What comes before the Day of the Lord: the final “apostasy” or the “departure” of the church? [Studies in Thessalonians]

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).engli

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.[2] 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.[3]

Can this interpretation hold up? To be sure, the cognate verb (aphistemi, ἀφίστημι) has “to depart” as one of its meanings (Luke 2:37; Acts 15:38). One of the arguments that people use for the “rapture” view of 2 Thess 2:3 point to those uses of the verb and claim, Aha! So apostasia means departure, not apostasy. This is fallacious use of the Greek. One cannot simply import that meaning into the noun. Paul does not use the verb in 2 Thessalonians, but the noun. The noun form (apostasia, ἀποστασία) is a Jewish and Christian technical term for religious apostasy, being used to describe Judas Iscariot, the Antichrist, and the end time religious rebellion; that is its meaning here.

The doctrine of an end-time falling away was not a Christian innovation, but was also a running theme in Jewish eschatology. The majority will abandon God’s law, while a small remnant will keep itself righteous. For example, in the pseudepigraphal book 1 Enoch:

After that in the seventh week an apostate generation shall arise; its deeds shall be many, and all of them criminal (1 En. 93.9, Charlesworth)

Jesus predicted a final end-time apostasy (Matt 24:10 uses a synonym for “fall away,” skandalizo, σκανδαλίζω). Implicit in 2 Thess 2:5 is that Paul had taught them about the final apostasy while he was with them in Thessalonica: “Do you not remember that when I was with you I told you these things?” Paul’s eschatology seems to rely on the Olivet Discourse in Matthew 24:

  • the disciples should not be alarmed
  • there will come deception and false prophets
  • many will go apostate
  • the antichrist figure will appear

In the Pastoral epistles there is a pair of predictions that may have in part had reference to the immediate future, but which are also expressed in apocalyptic language:

1 Tim 4:1 (NRSV) – Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons…

2 Tim 3:1 – You must understand this, that in the last days distressing times will come…

By definition apostasy is possible only when one has already confessed the faith. This would seem to rule out those who do not affirm Christ. Also, in Matt 24 the recipients of the eschatological teaching are the disciples of Jesus.[4] That is, due to persecutions and satanic deceptions, they themselves face the danger of falling away from faith in the Christian gospel: “many” will fall away, and the one who endures to the end will be saved (Matt 24:10, 13). Jesus is describing a heightened danger of the “falling away” which he warned about in Matt 13:21.

Yet even within the first years of the church there were those who were falling into apostasy. A member of Paul’s team, Demas, apparently left the faith (2 Tim 4:10). In Johannine theology, the “antichrist” is eschatological, but his “spirit” is at work among the believers leading them to error and falling away from the community (1 John 2:18-19; also 2:22, 4:3, 2 John 7). Around the time of John’s epistles, there were Christians in Pontus (N. Turkey) who denied the faith when they encountered persecution. Governor Pliny the Younger recorded:

Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.[5]

But there is a positive side taught in Matthew and the Thessalonian epistles: Jesus emphasizes that “the elect” will not be deceived or fall away. For their sake the days are cut short (Matt 24:22); the elect cannot be deceived (Matt 24:24); they will be gathered up at the end of the tribulation (Matt 24:31).

Yet the hearers and followers of Jesus must stay firm until the end if they wish to retain the hope of entering the kingdom (Matt 24:13; 2 Thess 1:5). Apparently, many Christians will imagine themselves to be guaranteed a place in the kingdom only to find themselves abandoning Christ as the tribulation worsens. Yet again we run into the same tension that once encounters in Matt 13, Matt 24-25 and in the Thessalonian epistles: “see that you endure to the end” and “the elect will endure” are not a contradiction, but parallel truths.

The Day of the Lord is coming, but has not come yet. Christians who live to see the end approach will witness the final Apostasy and the coming of the Man of Lawlessness. They must hold firm to the end despite horrific persecution and deception. In none of his epistles does Paul suggest that Christians will be raptured before the tribulation begins. The main way they will “depart” the world will be through being martyred, “beheaded for their testimony to Jesus and for the word of God” (Rev 20:4).

ADDITIONAL NOTE: In the last few years some Christians connect apostasia in 2:3 with the “removal” of the restrainer in 2 Thess 2:6-7 – “6 And as it is you know what it is that restrains [the Man of Lawlessness], in order that he be revealed in his right time. 7 For the hidden force of lawlessness is already at work; only the one who restrains it [will do so] until he is taken away.” (my own translation). This theory runs that the church, or the Holy Spirit indwelling the church, is the restrainer. In fact, how many Christians read the passage and to their surprise find no reference to the Spirit or the church in the passage? I myself am inclined to the view that it is a powerful angel, perhaps Michael, who works in the spiritual realm (see Dan 10:10-21, 12:1-2). In fact, Paul’s description of the Man of Lawlessness owes much to Daniel’s prophecy, and so perhaps Daniel 10 provides the key to this mystery. While Paul indicates that both he and the Thessalonians already knew what was the restrainer, he simply does not say what or who it is. Any theory must be tentative, but at the least it requires a stretch of the imagination to make it refer to a rapture of the church before the tribulation.


[1] Josephus used the cognate verb (aphistemi, ἀφίστημι) of Judas of Galilee’s “rebellion” against Rome (Josephus, Ant. 13.7.1 [§219]). In the Septuagint, the “fall away” (ἀφίστημι) word group is found everywhere; but the noun form “rebellion” (apostasia, ἀποστασία) only in Josh 22:22, 2 Chr 29:19 and Jer 2:19 in the canonical books.

[2] See the overview of this word group by W. Bauder, “Fall, Fall Away,” in NIDNTT 1:606-11. Lampe’s A Patristic Greek Lexicon shows that in the Greek church apostasia, ἀποστασία meant “revolt, defection,” usually religious.

[3] Consult Richard R. Reiter, editor, Three Views on the Rapture: Pre-,Mid-, or Post-tribulation (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1996), 32. The “departure” interpretation is a recent one; perhaps only as early as the late 1940s, for example, E. Schuyler English and Kenneth Wuest (see Wuest, “The Rapture – precisely when?” BSac 114 no 453 (Jan 1957): 60-69; he (wrong-headedly) puts a great deal of emphasis on the fact that apostasia has the definite article, as if that must make it mean that it is the rapture, not the final apostasy. The view was revived by the article by H. W. House “Apostasia in 2 Thessalonians 2:3: Apostasy or Rapture?” in Thomas Ice and Timothy J. Demy, eds., The Return: Understanding Christ’s Second Coming and the End Time (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 1999). John Walvoord once held the view, but later changed his mind. Most other Dispensationalists reject the “rapture” interpretation. The 1917 version of the Scofield Bible states that 2 Thess 2:3 refers to the “apostasy of the professing church.” Ice’s own opinion (read it here) falls into the same fatal problems that Wuest and House do: he is factually mistaken about the semantic range of the abstract noun, which somewhat overlaps but is not the same as the semantic range of the verb αφιστημι. (This is not unusual in Greek, where cognate verbs and nouns do not have the same semantic range: viz. λογος, λεγω). The noun always refers to apostasy or rebellion, whereas the verb may mean to apostatize, to rebel, or to fall away. Ice, House, and the rest commit a first-year Greek error in linguistics in speaking of “the word in noun form-the word in verb form” – their meanings don’t transfer back and forth like that; he apparently has not studied the classsical and Hellenistic texts for himself, instead depending on a 50-year-old article by Gordon Lewis. I’ve personally chased this all down through centuries of usage using the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae database: I found zero references where αποστασια the noun refers to a physically removal, they all refer to a falling away as apostasy or rebellion. Maybe there is one, but I have not found it).

[4] Malherbe, Letters to the Thessalonians, 431. Contra Fee, Thessalonians, 281-82, who rejects the “church” interpretation, not giving due weight to the warnings about apostate disciples in the synoptic tradition and in 1-2 Timothy. It is special pleading to reason, as some Dispensationalists do, that the Twelve who listened to the Olivet Discourse should be interpreted as representatives of Israel during the tribulation, as opposed to representative followers of Jesus.

[5] “Medieval Sourcebook: Pliny on the Christians, Letters 10.96-97.” No pages. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/pliny1.html.

Useful reference: William W. Combs, “Is apostasia in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 a reference to the rapture?” DBSJ 3 (Fall 1998): 63–87. http://www.dbts.edu/journals/1998/combs.pdf

What comes before the Day of the Lord: the final “apostasy” or the “departure” of the church? [Studies in Thessalonians],” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

26 thoughts on “What comes before the Day of the Lord: the final “apostasy” or the “departure” of the church? [Studies in Thessalonians]

  1. I sure would like a really simple explanation of this, Gary. I personally don’t see how people can interpret 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as stating falling away means DEPARTURE to the clouds with Jesus instead of falling away from the faith of Jesus Christ?

    “3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, AND that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;” Why does everyone look over the AND in that verse? And I definitely believe that the restrainer is Michael the archangel. Just because the son of perdition is revealed before the rapture of the bride of Christ doesn’t mean that we won’t be raptured shortly afterwards. When God said he will not appoint us to wrath, I believe He meant it of course! Pati

    1. Dear Pati, thanks for writing in!

      I’m not entirely sure that I caught your whole point, but here are some thoughts:

      1. The word used for “meeting” the Lord in the air is used consistently in the NT and in other literature to speak of “going out from one’s house or town to meet a dignitary and escorting him/her back.” You might be interested in this study, where I deal specifically with that: https://openoureyeslord.com/2011/05/25/1-thess-417-meet-the-lord-in-the-air-in-the-original-greek/

      2. The word used for “falling away” almost always speaks of a rebellion or religious apostasy. This is why the English Bibles – I have about 20 open in front of me – translate it as “rebellion or revolt” or “falling away” or “apostasy.” The translators knew what they were talking about.

      3. Absolutely, the Lord has not destined us for wrath, that is, we will not face God’s condemnation (1 Thess 1:9-10, also 5:9). In that context, “the coming wrath” refers to judgment day, not to persecution. And when does this take place? In 1 Thess 5, we avoid God’s wrath at the Second Coming, when the Day of the Lord does not overtake us “like a thief.” (1 Thess 5:4); also, at the Second Coming, when God rescues the Christians and punishes the sinner, “He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.” (2 Thess 1:6b) When does he rescue us? V. 7 – “This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.” That is, after the tribulation.

      Many blessings today! Gary

  2. Hi Gary,

    Nice article. However, I am inclined to think that the Greek word “apostasia” in verse 3 is a reference to the Rapture.

    First, Paul’s purpose in writing lends support to the view that the “apostasia” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is the rapture. The purpose of Paul’s letter is found in verse 1 where he said, “We beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him..”. The coming of our Lord Jesus and our gathering together to Him is what we call the Rapture. So, the main theme of Paul’s letter was the rapture.

    Secondly, remember the setting. The Thessalonian believers were being persecuted for their faith, and they thought they were already in the Tribulation. Paul writes to tell them that they can’t possibly be in the Tribulation because two things have to occur before the Tribulation can begin: the “apostasia” and the revelation of the man of sin. Whatever the meaning of “apostasia” is, it must be something that the Thessalonians could easily and clearly identify when it happened. If religious apostasy is a means by which Paul expects the Thessalonians to know whether or not they are in the Tribulation, then he has failed to prove his point because there has always been religious apostasy, even in the time of the apostle Paul, and the Thessalonians were not in a position to distinguish any present apostasy from “the apostasy” that Paul was referring to in verse 3. However, if Paul was referring to the rapture of the church, then the Thessalonians could know with certainty that they could not yet be in the Tribulation.

    Bless you.


    1. Hi Arlene, thanks for writing in!

      Yes, he does speak of the rapture in 2 Thess, if by the rapture we mean the meeting of the believers with Christ “in the air”. I believe in the rapture, but think that the evidence of Scripture consistently ties the rapture together with the Second Coming at the end of the tribulation. Thus, in chapter 1 he says that when Jesus returns, he will judge the persecutors and give the believers “relief.” This happens at the appearance of Jesus in glory, visibly (1:1-10). And then, in case people think. And in ch 2, the reasons they should not be alarmed, as if the Day of the Lord and coming of Jesus to judge the wicked is near, because the apostasy has not yet taken place, and the man of sin hasn’t appeared. As in all passages that deal with the antichrist figure, Christians are to watch out to not be deceived by him. As in Matt 24:22-25 – If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. 23 At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.25 See, I have told you ahead of time.

      Yes there IS always apostasy, but not the grand falling away of the end times (Matthew 24, 1 Tim 4, 2 Tim 3, Revelation).

      Blessings! Gary

  3. The Greek word “apostasia” translated “falling away” in modern Bibles was actually first translated in this way in 1611 by the King James Version. Prior to this time, all the early English translators of the Bible translated this word as “departure”.

    For example, the 1587 Geneva Bible renders this verse as follows:

    2 Thess 2:3: Let no man deceiue you by any meanes: for that day shall not come, except there come a departing first, and that that man of sinne be disclosed, euen the sonne of perdition…

    Here is the rendering from Tyndale’s translation in the early 1500’s:
    2 Thess. 2: 3: ” Let no ma deceave you by eny meanes for the lorde commeth not excepte ther come a departynge fyrst and that that synfnll man be opened ye sonne of perdicion

    The word “apostasia” is a noun that is derived from the verb “aphistemi”. The noun form derived from a verb cannot have a specific meaning that excludes the primary meaning of it’s root verb. Its like “embroider” and embroidery. Embroidery is ALWAYS the product of embroidering. You do not, for instance, emboider something and end up with knitting.

    The thing is, whether it is apostasia or aphistemi, it ALWAYS has qualifying words in the context so that you know what the departure, which is the literal meaning of the word, is from.

    If you include all the usages of this word, in both noun and verb form, using the context as the guide, several of them can only have a meaning relating to spatial departure – a physical leaving. Therefore, we must include that as a possible interpretation of the apostasia in 2 Thess. 2:3.

    There is something else as well, in that Paul says concerning “the apostasia”, “don’t you remember I taught you about this?” What departure, whether from the faith or from anything at all, do you find that Paul had already taught the Thessalonian Church about? We know Paul had previously taught them about the rapture.

    In summary, pre-1600’s English translations did translate this word as “departure”, which is perfectly in keeping with its Biblical usage.

    Theodore Beza, the Swiss reformer, was the first to transliterate apostasia and create a new word, rather than translate it as others had previously done. The translators of the King James Version were the first to introduce the new rendering of apostasia as “falling away.” Most English translators have followed the KJV and Beza in departing from translating apostasia as “departure.” No good reason was ever given.

    So, I think it is perfectly okay to translate apostasia as “departure” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. What is not clear in this passage, however, is whether the word “apostasia” is a reference to a religious departure from the faith (apostasy) or a physical departure (Rapture). The noun “apostasia” and its related verb are used in other parts of the Bible. The related verb is used, in most cases, to refer to a physical departure. The point I am making here is, we should not completely rule out the possibility that the “apostasia” used in 2 Thess. 2:3 is a reference to a physical departure. It could very well be although it is not clearly stated. It wouldn’t be out of context at all for this apostasia to mean a physical departure, especially given the fact that the theme of Paul’s message is all about “the coming of the Lord and our gathering together to Him”.

    One more point: In verse 3, Paul says the apostasia (departure) has to happen before the Antichrist is revealed. Then in verse 6 again, he says the restrainer has to be removed before the Antichrist can be revealed. In verse 3, the condition that needs to be fulfilled for the Antichrist to be revealed is the “departure” whereas in verse 6, the condition that needs to be fulfilled for the Antichrist to be revealed is the “removal of the restrainer”. So it seems to me that the “departure” and “the removal of the restrainer” both refer to the same thing – the rapture of the Church. This rapture is what needs to take place before the Antichrist can be revealed. In verse 3, it is referred to as the “departure” while in verse 6, it is described as “the removal of the restrainer”. The Holy Spirit in the life of the believers is the restraining force, restraining evil in the world today. And as soon as the church is taken out of this world, there will be no more restraining forces against evil. The restraining force of the church will be removed and once the church is removed, this man of sin will take over using his powers that will be given to him by Satan. And the world will be plunged into darkness such as the world has never seen before.

    If the restrainer is not the Church or the Holy Spirit, who else/what else can it be? What force is present in the world today, helping to restrain evil? It can only be either the Church or the Holy Spirit. It is most likely the Church filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the restraining force that will need to be taken out of the way before full-blown evil can be unleashed on the word. The removal of this restraining force is the Rapture.

    1. Greetings, and thanks for your visit! How shall I address you please?

      Pardon my question, but I’m not clear if you have studied Greek or semantics, since you commit a basic error with the illustration of “embroider,” by basing a word’s semantic range on its etymology, rather than on its demonstrated usage. The verb embroider and the noun embroidery have overlapping, but not totally coinciding, semantic ranges, that is, embroider the verb can mean things that the noun cannot.

      In this case, the semantic range of the abstract noun somewhat overlaps but is not the same as the semantic range of the verb αφιστημι. (This is not unusual in Greek, where cognate verbs and nouns do not have the same semantic range: viz. λογος, λεγω). The noun almost always refers to apostasy or rebellion, whereas the verb may mean to apostatize, to rebel, or to fall away.

      Your point: “If you include all the usages of this word, in both noun and verb form, using the context as the guide, several of them can only have a meaning relating to spatial departure – a physical leaving. Therefore, we must include that as a possible interpretation of the apostasia in 2 Thess. 2:3.” But this is precisely the problem: in word study, one cannot simply “include all the usages of a word, in both noun and verb form,” because the noun and the verb are two different words, and will have their own semantic ranges. Otherwise the problem is like this: “If you mix (dry) sand with water, then one can say that sand in and of itself shares the properties it has when sand and water are mixed together,” ending up with a conclusion “therefore, dry sand is really wet.”

      Btw, I’ve personally chased this all down through centuries of usage using the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae database: I found very few references where αποστασια the noun refers to a physically removal, they typically refer to a falling away as apostasy or rebellion. If you have references where the NOUN means a physical removal, I would like to see them.

      But anyway: In a sense, it’s a moot point, how the pre-1611 versions rendered apostasia, since it is known that all those earlier English versions understood its meaning as a rebellion or apostasy, not a rapture. No-one saw it as a pre-trib rapture until the 1940s or 1950s, I believe, when Kenneth Wuest and Schuyler English took it as such. The original Scofield Bible, which said that apostasia referred to “the apostasy of the professing church 2 Thessalonians 1:3; Luke 18:8; 2 Timothy 3:1-8.” Of course, everyone prior to 1950 could have been misreading it, but it is important to note that every single Bible scholar on record took it as religious “apostasy” or political “rebellion.”

      Nor do I know anyone who says that the restrainer is the Spirit as present in the church before the early 1800s. Again, that doesn’t mean it can’t be so, but it is an odd fact that no-one read 2 Thess 2 before 1800 and said, “Gee, how can the antichrist be present when the church is on the earth?” To an individual those who believed in a final antichrist stated unequivocally that the church would be present when the antichrist was (Justin Martyr is very clear on this).

      May I suggest that your question “If the restrainer is not the Church or the Holy Spirit, who else/what else can it be?” is unhelpful, since Paul does not say what the restrainer is, although he says the Thessalonians knew. But the Thessalonians must have kept it to themselves, since no-one is on record for 1800 years as saying it means the pre-trib rapture of the church.

      Besides which we cannot establish the meaning of Scripture or draw conclusions within any field with an appeal to “what else could it mean?” I am reminded – no offense, please! – of the UFO shows I watch, where the UFO experts are looking at some phenomenon – scorched grass in a field, lights in the sky, a pyramid in the Mexican jungle – and conclude that “What other possible explanation can there be, except that extraterrestrials did this?”

      There are a dozen or so interpretations; the one I follow, although I’m not entirely convinced, is that Paul is referring to an angel such as Michael – Daniel 12:1 can be translated “At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will stand aside. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then.” Michael, or an angel, or whatever force, can hold the man of sin back, IF God gives them the authority to do so, no problem. That’s how angels are able to tie up angels in Rev 9:14 and Satan himself in Rev 20:1-2. So no problem.

      Again: if the Spirit is not in the world during the tribulation, how do all those people get saved during that period? And anyone who is saved by faith in Christ, from Pentecost on, no matter their race, is part of the Body of Christ, which is therefore, by definition, present on the earth during the tribulation. And that is what the Olivet Discourse and Revelation state, that saints go through the tribulation. And throughout Jewish and Christian eschatology, there is a strong current of teaching about a final apostasy before the Day of the Lord (Jude, 2 Peter, 2 Tim 3, 1 Tim 4, Revelation, Olivet Discourse, 1 Enoch, Qumran literature), easily making “apostasy” to go-to option of 2 Thess 2, unless it cannot fit.

      Your point “What departure, whether from the faith or from anything at all, do you find that Paul had already taught the Thessalonian Church about? We know Paul had previously taught them about the rapture.” This argument is moot, in fact, because for it to work, you would have to demonstrate that “Paul had previously taught them about the PRETRIB rapture,” a theme I do not find anywhere in 1 Thess. Nevertheless, we ARE certain that he taught them about a final apostasy, because that is precisely what he goes on to detail in 2 Thess 2:6 – “Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things [about the man of sin]?” We do not find teaching on that in 1 Thess, so we have to assume he taught it to them orally; 1 Thess 3:4 – “In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.”

      Your statement that “That which restrains the Antichrist is the Holy Spirit [in 2 Thess 2] indwelling the Church. The removal of the Holy Spirit implies the removal of the Church because the Holy Spirit indwells believers.” – This is supposition, but Thessalonians says nothing of the kind, nor does any verse of the Bible. The Spirit most definitely dwells in the earth during the final tribulation, given that people utter prophecies and are converted to Christ during that time. No Spirit, no prophecy, no conversions.

      “The thing is, whether it is apostasia or aphistemi, it ALWAYS has qualifying words in the context so that you know what the departure, which is the literal meaning of the word, is from.” The larger context of Christian eschatology, and the proximate context of 2 Thess 2 speak of religious apostasy, so I would take that as the background for the word. Btw, you are assuming, but not demonstrating, that the removal of the restrainer is the same as the apostasia. Paul does not say that at all.

      The rapture as a prelude to the tribulation is absent, I think the evidence is clear, from 2 Thess. It is certainly absent from 2 Thess 1, its immediate context –

      6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you
      7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.
      8He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
      9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might
      10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.

      Then … and concerning that very same “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him” in 2:1, correct? And “the day” in 1:10 is the “Day of the Lord” in 2:2, no? And the people who perish at his coming for the church in 2 Thess 1 are those who perish at the end of the Tribulation in 2:10-11, correct?

      That’s how it seems to me; I could be wrong. I have spent many, many hours in this passage, comparing it to other Christian prophecy for my Thess commentary, where if you are interested, you can read extensive essays I wrote up about the theme.

      I have been pretrib and I have been posttrib. I may be wrong in my current opinion, but it seems to me that unless one already assumes that the church cannot go through the Rapture, then no-one would ever find a pretrib rapture in the NT.

      Thanks for writing in, blessings! Gary

    2. I agree with this view completely. I believe the departure will be the Rapture of the Church before the man of sin is revealed. Also, if once saved always saved, then how can people fall away from their faith ? I don’t think there will be a great falling away from Faith.

      1. Hi Kathy, and thanks for sharing.

        I invite you to consider the many NT passages that speak of apostasy. I too believe in “once saved, always saved,” but as Christians we have to take these apostasy verses into account too. Blessings, Gary

        But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute, 2 Pet 2:1–2.

        The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. 1 Tim 4:1

        Those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away, Lk 8:13.

        Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica, 2 Tim 4:10.

  4. I know this is an old thread, but I’m wondering what you would think about the Restrainer actually being Satan – in other words the Restraint not being a positive thing. Many have been conditioned to think that Satan is vigorously pursuing a plan to bring forth the Antichrist. But isn’t this is last thing he wants to do, considering that his being confined to the Earth means his time is short – and he knows it?

    I see from Rev. 12 that in the middle of the 70th Week of Daniel the Antichrist has his own apocalypse and at the same time Michael and the angels are casting down Satan to the Earth. For a time, I believed that Michael was the restrainer, based on Rev. 12 and Dan. 12. But whether the Hebrew has Michael standing up or standing still, he seems to be a very ineffective angel if the result is the Time of Jacob’s Trouble.

    Could Satan’s expulsion from the heavenlies meet the definition of ek mesous in 2 Thessalonians 2? In which case the katecho/katechon is really his desire to hang on to his relative freedom of motion and ability to traverse the heavens until the time appointed by God for him to be thrown down…

    I have seen little on this in commentaries, although it is not unknown, but it makes sense to me especially when one considers the important things which are happening at the 1260-day mark.

    Grateful for any thoughts you may have.

    1. Hi Nick, blessings!

      In fact, this viewpoint does show up in a few commentaries; I don’t have my library at hand, so I can’t look it up, but googling “satan as restrainer” will show you a couple of relevant pages.

      In the case of “But whether the Hebrew has Michael standing up or standing still, he seems to be a very ineffective angel if the result is the Time of Jacob’s Trouble.” I’m not sure what to make of that, since according to this viewpoint, Michael does effectively restrain until he is taken from out of the way.

      In Christ, Gary

  5. Gary,

    Thank you very much for your informative and very helpful reply. I will look up Robert Gundry.

    You would seem to be saying that the many teachings on the internet are quite literally the ‘blind leading the blind’.

    kind regards


  6. Very helpful article. After recently becoming convicted that the post tribulation belief is biblical ( I was never pre-trib,mainly because I couldn’t work out all the scriptural gymastics in order to believe it ). I happened upon the teaching that the word for falling away in 2 Thess 2.3 should be ‘departure’ and thus it means ‘rapture’,this was also enforced because of its similitude/connection to verses 6 and 7 in the same chapter.(I must confess that this did rattle me a bit).
    It was only today (27/10/2011) that I learnt the above and have also discovered that there are pre-tribulation teachers that say that all the pre KJV 1611 bibles do NOT have the words falling away/apostasy in 2 Thess 2.3. Is this correct? (I must make investigations).
    One of the main reasons why I came to believe in the post-trib position is because a straight reading of Matt 24,Luke 21 and Mark 13 would seem to demand it. Also the the timing of the trumpets as well in Paul’s letters.And why did Paul warn against the coming man of sin so much if believers are raptured before he comes?
    I never realised until very,very recently how important the rapture timing is,because logically if you believe that you are going to be caught up before the tribulation you are going to set yourself up for tremendous deception.

    1. Dear Colin, thanks for your letter.

      I’ve read about this supposed distortion of 2 Thess 2:3 by the KJV, and also of the supposed teaching of the rapture by the medieval scholar who wrote using the name of Ephraem of Syria. The best resource for these topics if by Robert Gundry, First the Antichrist: Why Christ Won’t Come Before the Antichrist Does.

      As with many bloggers on these Greek matters, type in your theme and you will see blog after blog simply quoting one another, without independent research into the original languages.

      The Greek noun apostasia absolutely means apostasy, typically religious apostasy.

      The earlier English versions used “departure,” which was a synonym for a departure from the faith; the KJV did not capriciously change it to “falling away,” which is in fact a more precise translation, as the Septuagint, other NT usage, all the lexical studies show. Besides, the pre-KJV Bibles most certainly did not understand 2 Thess 2:3 to mean a rapture of the church. No-one saw any “rapture” in the word apostasia in 2 Thess 2:3 before, I believe, E. Schuyler English in “Re-Thinking the Rapture,” Our Hope magazine, in 1949-50.

      There is a lot of false knowledge about Greek on the internet; from what I see, one should not believe 95% of it.

  7. Thanks, Gary. I think that one of the frustrations I had when I preached this passage was that while I focused on ways to avoid falling away people seemed only interested in the question about whether they would have to go through the Tribulation. They seemed to assume that they could never apostasize. Our people need to see the dangers of falling away and concern themselves with biblical calls to faithfulness while still being confident of God’s power to keep them in the faith.

    1. Yes, don’t get me started on that topic, Bill! The same with Matthew 24, and Hebrews 6 (which latter I just taught). Folks, the passages are there in the Bible for a very good reason: to tell you Don’t go apostate!

      People go turn their backs on the Lord every day, all around us. Sometimes we spray on the theological deodorizers “they backslid” or “they’re not walking close to the Lord”, but a portion of these people have just plain abandoned the faith. People need to know that It can happen to you. And me!

      Harold Camping’s followers took a certain path after the failure of the Rapture to appear. They could have taken another path, which was, perhaps a small, unnoticed handful of people were raptured, and I was “left behind.” For a minute there I wondered if Camping himself would go into hiding, in order to give the impression that he had been “taken.” What would those people have done? Left the faith, probably, assuming it was too late for them.

  8. Wow, I appreciate this helpful word study, Gary! Two comments. You leave hanging the idea that the faithful remnant will be ‘small,’ but I do not see anything that makes it necessary to import this sense of remnant. Just as antichrist was not a single figure, but a spirit that deceived some even in the first century of this age which is “the consummation of the ages” (Heb. 9), “we, upon whom the End of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10) … just so, the ‘departure’ may be a sifting out of those who do not believe, which could be a small part of a primarily redeemed creation (as Isaiah envisions). It is possible (I believe, God’s plan and desire) to have an earthly generation filled with believers, with just Ezekiel Temple “salt marshes” at the outskirts of the River that flows down from that heavenly temple of God’s glory.

    Secondly, in one of Jesus’ most important parables of the Kingdom, He says the angels take OUT the tares, which leaves true believers in the earth. This needs to fit with the passage at hand. It fits nicely with the point you make about “in the air” in your previous blog: we ascend to meet Him in order to get behind His victorious consummation of this “consummation of the ages” that we are progressively extending in the earth (Mt. 16 “gates of hell will not prevail”; Eph. 1 “all things under His feet” “…through the church”; 1 Cor 15 (and Heb 10) “the last enemy to be defeated is death” but meanwhile He rules [through us] in heaven “until all enemies are under His feet.”)

    1. I’m pretty sure I’m talking with a person I know, whose name is not “Pat Henry”, but…

      We are coming at the passage from two very different perspectives – I’m historic premill, I believe you are postmill – so it would be hard to establish a point of contact in order to discuss the details of semantics.

      Remnant: I’m not sure I implied that the end-time remnant will be small. The larger church will take major losses, as we read in the gospels, Paul and Revelation, but this does not give us a good sense of what the numbers are. Nevertheless, the fact that the theme keeps coming up in the NT surely indicates that it will be an apostasy of notable proportions and not simple wear and tear on the church.

      Nor do I see in the “salt marshes” of Ezekiel some definite sign that all but a few will be saved in the end, not without allegorizing.

      As a missionary, I work toward the growth of the true church and pray for its wholeness and sanctification. We work in a world where the church is growing numerically, but is losing its grip on the Word, on true doctrine, on personal and corporate holiness. Apostasy is all around us. Perhaps that is a sign of the end, perhaps not; if what we see now is any indication, then the final apostasy will be a disaster and will lead to the loss of sound doctrine and holy living.

      Tares: With regard to the wheat and the tares, yes, in that parable the wicked are “removed” for the fire of judgment. Yet this is not speaking of a purification of the church, but rather the rooting out of the wicked from the “field.” The “field” is not, as is popularly thought, the church; the Lord plainly states that “the field is the world” (Matt 13:38). This parable makes good sense as a precursor to the separation of the goats from the Father in Matthew 25.

      In other texts the Bible speaks of the gathering up of the righteous. I take Paul’s statement about our being “gathered together” (2 Thess 2:1) to be a true parallel to the gathing of the elect by the angels at the coming of the Son of Man (Matt 24:31). In fact, I would argue that Paul is using the very language of the gospel tradition: the Lord Jesus uses the verb “gather” (episunago), and Paul uses its cognate noun “gathering” (episunagoge) in 2 Thess.

    2. Also, I’m not sure how you get “all things under His feet” “through the church” in Eph. 1:22, unless I’m looking at the wrong verse. God put him over all power and name and all things are under his feet, and all from the resurrection and ascension onward, not as a result of the work of the church throughout the ages.

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