Saturday, October 19, 2013

Ruin (Part 3)

Well, we've been looking at the ruin of the Church. We started out in Part 1 by establishing that God sees the assembly from two perspectives: from an eternal, "God is sovereign" perspective, He sees the assembly as perfect. But from a temporal, "Man is responsible" perspective, He sees that the assembly has failed in its responsibility on earth. In Part 2 we went on to demonstrate that apostasy began very early on in the assembly: by the time Jude was written, it was an accomplished fact. Finally, we demonstrated that the testimony of Jude is corroborated by the testimony of the Apostles and of the Lord Jesus.

In this section, we'll attempt to demonstrate that apostasy is a fixture in the assembly. Not (although I've said it before) that the assembly is "characterized" by apostasy, but that Scripture contemplates it is something that won't be "cured" until "the completion of the age". In other words, we want to demonstrate the Scripture teaches the apostasy is irreparable.

We've already looked at the parable of the darnel of the field (Matthew 13:24–30) and the interpretation the Lord Jesus gave for it (Matthew 13:36–43). So we can ask the question: did the Lord Jesus expect things to get better and better? No, He didn't. He predicted that there would be darnel (or tares) sown in the field "while men slept". So He predicted that there would be false professors mixed in with true believers. Further, He specifically predicted that they wouldn't be sorted out until "the completion of the age". In fact, in the parable the farmer specifically forbids the pulling up of the tares, because it's possible that genuine wheat would be pulled up in the process.

So we can ask the question, did the Lord Jesus expect things would get better and better until He comes back? The answer, of course, is "No". He predicted false professors would come in, and would stay mixed in with the true believers until the end of the age.

So what about the epistles? Don't they teach things are generally going to get better and better? Not really. We've already considered Jude's epistle, let's reconsider what it has to say about the "ungodly persons" (v. 4) who've infiltrated the assembly.

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)
We noticed before that Jude's epistle doesn't warn apostasy is coming, rather it warns that it already has come. The ungodly persons in Jude 4 were already in the assembly. At the same time, Jude's epistle tells the end of those ungodly persons. It says the Lord will come and judge them. So as far as Jude is concerned, those ungodly persons are in the assembly, and they're there to stay until the Lord comes in judgment.

This is essentially what we expect based on the parable of the darnel of the field. The main point of that parable is that the Son of Man has no intention of differentiating between the wheat and the tares until the "completion of the age".

As an aside, I find Jude 14 is interesting with respect to the question of the "rapture". The "ungodly persons" will be judged when the Lord comes to execute judgment. On the other, the Lord is coming with His saints. That seems to me to fit in nicely with the whole idea that the Lord will come and get His saints, then come in judgment as a sort of a second stage. Is it a slam-dunk? Nope. But I think it fits.

But the point is that both Jude and Matthew predict an ongoing infiltration that will continue until the Lord comes back.

What about the other epistles? Not all the epistles discuss the issue of ruin, but those that do agree in at least the general outline. We might consider 1 Timothy 4:1, "the Spirit speaks expressly, that in latter times some shall apostatise from the faith, giving their mind to deceiving spirits and teachings of demons". 2 Timothy 3:1–9 says something similar, "in the last days difficult times shall be there; for men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, etc." Both 1 and 2 Timothy explicitly teach that "the last days" are characterized by apostasy. That is to say, it's not going to get better and better. It's going to get worse and worse. But we have to look over to 1 John to fit the puzzle pieces together: "Little children, it is the last hour, and, according as ye have heard that antichrist comes, even now there have come many antichrists, whence we know that it is the last hour" (1 John 2:18). So the "last hour" has already begun. It began in the time of the Apostles. And (this is significant), 1 John produces the presence of "many antichrists" as evidence that the "last hour" has already begun. In the next verse, it is clarified what these "many antichrists" are: they are apostates (1 John 2:19).

What do these epistles say about the resolution to this apostasy? Do they predict a repentance? No, they don't.

The first few verses of 2 Timothy 4 might shed some additional light on our contemplation:

1 I testify before God and Christ Jesus, who is about to judge living and dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom, 2 proclaim the word; be urgent in season and out of season, convict, rebuke, encourage, with all longsuffering and doctrine. 3 For the time shall be when they will not bear sound teaching; but according to their own lusts will heap up to themselves teachers, having an itching ear; 4 and they will turn away their ear from the truth, and will have turned aside to fables. (1 Timothy 4:1–4)
We notice there is a connection with the return of Christ "who is about to judge the living and the dead". The connection is apocalyptic: "and by his appearing and his kingdom". And what does the epistle say? That there is a time coming when "they" will not bear sound teaching. Once again, we see a picture of decline. The Scripture doesn't contemplate things getting better and better. The Lord Jesus asked, "when the Son of man comes, shall he indeed find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). It is important for us to understand this: the entire testimony of Scripture is moral decline between Christ's first and second advent.

So the testimony of the Lord Jesus, the Apostle Paul, and the epistles is that apostasy has set in. It set in early: Jude considers it was an accomplished fact, 1 John says it [was] already "the last hour". And the Scripture presents this apostasy as continuing until the Lord Jesus comes back to judge "at the completion of the age".

We've now considered the basic idea of the "church in ruin". Scripture teaches that apostasy would set into the church early; and, having set in, it would be irreparable. We must bear in mind that this is only from one particular perspective. God's eternal purposes are not frustrated by man's failures. But the assembly has dispensational responsibility on the earth. We are here on Christ's behalf, and we've not been faithful. We'll discuss that in more detail in another installment.

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