Will There Be a Falling-Away of Believers Before the Coming of the Lord?
By Todd K. Weber
(Note: My view of end-time events is with a pre-tribulation rapture perspective. I understand that some hold other views, and this is not intended to impugn those sincere beliefs.)
2 Thessalonians 2:1-4:
1 “Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him,
2 That ye 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.
3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, chewing himself that he is God. ”
As we begin to examine this passage, we must first understand the difference between the “rapture” and the Second Coming of Christ. Sometimes, these terms are used interchangeably, but this is not accurate. In I Thessalonians 4:15-18, Paul spoke of the appearing of the Lord and the catching-away of the church, which we commonly refer to as the rapture (although this word is not found in the Bible, it is used to describe the event). Then, in 1 Thessalonians 5, he spoke of the “day of the Lord” as Christ’s coming to earth to execute judgment on non-believers. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul is returning to that topic, with the understanding that the rapture will have already taken place before the events which he describes therein.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, Paul flatly denied that he or any other apostles had stated, either in person or by letter, that the Second Coming of Christ was immediately at hand. Paul believed it would happen, and he taught Christians to believe, also; but, apparently he did not expect it to happen in the immediate future, as some were teaching and causing distress and anxiety in the church. He told believers not to worry that the coming of the Lord was imminent, because certain other things must take place before that great day.
In the King James translation of the text, Paul seems to have said that two things must take place before the Second Coming of Christ: 1) a falling away, and 2) exposure of the “man of sin,” the “son of perdition.” However, I will show that these two events may, in fact, be one in the same. In other words, the “falling away” may be describing the rise and reign of the Antichrist, rather than a tragic exodus of believers from the faith.
The phrase “falling away” is translated from the Greek word apostasia, which means “falling away, defection,” and is the same word from which the English word “apostasy” is derived. What is not clear in this passage is whom does the falling away. Robertson’s New Testament Word Pictures states the following:
“Plutarch uses it [apostasy] of political revolt, and it occurs in I Maccabees 2:15 about Antiochus Epiphanes who was enforcing the apostasy from Judaism to Hellenism. In Joshua 2:22, it occurs for rebellion against the Lord. It seems clear that the word here means a religious revolt… The only other NT use of the word is in Acts 21:21 where it means apostasy from Moses. It is not clear whether Paul means a revolt of the Jews from God, of Gentiles from God, of Christians from God, or of the apostasy that includes all classes within and without the body of Christians. But it is to be first (Gr: proton) before Christ comes again.”
Many people believe this to speak of a great falling away of Christians from the faith, which will precede the rapture and the Second Coming. I think this is an unfortunate mistake which casts a cloud of fear and apprehension over the church, weakening our confidence in the Holy Spirit’s ability to keep us from falling, and dampening our enthusiasm for the work of the Lord.
First, a reading of First and Second Thessalonians together reveals that Paul is clearly speaking of the Second Coming as taking place after the rapture of the church. Therefore, the falling away can’t possibly be among believers, because all true believers will already be in heaven,
Second, the falling away can’t be speaking of Jews or non-believing Gentiles, because in order to “fall away” from something, you must first have embraced it. Non-believing Jews and Gentiles haven’t embraced Jesus Christ in the first place, so they can’t possibly be the ones referred to here as committing apostasy. (The Jews committed apostasy already, when they rejected the Messiah, Jesus.)
Here is what I believe is meant by the words “falling away.” Understand that this is informed speculation, and may not be authoritative fact. Only the Thessalonians knew for sure what Paul was talking about, because he had spoken to them previously on this topic (2 Thess. 2:5). Now, we can only speculate based on the information contained in the whole of scripture.
Since apostasy means religious revolt and rebellion against God; and since the conjunction translated “and” from the Greek word kai may also be translated using the English words, “also, even, indeed;” it is quite possible that 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is speaking of only one event rather than two. If so, verse three may be translated:
“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, indeed, that man of sin be[ing] revealed, the son of perdition…”
Verse 4 further describes that person as one “no opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth an the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. ”
In other words, the revelation or unveiling of the “man of sin, the son of perdition,” who is the antichrist, is the beginning of the ultimate apostasy against God, as the antichrist elevates himself as God, and is worshiped by those who remain on the earth at that time.
In my view, this interpretation fits much better with what is known about the Church from scripture. Jesus said that he will build his church and “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” His bride will be “a glorious church, without spot or wrinkle,” not some weak, beleaguered, barely surviving remnant of a faithful few. No doubt, some believers have, and will yet, fall from the faith and give up their hope; but we should not be looking for some great apostasy to take place within the church, judging other believers as compromisers and apostates. That is awfully negative, divisive and counterproductive, and is inconsistent with everything else we know about Jesus and his church. Instead, we ought to rejoice in our salvation, and help one another to be ready for that great day of catching-away with joy and love and hope!
In summary, my study leads me to the following conclusions about 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4:
1. The “rapture” of the church will occur before the advent of the Antichrist and the Second Coming of Christ, which precludes a mass falling away of believers.
2. The advent of the Antichrist must take place before the Second Coming of Christ.
3. The “falling away” in verse three describes the religious revolt against God initiated and led by the Antichrist, rather than a loss of faith among masses of believers.
This article “Will There Be A Falling Away Of Believers Before The Coming Of the Lord?” by Todd K. Weber is excerpted from www.90&9.com, August 2007.