A topic that comes up often in discussions about the end-times is an event that is sometimes called “the great falling away.” It is common knowledge among those who study bible prophecy that before the return of Jesus there would be a large amount of people who will abandon the Christian faith. Many Christians today believe that with the drastic decline of Christianity we are witnessing is the falling away. Is this true? Are we currently in the middle of the end-time event that Scripture speaks about? Let’s take a look.
This abandonment from the faith is mentioned in a few passages like 1 Timothy 4:1 and 2 Timothy 4:3-4. In these verses, Paul notes that people in latter times will depart from the faith and will not follow sound doctrine but will follow “deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” They will follow their own desires and listen to people who say what they want to hear. Jesus also speaks about many turning away from the faith in Matthew 24:10. However, one of the most important verses about this abandonment of the faith comes from 2 Thessalonians 2:3: “Let no one deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the man destined to destruction” (NRSV). This is the verse that I want to concentrate on in this article.
The context of this verse concerns a false teaching that had arisen in the Thessalonian Church. Some were saying that the return of Christ was already happening. Paul corrected this by saying that the day of the Lord will not happen until the rebellion (the falling away) and the revealing of the Antichrist occur.
The Greek word translated “rebellion” is apostasia which is where we get the English word Apostasy. The Greek means, “apostasy, abandonment, revolt, rebellion.” It has been translated “rebellion” (NRSV, NIV), “apostasy” (NASB), and “falling away” (KJV and NKJV). All of these translations mean the exact same thing.
This rebellion has been seen as either a political or religious rebellion. The context of 2 Thessalonians seems to be religious since the Antichrist is said to exalt himself above God and everything else that is worshipped. The word is generally used in Jewish literature for opposing the one true God. However, considering that other passages in Scripture about the Antichrist speak about him holding political power it is possible that a political rebellion is involved as well.
The most common interpretation of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is that the rebellion happens before the coming of the Antichrist. This falling away sets the stage for the world to follow the man of lawlessness when he finally arrives onto the world stage. However, not all scholars agree with this. It is very possible that the Antichrist is the instigator of the apostasy in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. This means that the great falling away does not happen until the appearance of the Antichrist. The word “first” here is not followed by “then” so this does not necessarily mean that the rebellion happens before the Antichrist is revealed, but that it must happen before (first) Jesus returns.
We thus have two different interpretations the way that I see it. First, we have two events: an abandonment of the Christian faith prior to the Antichrist. Many Christians in America believe it is certain that we are witnessing the great falling away right now because Christianity is in such drastic decline throughout places such as the United States, Europe, Canada, Australia, etc. But it must be mentioned that Christianity is growing in other parts of the world such as Sub-Saharan Africa and East Asian. The faith is exploding in South Korea, for example.
Second, the falling away and the Antichrist are one and the same. This would mean that the current decline of Christianity may not be the great falling away at all. It is a falling away, but maybe not the great falling away. Thus, what we are experiencing today is nothing compared to what will happen when the lawless one finally makes his grand debut.
This view does makes sense with other parts of the Bible teaching that the Antichrist will wage war against the saints, declare himself God, and have a false prophet at his right side deceiving the world into following the Antichrist. If this interpretation is correct then it would be easy to see how Paul’s “rebellion” could be orchestrated by the Antichrist. False miracles and heavy persecution of the church would be a revolt against God and would lead many away from the church.
Personally I am open to both interpretations of 2 Thessalonians 2:3. It is clear that there is a major decline in Christianity happening in the West right now, but whether or not it is the great falling away that happens shortly before the return of the Lord is not certain in my opinion. We’ll know soon I guess.
What do you think? Which interpretation makes the best sense to you? Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.
 J. Hampton Keathley, III. “Correction Concerning the Day of the Lord – Part 1 (2 Thes. 2:1-5). https://bible.org/seriespage/4-correction-concerning-day-lord-part-1-2-thes-21-5. Accessed December 11, 2015. Bob Deffinbaugh. “Scripture Twisting and the Second Coming, Part 1 (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5). https://bible.org/seriespage/13-scripture-twisting-and-second-coming-part-1-2-thessalonians-21-5. Accessed December 11, 2015.
 Charles A. Wanamaker. The Epistles to the Thessalonians. The International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: Wm B Eerdmans, 1990). 244.
 I. Howard Marshall. “2 Thessalonians.” New Bible Commentary. G.J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson and R.T. France Eds. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994). 1288.
 F.F. Bruce. 1 & 2 Thessalonians. Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 45 (Waco: Word Books, 1982). 166.
 See Keathley and possibly Deffinbaugh.
 Bruce, 167. Marshall, 1288. Wanamaker, 243.