One of the early churches, that of the Thessalonians, seems to have been greatly interested in the coming of the Day of the Lord. This is commendable, as believers throughout the church age are commanded to Watch and Be Ready at all times (Matthew 24-25)! However, what the Thessalonians were worried about was that the Day of the Lord had already started. Now, why would that worry them so much? They were worried they had missed the catching up event that we call the “rapture”. How do we know this? Let’s look at how Paul replied – “don’t you remember when I was still with you I told you these things?” Paul states that he previously had taught them about this. We don’t have record of what Paul told them verbally when he was there, but we DO have record of what Paul had previously taught them by letter. This included the following teachings:
For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)
So the Thessalonians had been taught:
- We are to wait for God’s Son from heaven.
- Jesus will deliver us from the wrath to come. There will be future wrath, and we will be delivered from it.
- When God’s Son from heaven comes, He will bring with Him the souls of those who have died in Him. Then, with a cry of command, the voice of an angel and the trumpet of God, the bodies of the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and left will be caught up together with the dead in Christ, we will all meet the Lord in the air (not on earth), and so we will always be with the Lord. This is to be an encouragement.
- The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are completely unaware, sudden destruction will come upon them, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness for that day to surprise you like a thief. We are not of the night. Paul creates a marked distinction between PEOPLE/THEY and YOU/WE. Unbelievers will be caught unawares like a thief in the night. Believers, the Thessalonians, will NOT BE CAUGHT UNAWARES.
- THEY (unbelievers) will not escape. WE (believers) will escape (Luke 21:36). What do we escape from? The sudden destruction of the Day of the Lord.
- The Thessalonians have the hope of salvation. God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through Jesus Christ.
The Thessalonians know that in the future there will be a time of wrath and sudden destruction in the Day of the Lord. They also know that they can expect to escape from that wrath, via being caught up together with the dead in Christ and taken to be with the Lord. Now let’s examine their worry:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the [apostasia] comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12)
The Thessalonians, viewing the persecution around them, were terrified that the Day of the Lord had come. They knew they were supposed to escape the Day of the Lord! So what happened? Why were they still here????
Paul replies, no, no, the Day of the Lord isn’t here. Don’t let anyone deceive you. The Day of the Lord will not come unless:
- The [apostasia] comes first
- The man of lawlessness is revealed, the one who will take his seat in the temple of God and proclaim to be “god” himself. His coming will be by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception.
Paul had previously taught them these things. Let’s examine the word Paul uses to describe what must occur before the Day of the Lord arrives – apostasia. Let’s also keep in mind the record of Paul’s previous teachings to the Thessalonians about the Day of the Lord, namely, that they would be spared from the wrath and caught up to be with the Lord. Paul nowhere teaches that a specific event of rebellion would occur before the Day of the Lord. A far more accurate translation of the word apostasia is “departure”, detailed clearly by Dr. Thomas Ice:
The Meaning of Apostasia
The Greek noun apostasia is only used twice in the New Testament. In addition to 2 Thessalonians 2:3, it occurs in Acts 21:21 where, speaking of Paul, it is said, “that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake (apostasia)Moses.” The word is a Greek compound of apo ” from” and istemi “stand.” Thus, it has the core meaning of “away from” or “departure.” The Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon defines apostasia first as “defection, revolt;” then secondly as “departure, disappearance.”
What precisely does Paul mean when he says that “the falling away” (2:3) must come before the tribulation? The definite article “the” denotes that this will be a definite event, an event distinct from the appearance of the Man of Sin. The Greek word for “falling away”, taken by itself, does not mean religious apostasy or defection. Neither does the word mean “to fall,” as the Greeks have another word for that. [pipto, I fall; TDI] The best translation of the word is “to depart.” The apostle Paul refers here to a definite event which he calls “the departure,” and which will occur just before the start of the tribulation. This is the rapture of the church.
So the word has the core meaning of departure and it depends upon the context to determine whether it is used to mean physical departure or an abstract departure such as departure from the faith.
The first seven English translations of apostasia all rendered the noun as either “departure” or “departing.” They are as follows: Wycliffe Bible (1384); Tyndale Bible (1526); Coverdale Bible (1535); Cranmer Bible (1539); Breeches Bible (1576); Beza Bible (1583); Geneva Bible (1608). This supports the notion that the word truly means “departure.” In fact, Jerome’s Latin translation known as the Vulgate from around the time of a.d. 400 renders apostasia with the “word discessio, meaning ‘departure.'” Why was the King James Version the first to depart from the established translation of “departure”?
Theodore Beza, the Swiss reformer was the first to transliterate apostasia and create a new word, rather than translate it as others had done. The translators of the King James Version were the first to introduce the new rendering of apostasia as “falling away.” Most English translators have followed the KJV and Beza in departing from translating apostasia as “departure.” No good reason was ever given.
The Use of the Article
It is important to note that Paul uses a definite article with the noun apostasia. What does this mean? Davey notes the following:
Since the Greek language does not need an article to make the noun definite, it becomes clear that with the usage of the article reference is being made to something in particular. In II Thessalonians 2:3 the word apostasia is prefaced by the definite article which means that Paul is pointing to a particular type of departure clearly known to the Thessalonian church.
Dr. Lewis provides a likely answer when he notes that the definite article serves to make a word distinct and draw attention to it. In this instance he believes that its purpose is “to denote a previous reference.” “The departure Paul previously referred to was ‘our being gathered to him’ (v. 1) and our being ‘caught up’ with the Lord and the raptured dead in the clouds (1 Thess. 4:17),” notes Dr. Lewis. The “departure” was something that Paul and his readers clearly had a mutual understanding about. Paul says in verse 5, “Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?”
The use of the definite article would also support the notion that Paul spoke of a clear, discernable event. A physical departure, like the rapture would fit just such a notion. However, the New Testament teaches that apostasy had already arrived in the first century (cf. Acts 20:27-32; 1 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Tim. 3:1-9; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; Jude 3-4, 17-21) and thus, such a process would not denote a clear event as demanded by the language of this passage. Understanding departure as the rapture would satisfy the nuance of this text.
With the apostasia defined as a departure, Paul’s previous teachings on the catching up event are perfectly clarified. Paul now reminds the Thessalonians that they know what is restraining the man of lawlessness, so that he may be revealed in his time. The mystery of lawlessness is already at work, although he who restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. There is a WHAT that is restraining the man of lawlessness, which is the same as a HE who is restraining the mystery of lawlessness. Put another way, there is a HE that is being restrained by a WHAT, and a WHAT that is being restrained by a HE. Let’s identify the what’s and he’s:
- The man of lawlessness is clearly the future antichrist (reference Daniel, Revelation), who will be empowered by satan himself.
- The mystery of lawlessness is related to satan’s workings, and might include false religion or deception of some kind.
- Satan, as the anointed cherub, was the head of the angelic host before he fell. God is the only one who can effectively restrain satan until the appointed time.
- God is not a WHAT, but He is a HE.
- The body of Christ is a WHAT, that is indwelt by a HE.
- The body of Christ is God’s Kingdom on earth.
The presence of the body of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is restraining the man of lawlessness. The Holy Spirit is restraining the mystery of lawlessness and will do so until He is taken out of the way. The interlinear translation reads “until out of the midst he might be gone”, as in, the Holy Spirit, along with the body of Christ, will be taken out of the midst of the lawless ones. You can be sure that Satan is chomping at the bit to reveal his man of lawlessness. He likely has someone on the sidelines at all times, ready to maneuver him into power as soon as the restraint is removed. Satan can hardly wait until he can fully express the mystery of lawlessness.
The coming of the lawless one, along with the deceptive signs and wonders, will specifically be allowed by God because “they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” Note the distinction again between YOU (the Thessalonians) and THEY (unbelievers). The Thessalonians love the truth, and will thus be saved exactly as Paul taught previously. Salvation, escaping the wrath, is a genuine option just as taught by Jesus in Luke. God sends THEM (unbelievers) a strong delusion that “they would believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” Believers will not be sent a strong delusion from God, because they believe the truth. There is only one point in human history when there will be no believers on the earth. Right after the departure (rapture). And this is exactly when satan’s deception will be revealed with God’s strong deluding influence.
Paul’s teaching of the end times timeline in 2 Thessalonians 2 is consistent with all his other teachings. The Lord Jesus Christ will appear and gather his believers together with him in a specific event called the “departure”. The Holy Spirit and His presence within the body of Christ will thus be taken out of the midst of the earth. With the restraining Person and force gone, the antichrist will be revealed and the mystery of lawlessness will be fully expressed. The Day of the Lord must follow the departure and the revelation of the antichrist. The antichrist will at some point sit in the temple of God and proclaim to be “god”, but from Daniel 9 it seems that he will also sign a covenant with Israel. It is thus possible that the antichrist could be identified at the signing of the covenant, long before he claims to be “god” (which occurs at the midpoint of the covenant). The reason that God removes His restraint and sends a strong delusion to support satan’s lies is that they, those left behind, “refused to love the truth and so be saved.”
The Bible is infallible. I am not. Be a Berean – examine the scriptures for yourself to see if these things are so!