In Jesus’ Olivet discourse, He prophesied that in the end time lawlessness will abound. What does it mean to be lawless? Is lawlessness affecting your life?
In “The Rise of Counterfeit Christianity,” the previous installment of this series, we examined Christ’s warning about religious deception in the end times. We saw that the most dangerous form of religious deception in the end times would be a counterfeit version of Christianity (Matthew 24:4-5).
A few verses down, Jesus got more specific: “Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many” (verse 11, emphasis added throughout).
A little later He added more detail: “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders” (verse 24).
So the end time will be a time that some will consider to be a religious revival. There will be many religious teachers on the scene claiming to represent Jesus Christ—some performing supernatural miracles and some even claiming to be a Christlike figure themselves (see verse 24).
Jesus’ prophecy about “many false prophets” (verse 11) rising up is immediately followed by an important description about the consequence of their teachings: “And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (verse 12).
What is lawlessness?
The Greek word translated “lawlessness” in the New King James Version is anomia. The word nomos means “law,” and the prefix a- means “without”—so the literal meaning of anomia is “without law.”
Jesus wasn’t talking about a breakdown of civil laws from national or local governments. The context of His statement was religion (verses 4-5, 11). So it’s clear Jesus was talking about the rejection of the law found in the Bible.
Later on, Paul used the same basic word, lawless, to describe the most powerful false religious teacher in the end times (2 Thessalonians 2:8-9). That man is further described as coming from a religious system labeled as “the mystery of lawlessness” (verse 7).
Earlier in His ministry, Jesus warned that those who will ultimately be rejected by God are those “who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23; 13:41).
Jesus’ use of the word lawlessness teaches us very important, basic truths that shouldn’t be controversial:
- Jesus was a proponent of the law of God.
- His life was governed by the law.
- He taught people to obey the law.
But the unfortunate truth is that those three statements are controversial within the realm of mainstream Christianity.
Christianity’s rejection of law
Sadly, when we look at many of the churches and teachers who claim the name of Jesus today, we overwhelmingly find them teaching lawlessness.Sadly, when we look at many of the churches and teachers who claim the name of Jesus today, we overwhelmingly find them teaching lawlessness.
How can I say that? Don’t all churches support the 10 Commandments?
The answer is no. Not as Jesus did. One of His most complete statements on the subject is found early in the Sermon on the Mount. Speaking of the law of God, Jesus said, “Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).
He went on to emphasize this point even more graphically: “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (verse 19).
This statement clarifies what Jesus meant when He used the word lawlessness in other places. Someone doesn’t have to reject each and every one of the 10 Commandments to be anomia (without law). To reject and teach against just one of God’s laws puts someone into the category of anomia.
Many years later, Jesus’ half-brother James wrote the same truth in slightly different words: “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).
By this standard, almost every mainstream Christian church today would be considered lawless because they almost all universally reject, ignore or modify at least one of the laws of God: the Fourth Commandment that instructs us, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. … The seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God” (Exodus 20:8, 10).
But that’s not the only reason that today’s Christianity falls under the category of lawless. Many churches teach that the law was abolished by Jesus on the cross, instead of acknowledging that He actually taught a higher level of obedience, including the spiritual intent of the law. His followers are taught to obey in thoughts and actions (Matthew 5:21-48). The goal is for us to become perfect, like God (verse 48).
But throughout history, individuals who obeyed and taught the entire law of God have been persecuted and labeled with pejorative terms, just as Jesus predicted would happen (Matthew 24:9).
Increasing societal lawlessness
But we must also understand that lawlessness in the end times will go far beyond ignoring just one of the 10 Commandments. The “lawlessness” that Jesus said would cause the love of many to “grow cold” will lead to an almost total societal turn toward evil and wickedness. Jesus said it will be “as the days of Noah were” (Matthew 24:37). Then “every intent of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).
We live in a world filled with evil today, but as the apostle Paul wrote, “Evil men and imposters will grow worse and worse” (2 Timothy 3:13).
Yes, it is going to get worse. Much worse.
Just before that statement, Paul wrote of 19 characteristics that describe how corrupt and immoral people will be at that time. Nearly all of these 19 characteristics are a direct result of the rejection of God’s law—in other words, they are the direct consequences of a society that embraces lawlessness.
That society won’t just exist in one nation or culture, but will permeate the world and will make it so dangerous that it will require God’s direct intervention to save human beings from completely destroying themselves (Matthew 24:22).
There is good news. You don’t have to follow society’s slide into unrestrained lawlessness. You can choose to reject lawlessness and allow your life to be governed by the law of God. Those who obey God’s law will avoid having their love grow cold, because the entire purpose of the law of God is to help us show love to God and other people (1 John 5:3).
To learn how God’s law can change your life for the better and help you avoid being a part of society’s slide toward lawlessness, we recommend that you read our free booklet God’s 10 Commandments: Still Relevant Today.
You can find the previous articles in this series at “Surprising Truths About the Olivet Prophecy, Part 1” and “Part 2: The Rise of Counterfeit Christianity.”