Life Together at the End of the Age

The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love. 4 I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. 5 And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. 7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. 12 Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete. 13 The children of your elect sister greet you.

As a part of the series of messages Jason Meyer is bringing in these days I want to talk to you about “Life Together at the End of the Age.” Here’s the way I plan to approach it. First, we will state the main point of the message and point briefly to the place in 2 John where I get it. Then I will try to explain why I chose to talk about this. Then we will step back and describe what I mean by the end of the age. And then circle back to the text of 2 John and show why a certain kind of life together matters so much at the end of the age.

So, first, look with me at 2 John, verses 5–7.

And now I ask you, dear lady [a possible reference to the church, or possibly a noblewoman with a church in her house]—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning — that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. 7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.

So John in verses 5 and 6 is telling the Christians to love one another. The last phrase of verse 5:  “That we love one another.” The last phrase of verse 6: “that you walk in it” — that is the commandment to love one another. This is what I mean by “life together” — a life together in loving one another.

Why We Should Love One Another

Then verse 7 gives them a reason why they should live together in love like this. “For — [because] — many deceivers have gone out into the world.” Love each other because many deceivers have gone out into the world. I’m building this message on the connection between verses 6 and 7 — on the word “for” or “because.” Love each other, because many deceivers have gone out into the world.

So the main point of this message today is: Life together in Christian love is a great protection against deception. Or, if it would help the point stick, you could even say: Mutual Christian affection is a protection against deception.

And what causes me to choose the title “Life Together at the End of Age” is that this deception, John says, is the deception of the antichrist. Verse 7: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist.” And as soon as the word “antichrist” is used we are all thinking the end of the age. And with good reason. Because in 1 John 2:18 John says, “Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.”

Now Is the End

So John has this elastic view of the last hour. He says in 1 John 2:18, “You heard that antichrist is coming.” There is such a being coming at the very end. You’ve been taught that — “you have heard.” He will come in the last hour. But now many antichrists have come. So you know that this final hour has been stretched back into our own time from the future — back into the first century.

He explains a bit more in 1 John  4:3, “Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is [the spirit] of the antichrist [or literally, this one is of antichrist, this one belongs to antichrist], which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” So there is one coming, and he has spirits or false prophets (4:1) that are in the world “already.” And the word “already” shows that there is an antichrist coming, and this present experience of the false prophets here and the deceivers in 2 John 7 — this is a foretaste. This is the “already” of the “not yet” of the antichrist.

So love each other. Love each other. Love each other.

That’s the point of the message, and its biblical foundation.  Live together in love, because love is a great protection against the deceptions of the spirit of antichrist, which is already in the world.

A Changing Landscape

Now why have I chosen to talk about this? Because, as I hand off my leadership role at Bethlehem to Jason Meyer, the world he and you will face is very different than when I came almost 33 years ago. It would have been unthinkable to suggest that anyone would seriously propose defining marriage as between two men or two women; and it would have been even more unthinkable that in a mere thirty years America would have lost its soul so profoundly that most American’s would approve of a definition of marriage that no society in the history of the world has ever embraced. And it would have been unthinkable that instead of rejecting the unreality of so-called same-sex marriage, the culture would begin to criminalize the naming of same-sex intercourse as sin — which it is.

And along with this tragic loss of our moral compass, has come the increasing loss of freedoms and the increasing compulsion from government to conform to unbiblical views. Freedom of speech is disappearing as the secular consensus grows that our shame is our glory (Philippians 3:19), and that to use biblical language to describe sin is hateful and already in some places prosecuted as illegal. Freedom of worship is disappearing as metropolitan commissions and councils take the prerogative to prohibit worship spaces and activities. 

And along with the loss of freedoms to act in biblical ways, comes the governmental compulsion to act in unbiblical ways — to fund the killing of unborn children, to endorse the legitimacy of sinful behavior, and soon to participate in it (for example, if you are a military chaplain), and the compulsory normalizing of sin in public institutions that will probably force most biblical Christians out of the public schools.

In view of these dramatic developments it seemed good to me to leave you with some biblical guidance about how the church should live in view of this new emerging marginalization, and intimidation and even criminalization of biblical speaking and acting.

So we have two more steps in this message: What do I mean by “the end of the age” when I say “Life Together at the End of the Age? ” And why is love such an important protection against the anti-Christian deception in these days?

What Is the “End of the Age?”

What do we mean by the end of the age? Consider two passages from the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 1:1–2: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” And Hebrews 9:26: “[Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” And consider 1 Corinthians 10:11: “Now these things happened to them [the Old Testament people] as an example, but they were written down for our instruction [in the first century], on whom the end of the ages has come.”

The understanding of the end of the age in the New Testament is that it arrived with the incarnation of Jesus as the Messiah. Ever since Jesus came we have been in “the last days” (see Acts 2:16–17). And if that seems strange — two thousand years of last days — don’t forget how Peter responded to that question in 2 Peter 3. Someone asked, scoffing, “Where is the promise of his coming?” (2 Peter 3:4). And Peter responded, “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). Which means, profoundly, we are two days into the last days from God’s vantage point.

The End of the End

So we are always living in the last days. We are always living in the end times. We are always living in the end of the age. But the end will have an end. How will these last days end? Turn with me to 2 Thessalonians. Here Paul gives probably the clearest and most detailed description of his understanding of how the last days end. The Thessalonians are suffering affliction and Paul gives them this hope (2 Thessalonians 1:5–10):

This [suffering] is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

So the way these last days end is with the coming of the Lord Jesus with mighty angels in flaming fire to give relief to his persecuted people and to give vengeance to those who do not know God or obey the gospel. At the end of the end, as always, there is conflict between Christ’s people and unbelievers and that conflict and persecution will be resolved finally by the coming of Jesus to give rest to oppressed Christians and to give eternal vengeance to their oppressors. That’s the way the end of this age ends.

But then in 2 Thessalonians 2 he gives more detail about the end of the end. Let’s start reading at verse 3:

Let no one deceive you in any way [deception is the great danger of the last days]. For that day [“the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” verse 1] will not come, unless the rebellion [or the apostasy] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. . . . 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.

So just like John in 1 John 4:3, Paul sees a final evil figure rising up at the very end whose spirit is already at work in these last days. Paul says, The “man of lawlessness” is coming at the very end (verse 3), but (verse 7) “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.” John said (in 1 John 4:3) “This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” So both Paul and John see this age ending with the rise of powerful, deceptive, anti-Christian, lawless figure, and they see the spirit (1 John 4:3) or the mystery (2 Thessalonians 2:7) of that figure already at work throughout the last days.

And the end of that final anti-Christian force of lawlessness will be the second coming of Christ. Verse 8: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.”

Avoiding Four Errors Until Then

I do not know how many years will elapse between now and those final events. But I know enough and you know enough that we can avoid four serious errors.

Error #1: The final events are so far off we need not concern ourselves with the warnings or preparations.

We don’t know how far off they are, and the mystery of lawlessness and the many antichrists are meant to deceive us so that we won’t know them when they come, or recognize the deceivers who come before them.

Error #2: The final events are so close we need not concern ourselves with this world or with tomorrow.

They have always been close from our human perspective, and they ought to be. And our job never changes: Disciple the nations and teach them to observe all that he commanded (Matthew 28:19-20) — the whole range of Christian living.

Error #3: There will be so much lawlessness and unbelief at the end of the end it would be futile to pray or work toward revival in the churches or a great awakening in the city or the nation.

We don’t know that. Nothing in Paul or John’s view of the end says that we, or this church, or this city, must be a part of the final rebellion and lawlessness. For all I know Minneapolis could be white-hot with passion for Jesus when he comes. The end will be bleak, but nothing says any given family or church or city has to be bleak.

Error #4: The lawlessness and unbelief and immorality of the last days is a sign of the church’s failure.

That is not a biblical statement. I am not saying that at any given time the church might not have more impact on culture if she were more holy and more full of the power of the Holy Spirit. What I am saying is that there are always other factors involved in the corruption of culture so that it is never so simple as to say the failure of the church is the reason the culture is corrupt.

It wrong to say, as so many do, “The condition of society is the report card of the church.” This is especially wrong to say at the end of the age. The apostasy, the rebellion, the lawlessness, the explosion of antichrist at the end of the end is God’s mysterious plan, not the church’s failure. Jesus will not say to his suffering church, as he rescues her from her oppressors, “You know, there would have been no man of lawlessness and great rebellion if you have been a faithful church.” In fact, it is only a strong and pure church that will survive these days, not a failing church.

How Then Should We Live?

Which brings us back now to our final step in this message in 2 John. How shall we respond to the darkening of these days in America? Books should be written to answer this. And I give just a few minutes to underline why love for each other is John’s answer.

Recall the connection between 2 John 6 and 7. Verse 6 ends “that you should walk in it [the command to love each other].” And verse 7 gives the reason: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world.” So how shall we live, as deceivers increase and the spirit of antichrist abounds in America? We should love each other. Because life together in love is a great protection against deception.

Why is it?

Christian love is not mushy; it is solid affection for those who look and share the truth of Christ. And so, since love among Christians is based on the truth they share, it becomes a powerful protection against deception. Look at verses 1–2: “The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 because of the truth that abides in us.”

Love in the Truth of Christ

The truth of Christ, the truth of the gospel, the truth of the word of God is the air in which our love lives and flourishes (“whom I love in the truth,” verse 1). It’s the granite rock foundation on which our love rests (verse 2: whom I love “because of the truth”).

For example, I know from words, cards, letters, emails, looks that I am loved by hundreds of you whom I barely know. What is that? It’s the knitting together of souls with deep, solid affection because week after week and month after month and year after year we have shared precious truth. If you love Christ with all your heart, and you love his word with your very soul, and if I preach Christ and his word with heartfelt faithfulness over years with you, what else can happen but love? And so it will be with all those around you who love the truth. Christian love is not mushy, it is solid affection for those who love and share the truth of Christ.

A people who love each other like this will not be easily deceived at the end of the age.

A Glad, Strong Community

One last reason for why life together in love protects against deception. Deception works because it makes shame look glorious, and ugly look pretty, and folly look wise, and suicidal ways look life-giving, and sadness look like gladness. Deception works because we think we’ll be happier if we turn away from Christ and embrace sin (see 2 Thessalonians 2:12).

But look at verse 4: “I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father.” He rejoiced over what he experienced in the lives of other Christians. In other words, living together in love, even if surrounded by antichrists, is a happy way to live. Loving and being loved in the truth of the gospel is deeply satisfying life. Such a happy community will not be easily deceived by the thin pleasures of sin.

So, Bethlehem, these are darkening days in America. Therefore, don’t let the world — don’t let the spirit of antichrist, or the mystery of lawlessness — rob you of your love for each other or the happiness of your life together. Amen

 

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