There is a contemporary influence going on in Christendom to get believers to look for and follow after signs. This is actually Jewish in character, and should never characterize the behavior of the true church. The Jews request a sign (I Cor. 1:22). I wrote a previous post #13 – The Character of the Nation of Israel as shown in Scripture. It brings out and makes clear many of the distinctions between Israel and the body of Christ. The Jews, with their religion, walk by sight and physical senses. Judaism is God’s given religion for man in the flesh, man in Adam. And this is what Israel has always represented in their entire history – man in the flesh. Judaism was suited by God for man in the flesh. But the believer, the true Christian, walks by faith – the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. This is a different type of walk entirely.
Christendom, as a corporate entity representing God and having responsibility to Him, is another matter entirely. It also is distinct from the body of Christ, although this distinction is far more difficult to see and understand. Yet it is of the greatest importance for understanding Scripture and doctrine, and this cannot be emphasized enough, that the believer clearly understands the differences between the true church and Christendom. In the present dispensation of the kingdom of heaven in mystery, Christendom is the spoiled crop in the field, a mixture of the work of God, the work of men, and the work of the devil (Matt. 13:24-30, 37-43). The true church is the treasure hidden in the field by the One who sold everything He had in order to purchase the field (Matt. 13:44). In this last, the Scriptures entertain the idea of the church becoming invisible in the field, although God did not sanctioning it. ( The three books in The Son of Man Series do a good job of distinguishing between Israel and the church. The last two also do a good job in distinguishing between Christendom and the true church. )
Matt. 16:2-4 (NKJV)
“He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; 3 and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. 4 A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed.”
In the above passage the word generation is not used to refer to a span of time, as in, say, forty years – a common number people associate with a biblical generation. Instead it is used as characteristic of evil and unbelief in general in the nation of Israel. The character of the Jews when Jesus first came will be the same character in Israel when He returns again to them, only seven times worse (Matt. 12:43-45).
We see that characteristic of the evil and unbelieving nation is that they seek after signs. This seeking by sight for physical signs should not be confused with the ability to discern “the signs of the times.” He does in fact tell them He would give them a sign – the sign of Jonah – but it would not benefit them. What He rebukes them for is not so much seeking after signs, for this is the character of the Jew and the nature of Judaism, but for their failure to discern “the signs of the times.”
Here is the issue: Christendom is in ruin. This is God’s testimony of it as found in Scripture. Yet Christendom, especially its leaders, cannot discern the times of this. No one wants to admit how profound the ruin is, its extent, that all three loaves have been completely leavened (Matt. 13:33). Men were sleeping and the devil came in and planted tares to corrupt and ruin the crop. The situation and circumstances we are presently in is what needs to be truthfully discerned. Yet this is exactly what we are not doing, nor are we willing to talk about it.
Our present circumstances in the professing church are not as they were at Pentecost or in the book of Acts, including the extent of Paul’s ministry. And what was the Spirit’s testimony through Paul as to events coming into the church upon his decease?
Acts 20:29-31 (NKJV)
29 “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.”
God allows the evil to come in early on in the history of the church. Why? So that the evil judged at the end of the age in Christendom would be present at the beginning of the church, and be a part of God’s word. This was the wisdom of God. Believers at the end of the age would have God’s record of the evil that entered the early church, thus being able to understand its ripening and development through the age (II Thess. 2:7). God didn’t want any surprises of evil to overtake us, yet I believe we are wholly unaware of its presence.
Discerning the times is about discerning our present circumstances and actual condition. All true Christians should do this individually, but we are not talking about individual responsibility here. Rather we speak of a corporate entity called the professing church, and this body together and as one having responsibility before God. This is what God will judge, the corporate responsibility of Christendom (the crop in the field – Matt. 13). What has its testimony been of the glory of Christ exalted on high? How much light is being given off by its candlestick? And if we find in Scripture God’s testimony and judgment of Christendom’s history, will we be humble enough to admit the ruin? Will we allow the reality of the circumstances of the professing church, as shown by the Spirit of God, to be present on our conscience? Will we open our ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches?
It should be easier to believe the seriousness nature of our present circumstances if we can find examples in Scripture of others who failed to discern the signs of the times in their day, and see the consequences they suffered because of their blindness. First we will look at two examples from Israel’s history. In the time of Isaiah’s ministry the Assyrians came against Judah, Jerusalem, and king Hezekiah. The Assyrians were the same people who had scattered the ten tribes of Israel – the northern kingdom. Now they come against the southern kingdom – Judah and Jerusalem.
“Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the king of Assyria:
‘He shall not come into this city,
Nor shoot an arrow there,
Nor come before it with shield,
Nor build a siege mound against it.
(34) By the way that he came,
By the same shall he return;
And he shall not come into this city,’
Says the Lord.
(35) ‘For I will defend this city, to save it
For My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.’”
(36) Then the angel of the Lord went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses—all dead.”
Years later (during the time of the prophet Jeremiah) Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans come against Judah and Jerusalem. This is in the time of king Zedekiah. What is important to notice is that this time God’s instructions through the prophet are opposite from what they were in the previous example. It now was the moment of God’s judgment of the southern kingdom.
Jeremiah 21:8-9 (NKJV)
“Now you shall say to this people, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who remains in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence; but he who goes out and defects to the Chaldeans who besiege you, he shall live, and his life shall be as a prize to him.”
Jeremiah 27:12 (NKJV)
“I also spoke to Zedekiah king of Judah according to all these words, saying, “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live!”
The king never believed Jeremiah. He had other prophets, false prophets, telling him comforting words of success and deliverance. Why did he need to listen to this one who was kept away and locked-up in a dark hole in his prison? The outcome was that the king’s eyes were cut out by the Chaldeans, and he was taken bound in brass shackles to Babylon (II Kings 25:7). Many people lost their lives in Judea and Jerusalem because they did not heed the word of the Lord. There was a remnant from Judah, which included young Daniel, who listened to Jeremiah. Their lives were spared, howbeit as captives in Babylon. But for the leaders of Judah and the majority of the people this was a demonstration of a serious failure to discern the signs of the times.
What would have happened if all the people of Judah would have said, “God delivered us before in a miraculous way from the hand of the Assyrian, and He will in like manner deliver us, His chosen people, from the hand of Nebuchadnezzar! After all, this is our right and Jehovah hasn’t changed, He is always the same.” That would have been a ridiculous statement showing scriptural ignorance of God and His ways. The above passages show and prove that God’s ways in His dealings with man do change, even though God in His person always remains the same. In the first example above the will of God was for the people to stay in Jerusalem and see the salvation and deliverance of Jehovah. The second example is different, even though it’s the same city, basically the same people, the same Lord Jehovah, and very similar circumstances. This time however, God’s will is for the people to go out of Jerusalem and defect to the Chaldeans, and they would save their lives. Jerusalem and Judea were under judgment by God. The instructions are very different. Under Hezekiah they were protected; under Zedekiah they were to submit to the judgment. The ways of God do not remain the same. I refer to these circumstances as a testimony of this principle from Scripture. While the relationship of God with Israel in this world is unchanging, yet their conduct had to be the opposite at one time to that at another. There are many other examples of this truth in Scripture. Here is another one from Israel’s history where the leaders and the people failed to discern the signs of the times.
John 1:17 (NKJV)
“For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
The law of Moses is the religion of the Jews. Israel practiced Judaism from their days in the wilderness. By the time Jesus was sent to them, they had been practicing the religion for over 1500 years. But this verse sets up a great contrast. Jesus Christ coming to Israel was something very different. It was not God as a Judge with the law at Mt. Sinai, thundering and lightening, and whatever touched the mountain was put to death. This was God coming in human flesh to His own people Israel (John 1:11), coming in grace, truth, and goodness. God was visiting them, and He came in a way very different from how the law came to them. Still, would the leaders and the people be spiritually discerning of the times?
Luke 19:41-44 (NKJV)
41 “Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, 44 and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
This passage needs little comment. The Jews and Jerusalem failed in any spiritual discernment. They did not recognize the time of their visitation by God. They did not see clearly the situation and circumstances they were in. They knew the prophetic promises given to them of a coming Messiah, and that when He came He would deliver them as a nation from the Gentile powers. But in their pride they utterly failed to judge of their own spiritual condition. They did not understand that with Messiah, Jehovah would have a moral testimony, and therefore, obligation in man to believe and act on such testimony. And the consequences were severe. God brings in judgment by destroying the city and temple. The practice of Judaism is ended, their covenant is made obsolete (Heb. 8:13), and the kingdom of God is taken from them (Matt. 21:43). They fall by the edge of the sword or are led away captive into the Gentile nations (Luke 21:20-24).
What can we say about Christendom? Do the leaders and people understand the circumstances they are in? Do we truly discern the signs of the times? Allow me to give you this example in the history of the church. From the 6th to the 16th century the professing church was dominated by Romanism. This was the only corporate structure of Christendom for over 1000 years before the Reformation! It was the result of men, in responsibility, building up on the foundation that Paul had laid for the building of God (I Cor. 3:9-12). Paul’s work was in divine grace. The same cannot be said by those that followed him. So Romanism dominates the corporate entity of Christendom for over a millennium.
The question is not what do you think about this, for man never thinks soberly, but always thinks more highly of himself than he ought to think when he is looking at his own work. When our seminaries teach the subject of church history, the teachers are diligent to study the written accounts and gather the historical information – all that man has written in all his books concerning individuals and groups, counsels and synods, nations and empires, excommunications and inquisitions. It is always as man sees it and writes it, and a favorable impression of the history is given. The important question to ask concerning this period of time in the church’s history is, what does God think about this? How does God judge of it.
Are you ready for this? God judges Romanism as being Jezebel and His judgment of her is found in His message to Thyatira in Rev. 2:18-23. She calls herself a prophetess, but God calls her a harlot committing sexual immoralities. And here again, the difference of viewpoints is remarkable for they are opposite. She decrees that she is the divinely appointed authority of Christ on earth, expressing His mind and will, and all God’s graces and words in her possession. But what God says is she is the source of all the evil and corruption within Christendom in these times. She teaches heresies and deceptions. Her sexual immorality is her relationship with the world. Worldly luxury and wealth are her specialty by which she beguiles. She courts the kings of the world and lusts after civil power and influence. She promotes the lust of the eyes and flesh, and the pride of life (I John 2:15-17). She capitalizes on idolatry and becomes rich by it: the cult of the saints, the cult of the popes, and the cult of the virgin. She knows and teaches the depths of Satan (Rev. 2:24).
In prophetic allegories the female always represents an established state and condition. God views Jezebel as the established state of evil and corruption inside the professing church. She is within birthing her own children in the corruptions. Her doctrines are taught in the name of the Lord and with her so called authority of Christ, but their source is the world and the depths of Satan. Jezebel promotes a false ecclesiastical position and doctrine of successional authority that is born in Judaism. With the earthly priesthood and the college of cardinals and bishops, this form of Christianity represents the complete Judaizing of the Christian faith. Like Judaism, Romanism is earthy, sensual, and ritualistic. It is dependent on fleshly ordinances for the supposed imparting of favor and grace from God (Heb. 9:9-10).
Jezebel is the corporate and general appearance of the condition of Christendom for all these many years and centuries. Romanism represents the establishment of ecclesiastical apostasy, and established idolatry within the professing church. She became the mother of her own children, born of the evil. And God says she goes on to the tribulation. With the advent of the Reformation, Jezebel weathered her storm unaffected and unhindered. She still is the dominant form of Christendom today.
Is this not a failure to see and discern the state and condition of the church world as God sees it? Aren’t we prone to assume that things aren’t so bad? Thyatira actually represents the time in the history of the church on earth when God stops acknowledging the corporate body of Christendom. In the message to Thyatira Jezebel within is judged as corrupt, and God refuses to recognize the corporate body any longer as having a legitimate testimony of Christ. Yes there is a small remnant that God preserves in Thyatira, acknowledged by the Lord – to the rest in Thyatira (Rev. 2:24) – but Jezebel and all with her in her abominations, and all her children, are judged by God and marked for destruction. This was the state and condition of the corporate entity of Christendom for over 1000 years before the Reformation. Then from this time, in the majority of Christendom, the Jezebel state simply continues on unchanged. During the Reformation she dug her feet in and would give up nothing. She scrapped and fought to keep her power and wealth unchanged, and she kept her earthly title as the dominatrix of the Christian world. To this day she proudly wears the title as the head of Christendom. All the world acknowledges this, viewing the pope as the head and leader of Christianity in the world.
The course of Protestantism only shows a marginal difference from Jezebel in God’s judgment of it. The Reformation brings God’s grace working by the Spirit in re-discovering certain long lost truths – sola scriptura and justification by faith. But when men were given responsibility for safeguarding the grace God entrusted them with, there was immediate failure again. The first church on this road is Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6). She has a great reputation with the world. She is well viewed in her own eyes as well. This seems like a lack of spiritual discernment if God judges her as dead. Sardis doesn’t represent all of Christendom – remember that Jezebel goes on to the tribulation. But Sardis would represent the corporate body of Protestantism, and it is dead. A small remnant is acknowledged in Sardis – “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments.” (Rev. 3:4)
Philadelphia is the remnant church at the end. Her character is that she is faithful to what the Lord tells her to be responsible for, but with little power. Keep My word, do not deny My name, and keep the word of My patience (Rev. 3:7-13). This is enough responsibility for their circumstances and situation. Jesus gives them nothing else to do, He knows this is enough, He knows it is plenty. To be found faithful to Him in the midst of evil and corruption ripening in Christendom is no easy task, and it is a precious thing to the Lord. In a sense, this is where the remnants gather.
The end in Protestantism is seen in Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-32). It is spewed out of the Lord’s mouth. This body has an issue with proper spiritual discernment as well. They say they are rich, wealthy, and have need of nothing. God says they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. Quite the disconnect in viewpoints. Jesus says of them, they do not see and are blind. Some might say that Protestantism has two distinct corporate entities at the end – Sardis and Laodicea. If so then the latter would represent Evangelical Protestantism.
Every believer should make themselves familiar with the parable of the wheat and tares, and with its interpretation (Matt. 13:24-30, 37-43). This shows Christendom as a spoiled crop in the field of the world during the present dispensation. At the end of the age the wheat is removed from the world. The tares are bundled together and left in the world to be burned. If Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea, as corporate bodies, are left behind to be judged as the world, then my thinking is they are the tares bundled together to be burned. The third book in the Son of Man series, The Corruption and Death of Christendom, explains this entire subject in detail. You are welcome to read any chapter of the book in the books section of this website.
Is the ruin of Christendom the testimony of God in His word? Will you acknowledge the ruin? Will you seek to see the circumstances and situation as God sees them and as He judges them? Can you discern the signs of the times? Will you have ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches? (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, 22)