The New Testament warns several times of coming deceivers and apostasy in the days prior to the return of Jesus.
The Apostle Paul described two things that must occur before the “Day of the Lord” when Jesus will gather his elect – the “apostasy” and the “revelation of the man of lawlessness.” And in his second letter to the Thessalonians, the two events are inextricably linked, for the goal of the “lawless one” is to deceive believers.
At the time Paul wrote this, certain voices were troubling the church at Thessalonica with false information about the coming of Jesus, even claiming that the “Day of the Lord” had already begun – (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12).
In the Greek scriptures, the term rendered “apostasy” or ‘apostasia’ consistently refers to the abandonment of the true faith. When Paul warned that the “lawless one” would deceive those who “refuse the love of the truth,” he was referring to Christians who abandoned the faith, and this is demonstrated by his identification of the “truth” as the “tradition that you received” from him and his apostolic coworkers. That is, the apostolic traditions that are preserved in the New Testament.
The identity of the “lawless one” will be unveiled when he “seats himself in the sanctuary of God.” Elsewhere in his writings, Paul applies the same term, the “sanctuary of God,” to the church along with other temple language and imagery – (1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:16, Ephesians 2:21-22).
This creature will appear at the appointed time (“to the end, he may be revealed in his own season”) when he will use “power and signs and lying wonders” to deceive all those who “received not the love of the truth.”
But Paul’s warning to the Thessalonians is not unique in the New Testament. For example, Jesus warned that “many deceivers” will come in his name and “deceive many.” And in Matthew’s version, the term “many” is emphatic in the Greek sentence.
Christ was not talking about the occasional false teacher but a coming horde of false teachers, “false Christs” and “false prophets” who, among other things, will propagate false information about his return and use “great signs and wonders” to deceive the church. And because “lawlessness” will increase, the “love of many will grow cold” and believers will turn on one another – (Matthew 24:5-13, 23-27).
Similarly, in Revelation, the “false prophet” performs “great signs” with which he deceives many so that they give their allegiance to the “beast.” And in this book, Satan’s final “war” is NOT waged against other nation-states, but against the “saints,” those who have the “faith of Jesus.”
And to destroy the church, his earthly minions use deception, including the “false apostles,” the Nicolaitans, “Jezebel,” and the teachings of Balaam, all intended to teach the saints to “eat things offered to idols” and otherwise compromise their faith with the surrounding non-Christian society.
And Paul warned elsewhere in his letters to beware of the deceivers and apostasy that will arise in the last days:
- “In later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons” – (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
- “But evil men and impostors shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” – (2 Timothy 3:13).
- “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” – (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
Likewise, Peter warned of coming false prophets and false teachers who will be intent on deceiving the followers of Jesus: “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” – (2 Peter 2:1).
Thus, the New Testament provides a consistent warning. Before the arrival of Jesus in glory, the church will undergo severe testing as deceivers and false prophets from within employ “signs and wonders,” lies, clever counterfeits, and false claims about the last days to deceive “even the elect,” and ultimately to cause their apostasy.