A garden left to its natural self, will degenerate very quickly. The same principle can also be applied to knowledge. Unless it is continually refreshed, then it will gradually become lost. Unless the true facts are preserved, then the understanding will be diverted through poor recollection, or distant haziness of one’s understanding.
A drift from truth
There has been a drift experienced, with religion. Jesus Christ came to establish the true principles of religion, as it should be in the eyes of His heavenly Father. He established the record through the four Gospels contained in the New Testament—a New Testament based on the Old, but unlike the Old Testament, not confined to the Jewish people, but opened up so that it could be received world-wide. The gospel was received as witnessed by the book of Acts, and the recorded letters of the early disciples. But even in these letters, warnings were raised about an inevitable drift away from the truth. Take, for example, Paul’s letter to the Galatians. The letter was probably written about 53–55A.D., or about 25 years after the crucifixion of Jesus.
“I am astounded that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” Galatians 1:6–9
So within the space of as little as 20–30 years, people were already shifting their belief from the true Christian faith to a false faith. A false faith that the apostle says would lead to eternal condemnation, and that would last for an awfully long time! He pleaded with his readers to cling to a pure unadulterated gospel. Alas, Paul knew that his words would be generally ignored. When he was parting from the Christians at Ephesus, he gave them a similar message. It is recorded in Acts 20:
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.” Acts 20:28–31
The apostle Peter issued similar warnings.
“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with stories they have made up. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping.” 2 Peter 2:1–3
Man of Lawlessness
It is important to note that the predicted characteristic of these false preachers would be denying the Lord— that is, they would be antichrists. And this brings us right back to the extended quotation from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians.
“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped so that he sets himself up in Gods temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?” 2 Thessalonians 2:3–5
Each of the New Testament writers, without exception, gave warnings that the gospel was going to be distorted, and that those who succumbed to the distorted gospel would in effect forfeit their chance of eternal life in God’s Kingdom. The same writers also inferred, if not stated directly, that there would be a principal agency through whom this would come about. This agency is either addressed as a beast, or as a man representative of a group. This latter aspect is that used in the illustration of the ‘man of lawlessness’, who represents a series of men who followed a virtually single course. Who, today, sits on a claimed Christian throne (or temple), proclaiming himself to be God, or at least a substitute God—a vicar? The Pope has been styled, ‘Our Lord God the Pope’. The apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians of the ‘greed’ of this system of lawlessness to secure souls to their cause, and ‘the wickedness’, and ‘every sort of evil’ practiced by them. An example or two will illustrate this point. Pope Marcellinus (296-304A.D.) sacrificed to idols. Pope Vigilus (537-555) got to the throne by murdering his predecessor. Pope John VIII died during a miscarriage. This pope was a female in disguise. She became pregnant by those who were around her. Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) was, as a Roman Catholic historian says, “one of the greatest and most horrible monsters in nature that could scandalize the holy chair.”
Though the present situation appears far better than some occasions of the past, the Bible clearly indicates that the present situation will not improve until after Jesus Christ has returned from heaven. Until that time, the man of lawlessness will continue to exert a tremendous influence over the people on the earth. That influence is as great today as it probably ever has been since the time when Jesus Christ first walked over the chosen land. It will only get greater if Jesus delays his coming. The Pope will become more influential in world affairs, and more and more people will fall under his influence. Even Protestant religions are protesting less and less—many of the Anglican clergy and their congregations want to regain unity with the Pope. In terms of Bible prophecy, this is not surprising: rather, it is to be expected.
John Wycliff (ca 1330-1384) and Martin Luther (1483-1546) each regarded both the Antichrist and the beast with the number 666, to be the Papacy. A Jesuit priest by the name of Lacanza (1701) published a book intended to lead suspicion away from the Roman Catholic Church. So successful was the promotion of this book in the early 1800s by Samuel Maitland, librarian to the Archbishop of Canterbury, that even today the diversions of Lacanza form many mainstream paperbacks of today. If only those same authors would search the Scriptures for themselves, for then they would see that they have been intentionally steered on a wrong course.