The focus of prophecy and the end of days is Jesus Christ. Peter learned this at the transfiguration. When he saw Jesus in His glory, face shining like the sun and clothed in light, he was understandably at a loss for words – for a moment. After all, this is Peter we're talking about. Matthew 17:1-13 recounts how he stuttered out an obvious take on the situation: "'Lord, it is good for us to be here,'" (v. 3) and then offered to build tents for Jesus and His guests, Moses and Elijah.
But God the Father interrupted Peter, saying, "'This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!'" (v.5) Peter probably didn't realize that he was placing Moses and Elijah, great as they are, on the same level as Jesus. So, God told him, "'This is My Son; listen to Him.'" What Peter learned from that, he wrote in 2 Peter, points to God's Son, His birth and rescue mission, and His triumphant return. Jesus' famous post-resurrection conversation in Luke 24 with two unnamed disciples on the road to Emmaus leaves no question about it. He joined these guys on the road and they had no idea it was Him. They told Him about all the astonishing events of the past week or so, "'the things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people'" (v. 19), how He was crucified and now all His followers were sad because they really thought He was the Messiah.
At one point, Jesus interrupted them, saying, "'O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?'" (vv. 25-26). He then began what must have been the coolest Bible study ever conducted: "And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself" (v. 27).
What did Jesus tell them? Luke doesn't say, but we can guess some of it. I imagine He began by recalling God's words to him on the mountain and then connecting that to Jesus' key role in prophecy. God put Jesus center stage, making Him the focal point of Old Testament prophecy and the capstone of the last days.
When we talk about the scarlet thread of redemption, that's what we mean: all of Scripture points to God's Son, His birth and rescue mission, and His triumphant return.
In fact, if you want to sum up the Bible—all sixty-six books written by forty authors over 1,500 years—you could say it's about one person and two events. Jesus Christ is the person, and the two events are His first and second comings. The first time, He paid the price for our sin; in the second, He will rule the world with those who have been forgiven of their sin.
When we talk about the scarlet thread of redemption, that's what we mean: all of Scripture points to God's Son, His birth and rescue mission, and His triumphant return. To unlock Bible prophecy, you need the right letters: J-E-S-U-S. When you put Jesus in the midst of those Old Testament prophecies like the apostles did, it all makes sense, from His advent to His return. Scripture foresees the last days and reveals that they are all about Jesus.
The Last Days Are Filled with Apostasy
By definition, an apostate is a defector, someone who took a firm position, usually of a religious nature, and then walked away from it. Peter warned of the danger of apostasy to believers, especially regarding the last days. After setting up the importance of prophecy as a source of God's truth in the first chapter, he said in 2 Peter 2:1-3:
"There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed. By covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words; for a long time their judgment has not been idle, and their destruction does not slumber."
Peter said a lot more about apostasy in this chapter, but the most significant aspect for our purposes is that these false teachers and teachings come from inside the church. In the last days, according to many New Testament writers, there will be a falling away from historic biblical truth and historic Christianity. Paul, John, and Jude also gave similar warnings.
In 1 Timothy 4:1, Paul couldn't have made the danger any more plain: "The Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons," or better put, demonically inspired teachings. Many will depart from the faith. That's apostasy, deserting the original teaching of the gospel for lies and hypocrisy. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, Paul bore down further:
"In the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!"
John's warning was just as explicit: "Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us" (1 John 2:18-19). Look at the connection John made—apostates are antichrists, opposed to Christ. Jude reminded believers to recall these warnings, “how [the apostles] told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts...not having the Spirit" (Jude 1:18-19).
Deception based on truth has always been one of Satan's most effective weapons, particularly within the church, despite the apostles' cautions.
Given that the last days include all of history from the time of the church until now, these warnings have been valid for the past two millennia. Deception based on truth has always been one of Satan's most effective weapons, particularly within the church, despite the apostles' cautions. In every age, there have been defectors from the faith and the number of apostates seems to proliferate. Our time is no different.
I found the results of a recent survey, which revealed that 52% of Americans who describe themselves as Christians believe that salvation comes by a combination of faith and works. That percentage includes those in denominations that teach the biblical doctrine that salvation is by faith in Christ alone: Pentecostals (46%), mainline Protestant (44%), and evangelicals (41%). Once you give way to a form of salvation that is Jesus plus anything else, you're off track and on the way to apostasy.
Another report tracked the experiences of five different ministers who, over time, entertained heretical teachings, then accepted them, and have now fallen away from faith. The study, "Preachers Who are Not Believers," reported that these pastors are now either pantheist or clandestinely atheist. I say clandestine, because the study also revealed the most disturbing aspect of the whole matter: These preachers maintain their positions as pastors and ministers of Christian churches. Their congregations are wholly unaware of their pastor's spiritual state. These men, who are supposed to be teaching what the Bible says about Jesus, can't help but infect their ministry and sermons with their own faltering beliefs.
Jesus warned six of the seven churches He wrote in the Book of Revelation 2-3 that they had fallen away from their original positions on Him and the gospel, losing their first love and drifting toward apostasy. That should wake us up to the reality of what I'll call spiritual entropy, a degradation that naturally occurs over time. Unless we are stoking the fires of our very souls with biblical truth, those flames of love will dwindle and burn out. As Hebrews 2:1 admonishes us, "We must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away." The last days are marked by apostasy, and it will only get worse as we draw closer to Jesus' return. Even though it will increase, we must resist.
Skip Heitzig is the Senior Pastor of Calvary Albuquerque, one of the largest Evangelical churches in the United States with some 15,000 attendees.