ASK Commentary
August 9, 2004 

"Except There Come a Falling Away First"

Commentary for August 9, 2004 — Backsliding from the Truth

What does the term “falling away” mean? It is used in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The phrase in English is only one word in Greek, the word apostasia, from which the English term apostasy is derived. Falling away means to backslide. Backslide from what? From the truth. The context of the passage is as follows:

“Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That you be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away [apostasy] first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sits in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember you not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?”

2 Thessalonians 2:1–5

The circumstance deals with the 2nd coming of Christ, particularly the day of Christ, the axial moment in history when Jesus Christ returns and the direction of all human experience changes from a downward spiral to an upward, hopeful existence.

This “falling away” comes before the day of Christ. Deception is intimately involved with the “falling away” because this is what Paul warns the Thessalonians about when he says, “Let no man deceive you …”

The “falling away” is also connected to actions by the man of sin, who will:

  1. Reveal [Greek, apokalupto, to reveal or uncover] himself
  2. Display himself as the son of perdition
  3. Oppose all that is called God
  4. Exalt himself above all that is called god
  5. Sit as God in the temple of God
  6. Show himself that he is God (falsely).
What Will the Falling Away Be?

I ask the question, from what truths will people “fall away” or apostasize from?

All three of these are the bedrock foundational doctrines of so-called orthodox Christianity. The “falling away” will not be from these impossible, unbiblical doctrines. The “falling away” will not be from orthodox Christianity as it is today. Orthodox Christianity may well be an irrelevant historical curiosity by the time of the deception by the man of sin.

The “falling away” will be a condition of apostasy, backsliding, a turning away from truth. What truth? The truth of the scriptures as properly understood by the common person and not based on theological and biblical impossibilities. The man of sin will deceive people from a set of beliefs different from the Trinity, immortal soul, and the doctrine of hell. They are not truths! It is from truth that the man of sin will deceive people:

with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

2 Thessalonians 2:10

They will have truth, but will not love the truth. Therefore most people in the world will be deceived by unrighteousness posing as righteousness. This in turn will lead them to perish in their deception.

Who Will be Affected by the Falling Away?

The apostasy and the man of sin will affect the world, not just the ekklesia. Nowhere from the context of 2 Thessalonians 2 can you get the idea that the ekklesia alone will be affected by the falling away. The man of sin will deceive the entire world; likewise the falling away will involve the entire world. This surprised Paul because he himself taught the Thessalonians about this deception and about this man of sin.

The message of Paul to the Thessalonians is the same message and an expansion (call it a Midrash or a commentary if you wish) of Jesus’ admonition to the disciples about deception in Matthew 24:

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.’”

Matthew 24:4–5

“For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.”

Matthew 24:24

Jesus was talking to the disciples but his entire message of Matthew chapter 24 (also Mark chapter 13 and Luke chapter 21) dealt with the entire world, not just the future of the disciples or even just the ekklesia. The world will be deceived, but the disciples were warned against the deception.

The man of sin will deceive the world through display, opposition, exaltation and demonstration against the truth. He will deceive people into believing that truth itself is a lie. But first the truth must be known. It will be, in the restitution of all things mentioned in Acts 3:21. See my June 21, 2003 Commentary “The Restitution of All Things, What to Expect” which expounds on this coming revolution in the acceptance of God and His word.

Apostasy and Forsaking in Acts Chapter 21

Look at how the same Greek word used in Second Thessalonians is used in the Book of Acts as “apostasy” or “falling away”:

“And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of you, that you teach all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake [apostasize or fall away from] Moses, saying that they [the Jews] ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.”

Acts 21:18–21

The charge made by other Christians against Paul was that he taught Jews to apostasize or discontinue obedience to the Law of Moses. This was a false charge. Paul did not do this — up to that point in time. (This incident occurred before the revelation of the Mystery to Paul.) As requested by James and the elders in Jerusalem, Paul submitted himself and others to additional purification rituals. Read the rest of Acts chapter 21.

Conclusion

The warning of Jesus to his disciples was to prevent them from being caught up in a larger deception involving the entire world just before His return to this earth. The warning of Paul was to prevent the ekklesia from being caught up in the deception of the man of sin involving the entire world just before Jesus’ return to this earth. Each warning was prophesied to a particular future audience (and not the original audience), the deception will be worldwide.

Note how the information became increasingly expansive and detailed from Jesus’ warning to Jewish disciples to Paul’s warning to Gentile Christians around the world. The teaching was that of progressive revelation.

Deception is an expansive and detailed subject throughout the Old and New Testaments. Most of the deception is caused or allowed by God against a people, a nation or against the entire world. However, God always warns His chosen people to be aware of the deception, with the stipulation that if they are not careful, if they do not study, if they are not aware of God’s Word, they too might get caught up in the deception and subsequent punishment.

The “falling away” that Paul talks about in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is a rejection of truth by the majority of the world. That means that a large measure of truth will be known by much of the world. That injection of truth into the world’s consciousness and base of knowledge has not yet happened. It will occur shortly.

For more on these matters, see chapter 3, "Progressive Revelation" and chapter 33, "Just Who Are You?" in Dr. Martin’s book, The Essentials of New Testament Doctrine.

David Sielaff
david@askelm.com

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