At the Pre-Trib Study Group last December, Dr. Wayne House presented a paper on the meaning of apostasia in 2 Thess 2:3. He had earlier made a presentation at the same conference study group back in the mid-1990s, but had done some more work on it and decided to present the main idea again.
The debate over apostasia in this passage stems from the two major options: a departure from the faith or a departure from the earth as in rapture of the Church. Of course, if the latter is true, then the debate about the timing of the rapture of the church is over — pre-trib wins. However, the issue is far from clear as Dr. House shows. Most dispenstionalists have probably held that it refers to departure from the faith or rebellion or declension. Some have taught that the great decline of the Christian faith in the West (and in the Western Church) during the 20th century is a fulfilllment of this prophecy. Both of the two options, if I remember correctly, are listed in the notes of the Old Scofield Reference Bible (1909).
The translation of apostasia as rebellion as found in the NIV was rejected by House. He suggested that this thought has existed only as a translation of the word in English translations since the King James Version but earlier English versions had favored the simpler idea of departure. House argued that the word meant departure and that the issue of what the departure was from or what the nature of the departure consisted of was something that only the context of a passage could deliver. Grammatically, the word does not automatically carry the idea of rebellion by the simple use of the word. House points to contextual ideas (the general focus of 2 Thess 1-2 on end-time issues and 2 Thess 2:1 talking about the rapture itself. Thus, he argues the following: “What makes the most sense in the context, that the Day of the Lord had not come because a rebellion against government or a defection from the faith had not occurred, or that the departure to be with Christ had not occurred? Remember, in 1 Thessalonians 1, the encouragement was that the coming of Christ would rescue believers from the coming wrath” (page 5 of House paper).”
In my own commentary, First and Second Thessalonians: Looking for Christ’s Return (2009), I respectfully discuss House’s position using his earlier paper that ended up published in When the Trumpet Sounds (1995). However, I gravitate to the position that the word means apostasy, rebellion, or declension and that it is associated in some way with what follows — the appearance of the man of lawlessness (the anti-Christ figure). However, I respect the argumentation of Dr. House and must remain open to the possibility that he is right. Why do I go to the later connection of the man of lawlessness instead of linking to the immediate context given earlier along with the general theme of the book? In this matter, I cannot be dogmatic.