“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.”2 Thessalonians 1-2 ESV
The Thessalonians had been deceived. Someone or something convinced them that Jesus had already come, leaving them behind. Being left behind probably wasn’t hard for them to accept as the truth, considering the tribulation and testing they were going through. Their trying circumstances made it easier for them to believe the lie. We don’t know for sure who or by what means they were deceived, but we can be sure that whether through a letter or a person, Satan was behind the deception.
Don’t Believe Everything You Hear
The Apostle John in 1 John 4:1 warns us not to believe everything we hear. He says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out in the world.”
False prophets are nothing new. Prophets misled God’s people even in the Old Testament. When the Babylonians had taken the Israelites captive, forcing them to live in Babylon, false prophets claiming to be messengers of God told them what they wanted to hear – not to worry, their stay in Babylon would be short. But, this was not true. Their captivity would be seventy years, as prophesied by Jeremiah. God said of these false prophets, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds” (Jeremiah 14:14).
So how do we test the spirits? How do we determine whether what we hear is the truth or a lie? Paul sets an example for us to follow in the second Chapter of 2 Thessalonians. He urges the Thessalonians not to believe everything they hear, reminds them about what he previously taught about the Day of the Lord, and explains what must happen BEFORE Jesus comes. Paul takes the deception, measures it against the Word of God to see if it fits, and proves it comes up short. It is a lie.
Measuring the Lie
The Old Testament prophesies in detail what must happen before Jesus returns. Paul draws on these Old Testament prophecies and informs the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord will not come until at least two things happen.
- The rebellion
- Revelation of the man of lawlessness
Let’s take a look at both of these.
“Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first.”(2 Thess. 2:3a).
The Greek for rebellion is apostasia which means defection or revolt. The HELPS Word studies on Bible.hub.com tells us apostasia is derived from apo, which means “away from,” and histemi, which means “stand.” Put together, this means departure, which implies desertion, “literally, “a leaving, from a previous standing.” The rebellion Paul talks about is not political but a falling away from the Church. In 1 Timothy 4:1, Paul goes into a little more detail about this rebellion when he states, “Now the Spirit expressly states that in later times some will abandon the faith to follow deceitful spirits and the teaching of demons” (BSB). Jesus also mentions this time in Matthew 24:10-11 when He says, “And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray” (ESV).
Paul’s explanation was a double-edged sword, really. On the one hand, the Thessalonians could be relieved they weren’t left behind, but on the other hand, Paul informs them that things would eventually get much worse for the Church.
Revelation of the Man of Lawlessness
“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.”(2 Thess 3b-4)
Here, Paul is describing the Antichrist. He did not pull this description out of thin air. His references were based on Daniel’s end-time prophecies in the Old Testament. But before we explore this further, let’s look at the word Paul used to describe the Antichrist. He called him the “man of lawlessness.” The Greek word for lawlessness is anomia. The HELPS Word studies defines lawlessness as the “utter disregard for God’s law (His written and living Word).” This description makes sense in light of Daniel’s prophecy in Daniel 7. Let’s take a look at it.
Daniel tells us what events will occur before Jesus’ Second Coming. He predicts the man of lawlessness will appear, the Antichrist. Daniel says of this man: “He will speak against the Most High and oppress his holy people and try to change the set times and the laws. The holy people will be delivered into his hands for a time, times and half a time.” (Daniel 7:25 NIV) Daniel goes on to say that “…the king will do as he pleases and will exalt and magnify himself above every God, and he will speak monstrous things against the God of gods… (Daniel 11:36). This is what Paul is referring to when he says that the man of lawlessness will oppose and exalt 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.” (2 Thess 2:4). Interestingly, this parallels Satan’s actions when he set himself against God’s rule and got kicked out of Heaven. Of Satan’s rebellion, Isaiah says, “You said in your heart, “I will ascend to the heavens, I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon” (Isa 14:13). Although, kicked out of Heaven, Satan has not given up. The Antichrist will be a puppet of Satan and come against God in the earthly realm just as Satan did in the heavenly realm. And just like his master, the Antichrist will be defeated by God!
Restraining the Lie
“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.”2 Thess. 2:6 (ESV)
So what is the mystery of lawlessness? Based on Paul’s previous teaching, the Thessalonians knew the answer to that question, but unfortunately, we are not privy to it. Only time will tell us what restrains the Antichrist. Some theologians believe that Paul is referring to the Church as the restrainer that will eventually be taken “out of the way” when it is raptured. Others believe that Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit as the restrainer of the Antichrist. It could be both since the Holy Spirit lives in believers, and believers will be removed during the Rapture.
Paul tells us that the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Another version refers to this lawlessness as “the secret power of lawlessness.” We see the “secret power of lawlessness” at work today. In our government, schools, media, entertainment, business, and even churches, we see an utter disregard for God’s law – His written and living word. There is no doubt that the mystery of lawlessness is already at work.
The good news is that Paul doesn’t leave us to fret for very long; he goes on to tell us of the fate of the Antichrist. He says that “the Lord Jesus will slay him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendor of his coming (2 Thess 2:8).
But before that happens, there is more grim news.
Serving the Lie
“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.”(2 Thess 2:9 NIV)
Satan controls Antichrist, and Antichrist will deceive many. Jesus warned of this in Matthew 24:24 when He said, “For false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” We learn from Paul in verse 11 of 2 Thessalonians 2 that “God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false.” That is hard to chew. But in verse 10, Paul describes those this happens to as those who refuse “to love the truth and so be saved.” We must remember that God desires that we all be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). He goes back for the one (Matt. 18:12). We also have to remember that God gave us free will, a right to choose Him or not. And finally, God is a God of justice; in the end, He will balance the scales.
The Prophet Daniel also speaks of this mass deception and Christ’s ultimate victory. He says of the Antichrist, “Through his craft and by his hand, he will cause deceit to prosper, and in his own mind he will make himself great. In a time of peace he will destroy many, and he will even stand against the Prince of princes. Yet he will be broken off, but not by human hand” (Daniel 8:25 ESV). The Antichrist will be defeated!
Standing Firm Against the Lie
“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.”(2 Thessalonians 2:15 NIV)
Paul began the Chapter by encouraging the Thessalonians not to be deceived by what they had been hearing. Paul then tells them the truth from God’s Word and ends the Chapter encouraging the Thessalonians to stand firm and hold to the teachings they were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter – such as this 2nd Epistle of the Thessalonians.
We should always measure what we hear against the truth of God’s Word. If it falls short, we should discard it and only hold onto what measures up. The more we know His Word, the better able we will be to recognize lies, lies, and more lies.