with Jeremy Westcott –
In this post we are going to begin by looking at some very familiar scriptures. We have been taught that they speak about the days we are living in, as the return of Jesus gets ever closer. But, understanding covenant thinking and covenant language, are they in fact referring to a future time, or are they a description of the days in which they were written? Are they yet to be fulfilled, or has it already happened? What should we be expecting?
The persecuted church
We need to understand to whom these things were written. The whole New Testament was written to a church under persecution from the Jews and the Romans, often working together. Persecution designed to coerce the believers into denying the truth and go back to their old way of thinking.
- But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1).
That scripture is nothing to do with the times before Jesus’ return. That deception is intended to get us to think that in our days things will get worse and worse – and just to accept it as normal, instead of expecting to see the Kingdom expanding (and it really is, just as Jesus actually promised). No, this is talking about the persecution that was going on in the first century church.
In the last days
- But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come… holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these… these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith (2 Tim 3:1, 5, 7)
If you do not know when the last days are, you will not be able to interpret this passage properly. This gives rise to a whole lot of confusion, stirred up by the enemy, so that we will be misled about what to expect. The religious spirit will try to get us to accept and believe things which will block our blessing. After all, how can the Kingdom of God fill the earth if everything is going to be so miserable?
- At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many (Matt 24:10-11)
It already happened.
So what about the Antichrist? Is he not to come to power before Jesus returns?
- Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us… (1 John 2:18-19).
- Many false prophets have gone out into the world… this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world (1 John 4:1,3). The word ‘spirit‘ is not in the original Greek. It has been added by the translators. The actual text simply says ‘this is the antichrist which you heard is coming and is now in the world’ (see it here on Biblegateway.com).
- For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist (2 John 7:7).
These are the only three scriptures that actually mention the antichrist. They interpret each other. And they all, without exception, say it has already happened.
1 John 2:18 is pretty clear: the time he was writing in was the last hour. We have already seen that in Matthew 24:11, Jesus was talking about things that would happen during the lifetimes of His disciples. That time came to a close in AD 70 with the destruction of Jerusalem, an event which saw the fulfillment of all the prophecies of which we have been speaking.
If you read Revelation chapters 2 and 3, the letters to the churches in Asia, you will find that all this evidence of the antichrist at work was already there. They were already dealing with all the false words which had been sown in, and all the false teachers that had gone out from among the believers.
If you are looking for that one person to arise at the ‘end of the age’ and do all this evil, you are going to be looking in vain. It has already happened.
Legalism and licence
Legalism and licence were two parts of that antichrist spirit. The church has had a continual battle with those who would bring it back under the law. It has also had trouble from those who say sin is not important – you can do what you like because grace will cover it. But those battles are nothing new: look at these passages from Galatians and Revelation:
- You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? (Gal 3:1-2).
- But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols (Rev 2:20).
Separation of leaders from laity was another aspect of legalism. That was the teaching of the Nicolaitans. God hates that because it takes all responsibility away from us as believers but it was all around in that first century church. It was what Jesus called ‘the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod’ – religious and political manipulation of the church – working its way through the whole lump (Mark 8:15).
The enemy intended to undermine God’s kingdom purposes for His people by these means. And he enjoyed a good measure of success in bringing us to a place of powerlessness, of ineffectiveness and irrelevance.
Think about the whole history of the church, about Constantine making Christianity an established religion; the translation of scripture into the dead Latin language that only the priests could read; the dark ages and the rise of Islam; Christendom; the crusades; the Holy Roman Empire – the light was almost extinguished.
Then the Holy Spirit began to break through. The Word was translated into everyday language. That led to revelation of truth that had long been forgotten: the Reformation; justification by faith; believers’ baptism, Quakers, Moravians, Wesley and Whitfield, revival and restoration, Pentecostals, the faith movement, healing, charismatics, apostolic understanding – in the 20th century there was more revelation restored than in the whole of the previous 18 centuries. The pace is accelerating. God is restoring truth, bringing back light.
What will happen in our century? Who knows? Discipleship, doing the works of Jesus, the greater works? The Spirit and the Word coming together again, as they were in the early church, and as Smith Wigglesworth prophesied? Restoration of all things, the Kingdom of God filling the earth? Early rain, latter rain?
One thing is certain: we cannot continue living and operating at the level we have been. We must go higher.
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