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What the Bible says about Falling Away
(From Forerunner Commentary)

2 Thessalonians 2:1-3

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

2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

Already some had lost heart to the point that they were saying, "Christ has already come. He is here on earth." So they had little to look forward to.

John W. Ritenbaugh
How to Know We Love Christ

2 Thessalonians 2:3

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!

2 Thessalonians 2:3

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

2 Thessalonians 2:3-10

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)

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4

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

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4

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

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4

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

2 Thessalonians 2:7

Pressure was mounting for these people. Jewish civilization was in turmoil. It would not come to a climax for some nineteen years after this in AD 69. An end would come upon Judea in 70 AD The church was already beginning to experience some of that turmoil. About a dozen years after the writing of I and II Thessalonians, Nero was emperor in Rome and persecuting Christians.

Tribulation against Christians broke out in one place and then another. It was scattered all over the world, a little bit here, a little bit there, some in Rome, some in Corinth, some in Thessalonica, some down in Jerusalem. Gradually, it built until the church was driven to the wilderness for 1,260 years, where it barely maintained its existence.

We cannot depend on that escape; that prophecy has been fulfilled. There will be no running away, not this time. There will be no disappearing into the woodwork, except for those to whom God gives the privilege of going to the Place of Safety. And who knows what true Christians will have to face between now and then? As it intensifies, the time of the end will be a very tumultuous period. We find in verse 10 that some were falling away, and unfortunately, that will be the "escape" some choose to take.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Don't Be a Prudent Agnostic

Hebrews 2:1-4

Paul's warning to the Hebrews here is a bit stronger than what he says in Philippians 1:27. He says there, "Let's all with one mind strive together to keep the faith of the gospel." Here he says, "Give earnest heed to the doctrine, to the gospel, to the things we heard, because we're in danger of losing it!" He feels he must frighten them, saying, "Don't you remember that under the Mosaic dispensation people were punished very severely for neglecting what they had heard? Every transgression and disobedience received a just reward. How much greater under the dispensation through Christ, the Son?" He is quite serious. Work hard. Be diligent. Make your calling sure!

It is about this same time that Peter and Jude add their voices to his. The brethren were undergoing a rough time because false ministers and false teachers were in the church, and like us, they also had to fight off the pressures from the world to conform. It takes great effort to resist both in the church and out in the world. When there are problems among us, it is tough. When we must also resist all the downward pulls outside in society, it is a difficult, sore trial. Thus, Paul uses particularly strong language to motivate them to stand up, face the problem, give it their all, and vanquish it.

Are we in a similar circumstance? Perhaps some of the details are different; the deception has taken a somewhat different form (this time we do not have to contend with Gnosticism, per se). However, there is enough similarity that warnings here, as well as in the books of Peter, John, and Jude, make a lot of sense. Certainly the results, the fruit of false teaching, are the same: apostasy, falling away, confusion, distrust (especially of those who have been given a measure of authority, the ministry), scattering, and disunity. The apostles, then, are speaking to us.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Jude

Hebrews 3:12-14

We all need to guard against unbelief as we would against an enemy. Paul is not speaking about a heart in which unbelief is merely present, but a heart that is controlled by unbelief, the kind of heart that will drag a person down even as Peter was dragged down into Galilee's water when he took his eyes off of Jesus. The peril of unbelief is that it breaks the trust on which our relationship with God is based. Unbelief leads to falling away, which is the opposite of drawing near. "Drawing near" is a major theme of Hebrews.

Falling away is the supreme disaster of life, the ultimate defeat, because it completely thwarts God's purpose for creation. It is essential we remember that when a person falls away, he is not merely falling away from a doctrine or even a set of doctrines, but from a living, dynamic Personality.

Faith needs to be cultivated. It grows by reading and studying God's Word, and by meditating on it. It grows in an atmosphere of trial or experience because it is exercised through use. It also grows, as we find here in these three verses, in an atmosphere of exhortation from others who are fellowshipping with us. Exhortation is a preventative of falling away, which is a major reason why fellowship is so necessary. Without it, a person may hold his own, and perhaps his faith will not slip very much, but one who is not fellowshipping with others of like mind will rarely ever grow.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Faith and Prayer

Hebrews 6:4-6

These verses give great difficulty to those who believe in an unconditional salvation. It is very clear that anyone who fits this description will not be in God's Kingdom.

If it were not possible for us to fall away, why would Paul even write as he did in I Corinthians 9:27? "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified [castaway, KJV]." He also warns in Colossians 1:22-23:

In the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and irreproachable in His sight - if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister.

John W. Ritenbaugh
After Pentecost, Then What?

Hebrews 6:4-6

These verses mean exactly what they say. Every Protestant commentary has trouble with this because, to them, justification and salvation are the same thing, but they are not!Their belief flies in the face of the reality of God's Word. A person who has been justified can fall away, just as verse 6 says. This is reiterated in Hebrews 10:26-31, in what is arguably the strongest language in the entire Bible.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part Twenty-Nine)

2 Peter 1:10-11

For those who believe in the doctrine of eternal security, II Peter 1:10-11 is a particularly difficult passage to dispute because it exposes the lie in this infernal teaching. It does this by stating a simple command that God asks us to carry out.

The inverse is also true; if we fail to do what Peter advises, then our calling and election are not sure. Beyond that, if we stumble, an entrance will not be supplied to us into the Kingdom of God.

God has done His part. He called or elected us out of all the billions on this planet. He forgave us, granted us repentance, and gave us His Holy Spirit. He opened up the truth to us and revealed Himself and His way of life to us. He made the New Covenant with us, supplying us with spiritual gifts, love, and faith. There is no end to what He has done for us.

Nevertheless, if we do not reciprocate, the relationship He has begun will fall apart. Our calling and election are not certain without us doing our part. We can fall away and not make it into the Kingdom of God.

Why did Peter write this to the whole church (verse 1)? He wrote it because the church at the time was experiencing various apostasies (II Peter 2:3). False teachers were bringing into the church destructive doctrines to turn the people away.

Why would Satan put false teachers in the church if there was no chance for the people to fall away? If church members have eternal security, why waste his time on them? However, Satan himself knows that Christians do not have eternal security, and he tries his best to turn us into apostates. We can fall away!

Peter was writing in this atmosphere. The people in the first-century church were living in a time of false teachings, false teachers, and apostasy, and he needed to warn them. "For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth" (II Peter 1:12).

This, too, begs the question: Why did Peter command them to make their calling and election sure? If they had the truth, and he admitted that they were established in it, why did they have to make it "sure"? In making their calling and election sure, they would be doing the one thing that would keep them on the right path to the Kingdom. Christians keep themselves from falling into deception, error, and sin - keep themselves from apostatizing and losing their salvation - by validating their conversion.

When a thing is validated, it is objectively determined to be genuine, true, real, authentic, or legitimate. How do Christians validate their calling and election? The answer is simple. Jesus describes it in Matthew 7:16-20: We validate our calling and election by producing fruit. Jesus expounds on this in His Passover message in John 15:

I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away. And every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. . . . As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered. And they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. . . . By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (verses 1-2, 4-6, 8)

This blows the eternal security doctrine to smithereens. Our Savior, Jesus Christ - our Judge - says that if we do not bear fruit, God will take us away and throw us into the fire! If we bear fruit, however, we will glorify the Father and truly be disciples of Christ, that is, true Christians!

We validate our calling by growing in grace and knowledge (II Peter 3:18). If we are showing love to the brethren, if we are serving as opportunity permits, if we are deepening our relationship with God, we can be certain that our calling and election are still firmly in force.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Do We Have 'Eternal Security'?

2 Peter 3:3-4

Things are not continuing as they were, and the reason we know this is because God has given us discernment of the times and seasons in which we are living. Life is not going to continue the way it is: It will get worse before it gets better. So Peter is reminding us.

By the time Peter wrote this (scholars date II Peter in 64 AD), the world is in real turmoil. The world seems to be falling apart. Jerusalem, especially, is a powderkeg. Christians are being blamed for the trouble being incited in Rome.

However, the New Testament writers reveal to us that they saw the church going to sleep. We can imagine such a thing because many of us have experienced this in our own time. At the most critical juncture of history for the church, the Parable of the Ten Virgins in Matthew 25 shows the church asleep—all ten were asleep, not just five of them. The parable specifically spotlights the virgins slumbering and sleeping at the time of the end, and it happened in the first century too, just before the destruction of the Temple, which was "an end."

It is an incongruity that seems almost impossible to believe. With all this excitement going on, instead of being stirred up to press on toward the Kingdom of God, the church instead—much of it, anyway—was doing what the Thessalonians were doing, just waiting it out. Not everybody did that, and it is a good thing or Christianity would have died out.

The apostles were certainly stirred up. There is no doubt about it because they wrote about it. These people were doing exactly what the apostles were warning them of: They were walking after their own lusts or desires.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Don't Be a Prudent Agnostic

Revelation 2:4-5

To paraphrase Christ's advice to the Ephesian church in Revelation 2, He says, "Renew your devotion to Me. Go back to the first works. You have left your first love. Renew your earlier devotion to Me."

Devotion is the sense in which the word "love" (agape) is being used. Devotion literally means "to vow completely." Baptism is the outward show that one has vowed to give his life to God, and so "devotion" implies complete dedication, total surrender. This hints at the Ephesians' problem: Their devotion—their complete dedication—was slipping away.

Devotion is a deep and ardent affection, a feeling. Its synonym are "attentiveness," "dedication," "commitment," "earnestness," but all with a feeling of affection. Devotion is not given out of a sense of obligation only, but with a warm feeling or a passionate desire. Jesus' charge to the Ephesians to return to their earlier devotion is not something that He is asking to be done merely as a duty. Some antonyms of "devotion" can help us see it from another angle: indifference, negligent, unconcerned, disregard, infidelity, and faithlessness.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Loving Christ and Revelation 2:1-7


 




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