The Last Days Apostasy of the Church (2 Timothy 3:1)
By Dr. Andy Woods
If we could take our Bibles and open them to the book of 2 Timothy, chapter 3, and verse 1. The title of our message this morning is The Last Days Apostasy of the Church. If you’re here with us for the very first time we have been moving verse by verse through the book of 2 Timothy, and really beginning in chapter 3 as Paul writes to Timothy he begins to warn him about something that would come at some point in time called the apostasy of the church. And he explains to Timothy how he is to conduct himself in the midst of this coming apostasy. He doesn’t tell him that you can change the reality of the apostasy, the apostasy is coming, but he does tell him once it comes here’s what you are to do as a man of God.
Now most Christians, when you hear this word apostasy they don’t even really know what you’re talking about. There’s such little teaching in the body of Christ on this topic of apostasy. So to sort of prepare the way, if you will, set the table for things that are coming in the book of 2 Timothy I am going to give you today a topical study on the subject of the apostasy. We’re going to define what the apostasy is and I’m going to be giving you characteristics of the apostasy. And once we have that background then we’ll be really prepared to navigate our way through the last two chapters of the book.
But let’s start with some definitions. We throw this word “apostasy” around, what exactly are we talking about. The English word translated from the Greek, apostasy, comes from two Greek words. In other words, apostasy is a compound word; a compound word means two words combined into one. It comes from, first of all, the Greek word apos, which is a preposition; apos in Greek means away from. And then apostasy also comes from the verb histēmi, histēmi means to stand. So those are the two words that form the word “apostasy” so literally when we talk about apostasy what we’re literally talking about is a word that means to stand away from.
So we can define apostasy this way: apostasy is a departure from known truth. In other words, at one point in time there was once truth that was acknowledged, there was truth that was embraced, there was truth that was universally accepted, and now there has been an apostasy which is a departure from truth once acknowledged as truth. Apostasy therefore means to stand away from, or better said, a departure from known truth.
Now most people when you begin to broach this subject of apostasy they start looking around at the world. Yeah, the world out there is pretty bad is what they say, and I agree with them. And guess what? It’s always been bad. So the concept of the apostasy is not talking about conditions in the world; the world has no truth to depart from. When we talk about apostasy we’re not talking about whether the economy is up or down, we’re not talking about whether the stock market is doing well, we’re not talking about which party controls the White House, those kinds of issues that are out there in the world.
What we are talking about is the temperature and the thermometer inside the church. This is a pastoral letter; Timothy is a pastor. Paul warns Timothy of a coming apostasy within the ranks of Christendom or Christianity, or the church. So to help us grow in our understanding of apostasy what I’d like to share with you this morning are ten characteristics of apostasy. And I think once we understand these ten characteristics we’ll have a better handle on what Paul is going to tell Timothy to do in the remaining chapters of the book. So here are the ten characteristics that we’re going to move through very quickly this morning.
Characteristic number 1, apostasy as we have defined it is a sign of the last days; it’s a sign of the end times. Now most people when you talk about signs of the end times usually what their mind goes to is yeah, we’re getting close to the end, look at the Jews that have been regathered in unbelief in the land of Israel, look at the trend in our society towards a one-world government, look at the microchip technology setting the stage for the mark of the beast, those kind of subjects.
But you see, those are subjects related to God’s end time program with Israel, which by the way must be drawing very close if all those signs are starting to materialize. Apostasy is something different; it is a specific sign not related to Israel after the church has been removed from the earth through the rapture, but it is a sign related to the church itself. Apostasy is a sign that God is getting ready to wrap up His program with the church.
Apostasy is not something that prophetically the stage is being set for; apostasy when rightly understood is a prophetic sign that is happening right now. And that’s why I had you turn to 2 Timothy 3:1. You know someone gets ready to die the most important things they are going to talk about usually come out of their mouth. Even our legal system many times gives greater credence to what people say on their death bed, assuming they’re not senile or something like that, because when you’re ready to die you’re getting very, very serious about things.
As we have studied in the book of 2 Timothy, Paul is getting ready to die. In fact, remember 2 Timothy 4:6, Paul says, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come.” So this man is ready to die, he knows he’s ready to die, and what does the man talk about when he’s ready to die? What’s most important to him. What was most important to Paul is predictions of the coming apostasy and consequently Paul tells Timothy, in 2 Timothy 3:1, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come.”
Well, what’s going to happen Paul? Drop down to verse 13, “evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Timothy, as the church age is getting ready to wrap up don’t look for it going out on a note of optimism. Don’t look for the church going out on a blaze of glory. Don’t look for the church succeeding in establishing the kingdom of God on the earth. What you look for is the life of the church deteriorating, morally and doctrinally.
Now in the world of science we have something called the second law of thermal dynamics. The second law of thermal dynamics simply states when things are left to themselves they proceed from order to chaos. And if you want to test this out sometime don’t wash your car for a month, don’t clean your house for a month. You’re not going to find things more ordered when you return. And this, by the way, is one of the reasons evolution cannot be true because when you think about it, the theory of evolution is saying the exact opposite.
So things if left to themselves will begin to unravel. And this principle is not only true in the physical realm and the scientific realm, it’s true in the moral realm, it’s true in the spiritual realm. The church, unless God re-energizes things by sending a refreshing revival, which He can do and has done sporadically in history, unless God does that the age of the church will be marked by a progressive deterioration in the church.
Now hold your place here in 2 Timothy and go over, if you could, to Matthew 3:2, I want to show you one other place where this prediction of apostasy is found. If you understand the outline of the book of Matthew you know that the kingdom was offered on a silver platter to first century Israel. It’s bound up in the expression used by John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the twelve apostles, and the seventy: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
That was an offer given only to Israel in the first century and you’ll see proof of that if you study Matthew 10:5-7 where Jesus says do not go to the way of the Gentiles, do not go to the way of the Samaritans, go only as you preach this offer to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matthew 10:5-7, “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans;  but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.”)
Well, we know how that story ended for first century Israel; we know that first century Israel rejected Jesus. In fact, the turning point in Matthew’s Gospel is Matthew 12:24 where the religious leaders attributed Christ’s miracles to Satan. (Matthew 12:24, “But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.’”) Once that happens it’s very apparent that Israel is not going to receive the long-awaited kingdom; that offer is going to be postponed for a distant generation of Jews.
And since that is a reality, what Jesus begins to do in Matthew 13 is he begins to describe what is going to happen in the interim age, this brand new period of time, that has never been disclosed thus far in the pages of the Old Testament. Now that the kingdom is in postponement what is going to happen during this time period when the kingdom is in abeyance? And Jesus fills this teaching out through thirteen parables; by my count there are eight parables here in totality.
The first parable is the parable of the sower, and I’m just going to give you a very quick interpretation of each. The parable of the sower, Matthew 13, teaches the gospel during this interim age, while the kingdom is absent, will be preached faithfully but with different results depending upon the preparation of the soil (or the human heart) in advance. And as I’m understanding that parable only one soil becomes productive. So Jesus is saying don’t look for a mass Christianization of the world; some will get saved, many will not.
And then you have the second parable, the parable of the wheat and the tares where both are allowed to grow up together and they’re not separated until the end of the age. And what that parable means is during this interim age, while the kingdom of God is in postponement, it’s going to be difficult to distinguish between the saved and the unsaved within professing Christendom. Of course, the apostle that fits that bill is Judas, nobody suspected that Judas was not a true believer and yet he wasn’t.
And then you have this third parable, the parable of the mustard seed, which was the smallest seed of that time, and what is going to happen is that seed is going to sprout a giant tree which will grow up and fill the whole earth. That parable simply means Christendom will experience great numerical and geographical expansion from a humble beginning. And that is exactly what has happened over the last 2,000 years. The church started with these disciples huddled together in the Upper Room in Israel and over the course of time the church has grown throughout the entire earth.
But then we come to a fourth parable land this is the most significant one in terms of the apostasy where Jesus talks about yeast working its way through the dough. Now people look at yeast going through the dough and they say that’s a good thing, that’s a happy thing. May I beg to differ; when you study yeast in the Bible it’s always used of something negative. In fact, in Matthew 16, the very same book, Jesus tells the disciples to beware of the yeast of the Pharisees. (Matthew 16:6, “And Jesus said to them, ‘Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”) So the yeast going through the dough is this: Christendom will experience internal corruption to greater and greater degrees as the church age comes to a conclusion.
Then just to kind of round off our knowledge you have another parable, the parable of the hidden treasure. The hidden treasure is the nation of Israel; God calls Israel His special treasure in Exodus 19 and here this treasure is hidden. And what that parable means is Israel will remain in unbelief throughout this age only to be converted at the end of the age. It’s not saying that an individual Jew can’t get saved today, what it’s saying is the bulk of the nation will stay in unbelief throughout this age. And that’s what we see, isn’t it. You look around the room, we have in this room very few Hebrew Christians. There are some, but they are in the minority. The majority of people that get saved are the Gentiles in this age.
And then there’s something called “the pearl of great price,” which simply means that the Lord will gain a treasure during this time from amongst the Gentiles. And then the dragnet, which teaches almost the same thing as the wheat and the tares, where a net of fish come in with good and bad fish. And what that parable simply teaches is the existence, the co-existence of the righteous and the wicked in this age, only to be separated at the conclusion of this age. And then the last parable is the parable of the householder, where a person takes old material and augments it, or supplements it, with new material.
And what that simply means is these New Testament truths that we have just walked through, the description of the condition of the world prior to the coming of the kingdom, if you want to understand the kingdom program then you have to understand what Jesus just described in Matthew 13 because He’s describing the course of this age prior to the coming of the kingdom. So Matthew 13 is a description of characteristics prior to the manifestation of the kingdom, and then one day the long-awaited kingdom will come. If you want to understand God in His totality you have to factor in the Matthew 13 teaching with Old Testament teaching about the coming kingdom.
What is my point in rehearsing all of this information. It’s Matthew 13:33, “He spoke another parable to them, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three pecks of flour until it was all leavened.’” What is Jesus saying? As the kingdom is in postponement during this interim age that’s gone on for 2,000 years, God is at work, people are getting saved. However, the devil is also at work. As God is at work there is a counterfeit sowing that is taking place; even as the church is growing gradually what is happening is it’s becoming more and more internally corrupted. So you look at 2 Timothy 3:13, “evil men and impostors will wax worse and worse,” and then you properly understand the fourth parable, the parable of the yeast, and you have descriptions of what we can expect in the life of the church as we get closer and closer to the conclusion of the church. What I’m simply trying to say is this: apostasy is a sign, given by God Himself, of the last days of the church.
Let me take you to a second characteristic, if I could. Number 2, apostasy is a massive New Testament subject. It is a huge, huge topic. In fact, there was a man that wrote his doctoral dissertation at Dallas Seminary and he tried to figure out how much material in the letters of Paul, in the general letters, relates to the subject of apostasy and he ran the numerical calculations and he discovered that apostasy is the second most frequently dealt with subject in the letters, or the epistles.
In fact, this subject of apostasy is all over the Bible. Jesus predicted it, Matthew 13; Paul predicted it, we’ll see that in a minute in Acts 20. All over Paul’s letters you see warnings of apostasy. You get into the general letters you’ll see constant warnings of apostasy. And frankly, the entire book of Revelation is about apostasy because who is the book of Revelation written to? It is written to seven churches in Asia Minor; five of those seven churches are in an apostate state. There’s only two that are not apostate, and so consequently Jesus has to correct five of the seven churches, churches that were once on fire for God. By the time the book of Revelation is written five of the seven are in a state of apostasy.
In fact, entire books of the Bible are dealt with or written to address the subject of apostasy. The book of Galatians, for example, was written to correct an apostasy that was occurring as the flock in Galatia was moving into legalism, the Galatians heresy. The book of Colossians was written to correct apostasy as that flock was moving into what’s called the Colossian heresy. The whole book of Hebrews was written to address apostasy as the folks in the book of Hebrews were leaving Christ and returning to Old Testament Judaism. In fact, if you study the book of 2 Peter and you study the book of Jude you’ll see that the whole books are dealing with this topic of apostasy.
And yet your average Christian in their church today has never heard a single sermon on apostasy. And you kind of look at that and slap your forehead, it’s like how do we miss this? I think one of the reasons we don’t talk about apostasy is as preachers and teachers we want to be positive; you know, positive/negative; that works with electricity. So I guess it works in the life of the church, we want to give people some uplifting thoughts for the day and the subject of apostasy is not a very pleasant subject. It’s not a positive subject, in fact, it’s a very negative subject and so the topic itself is ignored.
I remember when I was a student at Dallas Seminary, I couldn’t wait to listen to Dr. John Walvoord, one of my theological heroes, he’s written a ton of books on the rapture and the millennial kingdom. And by the time I got there he was so old that he could only speak for eight minutes, and typically they wheeled him out in a wheel chair and put him in front of the microphone, and the man could only talk for about eight minutes given his deteriorating health, and so I sat there on the edge of my chair waiting for him, figuring out what is he going to talk about, is he going to talk about the rapture, the kingdom, all of these subjects that he was known for in his books. Do you know what he talked about? Apostasy! He had eight minutes to talk before his health would tell him you’re not talking any more, and what he spoke of was warnings of apostasy in the churches and how apostasy had come into the churches. So if you have an interest in the Bible you have to have an interest in apostasy, given the dominance of the subject.
Let me take you to a third characteristic of apostasy, number 3. Apostasy impacts every major doctrine. There is no sacred ground with the apostates; there is no place where they, out of good decency, say well, I won’t deny that or I won’t deny this. With apostasy and the warnings of apostasy everything is on the table. So we have these predictions of what is going to be denied. 1 Timothy 4:1 says the apostates will deny the faith. (1 Timothy 4:1, “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,”)
Notice the definite article in front of faith. They are going to “deny the faith” itself. They are even going to deny God and Christ, Jude 4 says they will “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” They will deny Christ and His death for the world, 2 Peter 2:1 says, “denying the Master who bought them.” They will deny the return of Christ, 2 Peter 3:3-4 records the words of the apostates who will say, “Where is the promise of His coming?” They will deny sound doctrine, 2 Timothy 4:3-4 says, that “they” apostates in the last days, “will not endure sound doctrine.”
(2 Peter 2:1, “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” 2 Peter 3:3-4, “Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts,  and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,  and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.”)
You know, you would think the resurrection would be off the table, I mean, they’re not going to deny that, are they? Because without the resurrection there’s no Christianity. Well, we’ve already studied the passages. 2 Timothy 2:16-18, they will say this, “the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.” 2 Peter 3:5 says they are even going to deny God as creator. 2 Peter 3:5 says, in the New King James Version, “They will willfully forget,” these apostates, “that by the Word of God the heavens of old and the earth standing out of water and in the water,” it’s a statement about creation and it’s saying there that these apostates will willfully forget, or deny even God’s role as Creator.
Certainly we see that, don’t we, even with this theory of evolution, which deprives God of His glory as the Creator. God, You didn’t create everything; everything emerged spontaneously by accident, as we move from the goo to the zoo to you over billions of years. How fascinating it is to see these scriptures relating to apostasy jump right off the pages in the time period that we find ourselves in.
The fourth characteristic of apostasy; number 4, let’s go over to Acts 20 just for a minute, Acts 20:29-30, apostasy happens inside the church. The warning by Paul is apostasy is coming up right from your own midst. Now here in Acts 20 Paul was wrapping up missionary journey three, he goes to a little harbor city there off the coast of Asia Minor, called Miletus. He summons the elders of the church at Ephesus, the spiritual leaders of the church at Ephesus, a church that Paul planted, he gets them all together and he is teaching them how to be elders in Acts 20. He is teaching shepherds how to be shepherds.
And it’s in this discourse, Acts 20 that he begins to warn them about the subject of apostasy. Notice what Paul says to them in Acts 20:29-31, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;  and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.  Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.”
You read this and it sounds like this man, Paul, is pretty serious about this subject of apostasy. He says I know it’s coming, I, in fact, have already warned you about it; how frequently? Night and day. How long? For three years. Did you feel strongly about it, Paul? Yes he did because he warned them “with tears.” He warned them to the point of emotional breakdown of this subject of apostasy. And in this conversation with these Ephesian elders he tells them, very clearly, “also from among your own selves men will arise up” and speak “perverse things.” Yes, Paul’s doctrine comes in from the outside but it’s also going to come up from you, spiritual leaders. So what he is revealing here is apostasy transpires from within.
Now the book of Jude, verse 4, says the exact same thing. It says this: “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, long ago were marked for this condemnation, ungodly men who turn the grace of our Lord into licentiousness and deny our only God and Lord, Jesus Christ.” Notice Jude, the Lord’s brother, in his predictions of apostasy, says people are going to creep in “unnoticed.” What these verses are saying is you don’t look for apostasy in the world. You look for it in books written by Christians. You look for it from pulpits occupied by so-called “men of God.” You look for it in so-called Christian schools. You look for it in so-called Christian seminaries. That’s exactly what these verses are teaching.
Back to Dr. John Walvoord for a minute. In these eight minute chapel messages that he gave another thing that he talked about, besides apostasy, was a study that he had done. Dr. John Walvoord was a brilliant theologian; he was brilliant in systematic theology, he was brilliant in historical theology, and what he told us in these messages is that he had given a study to why schools and seminaries leave their theological position and become apostate. And he said this: In all of my study of church history, here’s how it always works. Somebody gets into a position of teaching and they start to say things that aren’t quite right, a little off, and typically what happens is Satan puts that person in that position at a time when the school has very weak leadership and a non-aggressive president. And nobody really challenges what this faculty member is saying because after all, they have the PhD from Europe so they know everything, right? And as that unchallenged person begins to promote their ideas another faculty member gets contaminated and another one, and another one. And eventually what you have is a whole school, if you’re not careful, has moved away from its theological position.
You see, one of the things that I have been accused of here at this church, by people that I think are well-intentioned, is I’m too assertive about the subject of doctrine. Why are you making doctrine such an issue? This is the answer: I make doctrine an issue, I want to know what’s being taught here, there are certain people here that I would not want to teach, I make doctrine an issue because I’m a student of Dr. John Walvoord who was a student of church history. I understand what a little bit of false doctrine can do; it slips into a little shepherds group over here, or another meeting over here, and this is how the devil works and eventually it contaminates a lot of people. Number 4, apostasy, then, is something that happens from the inside.
Number 5, apostasy knows no limits. You look at people and you say to yourself, well, that person over there, that’s the last person I would ever think would ever be involved in apostasy. And in fact, they are often the ones leading the charge. Let me give you some examples of this.
You remember the golden calf incident, where Moses is on Mount Sinai for forty days and the children of Israel get busy and they build a golden calf and you can’t get more apostate than that, if you’re building a golden calf you’ve just violated the first two commandments, no gods before me, no graven images. It’s all recorded in Exodus 32. Do you remember who was leading the charge? Aaron. Who’s Aaron? The high priest! He is the guy that is the spiritual custodian of the nation of Israel and he is the one that leads the golden calf incident.
Take a look at the book of Judges for a minute, Judges 18:30. Judges 17 and 18 is a description of idolatry coming into the land of Israel for the very first time after Joshua had conquered the land. This is a description of how idolatry enters the land of Israel. It enters the land of Israel through a wandering Levite whose identity is not given until the end of the story.
Judges 18:30 says this: “The sons of Dan set up for themselves the graven image,” now here’s the wandering Levite that caused all the trouble, “Jonathan, the son of Gershom,” “son of Gershom” I’ve read that somewhere before, wasn’t Gershom the son of Moses? So if Jonathan is the son of Gershom, Jonathan is Moses grandson. And the rest of the verse actually goes on and explains that. (Judges 18:30b, “the son of Gershom, the son of Manasseh, he and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land.”)
Who brought idolatry into the land of Israel for the very first time after Joshua conquered the land? Who brought such a spiritual and theological problem into Israel that it was literally a thorn in their flesh for 800 years, to the point where God had to bring discipline on them 800 years later? Who started the ball rolling? It was none other than Moses’ grandson.
In the book of Revelation, chapter 2, verses 4-5 we read these words, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Here is a church that has become apostate, they have departed. And which church is that? Do you know which church it is? It’s Ephesus. What do we know about Ephesus? We know a lot about Ephesus. Ephesus was planted by Paul; Ephesians was ministered to by Priscilla and Aquila. Timothy, as we have been studying, had become the pastor of the church at Ephesus.
As you continue to travel through New Testament history you’ll learn that John became bishop over Ephesus, in fact, he wrote three books (four books really) from Ephesus. Ephesus is the key church that’s vibrant and on fire in the book of Acts. And yet they are the ones that “left their first love.” Not Ephesus! Yes, Ephesus. Not Jonathan! Yes, Jonathan. Not Aaron! Yes, Aaron. There is no limit to apostasy, there is no limit to who can become involved in apostasy.
Let me read to you a doctrinal statement of a Christian college. “Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let everyone seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of Him (Prov. 2, 3). Everyone shall exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein.” You say wow, where’s that school, I want to get my kids enrolled in that. Well, if your eyes are good and you see the bottom of the screen, those are the Rules of Harvard University when the school was started in 1636.
You have to understand something about Harvard; Harvard was “it” in colonial America. Harvard was where ministers were trained to be preachers and teachers of the gospel. Many of our Founding Fathers that believed in the Scripture and the Bible were educated at Harvard. And you look at Harvard today; there is not a hint or trace of Biblicism or evangelicalism at Harvard, other than perhaps a few things engraved in the wall by a prior generation. And Harvard has apostatized.
You say not Harvard! Yeah, Harvard, it happens. And if you had stood up in 1636 and said this: One of these days this school will go apostate. Could you imagine the laughing stock you would be made of? What an obscurantist you are saying something like that, that’s not going to happen at Harvard, this is God’s school. And yet it apostatized.
2007 was a bad year, a lot of bad things happened in 2007. There is a group called The Evangelical Theological Society; The Evangelical Theological Society is the leading think-tank amongst conservative Bible scholars in the world. In fact, in 2007 there was actually a President of that organization, named Frances Beckwith, an individual that I have had and in some cases still continue to hold a very high view on. So Beckwith is not just a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, he is the President of the whole organization.
In other words, Frances Beckwith, in the year 2007, is probably considered the top conservative Bible scholar in the world. And there he is, right in the middle of his tenure saying this: You know what, I’m not going to be a Protestant any more, I’m going to be a Catholic. I grew up Catholic and I’m going back to Catholicism.
And when pressed as to why he was doing this, this is what he said: I have been studying the writings of the church fathers; we have, in some cases, an epidemic of many people leaving Protestant Christianity and going back into Catholicism, and when you look at these people and what they say you’ll never hear this…you’ll never hear this: I was studying my Bible and I decided to make the leap. What they always says is I was studying something else, or they cite some kind of external circumstance, tradition, something, and that’s what causes them to make the leap.
You’ve got the top evangelical scholar in the world right there, in apostasy, or departure. And I used to get angry about things like this. I don’t get angry anymore; I get fearful because if it can happen to Beckwith it can happen to me. If it can happen to Aaron, if it can happen to Jonathan, if it can happen to the church at Ephesus, if it can happen to Harvard, can’t it happen to me? Can’t it happen to you? Can’t it happen to Sugar Land Bible Church? Number 5, apostasy knows no limits.
Number 6, apostasy can happen very, very quickly. We look at these examples like Harvard and we say well, it took multiple generations for that school to become apostate. May I just say to you that if we understand this subject biblically we understand that we need not wait a long period of time for apostasy to occur. It can happen just like that.
One example, notice the book of Galatians, chapter 1 and verse 6, Paul writes to the Galatians and he says this: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon,” or “quickly from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, for a different gospel.” Paul looks at the Galatians and he says I’ve got two things on my mind ya’all, that are just bugging the daylights out of me. Number 1, you’re leaving me on the subject of the gospel, not exactly a minor issue, would you agree? And number 2, you’re leaving the foundational teaching that I gave you so fast.
If you want to understand the timetable, the timetable is Paul’s first missionary journey. The green line is the outgoing trip, the red line is the return trip. Essentially what happened is Paul launched out from Syrian Antioch, he planted all of those churches there in the southern Galatian region. You can read about his ministry, a powerful ministry, in Acts 13 and 14. He returns to Syrian Antioch and he gets word that the churches that he had planted and the people that he had won to Christ are now drifting away from grace and into legalism.
And here’s the timetable. Paul planted those churches about A.D. 49, 48 really, and he wrote to them six months to a year later. It only took six months to a year for these people to move away from foundational teaching.
You remember the golden calf incident; how long did that take to happen? Exodus 32:8 says this, God is speaking to Moses on Sinai, “They” referring to their making of the golden calf, “They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them.” And here’s the timetable: Moses is on Sinai for how long? Forty days, that’s all it took. And “when the cat’s away the mouse will play.” And they went into, during this forty day period, full blown apostasy to the point where they constructed a golden calf and in the process violated the first two commandments God gave. You know, if you’re going to violate the first two commandments that really doesn’t give me a lot of hope that you’re going to respect the rest of His commandments. It only took forty days for this to happen.
How about the church at Ephesus. You know, Ephesus has a paper trail, it’s called Ephesians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, all written to Ephesus. You study those letters and there’s not a hint of apostasy. There’s warnings of it but it hadn’t happened yet. When Jesus finally addresses that church, Revelation 2:4, He says “you have left your first love.” (Revelation 2:4, “But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.”) Well, when did Jesus address that church: Answer, A.D. 95. Well, when were the other letters written? A.D. 60, A.D. 62 and A.D. 67. In other words, within a span of three decades, thirty years, which is not an awful long period of time, the most instrumental church in the first century world had drifted into an apostasy that was so severe that it merited a verbal correction by Jesus Christ. It doesn’t take long for apostasy to transpire.
I learned this the hard way in the church where I met my beautiful wife, a church in California. I was saved through that church, I had outstanding nurturing and teaching in that church. And then I went away to college, I went away to graduate school, I returned to that church thinking it was the same place, and let me tell you, the whole thing was different. Same pastor! And they began to say things like this: we don’t mention the blood of Christ from the pulpit because blood is an offensive term. We don’t talk about the Second Coming of Christ, well, there’s a guy over here in the corner that will teach it in a Sunday School class but we don’t mention those things from the pulpit because those things divide. I tell you, they were not saying that when I was a regular parishioner-member at that church. And within the span of a very short period of time the whole philosophy of ministry changed. What happened there is they got into debt and once you get into debt, as the Bible says, the borrower is servant to the lender and you do what you have to do to make budget. And you’re not going to make budget by talking about the blood of Christ. You’re not going to make budget by talking about the Second Advent.
And you have to understand something about Sugar Land Bible Church, this is a blessing of many at this church, this church has no debt other than to God, which allows us to unashamedly declare the full counsel of the Word of God. You know, if people don’t want to come and they don’t want to hear it our philosophy as the elders is simply this: the exits are clearly marked. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of churches in this community that will cater to itching ears. You’ve got a lot of menu items if that’s what you want. We seek to deliver truth here, to the best of our ability and the financial position that we are in allows us to do that. Not everybody has that luxury.
Let me take you to a seventh characteristic of apostasy; number 7, apostasy is satanically energized, it is always the devil using fallen men to create apostasy.
Notice, if you will, 2 Corinthians 11:3, Paul says, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted by from the simplicity that is in Christ.” You know, Adam and Eve had a pretty easy job description when you think about it. The only thing they were told to do is don’t eat from the tree of knowledge. No other restriction was placed on them.
And in the same way the gospel of Jesus Christ is so simple that a child can understand it. And yet Paul is fearful that just as the serpent beguiled Eve from the simplicity of the command, the devil is going to do the same to you Corinthians, and lead you away from the simplicity that is in Christ Jesus. Notice that Paul says the culprit of apostasy is the devil.
1 Timothy 4:1 says this, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons” (Italics mine) Wow, did you know that demons have doctrines. We try to teach doctrines here, Bible based doctrines, the demons have doctrines. And Paul says “the Spirit” is “expressly” saying something. Notice the word “expressly,” the Spirit wants to talk, Paul says, and here’s what the Spirit says for the last days, the devil, and demons, are going to introduce doctrines into the body of Christ that are going to lead you away from biblical truth.
What causes apostasy is Satan. And here’s basically how it works; he moves (Satan does) on people that have influence. He moves on people that are, what we would call “the movers and shakers,” the people that have a voice. And the devil begins to plant in their minds false ideas, and once they fall under the deception they can influence everybody else that they have influence over. Now you’re saying well, wait a minute, Andy, ANDY, please, are you telling me that the devil can use a believer? And that’s exactly what I’m telling you. Just ask Peter; Peter opened his mouth, Matthew 16, Jesus said “Get behind Me, Satan!” Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5, were slain in the Spirit, which is not a good thing, by the way. I’ve got students at the college that want to get slain in the Spirit and I’m like count me out! (Matthew 16:23, “But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”)
Acts 5:1-5, “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,  and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet.  But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?  ‘While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’  And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it.” Very clearly you look at verse 11, Ananias and Sapphira were believers, Satan had filled their heart.
This is why the book of Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 26-27 says, “…do not let the sun go down on your anger.” (So move to Alaska)  “and do not give the devil an opportunity.” What happens when we cater to the flesh, as Christians? Ephesians 4 is written to Christians. We give Satan an inroad. And if you’re a person of influence Satan uses that to contaminate other people. This is why the book of James, chapter 3, verse 1, says, let few of you become teachers…knowing that the teacher will incur the stricter judgment. (NASB “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.”)
Satan cannot possess a believer (because God and Satan cannot be roommates) because the Spirit is in you, but he can influence a believer. And he loves to get the church off of its game. The church basically has three functions. Number 1, glorify God; number 2, edify the saints; number 3, fulfill the great commission. You can study those verses all on your own, you’ll see they are in the Bible.
(Glorify God, Ephesians 3:21, “to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.”
Edify the saints, Ephesians 4:11-16, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers,  for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;  until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ,  As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness sin deceitful scheming;  but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ,  from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
Fulfill the Great Commission, Matthew 28:18-20, “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”)
That’s why the church exists. The church has power when it operates according to the blueprint given by Christ. Should the church start to change any of these objectives and become morphed into a monstrosity that God never gave to the church, or should the church pursue a task that God never gave to the church, should the church begin to function outside of its intended design, is the degree to which the church loses its power. So the number one agenda of the devil is get the church off its game; get it outside of divine priorities, and this happens through what? Through apostates in positions of influence.
Number 8, apostasy is destructive. Whenever a church, an organization, becomes apostate in the wake you will always see bleeding sheep, bruised feelings and a spiritual body count. It’s always there. See, we understand physical harm pretty well, but the Bible reveals spiritual harm and it often uses analogies related to physical harm to describe spiritual harm that can come into the life of a person when apostasy occurs.
You remember Acts 20:29, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.” Think of a wolf wreaking havoc on innocent lambs. That is analogous to spiritual apostasy.
1 Timothy 1:19 analogizes apostasy to a shipwreck. “having faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected concerning the faith, having suffered shipwreck,” think of the loss of life and property that occur through a shipwreck, like the sinking of the Titanic. That is what apostasy is like from a spiritual point of view.
This verse we’ve already covered in our study of 2 Timothy, 2 Timothy 2:17-18 – “and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus,  men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.” Notice the analogy to gangrene or some of your versions say cancer. We understand cancer from the physical world, there is a spiritual cancer, there is a spiritual gangrene that happens as apostasy transpires.
Number 9, apostasy makes life difficult for the man of God. That’s why Paul is warning Timothy of apostasy here. Remember his warnings of apostasy? Evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Timothy 3:13, “But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”) Notice 2 Timothy 4:3-4 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”
I don’t know how that verse hits you but here’s how it hits me: that is a perfect description of the modern day church growth movement; not that church growth is wrong in and of itself, as long as God is causing the growth. But you see, here’s how the church growth movement works today: what you need to do is you need to go out and you need to do some polling data and some sociological studies about what unbelievers want in a church.
Now Robert Schuller, the Crystal Cathedral, was the first guy to do this, of any influence. It spread to different places like Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, Bill Hybels in Willow Creek, and the idea is you figure out, through a marketing mix, what does your typical person that would never go to church, in fact, is probably unregenerate to begin with, you figure out what they want in a church. And they say things like this: we want the sermons to be shorter, now I’ve got a bunch of believers here that tell me the same thing anyway. We want some skits, we want some drama, we want relevance to our daily lives and we don’t want any talk about the Second Coming of Jesus, we don’t want to hear about the blood of Christ and don’t use the “S” word – sin!
And so the church growth movement says great, let’s design a church like that; you figure out what the unbelievers want, you develop a church around their values, and you give it to them. And guess what? It works, it packs auditoriums, it makes the budget. But let me tell you something, at the end of the day, once the process is completed you have a church which is not a church because it does not reflect the priorities of God. And what happens at the end of the day is the spirit of the world invades the church.
And what do people become like in the church once the spirit of the world invades the church? Paul answers that in 2 Timothy 3:2-4 which is (if you want a fancy word for this) this is what we call an interlocution. An interlocution is an idea starts, you’ll see the starting of an idea in verse 2, the idea concludes, you’ll see the idea concluding in verse 4, and everything in between fills out, or better explains, that idea started in verse 2 and ending in verse 4, an interlocution. So what is the big idea? The big idea is in the last days people will become “lovers of self,” end of idea, “rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:2-4, “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy,  unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good,  treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.”)
Well, what does that mean? Everything in-between explains it: lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unloving, unholy, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, and pleasure lovers. You say yeah, I agree with you, the world out there is really bad. If that’s what you think you’ve missed the whole point.
The world has always been like this; this is front page news because it’s happening in the church in “the last days” because the spirit of the world has come into the church. What’s the end result? People are like this in the church; if they’re saved at all they’re at a very low level of spiritual maturity; many of them are just unregenerate to begin with, having never trusted in Christ for salvation. And here’s the point: once the church gets like that, Timothy, pastor, your job is hard because you’re going to be surrounded by a bunch of people that won’t want to hear what you’re saying and in fact, they’re going to fight against you, because as long as you’re standing for God in that type of climate or environment, you’re fighting uphill, swimming upstream.
This is why this is included in a pastoral letter, that’s why Paul tells Timothy, “but in the last days perilous times will come.” Perilous for who? For the man of God that wants to declare the full counsel of God’s Word and anybody else in that environment that wants to stand for truth perilous times comes for them.
We’ve seen the passage about them heaping up itching ears but did you see the following verse, “But be watchful and in all things endure afflictions.” Why does he talk about afflictions? Because life is going to become difficult for the man of God in that type of climate. Do you remember the prediction that “evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse”? (2 Timothy 3:13, “But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”) Look at the previous verse, verse 12, “Yes, and all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” Persecution from who? Persecution from the church world that has become just like the secular world or pagan world. Life gets difficult for the man of God, the woman of God; anybody that wants to live for God is fighting an uphill battle, swimming upstream in that type of climate.
Finally, number 10, and with this we are finished. Number 10, apostasy impacts those who have not taken preventive measures. Apostasy is inevitable, Paul says; he never says okay Timothy, here’s how you stop the apostasy, do these five things. It’s never portrayed that way. What it’s portrayed as it’s coming and if you don’t do something in your personal life you’re going to be swept right up in it.
Let me tell you something: no action is action. Passivity is action, and I want you to picture yourself in a stream that’s pulling you a certain direction because of the current. If you don’t do something of an active nature you are going to be pulled and pulled and pulled. In that type of situation you have to become active, you have to swim for shore, you have to call for help; if it’s shallow water you’ve got to put your feet at the bottom of the stream to brace yourself. If you don’t do anything you’re just getting pulled and pulled and pulled.
So by way of analogy, in the midst of an apostasy it’s coming for all of us, we’re all in this current. And something active has to be done in the life of the individual child of God to keep you out of being pulled in a direction you don’t want to go.
Well, what do you do? Here’s what you do? Ready? Every time you see in the New Testament a command you obey the command. That’s how you keep yourself out of the apostasy. These are what we call Greek imperatives, which are commands, the Bible is full of them. For example, 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Are you doing that? Are you in this book daily? I’m not talking about coming on Sunday and listening, I’m talking about you in your personal life in this book? Because let me tell you something, there is a war on for your mind, in the church and outside the church. And if you are not in this book you’re going to be pulled in a direction you don’t want to go.
Another command is 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “test all things, hold fast to that which is good.” Does that describe you? Are you a tester, or are you one of these people that just blindly believes everything you’re told as long as the person does it from a position of authority? That is not the biblical model. We are not to blindly acquiesce to everything we are told; we are told to “test all things” by the standard of God and only “hold fast to that which is good.” By the way, you don’t even have a standard if you don’t know the Bible; there’s no standard to compare to. Another command, renew your mind, Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Your mind is under assault, the mind has to be renewed. Does that describe your life? Ephesians 6:11, another command, “Put on the” partial “armor of God…” Oh, I’m sorry, it doesn’t say that, “Put on the full armor of God,” not just a piece of it here and there, all of the pieces. Ephesians 6:10-20 explains how to do that. We’ve given multiple teachings on this armor of God, not only from this pulpit but also in Sunday School classes. Are you doing that regularly? Are you dressed for success in that sense? (Ephesians 6:10, “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;  if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching;  or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.  Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor;  not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord;  rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer,  contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.  Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord.  “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”)
Another command, Jude 3, “Contend earnestly for the faith.” What does that mean? It means that faith is under attack. Well, who’s attacking it? The history channel, A&E, Mysteries of the Bible, the Peter Jennings or Dan Rather Easter Special, where these types of programs have a tendency to deny the resurrection, deny that Jesus Christ was a historical figure. We’re being told that everything in creation came about through random chance, called evolution. What’s happening? The faith is under attack all of the time. What are you supposed to do in response? You’re supposed to “contend for the faith.” (Jude 3, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.”)
Do you have an answer when people deny the historicity of Jesus Christ and say Jesus never even lived? Do you have an answer for that? Do you have an answer when people say the Bible you read is filled with errors and contradictions and it’s been mistranslated? Do you have an answer for that? If you don’t you’re just going to be pulled in the current.
The apostasy of the church in the last days; Number 1, the sign of the last days. Number 2, a massive New Testament subject. Number 3, something that impacts every major doctrine. Number 4, something that springs up from within. Number 5, something that knows no limits. Number 6, something that can happen quickly. Number 7, something that is satanically energized. Number 8, something that is destructive. Number 9, something that makes life difficult for the man or woman of God. And number 10, apostasy will always impact those who have not taken preventive measures.
Shall we pray. Father, it’s so clear what You taught us on this subject and this area is such a neglected area we ask for Your forgiveness. Make us people that are bold witnesses for You in the last days as we contend with the warning that You gave us called the apostasy of the church. We’ll be careful to give you all the praise and the glory. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.