Bible prophecy lists numerous signs that will precede Jesus Christ’s second coming, but the Apostle Paul specifically notes two major events that will occur just before Christ returns. He writes, “that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Paul tells us that the appearance of this “man of sin” on the world stage will be accompanied by “signs, and lying wonders” performed by a false religious leader using Satan’s power (2 Thessalonians 2:9). This display of supernatural demonic power will deceive millions into following this Satan-inspired individual and the system he is promoting.
Meanwhile, the Western nations are rapidly abandoning any former pretense of nominal Christianity. “Mainline” churches that for centuries upheld “traditional biblical values” now champion same-sex marriage, practicing homosexual clergymen (and clergywomen), and open denial of the inspiration of Scripture. Backlash against these trends is driving some Episcopalians and Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church, even while many Roman Catholics are leaving their church, citing dismay and disillusionment at the way the “pedophile priest scandal” has been handled. In many Western nations, Islam is now the fastest-growing religion.
What has happened to the long-held assumption that Jesus Christ would return to establish His Kingdom? Despite liberal trends and false teachings, the fact remains that Jesus will “come again” (John 14:1–3), that His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives by Jerusalem and He will reign over all the earth (Zechariah 14:1–9). The Bible also records that specific “signs” will precede Jesus’ return: increasing violence and wars, frequent floods, droughts and famines, disease epidemics, earthquakes and other natural disasters (see Matthew 24; Mark 13; Luke 21). However, a major sign will be widespread religious deception promoted by false religious leaders who perform “great signs and wonders” (Matthew 24:3–5, 11, 24). The Scriptures state that the return of Jesus Christ will surprise the world because people will not be watching for the warning signs that will indicate that His return is near (Matthew 24:36–41; 25:1–13; 1 Thessalonians 5:1–6).
In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John describes a beast, coming up out of the sea, that is influenced and given power by Satan (the dragon—Revelation 13:1–5). This beast will be a political leader who will gain power in Europe over a final revival of a political system that has links to the ancient Roman Empire (see Daniel 2; 7). John then foretells the appearance of another beast who “performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven… and he deceives those who dwell on earth by those signs” (Revelation 13:11–18). This miracle-working false prophet will be in league with the first beast and bring pressure on the peoples of the world to become part of this revived Roman system. Together, the political leader and the miracle-working false prophet will lead the world into a Satan-inspired system that will be totally contrary to the laws of God. This will be the ultimate fulfillment of the “falling away” or “great apostasy” against God that the Apostle Paul described in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Bible prophecies reveal this is coming in the years just ahead!
As many readers of this magazine know, the organization led by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong for more than 50 years underwent a terrible crisis in the early 1990s, as his successors abandoned long-held doctrines of God’s Church and tried to bring the organization into “mainstream Christianity.” Scores of thousands left the Worldwide Church of God as its doctrines were changed. That organization even changed its name, acknowledging openly that it no longer considers itself a “Church of God.”
So, could that have been the “falling away” prophesied by Scripture? No less an authority than Mr. Armstrong himself would disagree with that assertion. On many occasions, Mr. Armstrong plainly taught that the “falling away” mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 would be an event affecting the vast mass of human beings around the world. He wrote in a co-worker letter, “Christ foretold a turning away from His message…[Paul] prophesied there would be a Great Falling Away from Christ’s true message…the popular churches would turn away from the Truth and believe fables” (November 11, 1949). Later, in a 1982 radio broadcast, he asked, “Has that falling away happened? That doesn’t mean a few people, it doesn’t mean a few radicals or fanatics. The whole world was to be deceived!”
Was the “whole world” deceived when Mr. Armstrong’s successors split their church? Though this was a traumatic event, it affected only a relatively small number of people, and the church’s leaders displayed no powerful miracles to gain the loyalty of followers. There is no scriptural way to identify the prophesied “man of sin” with either of the men who succeeded Mr. Armstrong as the head of that organization.
Notice that the phrase translated as “falling away” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 in the NKJV comes from the Greek word apostasia. Although English-speakers may be inclined to translate this word as “apostasy,” and “falling away” has become a commonly accepted phrasing, these are actually not the best translations. Consider how several other translations render this word: “the great revolt” (Williams), “the rebellion” (Moffatt), or “the final rebellion against God” (NEB). No credible translation gives any indication that this massive global event could in fact involve just a few thousand members of one organization. Rather, it involves an outright worldwide rebellion, of unprecedented proportion, against any semblance of belief in the God of the Bible. Here is how the Expositor’s Bible Commentary describes this momentous event: “Conditions will be ripe for people, especially those who call themselves Christian… to turn their backs on God… This worldwide anti-God movement will be so universal as to earn for itself a special designation: ‘the apostasy’… the presence of such an apostasy and counterfeit god will not escape international observation” (volume 11, pp. 320–323).
We are living in an age in which the so-called “Christian” world is drifting further and further away from God and the moral principles found in the Bible. Nations that once claimed to be Christian are now promoting homosexuality and same-sex marriage—and even persecuting those who quote the Bible! What about the United States? President Barack Obama, while running for office, famously observed, “Whatever we once were, we are no longer a Christian nation—at least, not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.” Some nominal believers were offended, even outraged, by his words, but he was correct—the U.S. no longer looks to biblical principles as its anchor.
This trend will continue. Within the lifetimes of most of you reading this article, two Satan-inspired individuals—a miracle-working religious figure and a charismatic European political leader—will appear on the world stage and lead the masses of humanity in rebellion against the true God. Finally, near the very end of this age, this blasphemous religious figure will declare himself to be God, commanding the allegiance of billions who will join him in a final rebellion against the returning Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:4).
You need to be alert and watch for these significant end-time events so you can avoid being deceived when the prophecies come alive!