The Great Apostasy in Matthew 24 & 2 Thessalonians 2
In any study of the Great Apostasy, it is important to realize that Jesus’ prediction in Matthew 24 serves as the source of Paul’s doctrine of that awful falling away. He tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13f that what he taught the Thessalonians about the last days events was from the Lord. That is, he was reminding them of what the Lord had taught.
It is unfortunate indeed that many commentators delineate between the Olivet Discourse and Jesus’ teaching there, from Paul’s discussion of that topic. As a result of this dichotomization, two eschatologies are created in the Biblical narrative. Two “Great Apostasies” are imagined. Yet, Paul is very clear that there was but “one hope” (Ephesians 4:4f).
With this in mind, it is helpful to examine the parallels between what Jesus said in the Olivet Discourse and what Paul had to say in Thessalonians about the last days events, including the Great Apostasy.
1. In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus said that some would come claiming that Christ had come: he was in the desert or in the “closet” (Matthew 24:26). In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul was dealing with those who claimed that the Day of the Lord had already come. See my book, How Is This Possible? for a powerful examination of this issue.
2. In Matthew 24:31 Jesus spoke of the “gathering of the elect.” (It should be noted that the word that Jesus used, episunagogee and its cognates, was an eschatologically charged reference. In the LXX, this is the word that is used repeatedly to speak of Israel’s last days gathering to the Lord in the Messianic Kingdom. When we consider that Paul said his eschatology was from, “Moses, the law and the prophets” this adds significance to his use of episunagogee. He was not using that term in a vacuum. Jesus’ use and Paul’s use of that word indicated that they were both speaking of the predicted last days “restoration of Israel” that was taking place in the body of Christ.
3. Matthew 24:10-12– The prophecy of the great apostasy. In 2 Thessalonians 2:7, “the apostasy” (The Great Apostasy) was already at work.
(Note that Paul refers to “the” apostasy. Clearly he is referring to some previously foretold and well known apostasy. Question, where is that apostasy foretold? If Jesus’ Olivet revelation is the source for this reference we are forced to conclude Thessalonians is restricted to that generation as well.)
Side Bar: While there is no doubt that Jesus foretold the apostasy of his followers, there is a nuance to the word apostasia used by Paul in Thessalonians, and that is “rebellion.” That is, it may be that Paul had in mind the Jewish rebellion. This is an intriguing possibility that linguistically cannot be excluded.
4. Abomination of Desolation (Matthew 24:15) – The Man of Lawlessness (2 Thessalonians 2:3,9). Clearly, the Man of Sin and the Abomination are inter-related themes.
5. Jesus said that the false prophets and false messiahs would work false signs and wonders (24:24). Likewise, Paul said the Man of Lawlessness would work lying wonders (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
6. The Parousia, (24:3, 26, Greek-parousia) – 2 Thessalonians 2:1, (the Parousia).
7. The signs would indicate that the parousia and kingdom was near: “When you see these things that day will not come know it (he) is near (Matthew 24:32f). Paul echoed this: “That Day will not come except there come first the apostasy and man of sin (2 Thessalonians 2:2-3) These would be signs of the imminent coming!
8. “This generation shall not pass until all these things are fulfilled (Matthew 24:34) – 2 Thessalonians 2:7, “the mystery of iniquity does already work”. When one connects 2 Thessalonians 1 with chapter 2, we are forced to the conclusion that all of the events that Paul described would be in the lifetime of the Thessalonians.
The list of parallels between Matthew 24 and Thessalonians can be expanded much more; these will suffice for our purposes. See my book, We Shall Meet Him In The Air, the Wedding of the King of kings, for an extensive catalog of the parallels between the Olivet Discourse and Thessalonians. The parallels are clear, undeniable and powerful.
The apostasy of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is the same apostasy foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24:10-12. But the apostasy foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24 was to occur before the Lord’s coming in judgment in 70 AD. Therefore, the apostasy of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 was to occur before the Lord’s coming in judgment in 70 AD.
Jesus predicted only ONE apostasy (Matthew 24:10-12). That apostasy was to occur before his coming in judgment in 70 AD. The apostasy of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is the same as that foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24:10-12. Therefore the apostasy of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 was to occur before Jesus’ coming in judgment in 70 AD. There is therefore no justification for extending the fulfillment of either Matthew 24 or 2 Thessalonians 2 into the present or the future. Jesus said the Great Apostasy and his coming at the height of that apostasy, would happen in his generation — it either happened or Jesus lied.
The apostasy of 2 Thessalonians 2 is the same as that predicted in I Timothy 4; II Timothy 3-4, etc. But the apostasy of 2 Thessalonians is that foretold by Jesus in Matthew 24:10-12. The apostasy of Matthew 24:10-12 happened in Jesus’ generation (Matthew 24:34). Therefore the apostasy of I Timothy 4; II Timothy 3-4 occurred in Jesus’ generation. This being true, these passages, I Timothy 4; II Timothy 3-4, etc. cannot be referent to a yet future Great Apostasy to presage the coming of the Lord. The Great Apostasy was a first century reality.
Sadly, many Amillennialists have failed to grasp the relationship of Jesus’ prediction in Matthew to Thessalonians. On one occasion I spoke with three preachers. One of them pointedly asked me “You do not really believe the Great Apostasy happened before the fall of Jerusalem do you?” When I presented the evidence for my affirmative response he was incredulous (but open-minded) saying, “I have never seen that before.” Prior to that I heard a preacher say there is no Biblical evidence that an apostasy of the magnitude spoken of by Paul in Thessalonians happened before 70 AD. Interestingly, as we have seen, Matthew 24 and Luke 18 speak of the magnitude of the Apostasy; Thessalonians does not quantify it. But how much worse of an apostasy could it be than “most people’s love will grow cold” or, “When the Son of Man comes, will he even find faith on the earth”? We will continue our study of The Great Apostasy in another installment, so stay tuned!