|"Apocalypse" by Ludwig Ferdinand Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1831|
The Great Apostasy is a topic that covers both apologetics and eschatology. So it's of great interest to all Christians. At the same time however, there is also a great deal of misunderstanding about it.
Allow me to cover the apologetic side of this topic first. There is a common theme that runs through all Western non-Catholic groups. This includes Protestantism (both traditional and evangelical), as well as Mormonism, the Jehovah's Witnesses (Watchtower), Seventh Day Adventists, and various other groups. The common theme they can all agree on, at least to some degree, is that the message of Christianity, taught by Jesus and his apostles, was lost sometime in the centuries that followed, and that each group is, in its own way, attempting to restore the original gospel. In many circles, this is called 'The Great Apostasy' or 'a great apostasy' or just 'apostasy'. While these groups range far and wide on their theology and practise, the one thing they can all agree on is their opposition to the Catholic Church, and their conspiratorial belief that the Catholic Church is solely responsible for 'corrupting' the 'authentic and pure' Christian faith.
The traditional Protestants first came up with this idea under Martin Luther, who proposed that the papacy corrupted authentic Christianity during the Middle Ages, and that he (Martin Luther) had come to restore it. Various other Protestant fathers jumped on this bandwagon, each claiming to restore something closer to 'authentic' Christianity.
During 19th century America, it was only natural for this movement to take on a life of its own. Modern Evangelicalism started to take shape, and with that, the 'apostasy' theories took on new life. This time, the date of the so-called apostasy was pinned down to AD 313, with the signing of the Edict of Milan (or the Edict of Toleration), in which Christianity would be tolerated within the Roman Empire and eventually become the established religion. Now, for the first time, Evangelical Protestants could pin down the so-called 'apostasy' of the Roman Catholic Church to a specific year. Immediately, tracts began to appear, naming Emperor Constantine as the source of this apostasy, alleging that he became the 'first pope' and mixed Paganism with Christianity, to create what we know today as Roman Catholicism. Some of these tracts were very elaborate, and the most elaborate were compiled into a book called 'Two Babylons' published by Alexander Hislop in 1853. Hislop, a minister in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, proposed the idea that Catholics actually worship the pope as God, and that this practise could be traced back to an ancient Babylonian cult. I've read this book thoroughly. It is rife with historical inaccuracies, fictional archaeology, and outright lies concerning Catholic doctrine and practise. Most notably, when Hislop cites a source in his footnotes, he almost always cites himself. The book is notorious anti-Catholic propaganda, which any reasonably educated person can see through in a matter of minutes. However, the average Protestant. sitting in the pew, is usually ignorant of Church history, Catholic theology and academic methods. So it proved to be a standard source text for future anti-Catholic literature.
Also during the 19th century, the idea of a Catholic 'great apostasy' become so entrenched in American Protestantism that some new American-made religions used it as their foundation. The first example of this was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormonism) founded by Joseph Smith in 1830. This religion has two main denominations; the larger being the LDS Church based out of Salt Lake City Utah, and the smaller being the 'Community of Christ' based out of Independence Missouri. The larger is non-Trinitarian, which quantifies it as a separate religion apart from Protestantism entirely. The smaller is Trinitarian, which puts it back into a quasi-Protestant denomination of sorts. Mormonism, particularly the larger LDS group, holds that a 'great apostasy' occurred shortly after the death of the last apostle, in about AD 100. After that, Christianity was corrupted, particularly by the Catholic Church, until it was restored by Joseph Smith in 1830. While this may seem strange to most Protestants, it is actually a natural progression of the idea of Catholic 'apostasy'. If we hold that 'true Christianity' was lost because of the Catholic Church, than the only thing left to decide is 'when' that allegedly happened. Protestants and Mormons just disagree on the date. Protestants (particularly Evangelicals) hold to the notion that it happened in AD 313. While as Mormons just take it back a little further, and believe it happened in AD 100.
Then we have the Jehovah's Witnesses, otherwise known as the Watchtower Bible And Tract Society, founded in 1879 America. Jehovah's Witnesses are non-Trinitarian and follow a modified version of the Arian heresy, condemned at the Council of Nicea in AD 325. So they cannot be classified as Protestants. It would be accurate to describe Jehovah's Witnesses as revived Arianism. Again, they cling to the idea that a great apostasy occurred, wherein the 'true and authentic' Christian faith was lost, but they take it back even further than the Mormons, asserting that it began even before the death of the last apostle (prior to AD 100). Some Jehovah's Witnesses have even said this great apostasy started immediately following the death of Christ.
There are other groups as well, such as the Seventh Day Adventists, again founded in 19th century America (in 1863). This is a quasi-Protestant denomination because in spite of its unusual beliefs compared to most Protestant denominations, it is still Trinitarian. Like traditional Protestants from the 16th century, they hold that the great apostasy took place in the early Middle Ages. They specifically pin down the date to AD 538, when they claim the papacy came to power after the fall of the Roman Empire.
Modern Evangelicalism gets regular 'booster shots' of this type of thinking with the advent of modern anti-Catholic publications, such as; '50 Years In The Church of Rome' by Charles Chiniquy (1885), 'Roman Catholicism' by Loraine Boettner (1962), 'The Vatican's Holocaust' by Avro Manhattan (1986), 'A Woman Rides the Beast' by Dave Hunt (1994), and 'Hitler's Pope' by John Cornwell (1999). This is supplemented by a steady diet of cartoon propaganda tracts circulated by Jack T. Chick Publications in Chino California, as well as a plethora of anti-Catholic websites and YouTube channels. There appears to be a linkage between anti-Catholicism, the great apostasy, and fixation on the End Times Apocalypse. It is particularly virulent within the Protestant 'Messianic Jewish Movement' and those Evangelicals who identify themselves as 'Messianic Jews'.
The theme of a great apostasy is a recurring one in most, if not all, Western non-Catholic Christian movements. For some, it is essential in their theology and the foundational tenets of their organisations. For others, it is just a widely held belief. But it is telling, isn't it? That in order to keep their people away from Catholicism they have, for hundreds of years, been telling stories about a mythical Catholic 'apostasy' that supposedly happened sometime in the ancient past, during a time period most of their people know little to nothing about. It's a great propaganda tool, and it's served them well. It is the one thing that they all share in common: Protestants, Evangelicals, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Fundamentalists, and so-called 'Messianic Jews'. They are all in bed together on this one, and they all agree with one voice, that 'authentic' Christianity was lost in the ancient past, and Roman Catholicism is to blame. They only disagree on the time 'authentic' Christianity was lost, who is called to restore it, and how it should be restored.
When I here this plethora of witnesses, against the Roman Catholic Church, I am reminded of a certain trial, that happened in the dead of night, in which a certain man was accused of one thing, but his accusers couldn't agree on the time, date and events, or even what he specifically did. They could only agree on one thing -- that he was guilty and deserving of death. That man, of course, is none other than Jesus Christ. Those who accused him of blasphemy where his own people, his own countrymen, who followed the same religion as he. So it is with the Catholic Church, accused by her own people of apostasy. All of them claim to be following the teachings of Christ, but none of them can agree on exactly what the Catholic Church supposedly did, or when she did it. Rather, they just all agree that the Catholic Church is guilty of 'apostasy' and should be dismantled.
A 19th century Anglican convert to Catholicism by the name of John Henry Newman once said: 'Knowledge of history is the end of Protestantism.' I can personally attest that he is right, but I'll take it a step further and say that 'Knowledge of history is the end of all religions, except Catholicism.'
Yes, I really did just say that. Much to the shock and horror of multiculturalism and political correctness, I really do believe this, and I have 25 years of historical studies to back me up. I started out as an Evangelical with a strong affinity toward Messianic Judaism, but my study of history put an end to that rather quickly. Then I became an Anglican, and more study of history moved me into the Catholic Church. My only other rational options were atheism or scientific deism. I say that because once you know history, all of the propaganda becomes obvious. There is no historical evidence of a 'great apostasy' within Christianity. It doesn't exist folks. It never happened. All of the so-called 'Pagan corruptions', that were allegedly placed into Christianity by Constantine during the 4th century, were well documented as being widely believed by Christians in the 3rd century, 2nd century and even the 1st century. The faith that Christians died for in the Roman circuses and Colosseum was a faith wherein Christians prayed to Mary, believed the Eucharist was the literal Body of Christ, followed the pope, and called themselves 'Catholic'. Sorry, those are just the historical facts, and these can be easily backed up with original source documentation, dating back to the time period, written by the very people who died for their faith. So the Protestants are wrong about the supposed 'apostasy'. History proves them wrong and history cannot be changed. It can only be ignored, which is exactly what most of these groups do.
Now we are left with the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. The Mormons assert the apostasy happened in AD 100, after the death of the last apostle. While as Jehovah's Witnesses say it began even decades before that. So if they're right, what are we to believe then? Jesus came, lived, died, resurrected, sent forth his apostles to proclaim the good news, and then they all failed. Everything was lost within a generation. The End.
All of those people who lived from that time period forward were living a lie, until the 19th century, when 'enlightened Americans' were the only ones 'worthy enough' to restore the truth. Seriously? We're supposed to believe that? Sorry, but any rationale person who knows history can smell this as propaganda. What is being preached here is not a restoration of the teachings of Christ, but rather an Americanised revision of them. It doesn't jive with history any more than the Protestant and Evangelical version does. So I'm left with the following proposal. If I am to be a Protestant, Evangelical, Mormon, Jehovah's Witness, Seventh Day Adventist, Messianic Jew, or any other fundamentalist type of Christian, than I must forget about history. I must dispose of it entirely, because 'it's all wrong', and instead listen to my religious organisation exclusively for 'what really happened'. The same goes for Islam, which asserts its own version of a great apostasy following the life of Jesus. As for Judaism, they at least acknowledge history far more than anyone else, but again, I would be left with the prospect that God abandoned Israel for nearly 2,000 years, ignored his promises, and the best we can hope for is a man-made fulfilment through militant Zionism. That's not very attractive to me.
Does this make any sense at all? If we call ourselves Christians, than it only stands to reason that we would follow the teachings of Christ. Right? But what did Jesus actually say about this stuff? Here we have this promise from Jesus Christ himself...
'Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.' -- Matthew 16:16-18 NRSV-ACEIt's that last phrase I want to draw attention to here. Jesus said about his Church: 'the gates of Hades will not prevail against it'. What does that mean? The word 'Hades' is a reference to death. It's translated in other Bible versions as: Hell, Sheol, the Netherworld, etc. It means death. What Jesus is saying here is that his Church will never die out. It will always exist, in some way or another, in continuity and be easily identified. He quantifies how this will happen in the next passage...
'I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.'
-- Matthew 16:19 NRSV-ACEWhen he said 'you' in this passage, the Greek is second-person singular. It is never plural. The Douay-Rheims Version (DRV), like the King James Version (KJV), both use Sacred English, which does a much better job picking up on the Greek second-person singular pronouns...
And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. -- Matthew 16:19 DRV
And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. -- Matthew 16:19 KJVThe words 'thee' and 'thou' are proper English grammar. They're not 'ancient' or 'archaic'. Actually, they're necessary. Modern English fails miserably in this regard, because it's replaced them both with 'you', thanks to the influence of class wars in England centuries ago, and the pervasive use of bad grammar. That being said, these older translations pick up on Jesus' words clearly here. Jesus is talking to one person in the second-person singular sense. He is speaking specifically to Peter.
So Jesus is specifically talking to Peter here, and Peter alone. When he says 'whatever you bind' and 'whatever you loose' he is talking to Peter. He's not talking to me, or you, the reader of the text, or to the rest of his apostles. He's talking to Peter, and by extension, anyone who would later assume Peter's office as chief of the apostles. Jesus told Peter that his Church would never die out, and the gospel would never fade away, because he is founding his Church on Peter and his Petrine office. He alone has the 'keys of authority' to 'bind and loose' doctrine, teaching and practise. He alone becomes the chief of the apostles. He alone becomes Christ's right-hand-man. He alone is the King's prime minister. He alone is the Vicar of Christ. This concentration of final authority into Peter and his office, is what will preserve the Church, and insure that the 'gates of Hades' or 'death' will never prevail against it.
To say that the early Church underwent a great apostasy, and the true and authentic faith was lost, is heresy! It is a blatant denial of the words of Jesus Christ himself. It is to take the very words of our Blessed Saviour, and throw them right back into his face, saying 'You're wrong Jesus!' To say that the gospel of the early Church was lost is to deny the Bible and contradict the Scriptures. It doesn't matter when you say it was lost. You could say it was lost in the Middle Ages, the 4th century, the death of the last apostle, or before, and it doesn't matter. If you say it, you've just denied the promise of Christ.
It doesn't stop there however, let's take a look at some other Bible passages that promise a perpetual and ongoing Church after the coming of Christ...
'For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.' -- Isaiah 9:6-7 RSV-CEFocus in on the second to last passage of Isaiah here: 'He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore'. So the prophecy states that once Christ comes, his kingdom will not cease. There will be no great apostasy that brings and end to the gospel, or puts the Church in eclipse, hidden from the world, needing to be 'restored' by some later 'reformer' or 'prophet'. Once Christ comes, his gospel, Church and Kingdom is established, and it does not end. It just goes forward, expanding, growing, and if it retreats in some places, it only expands in others.
'And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever.' - Daniel 2:44 RSV-CEAgain, the Old Testament prophecy in Daniel states that once the Messiah (Jesus Christ) comes to set up his Kingdom (the Church), it will be perpetual. It will not go into eclipse and be hidden from the world. Nobody will take it over. Daniel says this again later...
'To him was given dominion and glory and kingship,that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away,and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.' -- Daniel 7:14 RSV-CEThe last sentence states it again. Christ's dominion is everlasting, it won't pass away, and his kingship shall never be destroyed. If there was an apostasy in the early days of the Church, than all of these Old Testament promises and prophecies are false. We can only conclude one of two things. (1) The prophecies haven't been fulfilled yet, which means Jesus is NOT the Messiah, and this is the position held by Judaism. Or (2) all of the prophecies are bunk, and we have no reason to believe any of it, and this is the position held by non-Christians and non-Jews alike.
Then in the New Testament we have this promise from the Archangel Gabriel...
'He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.' -- Luke 1:32-33 RSV-CESo now we have an archangel himself promising there will be no end to his Kingdom (the Church). Then we must look to the parables Jesus himself gave regarding his Kingdom (Church). Just so there is no confusion here, the word 'kingdom' appears 122 times in the New Testament; 99 of those times comes from the gospels, and 90 of those times from the mouth of Jesus. All are in reference to the Church in some way. In recent times, within the last 200 years, some non-Catholic groups have attempted to separate the Kingdom from the Church, but it should be noted that all of these groups also subscribe to the 'great apostasy' theory in one way or another. The Kingdom of God is the Church. It begins with Jesus, and subsists fully in him. It is extended to all those who are in Christ, and reigns through the hearts of men. This is the Kingdom. It is not a physical location, but rather a body of people.
First of all, before anything else, Jesus promised that his Church would have both good and bad people within it, and that it would remain this way until the end of time...
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’
-- Matthew 13:24-30 RSV-CEIs this not the history of the Catholic Church told in advance? Just like the ancient Kingdom of Israel in the Old Testament, it is filled with good people and bad. However, it never ceases to be Israel, and so the Kingdom of Christ's Church never ceases to be his Church or his Kingdom. It is never eclipsed, in spite of the bad people. It is never hidden from the world. It is always present and obvious -- the good, the bad, the ugly, warts and all. Jesus promises that all of this will be sorted out at the end of time, but his Kingdom will not be hidden. There is no 'great apostasy' that eclipses the Church or the 'true' Christian faith.
This is important, because proponents of the Catholic 'great apostasy' theory, of all different stripes, rely heavily on historic citations of corruption within the Catholic Church. They propose that because the Catholic Church has had moments of corruption, both by individuals and groups, it must not be the true Church of Christ. The premise is that Christ's Church must always be clean, pristine and downright near perfect. Many people fall for this. This is especially the case in North America, which was heavily influenced by Protestant Puritanism early in its colonial period. Thus, various religious movements in early North America began as 'reformation' movements, with the idea of restoring the pure and pristine Church that they surmise must likewise be 'true'. Of course, that also means the true Church must have been lost in ages past. Thus we are back to the 'great apostasy' theory again. All of this runs on the false notion that the true Church of Christ must be clean, pristine and near perfect. That folks is heresy. Jesus said it himself, as I cited above. The good seed and the bad seed will grow in his Church together. Yes, together! In the very Church established by Jesus Christ himself, because he said so! Remember, even among the original 12 apostles, Jesus chose a traitor -- Judas Iscariot. Jesus knew that Judas was no good. He knew what he would do, that he would eventually betray him, and that he was stealing from the collections. Yet Jesus allowed Judas to walk among the twelve, and within his very inner circle. If this isn't an object lesson for us, I don't know what is. Jesus did this to remind all of us, throughout the ages, that his Church would never be immune from corruption. At least not until his Second Coming, at the end of time, when all will be judged. It doesn't stop there, however, Jesus went on to describe how his Church would proceed after he died, rose and ascended into heaven...
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’ He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’ -- Matthew 13:31-33 RSV-CEHere in these two short parables, Jesus explained how it would be with the Kingdom (Church) after his departure. In the first parable he says that the Kingdom would grow like a mustard seed, into a large bush, that even the birds would make their nests in. In another parable, Jesus described the birds in a derogatory way, thus again implying that his Church would provide a nest for corruption too. Then in the next parable he explained that the Kingdom is like baking bread. You add the yeast to the flour and then it grows. Yeast, again in the Jewish understanding, often represents sin or corruption. While these two references could just be anecdotal, there is always the possibility that Jesus was being quite deliberate with them too. The point here is that the Church never retreats. It never goes into hiding. It never gets smaller, without immediately getting bigger again as a result of trial. It is never eclipsed. There is no great apostasy that causes the Church to go into some sort of remission, only to emerge centuries later thanks to the work of some 'reformer' or 'prophet'. Rather, it always moves forward. It always grows. It always gets bigger and more well known.
The parable of the mustard seed is repeated in the Gospel of Mark, but immediately preceding it, Jesus tells probably the most simple parable of all regarding the progression of the Church after his departure...
He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’ -- Mark 4:26-29 RSV-CEIt just doesn't get any simpler than that. Jesus, by his own words, used this parable to just say it like history tells it. The Kingdom of God (The Church) will simply grow. It will not grow and then retreat. It will not grow, retreat, wait a long time, then grow again. It will simply just grow. When we look over the panorama of churches across the American landscape, indeed even the global landscape, there is only one Church that fits this description. That is the Catholic Church.
Protestant churches claim that true, pure and authentic Christianity was lost during the Middle Ages, and that it needed to be 'restored' by the Reformation of the 16th century. This defies the words of Christ describing how his Church would just grow. Protestant Fundamentalist churches take it further, claiming a great apostasy happened in the early 4th century, under Constantine the Great, which resulted in the 'true church' going into hiding for over 1,000 years, only to re-emerge during the Protestant Reformation. Again, this directly defies the words of Christ about how his Church would just grow. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses both do the same thing, claiming a great apostasy happened with the death of the last apostle, or even before! Not be be restored again until these recent times. Again, both deny the plain teaching of Christ that his Kingdom (Church) would just grow. The Seventh Day Adventists do the same, claiming that a great apostasy happened in the 6th century. That Roman Catholicism (particularly the papacy) is to blame, and the true gospel was not restored until the 19th century when their church was founded. What this really comes down to is how seriously do we take the words of Christ? Are his parables and prophecies real? Or was Jesus just rambling nonsense? If you take the position that the 'great apostasy' has already happened, than you're ignoring what Christ clearly taught. How can one do this and still call himself a Christian?
Yes, without the Catholic Church I could no longer be Christian. Only Catholicism encourages me to study history, science, logic, and the Scriptures, even if these are critical of the Catholic Church and its leaders at times. Only Catholicism allows me to fully use the mind God gave me. Never does Catholicism tell me to check my brain at the door on this issue or that. The logical truth is this. If the Protestants, Evangelicals, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Seventh Day Adventists are right; if there really was a great apostasy, and the true faith was lost, only to be restored somehow in these latter days, than I am forced to logically conclude that Jesus, the apostles, the prophets and even the Archangel Gabriel, were all mistaken. They were wrong. If that is the case, than I am forced to doubt Christianity entirely, as so many people do today, and join the ranks of non-Christians. What I'm trying to convey here is that the Great Apostasy theory (regardless of what time-frame you put it in) puts a tremendous amount of strain upon all the claims of Christianity itself. The entire religion folds if we hold this 'great apostasy' in history to be true. You see, Scripture, history and reason mandate something. They mandate that either the claims of the Catholic Church are true, and Christianity really has grown and flourished under the Catholic Church's care, or else the whole Christian religion is a farce. That is a logical truth that most non-Catholics cannot handle. So they ignore it. And who can blame them really. To face it would be very uncomfortable.
So now that I've addressed the apologetic side of this topic, I'll move into the eschatology side of it. The Scriptures do prophesy that there will be a Great Apostasy at the end of time, but let's be specific here. It happens at the end of time, not in the period directly following Christ. It happens in a time we have not seen yet. However, nowhere in Scripture does it indicate that this Great Apostasy will be accompanied by a total loss of the gospel, the faith and the Church. Rather, the Scriptures indicate there will always be a remnant. They will not be eclipsed. People will always know who they are. About that time of Great Apostasy, the Apostle Paul tells us...
'Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.' -- 2nd Thessalonians 2:3-4 RSV-CEHere the prophecy is very specific. In this translation, Saint Paul refers to the Great Apostasy as the 'rebellion' and he specifically links it to the coming of the 'lawless one'. This is the Antichrist. The prophesied Great Apostasy and the coming Antichrist go hand-in-hand. Later in Scripture, Antichrist is very specifically described as one who denies that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah (Christ), and denies the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. The following are the only times in Scripture when the word Antichrist is used...
'Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour.' -- 1st John 2:18 RSV-CE
'Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.' -- 1st John 2:22 RSV-CE
'and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. And this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming; and now it is already in the world.' -- 1st John 4:3 RSV-CE
'Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh; any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist!' -- 2nd John 1:7 RSV-CEBased on these we can surmise that the Antichrist may even go so far as to deny the very existence of Jesus of Nazareth. He in turn proclaims himself to be the Messiah, and God come in the flesh. Nowhere does this prophecy say the Church will be lost. Nowhere does this prophecy say the 'true and authentic' faith will disappear. Nowhere does it say the Church will be eclipsed (hidden) and unable to find. It just says that a 'rebellion' or 'apostasy' or 'falling away' will come. Many in the world will believe this man and abandon Christianity completely. He won't try to imitate Christianity, or come up with a counterfeit version of it. There is no subtlety in the Antichrist. Rather, based upon his description, he simply will try to obliterate Christianity completely, and the Scriptures tell us he will fail. The Church will be preserved in spite of him. Then the end will come. Obviously, this hasn't happened yet.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'
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