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Falling away or distancing?

22-11-2017 - Posted by Andre Piet

In 2 Thessalonians 2 Paul discusses the unrest which had arisen among his readers. Among them the claim circulated that the day of the Lord would already have arrived.

Now we are asking you brethren, for the sake of the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling to Him, that you be not quickly shaken from your mind nor yet be alarmed either through spirit or through word or through an epistle as through us, as that the day of the Lord is present.

There was concern about this claim, because it is contrary to the expectation Paul had told them in his first letter. Paul told that believers would be evacuated before this day would come (1Thes. 1:10 ; 4:17). The unrest in Thessalonica prompted Paul to clarify this once more and to disprove the disturbing claim. All this “with regard to the parousia of our Lord, Jesus Christ and our assembling to Him”. That is the subject of this passage.

Falling away?

3 No one should be deluding you by any method, for should not the distancing be coming first and the man of lawlessness be unveiled, the son of destruction. 4 who is opposing and lifting himself up over everyone termed a god or an object of veneration, so that he is seated in the temple of God demonstrating that he himself is God?
-Literal translation based on interlinear-

By far most translations speak about “the falling away” and “apostasy” instead of “distancing”. In Greek it reads APOSTASIA which occurs, as a noun, only twice in the New Testament. Here and in Acts 21:21. The Greek word is made up of two elements: the preposition APO, that is ‘from’ and STASIA that is associated with ‘standing’. This decomposition of APO-STASIA also perfectly explains the meaning of the word: to stand from something and so ‘distancing’. As a verb (aphistemi) it occurs fourteen times in the New Testament and is translated with: leaving (Acts 12:10), sever (Acts 19:9), withdrawing (Luke 4:13 ; 13:27). It can be a ‘distancing’ from the law of Moses (Acts 21:21), the living God (Hebr.3:12), the faith (1Tim. 4:1) but usually also very physical by leaving somewhere or to go away. The common view “the falling away” in 2 Thes.2:3 is rather an interpretation than a translation. It immediately puts the reader on the trail of a negative meaning. But why not opt for the neutral view “the distancing”? After all, that is what the word means. Then the question arises: who distances here and from what? The readers are supposed to know what it is about because it is dealing about “the distancing”. It is specific and determined but also known.

The detainer

What Paul says is: the day of the Lord cannot be present yet because first “the distancing” should occur. And subsequently the man of lawlessness shall be revealed. In verse 6 and 7 he comes back to it.

6 And now you are aware what is detaining for him (= the man of lawlessness) to be unveiled in his own era. 7 For the secret of lawlessness is already operating. Only when the present detainer may be coming to be out of the midst, 8 then will be unveiled the lawless one…

Before the man of lawlessness is unveiled, that which is detaining him must first be removed out of the midst. This is in parallel with what Paul wrote in verse 3: Before the man of lawlessness is unveiled, first “the distancing” takes place. In other words ‘the removal out of the midst’ is the same as ‘the distancing’! What Paul is talking about, is ‘our assembling to Christ’! That is not mysterious, but precisely the subject that he writes about. And about which he also wrote in 1 Thess. 4:17 as our snatching away, to the meeting of the Lord in the air. That is not ‘falling away’ but (positive!) our departure!

As long as believers (the body of Christ) are in the world, the man of lawlessness cannot be revealed. Just as the flood could not come, before Noah and his people were safe in the ark. And as Sodom could not be destroyed while Lot and his people were still in the city. Our gathering to Christ and the attainment of His glory (2:14) must first take place before the man of lawlessness will begin to show himself in the (future) temple of Jerusalem with all the following horrors. Or to speak in the language of Revelation 12: only when “the male son” has been snatched away to God and His throne (12:5) will Satan and his associates be thrown down from heaven on earth (12:9) to wreak havoc there for a short time (12:12).


In order to understand the unrest among the believers in Thessalonica, it is crucial to realise that the believers should first be evacuated from the earth. Which is “the distancing” or the removal of the detainer, after which the man of lawlessness can be revealed. Only then it is clear that “our meeting with him” is indeed the subject that Paul writes about.