2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 open_in_new
In the first twelve verses of this chapter we are now presented with the striking, central message of the epistle. These things are not intended to satisfy indolent curiosity or to stir the excitement of the flesh at prospects so impressive as these must be. Therefore the apostle has first sought to put souls under the pure light of the presence of God in contrasting the end of the wicked and that of the saints. Prophecy should always produce in us a wholesome self-judgment and practical sanctification or it is not rightly regarded.
(V. 1) The tenderness of the apostle's entreaty here is precious. It reveals a heart yearning over them but with no desire to have dominion over their faith. The basis of his entreaty is his only mention in this book of the rapture of the saints: "the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him." This is the immediate hope of the Church, which had been beclouded by the subtlety of evil teaching. Let us keep our eyes fixed steadily upon Christ in true expectation of His coming and our circumstances will not deceive us into considering the doctrines of men that reduce Christianity to an earthly level. For this was the effect of such deception, to turn the eyes toward earthly circumstances rather than to Christ in glory in expectation of His coming.
They were not to be shaken in mind (the word "mind" here speaking of both the faculty of knowing and the characteristic of settled purpose.) It is, of course, the mind set upon things in heaven that will not be shaken. Or again this type of doctrine had evidently caused them to "be troubled," even to the point of "tumult," as this word for trouble implies, so that it wrought unrest amoung the saints. There was a threefold attack of the enemy: first "by spirit," which refers to a prophetic utterance, professing to be of God but false (compare 1 Corinthians 12:1-3); secondly "by word," which appears to imply oral reports falsely attributed to Paul; and thirdly "by letter as from us." This was, of course, deliberate wicked deception, the forging of letters in the name of the Lord's servants. The object was to persuade the saints that "the day of the Lord" was present - not simply near, but already come. Behind this was the object of undermining faith in the Living God by over\-occupation with local distress, and fomenting doubt as regards the distinctive truth of the rapture preceding "the das of the Lord," which indeed would be doubt as to the reliability of the word of God. The day of the Lord would not be tribulation and anguish for the Church, but for her persecutors, while her portion would be "rest" with the apostles in the presence of the Lord.
(V. 3) With the Word of God in our hands the saints have no excuse for being deceived. Honorable self-judgment and honest exercise of soul to do the will of God will, with the Word of God open, preserve the soul from falsehood. Let us approach it, therefore, both in thorough distrust of ourselves and in fullest confidence in Him who has given us of His Spirit, for this passage tells us of Satan's masterpiece of deception, to be manifested publicly only after the Church is taken to glory, yet whose doctrine of falsehood has preceded him in the world. "The day of the Lord" will not be until "the apostasy" has come. This is of course a revulsion against the truth of Christianity, the rejection of Scripture as being from God, the rejection of Christ as being Himself the revelation of the glory of God. This will be seen in the very realm in which Christianity was once professed, for it is the abandonment of what was once acknowledged. It is this that opens the way to the grossest deception of Satan. In any complete way this will not be true until the Church is taken to heaven, though we may even now be deeply alarmed at the large-scale giving up of the truth of God in many so-called Christian denominations of our day. These are signs of the nearness of the apostasy and therefore indicate that the rapture of His own is most near.
Only when the apostasy has come will "the man of sin" be revealed or "the son of perdition." He is also called "that wicked one" in verse 8, where we are told he will be revealed only after "He who now restrains" is "taken out of the way." These things are intended to be considered together. The Person who now restrains can be none other than the Spirit of God now present on earth in the Church, the body of Christ, and His being taken out of the way is most simply explained by the taking of the Church to glory at the coming of the Lord Jesus for His saints. There have been many and diverse speculations as to this verse, some of them ridiculous, and practically all using the pronoun "He" as applying to no person at all but to governments or other natural influences. But none of these are keys to fit the lock, as does the above simple and uncomplicated explanation which perfectly coincides with the rest of Scripture.
"That man of sin" is given other designations elsewhere in Scripture such as "the king" (Daniel 11:36), "the worthless shepherd" (Zechariah 11:17), "antichrist" (1 John 2:18), "another beast" (Revelation 13:11), and "the false prophet" (Revelation 17:13). In all of these it will be seen that the man is a religious leader, not merely political as is the first beast of Revelation 13:1-18. The Antichrist is necessarily a supplanter of the true Christ. He will be Jewish to satisfy the expectations of Israel for a Jewish messiah, but "neither shall he regard the God of his fathers" (Daniel 11:37). He arises "out of the earth" (Revelation 13:11) (from among Israel) rather than "out of the sea" (from among the nations) (Revelation 13:1). He will "sit in the temple of God" which, of course, can only be at Jerusalem. It may be also pointed out that in Old Testament prophecy when the expression "the king" is used it refers to the king of Israel, whether the true King, Christ, or to the false, who arrogates to himself the place of Christ.
(V. 4) He "opposeth and exalteth himself above (or,against') all that is called God." Any denial of God is necessarily self-exaltation. Pride and self-will are behind it. Yet notice he opposes "all that is called God or that is worshipped." We know that as well as a true conception of God there are existent a multitude of false conceptions so that people call their many idols "God," but the man of sin will refuse all of these together, true or false, and make himself the object of veneration. "Sitting in the temple of God, he shows himself that he is God." The temple was not the place for even the high priest to sit: "every priest standeth daily ministering and offering" (Hebrews 10:11), but this man (not even a priest) will assume the throne that is God's.
The first "beast" of Revelation 13:1-18, the head of the revived Roman Empire, will be of the same wicked character, and ~ese two will form an alliance, with the Antichrist setting up image to the (first) beast, which is called "the abomination desolation," standing where it ought not, in the temple area, d requiring Israel to worship this image. This will be the Pleat evil that calls for the dreadful desolation of "the Great Tribulation." (Compare Revelation 13:11-18 and Matthew 24:15-22).
It is evident then that the temple will be rebuilt by the time this takes place. The so-called "Dome of the Rock" must be replaced by "the temple of God." Whether this will be so before the Church is taken to glory we have no indication in Scripture. Indeed there is nothing that requires to be fulfilled before the coming of the Lord for His saints, though we may see signs of the fulfillment of many things as sort of a preparation for the time of the end. But we look for the Lord Himself, not for signs nor for prophetic fulfillments.
Yet the believer is not to be ignorant of prophecy, which gives him knowledge of what is to take place following the rapture, just as Abraham, because of his character of godliness, was given previous knowledge of the destruction of Sodom, though he had no part whatever in this (Genesis 18:17-21).
(V. 5) It was not lack of information that caused the undue distress among the Thessalonians but slowness of heart in taking in the truth they had been taught. Alas, is this not too often the case with the people of God at all times? How little we lay hold of the precious reality of all the living truth of God, though we may hear it over and over again. But Paul had not neglected to tell them this important aspect of the truth. Perhaps now that he writes, they would recall it.
(V. 6) The Thessalonians are told they "know that which restrains," and this is further referred to in verse 7: "He who restrains now until He is gone." This can apply to no one but the Spirit of God, who dwells in the Church of God and will remain in the world until the rapture, His very presence in His saints being a powerful influence of restraint so far as is concerned the full development of wickedness headed up in "the man of sin." As the Lord Jesus told His disciples concerning the Spirit, "Ye know Him" (John 14:17), so the Thessalonians had this same vital knowledge and in their own assembly was this precious living, restraining power, which had effect on all the region round about. So long as this was true the wicked one would not be revealed, and God had purposed that this man would only "be revealed in his time."
Yet already "the mystery of lawlessness" was at work striving to accomplish its destructive ends. This is but one of the "mysteries" of Scripture, but allowed of God for the present in order that He might perfectly accomplish His own divine will. The involvements of all this may greatly puzzle men's hearts, and it is well if this causes serious soul-exercise before God on the part of believers, but our great God is in perfect control, and even this will yet be seen to glorify His Holy Name, though Satan and men had used it with the opposite object in view, their hearts only moved by hatred toward the blessed Son of God. But God will allow this to reach its full development only when the Spirit of God is gone from the world. "And then shall that wicked be revealed."
This man may well be living on earth today, but not until the Church is taken to glory will he be "revealed," so that we should recognize him. The title "wicked" or "lawless one" implies his insubjection to any authority but his own strong will. What a breeding ground is our present-day civilization for such characters! But how salutary it is that, before describing his apparently plausible credentials, the Spirit of God declares his awful doom as directly from the Lord Jesus Christ whom he had defied. "Whom the Lord Jesus shall consume with the breath of His mouth, and shall annul by the appearing of His coming." The accomplishment of this is seen in Revelation 19:11-21 when at Armageddon the beast and his armies are gathered to make war against the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. Their intention will be to defend the Jews against the king of the north and his armies, but it is God who has sent the king of the north to punish Israel. Therefore the interference of the beast is actually war against the Lord Jesus. The judgment will be swift and awesome. The beast (the political head of the ten nations) will be taken and with him the false prophet (the son of perdition of whom our chapter speaks), both of them to be cast alive into the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20).
(v. 8) How significant is the simplicity with which the Lord Jesus deals with this man of sin. Many things have come out of his mouth: "the words of his mouth were smoother than butter but war was in his heart" (Psalms 55:21). The repulsive wickedness of his doctrine is seen in Revelation 16:13-14: "I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of demons, working miracles." But the Lord will consume him "with the breath of His mouth." "The word of the Lord abideth forever," while the great, swelling words of men will be consigned to utter oblivion. "And shall destroy with the appearing of His coming." What terror will fill the heart of such a man when Christ is manifested in His great glory. It will mean "sudden destruction," and no recovery from the ruin that engulfs him for eternity.
The coming of the man of sin "is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish." It is necessary, of course, that Satan must prepare men to receive this delusion, and his present campaign to discredit the Word of God as a divine revelation is leading rapidly to this end. These "powers, signs, and lying wonders" will be of a startling, amazing kind, not only the result of astute intellect and advanced technology, but having Satanic power permeating it and therefore unexplainable by natural means.
Satan will have secured a man so thoroughly committed to this horrible object that he will allow himself to be completely the tool of Satan. And though thoroughly unrighteous, yet because of the great supernatural power involved, multitudes will willingly accept him. Having no regard for what is morally upright, men throw themselves open to be willingly deceived. "They received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved." The pure precious truth of the Lord Jesus Christ having been rejected, then God in righteous judicial government "sends strong delusion, that they should believe the lie." There will be no second chance after the rapture for those who have despised the gospel of grace. They have sold themselves into a state of such contempt for Christ that the life of Antichrist will completely snare them and eternal damnation be their awful end.
Men may say they have a right to believe what they please, but it is false. We have a right to believe only what is right, and those who willingly refuse truth in favor of falsehood are manifestly those who "have pleasure in unrighteousness." Grace may bear long with them, but the end must certainly come in judgment.
Verse 13 introduces the third (and last) division of the epistle, which is in lovely contrast to what we have been considering.
If it was necessary to give clearest instruction as regards that which would attack the very foundations of Christianity, yet none of this could affect the unceasing thanksgiving of the apostle for his brethren beloved of the Lord. In them God had exemplified a marvelous difference: He had chosen them "from the beginning," in view of salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. It may be a question as to the precise time of "the beginning" mentioned here, though the expression "from the beginning" is most commonly used in the New Testament in connection with the manifestation of the Son of God on earth. It is not necessarily so in this case, but it seems the emphasis is on the fact that there could be no change in their position, for they had been chosen long before. In Ephesians 1:4 we are told "He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world," and this, of course, is true of all saints.
But here salvation is in view and this is accomplished through sanctification of the Spirit (God's internal work in the soul) and belief of the truth (the response of the soul to Him in faith). Sanctification of the Spirit is found also in1 Peter 2:2 and indicates the work of the Spirit in dealing with and separating the soul even before the believing of the truth, according to God's pre-knowledge. Sanctification by the blood of Christ is positional, the believer being set apart in his position by virtue of the shedding of the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:1-39). Sanctification by the truth (John 17:1-26) is progressive, dealing with a daily, practical setting apart of the saints to God.
The apostle says it was "by our gospel" that God called the Thessalonians to this salvation. How blessed a privilege for His servants to be thus found sharing in the blessed work of the matchless grace of God. "To the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." Salvation is not, therefore, merely from something but involves blessing beyond the highest imagination of man, an eternal participation in the glory which the Lord Jesus Christ is given in His being raised from the dead and exalted at the right hand of God. John 17:22 is the Lord's own word as to this, "the glory which Thou hast given N(e I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one." The perfection and dignity of such blessing in contrast to the dreadful end of apostate Christendom is the basis of the following exhortation.
(V. 15) If some fall away let the believer all the more firmly "stand fast," not swayed by any artifice of the enemy, but holding to the solid instruction given by the apostles, whether orally given or by their genuine epistles. The apostle had given them enough to put them on their guard against falsehood, which had so insidiously sought entrance among them. Let them pay close attention to the truth and hold it; this would fully preserve them. It will be noted the word "instruction" is used in the above verse rather than "traditions," for the former is more accurate.
(V. 16) The preciousness of the unity of the Father and the Son in this vital activity is to be well considered here. The Lord Jesus Himself had said when on earth, "If a man love Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23). And again the entire title, "Our Lord Jesus Christ," is used here, "and God, even our Father," as though to press upon us the blessed fullness of supply that is ours in communion with the Father and the Son, for he first speaks of the eternal provision made for us - His love and everlasting consolation and good hope through grace. And the certainty of this is the basis of their practical comfort and establishment in every good word and work. Appreciation of the eternal, unchangeable blessings would certainly work mightily in this practical communion and progress, both in word and in work.