Paul's Reliance on Psalm 2 and "The Apostasy"
by Ed Vasicek
What is the background for Paul's statement in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, "Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction?" What does the term, "apostasy" refer to?
Perhaps the understanding of the term lies within the Jewish roots of our faith.
In Edward M. Cook's translation of the Psalms Targum, (a Targum is a Jewish paraphrase -- usually in Aramaic; it often adds additional content to the text, thus exposing the Jewish understanding of the text), we read the Jewish paraphrase of Psalm 2:1-2, "Why are the Gentiles disturbed, and the nations murmuring vanity? The kings of the earth arise and the rulers will join together to rebel in the Lord's presence, and to strive against his Anointed."
Could the interpretation of the 2 Thessalonians portion (below) be based on previous, Old Testament revelation? If so, the passage becomes more understandable:
Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for (that day will not come) until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
Don't you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. (2 Thessalonians 2:3-8).
Perhaps Paul's teaching is a Midrash (a teaching in the Jewish style) on Psalm 2 with additional expansions based on further new revelation. Thus the entire age (as implied by Acts 4:25-28) is an age when the kings of the earth rise up, but this "rising up" (apostasy) comes to a climax during the Tribulation when the kings unite under THE Antichrist (as opposed to the many antichrists that have littered history) and the Antichrist shows his true character by demanding worship (Revelation 13).
Instead of simply rebelling "against the Lord," (according to the actual Biblical text of Psalm 2), the Targum interprets this as "to rebel in the Lord's presence," thus alluding to the Abomination of Desolation (the act by which the Antichrist enters the Temple and demands to be worshipped as God) which takes place in the Temple! Throughout the Old Testament, the Presence of God (Shekinah) is said to dwell in the Tabernacle/Temple. So the Apostasy and the Abomination of Desolation are essentially the same thing. Thus Paul is stating that the Apostasy will take place, and then further defines as "the Abomination of Desolation."
This same Targum continues (Psalm 2:4-9):
The one who sits in heaven will laugh; the word of the Lord will mock at them. Then he will speak to them in his strength, and in his wrath he will frighten them.
I have anointed my king, and appointed him over my sanctuary. I will tell of the covenant of the Lord. He said: "You are as dear to me as a son to a father (abba), pure as if this day I had created you." Ask me and I will give the riches of the Gentiles as your inheritance, the rulers of the ends of the earth as your holding. You will shatter them as with a rod of iron, like a potter's vessel you will break them.
So what restrains the Antichrist (who is, in a sense, chosen from among the many antichrists dotting the world) from coming on the scenes? Although this is not as clear (and is a vulnerable theory), perhaps the "restrainer" (the one holding him back) is none other than the anointed king (the Messiah, Yeshua), but, more specifically, His request ("Ask me and I will give the riches of the Gentiles"). Until Jesus makes this request of the Father, the antichrist will be held at bay.
The idea that the apostasy is defined in Psalm 2 seems like a noteworthy hypothesis whether the Psalm actually gives us a clue to the identity of the restrainer or not. My hope is that others (who have the expertise and resources) would examine Psalm 2 in its Jewish context and see whether the Psalm is indeed key in Paul's understanding of the end times and the nature of our current era.