In his second epistle to the Thessalonians Paul told the church at Thessalonica that Christ would not return with glory and victory for the church until there fast came a falling away that would reveal the man of sin, the son of perdition, whom we have learned to know as the Anti-Christ. However, in the Greek Paul speaks in II Thessalonians 2:3 of the falling away. He has in mind the fact that all the fallings away that have been in the world shall reach their climax, and, to use a current expression, “This is it!” The rest were only forerunners and steps to this great apostasy.
Yes, we said, “This great apostasy”; and we did so because that is the word that Paul uses in this verse. What we find in our Ring James Version translated as “falling away” in the writing of Paul is “apostasy.” And by apostasy we usually think only of departure from the truth, embracing doctrinal heresy, and false teachings. This, however, is only part of the picture.
The word apostasy means a “standing apart,” or a “standing away from.” It can and often does mean standing apart from a certain doctrine of Scripture. But in the broader sense it means separation also from the walk of life of the church, from her worship, from her walk of sanctification and of love to God. Ultimately this standing apart and away from those who hold the truth leads to standing in physical opposition to them in the form of persecution and attacks of ridicule and violence. It may be a standing apart from a certain denomination to stand with another. It may be a stand completely apart from the church world to stand in the world of confessed unbelievers.
Such apostasy has been going on throughout the history of this world. But Paul speaks of a time when the gap has become as wide as it possibly can become, when the doctrines of Scripture are discarded in their entirety, and when the number of defectors has grown so numerically that the church literally stands alone as a little flock. Elijah will be there with his seven thousand who have not bowed the knee before Baal, but they will be standing over against an innumerable horde of Baa1 worshippers. Few there will be who will be found faithful in that day. The apostates may still call themselves church and brand the believers as the false church. But in actuality it is they who have come to stand apart from what is right and true.
All this began in paradise when man began to stand apart from God. But God in His mercy brought both of these apostates back into the fold and filled their hearts with enmity against Satan and his whole kingdom. It broke forth again and out into the open, however, in the first son that was born to them; and this is presented in such simple language that, if we do not read it carefully and thoughtfully, we will miss it. God says in Genesis 4:16, “And Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.”
Here, plainly, is an act of apostasy, and one from which there was no return. Adam and Eve, having been driven out of paradise, lived as close to the way leading into it as they could. There stood those cherubim with that flaming sword. They, Adam and Eve, knew that they could not pass safely between the cherubim to the joys of the garden. But they believed God’s promise and hoped to see the cherubim and the flaming sword removed, so that they could live in covenant fellowship with God again by His tree of life. That spot was precious to them because of the rebirth which they received. And to them paradise, that garden with this tree, was still the symbol of God’s presence. And they stayed there before His face.
When the Israelites were in Canaan and had the temple with the Holy of Holies where God dwelt symbolically between the cherubim that sat upon the ark of the covenant in that holy precinct, Canaan was the place of God’s presence, and the temple particularly was the symbol of His face to them. That is why in II Kings 13:23 God declares that He will not drive Israel from His presence by casting them into the Babylonian captivity and away from Jerusalem and the temple. That is also why in II Kings 24:20 He is said to have cast them out from His presence when Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon.
So it was for Adam and Eve, and for the whole world before the flood. That garden still symbolized God’s presence. It still was the place where man had lived before God’s very face. And that is why Adam and Eve stayed right there, as close to the way into the garden as they could. But Cain went forth from the presence of the Lord. He went to stand apart from those who wanted to be before the face of God. For in his heart he had been standing apart from God from birth, even though he went through the motions of worshipping Him. Now he separates, never to bring another sacrifice to God. All this he throws behind him; in fact, he gladly goes away from that presence of God, not wanting to be reminded of Him any more. He would do his thing without having to see those cherubim there with that flaming sword.
He went forth from the presence of God. We do not read that God drove him away. It is not stated that he fled in fear for his life. And although he was no believer, he had God’s word for it that no man would kill him. There was yet no man to try to do that. Surely Adam would not do so. And Seth was not yet born. Hewalked away, He willfully took a stand apart from the believers who wanted to be there before God’s face. He did not even want to be reminded of God.
His children and their spiritual wellbeing is no concern of Cain. He wants no instruction for them from the mouth of their grandfather about the God Who rebuked him for his evil sacrifice, and for the murder of his brother. He is through, completely through with God. A God Who will not accept his works, a God Who will not allow him to do what seems right in his own sight is not for Cain. He wants no part in having his children taught to fear that God!
What a man, this Cain! But be careful lest you walk with him. Many a parent for a higher paying job will move away from the church that holds to the truth and take his children to stand apart from that truth and to stand with those who have left it behind. Nod looks like a pretty nice place to live for many church members. Or else it may be a case of being rebuked by the church for a walk of sin, or for a propagation of the lie. Perhaps discipline is begun. And so a stand is taken apart from the admonition of Christ. One asks for one’s membership papers, intending to separate and stand apart from the truth and from the servants of God who seek that one’s wellbeing. Cain has his disciples today because Satan has his victories.
And what men fail so often to see when they take such a stand apart from the truth, apart from the church and the officebearers who stand for the truth is that they begin to stand apart from Christ, Who is THE face of God. We, as Cain, go away from the Christ, when we go out from the presence or face of God. And we, even as Cain, begin to build a city in our place where we intend to stand apart from God and His Christ.
Cain’s city was not a city as we now know one to be. At this early stage men were not able to build houses, pave roads, and set up a governing body to make the rules and regulations. There were not even enough men to make what could actually be called a city. But he settled in an area with his tents. He established a place to which he would return, a place where he had left his wife and children when he went hunting for food. But the point not to be overlooked is that heestablished himself in a place apart from the presence of God. He had no intention of going back. He felt no loneliness, no missing of what could be had there outside of the garden of Eden. He went away to stay.
And this is the beginning of the kingdom of the Antichrist from a political point of view. Moving away from Christ, it is only a matter of time before he will come up against Christ. Moving away from the church, as it was represented in his father’s-family, it is only a matter of time before he in his descendants begins to seek Enoch to kill him, because he spoke of God and witnessed as one of those who desire to continue to stand for the truth and in the hope of a return to God’s fellowship.
He went away.
What a sad thing to have to say. He left the church, and did so with no regrets. But regrets—not true sorrow for sin—he now has in a place that is away from God’s presence. Cain began to walk to hell! Let all who to any degree want to go away from the presence of God—and that means to go away from His worship on the Sabbath, as well as severing all connection with His church—understand that the falling away, the apostasy, the standing apart from God ends in a place that indeed is apart from His love and grace and the blessings of His fellowship.
The child of God with David says, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in His temple“(Psalm 27:4). Cain said, “One thing I detest, and it will I avoid as completely as I can, that I should be anywhere near God.” Well, he has his wish today. But he is not building a city there and naming it after his son. He is not prospering there; and neither will we, if we go away from God and from His Christ.
Rather let us seek to stand where we are with God. Let us make our stand at the cross of Christ. For there is the hope of the removal of the cherubim and the flaming sword of God’s holy wrath against sin. There we will be in God’s presence. There is the face of God; and it is His face lit up with a loving smile of forgiveness, of intent to bless us with those beauties of His house.
And if we sometimes through weakness fall into sin and take a stand apart from the truth and apart from the narrow way, let us go to that cross and find pardon and assurance of living and enquiring in God’s temple in the everlasting glory of His coming kingdom. Let us not build our city in sin and name it after our sons, and keep them in those fields of sin. But let us seek Him where (not while) He may be found, and call upon Him where (not while) He is near. And He is to be found and is near in that cross of Christ. Then we have the reassuring word that He will abundantly pardon and have mercy upon us.
Genesis 4:16 speaks of the beginning of apostasy after the gospel promise was given. If there should be a beginning of such apostasy in your life, if you find yourself inclined to take a stand apart from and against the truth and the way of righteousness, by all means do not dwell there and build a city for your children. Forsake your wicked way and unrighteous thoughts, and seek the face of God. He promises you that if you seek, you will find; if you knock it will be opened to you; if you call upon Him and ask for forgiveness, you will receive it.