Some prophecy teachers claim that there are no signs to look for prior to the rapture, but this is not remotely true.
Although it is difficult to analyze the primary sign, which is apostasy in the church, there is no question that this is the mega- sign of the beginning of the end times.
Any discussion of apostasy in the church makes people very uncomfortable because no one wants to think that their church is a member of the apostate class. Unfortunately, if we are worshipping in a dead church, we place ourselves and our families in grave peril.
The time period that Christians should be looking for is the final great apostasy of the church. That is where things get complicated since there has always been apostasy in the church, so we do not know if this present apostasy is the last one.
The only way to make this determination is to examine the most popular churches in this country and around the world to see if they are actually proclaiming the Gospel. And are these mega-churches influencing smaller churches who are adopting their messages in order to grow their church.
There is plenty of evidence that we are currently under the judgment of God because the vast majority of our churches are apostate. By this, I mean that these churches are preaching false doctrine rather than the Gospel. I can make this determination because Jesus told us what the entire Bible was about, from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus opened the minds of his disciples and all future generations of Christians so that they could understand the Scriptures.
Then he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).
Those churches that do not proclaim God’s law and His Gospel are preaching a different Gospel, and their pastors are therefore accursed (Galatians 1:9).
There is no question that this nation is currently under the judgment of God.
When our own Supreme Court upheld the morality of homosexuality, ordained ‘Gay Marriage,’ and affirmed the existence of transgenderism, these were acts of judgment from God against the apostate church. They are also judgments against this nation as a whole.
“For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God [the church]; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey [preach and live by] the gospel of God?” (I Peter 4:17).
It seems that the spiritual condition of the nation is directly tied to the spiritual condition of the church. If the people are strong in their faith, then the nation rests on a firm foundation, and its institutions are based on truth and righteousness. However, if the faith of the people is weak, then we should expect our institutions to suppress the truth and to begin to prey on the righteous.
If judgment begins in the house of God, then there is no question that the faith of the people of this nation is very weak. Our government and our institutions are outrageously corrupt, and the corruption seems to grow exponentially with each passing day. This may be merely a warning to the church that its faith is poor, or its lack of faith may have exhausted God’s patience, and He is ready to pass judgment upon us.
We know that the great apostasy, or falling away from the faith, precedes the introduction of the Antichrist. We also know that the Antichrist will enter a temple in Jerusalem that has not yet been built so he can proclaim himself to be God.
Prophecy writers are prudent to watch for the plans to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem because that act does give us a clue as to how close we are to the rapture.
However, the primary sign that should disturb us is the fact that the faith is being abandoned on our watch.
“Let no one deceive you [Matthew 24:4] in any way. For that day [the day of the Lord] will not come, unless the rebellion [Apostasy, Falling Away from the Faith] comes first, and the man of lawlessness [Antichrist] is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the [rebuilt] temple of God [in Jerusalem, Israel], proclaiming himself to be God” (II Thessalonians 2:3-4).
It is imperative that the true church of Christ call all dead and Laodicean churches to repent before the return of Christ. The problem is, when true Christians stand up and denounce these churches, they are shouted down by those who prefer to cling to false doctrine. Paul warned us about this as well.
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers [pastors] to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (II Timothy 4:3).
If we examine our ‘mega-churches,’ it seems that we have already arrived at the time that Paul described.
The largest ‘congregation’ in the United States is Lakewood Church, with 16,800 seats. They apparently have upwards of 45,000 attendees per week who attend the various services of Joel Osteen. Millions more are probably watching on TV, which offers shows with different languages so that the whole world can receive its messages.
It is doubtful that anyone can find any evidence in Osteen’s thousands of sermons where he preached the Gospel. Paul admonished his listeners, “For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16) (or if I preach a different one).
When the word ‘Woe’ is used, it usually means that the person it is ascribed to will be spending an eternity in the lake of fire. This is not only true of the person who is preaching false doctrine; it is true of his devoted congregation as well.
Joel Osteen does not preach repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus. He preaches a different Gospel called the “Prosperity Gospel.” The Prosperity Gospel is not Christ-centered; it is self-centered. If you make the mistake of reading Osteen’s book, “Your Best Life Now,” you will find quote after quote that focuses on you and your drive to be successful in life. Jesus is only an afterthought.
Paul would be shocked to find that people would trade the pure Gospel of Christ for this drivel. Paul stated unequivocally,
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some [false teachers] who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you [repentance for the forgiveness of sins in the name of Jesus], let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone [especially a pastor] is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9).
When Christ addresses the seven churches in Revelation, it seems that the first four are now historical churches and the last three are end-times churches.
The church of Ephesus condemns the Nicolaitans, which is probably some cult that is lost in history. The church of Smyrna condemns slanderous Jews, and this has not been a problem since the first or second century. In Pergamum, there was a great leader named Antipas, but he is now with the Lord in eternity, and we know little about him.
Finally, in Thyatira, there was a woman named Jezabel who was causing discord in the church, and now she is lost in eternity.
When we reach the last three churches, however, we see language that is more in keeping with our understanding of the end times. It seems that the rapture is imminent, especially in the churches of Sardis and Philadelphia.
“I know your works. You have a reputation [by man] for being alive but you are dead. Wake up [preach the Gospel], and strengthen what remains [obey the Gospel], and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God [not based on faith in the Word of God]. Remember, then, what you received [the Gospel] and heard. Keep it [do not be ashamed of the Gospel], and repent [of your false teachings].
“If you do not wake up [and proclaim repentance for the forgiveness of sins in my name], I will come like a thief and you will not know at what hour I will come against you [I will be your enemy]. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments [with false doctrine], and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers [remains in the faith] will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the [Holy] Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:2-6).
We see the same thing with the Church of Philadelphia, which is the true church of the end times.
“I know your works [the work of God is to believe in the one He has sent]. Behold, I have set before you an open door [to the kingdom of heaven], which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power [your numbers are small], and yet you have kept my word [My Gospel] and have not denied my name. Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan [who reject the Gospel] who say that they are Jews and are not [Not descendants of Abraham by faith – Galatians 3:7], but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down [in repentance] before your feet [during the Millennium], and they will learn that I have loved you.
“Because you have kept my word about patient endurance [amid persecution], I will keep you from the hour of trial [the tribulation] that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth [I will judge all who dwell upon the earth but the church will be kept from it]. I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have [Remain in the faith], so that no one may seize your crown. The one who conquers [remains in the faith], I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.
Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:8-13).
The church of Laodicea, which is the last church that Christ addressed, is one where Jesus is not even welcome. Christ treats these people as if they were heathen who needed to hear the Gospel to be saved. He counsels:
“I know your works [without faith]; you are neither hot [zealous for God’s Word] or cold [outspoken unbelievers]. Would that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm [indifferent], and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth [I will reject you in disgust]. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing’ [my faith is in my wealth], not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked [Gospel-less]. I counsel you to buy gold [the Gospel] refined in the fire [of the Holy Spirit], so that you may be rich, and white garments [faithfulness] so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen.
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock [I am outside of your church]. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door [receives the Gospel], I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me [at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb]. The one who conquers [remains in the faith], I will grant him to sit with me on my throne [he will rule with me] as I also conquered [at the cross] and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:15-22).
Each of these three churches is what we can expect to see when the end times are upon us. The fact is, we can categorize many of the churches that exist today in one of these three groups. Unfortunately, people need to be honest with themselves about what type of church they are in. This is difficult because the church is usually our social circle, and those who make waves are eventually shunned. This is especially true when a member of the congregation challenges the pastor who is not handling God’s word properly.
After all, who are you to challenge the expert?
Be advised that even the laymen can challenge the ‘expert’ if he understands that the entire Bible revolves around the Gospel.
There is no evidence that Joel Osteen spent any significant time preaching the Gospel, if he ever did at all. It is doubtful that there is any record of him calling sinners to repent and be forgiven in the name of Jesus during this entire career. His church can easily be placed in the Laodicean camp.
Since this is fairly obvious, we can further assume that those who attend this church are not so much deceived as they are rebellious. My guess is if they ever attended the Church of Philadelphia, they would be offended or bored and quickly leave. It is highly likely that they would not be comfortable in the true church of Christ and would walk out of it in disgust.
The job of the true church of Christ is to preach the Gospel in season and out of season. That means that whether the Gospel is popular or frowned upon in a society, the church must remain true to its mission. We are not here to build relationships, try to be relevant, or engage in ‘church growth’; we are here to save souls from the lake of fire.
If Lakewood Church is indicative of the spiritual condition of the church in general, then we should expect the spiritual condition of the government to match it. If the church is not engaging in its mission to proclaim the Gospel, we cannot expect the government to engage in its mission to punish the wicked and defend the righteous.
Just as Lakewood ravages the souls of those who attend it, so too will the government crush the lives of those it governs.