Home > 2 Thessalonians, Bible Study, eschatology, hermeneutics, Israel > What is ‘the Apostasy’ Mentioned in 2 Thess. 2:3?

What is ‘the Apostasy’ Mentioned in 2 Thess. 2:3?


In discussions of futurist eschatology, sometimes questions come up regarding the apostle Paul’s statement in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, as to what is meant by the term ‘apostasy’:

For that day will not come unless the apostasy (translated ‘rebellion’ in ESV) comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.  (HCSB, note on ESV difference)

At least a few pre-trib teachers have put forth the idea that “the apostasy” (also sometimes translated “the departure”) really means the rapture itself.  More credible, scholarly sources dismiss that idea as eisegesis, something being read into the text.

Among historic (classic) premillennialists, the common view was simply that this is describing general and increasing apostasy:  apostasy both of Israel and the visible church (as also brought out in the reference to religious Babylon in Revelation 17), including with reference to the Roman Catholic church.  Certainly general apostasy of the church is taught in other New Testament passages, as for instance 2 Peter 2 and 1 Timothy 4.  But something else may be intended in 2 Thessalonians 2.

The weakness of the ‘general apostasy’ idea is that Paul is telling of specific events that must precede the Coming of the Lord.  If all that is meant is general apostasy, the Christian church has been experiencing this since the first century, and thus “the apostasy” has no specific prophetic meaning, since every generation of Christendom has observed increasing apostasy and the continuing breakdown of the visible church.  John MacArthur (as in this sermon) correctly recognizes that Paul must be referring to something specific here in this text, something beyond just general increasing apostasy including even the apostasy of the Catholic church.  After considering the problems with the general apostasy view, MacArthur equates the first phrase “the apostasy or rebellion” with the very next clause “and the man of lawlessness is revealed,” so that “the apostasy” is the event connected to the man of lawlessness, the act of his sitting in the temple, when he is revealed.

This interpretation at least recognizes that Paul is talking about something specific here – and yet this view makes the first clause redundant, saying the same thing as the second part; thus, both “the apostasy” and “the man of lawlessness is revealed” refer to the exact same event, spelled out more clearly in the second clause.

Another idea, which makes better sense of a specific apostasy and yet more than what the second part says, was brought out in Marv Rosenthal’s publication several years back (I don’t know if the original source is available online), a synopsis and excerpts of which are included in this blog article.  The “apostasy” or “rebellion” is the “covenant with death” that Israel makes with the antichrist at the beginning of the 70th week.

The word apostasy is used only twice in the entire New Testament; therefore, how it is used becomes exceedingly important.  Dr. Luke used the word apostasy in describing an important occasion in the Book of Acts when the apostle Paul met with the Jewish elders at Jerusalem.

Many Jews had accepted Christ, but they continued to adhere to the Mosaic Law (Acts 21:20).  They wanted to believe in Jesus but within the confines of Old Testament Judaism.  They did not understand the implications of the new covenant instituted by Jesus (Matthew 26:26-29).

Speaking of those recent Jewish believers, the elders in Jerusalem said to Paul, “And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake [“forsake” is the translation of apostasia meaning to “fall away” or “utterly abandon”] Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs” (Acts 21:21).  Here, then, is one of the only two times the apostasy is used in the Bible.  And it is used in the context of the apostle Paul being repudiated for supposedly asking Jews to totally abandon their Jewish culture, custom, and faith.  Of course, nothing could have been farther from the truth.

Rosenthal also looks at an extra-biblical source, I Maccabees, regarding the typical figure Antiochus Epiphanes and the term translated apostasy:

 1 Maccabees 2:15 The king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of Modein to make them offer sacrifice.

Rosenthal observes here:

This covenant, which many of the Jews entered into with Antiochus Epiphanes, prefigures the covenant which many from among Israel will enter into with the Antichrist in a soon-coming day.  The prophet Daniel spoke of that covenant in this way: “And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease” (Daniel 9:27).

The circumstances surrounding Antiochus Epiphanes, his defilement of the Temple, and the apostasy of many of the Jewish people are among of the most conspicuous events in Jewish history.  It would, therefore, be appropriate and natural to use the same term (apostasy) concerning the same people (the Jews) regarding an event to occur at the same place (the Temple at Jerusalem) in describing a future day when many of the Jews will totally abandon the God of their fathers and the messianic hope in the same way they did in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, only to embrace a heathen religion and a false messiah.

The full article includes much more detail concerning this whole issue, good reading for anyone interested in reading more about it.

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  1. November 6, 2013 at 8:36 am

    Thanks Lynda for filling another gap in my knowledge.

    • November 6, 2013 at 9:16 am

      You’re welcome, and glad it’s helpful.

  2. Truth2Freedom
    November 6, 2013 at 4:25 pm

    Reblogged this on Truth2Freedom's Blog.

    • November 6, 2013 at 4:41 pm

      Thanks for the reblog!

  3. November 6, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    Wow, while I’ve held the view that the apostasy in 1 Thess 2 is specifically that before the man of Lawlessness is revealed, I never connected that to Daniel 9

    • November 7, 2013 at 11:04 am

      Yes it’s a good study and interesting study, relating all the scriptures that bear on that event (including 2 Thess. 2 and Daniel 9).

  1. November 6, 2013 at 7:46 am

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