Part 5 of a Bible study course on the End Times – for small group or individual study
(Jesus continued, Mat 24:10) And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. 11 Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But he who endures to the end shall be saved.
Historical fulfilment – Betrayal: persecution broke out in Rome in A.D. 64. Some Christians were arrested, and in the words of the contemporary Roman historian, Tacitus, “then on their information a very large multitude was convicted.” (Tacitus). Grant Jeffrey writes, “Nearly all the original apostles and many other early Christians were imprisoned and/or killed during the persecution. These Christians who were betrayed by their brethren were draped in animal skins and ripped apart by dogs or crucified in a major public spectacle. And at night, these people were burned as torches to light the streets of Rome. According to church tradition, it was during this massacre that Peter was crucified and Paul, beheaded. This same tradition teaches that nearly all of the disciples were martyred. Matthew was killed by a sword in Ethiopia. Mark was dragged by horses through the streets of Alexandria. Luke was hanged in Greece. Bartholomew was flogged to death. Andrew was crucified. Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India. Jude was pierced with arrows. Matthias was stoned then beheaded, and Barnabas was stoned in Salonica.” (Jeffrey, 1998)
False Prophets: according to Josephus, the Zealot (revolutionary) leaders bribed or forced a number of people to claim falsely to be prophets, and tell the people that God would defend them. This was in order to give the people hope and not desert the rebels. These prophecies of course were completely wrong. Jerusalem was destroyed and the majority of Jews killed.
Lawlessness: The Jews of Jesus’ day had largely turned away from following God. Jesus called them a “wicked and adulterous generation”. Josephus said of the Jews of that generation, “…nor did any age ever breed a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world.” (Josephus)
Endurance: There are many accounts of incredible endurance in the early church. Perhaps one of the most remarkable would be the apostle Paul who carried on travelling and founding new churches despite imprisonment, floggings, shipwreck, hunger, fatigue, betrayal and many obstacles (see 2 Corinthians 11:22-33).
Modern-day fulfillment – Offence: Many people today, while they may be loosely in favour of what they see to be “Christian values”, are offended by radical Christian discipleship. Many others, especially in the West, will not tolerate Christianity at all, considering it “homophobic”, “judgmental”, “narrow minded” etc.
Hatred: Of course there has been hatred in every age, but of particular note is the history of war between supposedly “Christian” nations. Think for example of World War II, the event that shaped our modern world. How must people of other religions see Christianity when the UK, USA and Germany, all leading nations of the Reformation, were locked in war with one another?
False prophets: False prophets abound today. Some are very obvious. The “Eastern Lightening” cult in China follow a woman who claims to be Jesus returned to earth, and the cult grows mainly by threats of violence, and the female cult devotees attracting male members by sex. We might wonder how anyone could be taken in by this, but in the West we have public discussion, freely available books on all kinds of doctrines, and a heritage of Christian theology. In China, the Christian faith is comparatively new, and it is impossible to get the breadth of theology to eliminate extreme cults such as Eastern Lightening.
Some false prophets are much more subtle and believable than Eastern Lightning. Many cult leaders embrace the idea that all religions are in essence the same. Margaret’s and my own cult leader from our pre-Christian days, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, taught that all religions were branches growing from the pure trunk of the Indian Vedas and we were encouraged to read these Hindu holy books for half an hour a day as part of a programme of meditation, breathing exercises and yoga. We were told not to reflect on the meaning of the words, but just to read them aloud and let them affect us on the subconscious level. The first words of one reading were “I adore Agni (the Hindu god of fire)…… The whole deceptive system was built on orthodox Hinduism, but this was subtly disguised. I gave my spiritual allegiance to the Maharishi for 13 years before I became convinced that Christ offered the only way to eternal life.
Lawlessness: That lawlessness is taking over the world need hardly be debated today. In New Zealand where I live, every day in the newspapers we read about horrific crimes which in my school days would be a very rare occurrence. From television documentaries we learn that the prisons are now almost ruled by the prisoners, particularly those with gang connections.
Love gone cold: The love of many has gone cold in society today. My father fought in the Second World War to “defend Christianity and freedom”, as would have most of his contemporaries, I believe. But I am convinced that if there were another world war today, this would not be the motivation of most young men going to fight. Is it too harsh to say this is an indicator that love has gone cold? To every generalisation, there are exceptions. But the current young generation is known as the “me” generation. Young (and old) people in many cases have been deceived into thinking fulfilment will come from primarily looking after “me and my needs”. This is love growing cold.
Endurance: Everywhere we see the advance of darkness, we see heroic Christians endure and overcome. Richard Wurmbrand was one example. A Romanian pastor, he was jailed for 14 years by the communists, three of those years in solitary confinement, and tortured. Yet he preached the Gospel by tapping it on the wall in Morse code, and kept himself sane by composing sermons. When he was released his ministry became well-known worldwide through his books and assistance to other persecuted believers.
- List the seven signs of the “end times” mentioned by Jesus in these verses.
- Which do you think would be the most difficult?
- Do you think these signs are becoming more or less widespread at the present time?
- Why do you think almost all the 12 apostles were executed?
- How does this compare with Christian life today?
- How did people like Richard Wurmbrand and Apostle Paul manage to endure?
- How can you be prepared to endure trials and persecution? Discuss with the group or with friends.
- Is it important for Christians to be prepared for trials and persecution in our modern world?
- Set some goals for strengthening your spiritual life. Share your goals with your group or with some friends.
More info from Robin Corner firstname.lastname@example.org