In 2 Thessalonians 2:3, Paul begins, "Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first..." (ESV empahsis mine). Is there any indication - whether in this book or other Pauline or early Christian writings - as to who is rebelling and against what? Is this a rebellion against God? Against the church? Within the church? Or what?
The context of the rebellion of II Thessalonians chapter two is much debated. I will attempt to provide a solid biblical based answer.
The context of II Thessalonians 2:3 is the Second Coming of Christ. I'd like to briefly make mention of two different Bible versions, and their rendering of verse two of this chapter. I'd also like to explain why I feel the KJV translation provides the correct rendering. First, King James Version (The ASV is similar in wording):
The English Standard Version (Very similar to NIV wording):
As we see, the ESV gives a rendering that seems to imply the Thessalonian church feared they'd missed the Lord's return. The Greek word [enistemi] is used here in relation to the Day of the Lord's proximity. So it could be either rendered soon or impending, i.e. at hand, or it could also be rendered already present or has come. But a very strong case can be made for the use of at hand (soon) in this verse. This would be consistent with Paul telling them, in verse two, not to shaken in mind, or troubled by word or letter, because the rebellion/apostasy would precede the Second Coming. From Paul's tone in verse two it sounds as though he is responding to epistles addressed to the church falsely attributed to him-- "nor by letter as from us,". Clearly, false teachers were trying to alter Paul's message concerning his previous exhortations and teachings concerning the day of the Lord (I Thess 5:5), but it was not by stating it had already past. Why would a Christian church be shaken by the thought of the Lord's coming? Because of reverential fear of standing in the immediate presence of Almighty God. The amount of bogus information they'd received may have lead them to question Paul's consistency and their own standing in the faith. So Paul appears delicate with this young church, exhorting them with kind words of correction.
In summary, Paul is comforting this congregation because they were shaken by false teachings concerning the day of the Lord. This chapter has nothing to do with the Hymenaeus and Philetus heresy, or AD. 70 and the Temple destruction as some claim. The term "day of the Lord" in this context deals stickily with God's wrath poured out on rebellious man at His coming.
Paul briefly mentioned the rebellion in I Tim 4.
Paul's mention of "the Latter times", I Tim 4:1, is of the same subject matter of II Thess 2. The "departing from the faith" is not Christian backsliding as some presume, but wolves in sheep's clothing that cloak themselves within the Church (the Temple of God mentioned in II Thess 2:4) and promote unlawfulness and unrighteousness. These are those who will depart from the apostolic teachings and promote their own false doctrines. Paul warns them in verse 15:
Those involved in the rebellion, later collectively called "man of sin", are so wicked in their deception they are said to "sit in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God."(Notice Paul's usage of "the wicked" in verse 8, then as "them" in verse 10, implying many wicked ones KJV).
Paul's readers knew the only Temple of God could only mean the Body of Jesus Christ, this fact best expressed in Ephesians 2:20. Herod's Temple that stood then was no longer God's Holy Temple since God's glory had since departed. Paul used the expression "sitteth in the Temple" to allude to the level of conceit these men would have, this considering the fact the physical Temple had no chairs for rest. Paul's message here is stark. The rebellion will be deep within the ranks of the Church, and those who do not heed to the Truth will be swept up in all of its deception and will perish. The only thing restraining the full unleashing of Satan's apostasy, the deception of the nations, is the binding applied to Satan as a result of Christ's victory on the Cross; which restraint Paul's says will be "taken out of the way" vs 7, (cf Matt 12:29 & Rev 20:2,3). Scripture does not give any details as to how the rebellion is initiated, but Paul writes the mystery of iniquity was already at work then. So we know once it comes to a head it will be hideous considering the present wickedness.
Examining the earthly ministry of Jesus gives insight to this particular deception. Judas is called "The son of perdition" by the Lord Jesus in John 17:12 "...those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled." And Paul draws the parallel to another deceiver in II Thess 2:3 "...except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;" Judas as we know is one whose deception lead to the betrayal of the Lord. He stood with the twelve, but he was not really one of them. He was wicked and greedy, betraying the Lord of Glory with a kiss for a stack of silver. Likewise, the "man of sin" will stand with the Church of Christ, but will speak only lies.
"Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me." Psalms 41:9
*I am not a KJV only advocate. I do feel the more literal versions (KJV, ASV, NASB) are more helpful for study.
The Baker Bible Commentary
The Bible and the Future: Anthony Hoekema
This is where there is a divergence of the translation of the Greek word 'apostasia'. I am not a linguist but it is translated "from stand(ing)" or I believe the KJV is more accurate "falling away". I believe a right understanding of the text is when we use 'apostasion' or divorce; it denotes separation in which there is no further attempt at 're-union'. Therefore, the text can be best understood "Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there be a falling away(divorce) first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.
Most expositors concur that the 'man of sin' is the Antichrist, and that it is 'a' particular individual; the 'son of perdition', used in John 17:12 by Jesus refers to Judas, the one who was 'lost' that Scripture might be fulfilled. Therefore, if we 'literally' interpret 2 Thess. 2:3 a simular 'Judas' will emerge on the world scene, and lead all nations to perdition.
But if we follow Revelations, and equate 'the beast that rises out of the sea'(Rev. 13:1) with the Antichrist, we see in Rev. 17:8 that this 'Beast' was, is not(during the time of John), and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit and go into perdition'. This is not capable by a mere mortal human being, so we must understand this context figuratively. If we look at the 'composite' beast of Rev. 13:1, we see that it has 7 Heads and 10 Horns, with crowns on the Horns. Since the crowns were on the Heads(Rev.12:3) during the time of the man-child who was born and carried up to the throne of God-signifying Christ, which happened during the time of John, the 'Heads' are the ancient nations which preceded the Horn nations, one of which was Rome which was in power during the time of Christ.
Going back to 2 Thess. 2:3, this 'Beast/Antichrist' does not "rise up out of the sea", until the "apostasy/divorce". This happened in the 16th Century, when Protestanism came into being. This was brought on by the 'Church' falling in love with the Renaisannce, and abandoning it's union with Christ in favor of a 'union' with a Greek Ideal. The result was 'apostasy', but rather than meaning 'back-sliding', which the church had gone through numerous times and had been brought back by reformers working within the church, this time reformers(The Reformation) worked outside of the church, and Christ's body was divided, contrary to the prayer of Jesus in John 17:21.
The result was that the 'restraint' was removed from goverments who were held in check by the church. By the 18th Century a new type of government appeared, one that deliberately held no fealty to the church, in fact, church was to have no place in the affairs of government. The 'people' ruled of their own volition, and that's why the 'Beast' rises up out of the sea-which are "peoples, multitudes, nations, tongues"(Rev. 17:15). They express their will on election day through a Greek Ideal called 'democracy', which has warred against the church and it's influence. In the countries which adopt 'The People's Democracy' it has driven the church underground and killed it's members, uniting it's 'enlightened' citizens through 're-education' against the 'un-informed, intransient' believers.
I know this was much more than you asked for; I brought it out to further explain the passage in context with the word 'apostasea' which was translated 'rebellion' by the ESV. I don't count the 'Protestant Reformation' as 'rebellion'; rather it was a 'divorce' which has never been reconciled, brought on by the Church's involvement with Humanism/the Greek Ideal.