What is the Great Apostasy, WHO is the Man of Lawlessness and What HAS to Happen Before Jesus Returns? (Part 1) #LastDays #Endtimes #103
Happy Good Friday, friends! It is going to be incredibly strange celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus this weekend while under quarantine, but that is not going to damper my celebration. The best news in history cannot be dampened by a silly pandemic, nor was it dampened by any of the dozens of pandemics that have happened since the first century. In Christ Alone is one of my favorite modern Christian songs, and on this good Friday, I glory in the truth of this verse:
There in the ground His body lay,In Christ Alone, Stuart Townend.
Light of the world by darkness slain:
Then bursting forth in glorious day
Up from the grave He rose again
And as He stands in victory
Sin’s curse has lost…
Do yourself a favor, and watch the video above and worship! Today is a day of celebration and thanksgiving. Thanks be to God the Father and to the Son for His enormous, incomprehensible sacrifice.
Today’s Bible passages are Leviticus 14, Psalm 17, Proverbs 28 and 2nd Thessalonians 2. Our focus passage, and the topic of our discussion both today and tomorrow will be based on the 2nd Thessalonians passage. Here is the pertinent part:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him: We ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to be easily upset or troubled, either by a prophecy or by a message or by a letter supposedly from us, alleging that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits in God’s temple, proclaiming that he himself is God.5 Don’t you remember that when I was still with you I used to tell you about this? 6 And you know what currently restrains him, so that he will be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but the one now restraining will do so until he is out of the way, 8 and then the lawless one will be revealed. The Lord Jesus will destroy him with the breath of his mouth and will bring him to nothing at the appearance of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is based on Satan’s working, with all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders, 10 and with every wicked deception among those who are perishing. They perish because they did not accept the love of the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a strong delusion so that they will believe the lie, 12 so that all will be condemned—those who did not believe the truth but delighted in unrighteousness.2nd Thessalonians 2:5-12
Paul says here – very clearly, and unmistakably, that the Second Coming/Return of Jesus will NOT occur until TWO things happen: #1 The Apostasy (or Great Apostasy) and #2 The revealing of the Man of Lawlessness. Tomorrow our focus will be on WHO the Man of Lawlessness might be, and today our focus is on what in the world this apostasy is all about. First, let’s talk about the word Paul uses – ‘apostasy,’ because it is not a very common word. In English, the word means, “the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief.” It comes from the Greek word that Paul uses here, “ἀποστασία apostasía” which means to “forsake,” or “fall away,” and itself comes from a word that indicates a divorce. This is a concept that is developed powerfully in the Old Testament, where God often describes Himself as a Bridegroom, and His people Israel are a bride that has been unfaithful, and fallen away. For instance, this passage in Jeremiah 3:
If a man divorces his wifeJeremiah 3:1-3
and she leaves him to marry another,
can he ever return to her?
Wouldn’t such a land become totally defiled?
You have prostituted yourself with many partners—
can you return to me?
This is the Lord’s declaration.
2 Look to the barren heights and see.
Where have you not been immoral?
You sat waiting for them beside the highways
like a nomad in the desert.
You have defiled the land
with your prostitution and wickedness.
3 This is why the showers haven’t come—
why there has been no spring rain.
You have the brazen look of a prostitute
and refuse to be ashamed.
Hosea also compares Israel’s falling away from God the same as an unfaithful spouse. Indeed, God commands Hosea the prophet to marry an unfaithful woman named Gomer, who ultimately cheats on him, so that the unfaithfulness of Israel can be demonstrated in vivid and devastating ways. Note the promise at the end of Hosea, however:
I will heal their apostasy;Hosea 14:4-5
I will freely love them,
for my anger will have turned from him.
5 I will be like the dew to Israel;
he will blossom like the lily
and take root like the cedars of Lebanon.
To apostatize, then, is to renounce or fall away from faith in the same sort of way as an unfaithful spouse breaks away from a marriage to be with another. Notice the RELATIONAL language employed. When people say, quite tritely, that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion, this is the sort of thing they are talking about.
Theologically speaking, Paul is pointing out here in this passage that Jesus will not return for His Second Coming until there is a significant ‘falling away’ or apostasy. Unfortunately, Paul gives us almost zero details as to this coming apostasy, and the word he uses there is used quite infrequently in the Bible. I think, however, that Matthew 24 gives us quite a bit of insight into what Paul is referring to, and I believe – but can’t prove – that the apostasy that Paul is referring to in 2 Thessalonians 2, is the ‘falling away’ that Jesus is referencing here:
“Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” 4 Jesus replied to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many. 6 You are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, because these things must take place, but the end is not yet. 7 For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All these events are the beginning of labor pains. 9 “Then they will hand you over to be persecuted, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name. 10 Then many will fall away, betray one another, and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. 12 Because lawlessness will multiply, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.Matthew 24:3-14
Note here how lawlessness and falling away are connected together so tightly – this makes me even more certain that Paul’s Thessalonians reference is to Jesus’ Olivet discourse. Paul also seems to talk about this falling away/rebellion/apostasy in 1 Timothy 4, and probably 2nd Timothy 3 as well:
Now the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, 2 through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.1 Timothy 4:1-2
But know this: Hard times will come in the last days. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, proud, demeaning, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, without love for what is good, 4 traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to the form of godliness but denying its power. Avoid these people.2 Timothy 3:1-5
I believe that the Bible is telling us something very important here, and I don’t believe most who teach on the end-times emphasize it enough: Before the return of Jesus happens, there will be a noticable, remarkable falling away by professing Christians. This happens all throughout church history (just as Jesus explained that it would in the Mark 4 parable of the sower), but this apostasy has been called the ‘Great’ apostasy, because it will be obvious that it is happening. Will all of the church fall away? Of course not! But many who profess only with their mouth will turn from Christ when it becomes less expedient (and perhaps more dangerous) to follow Him. I come from the Bible belt – millions of people identify as Christ followers, but know Him not. Before Jesus returns, a remarkable and heart-rending apostasy will happen, and a ‘Man of lawlessness’ will be revealed, perhaps even leading the charge in the apostasy. And then, at some point, the end will come. That’s what we see here in today’s short 2nd Thessalonians passage. What does that mean for our following of God in this day and hour? I’d like for John Piper to answer that question for us, in closing:
“So be sober for prayer, because the great danger facing us is that we fall in love with this world and become spiritually dull and the day come upon us like a thief and we be destroyed. O pray, brothers, pray for the coming of the kingdom and for your strength to endure and escape the trap of spiritual apathy. Pray that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (1990–1999) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007).
And that’s exactly the way I would talk about the coming of the Lord today. It is just around the corner. The end is near indeed. If anyone dallies with sin and the world, thinking, “I have lots of time,” he plays the fool. The Judge is at the door. And the time remaining should be spent in earnest prayer that we not be made drunk and hard by the cares and pleasures of this world.