When Jesus asked this question, He was talking to the disciples about the importance of prayer and not losing heart. This is something those living in the last days before Jesus’ return need to take on board. At this time Christians will be tempted to lose heart and give up in the face of a world that for the most part rejects the message of the Gospel and opposes those who believe it.
One way not to lose heart is to keep alive the hope of the return of the Lord Jesus. In this verse He spoke of this coming event as one which is definitely going to happen: ‘When the Son of Man comes.’ When Jesus says something is going to happen we can be sure that it will happen. Maybe not as soon as we would like it to happen, which is a reason why He tells the disciples to keep on praying and believing, whatever the response to their prayers or the circumstances of their lives.
Jesus spoke prophetically about a number of things, all of which either have come to pass, or are coming to pass now, or will come to pass at His Second Coming. He told the disciples that ‘He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised the third day.’ Matthew 16.21. It happened exactly as He said it would and as prophesied in the Hebrew Bible – Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, Zechariah 12.10. He was put to death by crucifixion at the time of the Passover in Jerusalem, and rose again from the dead on the third day.
His Second Coming will also happen exactly as He said it would. Firstly He will come at an unknown date to take His people to be with Himself:
‘For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left. Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming. … Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’
Then He will return to the earth with His redeemed people, coming in power and glory:
‘Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.’ Matthew 24.29-30.
The world considers this to be an impossibility and many Christians have their doubts about how it could happen, but the Bible makes it clear that Jesus intends to return to the earth. He will not come as He came the first time, as the Suffering Servant of the Lord, to die as the sacrifice for the sins of the world. At His Second Coming He will come as King of kings and Lord of lords, with all the power of God at His disposal to judge the world in righteousness. He will bring in the Messianic kingdom, ruling on earth for 1000 years, before bringing this world to an end and creating the new heavens and new earth in which He will reign forever with those He has redeemed from the earth (Revelation 20-21).
All of this is certain to happen. Jesus never said ‘If the Son of Man comes,’ but ‘when the Son of Man comes’. What is left in question is the second half of this phrase, ‘Will He find faith on the earth?’ Jesus does not give an answer to this question. He is looking for us to give Him the answer.
Nearly 2000 years later we find ourselves living in a time when many of the signs given in the Bible for the events that will lead up to the return of Jesus are being fulfilled. So what will be the state of faith at the time when Jesus returns? Will there be great numbers of believers, or a small minority?
Some tell us that there are a great number of ‘people of faith’ in the world today. For example Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book ‘The Purpose Driven Life’ launched a global PEACE plan which aims to enlist ‘one billion foot soldiers for the Kingdom of God’. He hopes to recruit them from 1.2 billion Christians and about 1 billion Muslims in the world today. Since Christians and Muslims claim to have some kind of faith in God and belief in Jesus that would seem to be quite a good total of the world’s population. We have also had prophecies given of a great revival coming, which will sweep whole cities and nations into the kingdom of God as great signs, and wonders are done in the name of Jesus.
At the same time reports and surveys speak of a general decline of Christianity, especially in Europe, where society has adopted a secular life style and a multi faith diversity agenda that strongly rejects biblical Christian faith and practice. As we wrote in our April 2018 edition, Open Doors reported that around 215 million Christians are being persecuted for their faith around the world, in particular in the Middle East, where traditional Christian churches are being driven out by radical Islam. There are areas of growth, with some very large churches in America and parts of Africa and China, but often this growth is at the expense of sound doctrine and Bible teaching.
When Jesus asked the question about finding faith on the earth, He did not mean religious activity which includes His name in its programme. He meant the faith which was preached by the Apostles and which He told them to spread to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28.18-20). This was the faith on which the New Testament church was founded. When Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost 3000 people were saved. We read of them:
‘They continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers.’ Acts 2.42.
What was the Apostles’ doctrine? The essentials of this doctrine are already present in Acts 2. All other teaching of the Apostles in the rest of the book of Acts and the Epistles agree on these fundamentals:
- Jesus is Lord (God) and the Messiah. Acts 2.36
- Salvation is uniquely through repentance and faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour who died as a sacrifice for our sins and rose again from the dead. Acts 2.22-24, 2.38, 4.12
- We should be baptised as a result of coming to this saving faith. Acts 2.38, 41.
- Those who accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord receive the Holy Spirit. Acts 2.38-9.
- We should be saved from (not conform to) this ‘perverse generation’ (i.e. the world that rejects the message of the Gospel). Acts 2.40.
This eliminates a vast amount of today’s religious activity, which may claim some allegiance to the name of Jesus, including, Roman Catholicism, the ecumenical movement, liberal Christianity, Islam, inter faith, New Age, Jehovah’s Witnesses and other cults.
It is clear from the prophetic passages in the Bible that at the end of this age the true church will be under attack from many different quarters. Jesus warned of deception in the last days of this age:
‘Take heed that no one deceive you, for many will come in my name, saying I am the Christ and will deceive many. … For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive if possible even the elect.’
Matthew 24.4-5, 24.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians of infiltration by false apostles who teach false doctrine:
‘For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder for Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers transform themselves into ministers of righteousness.’ 2 Corinthians 11.13-15.
He tells Timothy that ‘evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.’ In order to avoid deception Timothy should ‘continue in the things you have learned and been assured of knowing from whom you have learned them and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.’ Paul affirms the authority of all Scripture, which ‘is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness.’ He urges Timothy to preach the Word:
‘For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine but according to their own desires because they have itching ears they will heap up for themselves teachers, and they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables.’ 2 Timothy 3.13-4.4.
That time has surely come. Fables are made up stories which may be interesting and fascinate those who hear them, but they lack the truth and substance of the authentic message of the Gospel. Peter wrote:
‘For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty … And we have the prophetic word confirmed which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.’ 2 Peter 1.16-21.
In his epistle Jude wrote about ‘our common salvation’ and exhorted Christians to ‘contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.’ Jude 3. This means that the faith (i.e. the Apostles’ doctrine) is not to be added to or taken away from, that it is a once and for all faith which cannot be changed by later generations. If it is changed then by implication what emerges will not be able to deliver ‘our common salvation.’
When Jesus spoke of finding faith on earth at the time of His return it is clear that it is this faith, the one delivered by the Apostles, that He is looking for, not any substitute which may use His name, but deny His message. Today we find this faith under attack from all sides as the prophecies of the Bible say it would be. There are millions of people following some kind of religious activity today which denies the true faith. Here are some examples:
Islam promotes Jesus as a prophet, who was born to a virgin and did many great things. But it denies that Jesus is Lord (God) and that He died on the cross as a sacrifice for the sins of the world and rose again from the dead. In doing this it rips out the heart of the Gospel. It makes Jesus into a junior prophet, who was superseded by Mohammed as the last of the prophets. It denies the relationship between the Father and the Son. According to 1 John this is a sign of the influence of the spirit of antichrist: ‘Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.’ 1 John 2.22-23. Despite this many church leaders today are saying that Christians and Muslims worship the same God and should work together for the kingdom of God.
Roman Catholicism denies the Apostles’ teaching by adding church teaching and its own traditions to the New Testament. It elevates Mary to the position of Queen of Heaven and calls on her to ‘pray for us sinners in the hour of our need.’ This means that that Mary has a role to play in our redemption, which she does not. There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 2.5). The Roman Catholic doctrine of the Mass denies that the once and for all sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on the cross is sufficient to redeem us from our sins. It teaches that the bread and wine are transformed into the literal body and blood of Jesus and that its priests continue to offer the sacrifice of Jesus when they celebrate Mass. The Catechism states that Jesus ‘continues to offer himself in an unbloody manner on the altar through the ministry of his priests.’ This contradicts reason and scripture.
The Roman Catholic Church baptises babies (as do the Anglican and Orthodox churches) who cannot make any response to the Gospel by repentance and faith. In his talk to families at Croke Park in Dublin on August 25th the Pope said Catholics should ‘baptise their children as soon as possible so that they can become part of this great family of God. If a child is baptised the Holy Spirit immediately is poured into his or her heart. And for this reason we have to baptise them right away.’ This is a deception which leads millions of people to believe they are Christians when they are not. Saying a prayer and sprinkling a bit of water over a baby does not make him or her a Christian who receives the Holy Spirit. Babies cannot repent and believe the Gospel, the condition for baptism into Jesus Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit according to the Apostles’ teaching.
Despite all the errors of Rome, much of the Protestant Church is now saying we are one in the faith and must work together with the Roman Catholic Church to spread the Christian message, rather than obeying the scriptural teaching to ‘Come out of her my people lest you share in her sins and partake of her plagues.’ Revelation 18.4.
In much of the western world we have the ‘diversity agenda’ which requires us to affirm that ‘all gods are equal’ and all paths lead to God. Many church leaders, including the Pope, have affirmed that believers in all religions are children of God and walking on the same path to life. Therefore we should engage in inter faith dialogue with people of other faiths, but not try to convert them to faith in Jesus Christ. This denies the principle of Apostolic teaching that there is salvation in Jesus Christ alone and there is ‘no other name given among men by which we must be saved.’ Acts 4.12.
We have also all manner of New Age mystical ideas, which sometimes make Jesus into a guru, a great teacher and an avatar (one of many manifestations of God), but never the one unique Saviour of the world. Throughout the western world we have multitudes of people taking up yoga as a means of following a spiritual path, or finding inner peace. Yoga is based on Hindu philosophy of discovering ‘god within you’ through meditation and yoga poses. Yoga teacher Maharishi Mahesh Yogi says, ‘Man is divine, the inner man is fully divine. Be still and know you are God. When you know you are God you will begin to live Godhood.’ This is radically at odds with the Bible’s teaching, a repetition of the serpent’s lie, ‘You shall be as God’ (Genesis 3.5). We do not find our inner divine nature within ourselves, but the sinful human nature which separates us from God. We need to repent of sin and believe the Gospel to know God in spirit and in truth.
In addition to this we have a multitude of cults like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons propagating their way to God. One common factor of all of these is a denial of Jesus as fully man and fully God, the Second Person of the Trinity. This means they cannot have a true relationship with God:
'Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.’ 1 John 2.17-23. ‘Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.’
1 John 4.1-3.
You can test every cult that deviates from the truth by these verses. They will always deny that Jesus is the Son of God, equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, who is uncreated and eternal in His nature and ‘has come in the flesh’. By this we understand that He came as a man on the earth by virgin birth and was fully God and fully man, paying the price for our sins through His death and resurrection. In addition to the cults we have to say that much of the theology taught in liberal Bible colleges which prepare pastors to teach in churches denies these truths as well.
There is a great deal more I could say about some of the deviations coming into Christianity. Examples are the prosperity Gospel, ‘name it and claim it’, kingdom and dominion teaching, the Gospel of self-esteem and the idea that God loves us as we are and that we are all children of God without having to repent and believe the Gospel.
So we come back to the question Jesus asked with which we began this article: ‘When the Son of Man comes will He find faith on the earth?’ The answer is that He will find a lot of religion, but not a great deal of the Apostolic faith that He is really looking for. He is looking for those who heed His words in the Sermon on the Mount:
‘Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.’
They will be the ones who will be taken to be with the Lord at the coming Rapture of the church:
'For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.’ 1 Tesalonicenses 4.16-18
Sadly those who are on the broad road leading to destruction (hell) include multitudes of religious people who think they are all right with God, but are not. It is not too late to leave that broad road and get on the narrow road that leads to life. This is why we need to use the time that remains to tell people about Jesus and the salvation available in His name.
'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’ Mark 1.15
'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.’ Acts 16.31
'For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ Juan 3.16