Does 2 Thessalonians 2 contradict your explanation of the biblical statement that “many are called, but few are chosen”?


We recently published three Q&As on the question as to what the Bible means when it says that “many are called, but few are chosen.” ; ;

We pointed out that those who are called today to salvation were elected or chosen to be called before the foundation of the world—before time began. We debunked the idea that some would be called first, and only later, after having proven themselves to be worthy, they would become chosen. Rather, those who are called to salvation today had been chosen long ago by God to be called in this age. We also showed that the statement “many are called, but few are chosen” does NOT refer to a calling of many to salvation, but that only the few (“the chosen”) would make it into the Kingdom, while the many will fall away. Rather, we stated at the end of part 3:

“When God foreknew, predestined and elected or chose someone, before time began, to be called to eternal salvation in this life, He expected that person to remain faithful. Many, though, who may think that they are called by God to salvation, are not truly called at all (Matthew 7:21–23; Matthew 15:13). God does not call many today to salvation; He just calls the few or the firstfruits. The calling of the vast majority of mankind will occur later, during the Millennium and the Great White Throne Judgment. God did not call the few in this age, knowing that out of ‘the few,’ ‘the many’ would fail and depart from the Truth and leave the Church, and that only the ‘chosen ones’ would stay and make it into the Kingdom. Those who come to the Church and then leave the Church were, in all likelihood, never called to salvation in this age, even though we must say that, sadly, some might have been called to salvation and in departing from the faith, after having received the Holy Spirit, they lost it again and have committed the unpardonable sin…”

How then do we explain the passage in 2 Thessalonians 2, especially in verse 3 and verses 10-12, referring to a falling away from the Truth in the end time? We read:

“Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day [of Christ’s return] will not come unless the falling away comes first…  [regarding] those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned [or judged, compare Neue Lutherbibel 2009] who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

When Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong died in 1986, the human leader of the [now defunct] Worldwide Church of God, a new administration took over and slowly, but surely, began to change all fundamental doctrines of the Church. They began doing so clandestinely, so that many, at first, did not even recognize that “changes” were made. But then, the changes were introduced full-speed and with tremendous force, but by then, many had already given in and had blinded themselves to the Truth, unwilling to reject, based on the Bible, the falsity of what was being introduced, and instead following the new administration blindly to perish together with it. The point is, at that time, a tremendous falling away from the Truth had taken place, and many had become victims of that Satanic deception.

But 2 Thessalonians does not speak about THAT event, even though it was clearly a forerunner of what is going to happen. The end-time falling away, just prior to Christ’s return, will be accompanied by the appearance of the “man of sin” or the “lawless one”; in fact, it is largely through the man of sin who will bring about, under Satan’s influence, the final falling away or apostasy.

We read in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 in context:

“… that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”

Continuing in verses 8-10:  “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish…”

So we see, both events—the falling away and the coming of the lawless one—appear at approximately the same time. In passing, the rendition of verses 6 and 7 in the New King James Bible is unfortunate. It states there: “And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He [or “he,” note the Margin] who now restrains will do so until He [or “he”] is taken out of the way.”

As we explain in our Q&A, , the correct rendering of verses 3-8 should be:  “… that Day [of Christ’s return] will not come unless… the man of sin is revealed… And now you know what is holding it [the Day] down [or back] that he [the man of sin, or He, Jesus Christ] may be revealed in his [or His, i.e. God’s] own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains (holds it back) [will do so] until he comes from the midst [of the apostasy]. And then the lawless one will be revealed…”

We explained that “it is the man of sin who restrains until he is manifested. The Day of Christ’s return can only happen after God has allowed the man of sin to manifest himself as the human religious leader of the apostasy—working openly and no longer in secret.” We also explained that what is being held back “is the full mystery of lawlessness, which is restrained today.”

Before addressing in detail the coming falling away, we need to show from the Bible who the man of sin is… as there is tremendous confusion on this issue. Many claim that there won’t be a temple in which the man of sin sits; others claim that the man of sin (wherever he sits) is the beast (calling him Antichrist). They are wrong on all counts.

First of all, there will HAVE to be a literal temple in Jerusalem, prior to Christ’s return. Passages like Revelation 11:1-2 and Zechariah 6:15 (in the Authorized Version) reveal that a temple will be built. Passages such as Psalm 79:1 and Jeremiah 51:11; 50:28 show that the temple will be defiled, desecrated and polluted. Ezekiel 8:5-6, 14-16 describes this desecration even further, and so does Daniel 8:11-14; 11:31; 12:11. The Jews will bring animal sacrifices at the temple, but they will be suppressed, and the man of sin will occupy the temple—the inner sanctuary (2 Thessalonians 2:4, as the word “temple” should be translated).  In fact, Christ warned His disciples not to believe that He would be in the “inner rooms” (Matthew 24:26), as it would be the man of sin who would sit there. As the temple will be built for the honor of God, the Bible does refer to it as the temple of God, even though it would be polluted. The second temple, which had been expanded by Herod, and which also had been polluted by the money changers and others, was still referred to as the house of God the Father (cp. Mark 11:15-17; John 2:14-17).

We would also like to point out that the Church, under Mr. Armstrong, clearly taught the existence of a literal physical temple of God prior to Christ’s return. Herbert W. Armstrong wrote the following about the man of sin, in the Plain Truth of June 1967:

“This European power, resurrecting for a VERY short while the Roman Empire, will take over the city of Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:2.) They will take the Temple, and plant the palace of their headquarters there. With this coming military leader, pictured in Revelation 17 as the symbolic ‘beast,’ will be a supreme religious leader, called ‘the False Prophet’ [Rev. 16:13; 19:20; 20:10] and the ‘man of sin.’ So will you turn next to II Thessalonians 2:3-4: ‘Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day’ — the Day of the Lord, verse 2 — ‘shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and THAT MAN OF SIN be revealed, the SON OF PERDITION; who 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.’ So there will have to be the Temple there!” (Also compare our free booklet, “How Can We Know That Christ’s Return Is Near?”)

As we see from the quote above, Mr. Armstrong also clearly taught that the man of sin is the false prophet, not the beast. This is correct. The false prophet will be able to deceive the people through satanic signs and wonders (compare Revelation 19:20; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10). There is only one vague reference in the Bible to the beast and demonic signs, in Revelation 16:13-14, speaking of demons or unclean spirits coming out of the mouth of Satan the Dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, and saying that these are spirits of demons which perform signs and go out to the kings of the earth and the whole world to gather them at Armageddon. Notice, technically, it is the demons who perform signs and go out to the kings and the world; we do not read here that it is the beast himself who does so (in fact, he won’t go out to the kings of the world to assemble them at Armageddon). But when speaking of the false prophet, we find the repeated expression that HE will perform those signs, of course due to Satan’s help and influence (as the two witnesses will perform signs and wonders due to God’s help and influence, note Revelation 11:5-6).  

The false prophet is also described in Ezekiel 28:1-7. Some have questioned that the person in Ezekiel 28:1, referred to as the prince of Tyre, is in fact the false prophet, and claim that it is the beast. They are wrong. The parallels to 2 Thessalonians, referring to the false prophet, are obvious. In both passages, the personage claims to be God (or a god). We would also like to point out that Herbert Armstrong clearly taught as well that the prince of Tyre describes a religious leader in our time (compare “Mysteries of the Ages,” page 82, hard cover version).

The beast is nowhere described as claiming to be God (or a god). In fact, it is the beast who considers the false prophet as his god (Daniel 11:36-39; Habakkuk 1:11, Authorized Version).

Some claim that the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians 2 is the beast as the beast will be worshipped. That is a false association. First of all, it says that the beast and the image of the beast will be worshipped (Revelation 13:4, 8,15; 14:9, 11; 19:20). The image of the beast describes a religious power, but could also include the end-time representative of that power, as well as a “speaking” statue placed at or in the temple of God (such as a statute of the “Virgin Mary” or of “Christ Himself”). But the concept of being worshipped does not have to mean at all that people consider the person or object being worshipped as “God” (or a god). For instance, in Revelation 13:4, the beast which is “worshipped” is the Roman Empire—not the individual representing the last revival of the Roman Empire in the end time. In addition, who can doubt that many Germans “worshipped” Adolf Hitler—but they did not consider him to be God or a god.

So, we find that the man of sin, sitting in the temple of God, is none other than the false prophet.  For further information and proof, please read our free booklets, “The Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord”; “The Fall and Rise of the Jewish People”; and “The Ten European Revivals of the Ancient Roman Empire.”

Now we are ready to answer more fully the question as posed in this Q&A. When speaking of the coming “falling away,” it clearly addresses people who will be falling away from the Truth which they once understood. This passage does not describe the growth of a religious power, falsely claiming to be “Christian,” which never understood the Truth to begin with. Rather, it does describe the falling away of those who were “in” or “part of” the true Church of God. That would include true converted Christians who will fall away from the Truth. As we will point out below, even though we might hope for the better, their departure might very well be a final decision, leading to the unpardonable sin. Hebrews 6:4-6 is a sober reminder of that possibility.

It is true that the Bible does not use the term “GREAT” or “GREATER” falling away in 2 Thessalonians 2. However, it is also correct that it has been commonly understood that Paul had a GREAT apostasy in mind, which—relatively speaking—will be, in some way, greater than prior apostasies. For instance, the headline of the New King James Bible for 2 Thessalonians 2 reads, “The Great Apostasy.” The Ryrie Study Bible comments about the coming apostasy: “An aggressive and climactic revolt against God.”

For instance, we read in Matthew 24:10, 12 about the end time: “And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another… And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” The “love” which grows cold is the agape love—the love of God given to us by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). The reference here is to converted Christians. The word “offended” in Verse 10 is rendered “fall away” in the English Standard Version (ESV); the New American Standard Version (NASV); the Amplified Bible; and the International Standard Version (ISV).

So, are those correct then who teach that even though many are called to the Truth, only the few are chosen to stay faithful, while the many become “offended” and “fall away” by rejecting eternal life?

Let us review a few more examples where the concept of falling away is described in the Bible.

In 1 Timothy 4:1-2, we read: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron…” The NASV, the English Revised Version and Young’s Literal Translation say “fall away” for “depart.” So, this Scripture says that “some” will fall away.

In addition, in Luke 8:13 we read: “But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.” As we explained in our three-part Q&As on “many are called, but few are chosen,” this category of people mentioned in Luke 8:13 addresses people who were never called; they never received the Holy Spirit, but they could understand and receive the word with joy and even believed for a while.  But in times of temptation, they fell away by forgetting or rejecting that part of the Truth which they did understand and believe.

In Hebrews 3:12, Paul cautions the brethren by comparing them with the ancient Israelites of old who could not enter the Promised Land, by saying: “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God.” The RSV and the ESV say here: “in falling away.” But the Israelites of old did not have the Holy Spirit.

In Isaiah 1:2-4, the unconverted modern House of Israel is addressed by God as follows:  “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: ‘I have nourished and brought up children, And they have rebelled against Me; The ox knows its owner And the donkey its master’s crib; But Israel does not know, My people do not consider.’ Alas, sinful nation, A people laden with iniquity, A brood of evildoers, Children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, They have provoked to anger The Holy One of Israel, They have turned away backward.” The Coverdale Bible states “fell away” instead of “rebelled.” In fact, the word for “falling away” in 2 Thessalonians 2, “apostasia,” means defection from the Truth, and related concepts are to remove, to depart, to forsake and to withdraw, and it can also relate to rebellion.

We can therefore say that in the end time, there will be a falling away, while God’s love in many will grow cold. But this does not have to mean that they lost the Holy Spirit and committed the unpardonable sin, unable and unwilling to ever repent again. As is the case of many who forsook the Truth after Herbert Armstrong’s death, it is our hope that they were either not converted (even though they understood certain aspects of the Truth, as the Holy Spirit might have worked with them), while others did not lose the Holy Spirit, but allowed God’s love in them to grow cold (not, to become thoroughly extinguished). For instance, the five foolish virgins do not have enough of God’s Holy Spirit when Christ returns, but we do not read that they lost God’s Holy Spirit completely, having committed the unpardonable sin. We do not read that they will be thrown into the lake of fire.

On the other hand, some might have committed the unpardonable sin, or will do so, in allowing themselves to fall for Satan’s deception, so the warning is clearly there.

But as we have seen, the Bible also refers to those who fall away from the Truth without having been converted. They might have attended services of God’s true Church for a while—sometimes for a long time—and might have adopted and accepted some of the Truth, but they were never truly convicted. They never received the Holy Spirit. They might have become baptized—many were—but God did not accept that baptism as He looked into their hearts. In short, they were never predestined to be called to salvation in this day and age. Still, they “attended” and were “part of” and were referred to as “members” of the Church.

We read in 2 Timothy 2:17-21:

“And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.’ But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.”

In time, it will become manifest who are vessels of gold and silver—who are God’s—and who are vessels of wood and clay who had never been called for salvation in this day and age. The same thought is expressed in Matthew 13:24-30, 47-50.

In conclusion, 2 Thessalonians and other passages addressing the “falling away” of potentially many, do not teach that God called many to salvation, and only very few will make it into the Kingdom, while most of those who were “called” were never “chosen.”  As we have explained before, those who are called in this day and age were predestined and chosen by God long before they were born to be called now, and God did not call them knowing that most would not succeed.

Still, the decision is ours and the warning that the love of many will grow cold is most certainly to be taken quite seriously. Many might come to repentance and to the receipt or the renewal of the Holy Spirit (which had been somewhat dormant in their lives) during the time of the Great Tribulation or just before or even during the Day of the Lord. Others, sadly, will not accept God’s gift of repentance and may end up in the lake of fire. God calls us by giving us the opportunity to respond to the calling and to overcome and fulfill our potential to inherit eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Let us hope that those who fell or will fall away from the Truth which they had understood will come to their senses before it is too late.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link 

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