What Does Paul mean by Apostasy in 2nd Thessalonians?
How would we define apostasy from what Paul tells us in the context of his second letter to the Thessalonians? As the concordances we looked at in the previous chapter indicate, the apostasy is a time of falling away, of a great deflection, a divorce from the truth of God “Once and for all delivered to the saints” Jude 3.
The Church Age has existed for over two thousand years now, and its history has for the most part been well documented by hundreds of historians and leaders from days’ past. That the church has gone through many periods of revival and devival, apostasies, as well as periods of stagnation is well known. However, there is a tendency with some people to see the last days in every event and every period of history and we want to avoid reading too much into any one circumstance or set of circumstances.
And yet on the other hand there is an opposite tendency on the part of many others to adopt an “Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” attitude towards church history in general and our present period. On an extremely short scale, the last seventy years, I think the evangelical church has gone from perhaps an over emphasis on the Lord’s imminent return since the re-establishment of the Jewish people in Israel, to an attitude among many of the Christian young people today of; “everything continues as it has since the beginning of creation,’ 2 Peter 3:4. The context of Second Peter is that just such a lax attitude towards the second coming would dominate before His return. However, because the time scale is so short I am not offering that as one of the evidences of our being in the Apostasia.
The point needs to be made that all eras and periods of church history have not been the same. Paul the Apostle as well as the Apostle Peter definitely earmarked a certain period of history that would be marked by an increasingly apostate church, a church that would not only fail to have much effect on the surrounding culture, but would instead conform itself to meet the standards of an alarmingly aggressive apostate and pagan society.
This period of apostasy wouldn’t apply so much to the areas of the world where the gospel is still spreading, places where there either never was or hasn’t been a real church presence for a long period of time. For this reason, China, India and many parts of Africa would not have to be included in a survey of apostasy in the church. The term “apostasy” is a falling away, a turning away from something once widely held and taught.
Historically, many would call the turning away from biblical truth in the beginning of the medieval ages a type of apostasy and they would be accurate. However, the areas of the world which have been dominated by the church and the Christian faith for centuries, particularly the European nations and their colonies did go through a reformation which centered the church back on the Scriptures again. The Catholic Church also participated in the reform in many ways, and both continued to have a strong influence on their respective societies for centuries afterwards.
Basic truths and ethical mores remained the same for over a millennium, whether you were a catholic or protestant, a peasant or of the nobility. While the Catholic might have placed the pope and the catholic hierarchy over the Word of God and its interpretation, no one doubted that the Bible was indeed, the word of God. No one questioned its authenticity or authority, even though they may have argued over its interpretation. Certain fundamental beliefs were held to be true by all, catholic or protestant.
By fundamentals I simply mean an English protestant would have shared many of the fundamental truths of the faith that any Cape Breton catholic would have believed 500 years ago. The Scriptures were the authoritative words of God and our guide for life and religion. The universe was created ex-nihilo by a triune God; Jesus Christ was God and man, both would have accepted an historical 6 day creation; Adam made from dust, Eve from his side; they would have understood an initially good creation marred by a literal fall and curse, meaning no death before sin; they would have shared a common faith in a physical death and resurrection and ultimate return of the Jewish Messiah; a physical heaven for the saved and physical and eternal hell for the lost. All these basic beliefs were held in common throughout most of Christendom, not just for a few decades, but for centuries.
Differences of emphasis, teaching, church structure, and doctrine were wide spread, but for the most part the basics of the historical Christian faith were firmly held. For almost two thousand years, this was the case.
Fundamental beliefs about morality also pervaded throughout Christendom. Divorce was almost unheard of, sex before marriage was considered the sin of fornication, infanticide and pre-natal infanticide were made illegal everywhere, whether you lived in a catholic or protestant region of the world. Modesty was held to be the standard that both men and women should follow, not something to be mocked or looked down upon. Open displays of sexuality were not condoned nor considered healthy for society in general. Sexually transmitted diseases were not a serious problem for centuries. Homosexual behavior was largely kept out of view and there were no major plagues associated with either homosexual or heterosexual promiscuity.
However, Paul wrote of a time when these things would no longer be so. A time when the Church and Christian society would “fall away” from these standards and truths. The verses in context of Second Thessalonians read;
“Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 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. 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, 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. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. 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. 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; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 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. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”
One thing is certain as far as I am concerned, the “man of lawlessness” has not been revealed and he is of key importance in these scriptures. None the less, as Paul said, even in his day the mystery of lawlessness was working, and he clearly indicates a falling away would come and that at that time Christian society would reach a point where they preferred to believe a lie, over the truth. Because of this total disregard for even the concept of truth, God would then send them a delusion.
Romans chapter one talks of the general tendency of mankind to apostasy in a very clear and definable manner. Starting at verse 18 and continuing through verse 32, Paul writes;
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man–and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”
Man has an affinity for turning his worship towards the created earth and away from the earth’s Creator. He goes on to say that in such times of apostasy God would allow men and women to fall away from his truths because they preferred to believe a lie, and that homosexual behavior would increase among them, in both sexes. God allows this because;
“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting;”
“For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.”
Many today, including professing Christians, claim they don’t find the bible a meaningful source of connection to the real world. Yet few could deny that an unprecedented outbreak of sexual promiscuity exploded on the scene in both Europe and America following the 1960’s. With its emphasis on free sex without boundaries and the increasingly enforced acceptance of homosexual behavior, it does seem to resemble Paul’s description of apostasy found in Romans chapter one. Nor does the AID’s epidemic seem wholly incongruous with the “receiving the penalty within themselves of the error that was due,” found in the first chapter of Romans. AID’s was not the only sexually transmitted disease arriving on the scene by any means with Herpes and a couple of dozen other viruses becoming widespread at that time.
So, I think most would be willing to admit that the Christian societies of the old world at least appear to have entered into a time of apostasy. But are there any symptoms or evidences that we may be in “the” Apostasy, the period of time that sets the stage for the revealing of the anti-Christ and the return of the Lord that Paul wrote about in Second Thessalonians?
I think there are some unique and compelling evidences and will list some of them in the next chapter