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THEOLOGY > Future > The End of the Age > The Apostasy    


For that day will not come, unless the falling away comes first.
II Thess. 2:3

In II Thessalonians 2 Paul is addressing “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to Him” (II Thess. 2:1); he is speaking of the return of Christ and the gathering of believers to Him. The Thessalonians erroneously thought that that day was approaching, but Paul is correcting their thinking. He informs them that before the Church is united with its Lord two events must occur: “the rebellion” must take place and “the man of sin” must appear. His words are plain:

Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the falling away comes first, and the man of lawlessness (some MSS have “sin”) is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God (II Thess. 2:3-4 in ESV).

Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin (ESV has “man of lawlessness”) is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God (II Thess. 2:3-4 in NKJV).

Paul speaks initially of the rebellion, the falling away, or the apostasy; he writes that that day (the day of the Rapture, the day when Christ will be joined to His Church) “will not come unless the falling away comes first” (II Thess. 2:3; NKJV: “falling away”; ESV has “rebellion”). Before the coming of Christ there will be the Apostasy.

“The falling away” or “rebellion” is the translation of the Greek word apostasia, from which we get our English word “apostasy” via transliteration. Apostasia appears only in II Thessalonians 2:3 and in Acts 21:21, where it is translated “to forsake.” For this Greek word Thayer gives three possible translations: “a falling away,” “a defection,” and an “apostasy.”

What is apostasy and what is the Apostasy? In each case it is rebellion against a standard or defection from a norm; it is a falling away. Scripture abounds with examples of departure from God and His way, both in the Old and New Testaments.

Constantly Israel would go away from the Lord. This inclination to fall away was seen as early as the time shortly after the nation left Egypt. Even while the Law was being given the nation was creating a golden calf to worship. The nation was constantly following after strange gods and adopting the pagan practices of the surrounding nations. For such behavior God would sent the prophets with warnings of judgment and punishment, but the majority of the nation would persist in its stubbornness. And during both the time of the Judges and during the time of the Kings God would raise up a group from the nations to humble and to punish the people.

Certain names in the New Testament are associated with departing from or rebelling against the proper way; and there are other verses that speak directly or indirectly to rebelling against the Truth:

By rejecting this some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme (I Tim. 1:19-20; see II Tim. 2:17);

For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica (II Tim. 4:10);

You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace (Gal. 5:4);

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: “the dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire” (II Pet. 2:20-22);

They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us (I Jo. 2:19).

All of the above verses in some manner speak of those who had known and experienced something of the Truth of the Lord, but that Truth had never taken root and developed into fruit. So there was a retreat, a departure, a falling away from the Truth—an apostasy.

Several times it seems that Paul speaks in a general manner of an end-time rejection of that which is right and an acceptance of that which is wrong, an acceptance that will assume different manifestations:

Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teaching of demons (I Tim. 4:1);

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self . . . having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people (II Tim. 3:1-5).

Some have related the Apostasy exclusively to the Church and have suggested that at the end-time the Church, at least the organized Church, will fall away from the Truth. There will be a departure or defection from the faith once delivered to the saints. Sound doctrine will be rejected, and pseudo truth will be embraced, as a falling away takes place. Even Walvoord, a staunch Dispensationalist, stated that “the word probably refers to doctrinal defection” (The Rapture Question, 240).

The Apostasy may very well be the end-time defection of the Church from sound doctrine. But Paul does not specifically connect the Apostasy to either believers individually or to the end-time Church corporately. It may be related to the Church; Paul just does not so state. He does use the definite article before the word apostasia. It is a definite time, a specific event. It is “the apostasy.” And it takes place at the end-time.

Possibly the Thessalonians were familiar with this future time; no doubt Paul had discussed it with them and had instructed them concerning its character. This explains why Paul does not elaborate in his epistle. He merely reminds them of this time by saying that the Lord will not return “unless the falling away comes first” (II Thess. 2:3). They knew what he meant. The Apostasy is “first”; it comes before the Antichrist; and both the Apostasy and the Antichrist appear before the Lord returns.

At the time of the Apostasy, the Antichrist will appear. Perhaps it is best to understand the Apostasy in connection with him. Paul certainly relates the two in this passage. The Apostasy will be that end-time rebellion of humanity against God, a denial of His Truth with its absolutes and of His Rule with its Sovereign control (see: God is Sovereign). It will be the triumph of humanism over a Theistic mind-set. It will be a belief system that will make it conducive for Antichrist to appear. The Apostasy is the worldwide intellectual and moral environment in which Antichrist will flourish. It will culminate with Antichrist “showing himself that he is God” (II Thess. 2:4). Paul does state that the Apostasy must come “first”; it is then that the man of sin is revealed. Can it be that the Apostasy is that mind-set that will become so widespread that it makes possible the Antichrist?

It seems that support for the above view that the apostasy is a departure from sound teaching is found in the only other use of the Greek word in the New Testament:

They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake (apostasia) Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs (Acts 21:20-21).

James and the elders in Jerusalem are addressing Paul and informing him of the many thousands of the Jews who have believed and are zealous for the law. These new believers have been told that Paul is instructing Jews that it is not necessary to continue to keep Jewish observances. It is possible “to forsake” Moses. Thus, the word indicates a rejection of teaching or a corpus that was deemed proper. It involves a change of perspective, a falling away from a previous view. In a similar sense the Antichrist is the culmination of the end-time Apostasy.

It should be noted that some translate apostasia as “departure” and then equate the “departure” with the Rapture. This is a novel and recent interpretation that is forced and contrived; it is another example of where the system determines the interpretation rather than the text determining the system. It is an attempt to evade the force of the text when the natural meaning is given to the word. Our English word “apostasy,” which is defined by Webster as “renunciation of a religious faith” or “abandonment of a previous loyalty,” accurately reflects the true intent of the Greek word. To seek to identify the Apostasy with the Rapture is fanciful exegesis. It is desperate exegesis and deserves no additional comment.

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