By Jonathan Mitchell
This article began following a phone discussion with Dan Kaplan, who has great insight into the subject of The Apostasy.
This word is used only twice in the NT, and as Dan points out, I think their correlation is instructive. The one we hear about the most is in 2 Thes. 2:3, and it is usually connected with "end time" scenarios. Here is the verse with the context that begins in ch. 2:1, and continues through vs. 10.
1. Now we are asking you, brothers (= fellow believers; = family), over [the subject of] (or: concerning) the presence of our Lord (or: Master), Jesus Christ, and our being gathered together (or: assembling) upon [the presence of] Him.
2. in regard to this: you are not at any point to be quickly shaken (tossed, as by the sea, or cause to totter, like a reed) away from [your] mind (mental senses of perception; the ability to be aware and reason; wits; intelligent understanding), nor to be continuously alarmed (caused to cry aloud from nervousness or excitement), neither through a spirit (or: a breath-effect; an attitude), nor through a word (or: a thought; a message; a verbal communication), nor through a letter – as through us – as though the Lord's Day (the Day of the Lord [= Yahweh or Christ]) has been set in place (place in; made to stand in; has stood within so as to be here).
[comment: the day of Yahweh was a term that figured a time of judging and hard times, in the Old Testament; e.g., cf Joel 1:15 and 2:1-2; Jer. 30:7; Amos 5:18; Zeph. 1:14-18]
3. May no one at any point beguile or seduce you folks from a deception – not even down from one turn (or: not according to one method; not in the sphere of a manner or disposition) – because should not the revolt (the rebellion; or: the setting away from; the standing away from; the apostasy; or: the departure) come first, and the human whose source is the sin (the Man who missed the mark; the person that has the character and qualities of error and failure; [other MSS: the person owned by lawlessness or associated with illegal acts]) be uncovered (unveiled; revealed; disclosed): the son of the loss (= the person having the qualities of, or the character resulting from, the destruction),
4. the one continuously occupying an opposite position (or: lying as the opposing counterpart) and constantly lifting (or: raising) himself up over all (or: upon everything) being normally called God, or an object of worship, so as to cause him to be seated – down into the midst of the temple of God (or: God's inner sanctuary and dwelling place) – continuously displaying himself, that he is a god (or: continuously pointing out that he himself is God)?
5. Do you not remember that, still being with you, I said these things to you?
6. And now, you know (have seen and are aware of) the thing continuously holding down in a firm grasp (detaining, restraining) unto the [situation for] him to be uncovered (unveiled; disclosed) in his own fitting situation (or: proper occasion; suitable season).
7. For the secret (hidden purpose; mystery) of the lawlessness (pertaining to the condition of being without law; which is the unlawfulness; having the character of being violation of the Law; whose source is the contrariness to custom) is already continuously working within (operating; energizing), [yet] only until the one (or: man; [note: masculine article]) continuously holding down in a firm grasp (detaining; restraining) at the present moment can birth himself (bring himself to be; = separate himself) forth from out of the midst.
8. And then (at that time) the lawless person (the unlawful one; the one without law; the man who violates the Law; the person being contrary to custom) will be uncovered (unveiled; disclosed), whom the Lord Jesus will take back up again (or: lift up; reading "anaireo" with Nestle, Tasker & Concordant texts; Griesbach & other MSS read "analisko": consume, use up, expend) by the Spirit (Breath-effect) of His mouth, and will deactivate (render inoperative and useless; make inert) by the manifestation (the bringing of light upon and setting in full and clear view, causing an appearance) of his (or: its; or: His) presence –
9. whose presence is continuously existing in correspondence to (or: in line with; in the sphere of; on the level of) the adversary's (opponent's; or: satan's) in-working activity (or: is constantly in accordance with the operation of the “adversary,” or, satan), in all power (or: within all ability) and signs and wonders of falsehood (or: which are a lie),
10. and within every deception (delusion; seduction) of the injustice (wrong; of the thing that is not the way pointed out) within the folks continuously being lost (or: by the folks progressively destroying themselves) in return for which (or: in the place of which) they do not (or: did not) take into their hands to receive and retain the love of the truth (or: Truth's love; the love which is truth and reality; or: an appreciation of and affection for Reality), into the [situation for] them at some point to be suddenly delivered (restored to health and wholeness; rescued; saved; restored to the original state and condition).
Now the topic of discussion begins with "the presence of our Lord (or: Master), Jesus Christ, and our being gathered together (or: assembling) upon [the presence of] Him" (vs. 1). Much theology has placed this context into the future, and "the return of Christ from heaven." Now vs. 1 can be understood in at least two different ways:
- 1. it speaks of His current presence among them (remember: where two or three are gathered together in His Name, He is there among them) whenever they gather together as a body for fellowship; or,
- 2. it speaks of His presence in a specific sense, such as coming as a thief to bring judgment.
This latter may be indicated by what Paul says in vs. 2, about the Day of the Lord, since that phrase usually referred to His coming in judgment upon Israel, through invading nations such as Babylon. However, it just as well could be referring to the community's discussion about the upcoming judgment upon Jerusalem which Jesus has prophesied for that generation – this topic coming up whenever they came together in His "presence." Apparently rumors has been flying, and they were disturbed.
We now come to vs. 3, and the revolt – or, the apostasy. Now if what is meant here was a revolt of the Jewish zealots against Rome, then we understand the context of vs. 2, and it is the second application of the phrase "presence" that should be understood, and the following verses could also apply to what was to happen in AD 70.
But here is where I want to introduce what Dan shared with me, regarding the second use of this word "apostasy." It is in Acts 21, so let us visit that context,
17. [D reads: Then departing from there], with our coming to be [arrived] into the midst of Jerusalem, the brothers (= community of believers) favorably and gladly welcomed and received us.
18. So on the following [day], Paul was proceeding to be entering in with us to [meet with] Jacob (or: James). All the older men (or: elders) came to be present, as well.
19. Then, after greeting and embracing them, he began leading out with a detailed account, unfolding one by one each of the things which God had done among the ethnic multitudes (= the non-Jews of the nations) through his attending service.
20. Now after hearing [these things] they began giving the glory and ascribing the reputation to God [D and other MSS: the Lord (= Yahweh, or, Christ)]. Besides this, they said to him, "Brother, you are now observing and noticing how many tens of thousands there are among the Jews of those having trusted and are continuing in believing – and they all continue humbly from their beginning being zealots of the Law (or: zealous about the Law).
21. "Yet they have been orally instructed concerning you, that you are repeatedly (or: habitually) teaching all the Jews down through the ethnic multitudes (or: nations; non-Jews) an apostasy away from Moses, constantly telling them not to be circumcising [their] children, nor even to be living their lives (continually walking about) in (by; with) the customs.
"An apostasy away from Moses." Now isn't this interesting. Here are Jews who believe in Jesus as the Messiah, but they are concerned that Paul is leading an apostasy away from the Law. Paul had the same problems with the Judaizers in the province of Galatia. The message of grace, which brought freedom from the Law, had not yet reached all the fellow believers among the Jews, and among those who had heard Paul's message, there was opposition to it.
The question now is, could this be the same sort of apostasy that Paul was referring to in 2 Thes. 2, above? Was Paul speaking symbolically here? Was indicating that this was the "mystery whose source is the contrariness to Custom" in vs. 7 a more veiled description of the good news which was in opposition to the "lawless person"?
Who is a lawless person, if not the disintegrating and estranged human who through death has been made a sinner? Paul discusses this human predicament in Rom. 5:12, “Because of this (Therefore; That is why), just as through one man (through the act or agency of one person) The Sin (or: the failure; the miss of the target; the deviation from the goal) entered into the ordered System (the world of religion, culture, economy and government; or: the cosmos), and through The Sin (failure; the mistake; the miss of the target; deviation) The Death also, in this way The Death thus also passed through in all directions (or: came through the midst causing division and duality; went throughout) into all mankind (or: into the midst of humanity; or: to all people), upon which [situation], all sinned (or: everyone fails and misses the target, falls short of the goal, makes mistakes and deviates from the goal).”
It is upon the situation of death that everyone sins, and in Rom. 5:14 he tells us that death reigned from Adam to Moses (figure of the Law). Vs. 17 repeats this, but then gives us one of Paul's "much mores," "much more, rather, will the peoples (= the masses of humanity) – while continuously receiving and seizing upon (taking in hand) the surrounding (encircling) superabundance (extraordinary surplus and excess) of the Grace and of the gratuitous gift of the rightwising (of the fair and equitable dealing; of the placement in right relationship in the Way; of the justification and freedom from guilt) – be reigning (or: ruling as kings) within and in union with Life through the One, Jesus Christ."
In Rom. 7:9-10 Paul says that he died when the commandment came, that it was found by him to lead into death. Death made everyone people who miss the mark (the "human of sin"), children of loss and destruction (2 Thes. 2:3, above), and it is the standing away, the departure, the apostasy from the Law and the standing beside Christ that unveils and discloses this person having the qualities of, or the character resulting from, the destruction. It is the coming from the darkness and into the Light. Paul describes this in Rom. 12:1, to "through God's compassions to stand your bodies alongside (or: to set or place your bodies beside) [the] Well-pleasing, Set-apart (Holy), Living Sacrifice by God (or: in God; for God; to God; with God), [this being] your sacred service which pertains to thought, reason and communication (or: your rational service; your logical and Word-based service)." This was a standing away from the righteousness which is out of the Law; this was an apostasy from religion.
The Law had become as God to the Jews. It took the place of God within the Temple, so the Temple had to be destroyed. It exalted itself above the character of God, which is a character of love and mercy, compassion and self-giving. We still have this today, in theologies that place what they call "God's justice" above the all-inclusive work of the cross of Christ. This legalistic spirit resides within those who are His temple now, condemning those for whom He died. Traditional Christianity shows itself to be the representative and face of God to the world, and the picture they show turns the world away. I suggest that the doctrine of eternal torment, based upon pagan legalism, is the abomination that makes the church desolate today (cf. Matt. 24:15).
It was the Law, which produced self-righteousness and the legalistic spirit in Saul and other fanatic Jews, which restrained the unveiling of this "human of lawlessness," until it was fully taken out of the way by God in AD 70 – even though the church brought it back again.
In 2:8 we see that it is the presence of the Lord Jesus in our lives that lifts up and then consumes (conflating both textual readings) this estranged human condition by the spirit (= Words) of His mouth and the causing of an appearance of His presence, bringing us into reconciliation, life and peace. Now the text of the Greek can read this as a manifestation of the lawless one, or of Christ. How we read this last phrase of vs. 8 dictates how we read vs. 9. Either reading gives the same understanding and the same results. If it be the revealing of the lawless humanity within us, then we see how in vs. 9 it exists in correspondence to the adversary's in-working; if it be a manifestation of Christ, then we see that His in-working counters every level and aspect of adversary's operation of power, or signs or false wonders.
But vs. 10 brings us back to the context of the Jews who were "the folks continuously being lost (or: by the folks progressively destroying themselves) in return for which (or: in the place of which) they do not (or: did not) take into their hands to receive and retain the love of the truth (or: Truth's love; the love which is truth and reality; or: an appreciation of and affection for Reality), into the [situation for] them at some point to be suddenly delivered (restored to health and wholeness; rescued; saved; restored to the original state and condition)." The same would also apply to anyone else, but Paul's immediate opposition was the Judaizers, and their Law his adversary.
So, my friends, apostasy – a standing away – is not always a bad thing. In the context of 1st century Jewish religion, as well as the context of "Babylonian Christianity" that followed, it is a good thing.
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