Scriptures

2 Thessalonians 2

Introduction

“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

In some way, Paul had learned that the return of the Lord had become the subject of intense debate in Thessalonica. It is possible that they had written to him, because the Thessalonian church had become disturbed and confused by what they had been hearing concerning the Lord’s return.

There were some who did not believe that Jesus would return, there were others who said that He had returned already and there were others who were asserting that His return was imminent.

What is more, among those who were circulating these conflicting statements, there were some who had attempted to give authority and weight to what they were saying by using Paul’s name, claiming to be quoting his words, or producing letters which they alleged were written by him.

But as we shall see in the next few verses Paul is going to refute both the false statements and the counterfeit letters, as he attempts to settle the minds of these believers, who had formerly been pagans, 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, all of these false ideas concerning Jesus’ return by informing them that certain things have to happen first.

“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12

Paul tells us that BEFORE Christ returns there must be first a great rebellion or falling away. The apostle warned the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:29-30 that this would occur AFTER Paul’s death and it would happen from forces within and outside of the church.

Paul also warned Timothy that in latter times some would depart from the faith, 1 Timothy 4:1-2. The apostle Peter also warned the Christians in Asia Minor that there would be false teachers and many Christians would follow their destructive ways, 2 Peter 2:1-2.

What exactly is Paul teaching in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12?

First of all notice that Paul uses a number of expressions and phrases which need to be clarified, if we are to understand his teaching.

1. The KJV uses the phrase ‘The mystery of iniquity’ in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 which simply means ‘lawlessness’.

The word translated ‘iniquity’ is actually the Greek word, ἀνομία ‘anomias’, and is made up of ‘a’, which, as a Greek prefix means ‘without’, and ‘nomos’, which means ‘law’. Therefore, iniquity is ‘without law’, hence, ‘lawlessness’. This ‘anomia’, is the condition or state of being ‘without law’ and is the result of being ‘a theos’, and this is ‘without God’, or ‘atheist’.

2. What is lawlessness?

1 John 3:4 provides the definition of lawlessness, when it states: that ‘everyone who practises sin does lawlessness, and lawlessness is sin.” Notice that this refers to ‘sin’ as a way of life, as a practice, and not as an isolated sinful act. And so, the ‘mystery of lawlessness’ is ‘the mystery of sin’.

3. What is the meaning of the word ‘Mystery’?

A word from one language sometimes has a different meaning when translated into another language. The Greek word μυστήριον ‘musterion’ certainly looks like our English word ‘mystery’, but its New Testament meaning is very different.

We think of a ‘mystery’ as something secret or hidden; something which cannot be understood; something beyond comprehension. But in Greek, the word describes something hidden, which has been revealed to, and is understood by, those who have undergone initiation into the society or cult.

So, we might ask the question, ‘why does God tolerate sin?’ because this is a question often asked, and we can well imagine these former pagans in Thessalonica wondering why God does not destroy the one who is the ‘Father of lies’, the Devil, or Satan, who is behind all the wickedness the world has ever seen.

Probably, when the young Christians in Thessalonica, who had formerly been pagans, worshipping idols, 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, received Paul’s two letters in 50-51 A.D., they had little understanding, of the history of God’s great plan of redemption, which we now know was being worked out throughout Old Testament times, and eventually culminated in the coming of Christ into the world as God’s Lamb, to ‘take away the sin of the world’, John 1:29

They had doubtlessly learned that the one true God, about whom they now worshipped, is all-powerful and all knowing, and they may well have asked the questions which have been asked a countless number of times; why does God permit evil to exist? Why does He not destroy Satan?

Paul then attempts to resolve his readers’ confusion about the Coming of Christ, and to help them to understand the working out of God’s plan of salvation. His explanation will not diminish the hardship these early Christians would encounter, as the persecution of the church spread through the Roman world, but it would, at the very least, enable them to recognize that the final outcome in the conflict between Good and Evil, lies in the hands of God, and will result in the victory of truth and righteousness.

Now notice that firstly in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 that Paul does not attempt to predict the date of Christ’s return, but he does reveal that, prior to that return, certain events of tremendous significance must take place, and the first thing he tells them is that, BEFORE the Lord returns, there will be what he describes as ‘the falling away’, or ‘THE apostasy’, or ‘THE rebellion’.

It is important to notice that the word used here in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is the Greek word ἀποστασία ‘apostasia’, which, in the A.V., has not been translated, but has been ‘transliterated’, that is, turned into English, to give us the word ‘apostasy’. And notice, also, that the word is prefaced by the definite article; ‘the’, giving us ‘the apostasy’.

In the course of the church’s history there have been several departures from ‘the faith,’ ‘fallings away’ followed by ‘revivals’, but nothing as significant as the ‘THE falling away’, which the Lord says must happen BEFORE His Return. This seems to be in line with the observation of the Lord Jesus Himself, when He asked, the question in Luke 18:8 “When the son of Man comes, will he find (the) faith on the earth?”

Secondly, Paul warns the church about someone. The Greek might be rendered, ‘the embodiment of evil,’ or, ‘the personification of evil’ which indicated that some person is intended here whom he variously describes as, that ‘man of sin’, ‘the son of perdition’, ‘that lawless one’, which indicated that some person is intended here.

Thirdly, his claims, his methods and also his end, are all revealed.

a. He opposes God.

b. He exalts himself above God.

c. He sits ‘in the temple of God’.

d. He shows himself as God.

e. To achieve his goal, he performs ‘signs and lying wonders’.

But and this is important, He is called ‘the son of destruction or perdition’, and that word, ‘perdition’ indicated that he is ‘doomed to destruction’.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:5 we have an ‘aside,’ a comment; Paul reminds them that he actually told them this when he was with them. In 2 Thessalonians 2:6 means, “So now you know what is holding him back, until the time comes for him to be revealed.”

There is great comfort in this statement, because it means that the manifestation of this wicked character is not unexpected, and, furthermore, it is under the control of God, Who will allow him to makes his appearance at the time of God’s choosing!

2 Thessalonians 2:7 virtually says that we see sin already at work in the world, and ‘He Who permits it,’ that is God Himself, will allow it to continue under His ‘permissive will’ until this evil being makes his appearance, but the Lord will return and ‘the Lawless One’ will be ‘consumed’, ‘destroyed’, ‘annihilated’ by ‘the breathe of His mouth’ i.e., ‘the Word of Christ, the Sword of the Spirit’.

Remember that these details do not come from Paul himself. This is the Holy Spirit’s revelation of what will happen at the end of the age.

1 John 2:18 refers to ‘antichrist’ and ‘the antichrist’, are Satan and the lawless man of 2 Thessalonians 2 one and the same?

Are the events described in 2 Thessalonians 2 in the future and do some Christians face a terrible persecution?

Are all people who deny the Sonship and incarnation of Jesus to be regarded as antichrists, or is the term reserved for New Testament Gnosticism and Docetism?

If we’re going to answer these questions let’s first make a statement regarding 1 John 2:18. It is important that we should notice that nowhere does John use the term ‘The Antichrist’.

In fact, in the New Testament Scriptures the word ἀντίχριστος ‘antichristos’ is unique to John’s first and second letters, and the definite article is not found in the Greek text. ‘You have heard that antichrist comes’, the word simply means ‘against Christ’, and it is used in an adjectival sense.

In other words, this is not a person or an individual, and it is not used as a title, but defines an attitude or a disposition which rejects Christ. This becomes evident if we summarize what John wrote.

John in his first letter 2:18, introduces the subject:

1. ‘You have heard’, in these words he implies that he is reminding them of something about which they had already been fore-warned.

2. ‘That antichrist is coming’. Notice that he uses the future tense.

3. ‘Even now there are many antichrists’, he reveals that this opposition to Christ already exists. Paul endorses this in 2 Thessalonians 2:7.

4. John then defined the word ‘antichrist’ in terms which cannot be misunderstood. ‘He, ‘anyone’ is antichrist, who denies the Father and the Son’.

This definition is expanded at verse 7 of his second letter, where he declared that ‘many deceivers have gone out into the world’, that is, people ‘who do not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh: any such person is a deceiver and antichrist’.

So, according to the literal definition of the word, ‘antichristos’ means contra, or against Christ. It does not describe one who claims to be the Christ or who assumes the authority of the Christ, but identifies one who denies the very identity of Christ and His authority. The Lord himself said, ‘He who is not with me is against me’ in Matthew 12:30

In fact, John did not use the word ψευδόχριστος ‘pseudochristos’ in referring to those whom he described as ‘antichrist’. He was not writing about ‘false Christs’ nor was he accusing these people of claiming to be Christ. According to Matthew 24:24 and Mark 13:22, ‘pseudochristos’ was the term use by the Lord Himself in answering His disciples’ questions about the destruction of the Temple.

How, then, has the concept of ‘The Antichrist’ arisen? Why has this attitude of opposition to Christ become ‘personified’?

To find the answer to this question it is necessary to go back to the Old Testament scriptures. After the Babylonian captivity there grew up among the Jews a belief which declared that, at some time in the future, someone or some power, would come to wage war against the people of God. They believed that this enemy of the God’s people would appear before the coming of the Messiah, and would be defeated by ‘the Coming One,’ i.e., the Messiah.

There are several passages, notably in the Book of Daniel, which relate to the future of the Kingdom of Judah after the captivity and which contain references to this coming conflict and the one who would instigate it. Daniel 7:19ff / Daniel 8:20 / Daniel 8:24 / Daniel 11:36ff.

It is surely not difficult, then, to appreciate that, the early Christians, and the Jewish Christians in particular who were certainly familiar with the Old Covenant Scriptures and who recognised themselves as the true spiritual people of God, would find it easy to relate to this idea.

When Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians, he knew that his readers were concerned about the Lord’s return, believing that it was imminent. But, in chapter 2, he points out that the return of the Christ will be preceded by a falling-away from the faith, and by the revelation ἀποκάλυψις ‘apokalupsis’ of ‘the Man of Sin’, whom he further describes as ‘the son of perdition’. 2 Thessalonians 2:3. However, when we try to identify this ‘man of sin’, we run into difficulties!

Are we to look for an evil person or an evil system or organisation?

We may immediately rule out the notion that a system or organisation is indicated because Paul said that ‘the son of perdition’ would be identified by his conduct.

Notice, first that 2 Thessalonians 2:3 requires the recognition of a human being who is described as ‘that man of sin’. Notice, also, that personal pronouns are used; ‘he’, ‘himself’, and ‘his’; because they indicate an individual.

Notice that the manner in which he behaves is that of a human despot ‘He exalts himself’. According to the A.V. ‘He, as God, sitteth in the Temple of God showing himself that he is God’ but in fact, the words ‘as God’ are not in the Greek text. The expression used is ἐστί ‘esti’ θεός ‘theos’ which means ‘as a god’. The original Greek is much more vivid in bringing out the terrible arrogance with which he presents himself. He assumes the attitude and posture of a god.

In fact, our English translation does not bring out the appalling blasphemous attitude of this ‘Man of Sin’. ‘He will oppose’, the word means exalt, ‘elevate’ himself above every so-called ‘god’ or object of worship.

‘He will seat himself in the temple of God’. The word ‘naon’ which is translated ‘temple’ does not describe the whole temple complex. It describes the ‘holy place’ or ‘the holy of holies’, the sanctuary. And the word καθίζω ‘kathizo’ means ‘sitting,’ ‘taking his seat’, suggesting the arrogant manner with which he behaves.

We should also notice that this evil being comes ‘into’ the temple, not ‘in’ the temple. It conveys the thought of ‘intrusion’, and emphasizes the intense profanity of his conduct. Not only does he not enter the temple, but forcing his way into the very heart of the temple, into its most holy places.

He will claim to be God. Although not himself Satan, he will be the tool of Satan, since his coming would be ‘by the activity of Satan’. 2 Thessalonians 2:9. We noted earlier that believers of the New Testament period would be familiar with the events of the Inter-Testamental Period, when the Jews were opposed by Antiochus 4th of Syria, who gave himself the title ‘Antiochus Epiphanes’, ‘Antiochus the Brightness’.

As you will see from the Daniel references already given, Paul’s description of the ‘Man of Sin’ follow very closely the description given of the Syrian tyrant.

We suggest, therefore that these identification marks certainly appear to point to an evil individual rather than to an organisation, although, some commentators have suggested a different explanation.

Let us remember that when Paul wrote these things it is understandable that, in the light of the persecution being suffered by the church, these early Christians thought that this was a reference to the power of the Roman Empire, and, even more particularly, to one or other of several Emperors personally responsible for instigating religious persecution.

It was widely known, for instance, that the Emperor Caligula had planned to erect an image of himself in the temple in Jerusalem, believing himself to be a god, so the connection was not difficult to make.

But, since, Caligula was assassinated in 41 A.D., and Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians ten years later, Caligula, evil man though he undoubtedly was, could not possibly be the person to whom the passage refers. Paul clearly predicts that this person would make his appearance at some time in the future.

Closer to our own time, the Protestant Reformers were convinced that the occupant of the Vatican throne is the one concerning whom Paul spoke, and no doubt there are still some folk who hold this view.

Let’s summarise the answers to the above questions.

1. Satan and the ‘man of sin’ are not the same person. Satan is nowhere in the Scriptures described in human terms. He is never called a ‘man’. The Man of Sin is his tool.

2. Since the events described by Paul in 2 Thessalonians must happen BEFORE the Lord’s return, it is reasonable to believe that there will, indeed, be a future time of persecution, and John is warning his readers that, at some time in the future, there would be an intensification of the rejection of, and opposition to, Christ, such as already existed in his own days.

3. Although it is true that the ‘Docetics,’ ‘dokeo’, which means to seem, denied that the Lord body was human, and only ‘seemed’ to be real, and the ‘Gnostics’ claimed that Jesus was only ‘a messenger of the supreme God’, sent to bring ‘gnosis,’ knowledge, the Scriptures make it abundantly clear that anyone who denies the Father and the Son is ‘antichrist’. 1 John 2:22, no matter the reason for the denial. After just over 2000 years the situation has not changed.

By means of the preaching of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit continues to bear testimony to the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, and anyone who hears this testimony, understands it but refuses to believe it, is antichrist and stands under condemnation.

“But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

After clearing up any possible misconceptions about the Lord’s return, Paul told the church in Thessalonica that two events must happen BEFORE Christ returns, he told them that a great rebellion must first take place and the man of lawlessness has to be revealed.

Both these events will be the sad end of many Christians, as some would abandon the faith whilst other Christians would be deceived by the man of lawlessness.

But for those Christians who remain faithful, a great blessing would come, the blessing of sharing in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 / 2 Thessalonians 2:14, which was Paul’s prayer for the church as he thanked God once again for them, 2 Thessalonians 2:13.

Now remember these are ones, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, who had heard the word proclaimed, they had believed and obeyed that word to the sanctification of their souls. These are not specific individuals chosen, but rather a type of individual.

Those individuals who would love truth and whose hearts are fertile to receive God’s word, Luke 8:1-15. These are the individuals who would receive that Word, believe that Word, obey that Word and so be predestined to the adoption of children, Ephesians 1:5.

The Gospel, 2 Thessalonians 2:14, is that good news which is an invitation to the whole world that God wants to have fellowship with His greatest creation, mankind. It’s this Good news which provided a way out, or a way of escape from God’s coming wrath. 1 Timothy 2:4 / 2 Peter 3:9.

Through the preaching of the Gospel God calls all of mankind and those who believe the preaching of the Gospel are sanctified, set apart by the Holy Spirit in their conversion and so become God’s loved ones and part of His elect.

Therefore, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, because of everything he has just said concerning the warning of the great falling away and the dangers which will come from the man of lawlessness, the apostle Paul tells them to stand firm, 1 Corinthians 16:13 / Galatians 6:9 and hold fast to the teachings the apostles gave them. It makes no difference whether the apostles taught verbally or taught through writing, they are both inspired by God. 2 Thessalonians 3:6.

The danger of falling away is a very real danger for every Christian, not only because we’ve all probably heard of or known someone who has fallen away but the Bible clearly tells us that falling away is a real danger, 2 Peter 2:20-22.

Imagine a husband and wife who are deeply and passionately in love with each other and they go to bed and rise in the morning only to find they don’t love one another anymore. It doesn’t happen like that, what you find is that love relationship has been taken for granted and over time they discover that they just don’t love one another like they did in the beginning.

And so, it’s the same with our love relationship with God, we take that relationship with God for granted and over time we find we just don’t love Him like we did at first and so falling away indelibly begins to happen. It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time, Revelation 2:4.

In order for us to help ourselves as Christians we need to continue to do what the very first Christians did in Acts 2:42 and that is ‘devote ourselves to the apostle’s teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.’

Read again 2 Thessalonians 2:16 and let it sink it! What an amazing and very powerful verse this is. We are loved by God and we receive comfort from knowing that He loves us and by the blessing of His grace. How much more does God have to do to demonstrate to the world how much we wants to bless everyone?

God and Jesus have already shown their love to all of mankind but it’s those Christians who have believed and obeyed the Gospel who recognise this eternal encouragement and good hope for this life and the life after.

You can imagine after all the different theories about Christ’s returns and all the false accusations against Paul’s teachings, these Christians certainly needed comforting or encouraging as the NIV translates it, 2 Thessalonians 2:17 / 1 Thessalonians 4:18 / 2 Corinthians 1:3-5.

And to be sure that they don’t fall away from the faith and don’t fall for the deceptions of the man of lawlessness they need to rely on the strength of God in their every good deed and word, 2 Thessalonians 2:17 / 1 Thessalonians 3:2 / 1 Peter 5:10.

Sharing in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ is only made possible with the help of God, as we understand the Father and the Son’s love for us, this should encourage us eternally as we are reminded of the sacrificial love of God through His Son which gives us hope.

What a comfort that brings to our hearts, as God always wants to encourage us in everything we do and say for His glory. No wonder we should stop and take some time out from our busy lives to give thanks to Him.

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DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'"

Matthew 22:37

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