According to 2 Thessalonians, Timothy brought Paul a question from a panicky church: Has the Day of the Lord come? Paul ties together language of the return of Christ from his own oral teaching, the Matthean tradition, Daniel and 1 Thessalonians. No indeed! he says, and I can prove it. Has the Man of Lawlessness appeared? Then no, the Day of the Lord has not come (2 Thess 2:3).
The other marker is more controversial: an “apostasy” or “falling away” (apostasia, ἀποστασία). The word might denote a political rebellion. Nevertheless, “falling away” in Judeo-Christian contexts usually refers to a spiritual apostasy. In the Apocrypha, many Jews apostatized from Yahweh in 1 Macc 2:15 (NRSV) – “The king’s officers who were enforcing the apostasy came to the town of Modein to make them offer sacrifice” to Greek gods. Paul himself was accused of teaching Diaspora Jews “apostasy from Moses” (Acts 21:21). The verb form also appears in a warning against apostasy in Heb 3:12 and in the Lukan version of the Parable of the Sower to speak of those who fall away because of persecution (Luke 8:13). Paul uses the verb (aphistemi, ἀφίστημι) of the end-time falling away once in 1 Tim 4:1; he uses the noun form (apostasia, ἀποστασία) only here in 2 Thess 2:3. Most Bible versions render the term correctly: “falling away” (ASV, KJV, NKJV); rebel, rebellion (CEV, ESV, GNB, NIV, NLT, NRSV, RSV), revolt (GW, NJB), apostasy (HCSB, NASB).
But wait! A few Bible students have suggested that 2 Thess 2:3 should be translated not as the “apostasy” but as a “removal” or “departure.” That is, the church is taken away from the earth, with the rest of the population “left behind” for the tribulation.
Can this interpretation hold up? (more…)