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The Day of the Lord and the Revealing of the Man of Sin.
‘Now we beg you, brothers and sister, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to him, to the end that you be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by letter as from us, as that the day of the Lord is now present.’
Paul now has serious words to say about the second coming (Parousia - royal visit and presence), and the gathering together of His people to Him (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Clearly the Thessalonians had received messages in different ways stating that the Day of the Lord was now present. This possibly means that some had come through men who claimed the Spirit, others through preaching, and yet others through a misleading letter purporting to come from Paul. Alternately we may apply ‘as from us’ to all three in which case he is speaking of news that has filtered through professing that Paul in the Spirit, and in his preaching and in some correspondence had claimed these things.
‘That you be not quickly shaken from your mind.’ The thoughts that they had had after having received these false messages had shaken them (aorist infinitive - a sudden effect). They were restlessly tossing like a ship loose from its moorings in bad weather. The thought of the day of judgment so close had put them in a turmoil.
‘Nor yet be being troubled.’ While not shaken and restless, others were being continually troubled (present infinitive) by the idea.
‘That the day of the Lord is now present.’ The day of the Lord’ is the final short period when God will have His way at the end of the age. Then it will cease to be ‘man’s day’ (1 Corinthians 4:3), and God will take over. Its main emphasis is described by Peter in 2 Peter 3:10, ‘the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night in the which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are in it will be burnt up’. Any interpretation that does not make this central can be disregarded for it is the only actual New Testament description that we have of the day of the Lord.
But prior to this there will be the beginnings of judgment when God’s wrath begins to unfold in the final days of the age (nowhere in the New Testament actually described as the day of the Lord). Coming as ‘a thief in the night’ is a regular description of those caught out by the coming of the Lord and His judgment. To the Church at Sardis His coming would be like a thief in the night if they did not watch (Revelation 3:3). Again Jesus declares in Revelation 16:15 that His coming will be like a thief. Thus those who watch and keep their lives pure will not be found naked, by being caught in the night ‘undressed’, and thus be ashamed (Revelation 16:15). And 1 Thessalonians 5:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:4 also tells us that the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, when sudden destruction will come on unbelievers, but that Christians will not be caught out by it because they are not in darkness.
So the idea of the Day of the Lord is of a ‘day’ which will come and catch out unbelievers who are not watching, but will not catch out Christians who are. Because they are watching they will be ready (Luke 12:40). For them it will be the ‘day of Christ’, the day when the Son of Man comes. The impression given is that the coming of Christ to His own and the day when He comes like a thief occur at the same time.
‘The day of the Lord.’ As we have said, this phrase refers to the day when the Lord has His day, when He acts in judgment. In a sense through the Old Testament period there were many ‘days of the Lord’, for it could be used of the days when God brought His judgment both on His faithless people and on the enemies of His people. But all looked forward to a final ‘day of the Lord’, a day of the Lord’s judgments, to take place at the time when final restoration took place (Joel 2:31; Joel 3:14; Zechariah 14:1). Notice that in Joel it is only said to be ‘near’ and has in mind the day of judgment and the last great battle put in Old Testament terms (Joel 3:2; Joel 3:14). In Zechariah 14:1 it is the day when the Lord comes personally to bring about restoration, and the days described in Revelation 21:25; Revelation 22:1 are about to begin (compare Zechariah 14:7-8). In other words it refers to the establishing of the heavenly kingdom.
In the New Testament the phrase appears elsewhere three times (Acts 2:20 quoting Joel 2:31, fulfilled, partially at least, at the resurrection and Pentecost; 2 Peter 3:10 and 1 Thessalonians 5:2). As stated above 2 Peter 3:10 is definitive, it is the time when ‘the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall be dissolved with fervent heat, and the earth and the works in it will be discovered’ (or in some manuscripts ‘burned up’), that is will be revealed in God’s eyes and judged. It thus refers to God’s final judgment in the end days, the final Judgment itself. A similar phrase, ‘the Lord’s day’, occurs in Revelation 1:10 where it possibly refers to a symbolical depiction of Christ ‘at the door’ on the point of returning.
But in both 1 Thessalonians and 2 Peter the title ‘the Lord’ has primary reference to Jesus Christ. It is He Who is ‘the Lord’ all through the letter, so ‘the day of the Lord’ has special reference to Him as the one appointed to judge the world (John 5:22; John 5:27). This is confirmed in that it can also be called ‘the day of the Lord Jesus’ in 1 Corinthians 5:5 where it refers to deliverance from the judgment, and 2 Corinthians 1:14 where it refers to Christian rejoicing at that day. We can compare also ‘the day of Christ’ (Philippians 1:10; Philippians 2:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:2), where there is a slant towards the Christian’s part in that day, and the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6) and the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:8) which are similar. All references to the day include the time of judgment, whether of Christians with regard to reward, or of all. Thus in the New Testament it basically means ‘the day of judgment’.
Excursus on ‘the day of the Lord’ in the Old Testament.
The term was used in Isaiah 13:9 of God’s visitation in judgment. Firstly judgment would come on His faithless people through Babylon, and then through the Medes God would bring judgment on Babylon (Isaiah 13:17). The whole is depicted in apocalyptic language (Isaiah 13:10; Isaiah 2:0 Isaiah 13:13) and is described as the wrath of the Lord (Isaiah 13:13). It also has a far view for it depicts the final desolation of Babylon (Isaiah 13:19-22). In the judgments of God near and far were part of one whole, especially as regards Babylon, which was the symbol from the beginning of rebellion against God (Genesis 10:9-12; Genesis 11:1-9). The earlier judgment was a foretaste of the later one.
Again the day of the Lord was to come on Edom and its allies, its surrounding nations (Isaiah 34:4; Isaiah 34:8). ‘All the nations’ refers to these for other nations are called on to witness the event (2 Thessalonians 2:1 compare Obadiah 1:15). But it is on Edom that the main judgment comes (2 Thessalonians 2:6). Again it is represented in apocalyptic language (2 Thessalonians 2:9-10), and such judgment did finally come upon them.
Jeremiah also prophesied a day of the Lord on Egypt and Pharaoh Neco (Jeremiah 46:2, repeated in Jeremiah 46:13), this time at the hands of Babylon (Jeremiah 46:10; Jeremiah 46:26). Thus ‘the day of the Lord’ began to indicate the day of the Lord’s judgments whenever they were.
It could be called ‘the day of the Lord of hosts’ (Isaiah 2:12), ‘the day of the Lord’s vengeance’ (Isaiah 34:8 - on Edom), ‘the day of the Lord, the Lord of hosts, a day of vengeance’ (on Egypt - Jeremiah 46:10), ‘the day of the Lord’s anger’ ( on Judah - Lamentations 2:22; on Judah and surrounding nations - Zephaniah 1:18; Zephaniah 2:2-3), ‘the day of the Lord’s sacrifice’ (on Judah - Zephaniah 1:8), ‘the great day of the Lord’ (on Judah - Zephaniah 1:14), ‘the great and terrible day of the Lord’ (Malachi 4:5), which referred to the first coming of Jesus as the beginning of ‘the end days’ (Matthew 11:14 with Acts 2:17; 1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 1:2; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 4:7).
But the basic term was ‘the day of the Lord’ found in Isaiah 13:6; Isaiah 13:9 - about Babylon through the Medes; Ezekiel 13:5 - about Judah through Nebuchadnezzar; Ezekiel 30:3 - about Egypt through Nebuchadnezzar; Joel 1:15 - about Judah through Nebuchadnezzar; Joel 2:1; Joel 2:11 - about Judah through Nebuchadnezzar; Joel 2:31; Joel 3:14 - about the end days at the time of restoration; Amos 5:18; Amos 5:20 - about Israel through Assyria; Obadiah 1:15 - about Edom and their allies (for ‘all the nations’ compare Isaiah 34:1); Zephaniah 1:7 - about Judah; Zechariah 14:1 - about the end days at the time of restoration, and as the prophets began to look forward to the day when God would set all things right, establish His people and deal with their enemies, it began to be applied especially to that ‘day’ (Joel 2:31; Joel 3:14; Zechariah 14:1).
End of Excursus.
Some have tried to make this ‘Day of the Lord’ apply to a period after the rapture. But it would be passing strange if Paul’s preaching was seen by people who believed that he taught the pre-tribulation rapture as saying that such a day of the Lord was now present, for it would mean he had missed the Rapture! The fact that he was saying it, would be evidence enough that the Rapture did not have to take place before the day of the Lord. Thus they did believe that Christians would be alive in the New Testament day of the Lord. So it must be concluded that the fact that they thought that Paul had preached that ‘the Day of the Lord is present’ is evidence that they did not consider that that would mean that the Rapture had taken place.
But, it may be asked, if the day of the Lord is the day of judgment how could they think if it as now come and present? We can compare how a man may say ‘the day of my death has come’ when he is shortly to die and does not know exactly when. Or, with a sense of foreboding, ‘the end has come’ when he means it is almost in sight. So the Thessalonians meant that the day of the Lord was threatening. The depiction of this is found in Revelation 6:15-17 as a result of the heavenly portents.
Many a catastrophe in the past has made people think that ‘the judgment day is here’, and possibly the heavy persecution they were going through, added to some portents observed, had given them the same impression, fortified by the false messages. It made them say ‘the day of the Lord is here’, the time of the Lord’s final judgment, and they were panicking.
God’s wrath may continually be revealed on this earth (Romans 1:18) but in the end it reaches its climax at the Judgment. And that Judgment is revealed in many ways. It is like a great king summoning the world to judgment (Matthew 25:31-46) but the issues are eternal (Matthew 25:46). It is like a lord or king calling his servants to account (Matthew 22:1-14; Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 12:41-48 and often). Note that the rewards to the righteous and the condemnation of the unrighteous occur at around the same time. It is described as coming in ‘flaming fire’ (2 Thessalonians 1:8 compare Hebrews 10:27). It is described in terms of the heavens passing away and the earth being burned up, which is the day of the Lord (2 Peter 3:10). It is described as a time of devastating earthly tumult (Revelation 6:12-17), which is the great day of His wrath. It is described as great hail (Revelation 11:19; Revelation 16:21). It is described as a reaper reaping a deadly harvest accompanied by devastation (Revelation 14:14-20). It is described as a last great battle in which there is no fighting. Everyone is killed with the Judge’s one sword (Revelation 19:11-21). It is described as being called before a great white throne of justice (Revelation 20:11-15).
These pictures all point to the one great truth. Noble attempts have been made to fit them into a pattern so as to literalise them, but none have succeeded. Each of them has had to avoid the clear meaning of the words in order to do so. But they do not need to be reconciled. They are earthly pictures of an indescribable heavenly activity, each of which conveys a part of the horror of the whole.
Thus the Thessalonian conception of the final judgment and the day of the Lord was not necessarily limited to a twenty-four hour day. They did not quite know, any more than we do, how it would be carried out. But they would certainly see it as short and swift. We must not confuse ‘the day of the Lord’ with all mentions of the wrath of God, although it will of course be the final revelation of that wrath.
(In all its uses ‘the day of the Lord’ is a final climactic event with a particular judgment in view. There are no grounds therefore for seeing it as an extended period of over a thousand years).
‘Let no man beguile you in any way, for it will not be except the rebellion come first, and the man of sin (or ‘lawlessness’) be revealed, the son of perdition, he who opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God or is an object of worship, so that he sits in the temple of God setting himself forth as God.’
Paul here makes clear that while Christians should be ‘looking for His appearing’ there is to be a certain delay because certain things have to happen. This is not surprising. Jesus Himself, while urging watching for His surprise appearing (Matthew 24:42-51), had done the same. He could not come until there had been great wars and earthquakes (Luke 21:10-11), and until all nations had received the Gospel (Mark 13:10), He could not come until Jerusalem had been destroyed and the people scattered among the nations (Luke 21:24), He could not come until certain levels of persecution had been suffered by the Apostles (Luke 21:12; Luke 21:16), He could not come until false Messiahs and many false prophets had arisen (Matthew 24:5; Matthew 24:11). Thus those who were watching for His coming ‘at any time’ were also to recognise causes for delay. The two ideas are regularly held in tension.
That there will be first ‘the rebellion’ against God is clear from elsewhere (1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2Ti 3:1-5 ; 2 Peter 3:3-6; Jude 1:18-19), although the seeds of that rebellion were already well rooted and being revealed, and he parallels it with the persecution and tribulation already being suffered by the people of God (2 Timothy 3:11-13).
But we must always remember that all New Testament writers saw the days between the first and second coming of Christ as the final days of the age. The fact that ‘the end times’ began at the resurrection is important to understand and is clearly stated in Scripture. ‘He was revealed at the end of the times for your sake’, says Peter (1 Peter 1:20), so that he can then warn his readers ‘ the end of all things is at hand’ (1 Peter 4:7). So to Peter it is clear that the first coming of Christ has begun the end times.
Likewise Paul says to his contemporaries ‘for our admonition, on whom the end of the ages has come’ (1 Corinthians 10:11). What could be clearer? The first coming of Christ was ‘the end of the ages’, not the beginning of a new age. The writer to the Hebrews tells us ‘He has in these last days spoken to us by His Son’ (Hebrews 1:1-2), and adds ‘once in the end of the ages has He appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself’ (Hebrews 9:26-28). So those early writers saw their days as ‘the last days’, the ‘end of the ages’, for what we see as this age is the culmination of all that has gone before and introduces ‘the end’. Thus they saw ‘the rebellion’ as already begun.
‘And the man of sin (or ‘lawlessness’) be revealed, the son of perdition, he who opposes and exalts himself against all that is called God or is an object of worship, so that he sits in the temple of God setting himself forth as God.’ The ‘man of sin’ (some important manuscripts have ‘lawlessness’ (see2 Thessalonians 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:8) but the idea is the same (1 John 3:4)) may be a parody of the phrase ‘the man of God’ of the Old Testament, the man, often anonymous, who brings God’s true word and demands obedience to it, or even a contrast with ‘the man of Your right hand -- the Son of Man You made strong for Yourself’ (Psalms 80:17). The ‘Man of your right hand’ suggests One Who is under the authority of God and receives authority from Him, the ‘Son of Man’ represents true manhood in its submission to God. The man of sin (like the wild beasts of Daniel) represents one under the authority of sin and lawlessness, and in rebellion against God. It depicts someone who sums up in himself all the sin and lawlessness of the world.
Indeed he will exalt himself as the epitome of man’s religion, above all that is seen as divine or is venerated. Such a figure is described in Revelation 17:8; Revelation 17:11; Revelation 19:19, a man with almost supernatural powers, possessed by or representing a satanic being who is depicted as ‘the Wild Beast’ who lives again (Revelation 17:8). He is the son of perdition, bound for destruction (Revelation 17:11).
The figure here may be partly based on that in Daniel 11:36, ‘he will exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and will speak marvellous things against the God of gods -- he will magnify himself above all’. Nevertheless the parallel is not exact. The king in Daniel does honour to ‘a god whom his fathers knew not’, but Paul goes further. The man of sin will set himself up as God. We can also consider the extravagant claims of the king of Babylon, seeing himself as ‘the Light-bearer (Lucifer), the son of the morning’ and saying ‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, -- I will ascend above the heights of the clouds. I will be like the Most High’ (Isaiah 14:12-14). Paul had no lack of precedents. Too much power makes men mad.
Note how the description of the man of sin as ‘the opposing one’ uses a term that is parallel to ‘the Adversary’ (Satan) who is his backer. See 1 Timothy 5:14 with 15. Thus it links him with Satanic influence.
He will be the great Anti-God. Firstly in that he opposes God, and secondly because he represents himself as God. He openly opposes God and exalts himself against all that is of God, or is seen as divine, and he represents himself as God, taking his place in the temple of God. He sets himself up as a supreme divine figure.
‘The temple of God.’ He sets himself up as ‘God’, so the Temple ‘of God’ is his temple. It does not necessarily signify the temple in Jerusalem. Indeed Paul would emphatically see that as replaced by the Christian church, and therefore no longer of any account. But the words can describe any ‘temple of God’ used by such a blasphemer in his claim to be ‘God’. The point is that he sets himself up to be worshipped in his own temple.
‘Sits.’ Men did not sit in a temple. The only one with right to sit in a temple was the god himself.
Such men have appeared throughout history. Caligula, ten years before, had seriously represented himself as divine and demanded worship from all, and had set up statues of himself in many places and ‘temples of God’ and had had the idea of setting up a statue of himself in the temple at Jerusalem and was only prevented by death. This may have been the pattern for Paul’s description. Caligula was followed by the ‘divine’ Nero and other ‘divine’ emperors (some of whom in private laughed at the idea). The main acceptance of this divinity of the emperors was in the Eastern empire.
Later, popes in the middle ages, taking over as Pontifex Maximus , would behave obscenely and make huge claims to represent God, and were even addressed as God by their sycophants, claimed ‘lying wonders’ and behaved cruelly to Christians and non-Christians alike. Men like the Mahdi in the Sudan would be seen as having divine status and use it to his own ends. But, while sharing in the essence of the man of sin, and revealed as what they were by their extreme sinfulness and cruelty, these were all shadows of the greater reality. They came and they went. However, it should be considered what comfort these words would bring to people in the midst of persecution from some such figures, that these powerful, almost invincible, ones before whom they were arraigned, were under God’s hands, however great their claims, and would shortly give account to Him.
Their status was always hindered by God’s restraining hand on Satan. But in the end another will arise, possibly in the Near East (‘the king of the north’ - Daniel 11:36-45), with similar claims. This time God’s restraint will be removed as Satan is let loose for ‘a short time’ (Revelation 12:12; Revelation 20:3; compare ‘one hour’ - Revelation 17:12), and seeks worship for himself through his figurehead.
Thus Paul sees some important figure arising who is the epitome of sin and blasphemy, whom we often call the Antichrist, but is rather here represented as the ‘Anti-god’.
John says, ‘Little children it is the last hour, and as you heard that antichrist comes, even now there have arisen many antichrists, whereby we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us -- this is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son’ (1 John 2:18-19; 1 John 2:23). Later on John designates as antichrist those who say that Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh (1 John 4:3; 2 John 1:7).
This is the only specific mention of antichrist in the Bible. Thus John sees antichrist in terms of the spirit of antichrist (1 John 4:3), denying the Father and the Son and denying that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. They deny His deity and true humanity. And the fact that they were already there he saw as an indication that it was ‘the last hour’. But in view of Paul’s description we must see one arising who out-blasphemes them all, as John himself represents him in Revelation.
It should, however, be noted that he is not said to actually verbally claim to be God. Possibly we are to see it that his presumptions and claims as he ‘sets himself up’ will make this impression, leaving his hearers to draw their own conclusions. We have seen such through history and in our own day.
‘Do you not remember that when I was with you I told you these things?’
How we would love to hear what he had told them, but we do not know, nor do we know its extent. But it seemingly ties up with some of John’s teaching in Revelation with remarkable accuracy. John may have had Paul’s letter in mind, or they may both have looked back to the same source.
‘And now you know that which restrains, to the end that he might be revealed in his own season. For the mystery of lawlessness already works, only there is one who restrains who will be taken out of the way.’
What could restrain the man of sin and hold back the Anti-god? Revelation 20:2 depicts the idea as God’s chain in the hands of an angel, restraining the one who is behind the man of sin. In other words in the final analysis the restrainer is God by whatever means He uses. This ties in also with the picture of the restraint in the Abyss of one who is probably Satan’s man of his right hand (Revelation 17:8; Revelation 9:1; Revelation 9:11 compare Revelation 20:7). Thus the one behind the man of sin, the son of ‘destruction’ (apoleias), may be identified with ‘the Destroyer’ (Apollyon - Revelation 9:11), the king of the Abyss who is restrained there until released by the angel. These are all, of course, pictures of spiritual reality. None of these have literal bodies.
So the man of sin will be restrained, because his mentor is restrained, until his time comes, his own season, when he will be ‘revealed’ (known as what he is), and the ‘ten rulers’ will have their power ‘for one hour’ (a short time) under ‘the Wild Beast’, that is the one who lives again and behaves like a wild beast (Revelation 17:12). All will be restrained until God’s time comes.
The fact that the restraint is by the chain and the angel, can include all measures of restraint used by God. The chain is not literal for it chains a spiritual being. It does not preclude other possibilities, the earthly links of the heavenly chain. Thus it may include Roman justice, which has continued as a restraining influence long after Rome had ceased, and still affects international Law today, and it may include the moral laws of the Old Testament, and ‘the ten commandments’, still held in outward approval by mankind, and it may include the church which for all its faults has proved a restraining influence on sin. These are three of the restraints put in place by God. But, as Jesus Himself revealed, in the end God is the One behind all the restraint of whatever kind it is, using His various links of chain, for Satan can only do what God allows (Luke 22:31).
All claims that the Holy Spirit is uniquely intended by the restrainer, Who is then removed, must be viewed with suspicion. If he meant the Holy Spirit why did he not say so? We can understand why he might refer indirectly to mysterious angelic power, for it would increase the mystery, we can understand why he might refer indirectly to the removal of law, for that might be seen as treason. But if he meant that the Holy Spirit was to be taken out of the way, with all its consequences, it was such a revolutionary idea that it would surely have been spelt out, not leaving in the dark those who had not heard Paul’s first teaching.
Indeed the idea that people of God could function without the Holy Spirit is unscriptural. The ‘coming of the Holy Spirit’ was not something totally new, it was the giving to the many what had only been experienced by the few. All through history the Holy Spirit (or ‘Spirit of God’) was at work, both on behalf of God’s people (Isaiah 63:9-11; Isaiah 63:14; Isaiah 59:21; Haggai 2:5; Zechariah 4:6) and in their inner lives (Psalms 51:10-12; Psalms 139:7; Psalms 143:10; Ezekiel 18:31-32 with Ezekiel 36:26; Ezekiel 37:14). The Holy Spirit absent from God’s people is a contradiction in terms. Without Him there would be no God’s people. Any more than they could function without the grace of God. And His working is always within. While prepositions may help us to appreciate more of the work of the Spirit, we see little future in teaching which seeks to differentiate ‘with’ (or any other preposition) from ‘in’ as though He could be with and not in. John 14:17 means that both are true not that one can be had without the other. God works both with and within.
But note that the principle of lawlessness, once hidden but now revealed, was even then at work while Paul was writing. The restraint was being stretched by man’s sin. Man’s rebellion against God has continued since then, chafing against all restraints, inspired by the one who will in the end control the man of sin, but can only work surreptitiously until the release of ‘the Wild Beast’ is finally permitted, to inspire the man of sin. As we have suggested the one who restrains is either the angel or God Himself.
This coming of the man of sin is the evidence that things will get worse before Christ’s coming. And yet in some ways he will be but a reproduction of all who have gone before, the wild beast of Revelation 13:0, the Roman Empire of the divine emperors and all that followed, although more of a force for evil. Whether we will easily recognise him is another question, for he may not openly reveal his lawlessness against God. Lawless man may welcome him and he may seem to offer what man is looking for. But those with spiritual insight will know him, and will beware.
It is probable that this one who is pictured as the man of sin is a man possessed by Satan or by one of his chief minions (the Wild Beast from the Abyss), thus he will have influence over evil forces granted to him by the one who possesses him (Revelation 9:3-10), forces which are invisible but effective. The descriptions of these forces are not to be taken literally. They picture what they can achieve. Thus the end days will experience more of the evil of the occult. But they cannot touch those who are Christ’s (Revelation 9:4).
‘And then will be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus will slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nothing by the manifestation of his coming.’
Note the continued emphasis on lawlessness. ‘The man of lawlessness -- the mystery of lawlessness (his hidden teaching now revealed and contrary to the Law) -- the lawless one.’ Here is one who is completely opposed to the Law of God. All restraint will be cast off. Note also the emphasis on his being ‘revealed’ (2 Thessalonians 2:5, 2 Thessalonians 2:6, 2 Thessalonians 2:8). He will be for a time hidden but will then be revealed, as the sphere in which he operates, his world, wherever it is, acknowledges him. So for a time he will develop his power, with the world unaware of his presence, and gradually he will build up his authority and control. Perhaps as a leading figure in the United Nations. Perhaps as an Arab dictator supported by the Arab nations. Perhaps as an influential leader in Europe. Who knows? But wielding great influence for evil. And then finally becoming a superhero, and probably a leading religious figure, receiving worship for himself in one sphere or another. That he will affect world issues is clear. But the world he controls will be his own ‘world’, not necessarily the world at large (‘world’ in Scripture denotes the world in which the writer lives, not the whole world). Parts of the world may well only be indirectly affected by him.
‘Whom the Lord Jesus will slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nothing by the manifestation of his coming.’ The end of the man of sin is brought about by the manifestation of the coming of Christ. For Jesus Himself will come, not only to take His own, but to manifest Himself to the world in authority, brightness and glory. Then this powerful ‘man of sin’ will be ‘brought to nothing’, rendered powerless and emasculated, because his lawlessness will be shown for what it is by the coming of the Judge, Who will pass judgment on him and those who followed him by ‘the breath of His mouth’ (compare Revelation 19:15 also Isaiah 11:4). The ‘breath of His mouth’ once acted powerfully in creation (Psalms 33:6), now it will act equally powerfully in destruction.
‘Even he whose coming is according to the work of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceit of unrighteousness for those who are perishing, because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved.’
In his own sphere the man of sin will reveal the power of his master. Satanic power through him will enable him to produce false miracles of some kind. They will be seen as revealing his ‘power’, to many they will be ‘signs’ of his status, and they will be ‘wonders’, filling men with awe. His followers will be deceived. If it were possible even the elect, the people of God, might at first be deceived (Matthew 24:24). But in the end their spiritual insight will see through him.
‘And with all deceit of unrighteousness for those who are perishing, because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved.’ The ‘deceit of unrighteousness’ may refer to the fact of the source of the deceit, it comes from an unrighteous source. Or it may refer to the fact that men are deceived by him because they are unrighteous. Or indeed it may signify both, the unrighteous deceiving the unrighteous. But we should note that men are not deceived because they are duped and could not have known, but because they are unrighteous (compare Romans 1:18).
‘For those who are perishing.’ As the man of sin perishes because he is ‘the son of perdition (destruction)’ (2 Thessalonians 2:3) so they too are proving themselves sons of destruction. Because they are unrighteous and as a result themselves deceived, they ‘are perishing’. And why are they deceived and perishing? Because they did not receive the love of the truth that they might be saved. They were faced with truth and deception, and because they were unrighteous they chose deception. See John 3:17-21 and John 7:17. But if they do turn to that truth they will be saved.
‘They did not receive the love of the truth.’ The truth was offered to them but their hearts were not open to His Spirit, thus He could not work within them love of the truth. The truth here is not general truth, but the truth of the Gospel, for that is central to all truth.
‘And for this cause God sends them a working of error that they should believe the lie, that they all might be judged who believed not the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.’
When men spurn God’s Spirit the alternative is error. That was so in Genesis 6:2, and is always so. When Pharaoh hardened his heart, God also began to harden his heart, for on one who was hardened His activity could only produce hardness. The same is true here. They did not want truth, so when God continued to work in them turning their thoughts to spiritual things, it could only produce error. And instead of believing the truth, their perverted minds believed ‘the lie’, the opposite of ‘the truth’, teaching suffused with error presented by the man of sin.
This will be contrasted in 2 Thessalonians 2:13 with God’s working of truth in the hearts of those who are His. Both are His sovereign work. He will make known the riches of His glory on vessels of mercy which He prepared beforehand unto glory, and endures with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted for destruction (Romans 9:22-23).
But what basically is ‘believing the lie’. It is to have the wrong attitude towards, and understanding of, God (Romans 1:25). To ignore the clear message of creation. It is to see that which is anti-God as being God, and to see God in what is merely part of this world. It is to listen to the whispering of Satan, as man first did in the Garden of Eden. And it leads to the worship of Nature and bestial lives (Romans 1:18-32).
But the result can only be that they will finally come under judgment, the judgment that is to follow the appearance of the man of sin. And that judgment will reveal that it was because they had pleasure in unrighteousness (‘delighted in wrongdoing’) that they did not believe the truth, and because they continued not to believe the truth that they continued to have pleasure in unrighteousness. The two go together. Not believing the truth will always result in having pleasure in unrighteousness, and having pleasure in unrighteousness will always result in not believing the truth. And it is because men have pleasure in unrighteousness that they will follow the man of sin until the inevitable day when they will be judged.
This principle is very important. When a man begins to lose his faith ask him in what way he wants to misbehave. Soon you will discover that his problem is not a rational one but a moral one.
‘But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brothers and sisters beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, whereunto he called you through our Gospel to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Having considered the man of sin, and the destiny of those who follow him, Paul now assures the Thessalonians that he realises that they are not of that number. Rather are they beloved of the Lord (that is, the Lord Jesus Christ). And that immediately brings him ‘under an obligation’ to give thanks for what has caused them to be so, God’s electing grace.
‘For that God chose you from the beginning.’ Compare Eph 1:4 ; 1 Peter 1:1-2. From the beginning means ‘before the foundation of the world’ (Ephesians 1:4). From the beginning of His act of creation, even before the world came into being, He chose His own. Their salvation was not an afterthought resulting from failure, but the specific purpose of God which He would bring into fulfilment. They were ‘chosen according to the foreknowing of God’ (1 Peter 1:1-2).
Some good texts have ‘as firstfruits’ rather than ‘from the beginning’, and if this reading were accepted it would mirror the teaching in Revelation 14:0 that God’s people are his firsfruits, while the remainder of the world awaits judgment.
‘Unto salvation.’ Man’s sin, man’s fall, all was beforehand known to God. And His purpose to save His own was part of that foreknowing. He chose them unto salvation. He, as it were, entered into personal relationship with them beforehand long prior to making His effectual call. This was then to be accomplished by two means, sanctification in the Spirit, which is God’s side, and belief of the truth, which is the resulting response of man.
Here sanctification of the Spirit begins in the working of truth in a man’s heart (as against the ‘working of error’ - 2 Thessalonians 2:11), which results in belief of the truth, continues in giving new life through the new birth (John 3:6; Titus 3:5; James 1:18; 2 Peter 1:4; Galatians 4:19), and then continues on as He works within them to will and to do of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13; 1 Corinthians 1:8; Jude 1:24), until He finally presents them perfect before Him, holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27; Colossians 1:22; Jude 1:24). And the result in such men is a continuing response of belief and trust in the truth of the Gospel, seen as a wholehearted response to Him..
‘Whereunto He called you through our Gospel.’ This looks back to all the blessings described, salvation, sanctification in the Spirit and belief of the truth. They were effectually called through the work of the Spirit to these things. And the means of their calling was the Good News presented by Paul and his companions. In Paul ‘calling’ is always seen as effectual (compare 1 Thessalonians 2:12; 1 Thessalonians 5:24; 2 Timothy 1:9).
But what was to be the end result? ‘The obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’. In that day we will see His glory, and we shall be like Him, for we will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2). The Christian’s end is glory, ‘a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory’ ( 2 Corinthians 4:17; Romans 8:17-18; Romans 8:30; 1 Corinthians 15:43; Ephesians 5:27; Philippians 3:21; 1 Thessalonians 2:12). We will appear with Him in glory (Colossians 3:4). As God has glorified Jesus, the representative man, so will He glorify us. And the process has already begun (2 Corinthians 3:18; John 17:22).
Note in all this the working of the whole Godhead. ‘God chose you -- in sanctification of the Spirit -- to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’. None of this is due to our merit. It is because God chose us and worked His will within us that we will share the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
‘So then, brothers and sisters, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you were taught whether by word or by letter from us.’
Because of this working of God in His own they are exhorted to ‘stand fast’, both against the working of the Evil One and against the fears that pervade them. And one way to stand fast against all that the future holds is by ‘holding the traditions’. The word for ‘traditions’ signifies a body of truth which stands on its own. It would include the recognised traditions concerning the life and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ which were circulated in the churches, and the letters of Paul, the foundation stones of the New Testament.
This cannot reasonably be applied to later traditions. Paul is not speaking of ‘the traditions of the church’, he is speaking of traditions, including his own Apostolic letters, which he brought to them and which he had authenticated (compare 2 Thessalonians 3:6). All the writers of New Testament letters assumed that there was a body of recognised truth against which false teachers could be judged.
A similar thought occurs in 1 Corinthians 16:13 where we are told to ‘stand fast in the faith’. We are also to ‘stand fast in the liberty with which Christ has made us free’ and not to turn from dependence on the grace of God to any form of self-justification (Galatians 5:1-4), to ‘stand fast in one spirit, with one mind’, united together in Christ (Philippians 1:27), to ‘stand fast in the Lord’, the sphere of strengthening and security (Philippians 4:1), For by this we life which is life indeed (1 Thessalonians 3:8).
‘Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.’
This verse is remarkable in its implication. It was the usual practise of Paul to place ‘God our Father’ first in his greetings (2 Thessalonians 1:1). Yet here (and in 2 Corinthians 13:14) he places first ‘our Lord Jesus Christ’. Furthermore the combination is followed by the use of the singular, and the singular verbs ‘comfort’ and ‘establish’ which must refer to both acting together as One. It is a clear expression of co-equality and oneness.
‘Who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace.’ What a world of meaning is summed up in these words. The whole of a Christian’s destiny is wrapped up in it. First came the love, a love reaching forward from eternity, which includes the giving of Himself for us (Galatians 2:20). And then the consequence of that love, eternal strengthening and awareness of His presence (parakaleo), and good hope, sanctification and glorification. And all this through the unmerited love and favour of God, ‘through grace’. Because of the nature of Those Who bring it about it is fully comprehensive, because of its source it is unfailing.
God’s love for man and hope for the future were two elements lacking in the traditions of that ancient world. Man saw himself as the plaything of the gods, and the future as an endless circle of hopelessness. But here Paul could stress God’s deep and loving concern and the certain hope that lay ahead through the working of God within.
‘And establish them in every good work and word.’ As ever Paul cannot stop short with theology. It has to produce its fruit in action. There can be no grace and mercy of God which is not accompanied in men’s lives by fruitfulness. And this is a fruitfulness of both work and word. We regularly put the ‘word’ first, the preaching of the Gospel, but Paul puts the ‘work’ first. A Gospel which does not reveal itself in love and good works is no Gospel.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24