The Great Falling Away

by C. Parker Thomas

“Now we beseech you brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him.

“That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.

“Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.” II Thess. 2:1-3.

The question being addressed here by the apostle Paul is the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him.

The reality of the kingdom of God and the return of Christ was uppermost in the minds of the disciples during the days of Christ and the early church. With opposition and persecution on every hand plus the rigors of a world in turmoil, it’s no wonder they desired such a kingdom.

In various ways the disciples were reminded of Christ’s coming and the gathering together of the saints of all ages. John 10:16, Eph. 1:10. Although they did not understand many things about the kingdom and the nature of it, they believed it was coming and longed for that glorious day. Matt. 24:3, Luke 17:20-21, John 14:1-3 and Acts 1:6.

In fact, this theme was the topic of conversation and discussion throughout the New Testament. Likewise, many Old Testament scriptures pointed to various aspects of this great event. Although many scriptures are interpreted as applying to an earthly kingdom with natural Israel as the beneficiary of such a kingdom, the Old and New Testaments abound with such references.

It is evident that the Jews as a whole, including the disciples, were looking for an earthly kingdom with a Moses-type Messiah that would lead them in the restoration of Israel to their former place of earthly splendor and power. The Lord used symbolic language and many parables to purposely hide the spiritual reality of these things from presumptuous and self-willed man. The reason for veiling truth through this means is found in Mark 4:11-12.

“And he said unto them, Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in Parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them.”

Let me hasten to add that the Jews today as well as most of our professing Christian world are blind to the spiritual reality of the kingdom of God and the coming of Christ.

The idea of the restoration of Israel with Jesus ruling and reigning from David’s throne a thousand years in an earthly Jerusalem is a continuation of this delusive desire for an earthly kingdom.

II Thess. chapter two deals specifically with the coming of Christ and transpiring conditions or events that precede and lead up to his coming. In fact this chapter gives us the most concise and complete picture of these conditions and events that we have in the word of God.

These conditions or events are given as signs that point to the coming of Christ. Strangely enough, true signs that portend the fulfillment of prophetic events cannot be seen by the world or religious man as a whole. Only the elect will see and understand these things. I Thess. 5:4 says, “But ye, brethren are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.” And it is evident that many of them will be asleep and have to be awakened by the midnight cry. Matt. 25:6.

Ironically, most of the professing Christian world will think the lying signs and wonders are the real thing. Jesus said, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” Matt. 24:24.

In one way or another much of the professing Christian world, like the Jews, are sign seekers. Matt. 12:38-39, I Cor. 1:22-23. And I am not just thinking about those who emphasize the phenomenal or miraculous.

Some of your good old Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics and others are sign seekers and don’t know it. This is why so many of them have joined the Charismatics and many other cults. Any time the criteria or basis for faith becomes something other than the revelation of Jesus Christ you have a sign seeker.

Any time your religious foundation becomes something other than Christ and him crucified you become a sign seeker. Your sign might be some doctrinal extreme, religious experience or church tradition. Whether true or false, anything that replaces Christ as the head of the church, the sacrifice for our sins and our great High Priest is a lying sign.

For example, many groups have some traditional doctrine that has become a hallowed sign to their followers. The sign that Pentecostals and Charismatics exalt above all others is speaking in other tongues. Growth in numbers, prosperity and great religious works are looked upon as signs that portend God’s blessings upon many groups.

Just remember that Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.

“Many shall say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?

“And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matt. 7:21-23.

Like the parables that Jesus used, II Thess. 2:1-13 is said in such a way it can only be understood by the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Trying to interpret these scriptures without the revelation of the Holy Spirit has spawned a flood of error that has become traditional doctrine by many.

It is such religious delusions as this that causes most professing Christians to turn their ears away from the truth and choose their fables. II Tim. 4:2-4.

The falling away which Paul says must come first before Jesus returns is a definite sign or barometer that tells us he is coming soon. In fact, his coming awaits this event because it is the resulting condition of man that makes his coming necessary. When man reaches that place in time where his depravity and moral corruption takes him beyond his conscience toward God there is nothing left but judgment.

However, there are several things we need to understand about the falling away before we will be able to see it in its proper perspective. As long as we think of the falling away as a condition or single event coming within a short time frame, we will be blind to its reality.

Another thing we need to realize is that the falling away must be seen by the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Its past, present and future tense reality will not be recognized any more than the man of sin will be recognized. It will take the same revelation of God that enabled Peter to recognize the falling away. Matt. 16:13-18.

From a study of the scriptures that relate to world conditions and the coming of Christ, one of the most obvious and evident facts is that religious man as a whole will not be expecting him. Needless to say, the unbelieving world including the millions of heathen will not be looking for him.

And it will be delusion, much of it caused by religious error regarding these things, that enables Jesus to come as a thief in the night. This condition will not because of a lack of religious activity and teaching. At this very moment the world is literally being flooded with every conceivable religious delusion.

The dragon (Devil, Satan) has been deceiving and destroying man ever since he was cast out of heaven. However, due to the fact that he knows he has but a short time to work, his mouth is opened wide now and he is flooding the world like never before. Rev. 12:1-17.

This includes all aspects of religion, politics, economics and sensual pleasure. Up until today Satan has been allowed to work but it has been under restraint. The restraint has been in process of being removed for a long time now. This is responsible for increased activity of the multitudes of cults. Seducing spirits and doctrines of devils are responsible for this. Organized or historic Christianity has become so dead and formal that they have accepted many other cults as one of their own.

The falling away which Paul refers to in II Thess. 2:3 is called by other translations; the apostasy, the great revolt, the rebellion, the great apostasy, definite rejection of God, the final rebellion against God and a time of great rebellion against God. (The New Testament from 26 Translations).

Rebellion against God started with Lucifer who led a third of the angels into rebellion with him. Isa. 14:14-16., Rev. 12:4. Then Lucifer led man into rebellion against God in the garden of Eden. Gen. 3:1-8. Sin and rebellion has plagued the universe ever since.

To say the least, the history of man has been one of rebellion and judgment since God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden. But sad to say, man as a whole has never learned to repent of his sin or recognize God’s judgment. Mal. 1:1-4.

In one sense, the falling away has been a repetitious act of rebellion against God since the rebellion of Lucifer. From generation to generation the Bible is a record of man rejecting light and rebelling against God.

Cain who refused to bring the correct offering, killing his brother and going out from the presence of the Lord is a good example. Gen. 4:3-16.

However, the falling away that Paul has reference to is uniquely associated with the end of the church age and the coming of Christ. Everything that preceded the sacrifice of Christ and the formation of the church made up of Jew and Gentile (Rom. 2:28-29, 10:12-13, Eph. 2:11-22) was a prelude to God’s ultimate plan. Eph. 1:10.

The types and shadows of the Old Testament including the nation of Israel had served their purpose with the sacrifice of Christ. John 4:19-24. The sacrifice of Christ brought an end to the animal sacrifices, the law and the priesthood ministry of Israel.

All animal sacrifices were fulfilled in the sacrifice of the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world. John 1:29, Rev. 5:6 and 13:8.

Israel as the church in the wilderness was replaced by the church founded at Pentecost. Acts 7:38. The ministry gifts, replacing the priesthood, were given to the church by Christ the head as he ascended up on high. Eph. 4:7-14.

The Aaronic priesthood was replaced by the eternal priesthood of Christ as he entered the holy of holies to appear in the presence of God for us. Rom. 8:34, Heb.4:14-16, 9:24 and 10:1-14.

The kingdom has been taken from Israel the nation and given to a holy nation made of Jew and Gentile. Matt. 21:33-43, I Peter 2:9.

Lost unbelieving Jews and Gentiles will never be able to say, “Lo here! or, lo there!” for this kingdom comes not with observation. God’s kingdom in a visible form will never be a part of this earth under the curse - not for a thousand years or any other period of time. Luke 17:20-21.

Religious people today are as blind as the Pharisees were; only today the greater light has come and has been rejected. Revelation reserved for this day which will usher in the end of the age and the coming of Christ is likewise being rejected. This is the climax of man’s rebellion or falling away.

The change from earthly Jerusalem as God’s special dwelling place was forever ended with the first coming of Christ. This is not only true of earthly Jerusalem but of all earthly religious shrines that become the center of man’s worship rather than Christ.

The Samaritan woman, like the Pharisees and most religious people, had an earthly religious shrine that she pointed to as the place of worship. “Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet in Jerusalem, worship the Father.” John 4:21.

Man wants to associate God with something tangible or of an earthly nature. He especially likes to associate God with the work of his own hands. Everything religious man has built becomes a shrine that he worships in process of time. This is what happened with natural Israel and the temple.

This was their condition almost seven hundred years before Christ was born. Their religion had become a form of idolatry. This is why the Lord said, “... The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?

“For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.

“He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.

“I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not.” Isa. 66:1-4.

God cannot be put in a religious cubicle however large it might be. Solomon understood this when he built and dedicated the temple. This is why he said, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?” I Kings 8:27.

Like religious man today, the Jews began to worship the work of their hands rather than the God who created all things including their hands. When man deludes himself into thinking he has a fence around God, God moves on to greener pastures.

Religious man without Christ goes to one of two extremes. One extreme says that we are all God’s children and there is room for much divergence of opinion. We will all make it to heaven if we love one another and are sincere.

The other extreme says that we are the true church in the earth and we have a fence around God. If you want God, come to us and we will open the gate for you.

In the face of tradition and the dead letter of the word, Jesus said, “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.

“God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24.

Although Isaiah couched his language a little differently, he meant the same thing when he said, “... but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.” Isa. 66:2.

As for God’s dwelling place, Isaiah told us where it is located. I assure you that it is not Jerusalem, Nashville, Cleveland, Salt Lake City, the Vatican or any other religious headquarters.

Isaiah 57:15 says, “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.”

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