COMMENTARY ON SECOND THESSALONIANS
2 Thess 2:3 "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first . . ." (2 Thessalonians 2:3a)
The coming of Jesus is central to sound doctrine. It is a pillar upon which hope is built, and provides an incentive to purify ourselves of all moral and spiritual defilements (1 John 3:1-3). Yet, this glorious coming is not a mere idea to be bantered about in theological circles. It is not a lifeless position about which men are to debate. Nor, indeed, is it a subject to be thrust to the back of the mind, as though it has no immediate relevance. It is essential that our thoughts about His coming be proper, and that they influence us correctly. Few texts declare this necessity as clearly as the one we are about to enter. The approach of the Holy Spirit to the subject of Christ's return noticeably differs from approaches adopted by men. Men develop seemingly fine-tuned theological positions, and consider Christ's return in view of those positions. They even divide because of their positions, with little regard for the coming of Christ itself. There are four main views around which men gather. The "Post-Millennial view," which says Jesus will return AFTER the millennium - a thousand year reign of peace. The "Pre-Millennial" view, which says He will return BEFORE the millennium. The "A-millennial" view, which says we are in the millennium now, and that Christ will return at any moment. The "Preterist," or AD70, view, which declares Christ has already returned, and the fulness of His kingdom is now being experienced. Each of these views have additional segments within them that are theological roots from which division have sprung (Post-tribulation, Pre-tribulation, etc). The manner in which this subject is addressed in this passage sharply conflicts with these lifeless approaches. It also has an urgent sound to it, as well as a call to sobriety and discernment. We must not miss these things.
LET NO MAN DECEIVE YOU BY ANY MEANS
" 2:3a Let no man deceive you by any means . . . " Here is a doctrine that Satan has been especially aggressive to contaminate. If we knew nothing more than this, it should bring us to a persuasion of the importance of embracing the truth concerning the return of our Lord. It is staggering to consider what relative unimportance is attached to this glorious theme in the average congregation. It is rarely the subject of inquiry, and even more scarcely the subject of preaching and teaching. If this doctrine can be corrupted, it will send a moral wake throughout the entirety of life. It will have an impact on how we read the Bible. It will influence how we live, and what priorities of life we establish. Even our prayers are influenced by our perception of Christ's return.
THE PRIORITY OF THE DOCTRINE. Jesus frequently spoke of His second coming - even before He had laid down His life, rose again from the dead, and returned to heaven. He associated bearing our cross daily with His return (Matt 16:24-27). He warned those who were ashamed of Him of His reaction to them when He returned (Mark 8:38). He admonished His disciples to be ready and watching for His return (Luke 12:37-40). On the eve of His betrayal, Jesus told His disciples He was going to come again (John 14:1-3).
He spoke of His return in parabolic form. The Parable of the tares of the field declared His coming to be the terminal point of saints and sinners being mingled. (Matt 13:24-30,37-43). The parable of the net announced His coming would be the time of final separation (Matt 13:47-50). The parable of the ten virgins declared the suddenness and unexpected nature of His return, and the necessity of being ready (Matt 25:1-13). The parable of the talents affirmed men would be accountable in that day (Matt 25:14-30). The dividing of the sheep and the goats associated ultimate rewards and punishments with His return Matt 25:31-46). The parable of the importunate widow declared the saints would be vindicated when Jesus comes (Luke 18:1-8). The parable of the pounds connected accountability and rewards with that time (Luke 19:12-27). The parable of the marriage for the king's son declared that to be the occasion when the intention of the Gospel invitation will be realized (Matt 22:1-14).
When He ascended into heaven in the presence of His disciples, angels reminded them He was going to return (Acts 1:11). In His glorified state, when He gave a message to John for the seven churches of Asia, He made no less than six clear references to His return (Rev 1:7; 2:25; 3:11; 16:15; 22:12,20).
APOSTOLIC TEACHING. The coming of the Lord was also central in Apostolic doctrine. Believers are described as waiting for His return (1 Cor 1:7; 1 Thess 1:10). They connected it with "the end," when we will be confirmed in Him (1 Cor 1:8). Then the faithful will be praised (1 Cor 4:5). In the Lord's supper, we proclaim His death until then (1 Cor 11:26). The dead will be raised at that time (1 Cor 15:26). We will receive glorified bodies at that time (Phil 3:20-21). Then we will appear with Christ in glory (Col 3:4). The crown of rejoicing for the laborers will be given then (1 Thess 2:19). The Divine objective is to present us without blame then (1 Thess 3:13). We are to comfort one another with words concerning His return (1 Thess 4:16-17). The wicked will be punished when He returns (1 Thess 1:7-9). Jesus will be glorified in, and admired by, the saints at that time (2 Thess 1:10). We are to keep the commandment until then (1 Tim 6:14). Sober charges are committed unto believers in view of that day (2 Tim 4:1). The crown of righteousness will be given then (2 Tim 4:8). Grace leads us to look for His return (Tit 2:11-13). The trial of our faith is in order to pass the test when Jesus comes (1 Pet 1:7). Our hope is associated with His return (1 Pet 1:13). The natural order will pass away at that time (2 Pet 3:10-12). Those who hope for the Lord's return will purify themselves as He is pure (1 John 3:1-3). Then we will be like Him (1 John 3:2). How can anything possibly be more important?
THE EFFECT OF DECEPTION. Should any allow themselves to be deceived on the matter of Christ's return, all of these things will suddenly become distorted. Spiritual incentives will be destroyed. Proper understanding will be destroyed. No person is wise enough to avoid the effects of being deceived concerning the return of the Lord Jesus! The solemn injunction is that we NOT allow this to happen! We may be wrong about whether or not we can eat meat (Rom 14:1-4), but we had better not be wrong concerning Christ's return! We may be wrong about this being the proper time to marry (1 Cor 7:26-30), but it is our business not to be deceived about Christ's return. The reason for this should be obvious. Too many perceptions depend upon a correct understanding of Christ's return. His return is more related to heaven than earth, and to eternity than time.
A FALLING AWAY WILL COME FIRST
" 3b . . . for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first." Other versions read, " THE falling away comes first," NKJV "unless THE apostasy comes first," NASB until the rebellion occurs," NIV "unless there come a revolt first," DOUAY "there will first be a falling away from the faith," and BBE "It cannot happen until THE Great Revolt has taken place." NJB
The expression "falling away" comes from a single word, h` avpostasi,a (apostasia). The term "apostasy" comes from this word. It means defection, rebellion, abandonment, revolt, and desertion. This is an aggressive defection from the truth. Fleshly hostility and determination is involved. The "falling away" is not a casual one, but one that involves rebellion against the Lord's Christ. In such a revolt, men stop their ears to the truth, thrust the Word of the Gospel from themselves, quench the Spirit, and trample under foot the blood of the covenant. They are thus led by Satan in a desertion of the truth that sanctifies, and the abandonment of the Savior and the salvation that He has effected.
The expression uses the definite article "the," which is found in various versions: "the falling away," NKJV "the apostasy," NASB "the rebellion," NIV and "the great revolt." NJB The reference is not to falling away in general, but to a particular falling away. It refers to a specific departure from the faith that is massive in nature.
This "falling away" would not take place in the government. It does not refer to the general deterioration of society, or the perpetration of unusually wicked manners among those who are not reconciled to God. This is a defection in the church - a departure from the faith among those who were once sanctified by it. There are whole bodies of theology that affirm such a thing is not even possible. Yet, here we have one of the most solemn words in all of Scripture. Jesus will not come again, the Spirit affirms, until "the apostasy comes first." What do you suppose Jesus will say to those who taught men they could not fall away? How will this teaching appear when all men stand before the judgment seat of Christ, where those who spread this doctrine will give an account for what they have done. How is it that the Spirit solemnly warns us of a "falling away," and men respond that such is not possible!
JESUS. Jesus referred to such a time, when there would be a general defection from the faith. He related it to a time when iniquity would spill over the boundary of normality, causing many to become cold toward God. "And then shall many be offended, and shall betray one another, and shall hate one another. And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matt 24:12). He related this defection with a particular time: "then." He also associated it with religious deception: "false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many."
APOSTLES. The Apostles frequently spoke of this departure. It was a matter of great concern to them, and they faithfully challenged the saints to arm themselves, that they not be swept up in the tide of apostasy.
Paul warned the Ephesian elders of such a falling away. "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears" (Acts 20:29-31). The defection would originate from within Christian leaders: "of your own selves." They would not only speak depraved things, but would ravish the flock of God.
Timothy was reminded of a time when some would leave the faith. "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils" (1 Tim 4:1). The seduction would come from the dark realm of evil spirits and demons. Believing people would "fall away from the faith," NASB or "abandon the faith." NIV Their consciences would be "seared," so that they were completely insensitive to their grievous sin (4:2).
This falling away is also described as a time of great peril. "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come." The jeopardy was owing to the maintenance of a "form of godliness" that denied, or rejected, its power. People would be able to wear the name of Jesus while being "lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (1 Tim 3:1-5).
The departure from the faith would also be marked by the loss of appetite for sound teaching. Christian people would gather about themselves teachers who would preach what their corrupted hearts wanted to hear. "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Tim 4:3-4). The Spirit moved the Apostles to speak frequently of this dangerous time.
THE THESSALONIAN DAY VERSUS OUR DAY
" 3b . . . a falling away." The Thessalonians were being admonished to sobriety and diligence in view of a coming apostasy from the faith. A defection from the truth was on the way. Sound doctrine was going to be abandoned in favor of teachings that fed the lusts of men. A period was looming on the horizon of time when men would be able to wear the name of Jesus, yet remain wed to the cursed order, living in alienation from the very God they professed to serve. A time was coming when religious men would not be noted for standing, but for falling. It would not be a time when men would take the kingdom by violence, but when they would aggressively leave it in preference for the passing things of this world. Religious men would not be noted for being like God, but for being unlike Him. They would create doctrines that would justify their carnality, and teachings that would support their preferences for the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17). The Thessalonians were being passionately urged to prepare themselves so they would not be swept away by the tide of religious delusion and defection.
But what of our day? Some are still teaching the defection is coming. They hold forth texts like the one before us as though it referred to something yet to come. I suggest to you that nothing could be further from the truth. We are living in the great "falling away" of which the Spirit speaks. It is a time when the truth of God is not popular within the professed church. People who wear the name of Jesus are not generally aggressive for the truth of God, nor are they pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:14). It is a time of spiritual casualness and disinterest that is unparalleled. The sins of the world, even the basest ones, are now found within the church itself.
There is hardly a serious follower of Christ that is not acutely aware of these things. Only those who are grossly ignorant dare to affirm that the church is at a strong point, or that faith is at a high level, or that the longing for the return of Jesus is dominant among church members. It is a time of "falling away." The professed church has revolted against God, no longer able to tolerate "sound doctrine." It demands brevity, and even then, it must be shallow and entertaining. This is not an unusual circumstance, but a common one. We are living in a great "falling away." It is "THE falling away," and "THE great revolt," of which our text speaks. I would hope we were nearing the end of this period, but have no assurance this is the case. Heaven recognizes it as a time of jeopardy, and so must we.
How ought we to respond to these times? If saints were warned of the coming of such times, what about those who are living in them? Should we, as some, view this merely as the fulfillment of Bible prophecy? Is that a proper response? Does not that attitude promote indifference and indolence? Should our response not be characterized by something greater than that? The Word of the Lord is clear on this matter.
TURN AWAY. Wherever we encounter lifeless religion, we are to turn away from it. After identifying a period of time when men would have "a form of godliness, but deny the power thereof," the Spirit admonishes us, "from such turn away," KJV "from such people turn away!" NKJV "avoid such men as these," NASB and "Have nothing to do with them." NIV We are not to allow such people to influence us, remembering that "Evil company corrupts good habits" NKJV (1 Cor 15:33). The spiritual environment we choose will have an effect upon us.
PUT THE BRETHREN IN REMEMBRANCE OF THIS. After telling Timothy of the latter times, when some would depart from the faith, Paul spoke candidly with him about the appropriate response. "If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained. But refuse profane and old wives' fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness" (1 Tim4 :6-7). It is our business to alert the saints of the devil's activity in corrupting religion. He has not confined himself to the promotion of baser sins.
PREACH, WATCH, AND ENDURE. The warning of a time when men would not endure sound doctrine was accompanied by an exhortation to "preach the Word" in and out of season, "watch in all things," and "endure afflictions" (2 Tim 4:2-5). The activities of Satan's ministers must be offset by the aggressive preaching of those called to that sacred work. A spirit of alertness is required, lest we be swept up in the tide of delusion. We must be armed with the mind of Jesus that we may be able endure the afflictions related to breaking out of the mold of disinterest and mediocrity.
If ever there was a time to be alert, godly, zealous, and understanding, it is the day in which we are living. Such characteristics will put you at variance with a lot of professed Christianity. Nevertheless, it is for the safety of your own soul that you must do so.