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8. The Antichrist: Judgment Upon the Church

– Chapter 8 –

The Antichrist: Judgment Upon the Church

The aim of our messages on the Antichrist is to prepare our hearts for what must happen soon. We are close to the end, as anyone who is sensitive to the Lord and to what is happen­ing in the world must realize. In these messages I have not resorted to sensa­tionalism which, unfortunately, has plagued this subject, whe­ther in books or in sermons. I am not concerned with sensa­tionalism, but with what the word of God has to say to us. I am concerned with the attitude of our hearts, and how we ought to prepare for these events which are now immi­nent.

In my past messages I have spoken about the resurrection and the Antichrist, and about the cross and the Antichrist. Now I come to another subject, and it is one that weighs heavily on my heart. In fact it weighs on me like a burden, causing much grief in my heart. I have been pondering how, by the Lord’s grace, I will be able to share this burden with you.

Why does God even allow the Antichrist to appear?

The question that must occur to any thinking person is this: Why would God even allow the Antichrist — this dreadful and abominable figure — to appear at all? Why does the Lord allow evil to come to such a head in the last days, and in such a way as to bring disaster upon the church? This is indeed a disaster for the church, both because of the decep­tion that will ravage the church (the apostasy mentioned in Thessalonians) and because of the dreadful perse­cu­tion that will affect each one of us — that is, those of us who remain faithful to the gospel.

Why would God allow the Antichrist to appear at all? Have you ever thought about it? This question is part of the wider question of why God allows evil to occur at all. I won’t go into a philosophical discourse on the subject. I only want to address the question: Why doesn’t God cut down the Antichrist before he could ever become the awful person that indeed he will be?

In the early church, when Ananias and Sapphira sinned by lying to the Holy Spirit and to the leaders of the church — Peter in particu­lar — they were instantly cut down (Acts 5). So why doesn’t God like­wise cause the Antichrist to drop dead so that he won’t become the harm, the hurt, indeed the destruction of the church in the last days of this age? What is the answer to this ques­tion? Why doesn’t God safeguard his church from the unbearable situation of apos­tasy from within, and persecution from without? He only needs to cut down the Antichrist. Then I won’t even have to preach on this topic!

The Antichrist: God’s judgment upon the church

If you think about it, and search through the word of God, you would find in Scripture only one plausible answer to this question. But I fear it is an answer that we won’t like to hear. But if you have a better answer, please let me know.

We have seen from John’s first and second letters that the Antichrist doesn’t come from outside the church, but from within the church. We have also seen that he will be the leader of the great apostasy. For those who refuse to join the apostasy, the Antichrist will bring upon them such persecution that they will be forced to make a choice: apostatize or die. Brothers and sisters, my dear ones in the Lord, here we are not talking about theory, for this will affect every one of us. You must decide between bearing the mark of the beast (the Antichrist) and bear­ing the mark of Christ. Neutrality, or sitting on the fence, or taking the middle-of-the-road position, will not be an option for anyone. You will either apostatize and save your skin, or die and become an end-time martyr. Then the words of the Lord will take on unprecedented signifi­cance: “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt.10:39).

But our question remains: Why doesn’t God cut down the Anti­christ? The answer is quite simply this: God will use the Antichrist to bring judgment on the church. This is the heavy burden that I was talking about. We know that God will judge unbelievers, but we are less familiar with the fact that God will judge the church. This truth is foreign to us because we are often taught to believe that the church will never be judged. So let us see whether this preconcep­tion is grounded in the Scriptures.

The Bible is God’s message to whom?

Most of you have a Bible in your hands, and have you ever noticed one astonishing fact? There are 66 books in the Bible: 39 in the Old Testament, 27 in the New Testament. Yet none of these 66 books is addressed to unbelievers! Have you ever thought of that? Not one book!

The Old Testament was addressed to the covenant people of God, to Israel, a people whom God had brought into a relationship with himself through the old covenant. Every one of the 39 books of the Old Testament speaks to the covenant people of God.

We have 27 books in the New Testament and not one of them is specifi­cally addressed to unbelievers. The gospels are a record of what Jesus taught the disciples and believers. He did not speak to Gentile unbelievers except in passing conversa­tions. Like the Old Testament prophets, Jesus spoke to the Jews, the people of God who stood in a covenant relationship with God. Some portions of the book of Acts record messages spoken to unbelievers, but the book as a whole is not addressed to them. In fact it is addressed to one called Theophilus, whose name means “one who loves God”.

The Bible was not written directly to unbelievers. So if you are a Christian, every book of the Bible is speaking specifically to you.

But if that is the case, how can the message of salvation ever reach the unbelievers? The answer in both the Old Testament and the New Testament is that the message is conveyed to them through God’s people. If you are a Christian, you are God’s message to the world. It is your life that is meant to speak to the world. Isaiah 42:6 says, “And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light to the nations” (NASB). Isaiah 49:6 says, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth.”

These same words apply to the New Testament church, as Paul and Barnabas explained to their listeners their reason for preach­ing the gospel:

For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 13:47, ESV)

Has the church succeeded where Israel failed?

The church picked up the torch which Israel dropped. Israel failed to be the light of the world and a glory to God. Paul said to them, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles be­cause of you” (Romans 2:24). Israel failed again and again. Twice the temple was destroyed. The people of God — the Jews — went into exile and were scattered all over the world. They lost their nation­hood and vanished for a long time — yet were preserved by God’s mer­ciful hand for the latter days. So it was left to the church, consisting of Jewish and Gentile believers, to take up the role of being light to the world, though over the centuries the Jewish believers became fewer and fewer in the church, and the Gentiles predominated in the churches through­out the world. Just as Israel was to be a light to the Gentiles, the church was to be a light to the world.

Israel failed to be the light of the world, but has the church succeeded where Israel failed? In all honesty, can you and I say that the church of God, as it has been in the world for the past two millennia right up to the present, is a glory to God? That it shines gloriously like the sun that shines in the darkness of the world?

Jesus says to his disciples, “You are the light of the world … Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt.5:14,16). Paul says to the churches, “You were once dark­ness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” (Eph.5:8) But has the church been glorifying God? As a pastor, I have to admit that if the church is the glory of God and the light of the world, it is hard to see the light and the glory. I think most pastors through­out the world would agree with me, as do most non-Christians.

There have been outstanding individuals in both the Old and the New Testaments. There are still outstanding Christians today, but they are few. The church as a whole, we must say with a heavy heart, has for the most part been an utter disgrace to the name of God. And the words which were spoken of Israel — “the name of God has been blasphemed among the nations because of you” — apply to the church today, do they not?

For many years I did not want to be a Christian despite having studied at a missionary school. I also went to church from time to time as an unbeliever. And what I saw there made me sick.

God’s name is blasphemed because of the church. Where is the witness of the church? Let us not mince our words, or soften the blow. Whenever I read church history, my heart is heavy. Read it for your­self. Apart from some martyrs and outstanding people, the story of the church is one of internal conflict and power struggles; of competing for status, position, and riches; of playing politics. We are familiar with that tedious story. So when I ask with a heavy heart Why does God allow the Antichrist to appear? the answer is for judg­ment upon the church.

History from God’s point of view

Let me give you a quick survey of the history that is recorded for us in the Scriptures. In the past two days I have been meditating upon this matter, trying to look at history from God’s point of view. And in my heart there is nothing but heaviness. Can we try to move away from man’s point of view and look at things from God’s point of view? Try to read the Bible, which is God’s book, from God’s stand­point.

In the next few minutes, I will try to paint a picture as seen from God’s point of view. Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden. God created Adam and Eve for them to have fellowship with him, and that God’s glory may be manifested in them. But what hap­pened? It didn’t take long for Adam and Eve to succumb to pride and selfishness. Then God’s initial plan for fellowship with them — as exemplified in his walking with them in the garden in the cool of the day — was dashed. That dismal history continues through Genesis. We don’t have to go far into the Bible, just six chapters, to read that God was “sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:6).

Can you look into God’s heart and feel what he feels? God had made man and woman perfect and beautiful. He gave them a won­derful environment and even his own Presence for fellow­ship. Yet within the first six chapters of Genesis, mankind had fallen utterly into sin, corruption, disobedience, and bloodshed. And it grieved God in his heart.

Then came the great flood that wiped out all corruption in order to give humankind a new start. Of the entire world population, only eight people emerged from the flood. Noah and his family were the only righteous people left.

Later in history, one man arose in the midst of the darkness: Abraham. Finally there was a man who walked with God, and who gave mankind new hope and a new beginning. But after Abraham, it was downhill all the way.

Even the story of Jacob cannot be read except with deep reserva­tions. Here was a man who got his blessings by deceit, and whose conduct leaves so many question marks in our minds. When you lead a Bible study on Genesis, one particular question would often be asked: Why did God bless a man like Jacob? This presents us with a genuine problem, so we try to steer around the question and defend Jacob to the best of our ability.

So the situation goes downhill until one more bright light appeared on the scene. Praise God for Moses. Finally there was a man with whom God spoke face to face (Exodus 33:11). How God longed to find such a man upon the face of the earth. And God used Moses to lead his people out of bondage in Egypt. Moses led over two million Israelites out of Egypt into a new land, the land of promise.

Yet God said of them, “For forty years I have been grieved by this stiff-necked, rebellious and disobedient people who complain all the time. I have shown them miracle after miracle, and saved them by my great power, and all I get is grumbling.” (cf. Psalms 78 and 95)

A journey from Egypt to the land of promise would have taken only forty days, yet it took them forty years. As you read on in the Bible, the dismal situation of God’s people continues to decline, with a few bright lights here and there like Joshua.

Judgment is as much a promise of God as blessing

Israel went down and down. The very people who were supposed to be the light of the world ended up being destroyed. To be sure, there was for a while the bright light of David. His life had blemishes but at least it was still a bright spot in the darkening history.

In 721 BC, the Northern Kingdom was destroyed. The people in the kingdom did not heed the voices of the prophets who had warned them of God’s judgment coming upon his people. “Impossible!” they said, “for God will never judge his peo­ple. He is always faithful to his covenant and to his promises.”

Brothers and sisters, let me tell you something: Judgment is as much a promise of God as is blessing. Did you get that? Judgment is God’s promise to those among his people who disobey him. If you are a Christian and you disobey God, he promises to judge you.

If you visit a Christian bookstore, you will find books on the promises of God, but these tell you only the blessings and not the judg­ments. These books are not faithful to the word of God.

Anyone who has visited Israel would know about Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. It was at these two mountains that Israel was told to choose between the curses and the blessings. Deute­ronomy chapters 27 and 28 give a detailed account of the curses pro­claimed at Ebal and the blessings at Gerizim. This arrangement had already been decreed earlier, in chapter 11:

Today, look, I am offering you a blessing and a curse: a blessing, if you obey the commandments of Yahweh your God which I enjoin on you today; a curse, if you disobey the commandments of Yahweh your God and leave the way which today I have marked out for you, by following other gods hitherto unknown to you. And when Yahweh your God has brought you into the country which you are about to enter and make your own, you must set the blessing on Mount Gerizim and the curse on Mount Ebal. (Deuteronomy 11:26–29, NJB)

God said to his people: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” (Dt.30:19) Hence judgment is as much a promise of God as a blessing, if God is to be faithful to his character.

What happened to Israel and Judah?

The people of the Northern Kingdom, Israel, kept on saying that God will never judge his people. Wrong! They were not listening to the prophets sent by God. These true prophets were the few bright lights that remained. They were the final prophets in the last days of Israel, but they were outnumbered by false prophets by a ratio of hundreds to one. To the people, the majority is always right.

Micaiah son of Imlah was one such prophet against 400 false prophets who opposed his prophetic messages (1 Kings 22). Those are hopeless odds. Why would you listen to one person when 400 say the exact opposite? But they did not listen to the true prophet, and so the Northern Kingdom was eventually destroyed.

The Southern Kingdom did not learn any lessons from what had happened to the Northern Kingdom, and similarly refused to listen to Jeremiah’s message of judgment. God said of them, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jer.6:14; 8:11) The false prophets are described in the following passage:

“Ah, Lord Yahweh,” I answered, “here are the prophets telling them, ‘You will not see the sword, famine will not touch you; I promise you true peace in this place.’” Then Yahweh said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name; I have not sent them, I gave them no orders, I never spoke to them. Delusive visions, hollow predictions, daydreams of their own, that is what they prophesy to you.” (Jeremiah 14:13–14, NJB)

The people were saying to Jeremiah, “Look at all these prophets who are saying, ‘Peace and safety, peace and safety’. So why are you telling us there will be des­truction? God will never judge his people. Don’t you see the Temple standing in our midst? Israel, the Northern Kingdom, didn’t have one, but we have the Temple and therefore God’s presence in Jerusalem. God will never allow his Temple to be destroyed because that would dishonor his name.”

Yet Jeremiah and Ezekiel warned them that the Temple will be destroyed. Judgment will come, and the city which is called by God’s name will be destroyed. But they did not listen to the warnings. “How dare you say such a thing? This is blasphemy!” So the prophet Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern, and he nearly died there (Jer. 38:6–13). In 587–586 BC, the Southern Kingdom, Judah, was destroyed by the Babylonians.

God promises to judge you if your life does not speak to the non-Christians

You might say, “That’s the Old Testament. We are living under the New Testament, and stand in a new covenant with God. So the church will never be judged.” Doesn’t that sound familiar? We hear this again and again in the churches today.

“You and I will never come under judgment.” If that is what you believe, you had best read your Bible in 1 Peter 4:17. Let this verse sink into your hearts, brothers and sisters. What does the apostle Peter say here? “For it is time for judgment to begin with the house­hold of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (NASB)

This household of God is the church, as seen in 1 Timothy 3:15, “the household of God, which is the church of the living God.”

Brothers and sisters, let this message sink into your ears, as Isaiah said, “Let the deaf hear and the blind see” (Isaiah 42:18). I am speaking to Christians when I say that judgment will begin with the church. I am speaking to Chris­tians because the only way to speak to non-Christians is through the Christians. Every book in the Bible speaks to Christians, and it is through Christians that God speaks to non-Christians. If your life does not speak to the non-Christians — if God cannot speak to them through you — let me tell you, brothers and sisters, that God will judge you. I would be a false prophet like those in Israel if I did not tell you the vital truth that God promises to judge you. It is a promise of God. That is why this message is heavy and painful.

Why did judgment begin with the early church?

I find the statement in 1 Peter 4:17 utterly astonish­ing for a few reasons. First, why would Peter say that the sufferings and perse­cu­tions coming upon the church of his day, the ear­ly church, were to be taken as judgment? This is surprising, for we regard the church in Peter’s day, the early church, as a model for us. We feel that the early church surely wouldn’t do anything worthy of judg­ment. So how can Peter say that judgment begins with us?

Here we see the difference in attitude between us and the early church. Peter saw that the early church was imper­fect and had failings. And he thanked God for the perse­cutions by which the church could be purified. He thanked God that the sins within the early church could be judged.

If you take the rosy specs off your eyes, and look at the New Testament record, you will see that the New Testament does not hide the sins that are committed in the church. It tells us of Ananias and Sapphira who lied, and were judged instantly with death (Acts 5). It doesn’t gloss over the things that were going on in the church, but tells of them, e.g., the partisan conflicts (“I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Christ,” 1Cor.1:12; 3:4) and the spiritual pride of those who say, “We possess spiritual gifts; we speak in tongues, and are super­ior to other Christians”.

The New Testament does not hide the ugly conduct in the early church, but tells us of the Galatians who taught that we need some­thing more than Christ for salvation, namely, circumcision and the keeping of the Law — in addition to Christ (Gal.5:4). So some Gentiles thought they had to be like the Jews and be circumcised. The New Testament also tells us of the Colossians who worship­ angels (Col.2:18). There is also Demas who abandoned Paul and went back to enjoy the world (2 Tim.4:10). There is Simon Magus, a baptized magician, who did his share of mischief in the early church (Acts 8).

And there was the lack of love, so much so that James had to rebuke the church:

For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine cloth­ing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:2–4, ESV)

But we look at the early church with rosy specs, don’t we? We think that the early church was wonderful, yet they had their fail­ings. So Peter says that God’s judgment begins with the household of God, the church (1 Peter 4:17). The next verse says, “But if it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved, what will become of the god­less man and the sinner?” (v.18, NASB).

God will cut us off if we do not fulfill our task

I have just painted for you the picture that God sees. Whether in the Old Testament or the New, God is looking for faithful people. It brings tears to our eyes that it is as hard today as in the New Testament age for God to find somebody who walks with him. This was also true of the Old Testament age. The history of the Old Testament had been dark, so it is our hope that under the new covenant, in which we are given the power of the Holy Spirit to live victoriously, there would be multitudes today who walk with God.

But how many people do you know in the church of whom you could say with confidence that they walk with God? Can you give me a few names? And do you walk with God? Would you be able to give an honest answer if the Lord Jesus looks you in the eye and asks, “Are you walking with me in this new covenant through the gift of the Holy Spirit?” If not, then you are the reason why judg­ment is coming upon the church, and the reason why God will allow the Antichrist to bring destruction upon the church, just as God allowed king Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Judah.

The time of the Gentiles is fast going by, and we ought to heed Paul’s warning to Christians:

20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Romans 11:20–22, ESV)

Let verse 21 sink into your minds: God will not spare you if you do not fulfill the commission given to you. We are not saved just to get ourselves to heaven. This self-centered gospel in which we save our own spiritual skins is the root of much of this disease. But we are saved in order to bear fruit to the glory of God, as the Lord Jesus says in John 15. Those who do not bear fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire (v.6). This is the plain message of the Lord no matter how you try to interpret it.

God will not spare you or me if we fail to fulfill our task. Don’t sit there comfortably and say, “I am saved by the blood of Jesus. All I have to do is wait for my reserved seat in heaven”. Unless you fulfill the task entrusted to you, unless you shine as light for God, you will have no seat waiting for you in heaven. We need to get out of that delusion. You were once darkness but you have been transformed by the Holy Spirit to become a light that shines wherever you go.

In the world today, where are the people who walk with God and shine with God’s glory and beauty such that others come to their light? “And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the bright­ness of your rising.” (Isa.60:3) Do they come to your light? Are they attracted by God’s glory in your life?

I stand back and look at the sad history of God’s people, and wonder what God is thinking to himself. “I created man. I have given him everything, not even sparing my Son. What more can I give?”

Yahweh’s eyes run to and fro through the whole earth, looking for somebody who will walk with him (2 Chron.16:9). But where will he find such people? The church has been unfaithful, and Gentiles blaspheme God’s name because of the church. Yet there are still a few faithful ones. Will you be among them?


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