2 Thessalonians 2:1-4 from the Greek. “Now we request you, brethren, by the Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him, that you be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor disturbed, neither through a spirit nor through an epistle purporting to come from us, [saying] that the Day of the Lord has come. Let not anyone deceive you in any way, because [that day will not come] unless the Apostasy comes first, and the Man of Lawlessness is revealed, the Son of Destruction, who sets himself against, and exalts himself over, everything called Divine, or object of worship, so as to sit in the Temple of God declaring himself to be God.”
The Day of the Lord is here defined by Paul as the time when the Lord returns, and when the saints are gathered together to Him. That is a useful definition to begin with, and effectively disposes of some loose exposition found in modern theological texts.
In this series we are particularly concerned with that which immediately precedes the coming of the Lord, and the time of resurrection, and it is therefore of the utmost importance for us to attend to this chapter of Pauline theology. He tells us that a certain happening called Apostasy must be evident in the world beforehand. What therefore is “Apostasy”? What does the word mean? Do we have any evidence of its existence today? These are questions that must be faced in this present number of the series.
The word itself is simply a transliteration of the Greek APOSTASIA. And this is composed of the prefix APO (meaning away from) and STASIS (meaning standing). Hence Apostasia means “standing away from”. How do we interpret this into understandable language? There is only one other place where this word occurs in the New Testament, and it is helpful. Acts 21:21. The Jerusalem Elders rejoiced to hear what God had done through Paul’s ministry, but then they said, “You see brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who believe, and they are all zealots of the law, and they were informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to commit apostasy from Moses, saying they should not circumcise their children, nor walk according to the customs.” It is clear from this reference that the Jews were criticising Paul for supposedly rejecting the Mosaic Law in its entirety, with all its laws and customs. These Jews would therefore (in their estimation) be “standing away from” Moses, having nothing to do with the Mosaic Law any more. This misinterpretation of Paul was the very thing that caused the great commotion that followed, which Luke reported in Acts 21.
There is also another related word from the same Greek root which helps in this study. It is APOSTASION, and it is a “certificate of divorce”. (See Mat.5:31, 19:7) The sense of complete separation is most evident here, and taking all these things into account, we can say that Apostasy is a state of complete disconnection, or separation from something, a rebellion, an abandonment of certain principles, teaching, etc.
Our Lexicon refers to 2 Thess.2, by saying “the rebellion caused by the Antichrist in the last days.” I find this rather like putting the cart before the horse, because the words Paul uses suggest that the Man of Sin (should be Man of Lawlessness) comes as a result of the Apostasy, rather than causing it. However, let’s move one step at a time.
In 1949, shortly after I’d come to know the Lord, I attended an Anglican Church in North London, together with a bunch of keen teenagers, all of us on fire for the Lord. The new minister had just been inducted, and we found him to be a true Christian, also on fire for the Lord. He came to us one evening during our Youth Club meeting with a troublesome message. The organist and choir members had approached him, saying that if he preached another gospel message they would all leave. He asked for our prayers, and we prayed there and then. Raymond Turvey was not going to be governed by his choir. The next Sunday morning he preached a wonderful gospel message, with an invitation to stay behind for consultation. That very day the choir and organist walked out, together with quite a number of the regular congregation, never to return. Was this an example of apostasy? I hardly think so. It was more a case of clearing away the “dead wood” from the church, which should have been a place for gospel preaching, conversions, and enablement to walk the Christian life. This example could be placed as one amongst many hundreds of other similar examples that Christians have experienced in church life.
In 1982 I was asked to preach the Christmas Day sermon in our local Methodist Chapel. The Lord gave me a salty word, and I concluded my message by saying, “I believe the Lord is more interested in knowing whether you are born again than whether you enjoy celebrating His birth.” The result was the suddendeparture of most of the congregation, without waiting to shake my hand, or wish me a happy Christmas. I had apparently touched a nerve, and they had winced. But here again, I see no evidence of apostasy. They could not “stand away” from something they never had.
However, in 1968 we were attending an Elim Pentecostal Church in Reading, Berkshire. During the morning service the Minister always had a time during which members of the congregation were encouraged to wait upon the Lord for spiritual direction. On this occasion I received a distinct vision, stood up, and declared what the Lord had shown me. “I can see this church, but instead of people, in each row there are large pots resting on the seats. All is quiet. There is no movement at all. Suddenly one of the pots cracks open, and the pieces fall on the floor, and the contents flow out. As soon as this happens, all the rest of the pots suddenly sprout arms and legs, and gather round in a futile attempt to put the pot together again.”
Pastor Thompson, a godly man, received a word from the Lord to explain the vision. He said something to the effect that the breaking of the pot was not a disaster, but something that should be happening to each and every person in the congregation, because brokenness was a requirement of the Lord, without which further blessing had to be withheld. He referred to the breaking of the alabaster casket in the Gospel story, and how the rich perfume permeated through the whole house. “That”, said Pastor Thompson, “is how it should be when we are broken. The aroma of the Lord will infuse the whole church, and bring blessing upon blessing, as the Lord gives new life.”
This example reminded us at the time of the book we had read years before, written by Roy Hession in 1950, entitled “The Calvary Road”, and Watchman Nee’s little classic brought out in England that very year, 1968, entitled “Release of the Spirit.” And in more recent days, in 1977, we were to read another classic with the same message, by Paul Billheimer, entitled “Don’t waste your sorrows.” The reason why all this is being quoted is to make way for what we believe is the crux of the question about apostasy.
Let me put it in a nutshell. To come to know the Lord Jesus as our Saviour is a wonderful event in anyone’s life. But what happens subsequently is of far greater importance. The crux of the New Testament teaching is that the “outer man” needs crucifixion, in order for the “inner man” to grow. God will have no respect for the “outer man”, with all its human appetites. He wants it crucified. This process is hurtful, and often misunderstood, hence the meaning of Billheimer’s book title “Don’t waste your sorrows”. Don’t despise the hand of the Lord upon your life in all its afflictions. See them as God’s grace and mercy to enable your natural man, your “outer man”, your “flesh” to be eradicated, thereby to enable His new life, granted at conversion, to grow to God’s glory.
There are two processes at work in Christendom – there is the establishment of the teaching of “brokenness”, which only a few understand and allow to happen in their lives, and there is the establishment of a form of religion that panders to the human appetite for experiences, happiness, a “bless me” type of gospel, which sits so much more comfortably on the human form. The Lord signified these two roads in the His teaching, the narrow road which He said would be “tribulated”, narrow, and lonely, and the broad road that would be easy, comfortable, and in the company of many others.
In the last number I quoted from a part of the prophecy the Lord gave Arthur Wallis in 1967, which was all based on the work of the Lord in crucifying the flesh. Each one of us at the Conference was asked, through this prophecy, to yield ourselves to the process outlined therein, to give the Lord permission to deal with us in this painful way, a path that would lead to resurrection. We have no idea how many complied with the request because that is the sort of thing a person does in the closet, and not openly before the brethren. But we do know that from that date there arose a mighty movement of God’s Spirit, which latterly became known as the Charismatic Movement. It has infused almost every denomination of Christendom, and sadly the message of that Exeter Conference has been largely exchanged for times of singing, rejoicing, dancing, hand-clapping, and more dreadful still, the events that occur at Toronto. There is nothing wrong with singing, and rejoicing in the Lord, but when the emphasis is placed more and more on that, rather than the sharing of what “the way of the cross” means, then it becomes the “wide road” that leads to the destruction of all the hopes that Christians expect from the Lord, and will end with weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
I believe that Paul was referring to this when he wrote 2 Thessalonians 2. I believe he saw the tendency to treat the Christian faith as something eminently enjoyable, so that any hardship, any suffering, would be rejected as being impossible for a loving God to allow or to engineer. Even the gifts of the Holy Spirit were being misused for ends contrary to what God intended, and therefore Paul called it a “standing away from” the essential gospel message. It was something that applied only to those who had come to know the Lord, and had tasted the heavenly gifts, but who had decided which way to go. The decision had to be for the broad road, the road that the majority took, the road that led to the large meetings, with experiential “blessings”, all the thrills and emotional atmosphere that made one want more and more. Yes, whether onerealised it or not, it was a road that demanded a decision to walk on it, and this decision was in effect a rebellion from the true gospel, a standing away from the “way of the cross”, a refusal to comply with the narrow tribulated way the Lord enjoined His followers to take.
If what I have said is correct, then to what extent does this apply to today’s Christianity? And, what is even more important, is it a function of today, rather than at any time in history, by which we may know andrecognise the nearness of the Lord’s return? I find that a difficult question to answer. I really don’t know whether I’m in a position to know with my limited understanding of world-wide church life. However, I’ll give what the Lord gave me near the beginning of the Charismatic Movement, in 1974. I believe it was one of the most important visions I’ve ever received, and twice before I have placed it on our web site, and make no apology for doing so again. In order that this edition shall not be of inordinate length, I’ll reserve it for the next number, and present it tomorrow.