2 Thessalonians 2:3 Explained Correctly
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 urged them not to be:
“shaken in mind, nor to be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as if by us, as that the day of the Lord is present.” (2 Thessalonians 2:2 Berean Literal Bible)
The phrase, “The Day of the Lord” was a common designation used in the Old Testament for the Tribulation period. For example:
Amos 5:18-20 – Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. Will not the day of the Lord be darkness, not light—pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?
To read an article that establishes that the day of the Lord and the Tribulation are identical, I refer the reader to my article: The Day of the Lord. The subject of this article is the verse which follows, which states:
“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first…” (2 Thessalonians 2:3)
The Apostle Paul was reassuring the Thessalonians that the Tribulation period had not arrived. He reinforced this by telling them that something called the “the apostacy” comes before the Tribulation. But what exactly is The Apostasy? The English word means to fall away from the faith. However, it would surprise most people to learn that English Bibles prior to the KJV did not translate this passage with that word. Indeed the Geneva Bible – the Bible the Pilgrims used – uses an entirely different word that had a different meaning. It was not until the King James Version (which the Pilgrims did not trust) that the passage was made to say anything about an apostacy. The question becomes, what did Paul actually write?
The Apostle Paul used the Greek word “apostasia.” Do not let the similarity of pronunciation between apostasy and apostasia fool you. The two words don’t have identical meanings. Strong’s Dictionary of the Bible defines apostasia thus: “leave, depart, departure; literally, a leaving from a previous standing.” The word is used several times in the New Testament to speak of departing or withdrawing from something or someone.
It is helpful to see how the word is used in other places in the New Testament. The verb form of the word is found in 2 Corinthians 12:8 where we read, “I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.” In Acts 12:10 the word is used this way: “immediately the angel departed from him.” In Luke 4:13: “And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”
Only one time is it used in a slightly different sense and that is in Acts 21:21 where we read: “Now they have heard of thee that thou teachest those Jews, who are among the Gentiles, to depart from Moses…” Although here the meaning comes closer to the definition of apostacy, nevertheless even here it carries the meaning of departure.
So, we have three examples of the Greek word apostasia being used in the New Testament to refer to leaving or departing to go somewhere else. This should make it clear that the English word “apostacy” is not identical to the Greek word apostasia. To illustrate, if you wanted to say, in English, “I am going to depart for home now,” you would not say, “I am going to apostatize for home now.” But in the Koine Greek of the New Testament you would use that word, because it meant “to depart,” whereas the English word “apostacy’ is not understood or ever used with that meaning. Thus, the Greek word apostasia and the English word “apostacy,” though they sound the same, are not the same in meaning.
The translation of apostasia as apostasy is a comparatively modern contrivance. The Geneva Bible of 1599, the version brought to America by the Pilgrims, translated the passage this way:
“That day shall not come, except there come a departing first…”
Seven English translations, from the Wycliffe Bible of 1384 to the Geneva Bible of 1608, all translated the word as departure or departing. The following versions translated the word as departure: Wycliffe Bible (1384); Tyndale Bible (1526); Coverdale Bible (1535); Cranmer Bible (1539); Breeches Bible (1576); Beza Bible (1583); and the Geneva Bible (1608).
Even the Latin Vulgate, which was considered the authorized version of Christendom for nearly 2,000 years, used the word decessio, which means “departure.” Translation of this passage with the meaning of “apostasy” did not become popular until the King James Version of 1611, which became the first to translate the word as “falling away.” That set a precedent which most English translators have followed since. Traditions die hard. Today, the World English Bible, a revision of the American Standard Bible, has an excellent translation of this passage that I believe is the most faithful to the original language as penned by the Apostle Paul. It translates the passage this way:
For it will not be, unless the departure comes first…
Translating the word as “departure” is more literal. It could mean departure from the faith, but that is mere supposition. The word “faith” is not in the original. The actual text merely calls it “The Departure.” The definite article “the” in front of departure speaks of it as a known event that Paul had already discussed with the Thessalonians, which indeed he had, for he adds in verse 5, “Don’t you remember that, when I was still with you, I told you these things?”
So if we accept the translation of the word as departure, the question is, departure from what? Many people believe that this was a direct reference to a pre-tribulation Rapture wherein Christians depart this earth to be with Christ. Is that what could be meant? We have to look at the context to make that determination.
2 Thessalonians 2:3 – The Departure Comes First
There are two clues. Paul begins with a preface, “Let no one deceive you in any way. For it will not be, unless the departure comes first…” Paul was concerned that people would deceive the Thessalonians into thinking the Tribulation would come before “the departure.”
Deceive is a strong word. That is the word Paul uses. You can sense Paul’s passion for this. It begs the question; is Paul passionately concerned that they are being deluded into thinking the Tribulation comes before an apostasy? Why would that even matter? Paul urges them not be worried. He told them not to be “shaken in mind, nor to be troubled…” Why would they be troubled if they thought the Tribulation came before some kind of apostacy? But if the meaning is the Rapture, then it makes sense that they would be troubled if they thought the Tribulation came before the Rapture.
Does it not seem more likely that he is concerned that they are being be fooled into thinking there would not be a Rapture before the Tribulation? I repeat, Paul says in Verse 2 that he is concerned that they not “be quickly shaken…” The ISV says, “upset or alarmed.” There would be no reason they would be shaken or alarmed by an apostasy not coming yet. But if they thought the Rapture was not going to happen before the Tribulation, that could definitely cause alarm.
Another clue is that the context is all about the Rapture. In Verse 1 Paul told them he was going to speak of “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to him…” Now that is clearly a reference to the Rapture. But If “the Departure” is not the Rapture then when and where in this context does he talk about the Rapture? It appears that Paul expected the Thessalonians to understand the “The Departure” and the Rapture to be the same thing. Otherwise, where is the talk of the Rapture that Paul said he was going to speak of?
Not only do we find the Rapture referred to in the opening statement, we see it again in reference to the restrainer being taken out of the way. Verses 7-8 says, “He who now restrains will do so until He is removed. Then that lawless one will be revealed…” This is a reference to the presence of the Holy Spirit through the Church being absent, due to the Rapture. “The Departure” and the removal of the restrainer are the same event. So we see that understanding “the departure” as a reference to the Rapture is completely in harmony with the statement of the removal of the restrainer being necessary before the Antichrist can come.
Indeed, the opening statement, “the departure comes first, and the man of sin is revealed…” shows the connection between the Rapture and the Antichrist being revealed. The Rapture must happen first so that the Holy Spirit operating through the Church is taken out of the way. Only then can the Antichrist be revealed. Paul puts these two in close juxtaposition in the sentence because he knew the Thessalonians were already familiar with the restrainer concept, for he had made it clear to them before.
Unfortunately, some theologians have seen the close proximity of “the departure” with “the man of sin” and erroneously concluded that apostasia does not refer to departing to go somewhere, as it means in other contexts, but must mean something sinister in regard to the Antichrist. From this misunderstanding, mistranslation with words such as “rebellion” or “apostacy” has engendered a confused understanding of the passage, which has lent support to the error of a post Tribulation position.
No Great Apostacy
Furthermore, there is no mention anywhere in Scripture of an event called “The Apostasy.” Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” It is the cults who frequently say the Church has gone into apostasy and that they alone are the remnant with the truth. That is a lie. It cannot happen. If the entire Church went into apostasy, then Jesus’ words would be in error, and the gates of hell would have prevailed against it. 1 Timothy 4:1 says, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith…” The keyword here is “some.” Not all, but some.
Indeed, in Acts 2:17, we read: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” There was a partial fulfillment of that on the day of Pentecost and it is being fulfilled throughout the Church age. Its final fulfillment will be just prior to the time of the end when God will supernaturally empower his saints with powerful gifts of the Spirit. We have seen this on the rise since the advent of the Pentecostal movement at the beginning of the 20th century. So rather than a great apostasy sweeping through the Church, Scripture speaks of a revival propelling the Church into Spirit-filled ministry in the last days.
False teaching and apostasy have always been an enemy of the Church and have been making inroads here and there and it shall always be so. There has been an ebb and flow through the centuries as the battle rages between the Church and Satan. There was a crescendo of apostasy during the Dark Ages when the Catholic Church darkened the world with its false teachings. Apostasy retreated with the Reformation. We can undoubtedly expect spiritual warfare to intensify as we approach the time of the end. There will be a gradual rise in apostasy, while at the same time, God will empower His Church with spiritual gifts to combat it. “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” (Isaiah 59:19) Scripture defines apostasy, not as some future event, but as an enemy to be battled throughout time, an enemy that the Church, for the most part, conquers.
It is true that the Apostle Paul warned Timothy, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4) But this is not referred to as a great apostacy of the last days. Consider that this warning was given to Timothy in the 1st Century. It was not mentioned as an event limited to the time of the end. Timothy was warned to expect this in his day and therefore Paul in the prior verse exhorts him to “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.”
Apostacy Not A Defining Marker Event
If there was a great event coming called “the apostasy,” how would anyone recognize it? How would a person differentiate it from the many great apostasies of the Church age? There have been many true Christians in past Church history who saw the Catholic Church as an apostate Church. How can one tell that was not “The Great Apostasy?” At that time, many could have thought precisely that. I submit that apostasy cannot be the marker for the Tribulation. It is too nebulous, too gradual, and reoccurring. Apostasy has always been with us in one form or another and to a greater or lesser degree.
Paul speaks of “The Departure” as a recognizable, sudden, and visible event by which one can know whether or not the Tribulation has started. He speaks of it not as “a departure.” He says, “The Departure.” Paul, in another place, speaks of his “desire to depart and be with Christ.” We must remember that the word Rapture did not exist then. Rapture is a term that comes to us from Latin, a language not then in use. Could it be that “The Departure” was used by the early Church the way we use the phrase “The Rapture?”
Indeed, Cyprian, an early Christian theologian and bishop of Carthage (AD 220-258), speaks of the Rapture by that very moniker: “By an early departure you are taken away, and delivered from the shipwrecks and disasters that are imminent…” Recall also that Victorinus, writing in AD 240 said, “and these shall be in the last time, when the Church shall have gone out of the midst,” which mirrors the literal translation of 2 Thessalonians 2:7 which, speaking of the removal of the restrainer reads, “until out of the midst he be gone.” This is further evidence that the early church saw 2 Thessalonians Chapter 2, Verse 3 (The Departure) and Verse 7 (Restrainer removed) as references to the Rapture.
While we do not see the theme of a specific identifiable future event called “the apostasy” throughout Scripture, we do see another event repeatedly spoken of. We know it as the Rapture, but it makes perfect sense to understand “The Departure” as that same event, for we read about departing this earth to meet Christ in the air in numerous places in the New Testament. I now present a condensed literal translation of the passage. As you will see, it all fits together understandably when you substitute terms we use today for the Old Testament terminology.
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the Tribulation has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless The Departure comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed…Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed…only He who now restrains will do so until out of the midst he be gone. Then that lawless one will be revealed…But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation…” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-15)
 For evidence that the KJV Bible frequently has poor translation, see my book King James Onlyism by Mark Swarbrick available at Amazon.com
 See my book, The Hidden Truth About Catholicism, available at Amazon.com
 Philippians 1:23, where Paul speaks of his desire to depart and be with Christ, is primarily referring to his death, not to the Rapture. Yet it shows that Paul was familiar with the phraseology of being with Christ as a departure.
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