In this 2nd Exodus series, we have seen that Yahweh gave the Old Testament Jews a transitional period of 40 years in the wilderness to prepare them before entering the Promised Land. Likewise, Jesus gave Israel a generational period of 40 years to migrate from the Mosaic Covenant into the New Testament Covenant which was completed in 70AD.
During those 40 years prior to 70AD the apostles, through the Holy Spirit were to lead the people out of bondage, under the Mosaic Covenant into the Kingdom of God, the New Promised Land – the Heavenly Jerusalem. However, Jesus warned His disciples that they would face intense opposition and oppression from those who refused to enter the Kingdom of God and that many would fall away during the migration. Towards the end of the 2nd Exodus would be especially intense to the point that Jesus asked ‘would He find faith on the earth ?’ when He returned.
- What was the nature and the severe implications of this falling away?
- Was was the unforgivable sin?
Over the years I’ve heard many theories of what the falling away, otherwise known as the Great Apostasy could be. However, the majority of those theories come from a futurist point of view that totally misses one very important fact.
- Jesus and the apostles’ words had to refer to a specific set of circumstances, specific to their audience at that specific time and place in history.
So let’s have a look and see how the falling away actually affected the apostles and primarily Jews in their own generation.
Jesus Warned That Generation
Many Jews initially believed in Jesus as their Promised Messiah, The Christ and they migrated from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant. However, the persecution from fellow Jews, ‘the synagogue of Satan’, became intense and many fell back into the Mosaic Covenant. They intentionally rejected and abandoned their salvation just as Jesus had warned in Matthew 24.
“Then they will deliver you to tribulation and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. ~ Matthew 24:9-13
The Jews Persecute the Early Church
Delivered Into Tribulation
Jewish Christians were thrown out of their local synagogues and cut off from sources of income. This is because the local synagogue was ‘the hub’ of the community and the place where men networked and found work. As a result, the Jewish believers would have been vulnerable especially in economic terms.
The Jewish authorities were determined to suppress Christianity in their own communities, not only in Judea but throughout all the nations of the Roman Empire. They made sure believers were thrown in prison, but while in prison their homes and possessions would be looted. If they owned a business in the Jewish community it could be boycotted, or they might not be allowed to rent a property.
The believers would have also been tested severely through verbal threats and physical violence. When we read the New Testament we can see that they were mocked, and attacked through the throwing of stones and dragged through cities. Rumours about them would have spread throughout the communities they lived in and they would have become a pariah in their community, just as Jesus had warned …
“But be on your guard; for they will deliver you to the courts, and you will be flogged in the synagogues, and you will stand before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them. The gospel must first be preached to all the nations. When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. ~ Mark 13: 9-13
Paul Warned That Generation
Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Church:
Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first ~ 2 Thessalonians 2:3
The Gentile Christians were never under the Mosaic Covenant and therefore could not fall back into the Mosaic Covenant, unlike their Jewish Christian brothers and sisters. Although they too could fall away from the New Covenant.
In the eyes of the Roman government Christianity, which at this time had no official title, was seen as merely another religious segment within Judaism. With so many sects within the Jewish community, it is easy to see how Romans viewed Christians as merely one more peculiarity in a nation of peculiar people and religious beliefs. So the Jews had very little recourse in turning to the Romans to persecute Christians. This resulted in the trial and stoning of Stephen without help from the Roman authorities.
For Jewish Christians the temptation to fall back to their safe Jewish roots in which they were raised also held the lure of being able to once again claim Jewish religious legal immunity. Gentile Christians had no natural link to this religion … 
Therefore it is my understanding that Paul was primarily addressing Jewish Christians when he wrote about that specific ‘falling away’ in the Asia Minor church.
The pressure on those early believers was so intense and many fell back under the bondage of Old Covenant Judaism. As a result, those who fell back also began to persecute the believers. Judaism was from the cradle to the grave and leaving Judaism was not just leaving religion but leaving a community. A distinct community that had been given the right to live according to Jewish laws outside of Judea by Caesar. Many just could not hold fast to the faith under so much pressure.
Paul was deeply concerned about this falling away / the great apostasy and even quoted from Psalm 95 LXX in Hebrews 3:8-11 to remind the Jewish Christians of their past history and that they should avoid their ancestors’ past mistakes.
But Christ as a son over his OWN HOUSE ; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. Wherefore as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: When your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works FORTY YEARS. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest. ~ Hebrews 3:8-11
Paul also reminded the Jewish Christians in the Corinthian church to avoid their ancestors’ past mistakes, especially now that the ends of the ages had come.
Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to play.” Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in one day. Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents. Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now, these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. ~ 1 Corinthians 10: 6-11
Peter Warned That Generation
Peter also reminded his readers using very strong language when he quoted from Proverbs 26 LXX:
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” ~ 2Peter2: 20-22
All the flesh of fools endures much hardship; for their fury is brought to nought. As when a dog goes to his own vomitand becomes abominable, so is a fool who returns in his wickedness to his own sin. ~ Proverbs 26: 10-11
Peter was just repeating exactly what Jesus had also said. Jesus had said that they were similar to the man set free of demons who eventually ended up in a worse condition than when he began.
“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.” ~ Matthew 12: 41-45
After his deliverance, this man experienced a seven times worse possession. So it would be with that wicked and perverse generation. As a result, they became what John wrote in Revelation 18:2 the habitation of every unclean spirit.
And he cried out with a mighty voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a prison of every unclean and hateful bird. ~ Revelation 18:2
Yahweh would trap the unrepentant people in the city and He would also do likewise with the demons. The people would be imprisoned, the demons likewise would be imprisoned in the people, and there would be no escape.
Once a Jewish Christian rejected the New Covenant and fell back under the Mosaic Covenant law they were doomed to destruction along with the rest of the unbelieving Jews.
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. ~ Hebrews 6:4-6
The Prophets Had Warned
As a result, all these people would fall under the curses of the Mosaic Covenant i.e the vengeance of the covenant.
For thus says the Lord God, “How much more when I send My four severe judgments against Jerusalem: sword, famine, wild beasts and plague to cut off man and beast from it! ~ Ezekiel 14:21
I will appoint over them four kinds of doom,” declares the Lord: “the sword to slay, the dogs to drag off, and the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy. ~ Jer. 15:3
I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children, destroy your livestock, and make you few in number; and your highways shall be desolate…And I will bring a sword against you that will execute the vengeance of the covenant; (~~> covenant curses) when you are gathered together within your cities I will send pestilence among you; and you shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy. When I have cut off your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall bring back your bread by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied. ~ Leviticus 26:22-26
Moses Had Warned
The Jews had no excuse as Moses told them that in the last days the people would yet again act corruptly and turn away and he wrote The Song of Moses to warn them of the implications. Moses did not write the Song of Moses to Gentiles, only to the Jews who agreed to be obedient to the covenant at Mount Sinai in Exodus 24:7-8.
For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the Lord; how much more, then, after my death? Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands.” Then Moses spoke in the hearing of all the assembly of Israel the words of this song, until they were complete … ~ Deut 31: 27-30
‘I will heap misfortunes on them;
I will use My arrows on them.
‘They will be wasted by famine, and consumed by plague
And bitter destruction;
And the teeth of beasts I will send upon them,
With the venom of crawling things of the dust.
‘Outside the sword will bereave,
And inside terror—
Both young man and virgin,
The nursling with the man of gray hair. ~ Deut 32:23-25
John Warned That Generation
We also see John warn about these very same four dooms/severe judgments in Revelation and he also referred to The Song of Moses in Revelation 15.
I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death (Red, Black and Ashen horses all result in death); and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword (fiery red horse slays ; seal 2) and with famine (black horse famine; seal 3) and with pestilence (disease and death always follows famine and war; seal 4) and by the wild beasts of the earth (wild beasts are attracted to decay/grave; seal 4).
The Unforgivable Sin
In conclusion, you cannot fall away from your salvation if you weren’t saved in the first place, although to die in this state is fatal. However not all falling away leads to the unforgivable sin. But for Jewish believers who abandoned the New Covenant by going back under the Old, in order to stop being persecuted, there was no middle ground, they had forfeited their salvation.
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. ~ Hebrews 6 4-8
The Letter to the Hebrews was expressly written to encourage Jewish believers to remain in the New Covenant and not to revert back to the Old and be permanently destroyed. This is the sin that leads to death from which there is no reprieve.
The Falling Away For Gentiles
While it is true that we can not lose our salvation, it is not true that we can’t abandon it for one reason or another.
It is also necessary to add that Gentiles could fall away due to persecution, but could be restored just as Peter was when he denied Jesus. Peter did not commit the sin that leads to death i.e going back under the Old covenant to avoid further persecution. Those Jews who refused to enter the New Covenant and those Jews that fell away from the New Covenant would fall under the curses of Babylon.
 Molly Whittaker, Jews & Christians: Graeco-Roman Views, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984)