Signs of the Times

The Great Apostasy

Outline V

From your Bible read Luke 17:26–37

We have learned that the Gospel Age, during which the message of salvation is proclaimed in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, will be followed by days of unprecedented distress. The reason why these days will be days of great tribulation for true believers, so that they wiII be grievously persecuted, is that ever so many people will fall away from the faith, which for a while they had been confessing with their lips. There will be a great apostasy or falling away. Read about it in II Thessalonians 2:3. Those who have fallen away \ViII then begin to persecute those who remain firm.

At the head of this “falling away” movement will be a very wicked leader, the Antichrist. We hope to discuss him in later Outlines. Accordingly, “Great Tribulation,” “Great Apostasy or Falling Away,” and “Reign of Antichrist” are simply three terms that indicate the same final period of history which will immediately precede Christ’s glorious return. It is also called “Satan’s little season” (Revelation 20:3,7,8).

The passage with reference to the coming apostasy by no means teaches that those who are God’s genuine children will “fall away from grace.” There is no such falling away. It simply means that the faith of the fathers—a faith to which the children adhere for a while in a merely formal way—will finally be abandoned altogether by many of the children. In that sense the apostasy or falling away will be very real indeed. It will be on a large scale: “many shall stumble…many false prophets shall arise and shall lead many astray…The love of the many shall wax cold” ( Matthew 24:10–13 ). History repeats itself; rather, prophecy attains multiple fulfillment, as was pointed out in Outline II. What happened during the reign of wicked Antiochus Epiphanes (who ruled from 175–164 B. C.) toward the close of the old dispensation, and again during the terrible siege of Jerusalem (A.D. 70), will happen once more on an even wider scale, toward the close of the flew dispensation.

Let us now study:


a. False Security and gross materialism, followed by swift and sudden destruction.

That is the gist of Luke 17:26–33, which you read a while ago from your Bibles. That section pictures the people of that final period. It tens us that they will be eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, buying and selling, planting and building, just as in the days of Noah and just as in the days of Lot. As it was then, so it will be in the last days: the destruction will be so swift and sudden that the man who is on the housetop must not think that he will have any time to go back into the house to save treasures. The man who is in the field better forget about returning home to rescue any of his possessions. Let the example of Lot’s wife, who turned around, serve as a warning!

It is possible that you will ask in surprise, But what is there so wicked about eating and drinking, marrying and being given in marriage, buying and selling, planting and building? The answer is: though things of this character are not wrong in themselves, and though by means of them we can even glorify God (I Corinthians 10:31); yet, when the soul becomes entirely wrapped up in them so that they become ends in themselves and spiritual needs are neglected, they become a curse and are no longer a blessing.

b. A Sharp Division between those who have fallen away, on the one hand, and the true believers, on the other.

Of course, many of those who have fallen away will still wish to pass as Christians. But their very manner of living will show that they are not true believers at all. Moreover, the judgment which is going to overtake them very abruptly at Christ’s return will show that they do not belong to the company of the elect. Verses 35–37 (or 35 and 37) show this very clearly. These verses mean that when Jesus returns gloriously, two men may be doing the same thing: they are lying on one bed. Or, again, two women may be doing the same thing: grinding together. Yet, in each case, one (the true believer) will be taken up, to meet the Lord in the air, while the other (the merely nominal believer, the one who has “fallen away”) will be left to his terrible destiny: everlasting destruction. And this will not happen in one particular place, here or there. On the contrary, wherever apostates are found, destruction will overtake them. Viewed collectively, these apostates are here compared to a carcass, a decaying body (see Matthew 24:28). This is a metaphor, a figure of speech. Well, eagles and vultures are not very choosy with respect to the place where such a carcass is found. Wherever it is, they will devour it.



A. Questions Answered in the Outline

1. The final period of dreadful persecution is called Great Tribulation. By what other names is it called?

2. How can there be a Falling Away or Apostasy if it be true that there is no such thing as a falling away from grace?

3. What are the characteristics of the Great Apostasy, as pictured in the section read (Luke 17:26–37)? Go into some detail on each.

4. Explain the passage, “Where the body is, thither will the eagles also be gathered together.”

5. Who will be the leader of the Great Apostacy?

B. Additional Questions

1. What indications do you see in the church of today that could mean that the Great Apostasy is not far way? For example, do you find false security, materialism, rebellion against God’s ordinances?

2. What can we do for our children, in order That they may not be swept away by This fest approaching evil?

3. Has there been any lowering of the bars in connection with such matters as the ordinance of marriage, worldly amusements, the confession of Scripture’s infallibility over against such movements as Barthianism? Is the church of today wide awake, so that it actually sees these evils, and does something about them?

4. Are church-members today as fully aware of the danger of apostasy as a former generation was?

5. Is sending our children to Christian Schools a sufficient safeguard?

sufficient safeguard?

Outline VI

From your Bible read II Thessalonians 2:1–5


Let me begin by reminding you of the fact that what you are reading right now is an Outline. It is not a detailed explanation. In an Outline there is no room for that. In an Outline one can give only the summary.*

Now here in II Thessalonians 2 the apostle warns the readers against being overly disturbed and acting as if the end of the world had arrived (see verses 1 and 2), and against believing that he himself had said or written anything that could have lent color to this notion (read what he says in verse 5). He declares that two events will occur first, namely, a. the apostasy, and b. the arrival of “the lawless one.”

It would seem that the apostasy, which we discussed in our previous outline will already have made some progress when “the lawless one comes upon the scene. He “takes over” from there on, and makes a bad thing even worse. In him the movement of apostasy receives a very ambitious, energetic leader. He will be an active and aggressive transgressor. He is here called “the lawless one,” not because he never heard of God’s law, but because he openly defies it. The man who by the apostle John is called Antichrist (I John 2:18, 22; 4:3; II John 7) is by Paul called “the man of sin” or, more exactly translated, “the man of lawlessness.”

Now when the question is asked, “Who will be he?” all kinds of answers are given. Some say, “Satan.” Others, “the beast out of the sea” of Revelation 13 and 17. Others do not want to think of one definite person at all but of many persons, called collectively “the man of sin.” Some speak of “the line of Roman emperors,” or of “Nero brought back to life.” A very popular notion is that the pope is Antichrist.

From II Thessalonians 2 and from Daniel 7 it becomes clear, however, that the final antichrist, as pictured here by Paul, will be one definite person living in the end-time, a man in whom rebellion against God’s law will as it were be embodied. He will be the great opponent, the terrible adversary of God, of God’s law, of God’s people, etc.

Now this man is called Antichrist, not simply because he will be a person who opposes the Christ, but because he will be a rival Christ, that is, a person who arrogates to himself the honor that is due to Christ alone.


a. His perverse character (verse 3b)

He will be the hell-bound, personal embodiment of the spirit of antagonism to God’s law.

b. His God-defying activity (vs. 4)

He will strive to dethrone God and to enthrone himself. In his reckless audacity and ferocious insolence he will exalt himself not only against the true God and against all so-called gods but also against all sacred objects. He will endeavor to wield dominion over God’s people. Hence, for them it will be a period of great tribulation. He has his prototype in everyone who aspires to be God, for example, in the king of Babylon (Isaiah 14), in the king of Tyre (Ezekiel 28), and in Antioehus Epiphanes. In the days of the apostle John there were “many antichrists,” that is, many individuals whose rebellious spirit fore shadowed the final and most terrible Antichrist.

In our next Outline we shall continue this discussion.


A. Questions Answered in the Outline

1. What was the trouble with Thessalonian believers? That is, why were they so shaken up?

2. According to Paul, whal two events will precede Christ’s glorious return? Do these two events follow one another as two separate events, first the one, and then, when it stops, the other; or do they blend into each other so as to become one big event?

3. The man who by John is called Antichrist is called what by Paul?

4. Describe the character of Antichrist.

5. Describe his activity.

B. Additional Questions

1. The Thessalonian believers were “shaken from their normal state of mind” by the thought of Christ’s return. Is that the proper attitude for a Christian when he reflects on Christ’s glorious coming?

2. What had happened that caused these people to think that Jesus was coming back “any moment”?

3. Is the pope Antichrist? State your reason. for believing or not believing that he is Antichrist.

4. What is meant by “The little horn” of Daniel 7? And what is meant by “the little horn” of Daniel 8? Who was Antiochus Epiphanes and what did he do?

5. Are there “many antichrist” today? If so, what can we do to combat them? About what should we be more concerned: the coming Antichrist or today’s antichrists?

Antichrist (Second Outline)

Outline VII

From your Bibles read II Thessalonians 2:6–12

In today’s lesson we continue and conclude last week’s discussion.


Paul tells us that, at the time when he was writing, the man of lawlessness was still being held back. Though present in the mind of Satan, something and someone for the time being prevented the Antichrist from appearing on the scene of history. We said “something” and “someone.” It seems that Paul viewed the restrainer as being both a thing and a person. In verse 6 he says, “that which restraineth,” hence, some thing; but in verse 7 he says, “one that restraineth,” hence, a person. Perhaps he is thinking about law and order, as the thing, and about whoever enforces it (think of emperors and other rulers during the course of history) as the person(s). That at any rate is one of the oldest explanations. It also fits the context and is still being advocated by many of the best expositors. The spirit of lawlessness holds in its womb the lawless one. The devil can hardly wait until the day arrives when he can bring the final Antichrist upon the scene. When, at the beginning of the great apostasy, law and order, founded on justice, are finally removed, then the man of lawlessness wiII be made manifest. That is a logical explanation.


The Lord Jesus, returning on the clouds, will intervene in the interest of his people. Messiah’s very breath, the first gleam of his advent, will suffice to destroy the lawless one. The issue will be settled in a moment. There will be not be a long drawn-out conflict, with victory now apparently with the lawless one, then with Christ, this “round” going to Antichrist, that one to Christ. The Lord Jesus will summarily and decisively put an end to Antichrist and also to his program.


The coming of the great opponent will be attended by astounding performances, aimed to delude the masses on their way to perdition. The energy of the devil wiII operate in and through the man of lawlessness.


These followers are here described as “those who are perishing because they did not accept the love for the truth that they might be saved.” The passage continues: “And for this reason God sends them a deluding energy, that they should believe the falsehood, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but delighted in unrighteousness” (our translation from the original).

When we read that God actually sends these people a deluding energy, we may feel that this is rather harsh. In explanation we would say the following. God is love. He is not a cruel monster who deliberately and with inner delight prepares people for everlasting damnation. On the contrary, he earnestly warns, proclaims the gospel, and even urges people to accept the love for the truth. But when people, of their own accord, and after repeated threats and warnings, reject him and spurn his message, then—and not until then—he hardens them in order that those who were not willing to repent may not be able to repent but may believe the falsehood that the man of lawlessness is God, the only God, and that everyone should obey him. In the final judgment all the deluded ones will be condemned. This sentence of condemnation will be just and fair; for those upon whom it is pronounced, far from consenting to the redemptive truth of God, have actually placed their delight in its very opposite, namely, unrighteousness.


A. Questions Answered in the Outline

1. What is probably meant by “that which restraineth” and by “one that restraineth”?

2. What will happen to Antichrist and to his program when Jesus returns?

3. Why will so many people be deluded by Antichrist?

4. Describe Antichrist’s followers.

5. What will happen to them? Is this fair?

B. Additional Questions

1. How extensive will be the dominion of tho Antichrist? Cf. Rev. 20:7, 8. What do you think of the idea that the restrainer is God? the Holy Spirit? Michael? the devil? common grace?

2. What is meant by the three days and a half during which “they that dwell on the earth” will in the end-time persecute God’s children? Why “three days and a half,” and not “seven days”? See Revelation 11.

3. Would it be easier today than it would have been ” century ago for Antichrist to gain control over the whole world? If so, does this also show that we are approaching the day of Christ’s coming?

4. What is the great comfort which believers experience when they think of the coming of Antichrist and of his terrible reign? See Luke 21:28; Isaiah 43:1–7.

5. Will the season of great tribulation for believers burst upon the earth suddenly or will it come gradually? Have some regions of the earth already entered it perhaps?

The One Great Final Sign

Outline VIII

From your Bibles read Matthew 24:3, also verses 29 and 30; and also Luke 21:25–28

The disciples had asked for a sign. Jesus had warned them that such things as wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes would merely mean that “the end is not yet.” “All these things are but the beginning of travail,” he had said. They are only the beginning, not the end. He had added, “But when ye see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that her desolation is at hand” (Luke 21:20). So much as to the end for Jerusalem and its temple, which in turn typifies the end of the world but must not be identified with it.

As far as the end of the world is concerned, the Lord had given two preliminary signs, both of which we have discussed. The first was “the proclamation of the gospel in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations.” The second was “days of great tribulation” which would be immediately followed by Christ’s glorious manifestation. This great tribulation, as has been shown, stands in very close connection with the great apostasy, and is brought about by the reign of the final Antichrist.

The reader will have noticed, however, that so far we have spoken only about two preliminary signs. These two are not yet the one great final sign. The disciples had asked about the sign, singular. They did not say signs, plural. Now, in Matthew 24:29, 30, the Lord indicates what will be that one all-glorious sign, and in the same passage and in Luke 21:25–28 he also points out the convulsions in the realm of nature that will accompany it.


The picture is very vivid. While the earth is drenched with the blood of the saints in the most terrible tribulation of all time, all at once the sun becomes darkened. The moon ceases to give its light. The stars deviate from their orbits and race to their doom; they “fall from heaven.” The powers of the heaven are shaken. Terrifying sounds are heard. There is “the roaring of the sea and the billows,” causing perplexity among men. People faint with fear and with foreboding of what is beginning to happen to the world.

In connection with this apocalyptic picture strict literalness must be avoided. Until this prophetic panorama becomes history we shall probably not know how much of this description must be taken literally and how much figuratively. Observe, however, that the convulsions here described do not blot out the human race. Today, by means of sensational books and articles, we are being told that this Or that frightfully destructive bomb will completely wipe out humanity. There are also scientists who tell us that the sun will gradually lose its mass—hence its gravitational pull—and that as a result the earth will recede farther and farther away from the solar orb and from its heat. Cold winds accompanied by blinding snow will cause the human race to freeze to death. According to another theory, however, some day a celestial body call it a “star” or a “star-fragment” will come whizzing toward our planet. Before it even touches the earth, buildings and homes everywhere will be a sea of flames, and everybody will be roasted to death. But according to the passages which we are now studying (also according to I Thessalonians 4:17) there will still be people on earth when Jesus returns!


Suddenly light streams down from heaven. The sign appears: “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven.” Just what is meant by this one great final sign by which believers will know that Jesus is about to take his children unto himself? Some have thought that a special mark or emblem will appear in the sky; for example, a huge cross. But there is nothing that in any way suggests this. Far more probable is the view that the very appearance of the Son of man upon clouds of glory is itself the sign. Christ’s brilliant self-manifestation will be a sign that he is about to descend in order to meet his people while they ascend to meet him in the air. This explanation gains some support from the fact that while Matthew says, “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven,” Mark and Luke leave out the word sign, and simply say, “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (or: “in a cloud with power and great glory”). Remember also that the Lord told his disciples that not wars and rumors of wars, famines and earthquakes would mark the end for Jerusalem, but that the return visible appearance of hostile armies laying siege to Jerusalem would indicate that its desolation would be at hand (Luke 21:20). In both cases, therefore, we are dealing with a sudden visible spectacle.

But when Jesus appears in majesty, surrounded by a multitude of angels, upon clouds of glory, this will be to his people a sign in still another respect. It will not only mean that now “The Wedding of the Lamb” will most certainly take place, but it will also mean that this Jesus is, indeed, the Messiah of prophecy; for, the glorious manner of his appearance will correspond exactly with that which was predicted concerning the Messiah (Daniel 7:13, 14; cf. Matthew 26:64). This glory which will mark his appearance will be a sign, a definite proof, of God’s delight in his Son and of the justice of the cause of him who was once the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.


A. Questions Answered in the Outline

1. Describe the convulsions that will take place in the realm of nature when Jesus’ return…

2. Must all this be taken literally?

3. Will humanity be wiped out by these convulsions?

4. What is meant by the expression, “And then than appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven”?

5. Name an Old Testament prophet who predicted Christ’s glorious second coming. In what chapter of his prophecy?

B. Additional Questions

1. Will it be light or dark when our Lord makes his appearance?

2. Why is Jesus here called “the Son of man”?

3. What is meant by the expression, “And all the tribes of the earth shall mourn”? Is this the mourning of consternation and despair or is it the mourning of genuine sorrow for sin?

4. How will it be possible for people on both tides of the globe to see the Son of man coming on the clouds of heaven?

5. What lime of the day will it be when Jesus returns? See the answer in Mark 13:35–37. What practical lesson does that passage teach us?