The Falling Away

We enter a very difficult stretch of verses. Hold on tight.

2 Thessalonians 2 (1)

Pray Psalm 2.1-3.

Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
“Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”

Read 2 Thessalonians 2.1-3.

Reflect.

1. What is falling away (apostasy)? Falling away from what?

2. What would cause someone to fall away?

Meditate.
The verses we will examine in the next few installments are difficult. Believers have differed, and even quarreled, over their interpretations of these verses. We will try to understand Paul’s teaching in the light of his other writings and related portions of Scripture.

First, we finally discover what has been troubling the Thessalonians and Paul: Some were teaching that Jesus had already returned and because the Thessalonians were not part of that gathering together to Him, they must not have been truly saved. Paul denies being the author of this nonsense, even though (v. 2), the false teachers may have been claiming his authority. So, to begin with, Paul puts the Thessalonians at ease (v. 2).

He continues then to unfold more details of what must happen before the coming of the Lord. He mentions two benchmark events, the falling away and the man of sin (Greek: ὁ ἄνθρωπος τῆς ἀνομίας, the man of lawlessness). Let’s take a closer look at the first of these.

The falling away (Greek: ἡ ἀποστασία, the apostasy or rebellion) is mentioned first. The NKJV translation does not quite capture the thrust of the verb, which is more aggressive and determined. Falling away is something that might happen to someone; apostasizing or rebelling is more active and intentional, and this is what Paul intends. A time is coming when widespread apostasizing or rebelling will be manifest. But from what?

From the worship of God, essentially (v. 4). Instead of worshiping God, many will reserve the right to choose or to be their own gods, and to chart their own course in life rather than to submit to the holy and righteous and good Law of God (cf. Rom. 1.18-32; Rom. 7.12). And what’s most troubling about this is that many will do so while yet claiming to worship God and to follow Jesus. Otherwise, why would the false teachers have troubled the Thessalonians so much, if not that they were claiming to speak in the names of Paul and Jesus? 

Jesus will not come again until, on a widespread scale, people have rejected God and His Anointed One and thrown off His Law and all His Word, preferring their own laws and ways to His. Apostasy of one form or another has been associated with the Christian movement throughout the course of history. Was Paul thinking ahead to those days, to warn believers in every age to keep a close watch on themselves and the teaching they embrace (1 Tim. 4.16)?

There is a word of warning for us in this: It is possible to apostasize and not even realize it. All who neglect or deny God’s Law reveal something about their hearts which indicates that rebellion has infested their souls. 

This time of apostasy or rebellion will bring forth a new kind ofman– a man of lawlessness. 

Prepare.
1. How can we tell when our worship is true worship of God or just something we enjoy for ourselves – and hence, worship of ourselves?

2. What do you think would be the signs that someone was beginning to fall away or apostasize from God?

3. Should we expect the threat of rebellion against God to always be so blunt as in Psalm 2.1-3. Explain. 

Such is Paul’s account. And we have reached the “falling away.” Men, that is, have fallen away from the true faith. Some proclaim the identity of Father and Son. Others dare to assert that one should believe Christ has come into existence out of nonexistence. Formerly heretics were quite evident, but now the church is full of masked heretics. For men have deserted the truth and want to have their ears tickledCyril of Jerusalem (315-386 AD), Catechetical Lectures 15.9

Guard my heart, O Lord, that I may not despise or neglect Your Word, lest I…

Pray Psalm 2.

This psalm envisions a cosmic conflict involving God and His Anointed One, ruling in the midst of His people, against those who reject Him and His Law. Pray for believers who are being openly persecuted by these lawless men, and pray that God would revive His Church and renew His people in Christ and His Law.

Sing to the Lord.
Psalm 2 (Agincourt: O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High!)
Why do the nations vainly rage, conspiring together from age to age?
Earth’s kings and all of their counselors stand against the Lord and His Right Hand:

“Now let us cast His yoke below, His Kingdom authority overthrow!
Throw off His Law, reject His Word; no more be governed by this Lord!”

The Lord in heaven laughs in wrath at all who embark on this cursèd path.
His angry Word to them is plain: “Yet shall My King in Zion reign!”

Proclaim the message far and wide, that God has exalted the Crucified!
From heav’n He sent us His only Son, Who has for us salvation won!

To Christ the Lord be given all who humbly embrace Him and on Him call.
Be wise, be warned: His judgment comes to break the prideful, sinful ones.

Rejoice with fear in Jesus’ grace, and worship before His exalted face!
Beware His anger and judgment grim: how blessed are all who rest in Him!

T. M. Moore

Our course, Introduction to Biblical Theology, can help you gain a better overall understanding of the narrative and primary themes of Scripture, and of the best ways of approaching the study of God’s Word. For more information, or to enroll in this free course, watch this brief video (click here).

Forward today’s study to some friends, and challenge them to study with you through this series on 1 and 2 Thessalonians. Each week’s lessons will be available as a free PDF download at the end of the week. Get a copy for yourself and send the link to the download to your friends. Plan to meet weekly to study Paul’s ministry and prepare for your own.


If you value Scriptorium as a free resource for your walk with the Lord, please consider supporting our work with your gifts and offerings. You can contribute to The Fellowship by clicking the Contribute button  at the website or by sending your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 19 Tyler Drive, Essex Junction, VT 05452.

Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All psalms for singing adapted from The Ailbe Psalter. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006).All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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