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Approaching the close of the first century A.D., a grave and treacherous, deceptive danger threatened early Christianity. Was it persecution from those outside Christianity? (Emperor Nero 64 AD., Domitian in A.D. 81, Trajan in A.D. 108) No, the greatest danger came from within the Church. The lurking enemy was apostasy.
A-pos’-ta-si, a-pos’-tat (he apostasia, “a standing away from”): I.e. a falling away, a withdrawal, a defection. Not found in the English Versions of the Bible, but used twice in the New Testament, in the Greek original, to express abandonment of the faith. Paul was falsely accused of teaching the Jews apostasy from Moses (Ac 21:21); he predicted the great apostasy from Christianity, foretold by Jesus (Mt 24:10-12) which would precede “the day of the Lord” (2Th 2:2). Apostasy, not in name but in fact, meets scathing rebuke in the Epistle of Jude, e.g. the apostasy of angels (Jude 1:6). Foretold, with warnings, as sure to abound in the latter days (1Ti 4:1-3; 2Th 2:3; 2Pe 3:17). Causes of: persecution (Mt 24:9-10); false teachers (Mt 24:11); temptation (Lu 8:13); worldliness (2Ti 4:4); defective knowledge of Christ (1Jo 2:19); moral lapse (Heb 6:4-6); forsaking worship and spiritual living (Heb 10:25-31); unbelief (Heb 3:12). Biblical examples: Saul (1Sa 15:11); Amaziah (2Ch 25:14,27); many disciples (Joh 6:66); Hymenaeus and Alexander (1Ti 1:19-20); Demas (2Ti 4:10). For further illustration see De 13:13; Zep 1:4-6; Ga 5:4; 2Pe 2:20-21.
Apostates Will Arise Within the Church
1 Timothy 4:1-2 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
4 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of men who speak lies, whose conscience is seared as with a branding iron,
2 Thessalonians 2:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
3 Let no one deceive you in any way, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,
Paul prophesied that an apostasy would develop and before that apostasy would be brought to an end, the man of lawlessness would come. In fact, in verse 7 Paul stated, “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work …” Notice that, just like the antichrist, in the first century, this man of lawlessness was already making himself known.
“Forsaking Jehovah” (Isa. 65:11) was the characteristic and oft-recurring sin of the chosen people, especially in their contact with idolatrous nations. It constituted their supreme national peril. The tendency appeared in their earliest history, as abundantly seen in the warnings and prohibitions of the laws of Moses (Ex 20:3-4,23; De 6:14; 11:16). The fearful consequences of religious and moral apostasy appear in the curses pronounced against this sin, on Mount Ebal, by the representatives of six of the tribes of Israel, elected by Moses (De 27:13-26; 28:15-68). So wayward was the heart of Israel, even in the years immediately following the national emancipation, in the wilderness, that Joshua found it necessary to re-pledge the entire nation to a new fidelity to Jehovah and to their original covenant before they were permitted to enter the Promised Land (Jos 24:1-28). Infidelity to this covenant blighted the nation’s prospects and growth during the time of the Judges (Jg 2:11-15; 10:6,10,13; 1Sa 12:10). It was the cause of prolific and ever-increasing evil, civic and moral, from Solomon’s day to the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Many of the kings of the divided kingdom apostatized, leading the people, as in the case of Rehoboam, into the grossest forms of idolatry and immorality (1Ki 14:22-24; 2Ch 12:1). Conspicuous examples of such royal apostasy are Jeroboam (1Ki 12:28-32); Ahab (1Ki 16:30-33); Ahaziah (1Ki 22:51-53); Jehoram (2Ch 21:6,10,12-15); Ahaz (2Ch 28:1-4); Manasseh (2Ch 33:1-9); Amen (2Ch 33:22). Prophecy originated as a Divine and imperative protest against this historic tendency to defection from the religion of Jehovah.
Faithful Christians Reject Apostates
2 John 9-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not remain in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who remains in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting;
Romans 16:17-18 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
17 Now I urge you, brothers, to keep your eye on those who cause divisions and occasions of stumbling contrary to the teaching that you have learned, and turn away from them. 18 For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting.
In classical Greek, apostasy signified revolt from a military commander. In the Roman Catholic Church, it denotes abandonment of religious orders; renunciation of ecclesiastical authority; defection from the faith. The persecutions of the early Christian centuries forced many to deny Christian discipleship and to signify their apostasy by offering incense to a heathen deity or blaspheming the name of Christ. The emperor Julian, who probably never vitally embraced the Christian faith, is known in history as “the Apostate,” having renounced Christianity for paganism soon after his accession to the throne.
An apostate’s defection from the faith may be intellectual, as in the case of Ernst Haeckel, who, because of his materialistic philosophy, publicly and formally renounced Christianity and the church; or it may be moral and spiritual, as with Judas, who for filthy lucre’s sake basely betrayed his Lord.
How Serious is Apostasy?
2 Peter 2:1 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
2 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.
Hebrews 6:4-6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, [“if they then commit apostasy,” RSV] it is impossible to renewthem again to repentance since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put him to public shame.
The term “apostasy” refers to the act of renouncing or rejecting one’s religious faith. In the Bible, apostasy is generally viewed as a serious offense, and it is often associated with turning away from God and rejecting his will.
In the Old Testament, apostasy is often depicted as a form of idolatry, in which people worship false gods or turn away from the worship of the one true God. For example, the Ten Commandments specifically forbid the worship of other gods (Exodus 20:3). The prophets of the Old Testament also often condemn apostasy, warning that it will lead to destruction and punishment.
In the New Testament, the concept of apostasy is also present, although it is often framed in terms of turning away from the teachings of Jesus and rejecting his authority. For example, in the book of Hebrews, it is written that those who turn away from their faith in Jesus will be punished with a “fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27).
Characteristics of Apostates
In the Bible, apostates are often described as those who have turned away from their faith or rejected the teachings of God. Some specific characteristics that may be associated with apostates, as described in the Bible, include:
Worshiping false gods: In the Old Testament, apostates are often depicted as those who worship other gods or engage in idolatry. For example, the Ten Commandments specifically forbid the worship of other gods (Exodus 20:3).
Rejecting the authority of God or his representatives: In both the Old and New Testaments, apostates are sometimes described as those who reject the authority of God or his representatives, such as the prophets or Jesus.
Disobeying God’s commandments: In both the Old and New Testaments, apostates are often depicted as those who disobey the commandments of God or fail to follow his will.
Engaging in immoral or sinful behavior: In the New Testament, apostates are sometimes described as those who engage in immoral or sinful behavior, such as greed, deceit, or unrighteousness.
It is important to note that these characteristics are not exhaustive and may not apply to all individuals who are described as apostates in the Bible. The concept of apostasy is complex and multifaceted, and it can take many different forms. Furthermore, the primary characteristic of an apostate is now who leaves the faith, rejecting God and then turning on that faith by working in opposition to it.
By Dwight M. Pratt and Edward D. Andrews