2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Last week we began studying the return of Christ, which is the hope of the church. We learned that Paul’s teaching of these things arose from a very practical need in the church – people needed to know what would happen to their brothers and sisters in the Lord who had died. These baby Christians were grieving and in danger of losing their faith, for they had not understood the link between the resurrection of Jesus and their own destiny as believers. God’s word is clear: since Christ rose from the dead, the dead in Christ shall also rise. As Christ ascended into heaven after his resurrection, so he will descend and all who are in Christ, either dead or alive will rise to meet him in heaven and be with him forever. So we don’t grieve as the world grieves and we encourage each other to look forward to that day. We then learned that, although Christ’s return will come upon unbelievers suddenly and without warning, we believers are to build each other up in faith, hope and love as we see the day of Christ’s return approaching. While no one knows the hour or the day of his return, Christ did teach us that his coming would be preceded by certain signs that we are to recognize and heed, allowing us to prepare ourselves for his return and spread the gospel to those who are ignorant of his return with a sense of urgency.
In Matthew 24, Jesus instructed us that the following signs would mark the end of the age and be signs of his coming.
•False prophets will come and lead many astray (4-5)
•Wars, rumors of wars and famines (6-8)
•Persecution and hatred of Christians (9)
•Great Apostasy (many fall away to betrayal and apathy) (10-13)
•Gospel proclaimed worldwide (14)
•Desecration of the Holy Place in Judea (15-16)
•Great earthquake in Jerusalem (29) (Revelation 6:12-13)
The interesting thing that we observed about most of these signs was that most of them have been evident in every age of the church. For example, false prophets have been leading the church astray even from the New Testament era. The Apostle John could write in 1 John 4:1-3: “many false prophets have gone out into the world” who possess the “spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and now is in the world already.” Sadly, a quick glance at human history reveals that in every age we have been plagued by war and famine, although the dawning of the modern atomic age has elevated the death tolls and destruction caused by modern warfare to levels unimaginable to the Biblical writers. It is no longer laughable to imagine a modern conflict that could wipe out portions of the world’s populations spoken of in Revelation. More people died in the wars of the 20th century than all other centuries combined. In regards to persecution, the church has sought the return of Christ under the Roman persecutions of the first two centuries, at times violent splintering of the church since the reformation, and the African and Asian persecution of the last few centuries. Yet more Christians were martyred for their faith in the 20th century than all other centuries combined. In regard to the expansion of the gospel, the early church considered the gospel to have spread to all the ends of the earth under the ministry of the Apostles. In the colonial era, the gospel could have been said to have been preached throughout the whole world as the sun never set on the British Empire. In the previous generation, Billy Graham and various radio ministries broadcast the gospel over political and geographical borders. Yet in our generation, we may yet see Christ’s words literally fulfilled as the gospel is brought to every single language and people group. Here is the point: these signs are general enough that every generation of Christians has had to be on their toes because indeed they saw that the end could come in their day, yet they are specific enough that when the end finally comes we will not be able to miss it if we are looking. The other amazing thing is that today more than any other time in history, we are seeing these things occurring on levels and degrees heretofore unimaginable in the history of the church. Be ready.
Now, as we looked at the signs in Matthew, we saw two that we agreed that have not occurred yet and are harder to identify as things that have occurred throughout every era of the church. Namely, the Abomination of Desolation and the great earthquake in Jerusalem, which will be accompanied by signs in the heavens, possibly a meteor shower. These final two signs will be unmistakable and evident to all.
It is along these same lines that Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonian church. Somehow, between the writing of the two letters to the Thessalonians, a disturbing message had entered into the church. The Thessalonians had been led to believe that the Lord Jesus had already returned and that they had missed Him. Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians to caution the new believers to be discerning of what they hear from their teachers regarding Christ’s return, and to assure them that the Lord’s return will be unmistakable. Paul writes in 2:1-12:
Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
First, Paul says, we must be discerning. Someone had evidently, between the first and second letters come to the Thessalonians and told them that they had missed out on Christ’s return. Therefore Paul says, be discerning in what you hear from your teachers regarding Christ’s return. For example, the Jehovah witnesses claimed Christ secretly returned in 1914. Don’t believe it.
Second, he says, you know you haven’t missed the return of Christ, because there will be two unmistakable happenings before Christ’s return and they haven’t happened yet. The first we will cover quickly: there will be a rebellion: better: apostasy, falling away. This is probably the apostasy spoken of in Matthew 24. It comes from within the church in betrayal and apathy, and outside of the church in persecution.
The antichrist will be revealed. This is the heart of Paul’s answer to the Thessalonians – you haven’t missed Christ’s return because the antichrist has not been revealed yet. The church will see the antichrist, whether you are pre-mid-or post somehow he is going to be revealed before Jesus takes you away. Notice that it does not tell us how the antichrist will be revealed as such, only that he will be revealed before the end. Personally, I believe that we will see him rise to power, persecute the church, and commit grievous blaspheme (the abomination) at the site of the temple. Paul taught these things to the very young Thesslaonian Christians:
•He has no regard for God’s law (3): the man of lawlessness. It may not mean that he is a lawbreaker, but that he is a law unto himself. He may speak the language of moral relativism – denying absolute rights and wrongs.
•He will bring destruction (3): He is a destroyer even though he looks like a builder. We saw last week that the end will come when people are saying to one another “there is peace and safety”. Many connect the revelation of the antichrist with a prophecy in Daniel 9:27 which states “he will make a strong covenant with the many”, seeing in this vision a peace brokerage between Israel and the nations. Yet, as 1 Thessalonians 5:3 says, “while they are saying ‘there is peace and safety’, then sudden destruction will come upon them.”
•He claims a divine prerogative for himself (4): who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, whether publicly or privately, this man will blaspheme God. He may promote a new humanism, just as the serpent in the garden promised, “your eyes will be opened and you will be as gods!” It will be subtle at first, but ego and power will drive him to make more outward blasphemies.
•He commits the abomination of desolation in the holy place (4): He will take his seat in the temple proclaiming himself to be God. I think it is very reasonable to connect this act with the “abomination of desolation” spoken of in Daniel 11 and 12 and Matthew 24. In Daniel 11, Daniel details the rise of a historical figure from the North: Daniel 11:31-32, 36-37 Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the regular burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate. He shall seduce with flattery those who violate the covenant, but the people who know their God shall stand firm and take action. Most scholar agree that Daniel is prophesying about the rise of Antiochus Epiphanes. John MacArthur: He was a Syrian king who reigned in Palestine from about 175 to 163 B.C. He called himself Epiphanes which means "the great one." The people called him Epimanes, which means "maniac." . . . Antiochus Epiphanes was a great persecutor of the Jewish people. The apocryphal books of 1 and 2 Maccabees describe how he tried to stamp out Jewish religion, and in so doing slaughtered thousands of Jewish men, women, and children. In one of the worst acts in Jewish history, Antiochus desecrated the Temple by slaughtering a pig on the altar, forcing the priests to eat pork, and setting up an idol to Zeus. The Jews then abandoned the Temple, not wishing to go into a defiled place. That put a halt to the daily sacrifices (as predicted by Daniel 11:31), until the Jews regained control of the Temple during the Maccabean revolution. The important thing for us to understand is that while the Jewish people of Jesus’ day understood the abomination to refer to a past event, Jesus spoke of it as a future event that is still to come. That is to say that Antioches Epiphanies was merely a foreshadowing or a type of the antichrist who is to come. Some people tie Jesus’ prediction of the Abomination of Desolation to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in AD70, but that event did not reflect the personal and blasphemous nature of the event as described in Daniel and here in 2 Thessalonians. Whether the Temple is rebuilt or whether the antichrist stands in front of the Islamic Dome of the Rock (which is built upon the Temple) I believe that he will personally commit a grievous act of blasphemy against God that we will be witness to.
•He is now being restrained: Verses 6-7 indicate that he (or his spirit) is currently being restrained. The restrainer will be removed allowing him to rise to power. Much discussion here. Something or someone is restraining evil until it will finally give way and allow the lawless one to be revealed. It’s a mystery of lawlessness, but here are some ideas:
•Government: early interpretation. Paul didn’t want to say the government because it could put the church in danger so he is careful not to name it. Antichrist will come to power in a period of anarchy
•Michael the Archangel: This is from revelation 12:7-12. Michael is restraining the devil by warring with him in heaven, but will ultimately cast him down to earth, at which point he will use the antichrist.
•The Holy Spirit: Through the church, the Holy Spirit restrains evil. Many pre-tribbers believe that the rapture of the church will mean the removal of the restrainer (the Holy Spirit) so that the anti-Christ can come to power. Less spiritual is that the church will be marginalized and persecuted allowing the evil one to come to power.
•His coming is by the activity of Satan (9): The antichrist, at some point is his career, will be animated by Satan, perhaps even possessed.
•He will be able to do great miracles and signs (9): On account to the Satanic power by which he is animated, he will be able to perform signs and miracles.
•He will deceive many: be careful and warned. Even if this false Messiah down in Florida that I told you about last week started doing miraculous things and even raised someone from the dead, do not believe him. The wicked will be deluded (verse 9) by the activity of Satan with signs and wonders to be a deception for the unbelievers so that he will be just in his judgment.
•He will be killed by Jesus(8) Christ will destroy him in his coming: (verse 8) Jesus will ultimately kill the antichrist at his coming by a word of his mouth
He Who Loves the Truth Will Be Saved
Piper: The apostasy comes to a crushing climax in verses 9–12 with an incredibly heavy force of delusion and deceit. According to verse 10 the signs and wonders of the man of lawlessness deceive those who are perishing. Why? Why are they so vulnerable? Why do many professing Christians leave the truth and follow falsehood? Paul's answer at the end of verse 10 is that they refuse to love the truth (literally: they did not welcome a love for the truth). Notice: it is not merely an issue of knowing or believing in a merely mental sense: it is an issue of loving. And this means that saving faith—faith that will endure to the end through the affliction now and through the apostasy to come—is not merely an accepting of truth but a loving of truth. Verse 10: "They perish because they refused to love the truth."
We can be sure that when the man of lawlessness comes, his signs and wonders will be used to support claims that appeal to our natural desires. Therefore the only defense against this appeal will be a deeper desire for God. If Christ is our portion and our treasure, if he satisfies our longings, and if we love the glory of his gospel, then the mystery of lawlessness will not overcome us, and our love will not grow cold and we will endure to the end and be saved. May the Lord grant us all to receive the love of the truth. Amen.