Apostasy and the Day of the Lord

by Mike Ratliff

1 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 (NASB) 

Before we dig into this passage let me make it clear that I am not an eschatology “expert” or “specialist.” I believe eschatology is important and we should learn as much as we can from God’s Word about it because it is the fulfillment of God’s plan for His creation and His people. All I know to do is to look at what God’s Word says, keep it in context and make room for the Holy Spirit to write those truths on our hearts.

1 Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. 3 While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3 (NASB) 

It is obvious that Paul was responding to one or more questions from the Thessalonians about the coming of the day of Lord. These questions were sent to Paul via Timothy. What is this reference to “the times and seasons?” This phrase in the Greek source for this passage is τῶν χρόνων καὶ τῶν καιρῶν, This is strikingly similar to our Lord’s own words in Acts 1:7 just prior to His Ascension in response to His disciples questions about the fulfillment of the Kingdom.

7 εἶπεν δὲ πρὸς αὐτούς· οὐχ ὑμῶν ἐστιν γνῶναι χρόνους ἢ καιροὺς οὓς ὁ πατὴρ ἔθετο ἐν τῇ ἰδίᾳ ἐξουσίᾳ, Acts 1:7 (NA28)

7 But He said to them, it is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has set by His own authority, Acts 1:7 (translated from the NA28 Greek text)

Here the words I translated as “times or seasons” are χρόνους ἢ καιροὺς. These are the same words used in 1 Thessalonians 5:1, but here they are in the anarthrous form while they are not in Paul’s letter. The anarthrous refers to a word or group of words that appear without a definite article. Anarthrous constructions are most often intended to point out the quality of something. In other words, our Lord Jesus was telling His disciples and us that even though no one on this side of eternity is to know the date or time or season of the day of the Lord, it is so important that the Father has fixed it by His own authority and we are not able to determine it ourselves. In 1 Thessalonians 5:1, the question being answered likely arose from anxiety about some false teaching that the day of the Lord had already come. Paul reassures them that they should not worry about it based on his previous teachings.

The words “day of the Lord” are the Greek words ἡμέρα κυρίου, which literally says, “day of Lord.” What is this? Biblical references to this and other terms that mean the same thing are Matthew 7:22, Luke 10:12, 2 Thessalonians 1:10. It is referred to in the Bible as that great Day of the Lord, the day of judgment, that Day, the last day. These all refer to this ημερα κυριου. In 1 Corinthians 4:3, man’s day speaks of the opposition to the coming of the Lord. The Day of Christ or Day of our Lord Jesus Christ will appear and take His Church unto Himself.

How will this ἡμέρα κυρίου come? It will come suddenly like a thief in the night. Some will not be prepared while others will be. Those who are prepared are those in Christ. Those unprepared are not.

4 But you, brethren, are not in darkness, that the day would overtake you like a thief; 5 for you are all sons of light and sons of day. We are not of night nor of darkness; 6 so then let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. 7 For those who sleep do their sleeping at night, and those who get drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:4-11 (NASB) 

The prepared are not in darkness, but are children of light, children of the day. The unprepared are in darkness and are of the night. The prepared keep awake and sober. This means that they take God and His will seriously. They seek to walk before His face as living sacrifices being transformed by the renewal of their minds. However, the unprepared are temporally focused and do not walk by faith because they do not possess it. They do not wear the helmet of the hope of salvation because they know it not. The prepared wear the breastplate of faith and love and the hope of salvation as a helmet. Why is it that we are not destined for wrath my brethren? We have a propitiation that is Christ. His shed blood satisfied God’s wrath against our sins. The unprepared are still in their sins. The reference to those who are awake are the still living believers while those asleep are those who have already died in Christ.

If you read the passage I placed at the top of this post, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4, then you also should know that the ἡμέρα κυρίου will not come unless two things are fulfilled. For it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. These two things are the rebellion or apostasy and there must be a revelation of the Man of Lawlessness. Here is 2 Thessalonians 2:3 in Greek: Μή τις ὑμᾶς ἐξαπατήσῃ κατὰ μηδένα τρόπον. ὅτι ἐὰν μὴ ἔλθῃ ἡ ἀποστασία πρῶτον καὶ ἀποκαλυφθῇ ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας, ὁ υἱὸς τῆς ἀπωλείας,. The word rendered as apostasy in the NASB is ἀποστασία (apostasia).

As for the ἀποστασία (apostasia),  the word Paul uses here is used throughout the Septuagint (LXX) and elsewhere in the New Testament to speak of a religious crisis of some sort facing God’s people—a falling away from the faith in some sense. As Beale points out, “Such a meaning is apparent because of the immediate context of false teaching (vv. 1-2 and vv. 9-12) and the clear allusions to Daniel’s prediction of an end-time opponent who will bring about a large-scale compromise of faith among God’s people.” This seems to connect Paul’s comments to both John’s and our Lord’s warning about false teachers and people who claim to be believers but who fall away and take a number of followers with them (see Matt. 24:10-12, 23-24; 1 John 2:18-19). 1

I ask you my brethren, are we seeing anything in our time that appears to be place settings for this ἀποστασία? I believe the “temple of God” Paul is referring to here is the Church. There is no literal temple in Jerusalem. It was destroyed in 70A.D. In any case, the man of sin or man of lawlessness is often referred to as the Antichrist. The word Paul used in this passage that is translated as “revealed,” referring to the unveiling of this antichrist is ἀποκαλυφθῇ.

It is important to notice that Paul says the lawless one will be revealed (apocalypsis)–language that seems to make him a counterfeit redeemer with a counterfeit unveiling. The same verb is used by Paul of Jesus in the previous chapter (2 Thess. 1:7) and is used again in this chapter in reference to the coming of the Man of Sin in verses 6 and 8. The revelation of the Man of Lawlessness mocks the revelation of Jesus Christ. The Man of Sin is a counterfeit and a usurper. This fits with the counterfeit Trinity in the Book of Revelation (the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet), which mimics our Lord’s death, resurrection, and second advent in the beast who was, who is, and who will come again only to be judged and destroyed by Christ himself.2

There is so much more we could delve into on this, but it is outside of the scope of the purpose of this post. We are to be encouraged by Paul’s words to the Church in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. Until the apostasy and the man of sin is revealed we must continue to serve our Lord according to His will in all things. Those events and what happens next is in God’s capable hands.

Soli Deo Gloria!

1 Riddlebarger, Kim, The Man of Sin,(Grand Rapids,Baker Books, 2006), p125.

2Ibid, p 126.