Chapter 24: LETTERS FOR THE
It is commonly understood
amongst us that the prophecies concerning the 'last days' of AD70 have
relevance to our last days, and we have pointed out earlier that this
means that there may be a tribulation period for the saints, as there
was then. Hebrews and the letters of Peter abound in reference to
this time, and highlight a number of problems among the believers of those
last days which must also be relevant to us. The following are but a few
of the relevant passages:
2 Tim. 3:1-3
" In the last days, fierce (Gk.) times shall come. For men
(in an ecclesial context) shall be lovers of their own selves...proud...without
natural affection...despisers of those that are good, traitors (cp. Mt.
24:10)...highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God (implying
they do love God); having a form of Godliness, but denying the
power thereof" . The spirit of fierce aggresiveness which is increasingly
seen in the world will enter the ecclesias; brethren will become proud,
argumentative, materialistic, despising the truly righteous, disregarding
the needs of the household. And there are other NT passages which suggest
that this was indeed the ecclesial situation in the prelude to AD70. The
increasing bitterness and subdivision amongst us indicates this will all
be seen in the latter day body. Ultimately, human relationships within
the ecclesia will go crazy; brethren will hate and betray each other.
There will be little real spiritual mindedness; the power of Godliness,
the spirit / mind of Christ, will de denied, and only the outward form
of Godliness remain (cp. Eph. 3:20; 6:10; Col. 1:11). The abounding wickedness
of the world will so permeate the ecclesia that true agape-love will grow
cold amongst us (Mt. 24:12). The antidote to this is offered in 2 Tim.
3:14 - 4:3: Love the word, hold on to the doctrine you were taught by
faithful brethren, study the word, make it your life, challenge the apostate
majority of the ecclesia with no fear of the result, preach to the world,
look to the blessed day of Christ's coming.
" Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner
of some is; but exhorting one another...the more, as ye see the day approaching"
- both of AD70 and the second coming. A laid back attitude to attending
meetings designed for spiritual upbuilding was a problem then- and why
is it that such events seem to have a decreasing attraction today? The
immediate context of Heb.10:25 in the first century would be of the believers
being ashamed to publicly associate themselves with their persecuted brethren
for fear of reprisals. Paul went through the same, just a few months before
AD70 (2 Tim. 4:16). Will this also be the position in the very last days?
Call to remembrance the [persecutions of the] former days..." because
these were to recur in the period around AD70. The subsequent list of
the faithful in Heb.11 focuses on those who were persecuted for their
faith but endured- to prepare the readers for the last days of tribulation.
This recalls the oft repeated theme of Peter's letters: " Stir up
your minds...remember" (e.g. 2 Pet.1:12-15; 3:11).
Heb. 12:29; 13:1
" Our God is a consuming fire [as manifested in the AD70 burning
of Jerusalem]. Let brotherly love continue" . This would imply that
there was a marked lack of brotherly love in the lead up to AD70- also
mentioned in Rev.2:4; Lk.12:45. And with the need to fight the inevitable
apostacy in the body in these last days it is so easy for an unloving,
bitter attitude to develop. Sadly this prophecy is proving far too true.
Marriage is honourable in all...but whoremongers and adulterers
God will judge" - i.e. they were within the ecclesia and responsible.
This is matched by 1 Pet.3:1-5 warning that the sisters were increasingly
rebelling against their great prototypes of Eve and Sarah, unwittingly
egged on by their unspiritual husbands. So many other New Testament
passages imply a surge of marriage and sex related problems in the
run up to AD70. The ecclesia of Israel was an adulterous generation;
this was their main characteristic (Mt. 16:4). Looking around our
sisterhood and brotherhood today there can be no doubt about the
reference of all this to our last days. Add to this the parallels
with Sodom and the times of Noah in this respect too. No wonder
Paul advocated the single life for the last days.
Remember them that have the rule over you" implies there was a tendency
to despise ecclesial elders- also mentioned as a last days problem in
1 Pet.5:5; 2 Pet.2:10 etc. The world's spirit of independence and self-determination
seems to have affected the latter day ecclesias too.
Think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you"
- i.e. some thought that Peter's warning of a coming holocaust, based
as it was on Old Testament precedent, was " strange" [Greek:
'foreign, an intrusion']. And how many will react to similar warnings
made in our last days in just the same way? The Greek word translated
" strange" here often refers to the Gentiles- as if Peter is
correcting any feeling they may have had that the tribulation predicted
would only affect the Gentiles. 'Think it not strange, a Gentile
thing only- it will affect both you believers and the Gentile world at
large'. This is a highly relevant warning to those today who state with
such dogmatism that believers will not experience any of the tribulations
which are to come upon the surrounding world. A suggestion worth testing
is that the sufferings of natural Israel
have always been matched simultaneously by difficulties for Israel
after the spirit.
" But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings:
that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding
joy" . We have shown that our sufferings in the holocaust will associate
us with Christ's sufferings- so that the joy on his return will be "
exceeding" ! " The time [AD70] is come that judgment must begin
at the house of God" [4:17]. Going through the holocaust will effectively
be our judgment seat. " The righteous [will] scarcely be saved"
[4:18]- spiritual survival during this time will be by the skin of our
teeth; as was our Lord's spiritual survival on the cross which we will
" to virtue knowledge" . There is a great emphasis by Peter
on the need for " knowledge" to overcome the coming tribulation:
1 Pet.3:7; 2 Pet.1:2-6,8,16; 2:20; 3:18; an impressive list. By all means
compare this with Dan. 12:10, which prophecies a sudden jump forward in
understanding God's word by the faithful of the last days. The increasing
branding of Bible classes, study articles etc. as 'academic' seems to
indicate that we are in the same position as those weak believers
whom Peter encouraged in the first century. It seems that we are willing
to stop at 'Christian service' (" virtue" ) rather than adding
It should be evident
by now that the warnings of the New Testament letters concerning the state
of the ecclesia just prior to AD70 also have reference to our own times,
living as we do on the brink of the second coming. The final part of this
study is written unwillingly. But in all spiritual, expositional and intellectual
honesty, it is impossible to overlook the fact that just prior to AD70,
there were groups of false teachers within the ecclesia, nibbling away
at the basic tenets of the true faith, whilst appearing to be respectable
believers. 1 Pet.4:4 and Heb.13:4 indicate that some of these people advocated
that any form of behaviour was acceptable, especially in a sexual context.
It should be noted that the man of sin is associated with those within
the ecclesia; he is framed as a Judas-like character. We have seen earlier
that there are connections between the image of Daniel 2, Goliath, and
the man of sin. All of these are to be destroyed by Christ's return. The
tribulation of the first century ecclesia was both from the Jewish/ Roman
beast outside it, as well as from the supporters of those systems inside
it (see Eph.6). It is therefore to be expected that there will be elements
within the latter day ecclesia affiliated to the persecuting beast also.
The 'last days' letters
are full of warning not to follow the false teachers who will be within
the ecclesia. " There were false prophets also among the people (of
Israel) even as there shall be...among you" , the new Israel [2 Pet.2:1].
And dare we continue: " Many shall follow their pernicious ways"
. This has to be connected with the Lord's teaching that " many"
(Gk. the majority) would fall away just before his coming (Mt. 24:12);
Peter is perhaps picking this up, and shewing that this will be due to
a tolerance of false teachers. The failures of natural Israel are likewise
traceable to false teaching from the priesthood, rather than purely personal
apostacy. All the examples of rejected false teachers mentioned in 2 Pet.2
were responsible, and in the ecclesia of their times. These false teachers
had once known the Truth [2 Pet.2:12] and would therefore be reserved
to judgment [2:9]; they attended the memorial meeting [2:13], they had
the gift of prophecy as Balaam did [2:15 cp. Heb.6:4-6], and had once
left the world, although now they were returning to it [v.20-22]. In other
words, they had all the external trappings of good Christians. We must
expect something similar in the latter day ecclesia.
The Letters Of Rev. 2 and 3
Notice the end-time language
found throughout the letters to the seven Ecclesias:
and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly. (2:5)
Pergamos: Repent; or
else I will come unto thee quickly, and will fight against them with the
sword of my mouth. (2:16)
Thyatira: Behold, I will cast her [Jezebel]
into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation,
except they repent of their deeds. But that which ye have already hold
fast till I come. (2:22, 25)
Sardis: If therefore
thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not
know what hour I will come upon thee. (3:3)
thou hast kept the word of My patience, I also will keep thee from the
hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that
dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly. (3:10-11)
Laodicea: Behold, I
stand at the door, and knock. (3:20)
Rev.2& 3 is primarily
speaking of the state of the ecclesias before AD 70 .
However is it not also a prophecy of the end time condition of the ecclesia?
Any student of the New
Testament epistles cannot fail to notice these repeated warnings against
false teachers. Peter reminded his readers of " the words...spoken
by the holy prophets [New Testament ones?] and the apostles...knowing
this first [i.e. most importantly], that there shall come [false teachers
and mass apostacy] in the last days" [2 Pet.2:3]. Unless we say that
" the last days" is a phrase which has no reference to our own
times, we have to accept that there will be major false teaching and apostacy
within the brotherhood just before Christ's return. Personally, I can't
see that we have completely reached the position described in the letters
for the last days- yet (although it is quite possible that we take a more
positive view of ourselves and our community than God does). But the holocaust
to come will no doubt crystallize the attitudes which are now developing,
to create the horrendous situation prophesied. " Nevertheless we,
according to his promise, look for new Heavens and a new earth, wherein
dwelleth righteousness. Wherefore, beloved, seeing that ye look
for such things, be diligent that ye may be found of Him in peace, without
spot and blameless" .