Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first. 2 Thessalonians 2:3
In my opinion, there has been a mistake in this verse’s interpretation. Most commentators interpret it to mean that there will be a great falling away from the faith in the last days. And it’s not only the commentators, but also the translators who believed this. The Greek word used is apostasia, which is transliterated “apostasy.” But this is not the only interpretation. Greek scholar, Kenneth Wuest, said, “The words falling away are an interpretation of the Greek word, not a translation.”
He was absolutely right! The early English translations of the Bible did not translate apostasia as “falling away.” They translated it as “departure.” While I was living in England, I was privileged to have access to many classics within Christian literature. At the Evangelical Library in London, they have copies of the Coverdale, the Tyndale, and the Geneva Bibles, some of the oldest English translations available. In each of these translations, the word used here was “departure,” not “falling away.” You see, the word “apostasy” does not necessarily mean a departure from the faith.
The Meaning of Apostasy
The word “apostasy” is only used two times in the New Testament. Second Thessalonians 2:3 is one of them, and the other is in Acts 21:21, where there is a reference to the Jews forsaking the teachings of Moses. The word apostasia is translated “forsaking” there. And interestingly, in 1 Timothy 4:1, where the very words appear, “In the latter times, some will depart from the faith, the word apostasia is not used. Also, in Hebrews 6:6, where it says, “If they fall away,” a different word is used. My point is this, the word apostasia does not necessarily mean a falling away from the faith. That is why Miles Coverdale, John Tyndale, and the translators of the Geneva Bible simply translated it as “departure.”
Besides all of that, people have been departing from the faith since the Church began. I would venture to say that there is a greater Christian witness in the world today than there has ever been in history up until this time. If we were to look at the Church of Jesus Christ in the 11th century A.D., for example, we would be hard-pressed to connect it with the 1st century Church that we read about in the book of Acts. The Church was entirely different, as there was almost a complete departure from the faith. They had totally rejected the gospel of grace. Few were thinking they were saved just by simple faith in Jesus. I would say that we clearly had a falling away back then.
During that period of history, Christianity itself was limited to just a very small area of Europe. I would say if there was a falling away, it happened at that time. There is much more Christian activity, and a much greater witness today. This is another reason why “falling away from the faith” is questionable as a valid interpretation.
If we read this verse as Coverdale and Tyndale translated it, “let no one deceive you by any means, for the day of the Lord will not come unless the departure comes first,” it opens up a whole new possibility for the meaning of Paul’s statement. What is the departure? I think it could very possibly be that he’s talking about the rapture here. The pertinent question is, the departure of what? I believe this speaks of the departure of the Church. Notice the outcome of this departure, “the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). What is Paul describing? I believe it is the church being taken out of the world and the antichrist rising to power.
Let’s go on to verse 7. My contention is that verses 3 and 7 are saying the exact same thing, just in a different way. “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed” (2 Thessalonians 2:7–8). Something happens in verse 7 that results in the same thing that happened after the event in verse 3. After the departure in verse 3, the antichrist rises to power.
The Presence of the Holy Spirit
Now here is the interesting thing. In verse 7, most commentators agree that “He who restrains until He is taken away” is a reference to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, of course, inhabits the Church, the body of Christ. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. So when that restraining force is taken out of the way, to what is Paul referring? I think what is being said is that when the Church, the temple of the Holy Spirit, is moved out of the way, then and only then will the antichrist come to power. A departure occurs in verse 3, and the man of sin comes to power. The restraining force is moved out of the way in verse 7, and the lawless one is revealed. The departure is the removal of the presence of the Holy Spirit as manifested by the church.
Second Thessalonians 2:1–8 is perhaps the clearest statement in support of the pre-tribulational position in the Bible. It is missed, however, because as Kenneth Wuest said, the falling away is an interpretation of the Greek rather than a translation of it.
We have looked at clear statements from both our Lord Jesus and the apostle Paul on the subject. Next week, we will look at some other scriptural arguments in support of the pre-tribulational rapture of the church.