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Lesson 3 The Great Apostasy of the Church


Devotional Reading:   Psalm 137


Memory Verse:           2 Thessalonians 2:3


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.




2 Thessalonians 2:1–12. Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, 2That 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.

3Let 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; 4Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. 5Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? 6And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. 7For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. 8And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming: 9Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, 10And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: 12That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.




2 Thessalonians 2:1. The second coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:14–18) was expected by the Thessalonians at any moment. V2. Paul corrects this idea, for some things must occur first. V3. The apostasy, or falling away, must take place first. V4. In this apostasy the man of sin will make great blasphemous claims. V5. Paul had explained this when in Thessalonica; apparently they had forgotten. Vv 6&7. The spirit of apostasy was already at work but was being hindered (let) by the existing civil power. V8. The full revelation was to come after the removal of this restraining power. The final destruction will come at the coming of Christ. Vv 9&10. It is to be characterized by marvelous deceptions and great wickedness. V11. All this results from turning from the truth and loving wickedness.






1. Old Testament predictions.


There are several of these, search them out.


2. New Testament predictions.


A) Christ’s predictions. Christ foretold the coming of false prophets and a general decline (Matthew 24:11–12, 24). This was not local but wide-spread. B) Paul’s predictions. In addition to the text see Acts 20:29, 30. Here Paul predicts the coming of false teachers, and division among the flock. C) Peter’s prediction (2 Peter 2:1–3). Peter predicts wide-spread apostasy and tells of its causes and its methods of operation. D) John’s prediction. The Book of Revelation deals extensively with the apostasy of the church, presenting the truth through the use of symbols.




1. Erroneous views.


A) That it took place under Nero. He is thought to be the man of sin. But the prophecy is not fulfilled in Nero nor in any other person of that age. He is to be destroyed by Christ’s coming hence this destruction is yet future. B) That it is an event yet to come. Some look for the appearance of a wicked man in the future who will fulfill this description and cause a great apostasy. But the man of sin—that Wicked—is not an individual.


2. It began in the Apostolic Age.


A) Paul said it was already at work (verse 7), and pointed to its early manifestation. B) Already some were forsaking the way, and others were seeking preeminence. C) It was then held in restraint. Something was withholding. The force then hindering the first had to be removed.

1) The supremacy of paganism. As long as paganism was upheld by the civil government some phases of the apostasy could not develop. This obstacle was removed in the conversion of Constantine.

2) The civil government. The hierarchy could not reach its full development till the civil power ceased. At the fall of Rome (A.D. 476) this restraining force was removed. The rising power no grasped the authority lost by the civil rulers.


3. Its defeat.


A) By Christ himself. The overthrow was not to come through physical force or political power. B) With his truth. The means used is “the spirit of his mouth.” This is accomplished by the preaching of the truth under the direction of Christ.


4. Its final destruction.


A) At the coming of Christ. The apostasy, at least in some phases, must continue until Christ appears. B) By the manifestations of his presence. The glory of his person will destroy all works of darkness.




1. False teachers.


A) From without. These teachers are called wolves. They enter slyly and deceive. B) From within. These teachers are more dangerous and usually work greater havoc.


2. Heresies.


A) These are pernicious doctrines—perverse things—used to draw away disciples. The truth never divides God’s people. B) Resulting from factions. The flock is scattered and divided by false teachers who teach perverse doctrine.




1. The loss of holiness.


A) This is predicted by Paul (2 Timothy 3:1–5). The loss of true character is not accompanied by the surrender of the form of religion. There is a name to live while spiritual death reigns. B) This was experienced early in the church. Vanity, untruthfulness, and covetousness were sins that early became prevalent among professed Christians. C) The sinfulness of the professed Church in the Dark Ages equaled or surpassed the description given in the predictions.


2. Apostasy in doctrine.


A) A departure from the truth (2 Timothy 4:1; 2 Peter 2:2). Some of the most vital doctrines, such as the spiritual birth, sanctification, and a holy life, were lost sight of. B) The spread of false doctrine. This was somewhat gradual but extensive. The doctrines of baptismal salvation, purgatory, with praying to Mary and the saints, penance, transubstantiation, papal supremacy, and papal infallibility are some of them.


3. The establishment of the Hierarchy.


A) Bishops were exalted above the common clergy. Some men assumed an authority over other ministers, so the office of bishop was made separate from and above the elders. B) The bishops of the larger cities claimed a superior dignity over their fellow bishops of smaller cities, so new offices were developed as archbishop, metropolitan, patriarch, etc. D) The cities of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria fell before the Mohammedan hordes, leaving Constantinople and Rome as rivals. The bishop of Rome was acknowledged head of the Roman Catholic Church, so then the Patriarch of Constantinople became head of the Greek Catholic Church.




1. In the Roman Catholic Church.


A) All the marks of apostasy are found here in a large degree. There is the prevalence of sin, the abundance of false doctrines, and the powerful autocracy that supplants Holy Spirit rule. Here the man of sin sits in the temple of God, claiming to be head of the church with power to save and to damn. B) The apostasy is not confined to Catholicism, but its workings and effects are found in some degree in Protestantism and other forms of Christianity. Where ever sin is allowed or false doctrine taught—there is apostasy.