to learn that the word “revival” does not appear even once in the entire King James Bible. The hope of revival, which excites so many today, is not even a biblical concept. Ask yourself a few questions: Is Christ not indwelling us? Is He not in our midst each time we meet? Are we not to be filled with the Holy Spirit at all times? Is not the Word of God sufficient? Why, then, run after signs and wonders as though unusual manifestations prove that God is at work while neglecting what God has already given us? In the meantime, undertake a study to see what the Bible says. Check every source (including TBC) against Scripture! Be a Berean. TheBereanCall
- Christianity Today (Jan. 6, 1997), 20-30.
An Afterword from T. A. McMahon
In the eighteen years since Dave wrote the above article, the apostasy has intensified in ways that are mind numbing. I write this from the perspective of one who worked with Dave for more than three decades and learned from him how to discern trends that are taking hold in the church, drawing both professing and even true Christians away from the Word of God. I remember that just three years following our book The Seduction of Christianity: Spiritual Discernment in the Last Days (1985) we were astonished by how much worse things had become, spiritually, during that short time. But that was then.
Today seems like light years (or “dark years”) away. At that time, the New Age was dawning. Today we have “Christian” yoga practiced in church sanctuaries. Back then, evangelical leaders were dialoguing with Roman Catholic leaders; today Lent, Ash Wednesday, and the sacred Catholic ritual of the Stations of the Cross have become popular among “Protestants.” In those days, Christian youth were mostly being entertained in their fellowships; now they are being led into emergent contemplative and social gospel ideas. Then, the cults were making headway; today cultic teachings abound throughout Christendom. Then, “Christian” psychology was infecting the church; now, that pseudo-science has contaminated “biblical” counseling. Bible studies (where the Bible was actually studied) and prayer meetings were then rare; currently, books by popular Christian authors have displaced Scripture completely, and prayer has turned into “Lord, give me…” sessions. Back then, faith was being turned into a “force”; today, rare is the Christian who can tell you what biblical faith even is. False prophets used to be found primarily on “Christian” TV; now they proliferate on bestseller lists and head up prosperous “non-profit” organizations. We used to see TV preachers encouraging greed; currently, they sell survival food that they promote through fear-mongering techniques.
We are in those days characterized by Scripture as ones in which the church “will not endure sound doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:3). Discernment has all but disappeared. The only antidote lies in the Word—diligence in studying it, reading it, and obeying it by the Spirit.
The most common request we receive here at TBC is: “Please help me to find a biblically sound church in my area.” Sadly, we can’t help them. Not because there are no such churches but because we don’t know where any church will stand doctrinally even tomorrow. It grieves us to see what we once believed to be solid churches become “purpose driven” or Calvinist almost overnight. We counsel believers to be Bereans when looking for a place to fellowship. Seek out leaders, however imperfect, who truly want to feed God’s sheep according to His Word.