Repeatedly and consistently, the New Testament warns of the final “apostasy” that will occur prior to the return of Jesus.
To the church at Thessalonica, Paul explained that the “day of the Lord” would NOT commence until, “first,” the “apostasy” occurred, along with the “revelation” of the “man of lawlessness, the son of destruction.” And in his description, the two events are inextricably linked. In doing so, he was reiterating the warning found elsewhere in the New Testament, one that originated with Jesus.
Paul was responding to false reports circulating in the congregation that the “day of the Lord had set in.” He declared that this could not be true since key events had not yet taken place.
- (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4) – “That no one may deceive you in any respect. Because that day will not set in, except the apostasy come first, and there be revealed the man of lawlessness, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself on high against everyone called God or any object of worship, so that he, within the sanctuary of God, will take his seat, showing himself that he is God.”
The two future events are not unrelated. The “man of lawlessness” will propagate deceptions that cause Christians to apostatize, including “lying wonders.”
Not coincidentally, Paul’s warning echoes the words spoken by Jesus on the Mount of Olives. In Thessalonica, the issues concerned the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering to him.” The Thessalonians were not to be “troubled” or “deceived by anyone.” So, likewise, when his disciples asked Jesus about his coming and the end of the age, he responded:
- “Beware lest anyone deceive you, for many will come in my name, saying, I am the Christ; and deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not troubled, for these things must come to pass; but the end is not yet.” – (Matthew 24:4-6).
Jesus went on to describe conditions and events that the disciples would experience in the future. Many believers would:
- “Stumble, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and deceive many. And because lawlessness[anomia] will abound, the love of the many will wax cold… For there shall arise false Christs and false prophets, and will show great signs and wonders; so as to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” – (Matthew 24:10-12, 24).
Similarly, the “man of lawlessness [anomia]” will have his own “arrival” (‘parousia’), one “according to the energizing of Satan, with all power and signs and lying wonders.” He will offer “every deceit of unrighteousness to them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth” – (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).
In Paul’s letter,“apostasy” translates the Greek noun apostasia, meaning, “falling away, apostasy, defection,” and in the Greek scriptures, the term is applied to defection from the true faith – (Matthew 5:31, Acts 21:21, 1 Timothy 4:1, Hebrews 3:12).
The biblical figure behind Paul’s “man of lawlessness” is the malevolent ruler from several of Daniel’s visions, called variously, the “little horn,” the “king of fierce countenance,” the “leader,” and the “contemptible one.” And Paul’s description of the actions of the “man of lawlessness” clearly allude to a passage from Daniel:
- “And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvelous things against the God of gods; and he shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished; for that which is determined shall be done” – (Daniel 11:36).
In the passage, the “indignation” refers to the assault by this figure against the “saints,” for he “waged war against the saints of the Most-High,” “wore out the saints,” cast down “some of the host of heaven and the stars to the ground,” “destroyed the saints,” had “indignation against the covenant,” and through “flattery, corrupted such as acted wickedly against the covenant” – (Daniel 7:21-25, 8:10, 8:24, 11:30-32).
The “little horn” made “war on the saints and overcame them,” but only for the divinely “determined” time, the “season, seasons, and part of a season.” But after the “indignation” had run its course, the malevolent figure lost his “dominion, and was consumed and destroyed it unto the end.” So, also, at his “arrival,” Jesus will “consume with his mouth, and destroy” the “man of lawlessness” – (Daniel 7:25, 2 Thessalonians 2:9).
The verbal links are clear. Paul was using the figure of the “little horn” and its attack on the “saints” of Israel to portray the end-time “man of lawlessness” who, likewise, would wage war against the saints with deceit and “lying wonders.”
Years later, Paul warned Timothy about the end-time apostasy. The time would come when “some will depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.” In the last days, “evil men and howling imposters will wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Indeed, considering what was coming, Timothy must:
- “Preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine; but, having itching ears, will heap to themselves teachers after their own lusts, and will turn away their ears from the truth, and turn aside to fables.” – (1 Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 3:13, 4:1-4).
The Apostle Peter also warned of future “false prophets” and “false teachers” who would disseminate false doctrines and, otherwise, wreak havoc within the church:
- (2 Peter 2:1-3) – “But there arose false prophets also among the people, as among you also there shall be false teachers, who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their lascivious doings; by reason of whom the way of the truth shall be evil spoken of. And in covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose sentence now from of old lingers not, and their destruction slumbers not.”
Near the end of the first century, the Apostle John spoke of the coming “antichrist,” but of more immediate concern were the “many antichrists” already active WITHIN HIS CHURCHES. By the time he wrote his epistles, already, the “last days” were underway. As evidence of this, John pointed to the “spirit of antichrist” that was at work through the deceivers and “false prophets” that had originated within the church – (1 John 2:18-22, 4:1-3).
Thus, Scripture provides a consistent warning. Before the return of Jesus in glory, the church will experience apostasy. Moreover, closely linked to it will be a malevolent figure, the “man of lawlessness,” the “son of destruction,” the “antichrist.” All Christians have been forewarned explicitly and repeatedly by the “traditions” of the Apostles, which have been handed down to them in the pages of the New Testament.