Scripture paints a dismal landscape as end of the church age approaches. Several scenes take place before a charismatic leader known as antichrist orchestrates an onslaught against Christ and His saints. This antichrist is referred to with various terms, including the “man of sin” (2 Thess 2:3), the “wicked one” (2:8), and the “beast” (Rev 13:1) who embodies the spirit of lawlessness already at work in the world. Before return of Jesus to reign on earth for one thousand years called the millennium, there takes place great apostasy in the Church. The Greek apostasia means falling from a position of faith once held, and such is frequently attested to by Jesus and the apostles. A picture of spiritual decline and doctrinal heresy also is described in scripture as the present age closes (Mt 24:5, 10-13,24; 2 Thess 2:3; 1 Tim 4:1,2; 2 Tim 4:3,4). There will be disregard for biblical principles once held sacred as multitudes abandon the faith and churches turn a blind eye toward sinful behavior for the sake of numbers and finances.
Rebellion within the Church will involve rejection of the teachings of Jesus. False leaders offer “cheap grace” which ignores God’s demand for repentance. A gospel of prosperity will replace biblical emphasis on sacrifice and suffering as an integral part of being a true disciple and following in Jesus footsteps. Those lacking sound biblical foundation will succumb to deceptive teaching that compromises holiness. Ears will itch to hear only pleasant things (2 Tim 4:3) and those holding to biblical standards of morality will be accused of intolerance. Corruption of the gospel will reach such a degree that those who remain fast to the faith handed down by the apostles will suffer great persecution, not only from the world but also from the establishment of the Church itself. And these are signs we can readily identify in a vast majority of the institutional Church today.
Finally the time comes when God removes His restraining hand and the antichrist is revealed. Scripture tells us because people will not receive the truth so they might be saved (2 Thess 2:10), “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie” (2:11). With God’s restraining influence removed, Satan-inspired rebellion will advance with coming of the antichrist. He will prove a man of great influence who is able to convince the nations that he can bring order and peace to increasing chaos, especially between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The antichrist will orchestrate a seven-year treaty or covenant, seemingly bringing a peace accord to the situation in the middle East. And to some extent, work of the Holy Spirit will continue to convict of sin and bring some to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ during these seven years known as the tribulation because of the reference made to tribulation saints in Revelation 7:14.
Midway through the tribulation, the antichrist will declare himself God and will persecute and martyr many loyal to Christ. Satan gives power to the antichrist who will blaspheme God and demand worship of the world (Rev 13:7). In the process, “another beast comes up out of the earth” who has “two horns like a lamb” and yet speaks “as a dragon” (Rev 13:11). This religious figure is known as the “false prophet” and his role will be to promote the agenda of the antichrist. Lambs do not have horns, symbolic of authority. The false prophet deceives people by acting as a loving and gentle lamb but speaks as a dragon (words of Satan). This corresponds to Jesus’ warning to watch for false prophets who come as lambs, but inwardly are ferocious wolves (see Mt 7:15).
The false prophet uses demonic power to bring about miracles, signs and wonders (2 Thess 2:9) that give him credibility in exhorting the world to worship antichrist. The false prophet will promote ecumenical religion known as syncretism, namely reconciliation of different belief systems to create unity or a one-world religion. He will not be against religion per se but will not hold to faith in Jesus Christ as the only way to heaven. In other words, there will be more that one road to heaven contrary to Jesus telling no one comes to the Father apart from Him, and that He alone is the way and truth and life (John 10;1,14:6). This false prophet institutes a so-called “mark” of the antichrist which is 666, The number 6 biblically refers in man, and 666 possibly represents a trinity of antichrist, false prophet, and Satan.
Several questions arose during the visit of Pope Francis to America in September of 2015. There was emphasis about the importance of religious liberty which in itself seemed innocuous. But in a hugely attended and widely applauded service under the leadership of Francis, various religions participated and were embraced at least symbolically. This included reading from the Koran which explicitly calls for the death of Christians who reject the offer of conversion to Islam. Later in the year (December), the Pope stated directly that the God of Islam was the same as the God of Christianity. This conflicts with the Qur’an which states that God was not “begotten” and has never “begotten” a Son as Christians believe. While Islam considers Jesus as a prophet, His divinity is denied and He is considered a prophet in the same category as Muhammad. It is obvious deception for the leader of the Roman Catholic Church to consider Islam and Christianity as being comparable in any theological sense.
Francis’ strong expression of compassion for victims of sexual molestation by the priests under his leadersip was another major issue given publicity. But notably missing was strong condemnation of rampant homosexuality in the priesthood or of gay marriage, a sin by all biblical standards will assign such persons to eternal damnation unless there is repentance. It was also of interest that while attention was drawn to poverty and plight of the poor,, there was no mention whatsoever of using the vast wealth in the coffers of the Vatican for humanitarian relief. In sharp contrast, emphasis was placed on protecting the “treasure” of the earth itself from abuse, the pollution of which is a consequence of greed by those holding positions of corporate power. Such a rallying point served as a useful distraction from a fact that there are nations savagely mistreating their citizens, a point ignored during opportunities before the United Nations and the congress of the United States.
Kissing of babies? Yes! Condemning persecution of Christians by Hindus in India, Islamists in the Arab states, and Buddhists in China? Never once mentioned! Yet the adulation expressed by many who admittedly never attend church could not be missed. It was a remarkable spectacle to be long remembered for the appeal of a religious figure who does not hold fast to the teachings of Christ who insists that He alone is the “way to heaven” and that no only can come to God the Father other than through Him. When this latter is compromised, one can rest assured that the integrity of Jesus Christ is being compromised. To be remembered are the words of Jesus when asked by disciples about signs as the end draws near. The very first thing mentioned? “Take heed that no man deceive you” (Mt 24:4).
This lesson is not intended to be slanderous or a judgment of Pope Francis. The writer only desires to exhort bible-believing followers of Christ Jesus to exercise extreme caution in these present times. The scriptures warn that there is need for great discernment in the latter days because of deception as discussed in other lessons on this website. For sheep have a reputation for following other sheep, even I am told to their demise of going over a cliff. In other words, sheep are not particularly cautious about deciding who to follow and where they tread. Perhaps that is a major reason why people are so often referred to as sheep in scripture. Let us be very careful to only follow the Good Shepherd and Him alone, lest we should find ourselves unknowingly dancing with a partner other than Jesus the Christ.