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What does it mean that lawlessness will be increased in the end times (Matthew 24:12)?

lawlessness increased

In Matthew 24:12, Jesus provides His disciples with an overview of the end times. He says, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold” (ESV). This verse is part of a larger discussion of the end times; the passage is often referred to as the Olivet Discourse.

After leaving the temple (Matthew 24:1), Jesus went and sat on the Mount of Olives (verse 3). At this point, His disciples go to Him in private and ask, “When will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” In response, Jesus gives an overview of things to come.

First, Jesus warns His disciples about deception. He says, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray” (Matthew 24:4–5, ESV).

Next, Jesus speaks about wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes (Matthew 24:6–7). Though we may be startled by these events, Jesus assures us that “these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (verse 8, ESV). The expression birth pains refers to a period of suffering prior to the return of Christ. The apostle Paul uses a similar expression in Romans 8:22–23: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (ESV). Old Testament prophets also used the metaphor of birth pains to describe general suffering (see Isaiah 13:8; Jeremiah 30:5–7) and specific suffering (see Isaiah 26:17; Micah 4:9–10). Whether general or specific, the “birth pains” the earth will experience signal the beginning of a process that will culminate with the return of Christ.

As the discourse continues, Jesus speaks about the persecution that His disciples will face. He says, “They will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (Matthew 24:9–11, ESV). Tribulation, death, hatred, and apostasy are signs that the end is near. Lawlessness, Jesus says, is the word to describe this period (verse 12).

When Jesus says, “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold,” He is speaking of moral decadence. In the last days, there will be a decline or decay in moral standards and values. God’s holy and righteous standard for living will be spurned. Instead of following God’s standard, sinful humanity will follow their own way. Lawlessness and wickedness will increase.

Paul also sounded the warning about “terrible times in the last days” (2 Timothy 3:1). He expounded on the lawlessness of that future time: “People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:2–4, ESV). Unsurprisingly, love for God and neighbor—the two greatest commandments—will grow cold. This is the result of rampant and unmitigated lawlessness.

Amid this bleak outlook, Jesus shines a light of hope. Indeed, He is the only hope. He says, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13, ESV). Those who endure to the end will persevere in the face of persecution, false teaching, and unrestrained wickedness. They are the ones whose love does not grow cold. They are truly born again; they are sealed, and their lives are transformed by the Holy Spirit of power.

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What does it mean that lawlessness will be increased in the end times (Matthew 24:12)?
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This page last updated: May 2, 2024