The Day of the Lord had not yet come — Paul reassures the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord has not come. He first points out that, before that day, a final rebellion and the revelation of the “man of lawlessness” must occur. Then he reassures the Thessalonians that they are destined for glory, and calls on them to stand firm in light of that certainty.
1 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers,
- Paul discusses Christ’s coming (Gk. parousia), his return in glory at the end of the age to save the elect and punish the wicked, and our being gathered together to him.
- Cf Mt 24:31. He will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
- Cf 1Th 4:16-17. The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.
2 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.
- The Thessalonians were shaken into mindless panic and were alarmed or frightened by the false claim that the day of the Lord had already come.
- Though the source of the confusion was unknown to Paul, he suggests a number of possibilities:
- a spirit. An alleged prophetic word.
- a spoken word. A word of teaching or a sermon.
- a letter seeming to be from us. Paul seems to have suspected or known that a letter forged in his name was circulating.
- 2Th 3:17. I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write.
- The day of the Lord. Although some believe that the Thessalonians were thinking in terms of a complex of events that would lead to the second coming, Paul seems to assume that the arrival of the day of the Lord (as described here) and the second coming occur at the same time, as aspects of a single event.
- 1Co 1:8. Our Lord Jesus Christ will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Php 1:9-11. It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
- Has come. The Thessalonians have fallen victim to the implausible notion that the day of the Lord had come, presumably because some source they regarded as authoritative had claimed this.
3 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,
- The day of the Lord will be preceded by two events, neither of which had been fulfilled at the time Paul wrote this letter.
- The first prerequisite is the rebellion. Although some have suggested that this refers to a Christian or Jewish apostasy, in view of v9–12 a rebellion of humanity as a whole against God is probably in view.
- Just as humanity in Adam has rejected God and has been plunged into ever greater depths of sin as a result (see Ro 1:18–32), so it will move into all-out rebellion against God when the lawless one appears (v4).
- The man of lawlessness is revealed. This second prerequisite will personify hostility to God and his revelation. He will disclose who he is, the rebel par excellence. He is the son of destruction, the one whose destiny is to be defeated and destroyed when Jesus returns (v8).
- The first prerequisite is the rebellion. Although some have suggested that this refers to a Christian or Jewish apostasy, in view of v9–12 a rebellion of humanity as a whole against God is probably in view.
- See notes below concerning the man of lawlessness.
- Son of destruction. (Grk “son of perdition.”) This is a Hebrew idiom.
4 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.
- Paul draws on Dan 11:36–37 when he says that the lawless one opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship. The man of lawlessness will not countenance any rivals but will insist that he alone is God.
- Dan 11:36-37. And the king shall do as he wills. He shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is decreed shall be done. He shall pay no attention to the gods of his fathers, or to the one beloved by women. He shall not pay attention to any other god, for he shall magnify himself above all.
- The temple of God has been variously interpreted as several things. Here are a few:
- the church
- the heavenly temple
- the Jerusalem temple
- a metaphor for supreme blasphemous arrogance modeled on the activities of Antiochus IV Epiphanes.
- Whatever the meaning of the temple of God, the context seems to indicate a concrete and observable act of defiance against God.
5-7 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.
- Paul is apparently surprised that his own teaching on the end times had not stopped the Thessalonians from believing the false claim (cf v2), so he rehearses that teaching.
- Teaching on the end times was a common part of first-century church teaching.
- Ac 24:24-25. After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed.
- Jude 17-18. You must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”
- The man of lawlessness cannot be unveiled while what is restraining (Gk. to katechon, neuter participle of katechō, “to prevent, hinder, restrain”) him now is at work.
- In v7, Paul refers to he who now restrains (Gk. ho katechōn, masculine participle of the same word).
- Scholarly theories on the identity of this restrainer include
- the Roman Empire/emperor
- the Holy Spirit
- the archangel Michael. According to Dan 10:13, 20–21, Michael restrains satanic principalities.
- Dan 10:13 [Angel speaking to Daniel about warfare in the angelic realm]. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia.
- Dan 10:20-21[Angel speaking to Daniel about warfare in the angelic realm]. Now I will return to fight against the prince of Persia; and when I go out, behold, the prince of Greece will come. But I will tell you what is inscribed in the book of truth: there is none who contends by my side against these except Michael, your prince.
- Cf also Re 12:7. Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back.
- The restrainer functions to make sure that the man of lawlessness is revealed (see v3) in his time and not before.
- Prior to the revelation of lawlessness personified, it operates as an impersonal mystery, stirring up hostility to Christ and his people.
- Lawlessness remains in mystery form until the restrainer is taken out of the way.
8 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.
- And then the lawless one will be revealed. As soon as the restrainer is removed, lawlessness is free to manifest itself in unrestrained fashion in the lawless one.
- In God’s providence, Jesus’ second coming overthrows the rule of the lawless one.
- The breath of his mouth. The Lord will destroy the Antichrist with overwhelming ease when he comes again.
- Cf Isa 11:4 [speaking of the branch of Jesse, i.e. Jesus]. With righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
- Jesus’ coming (Gk. parousia). Cf the coming of the lawless one in v9.
9-10 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.
- The coming of the lawless one. The lawless one has a “coming” (Gk. parousia) which is a poor substitute for Jesus’ coming (Gk. parousia, v8).
- Satan is the power behind the lawless one, working with unrestricted power on his behalf through signs and wonders—which (though they are false) lead people to believe that the lawless one is God.
- Unbelievers are those who are perishing because they have failed to embrace the gospel, God’s only way of salvation.
11-12 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.
- Because unbelievers have rejected God’s offer of salvation in the gospel, God sends them a strong delusion.
- As part of his righteous judgment, God is instrumental in causing these unbelievers to embrace the lawless one (believe what is false) so that they advance to a whole new level of rebellion and are thus condemned as allies of the lawless one at the second coming.
- Cf Ro 1:24. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.
- Cf Ro 1:26. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.
- Cf Ro 1:28. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.
- Be condemned. Grk “be judged,” but in this context the term clearly refers to a judgment of condemnation.
13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
- Ought. See notes on 1:3. This is the only letter Paul uses these terms of obligation.
- Give thanks. This is the second thanksgiving in the letter.
- 2Th 1:3. We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.
- Cf 1Th 1:2. We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers.
- Cf 1Th 2:13. And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
- Beloved by the Lord … God chose you. God’s love undergirds election and is demonstrated by it.
- Eph 1:4-6. God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.
- Ro 1:7. To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Ro 8:35-39. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
- Cf Ro 9:13. As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
- God Chose you (lit., “elected,” using Grk. eklogē, “choice, selection, election”), in this case, refers to God’s antecedent sovereign act of appointing people for eternal life.
- Firstfruits. Several manuscripts read ἀπαρχήν (aparchn, “as a first fruit”; i.e., as the first converts) instead of ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς (ap’ arch”, “from the beginning”), but this seems more likely to be a change by scribes who thought of the early churches in general in this way. But Paul would not be likely to call the Thessalonians “the first fruits” among his converts. Further, ἀπαρχήν (aparch, “first fruit”) is a well-used term in Paul’s letters, while ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς (ap’ arch”, “from the beginning”) occurs nowhere else in Paul. Scribes might be expected to change the text to the more familiar term. A decision is difficult, but ἀπ᾿ ἀρχῆς (ap’ arch”, “from the beginning”) must be preferred only slightly. This verse would thus read as follows:
- But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
- Here are other uses of firstfruits by Paul.
- Ro 8:22-23. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
- Ro 11:13-16. Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches.
- Ro 16:15. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert [Grk firstfruit] to Christ in Asia.
- 1Co 15:20. Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
- 1Co 15:22-23. As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
- 1Co 16:15. You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts [Grk firstfruits] in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints.
- A person is saved through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.
- This is in contrast to the way of unbelievers, who are marked by unrighteousness and will believe the lawless one’s lie (v10–12).
- Note the involvement of each person of the Trinity:
- The Father elects
- The Son loves
- The Holy Spirit makes holy
14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- To this (i.e., salvation) he called you through our gospel. The divine call is actualized in history through preaching. After we are called to salvation, we are called to preach the Gospel to everyone everywhere. This is the means God uses to bring people to salvation. We must be about the business of reconciling people to God.
- So that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. For Paul the ultimate stage of salvation is glorification (Rom 8:30).
- Ro 8:30. Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
- Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to hold on to the true traditions that were passed on from him to them.
- This verse contrasts with v2, where Paul warns them not to be shaken by a false prophecy or teaching or by a forged letter attributed to the missionaries.
- They are to stand firm and hold to the traditions that were communicated directly to them by their spoken word during his ministry among them, and later by their letter, 1 Thessalonians.
- Paul includes his previous letter as authoritative for instruction. Today, Scripture is to be our only authority by which God communicates to us. Certainly God can communicate in other ways, but we are not to seek out those ways, nor are we to place any so-called communication from God above that of Scripture. Scripture is our final authority.
16-17 Now may 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.
- Paul prays that the Thessalonians will be divinely comforted and established in every good work and word.
- Note that comfort and hope come from God. Too often we seek comfort and hope from things or people we can see and grasp. God often provides temporal comfort and reminders of ultimate hope from creation and other people, but ultimately all comfort and hope come only from God.
- Cf Ps 121:1-2. I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
As I’ve said before, I am not clear on many of the eschatological referents here. It seems that there are two major events described in 2Th 2:1-12 that are both future at the time of the writing of 2 Thessalonians.
- Jesus’ second coming
- The coming of the man of lawlessness
Jesus’ second coming has not yet occurred, even for us, so that is future for us. But what about the coming of the man of lawlessness? Many today believe that this refers to an event that will take place in a literal 7-year tribulation period that is still yet future for us. Others believe that this refers to an event that took place in the first century, after the writing of this letter, of course, but not later than the last couple of decades of the first century.
So is all this yet future for us, or perhaps does some of it refer to the final battle of the Jewish war with Rome in the first century. I don’t know.
The timing of the following events needs to be defined and clarified in order for these things to be placed on a timetable.
- The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him (v1).
- It seems clear to me that this is Jesus’ second coming. This has not yet occurred.
- The day of the Lord (v2).
- In context, it seems as though Paul is equating the coming of Jesus with the day of the Lord.
- That day (v3).
- If Jesus’ second coming and the day of the Lord are not the same, then we must figure out which event that day refers to. Whichever it refers to, it comes after the coming of the rebellion and the revealing of the man of lawlessness.
- The coming of the rebellion and the revealing of the man of lawlessness (v3).
- The text seems to indicate that these two events are simultaneous or are quickly consecutive.
- It seems that Paul is assuming that the Thessalonians would see this when it happens. This points to a near fulfillment for the first-century church.
- The restraining of the man of lawlessness (v6,7).
- Verse 6 says that the restraining of the man of lawlessness was happening at the time of the writing of this letter. This may be a metaphorical restraining (the spirit of lawlessness is being restrained) or it may be that the man of lawlessness was alive at that time.
- The man of lawlessness being slain by Jesus (v8).
- Verse 8 says that this will happen at Jesus’ coming.
Observations About The Man of Lawlessness
What can we learn about the man of lawlessness from this passage?
- He is called the son of perdition (v3).
- Cf Jn 17:12 [Jesus praying for his apostles]. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction [son of perdition, i.e. Judas], that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
- He opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship (v4).
- He takes his seat in the temple of God (v4).
- He proclaims himself to be God (v4).
- He is being restrained (v6).
- He will be revealed (v6,8).
- His coming is by the activity of Satan (v9).
- His coming is accompanied by power, false signs, and wonders (v9).
- His coming is accompanied by the deception of unbelievers (v10).
- Jesus will kill him (v8).
- He will be brought to nothing (v8).
A Bible Study Principle
When we study a book or passage of Scripture, we must always strive to understand what the original author meant when he wrote the book or letter. In this case, what did Paul mean for the believers in Thessalonica to understand by what he wrote. If we interpret a passage in a way that could not possibly have been understood by the intended audience, that almost certainly cannot be the correct interpretation.
For example, we cannot interpret Ge 1:9 to be teaching the science of continental drift; the original audience—the nation of Israel coming out of Egypt—could not possibly have understood that.
- Ge 1:9. God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.”
Also, the several references in the Bible to God stretching out the heavens cannot give us a scientific treatise on stars’ red shift or on how time works. It’s impossible that the original audiences of those writings could have understood that.
Paul was writing to the Thessalonian believers to make things clear to them; he was not writing something that would take centuries of scientific study to understand. We must seek to get into the minds of the believers in Thessalonica to whom Paul wrote and we must try to understand what Paul’s writings meant to them. That is the correct interpretation.
I have mentioned many times (and I’ll probably mention it many more times) the principle It can never mean what it never meant. Whatever Paul meant by the contents of this letter to the Thessalonians is what the letter meant then, and that’s what it means now.
There is no reason or benefit in trying to find messages in the Bible that make sense to a scientifically advanced society in the 21st century, but would make no sense to the people in Bible times.
So, to your list of questions you must ask a book or passage, add these:
- What did the original audience understand about this book or passage?
- Is my interpretation of this passage beyond the possible understanding of the original audience? If so, I must conclude that my interpretation is false.
Of course there are typological prophesies in the Bible. A typological prophesy is a prophesy that had a near future fulfillment (or partial fulfillment) as well as a more distant future fulfillment. (Here’s a good article on typological prophesy: http://www.equip.org/article/typological-fulfillment-key-messianic-prophecy/.)
In the cases of typological prophesies, the near fulfillment or reference is to be understood by the original audience while a more distant future fulfillment may not be immediately understood. The good news about those far future fulfillments (most of which pointed to Christ’s first coming) is that we don’t need to seek some answer for them. They are either answered for us in the New Testament or some other Scripture or they will be evident when, and only when, they happen.