The Great Apostasy A Critical Tenet of Eschatology – #1
Everyone would agree that the Great Apostasy is a significant aspect of eschatology. Charles Ryrie, representative of most Dispensationalists, said, “at the end of the church age THE great apostasy will come on the scene before the day of the Lord.” Dehaan listed the apostasy as one of the ten signs that would prove “the nearness of his return and the end of the present age.” Lindsey teaches, or at least has, that our generation is experiencing the Great Apostasy.
Amillennialists seem confused about the Great Apostasy. Boatman believes Paul predicted the apostasy “in sufficient ambiguity that almost from the beginning of the Christian era some possible identification could be considered. And throughout the history of the church a succession of apostasies and persons have appeared that could be so interpreted.” One can only wonder about a position that says God communicates so ambiguously when Paul’s point in Thessalonians was to correct misconceptions and give positive instruction. How could he achieve that through such ambiguity? Goebel Music says the apostasy “is still in the process of development”. Moffitt holds that the Papacy is the manifestation of the apostasy and “will linger around to be slain by Christ at the Second Coming.”
Interestingly, while most Amillennialists believe Jesus’ Olivet prediction was fulfilled, many delineate between that prophecy and the apostasy of the epistles. This delineation between Matthew 24 and the epistles is, we believe untenable.
The purpose of this article is to examine the Great Apostasy. Did the apostasy predicted by Jesus in Matthew 24 occur? How widespread was that apostasy to be; was it “limited”? Is the apostasy of Matthew 24 the same as that predicted in Thessalonians?
The importance of this study has been impressed on me within the last several years as I have conversed with several preachers. When I have asked them if the Great Apostasy happened before Jerusalem’s fall, almost invariably these good men have answered in the negative. The question is, do we have evidence that the Great Apostasy occurred in the first century, prior to AD 70. And the answer to that is an unequivocal “Yes.” Consider Jesus’ own words.
In these verses Jesus clearly predicted an apostasy of significant proportions.
vs. 10 – Many will fall away due to persecution.
vs. 11 – Many will be misled due to false prophets.
vs. 12 – The love of many will grow cold (KJV).
Now notice verse 12 in the New American Standard Version — “Most people’s love will grow cold.” (emphasis mine, DKP). The ASV, NIV, RSV, Williams, Beck, New Jerusalem, Amplified, etc all agree with this rendering.
The Greek of the text supports this view as well. In verse 10 it says “many” (Greek-polloi) will fall away. In verse 11 it says the same. But in verse 12 it says the love of the many (Greek – ton pollon). In other words in verses 10-11 it is simply “many” will fall away. But in verse 12 Jesus said “the many” will fall away. The addition of the definite article in verse 12 is significant.
The question then, of the scope of the apostasy predicted by Jesus is firmly established — Jesus said an apostasy of almost unbelievable proportions was to occur. The faith of almost all believers would wane. The apostasy would carry away most believers. What an incredibly sad prospect this must have been to our Lord! But Matthew is not alone in predicting a massive apostasy. And we will look at some of those other texts as we continue. For now, one thing is clear: Jesus most assuredly did predict the Great Apostasy, and, he said it would be in his generation.