In our previous study, we noted that the Thessalonians were terrified that they had missed the event known as “the gathering unto Christ”, because they thought that the Day of the Lord had already come. Paul had previously taught the Thessalonians that they would be delivered from the wrath to come via a resurrection of the dead in Christ and a transformation of the living. These would be caught up together to be with the Lord forever, and this was to be a source of encouragement. The Thessalonians knew that the “gathering” event was to come before the wrath in the Day of the Lord. For more on this, please see: Part 1 – That Day Will Not Come Until…
We will now continue our study in 2 Thessalonians 2 by discussing the apostasia, and the revealing of the Lawless One. Let’s review our passage:
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 [the Day of the Lord] 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 ESV
What Does “apostasia” Mean?
Let’s examine the word Paul uses to describe what must occur before the Day of the Lord arrives – apostasia. Often this word is translated as “falling away” or “rebellion”, but is that the correct meaning? And what is it a falling away from? Is it a falling away from the faith, as is so often assumed? Or is it a falling away from something else?
Let’s keep in mind the record of Paul’s previous teachings to the Thessalonians. He had previously taught them that they would be spared from the wrath that was to come in the Day of the Lord. They knew they would be “caught up” to be with Jesus before the Day of the Lord began. Nowhere is it recorded that Paul taught them about a specific event of rebellion or falling away from the faith would occur before the Day of the Lord. While the churches of today are certainly falling into unsound doctrine and sexual immorality, this had already been going on in the early days of the church (see the letters to the churches in Revelation 2-3). For further discussion on what was taught by Paul about the church in the latter days, please see: A Picture of the Church in the Last Days.
Thomas Ice has researched the word apostasia, which only occurs twice in the Bible. The only other time besides this, is when Paul states that the Jews are forsaking (apostasia) the teachings of Moses (Acts 21:21). In that situation, the Jews were falling away from, or departing from, the teachings of Moses. This was an identifiable instance in time, not a generic reference to how Israel was always stumbling off and on.
…and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake [apostasian] Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. Acts 21:21 ESV
The word roots are “apo” – from, and “istemi” – stand. Ice suggests a more accurate translation of the word “apostasia” would be “departure” in both instances where this word is used in scripture.
This interpretation is well supported historically:
The apostasia that Paul describes in 2 Thessalonians 2 is also associated with a specific event, and not a generic long-term connection. Just as Paul’s admonition to the Jews forsaking the teachings of Moses was a specific identifiable instance, Paul is describing a specific and identifiable departure that will occur before the Day of the Lord begins. Unlike the previous example, Paul does not describe what this “departure” is from. There is no mention of “the faith”, or “the teachings”, or “sound doctrine”. Thus, he must be referring to something which the Thessalonians would understand – something he previously taught them about.
Departing From What?
In 2 Thessalonians 2 apostasia would mean a departure, disappearance, or “away from” event, recognizable and at one specific point in time.
Let’s examine Dr. Thomas Ice’s article on the matter:
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.
The apostasia that Paul is referring to is “our being gathered together to him”.
For that day [the Day of the Lord] will not come, unless the apostasia [departure – our being gathered together unto our Lord Jesus Christ] comes first…
All true believers will depart from this earth and be gathered together unto Christ in the clouds, and so forever be with the Lord! With the apostasia defined as a departure, Paul’s previous teachings on the catching up event are perfectly clarified. The Day of the Lord will not begin until the departure event has occurred – which Paul calls here “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him”. Note that this “coming” is a revealing – Jesus is revealed in the heavens and calls us up to be with Him.
Further posts discussing this departure event:
- The Rapture of the Church – Our Blessed Hope
- Part 1 – That Day Will Not Come Until…
- The Rapture VS Second Coming
- The Parousia (Appearances) of Jesus Christ (1 Second Coming in 2 Phases)
- Is It Better to be Taken, or Left?
The Revealing of the Lawless One
Let’s now examine the second event that Paul teaches must occur before the Day of the Lord can come.
For that day [the Day of the Lord] 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.
From a straight, literal reading of the text, we can see that there is a man of lawlessness who will be revealed before the Day of the Lord begins.
Note that the word used in the Greek interlinear for “revealed” is parousia [Strong’s 3952]. I hope you recognize that word from our study on the revealing of Jesus Christ! This word can mean presence, a coming, an arrival, an advent, or a visit. It has associations with visits of kings or other high ranking officials, which is interesting in that the antichrist seems to arise as a king in the fourth kingdom, foretold to Daniel through a dream thousands of years ago. Will the man of lawlessness be revealed as a Conquoring King, according to Jewish Messianic expectation? It seems very likely. For further study on this topic, see Triumph: The Beast (Antichrist) Rises to Power.
Who is the Man of Lawlessness?
The man of lawlessness is clearly the future antichrist. In 2 Thessalonians 2 we are told he is:
- the son of destruction
- he will oppose and exalt himself against every so-called god or object of worship
- he will take his seat in the temple of God
- he will proclaim to be God
- he will be empowered by satan himself
- he will be killed by Jesus with the breath of His mouth at the appearance of His coming
Supporting passages in the books of Daniel and Revelation which confirm the lawless one’s identity include:
“As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom. “Thus he said: ‘As for the fourth beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all the kingdoms, and it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces. As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise, and another shall arise after them; he shall be different from the former ones, and shall put down three kings. He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time.” (Daniel 7:21-25 ESV)
And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator. Daniel 9:27 ESV
So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. (Matthew 24:15-16, 21-22 ESV)
And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done. He shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women. He shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all. Daniel 11:36-37
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Revelation 12:9 ESV
And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. Revelation 13:2 ESV
And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. Revelation 13:5-6 ESV
“I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire.” Daniel 7:11 ESV
But the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.’ Daniel 7:26-27 ESV
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth with their armies gathered to make war against him who was sitting on the horse and against his army. And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur. Revelation 19:11,15-16,19-20 ESV
The man of lawlessness will be revealed only when God chooses to allow him to be revealed, and he will come to his appointed end in the lake of fire as foretold thousands of years ago.
How is the Man of Lawlessness Revealed?
Paul now reminds the Thessalonians that although the the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, the revealing of the specific “man of lawlessness” is being restrained. We know that satan is certainly chomping at the bit to reveal his “man of lawlessness”. He is, after all, the ruler of this present world (Ephesians 6:12). But he cannot, until the fullness of time. It is God alone who appoints a time for everything.
The Day of the Lord cannot begin until this man of lawlessness is revealed. Commonly, people teach that the antichrist will be revealed at the event known as the “abomination of desolation” at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week. Is this assumption correct?
I encourage you to read our passage again without any preconceived notions. What will reveal the man of lawlessness?
- The apostasia (departure) occurs, then the man of lawlessness is revealed
- When the restraint on the man of lawlessness is lifted, he will be revealed
- He will be revealed in God’s timing
- When the “what” and the “one” who restrains him is out of the way, the man of lawlessness will be revealed
- He will come by the activity of satan
The Thessalonians should already know from Paul’s previous teachings what is restraining the man of lawlessness (Do you not remember when I was with you I told you these things?). 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 [the lawless one] that is being restrained by a WHAT [the body of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit], and a WHAT [the revealing of the lawless one, the full mystery of lawlessness] that is being restrained by a HE [the Holy Spirit]. We will discuss this more fully in the next post: Part 3 – The Restrainer and the Restrained.
Summary of the Departure and the Revealing of the Lawless One
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. The presence of the body of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is currently restraining the man of lawlessness. The Holy Spirit is restraining the full expression of 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.
Our being gathered together to Jesus Christ at the departure event is what removes restraint from the man of lawlessness and the full expression of the mystery of lawlessness. We can be confident that the man of lawlessness will be somehow revealed immediately upon the rapture of the church. It will involve a spectacular display of supernatural signs and wonders, driven by satan himself. I am sure it will be very convincing. Part 4 – The Wicked Deception – “Aliens”?
The revealing of the lawless one, with the deceptive signs and wonders, will specifically be allowed by God because those left behind after the rapture “refused to love the truth and so be saved” through the catching away event. 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 – immediately upon the gathering together of the saints into heaven. And this is exactly when satan’s deception will be revealed with God’s strong deluding influence supporting it.
Yes, the antichrist will have to rise to power and at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th week will seat himself in the temple and declare to be “god”. However, that comes long after the event that triggers his revealing.
Are you CERTAIN of your Salvation, beyond a shadow of a doubt? Do you KNOW that no matter when the rapture occurs, you will be counted worthy to escape? If not, please read What Must I do to Be Saved.
The Bible is infallible. I am not. I am merely challenging traditional models and testing them against Scripture. I believe that traditional pretribulation teachings provide a solid backbone upon which to lay the musculature of details. I encourage you to consider my thoughts as you also examine the scriptures to see if these things are so!