1: Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him,
- Here we begin to see some of the reasoning as to what occasioned this second letter to the Thessalonians. Something had happened that changed the way they looked at what Paul spoke about while he was there in person, and in chapters 4 and 5 of 1 Thessalonians about the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the gathering of believers to him.
- We know that a part of this from the last chapter was intense persecution, seen in 1:4, 5, as Paul described the suffering that the saints there were suffering. However, this by itself was not apparently enough to change their convictions. So what did?
2: that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.
- The composure, the peace, the shalom of God upon them had been shaken, that was more than the simple hostility and poor treatment that some of the believers in Thessalonica had received. What could have accomplished that?
- Paul mentions three elements here, that I personally believe each had a part to play in what the believers had to deal with. The first of these was a spirit that both energized and then supported the lies that we’ll talk about in a moment. Whenever false doctrine enters a gathering like this, it is always energized by the forces of the enemy in this way.
- The second of these things was a message – one perhaps given by a messenger – and one that claimed its authority from the Apostle himself somehow, but was energized by that evil spirit we just mentioned. This individual had worked to undo the teaching and character that Paul and his fellow workers had laboured to instill in the saints there.
- Finally, Paul mentions a letter, perhaps one that the messenger claimed was written by Paul himself, and because it was energized by this wicked spirit, maybe even sounded like Paul! Paul didn’t write it, however, because it taught the fallacy that somehow, the Thessalonians had missed the harpazo event Paul told them about, and that the Day of the Lord was underway!
- It occurs to me that this kind of a combination would definitely shatter my peace! And it certainly disturbed the Thessalonian believers.
3: Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,
- Paul very quickly sets about correcting this false teaching that has plagued the Thessalonian gathering. Let no one deceive you, he said. Then he says something that is very fascinating.
- Paul tells us that this Day of the Lord will not come unless something comes first. Can you imagine? Of all the signs that Jesus talked about, that he would have also revealed to Paul, he could have chosen, he chooses a very specific one. What did he choose? He chooses something literally called, “THE apostasy.” Not the moon becoming the colour of blood, not the sun going dark, not the wars, the earthquakes, or their increasing frequency, but instead, he chooses THE apostasy. What is he talking about?
- The Greek word here is apostasia, and means “a falling away, a defection, rebellion.” A number of commentators for this reason say that this represents a great departure from the faith. Some have said that this is the historical event that Paul called the harpazo spoken of in the previous letter in chapter 4. I don’t think there absolutely has to be a connection to that event here for reasons we will go into a bit later in the text. What this word does NOT mean is a “calling away” as erroneously suggested by Dr. Kenneth Wuest, who was the Professor Emeritus of Greek Studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, and one of the original translators of the New American Standard Bible – the one I use. This word in the New Testament occurs twice that I could find, that being in Acts 21:21, which talks about Paul in this context: “and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses…” The word apostasia is in the text as the word “forsake” in this passage. In Koine Greek, it is only ever used in the context of abandoning something. Why would Dr. Wuest, the great Greek scholar make such a claim? I believe it was to insert meaning into Scripture. You see, Dr. Wuest was an adherent to the idea of the Pretribulation rapture, and wanted to be able to provide direct textual evidence of it from Scripture. This is a form of eisegesis, and is never a good thing. This does not mean that Dr. Wuest was wrong about the pretribulation rapture, however.
- Please also note that Paul uses a definite article here. What could he be talking about? It cannot be speaking of a great falling away from Christianity, that has been going on since not long after Paul’s time. It cannot be a reference to people leaving off the modern church either, nor churches leaving orthodoxy and orthopraxy (right doctrine and right practice). There are too many different versions of it now, and I can’t even sort them out.
- In all the commentary that I read and heard, the one that makes the most sense in context of this passage is this – THE apostasy is when THE man of sin enters the temple and does the ultimate desecration. In other words, Paul is talking about it all at the same time. So then, the apostasy happens when the man of lawlessness reveals himself. And who is he? He is the Son of Destruction. Does this mean he is literally the devil’s offspring? Are we talking about Damien from the Omen? No, I think it is more like the phrase that is translated in the NASB as “worthless men.” That phrase in the Hebrew is literally “the sons of Belial,” a demonic reference from the book of Judges in the Old Testament. This is a reference, in my opinion, to Genesis 3:15 where the concept of the two seeds, the seed of the woman (who ends up being Jesus) and the seed of the serpent, is introduced. I don’t know if there is any genetic path from the serpent to the son of destruction, maybe there is, but it is not as significant as that of the woman’s seed. Note that the seed of the woman wins the conflict: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise Him on the heel.” (Gen. 3:15)
- To review, Paul tells them that the Day of the Lord cannot have come yet, because the man of lawlessness has not yet come and stood in the temple and declared himself God.
4: who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.
- What more defiant statement can be made to God than to stand in the temple in Jerusalem, in the Holiest Place where sat the Ark of the Covenant that contained the original tablets where the 10 commandments were written by the hand of God, a sample of manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded were kept, Sitting down there, and declaring yourself to be God Himself? And it says in the text here that he displays himself as being God.
- You know, this also says that there will be a temple in Jerusalem in which this will occur. It didn’t mean much then, because the temple was still standing, but in 70 AD, it was completely destroyed. So that means that a temple must be built in Jerusalem before this can happen. There is still not one there – and in fact, the Muslims lay claim to the temple mount and have built a mosque there, saying it is the third most holy site in all of Islam. That presents a problem, does it not? And yet Paul claims that this will happen.
5: Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?
- In fact, the Thessalonians knew these things also, because Paul, Silas, and Timothy were faithful pastors, and they exegeted their prophecies well. They taught the truth to the believers at Thessalonica these things. Paul here is gently reminding them of the things he spoke there, so that he could contradict and counteract the false teaching that had thrown these young believers into such a state.
- I am convinced that this is the best way to deal with false teaching – gently contradict with the truth to counteract the effect of nonsense. There will come a time that this no longer works, but that time hasn’t seemed to have arrived just yet.
6: And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed.
- What? Something restrains this lawless one? What does that mean? Well, Paul continues the thought.
7: For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.
- The mystery [musterion, secret doctrine] of lawlessness [anomia, compound word, a – without; nomos – law]. A mystery, by its nature, is done in secret, out of view of people. The big secret has been revealed to us, though – it is lawlessness. You know, our society works because it is, at least theoretically, a set of laws before which all of its citizenry are equal, and receive fair representation, and have equal access. Anything that erodes that equality, fairness, or access can be seen as part of that mystery of lawlessness. If you’re like me and you read a lot of stuff, you see its operation at present in the whole so-called social justice movement.
- Well, there is something, or rather Someone that restrains this lawlessness. Who is this restrainer?
- Commentators are VERY divided on this topic. Some have said that it was Rome, that is its legal system. Some have suggested that it is the church, and cite this as evidence of a mid-tribulation rapture. There are several other things that have been suggested, most of which may be rejected right away. Why? Because this mystery is a supernatural one. Any agency of humans cannot stand up to that. That leaves two still in the running for me – the church, and the Holy Spirit.
- I don’t think it can be the church, partly because of the fact that it is filled with humans who, though redeemed, are still in training for our heavenly occupations and are not yet sanctified. Also, though the church does influence the world around it for God, it is not the church’s mission – that is to reach the lost. Those that feel the restrainer is the church are those that feel the mission of the church is to reform the world, typically, and I think that is missing the mark on what our mission really is. This has nothing to do with us on a grand scale – God will do these kinds of things Himself – and that leaves just one.
- The Holy Spirit is the Restrainer. Think of what the task of the Holy Spirit is – He is the Paraklete, the one that comes alongside us to help us. He convinces us of sin in our lives and convicts of it – in order that humans may see that they cannot deal with sin themselves. It is the Holy Spirit that helps us to stop sinning. He protects us from its influence and intrusion into our characters. He is the one that restrains. An interesting sidenote from the Greek itself – the Restrainer here is mentioned in the neuter, a supernatural force, and in the masculine, as a person. There is only one other passage that does that – and it is the passage of Jesus in the upper room with His disciples while Jesus tells them of the Paraklete, and he interchanges the neuter and the masculine, using both to refer to the Holy Spirit.
- At some point, the Restrainer will be taken out of the way. At that time, all Hell will literally break loose on earth.
8: Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming;
- Now this verse says that when that restrainer is taken away, then the man of lawlessness is revealed. When does this happen eschatologically? At the 3.5-year point of the final 7 years of the planet – the time known as the Great Tribulation. AFTER that time, Paul says, is when the Day of the Lord will happen. And how will this all happen? The Man of Sin, or as he is known by his more popular title, Antichrist, will be revealed. He will rally the entire planet behind him, and he will attack Israel and the people of God – and bring to bear the most powerful army with the most powerful leader of all of history to that point – and the Lord Jesus will slay him how? With the breath of his mouth. He will breathe on him. [blow softly through your lips] Brothers and Sisters, we have a MIGHTY Saviour.
9: that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders,
- Now this verse took on an interesting meaning on Thursday of this week for me. Anyone here ever hear of Hillsong? Hillsong broke away from the Australian church network it was a part of and became on Thursday its own denomination. The Hillsong organization is affiliated with a gentleman named Bill Johnson, the lead pastor of Bethel Church in Redding, California. Bill is an “every Christian must be able to do miracles or they aren’t actually saved” preacher, which we all know is bunk. Teams from this organization have formed “resurrection” teams, that rush around to accident scenes to try to raise the dead or heal the injured before the ambulances get there. Apparently, they are still working on resurrected patient or healed patient number one. Can you imagine what will happen if and when one of these miracles actually happens?
- [read verse again] Satan energizes false teachers and false pastors here with “all power and signs and false wonders.” This kind of thing that comes out of Redding and other places like it will somehow perhaps help galvanize humanity behind this false, substitute anointed one, the man of sin.
10: and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.
- Every deception of wickedness will be aimed at those who are going to perish – why? Well, Paul makes an interesting point – it is NOT because they didn’t receive the truth – it is because they did not receive the LOVE [agape, divine, self-giving, self-sacrificing love] of the truth so as to be saved.
- I am reminded of the parable of the sower and the seed. Only one kind of ground is seen as good ground. The other three resulted in darkness. The first were directly snatched away from the ground, having fallen by the road. The second fell in shallow ground, and although they sprung up quickly, because they did not sink deep roots, when the heat of trials came, they shriveled. The third fell into good ground, but because they were surrounded by weeds left by carelessness and the trials of life that come to everyone, they failed. None of those groups received the love of the truth. If they had loved the truth, things may have been different is the implication.
11: For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false,
- And because these ones did not love the truth so as to be saved, God sends judgement on them. They put it off, and they put it off, and then they put it off – and then God said, “enough.” and He sent a deluding influence to them. And we can turn away from the truth that God wants us all to recognize, and we can continue to do so. However, at a certain point, God will make that turning away permanent. Just like Pharaoh. He hardened his heart, and he hardened his heart, and eventually we read, “and God hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” And when you can no longer believe the truth, then you have to believe the lie, just like it says in Romans 1.
12: in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
- Why? So that they may be judged by God for not believing the truth when it was presented to them. And this seems to be the reality. Everyone is or will be presented with the truth. And you can turn away, but you cannot continue to do so without consequence. I have heard foolish individuals confronted with the choice of the gospel. “But I’m not ready yet!” they say. Why do they not turn, love the truth and be saved? Because they love their sin more. The passage says, “they took pleasure in wickedness.”
13: But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.
- Paul starts the very next phrase with “but.” Paul is telling us here that the believers in Thessalonica were not among thosepeople that did not receive the love of the truth. God chose them from the beginning for salvation to be made holy (santification) by the Holy Spirit, of whom we have been speaking, and by faith (remember, firm persuasion or opinion held) in the truth.
- An argument here may be made that this verse is too Calvinistic if we say God knew, and predestined or foreordained people to be saved. To that I say, take it up with Paul. He wrote it, not me. But before you do, read Ephesians 1.
14: It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Chosen, called through the gospel to glory…and not just any glory! The glory of our Lord Jesus Christ!
15: So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
- So because of all the preceding, stand firm and hold [krateo, be strong, take hold, take custody] of the traditions which Paul, Silas, and Timothy taught them, either orally while they were there, or in a past letter from them. This assumes that the letter could be verified by Paul or someone that knew Paul. We can presume that from this point, further correspondence would be verified, but we will talk about that in chapter 3.
16: Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace,
- Just an observation here, but in this passage, God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ are again mentioned in the same breath, at the same rank, and doing the same thing! And the Lord Jesus is mentioned first in the order! For those, who like Charles Taze Russell, the founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a cultish organization that denies the divinity of Christ, why would this happen? Well, my suggestion is because they are wrong. Jesus is God. He does all the same things as God at the same time as God, and an honest reading of Scripture shows that. To suggest otherwise is to break the Scriptures.
- But here it tells us of how not only has the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father loved us, but they are the providers of our hope, and of our eternal comfort [paraklesis, one who comes alongside to help] beside. And as we spoke a little earlier in the chapter, that is done by the Holy Spirit, who is called the Paraklete. Go ahead. Rewrite your Scriptures so that you can deny the trinity. Your warped work will not stand.
17: comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.
- And what is Paul asking them to do? He asks that both of them together comfort [parakaleo] and strengthen [sterizo, make fast, establish] our hearts in every good work [ergon, task] and word [logos, speech, an embodiment of an idea].
And that’s chapter 2! Now next week, I am in a pastoral training seminar on Friday and Saturday, so there will be no study next week. However, I will be preaching next Sunday 30 September 2018, so if you’re in Ottawa, come to Bethany Baptist Church and hear about God’s amazing grace. (Yeah, I know. But the Pastor is running a series, Great Hymns of the Faith, and I got to pick my favourite!)