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THE CHURCH AT THE TIME OF THE END
By Mrs Jessie Penn-Lewis
This is an hour of big Movements. The whole world is in a state of upheaval, and ‘world-visions’ of all kinds are laying hold of many. The great question is, are these ‘world-visions’ in harmony with the Word of God? The devil can give ‘world-vision’ (Matt. 4 v8), and it is therefore necessary that we get our outlook adjusted to the conditions the Bible reveals as characterising the last days.
Let us first look briefly at the message of the Glorified Lord to Philadelphia as recorded in Revelation 3 v7-13, for it is the first reference to His ‘coming quickly’ which we find in these letters to the Churches.
1. The true church at the Time of the End. Note that (1) it will be a time when everything around them will be so antagonistic to all Gospel service that only the Lord Himself will be able to open doors for His message, and His messengers , and keep them open (v7-8); (2) a time when His people will have but a ‘little strength’ in comparison with the forces against them; (3) a time when the utmost that is possible will be, negative victory, that is, the victory of what they WILL NOT DO, and not what they are able to accomplish - “thou hast NOT denied My Name” (v8).
In the religious world (4) it will be a time of profession (v9) without true fellowship with God, and (5) a time when the one word the Lord speaks to His people is patience - “keep the Word of My Patience” (v10). Nothing else will be possible. Not ‘advance’ - ‘do great things’, but PATIENCE. In this condition of God-wrought patience in His saints, He will be able to ‘keep’ them in the ‘secret of His tabernacle’ during the darkness preceding the terrible hour which is coming upon the whole inhabited earth (v10). If His people are impatient they cannot be ‘kept’ from being involved in the trials and sufferings, for impatience takes a believer out of the keeping power of God almost more than anything else. The Lord therefore says “Because thou hast kept the word of My patience I also will keep thee”. For the saints it is also (6) a time of conflict in which the prize of the crown is at stake. Hold FAST THAT WHICH THOU HAST THAT NO MAN TAKE THY CROWN (v11).
2. The World-conditions in the time of the Anti-christ. Now let us pass on to see the world-conditions of the last days when the Anti-christ will have been revealed, as shown in Revelation 13 v1-18. Here we have a full picture of the reign of the Anti-christ in two aspects, civil and religious. When the ‘Beast’, the Anti-christ, obtains the throne of the world, and ‘great authority’, the condition of things as depicted in Revelation13 will not have come about suddenly, but be the climatic result of previously wrought out workings of the spirits of Anti-christ (see 1John 2 v18). Therefore the nearer we get to the eve of the Lord’s Return, believers described in the message to Philadelphia will find themselves in the dark shadow of the approaching Reign of the Beast, and be able in the light of the Word of God to see increasingly in evidence the marked characteristics of the oncoming ‘terror’. Let us briefly look at some of the main lines of what is depicted in Revelation 13, and ask ourselves if we do not already see signs of what is ahead. Note first that the entire situation will be the direct outcome of the schemes and power of ‘The Dragon’. “The Dragon gave him his power, and his throne and great authority” (v2). It plainly says that the Dragon will govern the world through two instruments. (1) The Beast - Anti-christ - as the head of all civil authority, and (2) the False Prophet, as the head of all the religious movements of the time (v11-12)
Notice some of the primary characteristics of the Beast. (1) He received ‘worship’, homage from all the world, and through this homage to the Beast, the Dragon obtains the world-worship he has craved for from the moment he said, in far back ages ‘I will be like God’ (Isa. 14 v14). His great ambition is to obtain the worship due only to the Most High, and he obtains it for a brief period ere the Lord returns in glory. (2) Notice the striking descriptions given of the chief characteristics of the Beast, whereby ‘all the world wondered’ at him and gave him worship. He had had a ‘deadly wound’ which was healed.
The Beast was one who had been miraculously healed. And healed so marvellously that ‘all the world wondered’, and bowed down before such an evidence of supernatural power. This shows clearly that the Dragon is able to ‘heal’ and counterfeit the Resurrection of the Lord, and that the Anti-christ and the False Prophet will obtain their power over ‘all that dwell on earth’ entirely by satanic power. (3) The influence of the Beast was exercised primarily through speech, ‘speaking great things and blasphemies’, he blasphemed God and His Name and His ‘tabernacle’, heaven, and the redeemed ones who ‘dwell in heaven’. What a terrible description of the state of the world under the government of the fallen archangel, Satan. Open blasphemy against God and all that belonged to Him, penetrating throughout all ‘kindreds and tongues and nations’. (4) The Beast was allowed to make war with the saints, to ‘overcome’ them, and to kill them, and by so doing he apparently became master of the whole inhabited earth (v7).
3. The Counterfeit Lamb and his miracles. In the second Beast we see an extraordinary depicting of a supernatural counterfeit of the true working of the Holy Spirit of God. It seems that the Anti-christ could only get, and hold his power over the whole earth by means of a false religion having signs from heaven to prove that it came from God. The entire picture (v11-18) is that of supernatural counterfeit of Divine realities, not of intellectual apostasy, and a form of godliness without the power.
The second Beast rises up in the form of a lamb counterfeiting Christ, the true Lamb of God, only distinguishable from the true by his speech, by his teachings and doctrines. He looked ‘like a lamb’, but he spoke like a dragon (v11). He had equal power with the first Beast, world-wide in its influence (v12), and was entirely devoted to ‘causing’ all earth’s inhabitants to ‘worship’ the Anti-christ, and, let us not forget, back of the Anti-christ, the Dragon (v4).
How did the counterfeit lamb obtain this ‘worship’? (1) He did ‘great wonders’ (v13). (2) He brought fire down from heaven, not from beneath but from ‘heaven’ in which the prince of the power of the air roams at will (v13). (3) He deceived earth’s inhabitants by means of miracles (v14). (4) He was able to give life to an image of the Beast, and cause it to speak (v15), but all will be wrought by the ‘power’ supplied by the Dragon.
4. The Overcoming Saints in the time of the Anti-christ. And what of the true Christians? Were there no exceptions to this world-wide homage to the Beast, and to the Dragon behind him? Yes. The Calvary saints saw the power behind, and refused to worship (v8). And what was the result? The Beast had ‘power to cause that as many as would not worship . . . should be killed’ (v15).
Here is a glimpse of the power of the Dragon to ‘kill’ the saints who refuse him homage. And further, ‘he causeth all . . . to receive a mark . . . that [none] might buy or sell save he that had the mark’ (v16-17). This was to starve out those who would not ‘worship’. In the ungodly world we can see the increasing working of anti-christian spirits blaspheming God, and in the religious world anti-christian spirits counterfeiting Christ, and ‘doing great wonders’. In the face of this panoramic picture of the coming days, and the undeniable fact that we are already in the world-wide preparation for its full manifestation the great question for the Church now is, ‘What are we to expect from God at such a time?’ Do the Scriptures show us God doing ‘signs and wonders’ in competition with the ‘counterfeits’ which the spirits of Anti-christ and the False Prophet are already bringing to pass in the earth? Or does the picture emphasise that the one and only power which will enable the saints to stand, in the evil day, is the knowledge of the Cross, and the one and only path for them is the way of the Cross?
5. The Calvary Saints before and during the Reign of the Beast. ‘All . . shall worship him, whose names are not written on the book of life, of the LAMB SLAIN from the foundation of the world’ (v8). The picture is of the entire inhabitants of earth giving the Dragon worship with the one exception, in every land, of the Calvary saints. Those holding to the one truth of ‘the Lamb slain’, and those who were willing to be slain for Him, rather than give one act of ‘worship’ to the Dragon (Rev.12 v11). This does not look like God coming forth with ‘signs and wonders’ to counter the ‘counterfeits’ of Satan. Rather is it in line with the principle of God’s working described by the Lord. ‘There shall no ‘sign’ be given, but the sign of Jonah the prophet’ (Matt.16 v1-4), ‘For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’ (Matt. 12 v38-40). The only ‘sign’ God gave to the Jews asking of Christ a ‘sign from heaven’, was His death at Calvary, and the great ‘sign’ which will be from Him in the days of Anti-christ will be His witness to the atoning death of His Son through those who partake of the Spirit of Christ in laying down their lives for Him.
This seems confirmed also in Revelation20 v4-6. Those who ‘lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years’ were those who had been killed for their witness to the Slain Lamb and for their holding to the Word of God, these being the ones who had not worshipped the Beast, or received his mark to enable them to ‘buy and sell’ and thus live. In the fact that all these conditions are already present in the earth, it seems clear that there is no promise for the last days of any God-given Movements of ‘signs and wonders’, or even of rapid gathering in of masses of souls for Christ. But there will be ‘world-movements’ permitted by the prince of the power of the air when the Gospel of the Cross is omitted, or in counterfeit workings of the spirits of Anti-christ aiming at the veiling of the message of the Cross in its fullest power. Neither is there any ground for expecting a visible triumph of the overcoming saints, for ‘it was given unto him (the Beast) to make war with the saints, and to overcome them’ (Rev.13. v7)
6. The Knowledge of the Cross is the need in the last days. ‘The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’ (Rev.13 v8). It is striking to find this statement in the midst of the unveiling of the Anti-christ’s reign over the world. The expression embodies the entire work of Christ at Calvary, as ‘the Lamb Slain’ for those whose names are entered in His Book of Life. The one need for the children of God at the time of the end, is to know in all its fulness the meaning of the Cross, so as to wield it as a weapon of victory over the Dragon in all his varied attacks on the people of God.
7. How to distinguish false from true power. Are there to be no ‘mighty works’, no ‘healings’ from God, no ‘miracles’ wrought by Him? Most assuredly, but the difference between the counterfeit works of Anti-christ and the working of the Holy Spirit, is that the true power of God invariably reaches the soul via CALVARY. Not in spectacular ‘competition’ with the foretold wonders of the spirits of Satan, so that the onlooking world of men cannot distinguish the false from the true, but in the deep inwrought application by the Spirit of God of the Word of the Cross as the POWER of God, whereby the believer is not only set free from the power of sin, but also is given to know in his ‘dying flesh’ the ‘life whereby Jesus conquered death’ in all its mighty power.
The ‘miracles’ of God are not always externally accomplished but wrought in the inner spirit of man via Calvary. Deeper and fuller than any ‘healing’ of the body, is the marvellous working of God, whereby ‘He who raised Christ from the dead’ ‘endows with life’ the dying body (Rom.8 v11), of the believer as he is ‘daily given over to death for the sake of Jesus’. (2 Cor.4 v10-12).
'. . . ye shall know them by their fruits . . .’ said the Lord to His disciples, for the fruit, as the outcome of the inner life, reveals the hidden source of action. ‘Not everyone that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the reign in the heavens . . . Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy Name, and in Thy Name cast out demons, and in Thy Name done many wonderful works’ (Matt.7 v15-23). The sorcerers in Egypt, working by the power of Satan, were able to produce counterfeit ‘blood’ (Ex.7 v22), and the subtle foe is able to introduce his ‘wonders’ under a counterfeit of the ‘Blood of the Lamb’, such as visions of ‘blood’ enveloping the soul, and ‘rivers of blood’ filling a room. But the Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ speaks in heaven on the Mercy Seat, and has no material form in its application to the believer.
‘The disciples came to Him privately, saying, Tell us . . . what is the sign . . . of the end of the dispensation. And the Lord answered, saying, There will arise false Christs, and false prophets and they will give great signs and wonders so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect’ (Matt.24 v3 &24). He does not say that the leading astray of the ‘elect’ is not possible, but that the aim of the Deceiver is to reach the ‘elect’.
‘Behold, I have foretold you’, said the Master, making it quite plain that it is through ‘signs and wonders’ that the danger would come to the earnest children of God, at a time when ‘lawlessness’ was abounding, and the love of many grown cold. In these perilous days let us ‘watch and be sober’ (1Thess.5 v6 & 1Pet.4 v7).