4. Abounding Lawlessness
By David J Engelsma
No one can possibly fail to see the lawlessness that pervades our society from the highest levels of government to the lowliest slum-dwellers in the great cities. Lawlessness screams out at us in every news report. It shakes the very foundation of the state when it is exposed in the lives of the heads of government. It is the reason why none of us dares walk the city streets after dark and why many tremble behind locked doors and barred windows throughout the night.
We see lawlessness, but do we understand?
Jesus foretold this lawlessness in Matthew 24 as one of the signs of His coming and the end of the world. In verses 12 and 13, He said: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” These verses are part of Jesus’ answer to His disciples’ question in verse 3: “What shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” They are connected with verse 11 which speaks of the rising of false prophets who shall deceive many people. The number of the faithful people of God will become smaller and smaller at the end. One reason for this will be the deception of many by false prophets. Another reason will be the abounding of iniquity which causes the love of many to become cold. “Iniquity” is actually the word that means “lawlessness.” Jesus told His disciples - and us-that a sign of the end would be abounding lawlessness, the very thing we see today, not only in our own country but also in all the world.
This characterizing of the last days as a time of lawlessness is found elsewhere in Scripture. Paul emphasized the lawlessness of the last days in II Thessalonians 2, the chapter on the arising of the Antichrist -a chapter, incidentally, that we will come back to later on in this series on the doctrine of the last things, when we consider Antichrist and his kingdom. In verse 3, Paul called the Antichrist “that man of sin.” The word “sin,” here, is the same word that occurs in Matthew 24:12 and is there translated “iniquity” -the word “lawlessness.” Verse 7 speaks of a “mystery of iniquity” that has been working in the world to produce Antichrist all through history and that will finally be successful. Again, “iniquity” is literally “lawlessness.” Verse 8 calls the Antichrist “that Wicked (one).” Once more, the word used to describe Antichrist is the word “lawless.” Antichrist will be spawned by lawlessness, and he and his world-kingdom will be the epitome of lawlessness.
The lawlessness of the last days is also taught when Scripture compares them with the days just before the Flood in the time of Noah. Jesus made this comparison in verse 37 of Matthew 24: “But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.” Genesis 6 describes the world in the days of Noah: “the wickedness of man was great in the earth..., the earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.” Luke 17:28-30 compares the world of the last days with the Old Testament city of Sodom at the time God destroyed it with fire and brimstone - a comparison of special significance today, when the world shamelessly practices the same vile sin for which Sodom was notorious and to which it gave its name, homosexuality, or sodomy.
Lawlessness will abound at the end, say the Scriptures. Lawlessness is a life of disobedience to the law of God, but disobedience of a special kind: the deliberate trampling upon God’s law. A lawless man is not someone who is ignorant of the law, or even someone who breaks the law whose authority he acknowledges. But he is a man who holds the law of God in contempt. He “owns” no law. He has made up his mind to do as he pleases, to do “his own thing,” as the modem jargon puts it. The lawless man, or woman, openly practices the very thing which the law of God forbids - as normal, acceptable, right behavior!
Such a time is the present day, and such a society is our society - a lawless time and a lawless society. The government itself, God’s servant to rule bylaw, becomes guilty of lawlessness. No, I do not now refer to the fact that the politicians occupy their offices for the sake of their own wealth, their own fame, and their own power, which is really no new thing under the sun. But I am speaking of the fact that the state solemnly legalizes the murder of unborn children in its abortion- statutes, while at the same time prohibiting by law the execution of murderers. Those concerning whom God says, “Thou shalt not kill,” the state murders. Those of whom God says, “Punish with death,” the state saves alive, and often sets free for more mayhem and murder among the citizenry. The state is showing its radical lawlessness in the view it takes of its function in society. The duty of government is to punish evildoers and protect and reward those who do well, and thus to maintain order in society. We now see the state abandoning this, its fundamental task (with ruinous consequences for the country), and intruding itself into areas of the life of its citizens where it has no business whatever.
Lawlessness also characterizes the behavior of the people. They despise authority: children, that of their parents; wives, that of their husbands; employees, that of their employers; citizens, that of their rulers. It is not only that they disobey their superiors in practice, but that they deny that they have any superiors to whom honor and obedience are due!
The institution of marriage is overturned. Fornication, which has always been practiced, now becomes ordinary, acceptable behavior, a way of life so that parents and schools distribute birth-control pills to the girls and condoms to the boys. Putting away one’s wife, or husband, and taking someone else’s mate is not only legalized, but also is so prevalent that it is now taken for granted. Lust is deified and worshiped in the movies and television programs, in the books and magazines, in advertising and selling. Sexual filthiness, that is to say, is flaunted.
The tide of lawlessness rolls over the whole world.
Lawlessness abounds today. This is what Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24:12: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Lawlessness, or iniquity, has always been present in the world. It rooted itself in the human race when Adam deliberately set aside God’s command, “Thou shalt not eat of the fruit of the tree,” and ate of the forbidden fruit. Down through history, sin has been developing. The root of Adam’s transgression has been sprouting into a giant tree, producing luxuriant foliage and finally bearing all manner of fruit that is now ripening in the end of the ages in the entire human race.
Sin’s development to the extreme of abounding lawlessness is necessary for the coming of the end. The end cannot come until there has been this full development. For the end will be judgment, final judgment, of the wicked world, and God in His justice will pour out this judgment only when sin is fully manifested as sin, that is, when the world has filled its cup of iniquity.
But Jesus was concerned about the effect of lawlessness on the churches, on those who profess to be God’s people in the world. He had no abstract interest in the crime rate, nor was He concerned about the ungodly world. But He said, “because lawlessness shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” Now, it is only people in the churches who have love that can wax cold; the unbelieving world never had any love. The effect of abounding iniquity, therefore, is going to be more forsaking of the church and the church’s God by those who once professed allegiance to her and to her God.
There will be many whose love waxes cold on account of iniquity. Jesus gives us a radically different view of the state of affairs at the end from that which looks for the world to become better and for the size of the church to be swelled through the conversion of multitudes and even whole nations. Not so! The world is ever the world, going on from bad to worse, exhausting the resources of sin. And the church becomes smaller and smaller. Many will be deceived by false doctrine; many will be offended because of persecution; many will have their love wax cold because of iniquity.
The love that the text speaks of is the love of a man for God, love for Jesus Christ, love for the gospel of the Scriptures, love for the church. This love is “blown cold” by iniquity. This literally is what Jesus said: “The love of many shall be blown cold by abounding iniquity.” He did not say that because people’s love becomes cold, there will be abounding iniquity, but that the iniquity cools off people’s love. In the last days, an icy wind blows through the churches, cooling the love of many, and that icy wind is lawlessness. The essence of lawlessness is lack of love for God, or, to put it differently, hatred for God. The law which lawlessness despises is this: Love God! So, it is the natural effect of lawlessness to put out the fire of a man’s love for God.
This is what is happening in the churches today. The iniquity that abounds in the world is approved and practiced in the churches. Many in the churches refuse to honor the authority of parents, of husbands, and of employers. Many in the churches openly practice adultery by divorcing their own mate and taking someone else’s. Many in the churches freely make the enjoyment of lust part of their lives in their movie attendance, in their television viewing, in the songs they listen to, and in their reading. Their love for God has been blown cold.
But there is another way in which this is happening in the churches today, on a vast scale. Love for God is made to take a back seat to love for earthly things: money, possessions, earthly comforts, and pleasure.
We make a mistake when we think of lawlessness only in terms of murders, robberies, riots, adulteries, and totalitarian tyranny. The essence of lawlessness is love for self or love for some thing instead of, or before, love for God. Lawlessness is compatible with an outwardly decent life. This is what Jesus warned His disciples about in Matthew 24. When in verses 37-39 He compared the last days to the time of Noah, He stressed the sheer worldliness of the people: They ate and drank, they married, and they gave in marriage. They loved the world and its things. That was god to them. This is the icy wind blowing through the churches today, and let no one of us exempt himself from the threat. Everything comes first before God and His Kingdom: job, money, recreation, eating and drinking, a good time. There are pleasures to be enjoyed in living such a life, of course. This is the appeal of iniquity.
One outstanding evidence of the blowing cold of the love of many by the wind of iniquity is the growing desecration of the Sabbath. Professed Christians use the Lord’s day just as does the ungodly world: to pursue pleasure. It is a day for football games and sightseeing. Or, in exact violation of the fourth commandment, they work. Attendance at the worship service becomes infrequent; many never make the second service on Sunday. The clamor for shortening the length of the sermon and for doing away with preaching as a proclamation of the Word of God, the Scriptures, becomes louder and louder. And what does all this mean but that many are lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, so that worshiping God, knowing God, and walking with God in sweet communion has no attraction for them.
What a grief to see entire churches, where in time past love for God, His truth, and His law once burned, now cold towards God! What a grief to see men who have been brought up in the fear of God turn their back on Him, although they have been baptized and probably made public confession of their faith. Above all, what a grief to see the good commandments of our heavenly Father trampled in the muck of the filthy will of men. We weep over the abounding lawlessness. As the Psalm expresses it: “Because thy statutes are despised, with overwhelming grief I weep.” And how terrible is the state of those whose love has been blown cold by lawlessness. Jesus indicated this when He added, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” The implication is that he who does not endure, but whose love waxes cold, shall be damned.
In these words of our Lord concerning lawlessness is implied an admonition to His disciples. It is not this, that we get busy and try to check the abounding of lawlessness in the world and to improve our lawless society. Rather, we are admonished to stand in antithetical opposition to the lawless world, as people who regard and keep the law of God, that is, as people who love the Lord their God with all their heart and mind and soul and strength and their neighbor as themselves. God has graciously made us righteous men and women in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation. Our calling is to live that way, by God’s grace. We must guard against the influence of iniquity, as well as against the danger of false doctrine, for the Devil seeks to destroy men by the allure of the pleasures of sin just as much as by the deception of heresy.
Examine yourself! What is your first and great love? Self? Money? A name and fame? Fun? Earthly ease? If it is not God and His Christ, you must repent, seek forgiveness, and be renewed to take up your struggle once more against lawlessness.
In this struggle of the believers, it is vital that we and our children be members of a church that honors the law of God both in the preaching and teaching and in the discipline of elders, and that calls us to obey that law. The church that does this is the church that preaches the gospel of salvation by God’s free and sovereign grace alone. The message of God’s great love for us in Jesus Christ is the message that stirs up love for God in our hearts, kindles the fire of love for God, maintains that fire, and makes that fire ever hotter, even in lawless times like these.
In this way the Spirit of Christ preserves us unto the end. Some will endure - such is the comfort of the text. Powerful though the ungodly forces are, they will not be able to separate God’s people from the love of God. Enduring, we shall be saved.
From the Standard Bearer
Rubric: Things Which Must
Shortly Come to Pass
Part 1: Articles from 1993
Part 2: Articles from 1995
A Defense of (Reformed) Amillenialism