The New Testament warns of the coming “apostasy” that will occur prior to the arrival of the “day of the Lord.”
To the Thessalonians, Paul explained that the “day of the Lord” will NOT commence until the “apostasy” occurs and the “man of lawlessness” is revealed, two events that are inextricably linked. And in his statement, Paul reiterated the warning found elsewhere in the New Testament about the “falling away” of many from the faith in the “last days.”
Paul was responding to false reports that claimed the “day of the Lord had set in.” But that could not be true since two key events had yet to take 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.”
And these two events are not unrelated. The “man of lawlessness” will propagate deceptions in order to cause many Christians to apostatize, including his employment of “lying wonders.”
Paul’s warning echoes the words of Jesus. Just as the Thessalonians were not to be “troubled” or “deceived by anyone,” so Jesus warned his disciples to “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).
Before the “end” comes, followers of Jesus will experience deception that will cause many to “stumble and betray one another,” and “many false prophets will arise and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of the many will wax cold… And there shall arise false Christs and false prophets and will show great signs and wonders, so as to deceive even the elect” – (Matthew 24:10-12, 24).
And the “man of lawlessness” will have his own “arrival” or ‘parousia’, his counterpart to the “arrival” of Jesus, one that will be “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 “fall away, apostasy, defection.” And in the Greek scriptures, it 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 this man’s actions clearly alludes to the relevant 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 Daniel, the “indignation” refers to the assault by the “little horn” against the “saints.” 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 verbal links are clear. Paul uses this figure and its attack on the “saints” of Israel to portray the end-time “man of lawlessness” who, likewise, will wage war against the saints with deceit and “lying wonders,” all with the intent of causing them to fall away from the faith.
Years later, Paul warned Timothy about this end-time apostasy. The season is coming 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 longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure the sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they 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).
Peter also warned of future “false prophets” and “false teachers” who will 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, John spoke of the coming “antichrist,” but of more immediate concern were the “many antichrists” who already were active WITHIN HIS CHURCHES. By the time he wrote his epistles, the “last days” were underway. And as evidence of this, John pointed to the “spirit of antichrist” that was at work through these 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 the final “apostasy,” the “Great Falling Away.” Moreover, closely linked to it will be the malevolent figure of the “man of lawlessness, the son of destruction,” the “antichrist,” along with many other “deceivers” and “false prophets.”
All Christians have been forewarned explicitly and repeatedly by the “traditions” of the Apostles that have been handed down to us in the pages of the New Testament. We ignore them at our peril.
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