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TEXT: II Thessalonians 2:1-12
SUBJECT: Eschatology #5: The Apostasy
A few months ago we began a study of Eschatology or the Doctrine of Last Things. Up to now, we have examined four issues: The Last Days, the Rapture, the Tribulation, and the Antichrist.
Most of what I've said about these things runs counter to what you'll find in the notes of The Scofield Reference Bible and in the best-selling books of Hal Lindsey and Tim Lahaye. I have nothing against these men and I do not question their faith or sincerity. But, on these matters, I think they're wrong.
Mark my words: On most things they're right and the things they get right are far more significant than the ones they get wrong. This is not an all-out war, but an argument at the dinner table. And we need to mind our manners!
Today's subject is The Apostasy.
Before we see what the Bible says about it, let's be sure we know what we're talking about. Two terms need explaining. The first one is apostasy.
The word means a falling away. In a Christian sense, it means falling away from God. It is not a backsliding from the Lord, but a break with Him. An apostate forsakes God, not partially and for a time, but fully and for good.
Some are doctrinal apostates who give up the truth for heresy. Others are moral apostates who quit holiness to live in sin. Others combine the two: they stop believing in Christ and drift into immorality, or they become immoral, and to justify themselves, they quit believing in Christ.
This kind of apostasy is personal and has been in the world since the Fall of Adam, and it will be until the End of Time. In the Old Testament, you have Korah, King Saul, and Jeroboam, for example. In the New Testament, you have Judas Iscariot and Demas. Since then there have been millions of professed believers who have fallen away from the Lord and are lost.
This is what Apostasy is: Deserting God.
On this point, there is no real disagreement. The most optimistic believer knows that Not everyone who says, 'Lord, Lord' will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Some who claim to be Christians aren't, and soon prove it.
The first word we need to understand, then, is apostasy. The other word is.The. When they speak of the End Times apostasy, most preachers and scholars don't mean the same old same old.
The basic meaning is the same: Apostasy still means falling away from Christ. But the extent of the fall is far, far wider.
The President of Family Radio takes the most extreme view that I know of. He says that all churches are now apostate. His reasoning is not easy to follow. Because some churches teach heresy, despise the Word of God, goggle at signs and wonders, and put uncalled people into the pulpit, then all churches are apostate.
Others take a more moderate view. They don't believe all churches will forsake the Lord, but most will. They don't give the numbers, but they suggest a big majority will turn against God.
When will The Apostasy occur? Some have it pinned down to the day-almost--others are fuzzier in their forecasts, but nearly all believe it will take place at the end of the world.
If Apostasy is deserting God at any time, The Apostasy is a worldwide deserting of God just before the Second Coming of Christ. That's the doctrine.
One teacher finds The Apostasy on almost every page of the Bible. If Jeroboam sets up the Golden Calves, it means 3,000 years later, the Church will fall away from Christ! But why does it mean that? Doesn't the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31:31 promise better things to the Church than Israel had?
Most teachers, however, build their doctrine on a stronger foundation than this. Four passages, in particular, are often cited to prove that there will be a unique (and uniquely bad) apostasy at the End of the Age.
We'll take the verses from the weakest to the strongest. ( All verses are equally strong-I know that-but not all interpretations are!)
The first passage is Revelation 20:7-10,
Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. And the devil who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
The thinking goes something like this: For 1000 years Satan has been bound by God so that he cannot deceive the nations as he used to. But, near the end of history, the devil is let out of his chains for a short time, and he fools the nations once again, and leads the Church into Apostasy, but is destroyed by the Second Coming of Christ.
I agree with much of this: Satan will run amok near the end of time. He will deceive the nations as he once did. He will be arrested and sent to hell by the Returning King.
But what does this have to do with the Apostasy of the Church? John explicitly tells us that Satan misleads the nations, not the Church.
The imagery of a Surrounded City or a Besieged Camp seems to teach persecution from the outside-and not corruption from the inside.
Finally, if the history of Israel and the Church are any indication, persecution usually cleans up the Church instead of polluting it. The fat, lazy, and smug Church is in far greater danger than the Church under attack. Read chapters 2-3 of Revelation for proof.
The second text is II Timothy 3:1-5,
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, heady, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying its power. From such people turn away!
Paul paints a dark picture of the Last Days. It will be a time of gross sin. The source is extreme self-love, leading to the hatred of God and the abuse of other people. The sinners he has in mind, however, are not openly ungodly, but retain a form of religion. They think of themselves of good men, deeply devoted to Christ or maybe God-fearing Jews.
Does this teach a worldwide Apostasy in the Last Days? Yes it does. But what are the Last Days? We all know the Last Days refer to, well, the time just before the Lord comes again. The problem is that's not how the Bible uses the term (most of the time). From the standpoint of the New Testament, the Last Days began with the First Coming of Christ and ends with His Coming in Judgment. This means: the whole period between the Lord's two advents will be marked by wide and deep apostasy.
To prove this is what Paul has in mind, note the last part of v.5: From such people turn away! Whatever he wants us to do about Apostates ľor our children or grandchildren to do with them, Paul first wants Timothy to stay clear of them. Therefore, the Apostasy described in this chapter was underway in the First Century and cannot be limited to our time or to some other time in the near or distant future.
The third Scripture is I Timothy 4:1-5.
Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own consciences seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the Word of God and prayer.
In the passage we looked at a few minutes ago, Paul stresses the moral decline of the Last Days-men will do wicked things, he says. But here, he's looking at the doctrinal slide that will occur in the Latter Times-men will teach wicked things.
In particular, he says, they will teach us to stay away from certain foods and to not marry. The Reformers and Puritans had a field day with these verses. They used them against the Roman Catholic Church that would not allow its priests to marry and told everyone to not eat meat on Fridays. There you have it!
In a certain way, I think the Reformers were right. Forbidding marriage and certain foods is a devilish doctrine, for God created both marriage and food, and blessed them.
But they were wrong in equating these doctrines with the Roman Catholic Church. If you read Colossians, you'll see that the false teachings were already in the world-and no Protestant ever thought the Church of Rome went back to the First Century!
The passage, therefore, sees heresy in the Church, from the First Century to the end of time. And not concentrated in the last few years of history. What false teaching do we have today that we didn't have way back then? Read the New Testament, and you'll see There is nothing new under the sun. Every new heresy is a repackaging of an old heresy.
We live in perilous times. And so did Paul. And so will our great-great-grandchildren, if the Lord tarries.
THE BIG ONE
There is one more passage to look at-and it's the big one-II Thessalonians 2:1-12 (maybe you should turn to this one and follow along as we go). It says,
Now brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, showing himself that he is God.
.Do you not remember that, when I was still with you, I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so, until He is taken out of the way. And then the Lawless One will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the Lawless One is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them a strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
Paul begins with the topic, v.1a. He's talking about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him. If you've studied the Last Things with much care, you know the coming of Christ and our gathering to Him can mean more than one thing. But here-it seems to me-they have to be taken in the expected sense: It is the Second Coming Paul has in mind, and the Rapture that occurs then.
Then, he makes a request, vv.1b-2. Don't be excited by rumors about the Second Coming. Liars and gossips are saying, Paul said the Lord has come or He's coming right away. But Paul says I never said this. The Second Coming of Christ is not imminent. He may come soon, but not in the next five minutes!
Two things precede the Second Coming, vv.3-4. Before the Lord comes again, there will be (1) a falling away, and (2) The Man of Sin will be revealed.
What is the falling away that Paul foresees? (The word is apostasy, by the way). The Thessalonians knew what he meant-because he had told them, (cf. v.5). But we didn't hear what he said, and so we have to be modest. Bold pronouncements have no place here!
It seems to me that it is a falling away from the Gospel that Paul has in mind (cf. vv.10, 12). It is a sin committed by the Confessing Church and not by pagans or Jews. They fell away from the Gospel, not out of ignorance or under persecution, but because (a) they never loved it in the first place, and because, (b) they always loved sin.
How extensive will be apostasy be? The President of Family Radio says it includes every church in the world. But Paul doesn't say that. He just says there will be a falling away and that it will be wide and deep enough to recognize.
Who or what is the man of sin?
The President of Family Radio says-and this is a quote: "God speaks of the man of sin who can only be Satan". He never explains why the man of sin can only be Satan. And I don't think he is. Here's why:
According to v.9, the Lawless one comes according to the working of Satan. One could say, "Satan comes by the working of Satan", but that doesn't seem natural to me. Moreover, why would Paul refer to Satan as a man? Satan is a fallen angel, not a human. I know that angels are sometimes referred to as men, but it seems to me that its only when they appear in the form of men-like to Manoah's wife or to Mary Magdalene.
I think the Man of Sin is a real man, flesh and blood, like you and me, only possessed by the devil.
The Man of Sin will do the devil's work: He will boast (v.4); deceive (v.9); and demand the worship that belongs to God only (v.4).
When will the Man of Sin arrive? It is when God stops holding him back, v.6.
When did the Man of Sin start coming? In Paul's day, v.7, The mystery of iniquity is already at work.
What will become of the Man of Sin? Christ will destroy Him with the breath of His mouth and with the brightness of His coming.
So, what does our paragraph teach us about The Apostasy? There will be one and that it will usher in the Man of Sin, and bring down the Final Judgment of God.
That's what is says. But what it doesn't say is every bit as important: It doesn't say when the apostasy will occur, what it will look like, or how extensive it will be. Teachers who fill in the blanks are speculating!
WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE APOSTASY
I'll close with some practical advice. Every Christian lives in an age of Apostasy. And some will live in the great falling away! Whether we will or not, only God knows. But in any event, the counsel is the same.
You should expect Apostasy and not be confounded or crushed by it. The Last Days are perilous times!
You should guard against it in your own heart. Falling away from Christ does not begin in the Church Universal, but in the heart. Are you departing from the Living God? Are you neglecting prayer and Bible reading? Are you dabbling with heresy? Are you excusing your envy or pride or lust? This is how apostasy ends, and II Thessalonians 2:12 says how it ends,
That they may all be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
You should become more active in the Church,
Not forsaking the assembling of yourselves as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the day approaching.
You should pray for yourself and all who profess Christ. Watch and pray lest you enter into temptation.
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