Apostasy is described as the abandonment of religious faith, vows or principles, the Greek word being apostasia. Another word akin to it is apostasion, meaning divorcement. Nowhere in the Bible do we have a mention of an apostate by name, although the condition of apostasy appears in both Testaments. The noun apostasia is used to describe the greatest apostasy, associated with the revelation of the man of sin and the day of the Lord, 2 Thess. 2. 2-3; the word is also used of the charge of teaching the Jews to forsake Moses, made against Paul in Acts 21. 21. These are the two occasions in the New Testament where it is used. In one version of the Septuagint (the Old Testament Greek translation), the word occurs in Jeremiah 36. 32 (29. 32 of the English Bible) where the Hebrew equivalent is translated “rebellion” (marg., revolt).
Apostasy can be held, Rev. 2. 15. In Pergamos, some in the church held the twin evils of the doctrine of Balaamandthe doctrine of the Nicolaitans. The former is apostasy taught; the latter apostasy practised. Balaam mixed what was of God with what was of the world; the Nicolaitans separated the people into clerisy and laity.
Apostasy can be taught, Jer. 29. 32. God judged Shemaiah who, during the Babylonian captivity, prophesied when the Lord had not sent him. He caused the people to believe a lie, an advance on holding apostasy. It is error enough for one to hold heterodoxy in the assembly; it is far more grievous for one to teach it.
Apostasy can be practised, Deut. 13. 13. In this passage, Moses gives a preventative ministry concerning the possibility of apostasy arising within Israel. Worthless men (such is the meaning of Belial), in the pursuit of gods other than Jehovah, could arise to draw away disciples after them. Note the order of investigation. First, the hearing of it; attention is given to a report of this nature. One cannot judge correctly unless the nature of the charge is clearly heard. Next, an inquiry is made; that is, questions are asked so as to expose the nature of the apostasy. Then an investigation is conducted; it takes on the nature of an inquisition, where nothing is to be overlooked. Only when the truth of the report has been clearly established is punishment to be carried out. The further requirement of Deuteronomy 17.6 must be observed, “At the mouth of two witnesses”. Note again the order: hear it; enquire about it; investigate it; then deal with it.
Apostasy will be personified, 2 Thess. 2. 3. All apostasy will yet be headed up in the man of sin, who exalts himself above all that is called God. This has been Satan’s ambition since iniquity was found in him, Ezek. 28. 15.
Apostasy can be experienced, 2 Thess. 2. 3. After the church is at home with the Lord, apostasy will be rampant. The great mystery of iniquity is now already working, but when the restraining influence of the presence of the Holy Spirit and of the church will have been withdrawn, it will be let loose in all its force. Earlier apostasies were local in character: at Babel in the land of Shinar; that early apostate Nimrod rebelled against the Lord in a local way. Gen. 10. 9; Nadab and Abihu rebelled in a family manner, Lev. 10. 1.
Apostasy will be revealed, 2 Thess. 2. 3. When the Holy Spirit has completed His great work for the present age in the accomplishment of God’s eternal purpose in redemption, the man of sin will be exposed in all his lawlessness.
Apostasy will be punished, 2 Thess. 2. 8. The one who acts in judgment is the Lord Himself; no other could do this. He works all things after the counsel of His own will to a predetermined end. This will take place when the church is at home with the Lord, and this punishment will be decisive – the man of sin will be consumed. The means used by the Lord will be “the spirit of his mouth, and … the brightness of his coming.
An apostate is one who denies the doctrine of Christ, 2 John 9, 10. There are many recorded classes of persons who can practice apostasy.
The devil practised apostasy. God rules in heaven and on earth; both spheres have been tarnished by apostasy. Before man was created, the spirit of rebellion was already at work in heaven, Isa. 14. 12-15. Lucifer, apparently given a throne to supervise things on earth, v. 13, had unlawful desires to be on an equality with God: “i will be like the most High”, v. 14. He led the first rebellion in heaven, and became the first apostate. How different the Lord Jesus Christ! Of Him it was said “who … thought it not robbery to be equal with God”, Phil. 2. 6, for being the Son He could rightly claim such as His right. Lucifer a glorious, created being, claimed the distinction and rights of the sons of God in keeping with his exalted rank among the hierarchy of the angelic orders, Job 1. 6, and he had angels of his own. But he led these in a great apostasy in heaven. After that time, he has maintained unbroken that rebellious spirit. Since his expulsion from heaven, Luke 10. 18, he has been “the prince of the power of the air”, Eph. 2. 2, and has even established headquarters on earth, Rev. 2. 13, thus changing his location to suit his purpose. He is still the adversary, 1 Pet. 5. 8. Little is known of his angels ; that they are malignant and hostile is evident for he would not have them in his ranks if they were not like himself.
Some angels practised apostasy. Both Peter and Jude mention the fact of sinning angels, of angels who abandoned their first estate and left their own habitation. Such a practice and movement could only be apostasy against the limitations that God had placed on them, both as to their sphere of activity and their nature. They appear to have been motivated by the spirit of rebellion.
Professed believers can practise apostasy. An apostate who is a professed believer is, by definition, a person who, having once professed to believe its message, turns from it and in practice denies it. Jude describes such as ungodly, v. 15. They had crept into the local church, and had turned grace into lasciviousness. Such men had not the Spirit, v. 19. This cannot be the experience of true believers.
An Israelite could practise apostasy. Under the Mosaic law, it was possible for an orthodox Jew to abandon what he had been taught concerning Jehovah. Refer again to Jeremiah 29. 32, where Shemaiah, described as “the Nehelamite” to distinguish him from others of the same name, taught rebellion in Israel. In the Greek Septuagint, the word for “rebellion” is the same as in 2 Thessalonians 2. 3 and Acts 21. 21, namely apostasy. He assumed the prophetic office, but had never been chosen by God. He discredited Jeremiah and his ministry, so as to cause Israel “to trust in a lie”. The Lord declared of Shemaiah, “I sent him not” Jer. 29. 31, and on account of his apostasy judged him by cutting off his seed.
The assembly and apostasy. In the church at Pergamos there were some who held the doctrine of Balaam, and others who held the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, both contrary to the doctrine of Christ, Rev. 2. 14-15. Their sin was not so much in teaching as in holding error. At our own doors, some are peddling apostasy, 2 John 10, a verse telling us how to deal with them. How important to “keep the doors”, whether of our own homes or of our assemblies, 2 Chron. 23. 19; Gal. 2. 4-5.
The Jewish believer and apostasy. The writer of the Hebrew Epistle is well able to handle this important question. There are over twelve facts which establish this competency; suffice it to say that he is a Jew writing to Jews recently come to a knowledge of Jesus proved to be the Christ. As Gentiles we can hardly understand, far less appreciate, the tremendous influence that the law of Moses exercised on the minds of orthodox Jewry. To understand the Hebrew Epistle, we must try to think as a Hebrew would. Hebrews 1. 1 reminds the readers that God had spoken to them as a nation; selected them for His special blessing, and committed to them the holy oracles. These privileges were exclusively theirs; no other nation on earth enjoyed such blessings – Israel had a particular place in God’s affections. The message of the gospel was directed to them first, Rom. 1. 16; Acts 13. 46, and this placed them nationally in a state of priority. Jews who professed faith in Christ and returned to Judaism would put themselves beyond the hope of restoration, Heb. 6. 6. What a solemn statement! a warning that must not pass unheeded. Chapter 4 verse 1 would endorse this warning. A backslider can be recovered, but not an apostate.
Balaam is an Old Testament illustration of Hebrews 6. 4-6.
"Once enlightened” – the Lord opened his eyes, Num. 22. 31.
"Tasted of the heavenly gift” – saw visions of the Almighty, 24. 4.
"Partakers of the Holy Ghost” – the Spirit of God came upon him, v. 2.
"Tasted the good word of God” – the Lord put a word in his mouth, 23. 5
"Powers of the world to come” – “I shall see him, but not now”, 24, 17.
A mixed multitude, who were not true Israelites, left Egypt with God’s redeemed people, Exod. 12. 38. They enjoyed all His blessings, His leadership, protection, care, and even the manna; but they never entered Canaan. They answer to those who are mere professors of Christianity. The Hebrew Epistle is better understood having these in mind.