In II Thessalonians 2, Paul leaves out some significant details. For example, in verse 10, he writes of the love of the truth, but he does not specify which truth he has in view. In verse 11, he speaks of believing “the lie,” but fails to identify it. He also mentions not believing the truth in verse 12, but provides no specifics.
The truth to which he refers does not have to indicate the doctrines that only the church of God understands. It could be as common as the truth that there is a God. The Creator gave the nation of Israel tremendous truth, truth His people could grasp even without the Holy Spirit. Likewise, He has given all humanity truth for which it is accountable, which is why Paul writes that mankind is without excuse (Romans 1:20). In Romans 1:18, he mentions men suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, and the truth under discussion is the simple truth that a Creator God exists, and He requires mankind's worship.
However, today we are witnessing a defection from even this basic reality. As human knowledge has increased, people have misused it to deny the existence of a Creator. The theory of evolution functions as a prop so people do not have to face this reality. Evolution—now at the core of Western culture—is blindly accepted but rarely “proved” individually. Even so, the Western world has subscribed to it so extensively that a person is not taken seriously if he speaks of Creation.
A second basic truth that is being forsaken is that Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. The apostle John gives this as an attribute of those who are “anti-Christ,” and he uses the existence of such beliefs as proof that it was already the last hour (see I John 4:1-3). We are seeing people divorce themselves from this truth as well. People will say that Jesus existed, but that He was not God but a created being, that He was just a prophet, or that He later settled down with Mary Magdalene and had children. Islam declares that the very idea of God having a Son is blasphemous. Thus, the basic truth about the nature of God—the Father and the Son—is not only being forsaken in the West, but it is also a cause for increasing persecution.
The number of those who hold even these basic truths is declining in the United States, both as a percentage of the population as well as the total number. The biggest declines are in the numbers of Catholics and mainline Protestants, but even the evangelicals' numbers are declining. Conversely, the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation—the “nones”—is increasing, and now nearly one-fifth of Americans who were raised with a religion now profess to have none.
In Survey: Christians Are Not Spreading the Gospel (November 30, 2017), pollster George Barna observes:
Given the dominant influence on peoples' decision to embrace Christ [i.e. the environment during one's youth], the future is not promising for Christianity unless current patterns change. The adults who are of parenting age are part of the generation that is least likely to be born again, suggesting that the existing and coming segments of children in America are also less likely to embrace the gospel.
Even as the number of “nones” is swelling, the number of Americans with non-Christian beliefs, such as Islam and Hinduism, is also growing. Though the relative numbers are smaller, Wicca and unabashed Satanism are surging. More sobering still is that the U.S. is the most “Christian” of all the nations of Israel. The other Israelitish nations have fallen away even more. In Britain, more people attend mosques each week than churches. We are seeing a falling away from—a forsaking of—even basic truth and a ready acceptance of just about anything else.
Even among those who still profess a belief in the Father and the Son, such belief is becoming so anemic that it is not translating into everyday life. Whereas nominal Christianity was once a bulwark against obvious immorality, now it is succumbing to fluid definitions of murder, marriage, stealing, and lying. It is operating under increasingly shallow ideas of righteousness, grace, love, and obligation. Mainstream Catholics and Protestants may retain their professions of faith, but in practical terms, they are defecting from what truth they formerly held.
David C. Grabbe
The Falling Away
People fall away because they do not have the love of the truth. Consequently, they have nothing to pour out their energies on, and so they drift away. Anybody who is drifting will follow the current opinion within the body, whatever it happens to be.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Don't Be a Prudent Agnostic
The apostle Paul prophesies of an apostasy in II Thessalonians 2:3, 9-12, and he prefaces it with a warning against being deceived. The great apostasy may already be fully underway, spurred by the rising tide of deception in society. With so much information available (Daniel 12:4)—along with so many ways to manipulate it—men find it extremely easy to deceive millions instantly. This is especially true for those who do not really believe the true source of knowledge, God and His Word. Thus, after subtle doctrinal changes, many of the brethren have fallen away.
The "coming of the lawless one," however, is still future. His rise to prominence and power will be accompanied by incredible miracles, but they will be false signs and wonders, lies produced by Satan to appear as if they are of God (see Revelation 13:11-15). He will use "all unrighteous deception," a hint that what he does and says will appear as righteous, yet someone who knows and loves the truth can see through it and avoid being deceived.
Satan will really pull out all the stops to deceive as many as possible, especially the called sons of God. The "lawless one" will be so slick that "all who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world" (Revelation 13:8). But, as Paul writes elsewhere, if we hold fast to "the pattern of sound words" that we learned, if we guard the truth, we will not be deceived.
Paul repeats these instructions to the Thessalonians in this context:
Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (II Thessalonians 2:15)
The key to resisting deception is being convicted of the truth! The truth is what was first revealed to the apostles. As Jude puts it, "Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).
As they saw the first-century apostasy coming, all the apostles warn about deceivers and urge the brethren to be certain of and stick to the doctrines of God. It is our surest hedge against being caught up in the deceptions of the end time that are already upon us.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Deceptions of the End Time
Though Paul wrote these words nearly two thousand years ago, we should do not let anybody deceive us. Prophecy can be fulfilled very quickly, and God is busy laying the groundwork for the fulfillment of these end-time prophecies. When everything is in place, it will happen swiftly. As Sovereign over all, God has to maneuver events and people into place before they come to pass. If we are not watching carefully, the events that form the groundwork can slip right by us, and Christ will return as a thief in the night (as this same apostle says in I Thessalonians 5:2-8).
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 3)
Apostasy ("the falling away") is not necessarily a departure from an organized body but a departure from truth, as the context shows. It points to a deliberate abandonment of a former professed position or belief.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Flood Is Upon Us!
This passage outlines a basic sequence of events: Christ's return is preceded by the appearance of the man of sin, who is preceded by the “falling away.” As we look forward to that Day of both darkness and light, we should watch for this falling away to help us stay focused on the surety of Christ's coming.
We are immediately presented with a challenge, however, because the Bible contains few supporting scriptures to help us understand exactly what Paul means. The Greek word translated as “falling away” is apostasia, which Strong's Greek Dictionary defines as “defection from truth.” This word is used in only one other place:
When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. (Acts 21:19-21)
The word apostasia is found in verse 21, in the mention of “forsak[ing] Moses.” A rumor was circulating that Paul was teaching people to fall away from—to defect from—the truth revealed through Moses, which underscores Peter's observation about how easily people could misunderstand Paul's teachings (II Peter 3:16). Acts 21 gives us a second reference for the usage of apostasia, but it tells us little about what Paul had in mind when he warned of the falling away—a specific and definitive falling away.
A closely related form of this word is apostasion, which means “separation.” In the three places it is used, it is translated as “a certificate of divorce” (Matthew 5:31; 19:7; Mark 10:4). In that related form as well, we see the concepts of falling away, forsaking, and defecting.
Apostasia is also found in four places in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint (Joshua 22:22; II Chronicles 29:19; 33:19; Jeremiah 2:19). In each case, the predominant theme is a king (or the whole nation of Israel) rebelling against—forsaking—God and turning to an alien belief system. Applying that to the prophesied “falling away,” we can understand that the truth forsaken in the end times is not truth as an abstract concept, but truth that relates to God.
David C. Grabbe
The Falling Away
Paul likely included this so that the Thessalonians would understand that these are evidences that Christ's return is near, but it had not yet happened. There had not been a falling away, and the man of sin had not been revealed. Paul was gently giving them evidence by which they could evaluate that the return of Christ was not immediately around the corner. As they began to analyze it, this might have been quite discouraging to them. Nevertheless, in AD 51, the return of Christ was very much on the minds of church members.
In addition to this, II Thessalonians 3 deals with the issue that some in Thessalonica had quit their jobs because of misinterpreting Paul's sermons, and they became busybodies while waiting things out. This is not good.
On the one hand, we are to live our lives always anticipating Christ's imminent return, partly because we do not know when we will die and our judgment ends. On the other hand, we are also to live and work as though this world will never end. Since nobody knows when Christ will return, we are to do our jobs with all of our might, as Solomon says (Ecclesiastes 9:10), and because we serve the Lord Christ, as Paul writes (Colossians 3:24). We are to do every job as well as we can, not carelessly cutting corners, assuming that it will all blow away in just a year or so. Such an approach is not a godly attitude.
The people described in Thessalonians 3 were just waiting things out because they had it in their minds that Christ would return almost immediately. That is sheer presumptuousness, carelessness, that God certainly does not appreciate in His children, because that is how He does things. We are to imitate Him. We are to work as He does, and His handiwork is all around us. He does pretty good work! The things that He builds last. They are high-quality work.
In practical fact, there is a tension between the two extremes that must be balanced. Jesus says, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working" (John 5:17). We are to imitate them materially and spiritually. Those simply waiting things out then were castigated, and time is not waiting for us either.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Trumpets Is a Day of Hope
Satan is the archetype of the self-exalted being, beginning with his attempt to usurp God's throne. Nebuchadnezzar follows his example by his self-praise: "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?" (Daniel 4:28-37). The man of sin, the Antichrist, will be the most self-exalted human being on earth, and this same spirit of pride will drive him (II Thessalonians 2:3-4).
Martin G. Collins
Overcoming (Part 9): Self-Exaltation
"The falling away" is a translation of the Greek apostasia, meaning "departure," "forsaking," "defection," or "apostasy." In secular Greek, the word "is used politically of rebels" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 413). Thus, in the present context, it denotes a departure or apostasy from the faith, the revealed truth of God (see I Timothy 4:1). Such a defection from the true gospel and doctrine was a very real concern for the first-century apostles. Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude all warn of it in their letters. Despite their warnings, it did indeed occur as the century wore on.
Paul tells us specifically what the "unrighteous deception" (II Thessalonians 2:10) is for which the people depart. In verse 7, he names it "the mystery of lawlessness," a set of beliefs that is totally contrary to "the truth" (verses 10-12). This deception is "the lie" that Satan has always foisted on mankind—that we do not need to obey God's law (see Genesis 3:4; Romans 1:21-25).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Are These the Last Days? (Part 1)
Some think that, when someone accepts heresy, he will "leave the church." That may occur on some occasions, but this confuses hairesis with apostasia. In this verse, apostasia is translated "falling away" in both the KJV and NKJV, giving the impression that it refers to leaving an organization. But apostasia means "to depart from truth"! One can remain in an organization and be departing from truth all along.
This is vitally important to us living at the end time! Notice what Paul writes in II Thessalonians 2:9-12 about this:
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 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.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Scripture indicates just how far this defection from truth—the falling away—goes. In three places, the Bible says that when Christ returns, people will mourn when they see the One from whom they have distanced themselves and oppose (Matthew 24:30; Zechariah 12:10; Revelation 1:7). In Revelation 1:7, John says that every race or clan will be dismayed—apparently including most physical Israelites—because the falling away will be so widespread. The falling away does not have to include every person, but as a generality, the creation will defect from its Creator, leading to ready support of a man who exalts himself above God.
Even though the scope of II Thessalonians 2 is more indicative of the world than the church, this trend will still put pressure on us. The spirit of the age guides the world, but it also always influences the church to some degree. As one evangelist once said, “If it is in the world, it is in the church.” Peter gives us warning:
You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. (II Peter 3:17-18)
This is the conclusion to a warning that in the last days there will be scoffers, walking according to their own lusts, and denying the surety of Christ's return. This, too, indicates a defection from once-held truth. Peter says that, since we have been warned about these things, we must stand vigilant against them. He warns against falling from our steadfastness or losing our spiritual stability. Obviously, the apostle did not believe in the Doctrine of Eternal Security, and there is good reason for his warning.
The danger for us is probably not a ready acceptance of atheism, nor a sudden sprint into one of the rising belief systems. The greater threat is the slow and gradual one, the peril of neglect, of apathy, of little compromises that set the stage for larger defections. Without a steady walk with God and a consistent practice of His Word, we may forsake the rare understanding that we have been given in favor of the wisdom of men and the opinions of the day. Even now, in corners of the church of God, baptized members shrug at things that the Creator God calls abominations. These viewpoints do not arise from the Word of God, but from its dismissal, as the ideas of the age fill in the cracks little by little.
True Christians believe that this present world will end when Christ returns. God has a superior way of life for mankind, and that way is open now to those whom He has called in this age. However, when He returns, the door closes for us. Those who have a love of the truth will be on the victorious side, and those who do not will be condemned. They will have had their pleasure in unrighteousness, and God will give them over to what they have been seeking all along.
In verse 18, Peter counsels us to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. If He is the desire of our hearts, we will seek Him, and He will be our reward. If the world is what we find attractive, we will love the world and perish with it.
God does not direct us to arrest the falling away that is taking place in the world, but to make sure we do not let things slip in our lives. We are urgently warned to take heed that no one deceives us (Matthew 24:4), to take care lest we be weighed down by the cares of this life (Luke 21:34), and to take heed lest we fall (I Corinthians 10:12), so that the day of Christ's return will be a day of victory for us rather than a day of condemnation.
David C. Grabbe
The Falling Away
Paul wrote II Thessalonians to correct a false impression held by the members of the church in Thessalonica. He did this by telling them what Christ had revealed to him regarding the "gathering together with Christ" of those dead in Christ and those remaining alive when He returned. He opens by foretelling, first of all, that Christ's return will be preceded by a period of apostasy that could include anything from a falling away, a departure from doctrine or teaching, all the way to and including an outright political rebellion.
The second sign would be the appearance of the man of sin. This person has four different names or titles, but all of them are described similarly: the man of sin (II Thessalonians 2:3-10), the little horn (Daniel 7:8), the two-horned lamb who spoke like a dragon (Revelation 13:11-18), and the false prophet (Revelation 19:20). The description in each location is not exactly alike, but each adds to what the other gives. Consider this summary of comparisons.
In each case, the person described appears at the time of the end. This is the one piece of information that every one of them has in common.
In three of the four, his end—his destruction or annihilation—comes at the return of Jesus Christ (Daniel 7:8-9; II Thessalonians 2:3; Revelation 19:20).
In three of the four, it directly states or strongly implies the person speaks with great pompous words (Daniel 7:8-9; II Thessalonians 2:4; Revelation 13:11-14).
In three of the four, it directly states the person does miraculous, supernatural signs (II Thessalonians 2:9; Revelation 13:13-15; Revelation 19:20).
In two of them, the signs are done in the presence of the Beast, showing they are not the same figure (Revelation 13:13-15; 19:20).
In two of them, he deceives and leads people into idolatry (II Thessalonians 2:4,9-10; Revelation 13:12,14).
In two of them, he either makes war against the saints or causes those who would not worship the beast to be put to death (Daniel 7:21; Revelation 13:15).
In two of them, he either thinks to change times and law—suggesting the law of God—or he sets himself in the Temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. The implication is that he has the authority to do these things (Daniel 7:25; II Thessalonians 2:4).
In two of them, his period of greatest influence is three and a half years (Daniel 7:25; Revelation 13:5).
All of these scriptures are describing the same person. The Bible shows that this person—the man of sin—has a direct connection to a large political power and has a religious influence. It should be understood that we are dealing with a personage and with prophecies of global significance.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Place of Safety? (Part 4)
A major question about II Thessalonians 2 is the scope of the described events. One interpretation is that it is a localized occurrence, in the sense of it happening just within the “little flock”—the church. A second interpretation is that since “the falling away” contains the definite article, it refers to a unique event in man's history, far greater than anything that has happened before. In contrast, the church has had periods of strength and weakness all throughout its history—it goes through cycles of rallying around truth and then gradually letting it slip. This second, universal interpretation is a better fit because, when we look at the whole passage, the events and personalities are worldwide in scope.
Remember, this falling away sets the stage for the man of sin, who will have tremendous influence over humanity. Paul is not writing about apostasy in a small group of people that will give rise to an international personality, but an event on the world scene that creates the right environment to catapult this figure, backed by the power of Satan, to the heights of power.
Paul, then, is letting the church know that it need not be concerned about missing the end time. The events leading up to the Day of the Lord will be unmistakable to those with eyes to see. What will happen will affect the entire world, even though the world will not grasp the spiritual significance.
A falling away is taking place right now. Whether it turns out to be the falling away remains to be seen. Right now, though, we are witnessing a steady defection from the basic principles of the Bible, away from what we call the Judeo-Christian ethic. This is not brand new, but it is picking up speed. We need to be reminded of it because it can have a detrimental effect on us.
Apostasy is a defection from truth—a forsaking of one spiritual approach in favor of another. In the Old Testament, many of the kings and eventually the whole nation of Israel rebelled against God and chose opposing belief systems. We are seeing the same thing today, but at times, it is harder to recognize because we are accustomed to it, and it is not happening overnight. In the books of Kings and Chronicles, we can read the record of a given king who turned away from God and served the Baals, and the foolishness sounds quick and casual because we are reading a summary. But when a falling away happens around us, perhaps even beginning before we were born, it is easy for our minds to adjust to the point that we almost forget the continuing rebellion against God and His way.
David C. Grabbe
The Falling Away
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing 2 Thessalonians 2:3:
2 Thessalonians 2:3-4
2 Thessalonians 2:3-10
2 Thessalonians 2:3-10
2 Thessalonians 2:3
2 Thessalonians 2:9-12