Apostasy before the second coming.

by K.W. Leslie, 18 December 2017

Before Jesus returns, bad stuff was predicted to happen. Both by Jesus, who described some of the events 40 years hence when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem; and here by Paul, Silas, and Timothy when they reminded the people of Thessaloniki that there’d first be a time of apostasy.

2 Thessalonians 2.1-12 KWL
1 We should ask you, fellow Christians, about the second coming of our Master, Christ Jesus,
and how we’ll be gathered together with him.
2 It’s so your minds won’t be shaken up, nor go into a panic,
whenever some spirit, message, or letter (like those from us) claims the Lord’s Day has come.
3 Don’t let anyone trick you in any way: Nothing happens till the apostasy comes first,
till the lawbreaking person, the child of destruction, is revealed—
4 the antagonist, the one exalting himself over everything called “god” and “worshipful,”
so much so he sits in God’s temple and claims he’s a god himself.
5 Don’t you remember the things I told you when I was still with you?
6 Now, you know who holds him back so he can be revealed in his own time:
7 The secret of the lawbreaker is already working—
but only till the one holding him back can come out of the way.
8 Then the lawbreaker will be revealed—whom Master Jesus will take out with his mouth’s breath.
He’ll abolish the lawbreaker at the manifestation of his second coming:
9 This is the coming against Satan’s works in every power, “miracle,” and fake wonder;
10 in every unrighteous trick towards those destroying themselves.
For fake miracles don’t accept the love of truth in their salvation.
11 Through it, God sends them off with their belief in fakes, in powerful error.
12 Thus everyone can be judged who didn’t trust truth, but were pleased with wrongness.

Popular Christian culture tends to call this “lawbreaking person” the Antichrist (with a capital A, as opposed to any old antichrist who just doesn’t like Christ or Christianity), and figure he’s the same as the beast of Revelation 13. There are also a bunch of wacky myths about how evil he’ll be and what he’ll do, but I won’t go into them today. Suffice to say he’s basically Bizarro Jesus: Like Bizarro Superman, who’s like Superman on Opposite Day, Antichrist supposedly does everything Christ does, but for evil and twisted reasons.

But Christians are actually disagreed as to whether such an Antichrist still needs to show up first. After all, it’s been 20 centuries since the apostles wrote to the Thessalonians, and many antichrists, many lawbreakers, have come and gone… and fulfilled this prediction many, many times already. And if this is the case, nothing more needs to happen before Jesus returns.

Still, some Christians really have their hearts set on this Bizarro Jesus version of the beast, and are anxiously awaiting him far more than they’re hopefully awaiting Jesus.

Their future—our past.

Preterist /'pret.ər.əst/ adj. Believes the bible’s prophecies [about the End Times] have already been fulfilled.
[Preterism /'pret.ər.iz.əm/ n.]

Every Christian believes in preterism to one degree or another. Fr’instance, Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about Messiah being born, dying, and getting resurrected. And Jesus’s prophecy that the temple’d be destroyed Mk 13.2 also took place.

Now as for the stuff at the very end of the last days, right before Jesus’s return: Some Christians believe none of the prophecies about the End have taken place yet. And can’t. Y’see, they’re cessationist: They believe God turned off the miracles during bible times, and since Revelation’s visions are chock full of miracles, apparently God has to first turn the miracles back on. So all the End Times events happen then. In the future. Futurists, we call ’em.

The futurists’ ideas about the End are so widespread in Christian popular culture, loads of Christians imagine this must be what happens. Including Christians who believe God never did turn off the miracles. I know plenty of Pentecostals who believe darn near everything the futurists claim about the End.

Why’s this? Mostly it’s because they’ve heard the futurist point of view over and over again, from all sorts of sources, from every sort of direction, so they’e grown to believe it’s valid. They’ve no idea it’s founded on cessationism—and even when they find out this uncomfortable fact, it’s still a long-held belief, one they’re comfortable with, so it’s one they fall back upon.

And much of it is because they don’t know history. They know history is full of lawless people, but they never thought to connect those lawbreakers with the beast, or with the lawbreaker of 2 Thessalonians. They just assumed the beast shows up in the future, so they ignored all the other beasts throughout history. Ignored how these prophecies have been fulfilled over and over again, ’cause history repeats itself. Heck, there probably will be a beast in the future. One of dozens.

Same with a future time of apostasy. Apostasy is when people quit Jesus—and again, there have been many apostate movements throughout history. Like when the medieval Japanese and Chinese tried to drive out Christianity, or Muslim nations tried to stop its further spread. Or when Enlightenment philosophers tried to convince the public (or at least their peers) that Christianity was out of date, and deism was the way to go. Or when the Marxists tried to ban religion. Or radical atheists nowadays.

In just about every generation of Christians, one of our preachers looks around at all the sin in the world, and laments, “Why don’t people follow Jesus with all the fervor of the good old days?” They don’t realize the “good old days” are a figment of their imagination: They grew up surrounded by devout Christians, and assume everybody useta live like that; or they were told stories about the great saints of the past, and assume everybody useta have such faith; or they read about a time when religion was mandatory, assume it was voluntary like it is now, and are outraged that the percentage of believers in the population has dropped so low. (Hate to tell you: The people in those polls who claim to believe? Pagans who think they’re Christian. Sorry.)

Nope, all the things the apostles predicted have happened. Kinda are still happening. The secret of the lawbreaker 2Th 2.7 ain’t all that secret: Lawbreakers are everywhere. All over Christianity. Every dispensationalist and libertine who imagines the Law no longer counts ’cause grace: Lawbreakers all. Every Christian who figures we only have to believe all the right things, but we don’t have to actually do any good deeds: Dead faith. Lawlessness. It’s everywhere. It’s been everywhere.

Thanks to Christians-in-name-only who believe such things, and provide such rotten examples for the rest of the world to see, there are a lot of people who think Christianity and “organized religion” are a sham, a waste of time. Who think Jesus sounds like a nice guy, but can’t be bothered to actually follow him. Who grew up Christian, but as soon as they were free to choose for themselves, they chose not to stay Christian. Apostasy is also everywhere. And been everywhere.

So if you’re expecting all these things are future events, look around a bit and pay attention. For once.

Whose law?

I’ve head it claimed that when the apostles wrote on lawlessness, they actually meant the legal code of the city of Thessaloniki. Not the Law handed down to Moses by the LORD—’cause they’re dispensationalists who think the Law had been abolished by Jesus by then.

Which is bonkers. Plenty of things violate God’s Law which were totally legal under Thessalonian law. (And the laws of the United States, for that matter.) Like idolatry, adultery, coveting what you can’t have, breaking Sabbath, dishonoring parents. You know, Ten Commandments stuff.

Others will claim Paul and the apostles meant natural law, a concept Paul spelled out in Romans. It’s the belief God embedded a moral code in the universe, into the human conscience. It’s the basis for Daoism: There’s a way, a dao, we oughta follow, and if we don’t we’ll suffer natural consequences—either karmically, or at least through the disapproval of society. Anyway, these interpreters figure the Thessalonians might not have known Moses’s commands, but they should’ve recognized the natural law.

The problem with making this assumption: We have no evidence this is what the apostles meant. On the contrary: Any city in the Roman Empire with a significant Jewish population had a synagogue, where the Law was taught. Ac 15.21 And the Thessalonian church was founded after Paul preached in Thessaloniki’s synagogue. Ac 17.1-4 The Thessalonians knew what the Law of Moses was, and knew what the apostles meant by “Law”—and lawbreaking.

Like I said, lawbreaking is all around. Including among Christians. Including Christian teachers.

There’s a popular myth that the Beast is gonna rebuild the Jerusalem temple, then sit down in it like a king on his throne. But let me remind you that’s not what sitting down in temple meant. There was no throne in the LORD’s temple. Sitting down meant you sat down to teach, like when Jesus sat down in synagogue. (Or in temple.) And in the present day, God’s temple is his church—and may of the folks who teach in his churches are reproducing their own lawlessness, instead of proclaiming God’s kingdom.

If you’re waiting for a single great antagonist to show up and lead the church astray, you’re looking for an individual, and missing all the antichrists running amok in the world. 1Jn 2.18 They’re already acting as if they’re God, as if all their false beliefs and self-delusions and unchristian behaviors are a legitimate substitute for Christianity. This lawlessness isn’t hiding, either: Not only are we Christians aware of it, but every pagan knows our churches are full of hypocrites, and they mock us for it. So they do a fine job of fulfilling this teaching.

Jesus is returning for them too.

Our focus on a single antagonist, misses the fact the apostles referred to both a lawless individual 2Th 2.3 and a general behavior of lawlessness. 2Th 2.8 It’s this ἀνομία/anomía, “lawlessness,” Jesus is also coming back to destroy. He’s not returning to destroy an individual bad guy, or lay waste to a group of people, but to defeat and be rid of evil.

We need to demonstrate our allegiance to Jesus by purging this evil behavior from among us. It has no place in his church, nor his kingdom. Those who teach lawlessness may as well strap a millstone to their students and toss ’em into the sea. Lk 17.2 They’re adding to the numbers of the damned, instead of adding to the kingdom. They’re doing far more harm to the church than any mere capital-A Antichrist could.

So fight lawlessness. Not by demanding people follow the Law, or punishing them if they don’t; never by legalism. But get away from anyone who claims we needn’t worry about the Law anymore—and therefore we’re permitted to keep sinning, ’cause grace makes up for it. Ro 6.1-2 Grace doesn’t work like that. It’s for people who are trying and stumbling, and empowers us to try again. It’s not for people who aren’t trying at all. Back off from those who aren’t trying, and follow them no more. Follow Jesus.