The Spiritual Environment of the Last Days
Apostasy or revival?
By Dennis Pollock
It used to perplex me greatly. Some were saying that in the last days there would be a great revival and outpouring of God’s Spirit. Others insisted that there would be perilous times and a great falling away by the Church. Both pointed to the Scriptures and current situations in the Church to prove their points.
While I liked the idea of a worldwide revival before Jesus returns, it seemed to me that if such a revival ever occurred, it would stop evil in its tracks and bring about a moral transformation of society. Such a worldwide transformation didn’t seem to square with the outpouring of God’s wrath which Revelation so vividly details.
One day, while I was reading in the gospels, I was arrested by one of Jesus’ parables. Although I had read it many times, it seemed this time to bring fresh light and revelation. Within this one parable was the answer for the last days dilemma that I had wondered about!
A Spiritual Insight
The parable, found in Matthew 13, compares the kingdom of God to a field which was planted with wheat. While the wheat was still in its earliest stages, the farmer’s enemy came along and planted useless weeds called tares throughout the field. When one of the farmer’s workers asked whether he should attempt to pull out all the tares, he was told: “No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.'” (Matthew 13: 29,30).
As I read the words, “Let both grow together,” I realized that both the wheat and the tares would be ripening, maturing, and increasing side by side. Jesus tells us later in the chapter exactly who the wheat and the tares represent: “The good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one” (Matthew 13:38).
Thus we can determine from this parable that as our world draws closer and closer toward its ultimate appointment with Christ, we can expect that there would be a dual ripening the Church increasing in strength and vitality while the world grows increasingly corrupt.
If this principle is true, we should expect to find an increasingly evil world in the last days, one which is headed toward anarchy and lawlessness at a breathtaking pace. Does the Scripture indicate that this will be the case? Listen to the words of Jesus, “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).
Paul, in his description of the last days, says, “Men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers… unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good… lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2-4). If this describes the nature of men individually, we can only conclude that society, as a whole, will be unspeakably depraved. Is this happening today? Are we really so much worse off than we were a generation or two ago? We are seeing occasional articles which suggest that things are better than ever. One columnist ridiculed those who long for the “good old days.” His argument was that we have all sorts of comforts and luxuries our parents and grandparents couldn’t have dreamed of. We are warm in the winter, cool in the summer, drive automobiles with power everything, and have more leisure time than any previous generation. And he is right if mere creature comforts make up the totality of life.
Let’s look a little closer. In the last thirty years in our nation we have seen an explosion of knowledge and wealth. Yet with all these “benefits” we have also seen a 560% increase in violent crime, a 400% increase in illegitimate births, a quadrupling of divorces, a tripling of children in single parent homes, an eruption of teenage suicides, while our schools are falling apart and the kids’ SAT scores have plummeted.
Television shows today routinely include dialogue which would have sparked outrage in days gone by. Actors appear nude in drama series, while the sitcoms are steeped in sex-related humor. Radio shock jocks compete to see who can use the most vile and obscene language. Dennis Rodman writes a book about his sexual escapades and decadent life, and is rewarded with million dollar endorsement contracts.
Sexual perversion and obsession is not limited to the United States. In Moscow alone, there are an estimated 1,000 child prostitutes. In Germany, where some 11,500 child-porn items were confiscated in the past 18 months, officials discovered “snuff porn” cassettes, in which actual killings take place. According to the Berlin daily newspaper, a video showing the mass rape of young girls during the war in Bosnia has become the most expensive tape on the German market, with a price tag of more than $8,000.
Babies are slaughtered by abortionists at the rate of one and a half million per year in the U.S., while other nations look on and learn, and begin to emulate our barbarous techniques.
The tares are maturing. While sexual immorality, violence, and murder have always been with us since the fall of Adam, we are seeing these at new levels and in greater numbers than ever before. The terrible wars of this last century have resulted in more death and destruction than all the previous wars in earth’s history. Pornographic filth rolls off the printing presses by the ton. There have been more divorces in the last fifty years than all the rest of the years of man’s history on the earth. Already we have seen more babies killed by abortion than all the men who have ever died in all the wars ever fought on our planet.
While we are not doing anything that hasn’t been done before in some form or another, the sheer weight of the sins we are committing is unsurpassed. Never has so much evil been done by so many.
In the book of Revelation we read a chilling interchange. John describes an angel coming to another angel who holds a sharp sickle and telling him, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe” (Revelation 14:18) John then tells us that these grapes were thrown into “the great winepress of the wrath of God” (Revelation 14:19). Could it be that these horrific disasters and calamities foreseen by John are God’s response to a world that has shaken off the restraints of His holy ordinances? Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the tares tells us that the day of harvest will surely come.
What about the Wheat?
So far the picture seems pretty gloomy. But not all the news is bad. Jesus’ parable didn’t just refer to the maturing of the tares; He tells us that both the wheat and the tares will grow together, until harvest time. Since the wheat refers to “the sons of the kingdom,” we must conclude that there should be a corresponding growth and increase in the Church as well.
The Church should be growing stronger and brighter, as the world becomes darker and more evil. This is a real problem for many. They look at various examples of apostasy and apathy in the Church and wonder if we have made any progress at all. They point to some of the great revivals of the past and wish we could just get back to those days.
Has the Church made any progress over the years? The answer is a resounding yes! Consider the reformation days of Martin Luther and the issues he raised. The major doctrine at issue was that man is justified before God through faith in Christ. This was considered revolutionary in those days. Today the doctrine of justification by faith is taught routinely to millions of evangelical children before they ever reach school age. Receiving Christ by faith has become part and parcel of Christianity, at least in those churches which hold to the authority of Scripture.
During the Wesley-Whitefield revivals in the 18th Century, the great and cardinal doctrine that they preached was that we must be “born again.” This, too, was considered radical in those days. Until Wesley and Whitefield came along, the clergy seemed to know nothing of the new birth. For the most part they hadn’t experienced it and did not preach it.
Today the experience of the new birth is a fundamental doctrine of evangelical Christianity. Many, many millions of Christians all over the world profess to have been born again, and preachers from every nation are telling their congregations, “You must be born-again.”
During the Finney revivals in the early part of the 19th Century, Charles Finney became instrumental in challenging people to receive Christ “on the spot.” In those days, most of the American Christians were so steeped in hyper-Calvinism that they would never have dared to attempt to receive Christ as an act of their will. After hearing evangelistic preaching, most would merely go on about their lives, hoping that they were one of God’s elect, and figuring that if they were, God would somehow convert them.
Finney began to change all that when one night he demanded that his listeners make the decision to either receive Christ or reject Him right then and there. He asked all who would receive Jesus to stand. None would stand, for they didn’t believe that was the way conversions would take place. If you were one of God’s elect you just waited for God’s timing. You never took any actions of your own to bring about your own conversion.
Finney, after seeing the group sit in stony silence, said, “Then you are committed. You have taken your stand. You have rejected Christ and His Gospel, and you are witnesses one against the other and God is witness against you all You may remember as long as you live that you have thus publicly committed yourselves against the Savior and said, We will not have this man, Christ Jesus, to reign over us.'”
The crowd went out of the church furious, and Finney became the talk of the town. The next night, the place was packed. Everybody wanted to come and hear this crazy preacher who expected folks to repent and receive Christ then and there. Finney who had spent the entire day in prayer, preached for over an hour, and by the time he was finished, many hearts were at the point of breaking. One woman was so struck, that she lost all ability to speak for the next 16 hours. Sinners came out from behind their excuses of predestination and gave their lives to Christ. Thus was born what we refer to today as “the altar call.”
The Advance of the Church
Today the knowledge that sinners can come to Christ immediately is not considered radical. All over the world, both in church services and in one on one confrontations, sinners are being asked to give their lives to Christ, just as the apostles did in the earliest days of the Church.
So we can see that the Church is growing in knowledge. We have come a long way since Martin Luther’s day. But what about numbers? Here the answer is even more obvious. By any statistical survey, Christianity has been growing in record numbers in the last hundred years, and shows no signs of letting up!
In Africa there were ten million Christians in 1900; today there are over three hundred million believers in Africa. In China it is estimated that 25,000 people are coming to Christ every day! In the lands that had been locked up by Islam, more Muslims have become Christians in the last ten years than in the last one thousand years. Church statistician Dr. David Barrett states, “The kingdom of Christ is expanding at over three times the rate of world population.”
In 1860 Charles Spurgeon had the second largest church in the world, with a membership of 4,225. Today churches of several thousand members are so common that we cannot keep track of them all. We have churches with tens of thousands of members, and one with over 800,000 members. The wheat is maturing!
Despite an increasingly wicked world around us, we see an increasing boldness by Christians to share the gospel. You can hardly watch a sporting event without hearing one of the athletes giving praise to God afterwards. High school kids are meeting in Bible studies before school, and home prayer meetings have proliferated across the world. The Promise Keepers organization sponsors huge rallies where as many as 60,000 men come together for praise, preaching, and fellowship. These meetings are so popular that tickets to them are frequently snatched up months before the actual events take place.
Side by Side
Side by side the wheat and the tares are ripening. While the world is becoming increasingly foul and corrupt, the Church is headed for her finest hour. (The true Church not the apostate, liberal, unbelieving church).
Our Savior has said, “I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus compared Himself to a seed fallen to the ground, saying, “Except a grain of wheat fall to the ground and die, it abides alone, but if it dies it will bear much fruit” (John 12:24).
Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection has made the forgiveness of our sins possible, and has begun a process of redemption that is still powerfully working in the world today. One day, very soon, He will come again. The trumpet will sound and all those who are the planting of God will be harvested. We shall be caught up together to meet Christ in the air, and “thus we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).