The Rise of Counterfeit Christianity
Last time we considered a very positive sign of Christ’s return: the white horse of the preaching of the gospel must run triumphantly through the earth. God’s elect must be saved from all nations and out of all time. Then the end of this world will come. We have found that this sign, too, is quickly reaching its end, for most nations have heard the gospel of Christ.
But there is a second sign that we must look for in the church that will indicate Christ comes. This sign is heartbreaking for the true church, especially after hearing of the conquering power of the gospel. It is one that has also been around for a long, long time: apostasy in the church, the preaching of false doctrine and heresy.
What makes this sign so heartbreaking is that, as the end of time nears, there will be a general falling away from the truth. The church-world in general will follow in the way of false Christianity, and will eventually suppress true, biblical Christianity. The sign we consider today is not merely abounding apostasy, but a sign that points us to a clearly defined development in Christianity, one that will eventually lead to the persecution of the true church and an exalting of the false church as the true representative of Christianity.
We read in Mark 13:21-23, “And then if any man shall say to you, Lo, here is Christ; or, lo, he is there; believe him not: for false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.”
This instruction of Christ certainly does not stand alone. All of Scripture supports the idea that there will be abounding apostasy before Christ returns. We have a sign here to which we need to take heed. There is a reality assumed by Jesus in the verses we consider. That reality is this: Always in the history of the church, alongside the development of the true church, there also develops the false church. In the new dispensation the true Christian church has always been opposed by and suppressed by the false Christian church.
In our modern day and age of relativism, it is often heard, “Well, we are all Christians. We may disagree with each other, but we are all going to heaven anyway.” The sharp differences between the true and the false church are neatly tucked away in the corner of the closet in order to avoid exposure. Instead, it is heard, “Look at the great influence of Christianity in this world. The world is heading toward an age of peace and prosperity under the influence of a united Christian church.”
Quite the opposite is true, however. True Christianity is losing ground. And false Christianity gains the day. Everywhere the New Testament warns against following after false Christianity. Jesus warns us against it in the verses that we study today. False Christs and false prophets, He says, shall rise to seduce the elect. Paul warns us, too, in his epistle to Timothy, that there are going to arise in the last days evil men and seducers who will lead Christians astray.
The apostle John identifies false prophets and teachers for us in I John 4:2, 3. “Hereby,” he writes, “know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God; and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.”
The truth that Jesus Christ is come into the flesh may not seem all that sharp a distinctive to divide between false Christianity and true. I mean, the true believer confesses a whole lot more than that, right? But this is, and will be, the fundamental difference between the true and the false church. Notice. The true believer makes this blessed confession: Jesus, that is, the One whom God sent to save His people from their sins; Christ, that is, the chosen and anointed One of God is come into our flesh. He is come, that is, He came to earth from heaven, the place where He abides in glory as the divine Son of God, second person of the Trinity, co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and Holy Spirit. He is come into our human flesh. He was born of the virgin Mary, that is, He became God and man in the one person of God’s Son. Why has He come into our flesh? He came in order to die the death of the cross, to secure for lost sinners salvation from sin. He is come to pay the price of sin for God’s elect people in order to remove their guilt and condemnation. He is come to overcome the power of sin in our lives in order that we might live a new and godly life unto God.
All of this, and more, is implied in that confession that the true believer makes. It is the confession that is upheld and defended by the true church of Christ in this earth.
This confession distinguishes the true church from the false church. False Christianity does not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. Notice, John does not say that false Christianity comes right out and denies this truth. He says that false Christians and the false Christian church simply do not confess it, that is, they will not express agreement with it, they will not teach it. False Christianity is shrewd and subtle. We hear of a different confession concerning Christ. Jesus is not the sovereign Lord from heaven who accomplished the salvation of His people. Instead, He dies without actually accomplishing salvation for anyone. He only makes it available. Man saves himself by an act of his own will. Christ appeared in history to make all people in this world feel good about themselves. Even, mind you, when they walk unrepentantly in their sin. Christ is neither chosen nor appointed by God to accomplish the salvation of the church. False Christianity makes the claim: He is not the divine Son of God born into flesh.
Oh, once again, that false Christian church may not be so bold as to come right out and deny that fundamental truth of Scripture. But neither does it preach this truth. Instead of it, we hear that Christ is this wonderful example to mankind. He fed the hungry, He healed the sick. Look at the good that He did to mankind. That, the false Christian church says, is why Christ came to the earth. That’s the heart of Christianity. The improvement of society. Jesus came to make you and me better people. He has come to inspire us to go out into this world and make it a better place in which to live. The false church does not preach the gospel of salvation. This world becomes a better place in which to live by means of…social action.
There is no sound of sin in all of this. There is no call to repentance and faith. There is no sound of the need for salvation from sin—only in the shed blood of a Savior. Again, it is not denied. In fact, there might be a sprinkling of this talk through what is said. But the false church does not make this the heart and soul of her confession. She does not truly believe in the divine Son of God who accomplished a powerful salvation on the cross to save His people unto eternal glory. Instead, false Christianity sets up a counterfeit Christ, a false Christ. Literally, we read in the passage here in Mark, a pseudo-Christ. And that word pseudo means apparently, rather than actually. False Christianity will have a fake Christ, a counterfeit Christ, one who appears to be the real Christ but is not the actual Christ of Scripture. The Christ taught by the false church will go under the name of the Christ of the Scriptures. The largest share of the church will even be passionate in clinging to this false or pseudo-Christ. The false Christ will come to be known in this world as the Christ of Christianity, even though he is not the true Christ.
So we hear it today, do we not? Lo, here is Christ. Or, lo, he is there. The cults of today who seek to enjoy Christian status go from door to door proclaiming that they have the Christ—lo, here is Christ. Many mainstream Christian denominations, whose size and generic message make them popular, tell us: No, we have the Christ; he is here. Evangelists, or mega-churches that appeal to the masses with their watered-down teachings of an impotent Jesus, claim they have the Christ. Churches that pride themselves in all the pomp and rituals, who make the bold claim that they hold in their power salvation from sin, boast that they are the true vicars of Christ.
We are reminded of what Paul writes to Timothy in II Timothy 4:3, 4: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
People will turn from the sound doctrines of the Bible and want to hear some new and different doctrine. There will be false teachers willing to give them exactly what they want. False prophets shall arise who will teach their false Christ, Jesus tells us, in order to seduce men to follow after them instead of the true Christ of the Scriptures. The term used for false teachers here in Mark 13 is similar to the one used for false Christs. It is pseudo-prophets. And again, what is meant by this is apparent, but not actual. They look like preachers of Christ, but they are look-alikes, they are not true preachers or prophets of Christ. They are counterfeit, they do not preach and teach God’s Word. These are men who come in the robes of Christianity but preach the doctrine of men.
The false teachings of men who tickle the itchy ears of people are not many scattered and unrelated attempts to turn people after their own brand of Christianity. This is one sign, Jesus points out to us. And the sign is this: The false Christian church in this world will slowly take the place of the true Christian church. Paul forewarns us in II Thessalonians 2:3, “Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day [the day when Christ comes] shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.” False Christianity will become so hugely popular that the people involved in this false Christianity and the people of this world will begin to think that false Christianity is in fact the only Christianity. The true church of Christ will be small and despised. It will get to the point that no one—or at best very, very few—will even give ear to the warnings of the true church. The true church will be labeled as fanatical, narrow-minded, even hateful—because the true church is not willing to compromise the truth.
All we need to do is look at the development of the church in the old dispensation to find an example of what we mean. The prophet Isaiah lived during a time of great apostasy in Judah. In the midst of this forsaking of the truth, Isaiah spoke these words in chapter 1:4, 8: “Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. And the daughter of Zion is left as a cottage in a vineyard, as a lodge in a garden of cucumbers, as a besieged city.” That is what is going to characterize the Christian church in the last days. False Christianity will grow and flourish. Because it is so strong, might will make right. And though there may be some differences between various denominations, nevertheless, the false Christ who follows after the whims of sinful man will be exalted as the true Christ. True Christianity will be silenced.
When you see all this happening, Christ tells us, then take heed; I am coming. And when men say: Lo, here is Christ; lo, he is there; believe it not. Do not be deceived by the apostasy and error of the false church. Continue in the things you have learned and been assured of. Continue in the Holy Scriptures that make you wise unto salvation (II Tim. 3:15ff.).
That, then, is the sign.
Jesus also forewarns us of how the false church goes about accomplishing her task. We read in verse 22, “For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect.”
To “seduce.” Seduction. That is the means Satan uses to persuade men to follow after counterfeit Christianity and its false or counterfeit Christ. The term “seduce” used here is a Greek word that means to lead astray or to lead one away from the truth to the lie. The idea is that of a ship resting in harbor tied to the dock. An enemy comes at night and cuts the ropes. And as a result, the ship drifts away from the dock and begins to float aimlessly at sea with no direction or goal. Men will come in the course of the history of the church who will, by their false teachings, cut the church loose, so to speak. She will slowly drift away from her theological moorings. She will slowly drift away from the safety of the harbor and into the open sea of unbelief.
This has happened repeatedly, since the very time of Christ. But as time goes on, more and more of the church will give heed to evil men and seducers. And these men will lead the church out into the open sea of unbelief. This will be accomplished by means of signs and wonders.
Notice that the King James Version of the Bible here uses the words signs and wonders, not the word miracles. It could have done so, since these same words in the Greek make reference to some of the miracles that were performed by Jesus and others. But I agree with the translators who do not translate these words here in verse 22 as miracles. A sign, you see, is an unusual occurrence that one uses to prove the cause he is pleading to be true. False teachers will claim the signs or occurrences they perform are miracles. As the gospel he preaches is false, so also are his signs. A true miracle is sent by God and given into the hands of one of His servants to prove God’s cause. And that is why false prophets seek to use what they claim to be miracles in order to prove that God sent them.
Likewise the word “wonder” here in Mark refers to a strange occurrence that needs to be watched. Again, it can refer to a miracle. But not necessarily. Let us face it, people of God, these signs and wonders of false prophets are not new. Some teachers claim to change bread and wine into the very body and blood of Christ. That is a claimed miracle. Others claim to speak in the language of angels or to be able to heal the sick or to receive visions. All of these are claimed to be miracles. Who knows how great these signs and wonders will become as time goes on? We do not know just how far God will allow evil men and seducers to go before Christ’s return. But these signs and wonders will be great. We can be sure of that.
So great will these signs and wonders be that they will deceive the masses of Christians. We will see the church world following en masse after counterfeit Christianity. So great will be the apostasy of the last days that, if it were possible, Jesus says, the very elect themselves will be deceived. That is how great the seduction of that day will be. The true Christian might even waver a bit. Ah, there are so many people, even those we love, following in that way of Christianity. Can we possibly be right? Of course, God’s elect are chosen by God from eternity and held in His almighty hand that they cannot be taken from Him. They are not able to be deceived. But, if they could be, they would be. That is how strong the pull of pseudo-Christianity will be.
Take heed. Behold, I have foretold you, Jesus says in verse 23 of the verses we consider. Now we have been warned. What we see going on about us in the church world ought not to alarm us. It saddens us, of course. It is another one of those labor pains. It hurts us, especially if we see family or loved ones depart from the truth. But this should not perplex or confuse us. We have been forewarned. Jesus Himself has told us. That makes the warning He gives us urgent. Take heed.
Such is what we are told as elect believers. Take heed. Watch and guard yourselves. We are saved in the way of perseverance. We must exercise ourselves in these last times unto godliness. We must learn the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make us wise unto salvation. We must give attendance to prayer and to the study of God’s Word in church, in the home, in the family, and privately for ourselves. We may not neglect these matters. The warning is so urgent.
May God give us eyes to see the signs of Christ’s return. And may we strive to remain faithful to His cause.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we thank Thee for Thy Word and for the warning that Thou dost give us in Scripture. Teach us to know Thy Word and to be faithful unto that Word in order that we might seek the true Jesus Christ of the Scriptures. Forgive us of all sin. Help us in our weakness. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
Rev. Wilbur G. Bruinsma (Wife: Mary)
Ordained: October 1978
Pastorates: Faith, Jenison, MI - 1978; Missionary to Jamaica - 1984; First, Holland, MI - 1989; Kalamazoo, MI - 1996; Eastern Home Missionary - 2006; Pittsburgh PRC - 2016.Website: www.prcpittsburgh.org/
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