Chapter 22: LATTER DAY APOSTACY?
The idea has frequently
been expressed that any revival of the Truth has given way to apostacy
within two or three generations. This study aims to Biblically analyze
this theory. The following, then, is the evidence available:
- A fresh start was
made after the flood; three generations later brings us to the time of
Nimrod (Gen.10:6-10), who is highlighted both in Genesis and in
later Biblical allusion as an epitome of apostacy.
- Similarly Gen.11:11-16
shows that from Shem (living after the flood) to Peleg was another three
generations. " In his days was the earth divided" (1 Chron.1:19),
i.e. at Babel. Three generations from the flood to Babel must be significant
to our present enquiry. It appears that Nimrod was contemporary with Babel;
was this one of the cities which he tried to build?
- Babel provided opportunity
for another Genesis. But from Peleg (i.e. the time of Babel, 1 Chron.1:19)
to Nahor, Abraham's father, were three generations (Gen.11:18-22); and
we know Nahor was an idolator (Josh.24:14).
- After this, Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob provide one of the finest examples in Scripture
of a family committed to the Truth over three generations. The sons
of Jacob clearly had many elements of apostacy among them, both
in their personal relationships and their idol worship (Gen.35:4).
The holocaust that came on Israel in Egypt
must have been a punishment for serious apostacy; God does not willingly
afflict His people. The persecution starting in the generation after
Joseph therefore suggests that the fourth generation from Abraham
started a spiritual slide which led the fifth generation into the
deep idolatry which is hinted at in Ezekiel 20 and other passages
referring to Israel's spiritual
state in Egypt.
- The spiritual revival
led by Moses certainly gained some followers in Egypt,
coming to fruition in the generation of youngsters (under 20) who left
Egypt and entered Canaan. These
appear to have been one of the most faithful of all generations. But after
their passing and the " elders that outlived Joshua" (i.e. the
next generation?), Israel slumped
into the apostacy of the Judges period.
- Jud.18:30 (see R.S.V.,
N.E.B.) shows that Moses' grandson was involved in apostacy. We know that
Moses' parents were faithful; and thus again we see the real knowledge
of God lost after three or four generations.
- Jeremiah's parable
of the figs (Jer.24) describes those who were carried captive to Babylon
as being the " good figs" who brought forth spiritual fruit
in their captivity- doubtless due to the influence of Daniel and the prophecies
of Jeremiah which we know they studied there. This group developed in
faith throughout the 70 years captivity, culminating in their return to
the land over another 70 year period, spanning the times of Ezra and Nehemiah.
After this combined 140 year period, the idealism slacked, political in-fighting
arose within the ecclesia, materialism took its toll- as detailed in Haggai
- There was precious
little true Christianity by AD170, 140 years after the start of the Lord's
- Studies of communities
holding the Truth in Europe shows the same miserable story repeated time
- During the Millennium
a child will die at 100 years old (Is.65:20), suggesting a tenfold increase
in life-spans. Taking a generation presently as 40 years, on this reckoning
a generation then will be about 400 years. Thus the rebellion at the end
of the Millennium will be after two or three generations from the Lord's
return. Repentant Israel will
dwell in the land for ever once the Kingdom is established: " They,
and their children, and their children's children" (Ez. 37:25)- suggesting
the Millennium spans three generations?
- It is a Divine principle
that certain people can spiritually influence their progeny for three
or four generations, so that during this period God will either bless
(2 Kings 10:30) or curse (Num.14:8; Dt.5:9) the people in those generations
in accordance with the spiritual status of their ancestors.
It could be noted that
fair number of these cases were influenced in their apostacy by a corrupt
eldership; leaders whose idealism slacked, and then led to their hold
on the faith crumpling completely, in real terms. However, it is also
observable that the elders allowed themselves to be influenced by the
low standards of their flock. " Because iniquity shall abound (within
the ecclesia?), the love of many (" the many" , R.V.- the majority)
shall wax cold" (Mt.24:12). Bad spiritual standards will spread like
cancer in the last days. Thus the ecclesial leaders of the last days must
beware of the temptation to be overharsh on the faithful remnant, whilst
eating and drinking with " the drunken" , i.e. those elements
in the ecclesia who will be unprepared for the Lord's coming. Matt.24:49
is alluded to in 1 Thess.5:3-7, where the picture is graphically created
of a man who has been hard drinking for a whole evening, now at home stupefied,
late at night. It is then that the thief comes; whilst dimly aware of
his coming, the man is quite unprepared to meet him and keep his (spiritual)
house intact. This will be the tragic position of those who through belief
and practice are unready for their Lord. It seems that a materialistic
eldership, uncommitted to the real needs of the household, indifferent
to guarding the house, will contribute to our latter day apostacy as a
community. And note the correspondence between those who are harsh on
their brethren being those who are also caught up in the things of the
world. The drunken servant starts to beat the fellow servants, using a
Greek word which means to punish (Lk. 12:45). This creates the picture
of a worldly ecclesial elder over-disciplining others. No wonder there
will be so much friction and disunity amongst spiritual Israel of the
The disturbing thing
is that those living in the third and fourth generations in the examples
detailed above would have admitted that things in the ecclesia were not
how they had been years ago, but they rarely appreciated how God really
saw them- as a corrupted community. Please note that I am not saying that
we are corrupted; only God truly knows that. But in view of the
evidence presented, are we going to be the only generation to prove all
these Biblical precedents wrong? " When the Son of Man cometh, shall
he find (the) faith on the earth?" . The fact that there is a question
mark over it should inspire us with zeal and sober enthusiasm to prepare
ourselves against that day.
Lk. 17:22 warns that
in the last days, the Lord’s disciples will “desire to see one of the
days of the Son of man, and ye shall not see it”. Yet Jn. 8:56 implies
it is always possible to see one of the days of the Son of man through
faith in Him. Is the Lord not hinting here that there will be a clouded
spiritual vision amongst His latter day followers, even though they will
“desire” this not to be the case? And can we not see uncomfortable similarities
with our position and feelings today, realizing our vision is somewhat
clouded, desiring for things to be different, but still not seeing…?
A big theme
2 Thess. 2:3 RV speaks
of " the falling away" which must come as the final,
crystal clear sign that the Lord's return is imminent. It sounds as if
Paul treated this as an obvious, well known thing amongst the believers.
In the context, he's saying: 'How ever can you believe this idea that
the day of Christ is here now (RV)? As you know thoroughly well, the great
apostacy from the truth in the ecclesia must come, and only then
will the Lord come, to save the elect within his corrupted ecclesia'.
The idea of latter day weakness in the ecclesia is taught explicitly and
implicitly throughout the Scriptures. Both natural and spiritual Israel
have to be almost pleaded with to come out from among the beast system
of the last days (Rev. 18:4), implying that somehow they become part of
it- although ideally they should never have become involved with it. Israel
being tempted by Balaam and the Moabite women at the very end of the wilderness
journey looks forward to the tendency of latter day spiritual Israel to
mess up on the eve of the Kingdom. A fair case can be made for thinking
that Adam sinned at the end of the sixth day, on the eve of the sabbath
of rest (cp. the Millennium).
1 Tim. 4:1
indicates what a big theme latter day apostacy was in the first century
ecclesia: " The Spirit speaketh expressly that in the latter
times some shall depart from the faith" , due to giving heed to false
teachers purposefully trying to seduce the faithful. " Some"
(in the Greek) doesn't imply 'not many, just a few'. The link with Mt.
24:12 teaches that " many" (Gk. the majority) will depart- because,
1 Tim. 4:1 tells us, of 'giving heed' to false teachers. Tit. 1:14 warns
the first century believers not to 'give heed' to the false doctrines
of Judaism which were being pedalled within the ecclesia. Yet the
spirit of the day generally is to be more and more tolerant of doctrinal
deviants, rather than 'giving heed', 'watching' against them. There is
a telling play on words here. The Greek for " giving heed" is
normally used concerned taking heed, being ware, of false teachers (Mt.
7:15; 16:6; Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 1:4; Tit. 1:14). Paul's implication is:
'Instead of giving heed to the danger of these people within the
ecclesia, you gave heed to them in the sense of listening to them'.
Worse than we think
If we accept the Bible
teaching that there will be false teaching and apostacy within the latter
day ecclesia, we simply can't trust someone's doctrinal and spiritual
integrity just because they call themselves a Christian. At the
time of Christ's coming, there will be tares actively growing in the ecclesia.
Those tares are the " thorns and briers" of Heb. 6:8, who are
" rejected...nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned" ;
the 'thorns' who crucify Christ again (2 Sam. 23:6,7; Heb. 6:6-8). Yet
we will, in some sense, rub shoulders with this category if we are in
the latter day ecclesia (Mt. 13:27-30). In the last days, the true Christian
community simply won't be (isn't?) the spiritually safe place, where error
is impossible, which we may have felt it to be in the past. The man of
sin, the wicked one, will sit in the very temple of God , the ecclesia
(see Chapter 23).
Ezekiel (8:8-15; 9:8;
11:3), Jeremiah, Micah and perhaps even the Lord Jesus (Is. 59:16; Lk.
13:8) over-estimated the spirituality of God's people in the run up to
the 'day' of Divine judgment in their time. The " peace and safety"
cry within the latter day ecclesia (1 Thess. 5:3) is part of an extended
set of allusions back to the parables of Mt. 24 and 25, concerning the
apostate, drunken servant who thinks everything is fine being suddenly
destroyed by his Lord's coming. This kind of believer had been forseen
by Moses in Dt. 29:19; the type who hears the curses for disobedience,
but blesses (forgives) himself in his heart, " saying, I shall have
peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness
to thirst" . As natural Israel
will be awoken from their drunkenness by the final Arab invasion (Joel
1:1,2), so spiritual Israel will
be awakened by the holocaust to come. The false prophets who lived on
the eve of the Baylonian and Assyrian invasions told Israel
that everything was " peace and safety" within the ecclesia
of their time (Jer. 5:12; 6:14; 14:13; Ez. 13:10; Mic. 3:5). It seems
that the latter day ecclesia will likewise have a faithful remnant who
clearly perceive the apostacy, although they are surprised at it, seeing
in it the clearest sign of their Lord's return; and an apostate majority,
backed up by the elders of the ecclesia, who will claim with some aggression
that this is all utter nonsense, and there is peace and spiritual safety
within the ecclesia. The embryo (or further) of this situation is evidently
with us already.