The apostle Paul speaks of a great apostasy to come upon the earth in the last days. What is apostasy? It is a “rejection of truth once believed and proclaimed.” Simply put, it is a falling away from God’s truth. Paul writes of the apostasy to come:
“We beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ…that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word …as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first” (2 Thessalonians 2:1–3).
Recently, the Holy Spirit prompted me to study Ezekiel 16, which speaks about the apostate church. As I read this chapter, I was overwhelmed with the grief of God. It reveals his broken heart over a church that forgot its foundations and turned away from its glorious beginnings. According to Ezekiel, Israel had grown so corrupt it had become a harlot church, worse than Sodom. This people, whom God had delivered, cleansed and blessed, had now turned against him, rejecting truth they once believed and preached. Their apostasy pierced him.
So the Lord sent Ezekiel to Israel to deliver a scathing message. It is a prophecy with a dual application, speaking both to Israel then and to the church today. Ezekiel began with these harsh words: “O harlot, hear” (Ezekiel 16:35). Here was God’s message:
“When I found you, you had been cast aside in an open field, abandoned and bleeding. I saved you and loved you, washing you with clean water, and you grew up to be a beautiful woman. I showered you with blessings, clothed you and bejeweled you. And I made a covenant with you, and you became mine. I prospered you, making you known and respected to all the heathen” (16:5–11, my paraphrase).
Think about Ezekiel’s portrayal of Israel in this chapter. Here were a people once delivered from bondage and death, a church adorned with the blessings of a beloved, beautiful bride. Isn’t this the testimony of God’s people today? We all were bloodied, caked in sin, when Jesus found us, and he cleansed us and made us whole. He has delivered all who come to him, making us new creatures, showering us with blessings and giving us a testimony to the world.
As I think of our spiritual fathers in the New Testament church, I think of servants who gave their lives to defend the gospel. From the very beginning, the disciples and apostles preached the whole counsel of God, proclaiming Christ as Messiah to their dying days. The Lord showered his gifts and blessings on that first-century church, and it grew and prospered in spirit and in truth. Soon its influence spread to heathen nations worldwide.
Out of the roots lain down by that early church sprang a tree with many branches. We call these branches denominations, organizations, fellowships, movements, and they take on manifold expressions and forms: Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Charismatics and others. As we study these branches’ origins, we find that most were sparked into flame by saintly servants of Christ. Many of these godly founders were martyred for their devotion to the pure Word of God.
In my study are nine volumes by John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church. I believe Wesley was one of the godliest men who ever lived. This man wept over the spiritual condition of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, praying for them without ceasing. His devotion led to one of the greatest revivals in history.
Wesley would rise in the dark and ride on horseback to preach to coal miners at six in the morning, before they went to work. He endured incredible hardships for his ministry, at times being beaten by mobs. Yet Wesley labored faithfully until revival came, transforming British society from the depths of its prisons to the upper reaches of government.
In the early days of America, Methodist preachers held open-air meetings similar to Wesley’s, called “camp meetings.” These men, fired by the Spirit with zeal like Wesley’s, worked as “circuit riders,” traveling on horseback throughout Kentucky, Tennessee and the Midwest. Their meetings were held in the countryside, drawing people from all around. The preaching was so powerful, with deep conviction for sin, that listeners fainted and cried out for forgiveness.
Consider the beginnings of modern-day Pentecostalism. This movement started early in the last century, in a little clapboard church on Azusa Street in Los Angeles. The congregation consisted of a few humble blacks and whites who dedicated themselves to prayer and fasting, and out of this the Holy Ghost manifested himself powerfully. The conviction in the chapel was so powerful that many people fell prostrate the moment they entered.
Soon visitors came from all over the city to experience the revival. Then they came from afar, and the Azusa Street revival spread all over the world. Out of that tiny church emerged righteous men and women full of Holy Ghost fire, servants who would not bend to the idols of their generation. And out of the revival sprang many of the Pentecostal organizations we know today: the Assemblies of God, the Church of God, the Foursquare Church and others.
Just as the Lord said of ancient Israel, he could say of most of these groups: “I found you in your time of need. And I picked you up, clothed you in robes of righteousness, loved you and blessed you. You were poor, but I made you prosperous, and your influence spread to the nations.
“But after this, you became proud and played the harlot. You misused the gifts I gave you. You forgot how I found you: naked, forsaken and helpless.” “In all thine abominations and thy whoredoms thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast polluted in thy blood” (Ezekiel 16:22, my italics).
Here is apostasy in its clearest form: when God’s people abandon the truth that saved them. The Lord was telling Israel, in essence, “You once professed and believed, but you’ve become a traitor to the truth. You have left the old paths, inventing manmade methods. You no longer love me, and you’ve stopped trusting me. Instead, you’re going your own way. And that has provoked my anger.”
“As a wife that committeth adultery, which taketh strangers instead of her husband” (16:32). Here, in a word, we see the tendency of God’s people. In short, we are bent on backsliding. Many of us, at some point in our walk with the Lord, forgot our beginnings. We forgot what it was like to be found in sin, cleansed, loved and blessed by God. And over time we grew lukewarm or cold in our love for him. Other loves entered in.
You may object, “But this isn’t the proper interpretation of Ezekiel 16. The prophet was referring only to natural Israel.” On the contrary, Paul states that the Old Testament truths have a dual application, for both then and now: “All these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Read in this context, Ezekiel’s prophecy is clearly a parable, revealing God’s heart when his people fall into apostasy.
Let me give you a prime example of where we see this great apostasy taking place today. The Episcopal church has regularly made headlines for some years now. It is one of the oldest and largest denominations in the world, a church whose origins were solidly rooted in biblical teaching. It preached the gospel of a risen Savior, and its pulpits were blessed with prophets and holy preachers. Indeed, the godly influence of the Episcopal church spread throughout the world, from Europe to Africa and the Americas.
Now, however, this once-devoted church has fallen into apostasy. Talk about a people who have moved far away from their beginnings:
The denomination is one of the first to ordain a homosexual bishop.
Some Episcopal leaders are trying to “debunk” the divinity of Jesus.
Recently, bishops and lay members of the national ruling body stated that the church’s dioceses could interpret the Trinity however they pleased. God can be a she, Jesus a loving thought, and the Spirit an individual’s choice. It is outright blasphemy!
The newly elected head bishop is a woman who has adopted the gay agenda, and the denomination is headed for a split. Local churches are cutting off funds, and African bishops have had enough, crying out that the American churches are apostatizing. Meanwhile, the church’s numbers here are dwindling.
In England, we see the same thing happening in the Anglican church. That denomination has dwindled to such small numbers that church buildings which stood for centuries are now closing permanently. This process is called “desanctifying.” These magnificent structures once were packed with zealous believers. But the Anglicans’ condition has grown so apostate that they’ve had to sell off numbers of their church buildings, some of which are being turned into nightclubs, occult museums and even mosques.
Both Harvard and Yale were founded by godly preachers as Bible schools. Great revivals once swept through these colleges, and powerful preachers were sent forth from them. Yet today these renowned universities are hotbeds of atheism, unabashed deniers of the divinity of Christ. They have become apostate institutions, moving far from their biblical roots.
The same is true of Columbia in New York and Princeton in New Jersey. Both of these colleges were founded by godly preachers, but now they also have grown apostate. God, for a growing number, is no longer a heavenly Father but possibly even a female deity. Christ is no longer upheld as the Son of God but is portrayed as only a good man or a charismatic teacher.
Even in Christian colleges and evangelical seminaries worldwide, the leaven of apostasy has become embedded. It is now a losing battle for these schools to try to stay the course of the old paths, because apostatized professors no longer hold to biblical truth. The new gospel they present dismisses the divinity of Christ, the reality of hell and judgment, and biblical standards of purity and morality.
Consider again God’s words to Israel in Ezekiel’s day: You have corrupted yourselves more than Sodom. “As I live, saith the Lord God, Sodom thy sister hath not done…as thou hast done…. Thou wast corrupted more than they in all thy ways…. They are more righteous than thou” (Ezekiel 16:48, 47, 52).
The Lord then describes the sins of Sodom and why he destroyed them: “This was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fullness of bread, and abundance of idleness…neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good” (16:49–50).
Notice what Sodom’s primary sins were: pride and arrogance. You have heard of “gay pride.” New York City has an annual Gay Pride parade, which numbers up to 400,000 marchers. Marchers carry signs reading, “God Is Gay,” “Christ Was Gay,” “Gay and Proud of It.” I once saw marchers leap out of the parade to attack a small group who carried signs reading, “Jesus Loves Gays. He Only Hates Sin.” That meek group sought only to offer love, but they were cruelly manhandled.
Despite such outright arrogance, God states in Ezekiel 16: “The pride and arrogance of the apostate church is worse than the pride of gays. Even Sodom never sinned as you have sinned.” The fact is, it is utter pride, terrible arrogance, to defame the name of Christ…to call God “she”…to say the church has no heavenly Father.(If there is no Father, then there can be no Son, which is the central lie of Islam.)
What awful depth of pride it takes to remove the divinity of the One who died to save us! Yet now that same awful pride is breaking out in some evangelical organizations, turning the church against the truths of its fathers. It is a wave of total apostasy.
God hates most of all the lukewarm gospel of half-truths that is now spreading over the globe. This gospel says, “Just believe in Jesus and you’ll be saved. There’s nothing more to it.” It ignores the whole counsel of God, which speaks of repenting from former sins, of taking up your cross, of being conformed to the image of Christ by the refining work of the Holy Spirit. It is totally silent about the reality of hell and an after-death judgment.
Isaiah warns of this smooth, non-offensive gospel, which people are clamoring for today. His prophecy applies directly to the present time, because God instructed him to write it “for the time to come” (Isaiah 30:8):
“This is a rebellious people… children that will not hear the law of the Lord: which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us” (30:9–11).
According to Isaiah, there was no preaching of holiness or repentance. Why? The people didn’t want to be corrected or convicted. They refused to hear anything but a smooth gospel. Yet a diluted gospel is no gospel at all.
Ezekiel describes such a gospel: “They have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them” (Ezekiel 22:26). He called the diluted gospel mere whitewash, or “untempered mortar” (22:28). In other words: “You’re building walls with untempered mortar. Those walls may look prestigious and strong now, but the Lord is sending a storm, and it’s going to cause those walls to fall.” “A stormy wind shall rend it” (13:11).
Ezekiel then outlined a list of awesome judgments, through which God would say to his people: “I’m going to expose your nakedness. Severe judgments are on the way, and when they come, your blasphemous gospel will be exposed as empty and hopeless.”
Isaiah prophesied that in that day, “The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day…. The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day” (Isaiah 2:11, 15, 17).
Right now, I believe we are facing Armageddon. All around us we see nations trembling and men’s hearts shuddering with fear. I tell you, this is no time for a diluted gospel. That gospel is absolutely treacherous, because it will crumble as soon as the winds of judgment blow. God warns he’ll judge those who preach this lifeless gospel:
“Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life: therefore ye shall see no more vanity, nor divine divinations: for I will deliver my people out of your hand: and ye shall know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 13:22–23).
“I will judge thee, as women that break wedlock and shed blood are judged; and I will give thee blood in fury and jealousy…Because thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, but hast fretted me in all these things; behold, therefore I also will recompense thy way upon thine head, saith the Lord God” (16:38, 43, my italics).
When judgment comes, what will happen to those who put their security in a diluted gospel? They’ll look in every direction for a true word from the Lord but won’t be able to find it. Their apostate preachers will say, “Don’t get worked up. The world has seen troubles like these before. We’ve seen world wars. All things continue as they have from the beginning. This will blow over.”
No, not so! There has never been a day like this one. There are now nuclear weapons in the hands of madmen, deadly missiles that can travel thousands of miles, dirty bombs and germ warfare that threaten to wipe out huge masses of humanity.
Just as Sodom and Gomorrah willingly ignored God’s warnings and were judged, the Lord will judge this last-day generation. But many of his judgments are redemptive, and those that fell on Sodom were examples for every generation: “Even as Sodom and Gomorrah…are set forth for an example” (Jude 7).
This chapter is one of the greatest expressions of God’s mercy and grace in all of Scripture. The Lord says that while judgments are falling with fire and fury on all sides, “I will cause thee to cease from playing the harlot” (Ezekiel 16:41). Once again, humankind is going into the fiery furnace. And once again, God will do a supernatural work in people’s hearts, turning multitudes from idols and false gods.
According to Revelation, two things will happen as the awful vials of wrath are poured out. First, many hardhearted people will refuse to repent: “Men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory…. And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds…. And men blasphemed God because of the plague…for the plague thereof was exceeding great” (Revelation 16:9, 11, 21).
Yet, Scripture says, in the midst of those frightful times, others will turn to the Lord in repentance. Backsliders and the lukewarm, those who had a taste of God’s Word, the Lord will convict and woo. Then Ezekiel’s prophecy will come to pass: “I will turn you from your prideful apostasy.”
“They shall burn thine houses with fire, and execute judgments upon thee in the sight of many women: and I will cause thee to cease from playing the harlot” (Ezekiel 16:41, my italics). The judgments at that time will be so earth-shattering, all of humanity will know it is “do or die” time. In that moment, God is going to shake and stir every backslider who’s known him and show them the apostasy of their hearts. Many apostate pastors will be driven back to the Cross, turning from their sloth to preach repentance and righteousness. It will be a supernatural work, a manifestation of God’s grace that will be evident to all the world.
Meanwhile, Allah will fail to deliver his worshippers from the vials of wrath. Masses of Hindu worshippers will be crushed as they’re failed by their millions of deities. Indeed, the whole world will say, “These judgments are supernatural,” and multitudes will cry out for Christ. (We’ve already seen this happen, after the devastating tsunami in the Far East.)
“And I will establish my covenant with thee; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: that thou mayest remember, and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith the Lord God” (Ezekiel 16:62–63).
God is telling us, in short: “In spite of all your apostasies, all your rejections of me, all your backslidings in the hour of trial that comes upon the earth, I will remember the covenant I made with you in your youth.” In other words, it will all happen because of his supernatural mercy.
Beloved, that is the New Covenant, made at Calvary. Think of it: Jesus came to a world that was in total apostasy, dead in ritualism, bound by corruption. He didn’t come in answer to man’s prayers, because so few were seeking him. The world at that time worshipped idols and false gods, just as humankind does today. Israel was apostate. Christ’s coming was a pure act of mercy, undeserved by anyone.
I believe a great harvest of souls is still to come out of modern Sodom. All around the world, churches will be blessed and amazed by the remnant of hungry believers who come forth out of every nation. These will recognize the voice of the Lord, saying, “I am bringing you back to your beginnings in me.” And their hearts will awaken, responding, “Lord, bring me back to my first love for you.”