Last time we established that the assembly ("Church") is presented from two perspectives in Scripture. In one perspective, it is God's building: God places living stones in it, building it up into a holy temple. But in the other perspective, God has fellow-workmen. They build with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, and stubble. God's work cannot be less than perfect, but man's work can.
We might say that this is yet another "God is sovereign"; "man is responsible" paradox. If we look at the assembly only as God's work, then we see His sovereign hand in it, and we understand that the assembly is turning out exactly as He wants. On the other hand, if we only see man's responsibility in the assembly, then we understand that the Lord Jesus walks in the midst of the candlesticks, judging our work. And of course both are true. Just like God is sovereign in saving sinners, but sinners are still responsible for their choices, God is at work in the assembly, but that doesn't mean we're not responsible for how we build on that One Foundation.
What I want to demonstrate this time, is that Scripture teaches that apostasy set into the assembly even before the Apostles died. Next time we're going to attempt to show that the apostasy in the assembly is irreparable: there might be isolated and localized reformations and revivals, but Scripture shows that, the apostasy having begun, it generally gets worse and worse until judgment.
The epistles warn that apostasy had already set into the assembly when the Apostles were still alive. We could demonstrate this from 2 Timothy, 2 Peter, Jude, 2 John, and Revelation 2–3. It would take a lot of time to look into all those passages, so let's consider Jude:
4 For certain men have got in unnoticed, they who of old were marked out beforehand to this sentence, ungodly persons, turning the grace of our God into dissoluteness, and denying our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ. 5 But I would put you in remembrance, you who once knew all things, that the Lord, having saved a people out of the land of Egypt, in the second place destroyed those who had not believed. 6 And angels who had not kept their own original state, but had abandoned their own dwelling, he keeps in eternal chains under gloomy darkness, to the judgment of the great day; 7 as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities around them, committing greedily fornication, in like manner with them, and going after other flesh, lie there as an example, undergoing the judgment of eternal fire. (Jude 4–7)
14 And Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied also as to these, saying, Behold, the Lord has come amidst his holy myriads, 15 to execute judgment against all; and to convict all the ungodly of them of all their works of ungodliness, which they have wrought ungodlily, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against him (Jude 14–15)There are two things we notice in Jude. First, there were "certain men" who'd already come into the assembly. They are apostates, and they're compared to three great apostasies in the Old Testament:
- the unbelieving Israelites who were destroyed in the wilderness
- the angels who fell, and are kept in "eternal chains" until judgment
- the men of Sodom and Gomorrha, who are under the judgement of "eternal fire"
Second, the apostates are the object of God's judgment. It's interesting to note that the three Old Testament apostasies in Jude 4–7 are mentioned in connection with judgment. But the case is made more explicitly in vv. 14–15, where we're told that these men are the subject of Enoch's prophecy: the prophecy that the Lord is coming "to execute judgment" against them.
What is very interesting in Jude is that there's no word of these apostates repenting. I don't doubt that God saves the ungodly sinner who believes, regardless of whatever sin or wickedness he has done; but Jude doesn't present these "ungodly persons" as needing to repent, it presents them as reserved for judgment.
We might notice, too, that Jude is silent about removing these people from the assembly. It doesn't present this as a problem that can be fixed. The "solution" in Jude is
20 But *ye*, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, awaiting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life (Jude 20–21)As far as Jude's concerned, the response of the faithful is to rest in God, "awaiting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ".
We might look to the testimony of the Apostles as well. Let's consider Acts 20
28 Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, wherein the Holy Spirit has set you as overseers, to shepherd the assembly of God, which he has purchased with the blood of his own. 29 For *I* know this, that there will come in amongst you after my departure grievous wolves, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves shall rise up men speaking perverted things to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Wherefore watch, remembering that for three years, night and day, I ceased not admonishing each one of you with tears. 32 And now I commit you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give to you an inheritance among all the sanctified. (Acts 20:28–32)Here Paul is addressing the Ephesian elders at Miletus. And he warns them that "grievous wolves" will come in after he leaves (v. 29). But the interesting statement is in the next verse "from among your own selves shall rise up men speaking perverted things to draw away the disciples after them" (v. 30). So he warned them that apostasy would set in after he leaves, and that it would particularly come from among the overseers, in this case in Ephesus.
That might remind us of Diotrephes (3 John 9–10).
So the testimony of the Apostle Paul was the apostasy would arise "after [his] departure". But when we come to 3 John, we find that the apostasy has already begun, and there was a man who had gained some power over the assembly, so that he rejected Apostolic authority. But it wasn't only that he personally rejected Apostolic authority, he had "the brethren" put out of the assembly (v. 10).
We might consider Revelation 2–3 as well, but the testimony of Scripture is consistent on this point: apostasy had set into the assembly even in the time of the Apostles.
What did the Lord Jesus say about it? Did He predict the state of things would get better and better? Or did He predict that things would get worse and worse until He came to judge? Let's consider Matthew 13:
24 Another parable set he before them, saying, The kingdom of the heavens has become like a man sowing good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed darnel amongst the wheat, and went away. 26 But when the blade shot up and produced fruit, then appeared the darnel also. 27 And the bondmen of the householder came up and said to him, Sir, hast thou not sown good seed in thy field? whence then has it darnel? 28 And he said to them, A man that is an enemy has done this. And the bondmen said to him, Wilt thou then that we should go and gather it up? 29 But he said, No; lest in gathering the darnel ye should root up the wheat with it. 30 Suffer both to grow together unto the harvest, and in time of the harvest I will say to the harvestmen, Gather first the darnel, and bind it into bundles to burn it; but the wheat bring together into my granary. (Matthew 13:24–30)This is a most interesting parable, and I've heard it "expounded" in all sorts of interesting ways. But the Lord Himself interpreted it to the disciples later in the chapter:
36 Then, having dismissed the crowds, he went into the house; and his disciples came to him, saying, Expound to us the parable of the darnel of the field. 37 But he answering said, He that sows the good seed is the Son of man, 38 and the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the sons of the kingdom, but the darnel are the sons of the evil one; 39 and the enemy who has sowed it is the devil; and the harvest is the completion of the age, and the harvestmen are angels. 40 As then the darnel is gathered and is burned in the fire, thus it shall be in the completion of the age. 41 The Son of man shall send his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all offences, and those that practise lawlessness; 42 and they shall cast them into the furnace of fire; there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He that has ears, let him hear. (Matthew 13:36–43)So the parable of the darnel of the field teaches us this: the Son of Man has sown good seed in the world. The devil as also sown seed, "while men slept". (Notice it wasn't the Son of Man who slept, it was "men" who slept.) When it became apparent that there is a mixture of darnel and wheat, the question was, should we pull up the darnel? No, the Son of Man says, wait until the harvest (the completion of the age).
What do we learn from the parable of the darnel of the field? We learn that there is an intermingling of true believers and false professors, and they are really, really hard to tell apart. But it's not the Lord's intention to sort it out until the "completion of the age," when He will cast the darnel into the "furnace of fire".
There is a significant difference between the parable of the darnel and the book of Jude. The Lord Jesus explicitly says that "the field is the world" in the parable of the darnel of the field. But Jude is written to warn of apostates who'd "crept in unawares". They weren't in the world, they were in the assembly.
So what have we demonstrated? Neither the Lord Jesus, nor the Apostles, nor the Epistles looked to see things get better and better. In every case, the expectation is that we see things get worse and worse, until judgment. I don't doubt the Lord is working, and there will be local revivals, renewals, and reformations. But the whole arc of the narrative of the New Testament is that apostasy will increase until the Lord Jesus comes to execute judgment.