By Mondo Gonzales
This topic has been on my mind for quite some time. There are various ramifications that come from getting this section of Scripture accurately interpreted. There are basically two views when it comes to understanding the apostasy as found in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. Most believe that before the tribulation begins, there is an apostasy of the church that happens at some point in the future. My contention in this article is that the apostasy is not referring to the church, but instead to the leaders of the Jewish nation. No doubt, there is an apostasy of the church that happens which is in accordance with 1 Timothy 4:1, but 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is not referring to the church, but to national Jewish apostasy.
Getting this section of Scripture correct contributes to our understanding of the timing of the rapture, the nature and start of the Day of the Lord (DOTL), the arrival of the antichrist, the coming apostasy, and navigating the waters of potential pre-tribulational church persecution. In addition, there are some technical details in the Greek that contribute to where someone lands when understanding the transition between the church age and the start of the tribulation. Before jumping into 2 Thessalonians 2, it would be good to review the context and history of Paul’s interactions with the church at Thessalonica in order to have confidence in the interpretation of this section.
After Paul was beaten and imprisoned in Philippi, he departed and came to the city of Thessalonica (Acts 17:1-12). He preached for only 3 sabbaths. So, this could be as little as 15 days or as much as 27 days of teaching the Thessalonians about the gospel which included prophecies related to Jesus’s second coming. The important element here is to recognize that after Paul founded the church, he was not there very long. Even in the short time Paul was sharing the fundamentals of the gospel, he believed teaching eschatology was so vital that he taught them many complex details of the nature of the antichrist and the future tribulation period (2 Thess 2:5). This should speak volumes to those pastors that do not feel eschatology is important enough to teach new believers.
Understanding the frame of mind of the Thessalonian believers is important. The founding of the church was surrounded by controversy and resistance from the beginning. Paul, having just been physically assaulted and imprisoned in Philippi, came to the synagogue at Thessalonica preaching about Jesus. Many of the Thessalonians who came to believe did it under the threat of persecution themselves, which they eventually suffered. We know this is true because not long after Paul left Thessalonica, he wrote his first epistle to them. Paul writes, “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess 1:6). We learn also that Paul was concerned about their new faith and sent Timothy back to check on them. Paul reminded them to stay true in the midst of trouble. He instructs, “that no one be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this. For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know” (1 Thess 3:3-4; see also 2:14; 3:7).
When we come to his second epistle, we learn that their afflictions and persecutions were still happening. Paul says, “Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring” (2 Thess 1:4). It is fair to say that two of the biggest themes in these two epistles are understanding the prophetic end times and also how to persevere in suffering/affliction. This leads us to understanding specifically the background of 2 Thessalonians 2.
It would be helpful to outline the section that interests us for the purpose of this article (2:1-12). Before we do that, it is wise to remember that Paul addressed the theological truth that the church will not be subject to the eschatological wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10; 5:9). The wrath in context is clearly a reference to the day of the Lord (DOTL) which is also known as the 7-year tribulation (1 Thess 5:2-9). This is one of the many reasons that we believe in a pre-tribulational rapture. Paul teaches believers to, “wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thess 1:10).
After encouraging the Thessalonians that they did not need any more instruction about the times and seasons, he again comforts them (5:1, 11). He tells them that the unbelieving world which is saying “peace and safety” will not escape judgment. He specifically says that this judgment will come upon them (the wicked) which denotes that it will not come upon the church.
Since we are children of the light, we will be always be ready for His return. It is with this encouragement that we know, in addition to being delivered from the wrath to come (1:10), we are saved from the future 7-year tribulation DOTL as Paul writes, “But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:8-9). It is no surprise then to acknowledge that Paul wrote about the details of the rapture in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 which is clearly before discussing the DOTL in chapter 5.
Think back to when you were a new believer. You were learning about the many doctrines of the Bible. Now, add on some persecution and affliction because of your new faith. It is a lot to take in. This was the situation with the Thessalonians. In addition, Paul had been teaching them about the rescue of the rapture prior to the DOTL, the arrival of the antichrist, his coming to the temple in Jerusalem, the increased worldwide trouble and affliction. Things were getting even more intense for them, and this led to much confusion. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul clarifies some issues concerning the rapture. They thought their loved ones who were believers and died would miss out on the rapture. They were grieved over this. Instead, Paul taught them that those that died would not miss out on the rapture at all, but in fact be raised from the dead first.
This same type of confusion was happening again. Paul got news that they were confused about some of the details concerning the rapture and the start of the DOTL. Since the persecution was continuing, they began to hear rumors from an unknown source that the DOTL had started. Naturally, this would have confused the Thessalonians since Paul taught them that they would be raptured prior to the start of the DOTL. Paul chose to write them another letter of encouragement (2 Thessalonians) to remind them of details that he had already taught them.
The summary of the section could be like this. In 2:1-3 the main point is that Paul seeks to correct the confusion about the end of the age scenario. In verse 1, he brings up the rapture (“our gathering together to Him”) letting them know that he understands why it was possible for them to be confused. He also asks them not to be shaken or alarmed that the day of the Lord was already present (2:2). In verse 3, he reminds them not to be deceived and that the DOTL cannot be present because the apostasy and the revelation of the antichrist had not occurred. In verse 4, he discussed the very act of the antichrist declaring himself to be god in the temple itself. He then reminds them in verse 5 that he had already explained these things to them. Verses 6-8 discuss the work of the restrainer and how the antichrist will be revealed. Verses 9-12 discuss the supernatural arrival and work of the antichrist and the deception that will ensue because people reject the gospel and the truth.
Now that we have covered the background and introduction, it will be helpful to zoom in on some specifics in 2:1-3. If we do not see the flow of these verses, we will be confused as we discuss the details of verse 3 concerning the meaning of the apostasy. Let’s do this one verse at a time with some commentary.
2 Thessalonians 2:1
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers…”
Just prior to this Paul had been speaking in general terms about the revealing of Jesus and the day of His coming (1:7, 10). It is in 2:1 that he transitions to specifics about the relationship between the rapture and the day of the Lord’s arrival. As we see in 2:5, all these things in verses 1-4 had already been taught by Paul previously. This was either in written form (the epistle of 1 Thessalonians) or in person or both. It is crystal clear in 2:1 that Paul brings up the topic of the rapture. This intimate language of “being gathered together to Him” is reminiscent of John 14:1-3 (“receive you to myself”) as well as “and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:17). Both of these passages are a clear reference to the rapture concept. The final thing to note that comes from this verse is that Paul is going to ask something of the Thessalonian believers which connects with the rapture.
2 Thessalonians 2:2
“…not to be easily shaken from your composure or frightened neither by any kind of spirit nor message nor letter allegedly from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already present.”
The first phrase is what Paul begins to ask in the previous verse. He is asking the Thessalonians not to be shaken or frightened to the effect that the day of the Lord (DOTL) was already present. Why would they think the DOTL was already present? There are two things which could have contributed to this error. The first is that a rumor had come to Thessalonica that the DOTL was already present. Paul was not sure whether this rumor began through someone claiming a spiritual revelation or whether it was an oral message or through a written letter allegedly sent by Paul. The second thing which could have contributed to their being misled and becoming frightened was that they were still experiencing affliction. These two items caused the Thessalonians to become worried, frightened, and alarmed. Paul writes to them and asks them not to lose their composure nor to think that the DOTL was already present. In fact, they should know better based on his previous teachings (cf. 2:5).
Before moving on from verse 2, there is an extremely important phrase that must be addressed, and it has to do with the last words of the verse. Some versions introduce some unnecessary confusion into the mix. For example, the KJV reads, “as that the day of Christ is at hand” (2 Thess 2:2). The ESV and NASB says, “to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.” Let’s summarize what Paul is communicating. He is arguing against a false rumor that the Thessalonians were at risk to believe in this verse. There are three options as to what this wrong thinking entails:
- If we follow the KJV, Paul would be asking the Thessalonians not to believe the rumor that the day of the Lord (Christ) is at hand. This is an unfortunate translation because the very nature of the rapture and the start of the DOTL in all other NT teaching is that it is always at hand (see Rom 13:12; Phil 4:5; 1 Thess 5:2; 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 3:10; Rev 1:3; 22:10). Paul would be saying to them, “The idea that the day of the Lord is at hand is false. Do not believe this.” Yet we know this translation cannot be accurate because of the above Scriptures. More on this below.
- According to the ESV and NASB in verses 2-3, the argument Paul would be making is not to believe the rumor that the DOTL has come because the apostasy must happen first and the man of sin be revealed. This leads to the conclusion that these two items must precede the start of the DOTL. This causes unnecessary complications as I will show below.
- The other more literal translation which is found in most exegetical commentaries says “to the effect that the day of the Lord is already present.” If we look at the Greek words here and compare them with other Pauline writing it becomes crystal clear that this is the best translation (Rom 8:38; 1 Cor 3:22; 7:26; Gal 1:14; Heb 9:9). Paul would then be saying that the Thessalonians should not be worried about the rumor that the DOTL was present. In fact, if it was present and they were living in the DOTL, the apostasy would have happened first and the man of sin would be revealed. Since neither of these have occurred in the present, then there is no worry at all that the DOTL has started.
It would be good to examine each of these options in order and to develop the thinking as we see in the English translations. Looking at Number 1, The KJV creates problems because to say that the DOTL is not at hand is contradictory to many other passages (including Paul himself) as I listed above. Here is a quote from the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary where Gary Shogren writes what he believes Paul was arguing against which fits in line with the KJV translation. “Therefore, as nearly as we can tell, rumor had it that the signs of the end are upon us already! They fulfill the predictions made by the prophets and the Lord Jesus. Therefore, the day of the Lord and return of Christ are imminent. Paul refutes this by showing that, based on what they already know, the day of the Lord and thus the Parousia cannot be imminent. If the Man of Lawlessness has not appeared, the “restrainer” is still in place. Ipso facto, the day of the Lord has not come, nor is it even necessarily close; thus, they should not be in distress” (p. 277). This cannot be the proper translation and interpretation because as I mentioned above, the Bible clearly teaches in many places that the DOTL will come like a thief in the night.
For example, “For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thess 5:2). The thief in the night language shows that the DOTL will come as a surprise to those not prepared. This is consistent with Luke 21:34-35 which reads, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth.”
In another section, Gary Shogren recognizes the potential contradiction of the KJV translation with other New Testament theology when he pens, “In 1 Thess 5:2, the day is like a thief in the night; yet according to 2 Thess 2 the believers can know that the day is not at hand. Some scholars have wondered how Paul could have taught two programs that were apparently at variance with each other: in the first, the day of the Lord comes suddenly and surprises everyone; in the second, the day of the Lord cannot come now, because there are signs that must first take place” (p. 36). If we acknowledge that “at hand” is not the proper translation of 2 Thess 2:2, then the whole potential contradiction disappears. I will show why this is the case.
As we examine Number 2 and put it in the context of the verses 2-3, Paul would we be saying that the DOTL cannot come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of sin be revealed. This has led many Bible teachers to make the conclusion that these two events must precede the start of the tribulation and occur in the church age or after in a gap period before the start of the DOTL. For example, Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum in his book, Footsteps of the Messiah deduces from this translation that there will be two revelations of the antichrist. One that precedes the tribulation and will be given somehow to the believers who are alive at that time (p. 566-567). This revealing could occur to the church or to believers who get saved after the rapture in the gap. The second revelation of the antichrist, according to Fruchtenbaum, will be to Israel at the midpoint of the tribulation when he declares himself to be god (2 Thess 2:4). The other event which precedes the DOTL for Dr. Fruchtenbaum is the apostasy. This certainly could be possible, but it creates some other complications which we will address subsequently.
Looking at Number 3, this translation (“already present” from v. 2) has the best and most solid credibility and also creates far less complications. In addition, it helps bring out some increased clarity as it relates to the apostasy which is the main topic of this article. There are some technical details here from the Greek, but it is worth discussing. We will return to the specifics of the last phrase of verse 2 (“already present”) after examining the flow from verse 2 into 3. Here is the NASB, “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” (2 Thess 2:2-3).
The reason I chose the NASB here is that it is the more literal translation. You can see the topic of verse 2 is the DOTL and then leads into verse 3. But notice in verse 3 that the phrase “it will come” is in italics. Most other translations say something like “for that day will not come” (ESV, NKJV, NIV). This phrase in italics in the NASB is not in the Greek at all and these translations simply add these clarifying words in the text to try and help. The other versions do not italicize these words and so they don’t let us know they are doing this. For those that do not read Greek, I recommend consulting the Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) which is very strict and literal but can seem awkward to modern readers. Notice how rough verse 3 reads, “let not anyone deceive you in any manner, because — if the falling away may not come first, and the man of sin be revealed — the son of the destruction.” There is no “then” ending. What scholars recognize is that Paul begins verse 3 with a conditional “if” or “unless” (Greek ean) which is called a protasis. Generally, it almost always contains the apodosis (the then clause).
This is not as complicated as it sounds so hang with me. We use these all the time in normal language and generally call them “if/then” clauses. However, there are other times when we leave out details in the then statement. Robert Thomas, in his article, “The Rapture and the Biblical Teaching of Imminence” which is in the book, Evidence for the Rapture, writes, “We might say, ‘I am going to the store, then home.’ In the last clause, we need to supply the verb from the first clause, ‘then I am going home’” (p. 38).
Going back to verse 3, we see that Paul uses an if, but never supplies a then statement. So, the translators are seeking to help us understand that the then statement is about the day of the Lord which appears explicitly at the end of verse 2. The translation of verse 3 in the NASB says, “Let no one in any way deceive you for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first…” The “it” is the “day of the Lord” phrase from verse 2. The NASB is including the noun “it” and the verb “will not come” in verse 3, even though it is not there, but it certainly is implied. I have included all this precision in order to establish where we are going next with the best translation of verse 2.
The Importance of the phrase “already present.”
To refresh our memory as was shown in number 3 above, 2 Thessalonians 2:2 should read, “…not to be easily shaken from your composure or frightened neither by any kind of spirit nor message nor letter allegedly from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already present.” This might not seem very important, but it is extremely important as I will explain. Paul is telling the Thessalonians they should not be disturbed, worried, or to have any anxiety in thinking that the day of the Lord is present. This means being present as Paul is writing his letter to them. Henry Alford, in his Exegetical Critical Commentary is very adamant about this. He agrees with the above translation noting that the Greek word enistemi occurs six times in the New Testament and always in the sense of “being present” (p. 289). In fact, in Romans 8:38 and 1 Corinthians 3:22 the phrase “things present” (Greek verb enistemi) and “things about to come” (Greek mellonta) are used side by side. Therefore, the absolute best translation of this word in verse 2 should be read as above, but what does it mean?
Robert Thomas does an excellent job of showing the importance of this phraseology. In the same article referenced above, he writes, “The issue involved in his correction of the false information to which the readers [Thessalonians] had been exposed is not the future coming of the day of the Lord; it is rather the current non-presence of that day at the time he writes and they read his words. If that day were not present, then they could not be in that day. For example, suppose I say, ‘In the northern states, the fall season will not come unless the weather gets colder first and the tree leaves change their colors.’ This sentence might imply that the weather gets colder and the tree leaves change their colors before the fall season comes. But this is not true. These changes do not occur before the fall but are part of the fall season. But if I say, ‘The fall season is not present (is not here) unless the weather gets colder first and the tree leaves change their colors,’ this implies something different. The cooler weather happens first, and then the colors of the leaves change. These two factors take place within the fall season and indicate its arrival. They do not occur before the fall season arrives” (emphases mine).
To summarize this important phrase, we are going to be discussing the apostasy (rebellion) coming first and the man of lawlessness being revealed. What this means is that the apostasy which arrives first and the man of sin being revealed happens within the 7-year tribulation period (DOTL) and does not precede it. Robert Thomas gives more grammatical evidence and parallels (John 7:51; Mark 3:27) in his article as to why these two items are considered to be within the tribulation period and not outside of it in any way.
With this understanding we can remove the Number 2 translation above as being an option. It also would eliminate the need to say that the apostasy and revelation of the man of sin precedes the start of the DOTL. It is rare that I disagree with Dr. Fruchtenbaum, but in this instance, if we translate it accurately, there is no need to look for a revelation of the antichrist before the start of the DOTL. In addition, this also means that the apostasy we are looking for does not precede the start of the DOTL either.
Another unintended consequence for those maintaining the Number 2 translation is that it gives those espousing a pre-wrath position footing in proposing that the day of the Lord only entails the 2nd half of the tribulation (3.5 years). For them, they will say that those two items must precede the beginning of the 3.5 years DOTL. No matter the merits of this assertion, if we recognize that Number 3 above is the most reflective of the Greek verb enistemi it immediately removes their claim as an option.
Based on Number 3, we can easily recognize that the first event that happens within the tribulation period is the apostasy happening at the start. This can only happen within the DOTL. These are the beginning stages of the 7-year DOTL. This phraseology reveals additional aspects of the timing and also helps shape our understanding to uncover who is involved in THE apostasy of 2:3.
In closing this section, it might be helpful to say that this translation of “already present” is not so unconventional. FF Bruce, Robert Thomas, Charles Wanamaker, Ernest Best, among others, recognize that this is the best translation. The NET translation, from the scholars at Dallas Theological Seminary have something very close in words, but the exact same meaning.
It reads, “…not to be easily shaken from your composure or disturbed by any kind of spirit or message or letter allegedly from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not arrive until the rebellion comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction” (2 Thess 2:2-3 NET). The NET is known for bringing out the exact nuances of the Greek. Their rendition “already here” is the same meaning as “already present.”
It is interesting that in verse 3 they left out the word “first” which is clearly in the Greek, but instead they included the thought by using the word “until” as a connector. Therefore, the DOTL will not arrive (be present) until the rebellion comes first. These translators recognize that the first stage for the DOTL to arrive (be present) is the rebellion/apostasy happening first.
2 Thessalonians 2:2-3
“…not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already present. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day is not present, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.”
One comment should be noted right up front which will help blunt the assertion that 2:1-3 is evidence of a pre-wrath rapture. Some people recognize that the rapture is being discussed in verse 1 and since verse 2-3 say that “that day cannot come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of sin revealed,” they think this proves a mid-trib position. But “that day” does not refer to the day of the rapture of verse 1, but instead very specifically to the “day of the Lord” as found in verse 2. Paul introduces the topic of the rapture as noting the topic of end time events in verse 1, but then in verse 2 he specifically transitions to the topic of the 7-year tribulation and the DOTL. This makes great sense that he would introduce the topic of the rapture prior to discussing the DOTL and its beginning because the rapture precedes the start of the DOTL.
So, what is the apostasy mentioned in 2:3? Without getting into the full debate, I will mention that some people see the apostasy as a physical departure (the rapture) while others see it as a spiritual rebellion against God. There are godly people on both sides, but I think Lee Brainard’s book, The Apostasia handles all the assertions and objections masterfully. He shows through a variety of arguments that far and away the best translation for apostasia is “spiritual rebellion.” Therefore, I am going to be addressing the apostasy from that angle of spiritual rebellion or spiritual apostasy.
The title of this article and the question before us remains: Is this the spiritual apostasy of the church or of the Jews/Israel? Let me address this from the context. The context from verse 2 and into verse 3 immediately preceding the apostasy is the Day of the Lord. The 7-year tribulation period.
Here are some questions to ponder as we dive a little deeper.
- What is the focus of the Day of the Lord (Jer 30:7; Dan 9:24, 27; Hosea 5:15)?
- What is the tell-tale sign that the 7-year tribulation has begun and is present (Daniel 9:27)?
- Who is Jesus is talking about in John 5:43? What does it mean for the Jews to receive this other person? (As Messiah or Christ?)
- When will the Jews receive this other person as Christ?
- In 2 Thess 2:3 it says THE apostasy. If this is the apostasy of the church, how will we know exactly when it happens?
- If 2 Thess 2:3 is in reference to THE apostasy of the Jews, how will we know exactly when it happens?
I think it would be helpful to interact with the above questions one by one.
1) All dispensational prophecy teachers believe that the primary focus of the DOTL is Israel. It is known as the time of Jacob’s trouble (Jer 30:7). Indeed, the whole earth is involved and being judged (Rev 3:10; Isaiah 24:21), but we also know that the tribulation is the 70th week of Daniel which is labeled specifically to apply to the Jewish people and the holy city of Jerusalem (Daniel 9:24-27). It is prophesied that the Jewish people will seek their Messiah after being in a period of distress (Hosea 5:15).
Some people might object and say that Paul is giving information about the apostasy of the future end time church to the Thessalonian church. This is possible, but it interrupts the flow from what he started in verse 2, the DOTL. The church is not in the DOTL so why would the apostasy be about the church? In fact, after introducing the two items which are the beginning stages of the DOTL, he proceeds to describe the future activities of the antichrist as polluting the temple of God which we know is in Jerusalem (2:4). Again… Jewish context.
2) Based on Daniel 9:27, we know that the beginning of the 70th week of Daniel (DOTL) is the confirmation or strengthening of a covenant. We do not have all the details of this covenant, but it says, “he will confirm a covenant with many for one week.” The underlined phrase appears only twice in Daniel (9:27; 11:33) and is the same in Hebrew and the Greek Septuagint. The 11:33 passage refers to the people of Israel historically. So, the tell-tale sign is an agreement or covenant that is confirmed by the antichrist with the Jewish people. Some Bible teachers see Isaiah 28:15, 18 as reference to this covenant. It reads, “For you say, ‘We have made a covenant with death, with Sheol we have made an agreement. When the overwhelming judgment sweeps by it will not reach us. For we have made a lie our refuge, we have hidden ourselves in a deceitful word… Your covenant with death will be dissolved; your agreement with Sheol will not last. When the overwhelming judgment sweeps by, you will be overrun by it.”
My observation based on this passage about a covenant is that this agreement to put their trust in a human messianic figure is not good. Think of it in different terms. Would we consider a covenant made by the Jewish people to put their confidence for security in a false human Messiah/Christ figure as an act of apostasy? Let’s see the connection with John 5:43.
3) “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me. If another comes in his own name, you will receive him” (John 5:43). If we follow the flow of the narrative in the gospel of John, we see that John writes that Jesus admits that He is the Messiah to the woman at the well (John 4:25-26). This admission was quite rare and sets the stage for John’s writing in the very next chapter. Jesus says another will come in his own name and they will receive that person. What does it mean for the Jews to receive this other person? It shouldn’t be that difficult because the fact that they didn’t receive Jesus as Messiah is obvious. So, the Jewish people who in the first century rejected Jesus as Messiah will receive another who comes in his own name as Messiah or Christ… AKA… the antichrist which can mean against Christ or pseudo/false Christ. Either one works.
The question before us in understanding John 5:43 is when does this receiving event happen? I imagine most prophecy teachers would agree that the reception of this antichrist most likely happens at the time when the covenant is arranged between the Jewish people and the antichrist (cf. Daniel 9:27).
It is my contention that this event of the Jews confirming a covenant with the antichrist is the Apostasy as spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 which we have seen already is the first event of the 7-year DOTL. The timing, context, and the parties involved all match up perfectly.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Some people see the Greek word apostasia as referring to a spiritual rebellion while others see it as a physical departure (rapture). One of the arguments against apostasia being a spiritual rebellion is that the phrase in Greek contains the definite article (THE). It is not just an apostasy, but THE apostasy. Dr. Andy Woods, who I have solid respect for writes,
“There is a definite article in front of the noun ‘apostasy.’ Notice the definite article translated “the” in front of both “apostasy” and “man of sin.” By providing these two definite articles, essentially Paul is indicating that the apostasy will be something that has specific, time-bound qualities just like the man of sin’s coming has such qualities. In other words, just like the advent of the man of sin will be a specific and instantaneous event in future history, the coming apostasia, or departure, will similarly be specific and time-bound. The advent of the coming lawless one or Antichrist will take place at a specified point in time and instantaneously, with the opening of the first seal judgment (Rev. 6:1-2). The definite article, also before the apostasia, indicates that in the same way the apostasia will also take place instantaneously. Such an instantaneous manifestation does not fit well with the notion of a spiritual departure [rebellion], which typically transpires gradually over an elongated process. Spiritual departures are not instantaneous events. After all, it took the church at Ephesus three decades to spiritually depart from Christ by leaving its first love” (emphasis mine).
Now I want to be clear. I am not saying Dr. Woods agrees with me. In fact, he is making this argument for a physical departure of the rapture for the word apostasia in 2 Thess 2:3. I don’t agree with him on that point, but I do agree with him in his argumentation here. He is correct in disputing those that see this as a spiritual apostasy of the Church. In addition, there is no singular leader or body of leaders which speak for the entirety of Christendom. If there was, then maybe you could have a singular apostasy of the Church at a specific moment of time which the context requires. He lays out the ramifications of the argument quite well.
But, if we take Dr. Andy Wood’s comments and put them in the context of the Jewish leadership making a covenant with antichrist (receiving him- John 5:43), then the issue is resolved. Another interesting angle which I do not know whether Dr. Woods intended this or not is the clear connection of the singular advent or arrival of the antichrist as the first seal of Revelation is opened (Rev 6:1-2). The 7-year tribulation DOTL begins with the advent of the antichrist and we also know that he is involved in the confirming of the covenant. This fits perfectly with what I see Paul saying in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. The DOTL cannot be present unless the apostasy comes first (the Jews agreeing to the covenant) and the man of sin be revealed as the one who strengthens the covenant. These two items happen simultaneously as we match up Daniel 9:27; John 5:43; Rev 6:1-2; and 2 Thess 2:3.
4) When will the Jews receive this other person as Christ? We have already answered this in that they receive the one coming in his own name (John 5:43) when they receive his authority and protection in the confirmation of the covenant (Dan 9:27).
5) As mentioned above, the definite article causes much confusion when trying to connect this to the church, but poses no problem when connecting it with a Jewish apostasy. Robert Thomas does not address the nature of the apostasy specifically in his article. This makes sense since his article was focused on the teaching of imminency. In his Thessalonians commentary in the Expositors Bible Commentary, he does not get specific about what the apostasy involves. He suggests it could be a rebellion by those who professed Christianity but were left behind in the rapture. Based on his clear understanding of the text, he says that whatever the apostasy involves, it happens within the DOTL. Therefore, Thomas knows that this cannot be an apostasy of the church. The church is removed in the rapture prior to the DOTL. This apostasy happens within the DOTL and must be some other group which he surmises will be professing Christians who were left behind. This is plausible but doesn’t fit the context of the DOTL specifically when we see it bleed over into verse 4 discussing the temple which is very Jewish in context as all would agree.
6) If 2 Thess 2:3 is in reference to THE apostasy of the Jews, how will we know exactly when it happens? It will be easy for the post rapture people to recognize this singular act of apostasy by the Jewish leadership as they make a covenant with the antichrist. Charles Wanamaker, in The Epistles to the Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, sees the apostasy as a Jewish rebellion. He writes, “In the apocalyptic context of 2 Thessalonians 2, the rebellion referred to is a religious one directed against God. In all probability we may identify those whose rebellion is mentioned in v. 3 with those who are to be deceived in vv. 10–12. While Paul may have thought of certain Christians being involved (elsewhere he questioned the bona fides of some who purported to be Christians: cf. Gal. 2:4; 2 Cor. 11:12–15; Phil. 1:15–18), the reference to the temple in v. 4 suggests that he is working with a traditional apocalyptic understanding in which it was maintained that many of the people of God, that is the Jews, would rebel against God and the Law at the time of the end (cf. Jub. 23:14–23; 2 Esdr. 5:1–13; 1 Enoch 91:3–10; 93:8–10; 1QpHab 2:1ff and Mk. 13:5f.)” (p. 243-245).
It is important to say that there is no doubt that we are currently living in the age of the Laodicean church (Rev 3:14-22) which has become apostate. We also know that 1 Timothy 4:1 says, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” This is undeniable, but we do know that it did not happen in a singular specified event as 2 Thessalonians 2:3 requires. It began in the mid-1800s when the seminaries and Christian universities began to embrace theologically liberal doctrines. We have watched as it has become more pervasive over the last century and now all the mainline churches have become almost totally corrupt.
If we take this understanding of the apostasy into consideration, we will not be looking for some specific singular instantaneous apostasy of the church, but rather recognizing that the apostasy refers to the Jewish reception of the antichrist and their entering into a covenant with him.
Christians in England, Canada and America are entering into a time of increased hostility, censorship, harassment, ostracization, arrest and potential physical persecution. Just like with the Thessalonians, none of this should convince us that we are in the tribulation period (day of the Lord). We know that the day of the Lord cannot be present because the Jewish Apostasy and the revealing of the antichrist have not occurred. Praise the Lord that we have the promises of being rescued prior to the arrival of the day of the Lord (Luke 17:22-37; Luke 21:34-36; Rev 3:10). In the meantime, we are to remain watching (Mark 13:37) and to be busy about the kingdom (Luke 19:13) appreciating that God is allowing more time for people to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Amen and Amen!