You may have heard the saying, ‘I’m never wrong. There was that one time I thought I was, but it turned out I was just mistaken.’
We don’t like to be wrong about anything, but it’s in our nature, and it’s in the nature of the world to not only be deceived, but to be deceptive.
Right throughout history, we see the devil planting seeds of doubt through deception. He did it to Adam and Eve, he has done it to every human being since about everything that God has given us instruction on, including of course, Christ and His second coming. Satan’s chief weapon is deception.This can lead us to be worried about what is true and what is not, thankfully for us, Paul speaks directly to this deception by telling the believers not to be alarmed or shaken (2:2) but to stand firm (2:15).
1 – False information leads to shaky faith v. 1-3a
There are a couple of responses we can have to being told that the end of the world is upon us. We can either be in denial, saying “Peace, peace” when there is no peace ( 1 Thess 5:3), or we could be panic-stricken thinking we have missed our ticket out, which is the message Paul was rebutting in chapter 2 of 2Thessalonians.
There is another option to dealing with the return of Christ, and that is to trust what God has already revealed, and know He has all things under control, and in knowing that, we will know when we are being presented with false information.
It can come in various ways – a spirit, a spoken word, or a letter forged in the apostle’s names, however this false information comes, Paul has the same response to it, “remember what I’ve told you before (v.5) and stand firm in those teachings (v.15)”.
The main deception being spread around was that Jesus had already come again ( 2:2b).He goes on to lay out a sequence of events that show that this cannot be true. Several things must happen first, and although Christ’s coming will be like a thief in the night to those who aren’t walking in His light ( 1 Thess 5:2-6), for believers, we don’t need to be worried about opinions or interpretations that tell us this has all already happened or be startled when they see things happening we don’t understand.
2 – False gods lead to false pleasures v.3-12
The sequence ( same as Matthew 24) -the Day of the Lord cannot come until:
the rebellion/ falling away happens first ( 2:3)
the ‘restrainer/withholder’ is taken away (2:6-7)
the man of sin/lawlessness / son of perdition/destruction is revealed with clear satanic influence with false signs and wonders ( 2:3, 2:9)
this man of sin proclaims himself as God (2:4)
Only after all these things will Christ return, gathering us to Himself ( 2:1), and destroying the man of sin with His very appearing ( 2:8).
What the falling away is seems to be clear. A world that has no concern about God isn’t going to fall away it is already fallen. The rebellion is an apostasy – an acceptance of false belief about God and twisting of His Word. Paul echoes what most other end times prophecies say, including those from Christ Himself, that many will turn away from following after Christ in the last days. There will be false information, and it will be believed, not because it’s true, but because it’s popular. Stand firm in the truth of the apostle’s teaching, Paul says, and you will not be part of this – but you will see it happening.
One thing becomes obvious as we look at this text and others about Christ’s return, we don’t have all the information. The Thessalonians seemed to know who the ‘restrainer’ is ( 2:6), we can only assume or guess. Some say the restraining force is the Gospel, or the Holy Spirit, or God Himself, or spiritual beings, such as angels who figure strongly in apocalyptic scenes as fighting/holding/restraining ( Daniel 10, Jude 9, Revelation 12:7-9, Revelation 7:1, Revelation 9:13-15). For whatever reason, God has ordained a certain force to be in place, restricted the rise of the man of sin until just the right time. When God removes the buffer, it will be no holds barred. Satan will have the perfect puppet to work with.
The revealing of this man of sin who sets himself up as God and requires people to worship him as such will be seen by believers who see it happen as a very obvious and blatant act of blasphemy, which has been Satan’s main act of rebellion since he was cast out of heaven, wishing to be God.
Who is this man? We are left without a name or title or specific label, but we are given certain characteristics which are unmistakeable, and we are certainly given his end ( 2:8) which is something we must absolutely keep in mind when we consider the instruction to not be shaken or alarmed.
He will be powerful. He will perform many signs and wonders by supernatural means. ( 2:10) And by these signs, he will deceive those who love deception ( 2:10b).
God gives the unbelievers exactly what they have chosen for themselves. They refuse truth, so they can have a false god. They have pleasure in unrighteousness, so they are condemned to an eternity of destruction that that lifestyle brings. Hell is a monument to human freedom. Unbelievers have rejected the truth, loved unrighteousness, and God will act in the end to confirm their stubbornness. This is a dire warning – do not harden yourself to the truth of God and His Word. Do not love unrighteousness or promote it, if you do, God will give you what you have chosen.
All of this information Paul gives is not so we can figure out who this man of sin is, but is so we can be aware of Satan’s schemes and activity.
A thought worth pondering is that the devil, even though he is powerful, he is not all-powerful. He isn’t omniscient, omnipresent.If the Jesus Himself did not know while He was on earth the day or hour of His Second Coming ( Mark 13:32), and the angels don’t know, the Thessalonians don’t know, Paul doesn’t know – then we should remind ourselves of the fact that the devil doesn’t know either!
He is constantly working towards his evil ends, setting up many various ‘men of sin’ throughout history, banking on one of them being his man, destroying as many of God’s people as he can. The mystery of sin is already at work ( 2:7a). It is an underground force, restrained, sometimes unseen,but still inherently evil.There will be one, though, that has his full backing, and this is his end game, all bets will be off. Evil will be unmasked in human form, and he will destroy, deceive, pillage and blaspheme. Not a single person on earth will be left in the dark as to what Satan’s schemes are, and everyone will know which side they are on and will at the end, face either destruction for having following the son of destruction, or salvation, having followed the Saviour, the Son of God.
3 – True comfort leads to firm faith v. 13-17
While all this is daunting and fearful to contemplate what awaits us in this world, knowing things will get worse before we see Jesus in the flesh, this doesn’t mean that we live introverted, inwardly focussed lives, only worried about our own lives, and just being sure we ride out the worst until Jesus rescues us. Whether or not we think the gathering to Christ happens before or after the great tribulation is beside the point that we should not view this doctrine as our salvation. Christ Himself is our salvation.That we will be caught up to meet The Lord in the air and escape destruction and trouble is very appealing, but this was not Paul’s main message. His message was for believers to stand firm, even if they see all these things coming to pass. It is the Person and Presence of Christ that we are to be desiring, not just escape from an evil world.
Paul’s tells the believers that they should only obey the apostle’s instructions on these issues ( 2:15) and we would do very well to stick to that also.
Within evangelical circles, there is no lack of end-time calculators and speculators who hope to brag of their ‘new’ information about the end times…we might be tempted to laugh these people off, but there is danger in that. We need to protect the church from this sort of peril. Whenever believers wander off after some new eschatological fad, somebody will sustain permanent spiritual damage when those predictions fail to come to pass…The healthy Christian must develop an aversion to the “X-Files” type of logic… Christ taught that many false prophets would appear and deceive many( Matthew 24:11).It doesn’t matter whether ‘inside information’ comes through some charismatic utterance or through some private decoding of the Bible. Such people are alive today and are by definition ‘false prophets’. – Gary Shogren
The end result of holding to what we do know, instead of obsessing over what we cannot know, is an assurance of hope that Christ is surely coming again, and in the mean time, we can be comforted as we establish ourselves in every good work and word. ( 2:16-17).
This means practically that we trust more in what God has revealed in His Word than trusting in opinions or assumptions of men. The best way to know is something is false is know the truth better than you do the lie. When you only study what might be false, or you’re always on a witch hunt for apostasy, not only will you be exhausted, you won’t establish yourself in good works, you will grow more and more isolated and more and more exclusive in your own standards. Know and love the truth, and you will see false teaching, signs and wonders a mile off.
Don’t be alarmed or shaken. We have faith in a Deliverer Who can destroy our worst opponent with a single breath. His appearance will be our salvation and the world’s judgement. We stand on firm ground when we stand in Christ.