ACST 64: The Apostasy

REL02 (3)Chapter 62 introduced the argument that the worldwide apostasy predicted by the apostle Paul has already begun. In fact, Paul taught that elements of the apostasy were already present in his time. He said that “the hidden power of lawlessness is already at work.”[1] Someone was “holding him back” in the first century, but that someone would soon be “taken out of the way.” The reformers believed that that “lawless one” was the head of an apostate movement which essentially took the place of the visible church for over 1000 years.

The Protestant Reformation was an attempt to take the visible church back from that apostasy. It was not entirely successful. There is still a visible church today which has as its foundation a gospel other than the gospel of grace, a head other than Christ himself, and a way to God other than the Way. We evangelicals have pretty much ignored this. In our desire to get along with others who claim Christ, we have been careful to avoid speaking of this apostasy, which the Bible predicted, and has come to pass.

In fact, we have been guilty of following popular teachings which lead readers to other conclusions about the Antichrist and his rebellion. The popular teaching that he will not appear until after the rapture is one such teaching. In that take on 2 Thessalonians 2, the one who holds back the Antichrist is the Holy Spirit, who will be taken out of the way when the church ascends. Two major facts argue against this interpretation:

1. The Lord’s coming will not pave the way for the Antichrist. Instead, at his coming, Jesus will destroy the Antichrist “by the breath of his mouth” and wipe him out “by the manifestation of his arrival.[2] Paul was not teaching that the world would wait until the second advent for the apostasy to happen. He taught that the Apostasy was a very real threat for professing believers themselves. Those who professed faith in Christ but actually “have not believed the truth but delighted in evil”[3] would be the recipients of “all kinds of miracles and false wonders” and “every kind of evil deception” from the Antichrist.[4] Since they refuse to believe the gospel, God himself will send a deluding influence upon them, so that they fall for the claims of the apostasy.[5]

2. The Holy Spirit can never be taken out of the way. One of the foundational truths taught in Scripture is that God’s Holy Spirit is omnipresent. Even when the church is taken up into the clouds for the marriage supper of the Lamb, the Holy Spirit will still be here, empowering the avenging angels as they war against God’s enemies at Armageddon. No, the reformers understood that the power that held back the apostate church was not the Holy Spirit, but was the Roman empire. As the empire dissolved, the Roman Catholic Church emerged as both a political and religious power, and effectively took over.

Daniel’s Fourth Beast

In Daniel 7, the world’s empires are presented as four enormous beasts. The lion represents Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian empire. After him comes the bear, the empire of the Medes and Persians. Then, comes the Macedonian empire, represented by the leopard with four wings. Finally a great, unnamed beast emerged, which would be the final world empire before the Ancient of Days gave dominion of the earth to “one like a son of man.” Daniel wrote of this Messiah “And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”[6]

the little horn

But just before this happens, something will happen within the fourth empire. A little horn will emerge. Daniel says: “and behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. And behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.”[7] This is the last event Daniel sees before he sees the second coming of Christ. What does Daniel predict Christ will do when he comes? He says “I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire.”[8] It is no coincidence that both Daniel and Paul speak of Christ coming and destroying the Antichrist.

Combining the aspects of both Daniel’s prophecy and Paul’s prophecy, one is left with this timeline:

1. The Roman empire is replaced by another kingdom, but which is still Roman.

2. This king will speak great things, and will deceive those in the church who are not true believers in the gospel.

3. Christ will return and destroy this beast, taking over the nations of the world for his legitimate rule.

It should also be noted that both in Daniel’s day, and in Paul’s day, there was no clear distinction between sacred and secular. All the world’s emperors claimed to be divine and to be ruling by divine appointment. In a sense, all of them were usurping the legitimate authority of the Messiah. What the apostasy did was replace Christ’s legitimate authority as king of kings with the authority of a church.

John

The apostle John, like Paul, also addressed a church on the verge of becoming part of the apostasy. He reveals that many antichrists were already beginning to deceive the church in his time:

“Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. 20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth. 22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. 23 No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. 24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father. 25 And this is the promise that he made to us- eternal life. 26 I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you. 27 But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything- and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you- abide in him.”[9]

The Church was already being led astray by deceiving influences, and John called these deceivers antichrists. Probably the deceivers to whom John referred were Gnostics, who denied the deity of Christ. But John did not say that the future Antichrist would be a Gnostic. He merely implied that the future Antichrist would be a deceiver, and would, like the Gnostics, try to get people to accept another gospel.

John warned his readers against accepting such deceivers into their households:

“For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.”[10]

The Apostasy would be a replacement church with a replacement gospel, but its adherents would seek to convince true believers to join them in their apostasy. The difference that John encouraged believers to look for was a doctrinal difference. The apostates will have gone ahead and stopped abiding in the teaching of Christ. The teaching of Christ was the gospel of salvation by grace.

The Roman Catholic Church replaced sharing the gospel of grace with obeying the law of the Church. They replaced repentance with penance. They replaced forgiveness by the blood with merit through works. The replaced the headship of Christ with the headship of the Pope, who is called the Vicar of Christ. Antichrist means not “against Christ” but “instead of Christ.” They replaced the hope of resurrection with the despair of purgatory. They replaced believer’s baptism with the christening of infants, who cannot profess faith because they do not yet have a faith to profess. The Lord’s Supper was a meal where we are supposed to remember what Christ did for us. They turned it into an animistic ritual where adherents repeatedly sacrifice Christ all over again. Christ had told his disciples to lead by serving. The Roman Catholic Church produced leaders who lord it over their followers, and provided everything for them. They also replaced the purity of worshipping Christ alone to the idolatry of praying to and venerating the “saints.”

In the book of Revelation, John showed that this Apostasy would be a prostitute bride. She would ride the beast of Rome, and give glory to that empire, not the coming reign of Christ. Instead of unifying the church in the gospel, she would unify them under the Latin culture:

‘Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great prostitute who is seated on many waters, 2 with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk.” 3 And he carried me away in the Spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was full of blasphemous names, and it had seven heads and ten horns. 4 The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. 5 And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations.” 6 And I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints, the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. When I saw her, I marveled greatly.”[11]

“Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth. It had two horns like a lamb and it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast in its presence, and makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast, whose mortal wound was healed. 13 It performs great signs, even making fire come down from heaven to earth in front of people, 14 and by the signs that it is allowed to work in the presence of the beast it deceives those who dwell on earth, telling them to make an image for the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 And it was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. 18 This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.”[12]

The letters of the Greek word lateinos, a designation for a person of the Latin language and culture, added up to 666. The Church Father Irenaeus pointed to this as the “probable solution” to the number, as it referred to “the name of the last kingdom.”[13] The prostitute is a symbol from the Old Testament, indicating not a foreign power, but an apostate religion – and sexual immorality was a symbol of idolatry. The mark of the beast was a mark of protection. Just as God marked Cain to protect him from vengeance,[14] and marked those who would survive the judgment during the exile,[15] so the Antichrist would mark his own to protect them from God’s judgment,[16] but it will not work.

Although the Protestant Reformation did much to swing the ecclesiastical pendulum back toward sola scriptura and sola fide, the church remains in danger of succumbing to this apostasy. Regardless of what we call ourselves, we are in danger of joining the apostasy when we get our eyes off the coming Christ and put all our hopes in the present church. We are in danger when we add our own works to the finished work of Christ on the cross. We are in danger when we seek unity by borrowing beliefs from the world around us, instead of trusting the sure word the Holy Spirit gave us.

a word to the offended

Those who are members and leaders of the Roman Catholic Church are obviously offended at such teaching. Perhaps this offense is the reason so many of our other Protestant brothers have stopped teaching it. In this age of relativism, it seems somehow wrong to attack another church, and brand it as part of the Apostasy. Yet, this very relativism is a sign that we do not have to wait until after Christ returns. The Apostasy is here, now. If the Roman Church is not the Apostasy, what is? No other worldwide religious body has keep the world under its control for over a thousand years. No other church has been responsible for such comprehensive syncretism and violence against true faith.

The true catholic (universal) church is not Roman. It belongs to Christ, extends to all nations, and is made up of people representing all cultures. When Jesus comes, he will set the record straight. Until then, it is the responsibility of his present church to preach Christ, not itself. It is our responsibility to stay true to the gospel, not human traditions. It is our responsibility to proclaim faith in God’s grace through Christ’s sacrifice. We cannot afford to replace that responsibility with any other.


[1] 2 Thessalonians 2:7 NET.

[2] 2 Thessalonians 2:8 NET.

[3] 2 Thessalonians 2:12.

[4] 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10.

[5] 2 Thessalonians 2:11.

[6] Daniel 7:14 ESV.

[7] Daniel 7:8 ESV.

[8] Daniel 7:11 ESV.

[9] 1 John 2:18-27 ESV.

[10] 2 John 1:7-11 ESV.

[11] Revelation 17:1-6 ESV.

[12] Revelation 13:11-18 ESV.

[13] Irenaeus, Against Heresies (Book V, Chapter 30). (http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103530.htm).

[14] Genesis 4:15.

[15] Ezekiel 9.

[16] Revelation 16:2; 19:20.

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