Let’s look into Paul’s letters to the Thessalonian believers and see if we can get a clear understanding of who commits the great apostasy, when, and what it actually is. Or my opinion, at least!
Paul had spent at least three weeks with the Thessalonian believers, teaching them many things. Later, after having been gone for a while, he sent Timothy back to check on them, see how they were doing (1 Thess. 3). He was pleased with what he had heard and wanted to write them (thus, 1 Thess.) to show that approval and to, as always, encourage them. We can see throughout the book that a recurring subject was how to walk the Christian walk. Chapter 4:1-12 is a prime example of that.
1 Thess. 4:13-18 was written to clear up any confusion about the dead in Christ (CA Rapture). How do we know it’s about the Rapture and not the Return? Remember that Paul is the apostle to the Church. When he writes and signs his name to a book, it’s to us and about us. IF he’s going to go outside our Church Age, which is rare, he’ll let us know. And so far, he hasn’t done that in this letter.
1 Thessalonians 5
1 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night.
Okay. Do you see it? He just did it! Chapter 5 v.1 Paul opens that door to a non-Church Age discussion. Now as to the times and epochs. (The only other place I’ve seen him do this so far in my studies is in Romans.)
Paul’s now moving on to rehash what they’d already been taught about ‘times and epochs.’ In other words, he’ll be in and out of their/our ‘time’ (the current Church Age) and the age that follows, which is the final seven years of Daniel’s 70 Weeks, or simply the ‘Tribulation.’
We know he’s already explained this stuff to them due to the underlining in v.1-2.
This, first of all, tells us that he’s going outside the CA when talking about the Day of the Lord. In Days of Noah II, I explain two things that need to be mentioned here before we can go further.
First is the Day of the Lord ‘definition.’
Day of the Lord is still somewhat of a mystery to me. It’s typically mentioned in the OT as ‘in that day’ and yet sometimes ‘in that day’ simply means a then-current event like Leviticus 7:35 and Numbers 32:10. The vast majority of the time, though, it’s that dreaded future period of great darkness that the Jews were told must occur before their Kingdom can begin.
Even then, it seems to me that it’s two things. It’s, I believe, the Time of Jacob’s Trouble, which is the second half of the seven-year Tribulation. (Many believe ‘the Day of the Lord’ is the entire Tribulation.) And the second future thing it is is a specific day within that ‘day,’ meaning, the actual date of the Lord’s physical return. Some examples for that could be Joel 2:31; Zephaniah 1:14; Acts 2:20; 1 Thess. 5:2.
And second is why I think the Day of the Lord ‘window of time’ begins at the midpoint of the Tribulation instead of at the beginning.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.
The antichrist, or man of lawlessness, takes his seat in the temple of God at the midpoint of the Tribulation (Daniel 9:27, 12:11, Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14). Per 2 Thessalonians 2:2-4 cited above, the Day of the Lord won’t come until then.
[Just as an aside, Satan is a mimicker. Here’s an example. Jesus begins His ministry at His baptism, confirmed by the Holy Spirit and by the Father. But it wasn’t until 3 1/2 years later at the Triumphal Entry that He proclaimed Himself as Messiah. The Antichrist confirms the covenant of Daniel 9:27 at the start of the seven year Tribulation, but doesn’t proclaim himself as God until its midpoint 3 1/2 years later at the Abomination of Desolation.]
(We’ll get into the topic of the apostasy when we get to chapter 2. For now, I’m just giving you when the Day of the Lord starts.)
So now look at v.2 again along with 3.
2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.
I think Paul’s addressing this subject simply because they were confused/concerned. In v.3 above he states what’s going to happen to ‘them,’ unbelievers in the Tribulation.
4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness;
Now in v.4 & 5 he comforts his audience by showing how different ‘we/you’ (believers) are in our time. So you can see he’s moved back to the CA.
6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.
V.6-11 are still in our CA, but he’s segued back to the believer’s walk.
A segue is a smooth transition. When you segue in conversation, you change the topic so smoothly that people might not even notice. A good speaker knows how to segue: they can get from one topic to another so easily that you hardly notice the topic changed.
V.12-28 continue in that same theme.
Paul’s second letter seems to be written to:
- encourage the Thessalonian believers while under persecution
- clear up – again – Day of the Lord concerns
- discuss miscellaneous facets of the Christian walk
2 Thess. 1 is clearly about the first subject. The early Church endured great suffering. Paul wanted them to know that God’s judgment on those causing their pain will come v.6-10. The chapter ends back with the current age Christian walk v.11-12.
2 Thess. 2
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.
Our gathering to Him is CA Rapture. They thought – probably due to the level of persecution they were enduring — that the Day of the Lord had come.
3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it [Day of the Lord] will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.
The Day of the Lord can’t come until two things happen. 1) the apostasy and 2) the Antichrist’s revealing by seating himself in the temple — in that order. I believe both of these events are outside the CA.
We already looked at #2 above so let’s dig into the apostasy. I think timeline wise it would look like this:
Back to our verses in 2 Thess. 2.
5 Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?
Again, all stuff they’d already been taught.
6 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8 Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders,
10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
Paul just summed up the entire time frame.
He takes it from the beginning with the Holy Spirit needing to be removed first (v.6-7) and goes (in v.8) straight to the end, the Antichrist’s destruction. He backs up in v.9-12 and gives details from within that time period. (Those details can be found in Everybody’s Busy.)
The Thessalonian believers could not be in the Tribulation and/or the Day of the Lord because the Rapture hadn’t happened yet. The Holy Spirit has to be removed from His current role indwelling the Church* before the apostasy, followed by the revealing, can occur.
(*Which means the Church has to go, too, because the Holy Spirit’s guaranteed/sealed within us until the Rapture when we’ll no longer need His ‘deposit’ because we’re given our glorified bodies at that time. He’ll then be free to move about as He did before our time.)
V.13-17 pull back out of the whole topic to, once again, end with the CA believer’s walk. Same way with chapter 3.
The Great Apostasy
Now for why I believe the apostasy referenced above is the Daniel 9:27 confirming of the covenant and not the Church ‘falling away.’
My understanding is this. The Jews abandoned the Lord and His statutes (committed apostasy) often throughout their history. They, in turn, suffered the just consequences of those actions. Their greatest ‘abandonments’ in my opinion were related to trusting idols (false gods) and/or other nations to save them. Once Israel was divided, the northern 10 tribes (Israel) committed apostasy when they trusted in Assyria to save them instead of the Lord. Later the southern 2 tribes (Judah) trusted in Babylon and Egypt to save them, again, instead of the Lord.
After Judah’s return from captivity when Israel was once again united, Jesus arrives on scene. Do they finally trust the God-sent Savior? No. They reject Him. And Jesus, knowing the future, tells them that they will later accept a counterfeit savior in His place.
John 5:43 43 I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, you will receive him.
Their final apostasy will be when this occurs.
Daniel 9:27 shows us that Israel will trust the Antichrist and confirm a/the covenant with him to protect them. This event, we know, kicks off the Tribulation period.
And just as the above examples were of Israel relying on someone besides the Lord to save them militarily, so too will their final apostasy be. Israel will be in a desperate quandary after the Rapture and will seek ‘salvation’ from the Antichrist.
Let’s look at some verses.
14 Therefore, hear the word of the Lord, O scoffers, who rule this people who are in Jerusalem,
15 Because you have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol we have made a pact. The overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by,
For we have made falsehood our refuge and we have concealed ourselves with deception.”….
…18 “Your covenant with death will be canceled, and your pact with Sheol will not stand; when the overwhelming scourge passes through, then you become its trampling place.
19 “As often as it passes through, it will seize you; for morning after morning it will pass through, anytime during the day or night, and it will be sheer terror to understand what it means.”
20 The bed is too short on which to stretch out,
And the blanket is too small to wrap oneself in.
21 For the Lord will rise up as at Mount Perazim, He will be stirred up as in the valley of Gibeon, to do His task, His unusual task, and to work His work, His extraordinary work.
22 And now do not carry on as scoffers,
Or your fetters will be made stronger;
For I have heard from the Lord God of hosts
Of decisive destruction on all the earth.
This passage tells us a few things.
- Israel will make a covenant with the Antichrist for their refuge and security.
- The covenant is with death/Sheol.
- The covenant will NOT protect them. Their ‘savior’ will trample them.
Why would Isaiah say they made a covenant with death/Sheol? For starters, read Isaiah 10 and 14. You’ll see the pride and haughtiness most believers associate with Satan in 14:12-14 matches that of 10:13-14 — but it’s not Satan’s. It’s a man’s pride (14:16)!
2 Thess. 2:3-4 helps us connect that man to the Antichrist!
3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.
Then go to My Tribulation Thoughts. You’ll see why I think the Antichrist is who I think he is.
Isaiah 31:6-8 and 33:1-12 will also help.
The book of Isaiah, when read properly, will blow your mind! It contains MUCH about the Antichrist and end times.
Okay. Now that we’ve seen Israel make this terrible error and suffer its consequences, let’s look past that to what follows the Tribulation. The Jewish Kingdom, or Millennium as we call it.
The OT is just packed full of Kingdom passages. You could write books on the details it’s talked about so much. What an amazing time that will be!
You read Isaiah 10 earlier. Now here’s v.20-24 regarding that time.
20 Now in that day the remnant of Israel, and those of the house of Jacob who have escaped, will never again rely on the one who struck them, but will truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel.
21 A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. 22 For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, only a remnant within them will return; a destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness.
23 For a complete destruction, one that is decreed, the Lord God of hosts will execute in the midst of the whole land.
24 Therefore thus says the Lord God of hosts, “O My people who dwell in Zion, do not fear the Assyrian who strikes you with the rod and lifts up his staff against you, the way Egypt did.
Following the Tribulation, the remnant of the Jewish nation returns to the Lord and enters the Kingdom, never more to rely on anyone or anything besides the Lord!
Hosea 14:1-8, same idea.
No more apostasy!
Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
2 Take words with you and return to the Lord.
Say to Him, “Take away all iniquity
And receive us graciously,
That we may present the fruit of our lips.
3 “Assyria will not save us,
We will not ride on horses;
Nor will we say again, ‘Our god,’
To the work of our hands;
For in You the orphan finds mercy.”
4 I will heal their apostasy,
I will love them freely,
For My anger has turned away from them….
8 O Ephraim, what more have I to do with idols? It is I who answer and look after you. I am like a luxuriant cypress; from Me comes your fruit.
10 “For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, but My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, and My covenant of peace will not be shaken,” says the Lord who has compassion on you.
So even though Paul’s in and out of both ages, I believe he’s referring to the Jewish apostasy that will occur after the CA ends, but prior to the start of the Day of the Lord.
Could the great apostasy, instead, be the ‘falling away’ of the Church? I think not. Check out 1 Peter for ‘falling away’ passages that we wrongly attribute to us.