Devotional # 188. 5/2/16. 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.
Intro. Two weeks ago we started digging into God’s righteous judgment and justice in 2 Thessalonians 1:4-10 (Devotional # 186). Last week we talked about Paul, Silas and Timothy’s prayer for the Thessalonians. It was in three parts: “that (1) our God would count [them] worthy of this calling and (2) fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and (3) the work of faith with power” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, Devotional # 187). Notice the “goodness” of God mentioned, we must remember that as we move through today’s Scripture. In that Devotional I mentioned that this week we would be returning to some specifics of the End times and also that we would see the many ways Christians have hope.
vv. 1-2. Paul returns to telling his brothers and sisters (“brethren”) about the “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him.” He names two separate events: 1. “The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ”, which is the Second Coming of Jesus ending the Great Tribulation, and 2. “our gathering together to Him” which is the Rapture. Do you remember the two charts I gave in Devotional # 181 showing the similarities and differences between the Rapture and the Second Coming? In 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 we talked about how “the Day of the Lord” (here “the Day of Christ” is better translated as “the Day of the Lord”) always refers to God’s Judgment (Devotional # 182). Paul’s heart here is to correct the Thessalonians fear and doubts. He had already explained how these things would happen (v. 5) but they had forgotten or been led astray. We need to act as quickly as Paul did when we hear that someone from our family of faith misunderstands Scripture. Notice how loving Paul is in his explanation.
Specific to this section, one commentator says, “this was the event the Thessalonians were anticipating” (Source 1). And it should be the same for us 2016 Christians! When Jesus is at the center of our universe then finally meeting Him in our glorified bodies should be the things we’re looking forward to right now. Our desire to be perfect in the presence of the One who perfected us should partly fuel our hope for the future. Remember the hope that these things give us as Paul mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (Devotional # 181)? But why does this only partly give us hope?
There are different levels of maturity for a Christian. In my mind one of the factors is where we place our hope. The very bottom level, let’s call it “0”, is where non-Christians are. If they have any hope at all it’s in themselves or temporal things. But when someone becomes a Christian they hit “level 1” where they trust Jesus as their Savior. This is a very basic realization that there is in fact hope in eternal life and they will spend it in heaven. From here it can go one of two ways: they can stay at “level 1” but focus on the problems of this life with the hope of eternity in the back of their minds; or they can move to “level 2” where they are encouraged by reading their Bible that they have hope in being raptured by Christ. It seems like many pastors nowadays push the hope of eternity or the hope of the Rapture or both. And that’s great – those truly are the foundation of a believer’s hope. But there is more to hope in! And this is where, something like a third level would come into play. The Christian is looking forward to the hope of eternity with the Lord in general and the hope of Jesus pulling His Church from the earth prior to the Tribulation (not just an escapist mentality) but now the believer also looks forward to: prophecy being fulfilled, sin ending forever, the Lord’s will completed, people returning to the state God designed them for, communion and fellowship for the totality of the Church with the Lord, Satan and his demons being stopped, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, new heaven, new earth, the New Jerusalem and final righteous justice and judgment given by God (and I’m sure there are more). You see all of these things will happen after the Rapture and they don’t only affect us personally but they affect all of humanity and all of creation.
Please understand the “levels” I just created to explain believer’s hope are just that – something I created to explain the truths of God’s word. I’m not saying these are rungs of a ladder of works or that if you’re at what I described as “level 1” then you’re not good enough. My point is that we all need the reminder that there is so much to hope in the Lord for!
vv. 3-4. Paul gives us an important timeline. He tells us “that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed.” So the Second Coming will not happen until “the man of sin” (also known as “the son of perdition”) comes on the scene. So what does the “the falling away” mean? The original Greek is apostasia which is where we get our word “apostate” and “apostasy” as we have here. It means “to forsake” or “fall away” (Source 2) and, in a religious sense, is used when someone has been part of a church or religion and then leaves it. But here, in verse 3, it is a unique and specific event of “THE apostasy”*. One commentator says that the key to understanding the event of THE apostasy “is to identify the main person, which Paul does, calling him the ‘man of sin’” (Source 1). The “man of sin” is the Antichrist and how he sits as God in the temple can be found in Mark 13:14-20. If you don’t remember going through this in Devotional # 34 then here is a portion:
The Anti-Christ re-builds the temple and puts the “abomination of desolation”, which is an image of himself, in the temple. This was actually prophesied 560 years prior to Jesus, in Daniel 11:31 (Source 2)! Here it says “standing” which indicates that it will be continuously there for 3 ½ years (according to Revelation 12:6). This is interesting because the Jews may have been persuaded that the anti-Christ was the Messiah when he re-builds the temple but when they see him put his image inside they will know he is an imposter. This will be when Romans 10 & 11 (among many others) are fulfilled and Israel accepts Jesus in their hearts and not because of birthright or works of the Law. They (and others) will run to the mountains to hide, if they don’t take off immediately they will be caught and killed. This will be the worst warfare the earth has ever known (Devotional # 34).
Back here in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4, we have a clearer understanding of what will happen in these End times. One last thing before we leave this portion: “the apostasy” (“falling away”) that takes place is scary and saddening. If you read 2 Timothy 3:1-5, the apostate people have a “form of godliness“, so they go to church and look like a Christian, but “deny its power“, so they don’t have the Holy Spirit. I was reading in the last book of the Bible recently and thought this applied to what we’re studying. The seventh church that Jesus walks through is “the church of the Laodiceans” in Revelation 3:14-22. This was both a real church in the first century and a prophecy of a future Church age. It is the worldly church that backs Antichrist and the church that Jesus knocks at their door asking to be let in (“I stand at the door and knock“). What?! Why is Jesus outside of the church? Shouldn’t the church have Jesus at its center? Yes! And yet this church that masquerades as “rich, wealthy and needs nothing” is actually “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).
*THE apostasy: Some have thought that this was another mention of the Rapture. The problem with that is in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 the catching away is harpazo, which is an act of God, but this apostasia here is an act of man, this is apostate.
5-7. In the midst of the disconcerting news of the future we find more hope as well as important theology. As I mentioned before, Paul says that he has told the Thessalonians about these things in the past. It certainly was important for him to remind them of the timeline of these things so that they didn’t live in fear of having missed the Rapture, but it also showed them, and it shows us, that God is in control. Not only had Paul prophesied that these things would happen in this order but verses 6 & 7 tell us about a “Him” who is “restraining” the Antichrist. Who is this “Him“? It’s the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit is currently holding back “the mystery of lawlessness” which “is already at work“. So we see this “mystery” is more than just current sin (“lawlessness“) but in fact it is the demon spirit currently on earth that will inhabit the Antichrist but is being “restrained” by the Holy Spirit. What does this tell us? Several things but first, this gives us hope and faith knowing that God is holding back Satan’s plan. And it’s not like God is a grandpa who loses his grip on the leash of a large dog. It is in the perfect timing of the Father’s plan that He takes the Holy Spirit out of His restraining role. Does this mean the Holy Spirit stops working? No, “the passage says the Holy Spirit will no longer restrain the growth of evil, but that does not mean He will have no ministry whatsoever” (Source 3). Read through the book of Revelation and you will see how much the Holy Spirit continues to work during the end times. What an encouraging thing to know that everything is according to God’s will and that the Holy Spirit continues to work for all eternity!
vv. 8-9. Spoiler alert! Just as quickly as we’re told that the Holy Spirit will allow the Antichrist to take action, we find out that God ultimately destroys him! Paul is saying, ‘don’t worry Thessalonians, Satan and his demons will have a time to tempt people but God will deal harshly with them in perfect righteous justice and judgment.’ Why do they have to be released? Because God gives everyone a choice whether to be saved by Him or trust in themselves and Satan (as we’ll see in vv. 10-12). Let’s look at that next.
vv. 10-12. Verse 10 is the continuation of what Paul started saying about the evil empowered by Satan, worked out by the Antichrist (v. 9) but it gets personal now because humans are mentioned. We’re told that people will be “deceived” but this is because they made a choice to “not receive the love of the truth” (and we see this again in v. 12). They made a choice to reject salvation and “had pleasure in unrighteousness“* because they have made that decision God will confirm their hearts desire by “send[ing] them strong delusion.” This is the same type of thing as we see in Romans 9:14-18, and by context back to Exodus 4-14. The “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart is mentioned twenty times, ten are used speaking of Pharaoh being the originator (example: Exodus 7:13, “And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard”) and ten are speaking of God being the initiator (example: Exodus 9:12, “But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh”). Even when God is mentioned as hardening his heart there are still times (Exodus 9:12, 9:34) where it says that Pharaoh hardened his heart, implying there would have been the ability to repent. It’s important to understand that the “hardening” is a progression for Pharaoh and for every person. God shows mercy but He also will give a man or woman what they demonstrate time and again they desire. This is the justice and fairness of God’s judgment.
Conclusion. Today we’ve learned more about God’s justice but also the many things the Christian has hope in. We’ve also seen how the hardening of the human heart against God is a progression. We can be praying for our friends, family and strangers that they would trade the hardened heart for the hope we have in Jesus. And, although I didn’t mention it above, I was fascinated with the use of the phrase “the love of the truth”, especially in contrast with the “pleasure in unrighteousness.” What do you think about those phrases? Leave a comment below and maybe we can talk about it next week!
Source 1: John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, p. 1854.
Source 2: apostasia, https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G646&t=KJV
Source 3: S. Michael Houdmann, http://www.gotquestions.org/Holy-Spirit-tribulation.html