The Lord’s Coming and Events Preceding It
A Part-I Message by Pastor Eric Chang Delivered on December 18, 1999 at the Singapore Christmas Camp
The subject of this camp, “Waiting and Preparing for the Coming of the Lord”, is a very difficult subject to tackle, as a matter of fact. What I would aim to do in these two messages, is first, in this first message, to draw a picture, you can say, of the events leading up to the Lord’s coming. It is very hard to prepare for something the general idea of which you do not even have. So we need to have a picture of what it will be like - all these events leading up to the Lord’s coming. And tomorrow, the Lord willing, we will speak a little bit more about how to prepare, what are the things in the Lord’s teaching - not in my suggestions - but in what the Lord teaches us to prepare for His coming. And for many of you I am not sure you want to hear that.
My messages are never like honey-coated pills; they are rather hard to swallow, as some of you who know me already know. It is not because I want to make them difficult, but because those are the words of the Lord for you to evaluate. You see, we fight a very intense spiritual battle. And how intense this battle is you will discover, if you know the Lord, especially in these days, prior to the Lord’s coming. So we need to pay careful attention to the Word of the Lord because it has to do with our survival. My words are not worth anything; it is the Lord’s words that you have to listen to. But it is precisely the Lord’s words that are so hard to swallow. Just as the Lord said, “The road to salvation is a very narrow one. The gate into the Kingdom is a very narrow gate.” [Mt. 7:13-14] Just how narrow, I hope you begin to get a picture by the end of this message. Because the Lord’s coming is like the dawn, the light that is ahead of us. But the night before the dawn is the darkest. And many will not survive the night to see the dawn. I wonder whether you will be among those who will be able to come through to the dawn. That to some extent will depend on tomorrow’s message: to what extent you are prepared to prepare.
We’re Certain the Lord Is Coming, But Not Exactly When
This subject is difficult to handle in its details. I am an exegete of the Word of God. Anyone who understands exegesis, that is, the detailed examination of the texts involved, will understand how difficult some of these texts are. We want to be very faithful to the Word of God. So, the general picture is clear, but the details are much more difficult to handle. In the time available to us, it will be very difficult to discuss the details.
What is clear is that the Lord is coming! Of the day and the hour, we cannot be specific. The general time, that is, about when, we can have a general idea. But as I said, the exact details, some are difficult to work out and some impossible. The effect of all this is to keep us on our toes the whole time. The first problem in dealing with the subject of the Lord’s coming is because He already said of that Day and of that hour, no man knows: His coming will be “like a thief in the night” (1 Thess. 5:2). How do you prepare for something the time of which you do not know? How exactly do you prepare for the coming of a thief in the night?
I remember when I was a boy, when the war with Japan - the aggression from Japan - started, my father, who was a very patriotic man, threw his energy into fighting for the country against Japan. He laid aside everything in his contribution to the war effort and the victory of China. So as the Japanese advanced on Shanghai, indeed when the Japanese were already in Shanghai, i.e., the naval ships, the war ships were in the harbor, one of the earliest things as a very small boy I could remember was the screaming of artillery shells of naval guns firing over Shanghai from the Japanese ships. And my father was intensely involved in the defense of the country. As the Japanese ring tightened around Shanghai, he slipped out of Shanghai through the attacking forces to continue the battle from Chongqing, the wartime capital. That of course left my mother and myself stranded behind enemy lines in Shanghai. In other words, he was prepared to leave his family, leave his employment - leave everything in order to fight this war. Such was his devotion to the country. The war dragged on for years and years in China, and when he left I was just about five years old. I still remember waving him off on a small boat as he slipped down the harbor and I did not see him again until six years later. So I was about eleven by the time he returned.
As a small boy of five, of course, I had almost no impression of my father. Six years later, I did not even know what he looked like. I remember the day my mother said, “Daddy is coming back. We have to welcome his return.” So after the defeat of Japan and I saw these Japanese soldiers kept under the bayonets of Chinese troops, there was victory but where was Dad? My mother said, “He is coming.” I said, “When?” She said, “One of these days.” “Why can’t you tell me when?” She said, “Because I don’t know.” Right after the war, the country was chaotic. It is not like going through Singapore Airport or Kuala Lumpur Airport and you have a plane arriving on time. This is wartime. Nobody knows which boat arrives, if it arrives at all. As a matter of fact, we did not even know by what means he was coming. Would it be overland? Or by boat? So how do you prepare for something the date of which you do not know?
So I think the Lord already taught me this lesson as a little boy about His return, about His coming. I remember standing on the street looking left and right, looking for anybody that I imagined might be my father. But I had no idea what he looked like. Can you imagine this? Maybe I had a vague idea because my mother showed me a photograph. I looked at the photograph - it was so small - and in those days, the photographs were not like today’s with color. It was something that looked rather black and white or gray. I was trying to see if that was my father. It was a bit hard to identify. Of course I did not know how tall he was. And even if my mother told me, I would not know what that figure means. And would he still have the same hairstyle? Or maybe his hair had fallen off and when I would be looking for somebody with a lot of hair some bald person turns up instead. And there I was looking up and down the street without any clue of what I was supposed to be looking for. I still remember that I would stand there from morning to night, looking left and right, looking at everybody who might be carrying a little bag coming by, and wondering if that was my father. I doubted whether my father would have any idea of what I looked like. A boy of five and a boy of eleven, the change in the boy is no way for you to know if that is your boy. So we could have walked past each other without any idea that we were father and son. I do not know how many days I stood on the road looking for what I did not know what I was looking for. But I stood there faithfully wondering which one was my father.
Then one early morning, my mother dragged me out of bed. I could hardly open my eyes. My mother said, “There is Dad!” I opened with great difficulty my sleepy eyes and looked at somebody there whom I had not a clue who he was. He came and he hugged me and I was saying, “Ah! So this is the one.” I think, obviously, he must have been very disappointed because I had no reaction at all. I stood there like a piece of wood. I had no idea how to react; I just stared at him in a very blank way. So he had to spend all the following days and weeks trying to gain my friendship. First, I had to look at that picture and look at him again, and I said, “Is he really my Dad?” He is not kidding me, is he? Maybe my mother was thinking I waited so long and would be so disappointed and maybe some substitute can make me feel a bit better. Gradually I realized that this was indeed my father.
And now waiting for the coming of the Lord, I feel a bit this way again. I am sort of standing there everyday saying, “When is He coming?” Of course, I know that we do not know the exact date, but do we even know what we are looking for? I heard that my father had become quite a high government official. So maybe what I could look out for, as I stood on the street, was somebody escorted by a number of soldiers, or with a shining helmet and nice uniforms. At least, maybe if I see a bunch of soldiers coming down the road in this fashion, I might think, “Ah! This may be my father.” But then he was not in the military. And so I thought, maybe he would arrive with plainclothes police. But then if they are wearing plain clothes, how could I tell? Maybe I see a bunch of people walking close together. I do not know what plainclothes police are supposed to wear. Maybe they wear suits, maybe they wear shirts; I did not even know what to look for. In the end how my father arrived, whether with soldiers or no soldiers, I do not know because I only saw him in the apartment, in our place. Certainly if there were any soldiers, they would not have come into the house. So I was still taken by surprise. I suppose if I saw a few soldiers I might say, “Oh yes, this must be my Dad,” but I did not see any soldiers.
A General Outline of Events Leading Up to the Lord’s Coming
When I study the NT, I am having the same problem here. You see, as I told you, the details are not clear. The general outline is clear, but the details are not clear. Scripture says, “When He comes, He will come with ten thousands of His angels” (Jude 14). Now that should make Him easy to identify. The problem is that if you look more carefully at the details, this comes at a later stage. When He first comes, it may not be in that fashion. For after all, you do not say that He comes as a thief in the night with ten thousands of His angels! It means there is an element of surprise! There is an element of secrecy! And after all, a thief in the night - we thought He is coming in the morning, the dawn; but He has already come in the night! And you look at the parables and you see that there is a problem in understanding the details because in the Parable of the 10 Virgins [Mt. 25:1-13], you remember: 5 wise and 5 foolish? And when was the announcement that the bridegroom has arrived? It was not in the morning.
Clearly there are 2 stages of His coming and this complicates the whole issue. All 10 were waiting for His coming but unfortunately 5 were caught unprepared. So maybe they thought it was easy - they would hear the trumpets sound, and there would be ten thousand angels or tens of thousands of angels - that cannot fail to wake you up! When the Lord first came, He also took everybody by surprise. The King arrived but He did not arrive with ten thousand angels. He was born where? He was born in a manger! The King came but He did not come in the way the people expected. That is the thing about Jesus, He knows how to surprise us.
As I said earlier, it will be difficult to work out the details because, for one thing, we do not have the time, and the other thing is you might find it hard to understand. But let me try. So before I make the picture sound oversimplified and easy, I want you first to understand the kind of problems we have to wrestle with. Oversimplification is also misleading. And the last thing we want in a subject like this is to be misled. Having given you this warning that I am now having to simplify the picture in order to make it easier for you to understand, and with that warning in mind, let me try to picture the events leading up to His coming for you based on the Scriptures. I hope that you can at least get the overall picture.
The Love of Many Will Grow Cold
Let us start from where we are now or attend to the events that are very soon to happen or have actually started already. And the picture that we have from the Scripture is that the night gets darker and darker. And I am afraid that in the simplifying process I cannot convey to you just how terrifying - and I use the word ‘terrifying’ advisedly - just how terrifying is what waits for us in the immediate future. And if you cannot grasp how terrifying this whole thing is, then I have failed. The Lord’s coming will be at a time to bring these terrifying events to an end. But I fear many will not survive until that point in time. Many will not survive physically; that is, you will die in that process, perhaps through persecution - persecution on a level that you cannot even begin to imagine. That is what Scripture is warning us about. It is not a pretty picture. And some will not survive spiritually. It is a terrible picture that is portrayed for us, if we have any eyes to see and any ears to hear.
How to portray this for you? Let me turn to some textual difficulties. Take for example, Mt. 24:12, and there it says (and by the way I am going to avoid giving you lots of scriptures. I can go on and on with Scripture alone, but since we do not have the time, as I said, I will try to keep it simple), “And the love of many shall grow cold because of lawlessness.”
“The love of many growing cold” means you might be very enthusiastic at this present time but that enthusiasm will vanish. One of the things we see (for those of who serve the Lord in the church for many years) is this phenomenon of people whose fire disappears, whose love grows cold. Here it says it is because of lawlessness. Exegetically this is very difficult to handle. From the point of view of exposition, what lawlessness is being referred to here? If it refers to lawlessness in the world, then why should lawlessness in the world affect your love for God and for His people? Here is another attempt to show you some of the difficulties in dealing with details. If we look at actual situations in the world, does it mean that when there is lawlessness in the world, then the love of those who love the Lord correspondingly grows cold? Is that the case? When law collapses in society, does that result in people no longer loving the Lord? Does it follow logically or factually that when there is a high level of law and order in society that the love of people for the Lord increases? The Scripture is not talking about whether religion increases; it is the actual genuine love for the Lord which is affected by this thing.
This should be easy to examine empirically, for example, in China. Let us take the most chaotic period, the Cultural Revolution, which dragged on for a very long time. That is really lawlessness at a very high level. Did it occur during that time that those who loved the Lord that their love went cold? That is not the case; in fact, to the contrary. Often when there is lawlessness in society, people turn to the Lord where there is order in the Lord. Because when they come to the Lord, they come to His church. They discover that in the midst of total disorder in society, there is still order among His people in His church. So in fact many people come to the Lord in a time of lawlessness in society. According to such reports as we have, multitudes in China turned to the Lord during that time.
So I would like you to consider this important question: Why should lawlessness in society cause any loss of love for God? Of course by the time you look at these questions and you look at the text, you realize that the Lord is not talking about lawlessness in society. Do you know where this lawlessness is? It is in the church, among the people of God! And when you look at all the texts (and as I said, we cannot go through all the Scriptural texts) - whether we look at the pastoral epistles, meaning 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus, etc. and you put the picture together, and all these references to apostasy (apostasy, for those who do not know the word in English, means those who turn away from the faith) - the Scripture warns us that one of the features of these last days is that people will be turning away from the true faith in God. And the great shock is to realize that the lawlessness that may be in the world now controls the church.
Increasing Lawlessness Leads to Apostasy
What is lawlessness? Lawlessness is the turning of one’s back upon righteousness - the righteousness of God. And I notice many people have almost no concept of righteousness. Do you have a proper grasp of righteousness in your life? Does sin bother you at all? Maybe not much! And that is the disaster, because lawlessness creeps into the church slowly but surely like a cancer. There are people doing all kinds of things in the church which is a shame to mention even in the world. Some were broadcast: very well known faces of church leaders in the United States, church leaders who consort with prostitutes, who cheat church brothers and sisters out of vast amounts of money. Of course the vastness does not matter, whether small or big; it is all unrighteousness. We see full-time co-workers who decide to marry non-Christians, no matter what the Scripture says, and yet they want to insist that they are Christians. The list can go on and on.
Is there nothing in your life that you are ashamed of? If you want to prepare for His coming, start right there. See whether your life can stand up to examination. See whether your life is pure for He will judge! And when sin happens in the church, do you take a very easy, soft approach? When you see church workers committing sin, does it bother you? I do not mean whether you like their style or not; that has nothing to do with sin. When a co-worker, a Christian leader, goes and marries a non-Christian, does it bother you, or do you say, “Oh well, let us take it lightly. It is not that serious”? I take a very serious view of such things. Because a love without holiness, without purity is not the Biblical type of love. But how many sins in the church are just waved away with the word ‘love’: “Let’s love! Let’s love!” That is not love. Love never sacrifices purity and holiness as far as God is concerned. And if you understand the coming of the Lord, you would understand this point, because the coming of the Lord is linked with His judgment, His judgment against sin. And have you noticed in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, on what so much is the distinction based? It is sins of omission. We have not even handled the matter of the sins of commission, never mind the sins of omission. The standard is that high, brothers and sisters!
What was the difference between the sheep and the goats (Mt. 25)? One was stealing money and the other was not stealing money? Not at all! “When I was in prison, you did not visit Me.” It is a sin of omission. It is not that they committed some sin, but they did not do what they ought to do. “When I was hungry, you didn’t give Me anything to eat.” “When I was cold, you did not give Me anything to wear.” No reference to committing sins! It is the things you did not do that you are held responsible for. Do you really dare to meet the Lord? Can you think of all the things you ought to have done and you did not do? When you look at that standard, when you are judged at the standard of omission and not commission, do you still dare to meet the Lord?
First, think of all the sins you did commit and have not put right yet. We are not yet at the level of “sheep and goats”, brothers and sisters. We are not even there talking about that subject yet. When the Lord says, “Hey! What about the sins you have committed and have not dealt with”, that puts you in a different class. You are not even in the “sheep and goats” category yet. Did you visit those, did you comfort those who suffer for the Lord? “When I was in prison, you didn’t visit Me.” What have you done? When have you visited anybody or comforted anyone who suffered for the Lord? You say, “I don’t know anybody who suffered for You. It has nothing to do with me.” “Oh, really?” All the brothers and sisters in China, do you know how many of them suffered for the Lord? And they have nothing to do with you? Do you know how much suffering and poverty many of them endured? Do you want to know? Of course you do not want to know because if you know, it will put you under obligation. So shut your ears and close your eyes. Don’t look at it because the moment you see that, you may say, “Uh oh! Here comes the obligation!”
Some of you here have been to Burma - to Myanmar - and you heard the reports of those who came back from Myanmar: the intense hunger for the Word of God! Is that your responsibility? You have been through Commitment Training, you have been through Basic Discipleship Training, and some of you have been through Intermediate Discipleship Training, and there, even the pastors have not even had Commitment Training, the most basic level in our church! So, you have the training. Have you got some money? Oh, you are not rich, but Myanmar is not far away. Can you afford the trip? I am sure most of you can. Probably it does not cost much more than coming to the camp, does it? You say, “I knew I did the wrong thing - I came to this camp. I was going to listen to this pastor and he is going to give me trouble now, so tonight I can’t sleep anymore!” You see I told you it is not going to be easy. So what are you going to do about Myanmar? Let us just start there. Do you speak Mandarin? They speak Mandarin, too, in many parts. You do not speak Mandarin nor English? They have translators for you! You say, “Well, the weather does not suit me too well.” Since when was the weather good in prison? When you go and visit in the prison, the conditions are not that nice - the smell, the hygiene - it is not that good, especially we are talking of New Testament days. Many of you speak Mandarin. Is China far away? It is a short hop, a few hours away by plane. But you do not want to know about their problems, right? “I have got enough problems of my own. You sit in prison? Okay, you stay there! My home is almost a prison to me! Maybe you should come from China and visit me.” Do you see how we think? That is our problem. And so on that Day, the Lord will say, “Where were you when I...?”, that is, “Whatever you do to the least of these My brethren, you do to Me.” Will you be able to answer? Would you even qualify as a sheep? Maybe not even as a goat, that is the problem! I remind you, the charges brought against the goats are not sins of commission; they had passed that already.
Now here I want to show you that we are talking about lawlessness in the church. And there is the problem! This is what is immediately in front of us and this situation will get worse. The standard of God’s righteousness is too high for us. We are talking now, and I stress again, not about sins of commission but sins of omission, the things we should do but did not do, and that is God’s standards of righteousness. If you grasp the nature of this problem about sins of omission, it is enough to make you fear and tremble, unless of course you have still no grasp of the problem. It makes me fear and tremble.
I think to myself that if there is something I have omitted, and therefore omitted what I should do to the Lord, for the Lord on behalf of His people, and sometimes I drive myself very, very hard, and the Lord has to teach me to relax a little bit. How much time is enough time studying His Word, can you tell me? How much time do you do in a week? “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word from God’s mouth.” Now did you have anything to live on spiritually over the past week? Did you feed on that Word by which we live? The understanding of the average Christian about the Scriptures is pitiful in the extreme!
How many things have you neglected? Should you have called somebody whose father died, whose mother died or was sick and you never called? Does it ever cross your mind how much encouragement just a five-minute call would make to that person? “I was sick but you never visited Me.” Can we go on and on thinking about these things? Not the sins I committed and need to repent of - that you should have repented of - now we are talking about the things that need to be done. That is the standard of righteousness! How can we be fruitful for Him? How can we multiply the pounds and the talents (Mt. 25:14-30)? Here we are not talking about sins of commission, but increasing the talents or the pounds that have been committed to you - by the quality of life shown forth by these actions!
We are not talking about earning our salvation. We are not talking about doing these things so that we can be saved at the end. The pounds and the talents, the new life has been given to you as a gift of His grace. The question is: What are you doing with it? In most cases, the answer is: nothing. There you see the tragedy. And the result of this pitiful situation in the Church - the lack of discernment of God’s standards - the result is that lawlessness can come into the church with little or no opposition. And this is the immediate picture in front of us.
Things, as the Scripture says, will go from bad to worse. The Lord uses a picture of a father betraying son, son betraying father, family members betraying each other (Mt. 10:21). Many people think this has something to do with the world. The Lord is not telling us here about what will happen in the world. We are one family in Christ: fathers, sons, brothers and sisters. We shall betray one another! A man’s enemies will be those of his own family, his own household. As the Lord Jesus taught, “Who is My brother, My sister, My mother?” Those who do His will! And the Lord is saying that there will be conflict among those who are the members of God’s family. Does that cause your love to the Lord to grow cold? Certainly! This kind of lawlessness will affect you very deeply spiritually. When you see brothers and sisters treating each other in this way, betraying one another, when you see church leaders fighting with one another, does that not affect your love for the Lord? So I tell you these things as the Lord tells me to warn you. Do you know that the Lord has already told us that these things will and must happen? And if you are prepared for this, it may save you from growing cold in love, having been warned beforehand. These things are already happening. And it is getting worse and worse. People in the church will rise up in rebellion, in insubordination, and this is what Scripture says, “They will despise and reject authority.” (Jude 8)
There is a church in Canada that told me that they demand equal authority with all the leaders. Can you imagine that? The Homemakers [Note: a group of brothers and sisters who provide feedback and suggestions to the leaders of the church] said, “We want to be equal with the leaders in authority.” I said, “Well, that is interesting. I would like to increase the authority of the Homemakers, certainly. But authority is not something that you seize. Authority is something delegated to you. And if you are wise, you will accept it with hesitation, that is, with a lot of humility. Because with authority comes responsibility and you have a lot to answer to the Lord for.”
And I said to all these people in the Homemakers, “You want to be equal with the leaders, all twenty-some of you? Have you faced the cost which the leaders have faced? They have given up their jobs and their professions; they turned their back upon the world; they live on a pitiful pay; they have gone through a long training. And what have you given for the Lord? Most of you receive a pay of five figures per year, for each couple over a hundred thousand each year. What have you offered to the Lord? And you demand - you demand! - to be equal to the leaders?” There is no shame. There is lawlessness; there is no shame. “I want my way.” That is lawlessness.
Now certainly, it is good to build a leadership, a lay leadership. This whole thing came out of the fact that I suggested that we would select 3 or 4 lay leaders, to train them up to work together with the full-time leaders - learning to preach, learning to lead the church - because I would like to hand over more and more of the leadership of the church to the lay people so as to release the full-time workers for other work. And this we have already implemented in Montreal, in Canada. The people selected were people who are humble, gracious; in other words the quality of life commends them. Indeed, the leaders will treat them as equals, not because they can have the right to be equal but they can be treated as equals. That Homemakers said, “We don’t want just the 3 or 4 of us to be leaders; we all want to be leaders.” I said, “Obviously, you people understand nothing about leadership. You cannot have a core of leaders with over 20-some people.” Can you imagine that every time you have to make a decision in the Church, you have to gather 25 or 26 people together to discuss something? I said, “How much time are you prepared to give?” The leaders have to come together at least once a week or more frequently if there are more important things to discuss. They never thought of what is involved in this whole thing. In other words, you try to build up the church, you try to encourage them, you try to give them authority, and behold, the lawlessness comes to the surface. In other words, what is hidden all the time begins to surface. And this is by no means true only of lay people, by the way; it is much more true of leaders. And this situation, as I have said, will get worse and worse. And when you see these things happening in the church, what happens? Your love grows cold. It has a powerful effect upon you. You will say: “I trusted that the church would not be like this, and now I see what I never expected to see in the church.” I have spent quite a lot of time on this because this has direct application for us.
And apostasy - because people’s love grows cold, what do they do? They turn away from the Lord! That is apostasy. Apostasy is the mark in Scriptural teaching of these last days. Now leaving the Lord, turning away from the Lord does not necessarily mean that you stand up one day and you say, “I have turned away from the Lord.” The fearful thing is that it is a slow and deadly process happening even among co-workers. Over a period of time, it eats its way in your spiritual life like cancer. And one of these days you will leave the church. Or you do not leave the church but you cause trouble within it. This is what the Scripture calls, “the rebellion of Korah (Jude 11).” You begin to speak against the leaders. You begin to criticize initially at a low level, and then the criticism gets stronger and stronger, more and more daring and open. Then you gather a group of people to work against the leaders, block their moves, and you criticize their Bible studies. Now sometimes such criticism is justifiable depending on the manner in which you do it. We do not mean that the leaders are so perfect or that their mistakes cannot be pointed out to them. Here we are talking about an inner rebellion, a bitterness, an opposition. And then you begin to sense in the church a very unpleasant atmosphere. And as your love grows cold, the way you relate to people becomes cold too. Next time you see your brothers and sisters, you just walk past them. And then when visitors come, you do not welcome them. So, when visitors come into the church, they sense the coldness of the atmosphere. So what happens is, the church [begins to] die. It is a very unpleasant thing to go into a church and notice the case of a dying church. It is the love growing cold. It becomes very cold in that church. Maintaining the love is very difficult. For the love to grow stronger and stronger is even more difficult. That downward pull is very strong. Do you see what is happening?
Look at the conflict between the churches. One church want to criticize other churches, not in a friendly way pointing out things we together have to learn. Of course all churches need to progress; there is room for improvement. But when we start slandering other churches, when we slander one another - that is another cause for the love to grow cold. And [what is] the ultimate result of all this, all this rebellion and the rebellious spirit within? Remember the key element of faith in the NT is obedience, the obedience of faith. You remember Paul said in Rom. 1[:5] and Rom. 16[:26], he uses the term ‘obedience of faith’. But when love grows cold, faith disappears, and then disobedience arises, both against God and against His people.
The Emergence of the Antichrist
And then there appears in this picture - I have to move on quickly - there appears what the Bible speaks of as a very fearful personality called the one of lawlessness, the man of sin, the Antichrist. It is out of this kind of situation that the Antichrist emerges. He does not just pop out of the blue. Lots of people talk about the Antichrist as though he suddenly popped out from nowhere. He grows out of this kind of soil! I have given a long series of messages on the Antichrist some years ago, and those of you who want to pursue this matter can follow that series of messages. The Antichrist embodies this whole rebellion. And he will get a lot of support from all these rebellious people. There are a lot of exegetical problems in Scripture in trying to define this Antichrist. But [on] the Antichrist, again, the general picture is clear; the details are harder to work out. But looking at the facts it seems certain that the Antichrist is some kind of a Christian, very likely a Jew. It is hard to be a substitute-Christ unless he bears quite a number of resemblances to Jesus Himself. And he will have remarkable power so that on top of the rebellion, he can justify his rebellion by the power that he can display.
When I say this is a terrifying picture of the Antichrist, it does not mean that he is an unattractive personality. He probably is a very, very charismatic person. In fact, all the great but horrendous leaders of history were powerful, charismatic personalities. The Antichrist has often been compared to Hitler. Now, Hitler was a very, very charismatic person. He swept almost the whole of Germany after him. The people hung on his every word. If you see the films of Hitler, his presence - as it is called, his charismatic presence - was so powerful. The Germans are not exactly unintelligent people, and yet they could be captivated by this man. That finally led them to their destruction as a nation. Yes, there is a good parallel there. How could an intelligent nation be so completely deceived? Very easy, as a matter of fact, if you understand the basic principles of human nature. You need only appeal to the ego. And that is where the difference between the Gospel and the world lies.
The Gospel does not appeal to your ego. But every charismatic dictator understands how to use the weakness of human nature. When you appeal to the human ego, then what you are doing is you are raising up lawlessness through encouraging that self-centeredness of man. It is amazing how you can captivate people in this way. And so you can see how the Antichrist operates. This will lead multitudes to destruction. And the Antichrist will receive such enormous support from mankind, but particularly from the church! (Please refer to the Second World War history that the German churches in general were supportive to Hitler). As the Scripture says, “He exalts himself above all gods.” That is with the support of the people, of course. I would think, given the timetable that we have, especially when we are living in very dramatic and interesting times - in two weeks’ time we enter the new millennium - we have the privilege to be alive at this point in human history. And man, at this point in this time, is very proud of his achievements, and with some justification. The Antichrist knows how to use all these. If I am not mistaken the Antichrist is already in the world. And the situation in the churches - the churches are supposed to be the churches of Christ - the soil is being prepared for his emergence. There is not much else that needs to happen before he can appear.
Now if we look at the Scriptures, it says that when the fig tree brings forth [leaves], then the time is ripe. We find that both in Mt. 24 and Mk. 13. What is the fig tree? Of course it is generally accepted as a picture of Israel. And we live in remarkable days. We live in the days when the nation that perished for almost 2000 years had been re-established back in 1948. The fig tree seems to have died in the winter. It lost its leaves; they were all gone. But then you see the leaves coming forth; it blossoms again. The nation of Israel came into being again. Why is this important? Well, the next thing it says here, if you look at 2 Thess. 2, is that the Antichrist, the man of sin, this man is going to set himself up in the temple. There cannot be a temple if there is no Israel! You see in 2 Thess. 2:4 that he sets himself up there. And both Mt. 24 and Mk. 13 speak of the desolation, the emblem of desolation, that will appear in the Holy Place. The abomination of desolation will be in the temple. What is that? Now there is the Antichrist. He will set up his throne in the Holy Place. And one important clue emerges as to who this Antichrist is. He is called the son of perdition. Now if you use English translations, you will not be able to identify this figure. The modern translations call the son of perdition as the one who is destined to be lost or destroyed or something like that. But the words ‘son of perdition’ are used in Jn. 17[:12] in describing Judas. The only other person in the NT given this exact same title is Judas. Who was Judas? He was one of the 12 apostles, the one who betrayed the Lord, and this Antichrist is given exactly the same title as Judas. That is why I say that it is almost certain that he is not only a Christian, but a Christian leader of a very high order.
The ‘Mark’ Technologically Ready
There will then come a time of persecution against those who still want to remain true to the Lord, that have not joined the Antichrist, and there will come a time of persecution the likes of which boggles the mind. If you look at Mt. 24[:21] which we have now no time to read, the Lord Jesus says, “There will come a time of suffering, the likes of which did not occur before and never has been before” - a time of tribulation and suffering that you cannot even imagine. The Antichrist appears to be a very high religious leader. Apparently he is also a political leader. It is described in the book of Revelation that he has such power that he can put a mark on every person, so that if you do not have that mark, you cannot even buy food to eat. You will literally starve to death. Such is his power.
I saw a Korean video put forward by a computer expert who says that the technology is already now in place to plant a little chip into your skin painlessly in a fraction of a second. It can be put in your hand, on your right hand, as it is the most convenient to go through any scanner, or into your forehead, especially in a cold country, in case you are wearing gloves. The technology is already there. This computer specialist says that it will be introduced in the name of law and order; not in the name of lawlessness, of course. When you have that chip implanted in your skin, it is extremely convenient for you. Why? When you travel you do not need a passport. You want to buy things, you do not need to carry your Visa card or whatever card you have with you. It is very troublesome if you want to buy something and you forgot your visa card or credit card. What happens if your passport is stolen? How do you prove your ID? You do not need any of this stuff. You see I have to carry my ID in my pocket and it is wearing my trousers thin here at the back. Even yesterday Helen was saying to me, “Look, you see there is a mark on your trousers at the back where your cards are. It is wearing out the trousers.” But in Hong Kong, you are required by law to carry your ID around. So, I said to Helen, “If I don’t put it in my pocket, where do I put it?” If I put it in my shirt, every time I change my shirt, I might forget my card. And then unless you want to carry a lot of cash around, then you carry a credit card with you.
But you have this mark in your hand or forehead, no more problems. My trousers will not be worn out anymore. I have to give up one pair of trousers because it literally wore through my pockets at the back. Now you do not need any of this; it is so convenient! When you go to the airport, you do not have to ask, “Did I remember to bring my passport, my air ticket, this and that?” Even if you buy an air ticket, everything is registered in the computer. All you need to remember is to bring your toothbrush. I think the chip cannot clean your teeth for you. But now you have no problems. What happens if you are injured or if anything happens to you, how can they identify who you are unless you have your ID on you? Now, no problem! So the Antichrist will have full control, but all in the name of convenience and order.
When you go into the shop to buy something, you do not need any cash because your mark will be scanned. When it says ‘mark’, it does not mean that anybody can see it. It is hidden in the skin. It does not mean that you walk around with something sticking on your head. I think the women do not like that if they have something sticking there. You don’t have to worry! Nobody can see it even. Only the scanner will be able to see it. Wonderful! So, you go into the shops and you want to buy a packet of chips, you do not have to worry that you do not have enough change, because in one scan, automatically that money is taken out of your bank account. It is also very good for the merchants; they will like that, too, because if you give them your credit card, they are not always sure whether this card is genuine or not. I am told that businesses lose vast amounts of money because of false cards. But you cannot falsify this chip. So this means that the businesses know that they will get their money. You also cannot cheat them because if you have no money in the bank account, you put your hand there and the machine will say that you have no money. So they would not sell anything to you. Oh, this is the world of the future, but it is already here now! This video was made 3 or 4 years ago. At that time, the technology was already in place - just waiting to be implemented! In fact, it is already used among some dogs in North America. So that if a dog got lost and it has not got a collar on it, they can identify straightaway whose dog it is, although now it is still on a voluntary basis.
Now our time is far gone. We are racing but I have a hard time even giving the general outline. The picture, I do not think I can portray it. Can you see it is dark or not dark? It looks interesting, it looks nice; the whole thing is very deceptive. It will be so deceptive that you do not even know how bad the situation is, until the persecution comes, and you have to lay down your life.
Preparing for the Lord’s Coming, Preparing to Die!
In the history of the church, laying down one’s life is nothing new. Laying down one’s life is not the worst thing that can happen. People have said to me that dying is not the most difficult part, but it is suffering before the dying. And if you see what some of the martyrs endured, it is enough to make your hair stand on end. The kind of cruelty that human imagination can think up is amazing. What about being crucified? How is that for a form of dying? You can hang up on the cross for 3 days or more, and your blood slowly drips away while you are hanging in unspeakable pain up there. Jesus never called us to anything but what He himself has gone through.
We speak about preparing for His coming, how do you prepare to die? I tell you something: I prepare to die every day. I expect it will come to me. All church leaders must be prepared to die. I once talked to a group of our church leaders. I could not help but start crying. I said to them, “Maybe I have led you all into your death. Although it is your own choice, but if I were not around, maybe you would not have to go through all these.” Almost certainly, all church leaders who remain faithful to the Lord will die. And many, many who remain faithful, who are not church leaders, will also die. Are you prepared? Are you prepared for His coming? If you think so, is it just learning to play the guitar better, getting a nice big church choir, so that when Jesus comes, we will all start singing, right? I hope we can still encourage one another on that Day. I am not sure if we are allowed to sing. If there is a chance, by all means, sing. But some of us will not be given that chance, I am afraid.
‘Prepare for His coming’ means to prepare to die. That is to put it as simply as possible. And there is not enough teaching about dying in the church, let me tell you this. By dying, I do not mean that you stand there and somebody puts a shot through your head. That is very easy. What about first some hard labor, without food and without enough clothing? What about some beatings? What about some electric shocks? What about all the torture systems that man can think of, like crushing your thumbs slowly with the screw, at the end of which to die would just be sheer joy. Finally this guy pulls out his gun and gives you a shot in the head, and you say, “What took you so long?”
I say this because some people think of dying as just that moment of death. And now you know, you say, “I did the wrong thing to come to this camp. Here I come and this guy tells me about dying. I pay the camp to have a nice holiday and all he can talk about is death. And how do you prepare for torture? I don’t know how to do this.” Well, think about it. The night, as I said at the beginning, will get a lot darker before the dawn. Of course if I am saying this to the brothers and sisters in China, they will say, “Of course we have been through all these already. And more to come? Well, we expect that.” But these things never happen in Singapore. Don’t worry. Your turn will come. But are you prepared? You see, the life in the camp is not that comfortable sometimes. Wait till you try one of the prison camps.
The Rapture of the Saints (1Thess. 4:17; Mt. 24:40-42; Lk. 17:34-36)
So I am trying to portray for you the kind of situation in a very generalized, in a very rough way of what is ahead. And then the Day comes, when suddenly you may be caught up into the air. That is called jet travel, in grand fashion! You are suddenly caught away. But you look down, [you see] there are some others who did not come up with you. That looks bad. I do not know whether you will be happy or sorrowful, if you look down and you see your dad and mom down there. Now if you did everything you could to win them for the Lord, your conscience is still okay. But if you feel you could have done more, I do not know how you are going to feel about that.
And so there comes the rapture - you are suddenly caught up. It is a very interesting idea, this one. I do not think anybody could have thought up something like this, or imagine something like this. I do not think anybody could have invented this kind of teaching. But you see, here comes the surprise element - we do not know when this happens. All we know is it will be in the midst of a terrible time of persecution. It will be a kind of a rescue, like Entebbe [a lightning strike rescue operation by Israelis of hostages held by Arab terrorists at Entebbe Airport in Uganda on July 4, 1976] or something, where paratroopers come in and they rescue the people out of the grip of the evil power. So maybe at that very moment, this guy was going to give you the shot in the head, and suddenly [he says], “Hey, where has he gone?” Maybe that will be for his salvation! Suddenly he realizes, “I persecuted the wrong person.” It seems that God does everything to give a person a chance to repent. I do not think the rapture is simply a piece of divine trick, some kind of stunt that God performs. It is apparently an attempt to give people one last chance, a very short chance, but one last chance to repent. Because that surely is an amazing event, when suddenly a person is lifted up.
The Lord Will Deal with the Antichrist on Earth
We do not know the distance and time between the rapture and the coming of the Lord to earth. Here are some of the exegetical difficulties. But after the rapture, it appears the Lord has not come down to earth, you meet Him up in the air! The next stage is for the Lord to set His feet upon the earth, and so the picture given to us, for example, in Acts 1, the angel said to the disciples, “What are you looking up there for? The One you see going in this way, He will land again. He will come down again on the Mount of Olives as you have seen Him going up.” I have the impression that the vast host of angels will remain up there while the Lord Jesus comes down and stands on the Mount of Olives overlooking the temple. And I imagine that maybe His apostles will be with Him, and like in the old days, they will walk down the Mount of Olives towards the temple. I am imagining this trying to put the picture of the NT together.
You will see no trace of arrogance or pride - He will walk with His disciples humbly along - down the hill, past Gethsemane and up on the other side. And if I understand the Scripture correctly, He will walk up from the Kidron Valley into the Golden Gate, right into the newly built temple. And I imagine the Antichrist in his last act of defiance will be sitting upon his throne in the Holy Place in the temple. Where are all his powerful forces? I can see all his forces will be immobilized, rather like the Y2K on a grand style - his rockets cannot fire, his armored vehicles cannot move, his troops are unable to use their weapons, their jeeps will not run, all the chips in the tanks have malfunctioned, and no guns can fire. What an interesting vast Y2K situation going on! A vast host of angels like huge clouds above! And this is Jesus’ style. He likes to do things in a very interesting, very gentle and yet a powerful way.
And so He walks into the temple. As the prophet Malachi says, “The Lord shall suddenly come to His temple. “ (Mal. 3:1) It will be very sudden in a sense that it does not take a long time to walk from the Mount of Olives to the temple. All of you who have been to Israel, to Jerusalem, can easily see the picture in your mind. When the Lord Jesus goes into the temple and there is the Antichrist still trying to put out his show, the Scripture says that he will be destroyed by the fire that the Lord Jesus sends forth (2 Thess. 2:8, 1:8). He will simply be turned into a small pile of ashes. He and his throne will disappear into this little pile. A very interesting picture! And at that moment, I can imagine a cry will go up to all the angels and all the heavenly hosts, [saying] “The Lord reigns” and “Blessed be His Name forever.” And this will echo through the whole heavens and through the whole earth. You can imagine the picture, the whole silence of heaven and earth as the Lord Jesus and His apostles walk slowly, steadily towards the temple. Every breath is held, waiting to ask: what is going to happen now? And with the destruction of the Antichrist, the King has come; all heavens rejoice together. I think you can hear the sound of the trumpets and the roar of the heavenly host - what a sound there will be. Breathtaking!
So I hope you have at least a vague picture. When will all this happen? I think probably within less than 10 years, maybe a lot less, maybe slightly more. Shall we say 12 as a maximum? Of course as I said, I leave this matter because the Scripture will not allow us to fix a date. But we do not have a lot of time. We do not have a lot of time to live in this present age, and maybe not a lot of time before we die. But you say, “If we die, we don’t see all this.” Don’t worry. You will see it if you belong to Him. In 1 Thess. 4, this is why we say the rapture takes place first - because at the rapture, what happens? All the saints in the past who died, they are raised at that time. And those who are alive will be caught up after the former things have been raised. Now we see another purpose for the rapture. They are going to witness, yes, they are going to witness the Lord’s coming upon the earth. Oh, they will not miss that for sure. That is the beauty and wonder of it!
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church