Chapter 16: II Thessalonians
by K. Allen Orr on October 28, 2020
In this part of the journey we will be focusing on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 but will begin by looking at a few verses from chapter 1 to help establish the context for the study of chapter 2. I will not provide the entire first chapter of 2 Thessalonians for all to read, only select verses. I very much encourage those who are able, to read the whole chapter from their own Bibles and to please do it now before continuing the journey. Reading the entire chapter first will assist in obtaining a frame of reference as well as a feeling for the context in preparation for our study. I also trust you have read the preceding chapters of this commentary/book before embarking on this fascinating and relevant side-path of our journey, as this study builds upon what was previously established.
2 Thessalonians Chapter 1
Vs. 4 therefore, we ourselves speak proudly of you among the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in the midst of all your persecutions and afflictions which you endure. (NASB)
Paul says he speaks proudly of them for their perseverance. The English word “perseverance ” is the translation of the Greek word HUPOMENO. Do you remember what the expanded definition of HUPOMENO is? It means “to bear up courageously” under severe conditions or adverse circumstances. Then Paul touches upon what kind of severe conditions they had been bearing up under, which were persecutions and afflictions.
Vs. 5 This is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. (NASB)
Here in verse 5 Paul makes an interesting assessment. He explains that persecutions and afflictions are a plain and obvious indication of God’s righteous judgment. The term “righteous judgment” comes from the Greek word KRISEOS which primarily denotes “a separating”, followed by, “a decision, a judgment”, usually in a forensic sense or a legal sense. There’s that principle again! First the experience of trials, testing, purging and a refinement process to see who is genuine and who is an imitation. Psalm 11:5a also affirms this process by declaring, “The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked”. Then those that bear up courageously to the end of the persecution, trials, tribulation and afflictions will be delivered, rescued, saved. Paul explains this quite succinctly in the following verses.
Vs. 6 For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you,
Vs. 7 and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,
Vs. 8 dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
Vs. 9 And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,
Vs. 10 when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed–for our testimony to you was believed. (NASB)
In verse 7 we read that Paul said God would give relief to those who are afflicted, and as we look back at verse 6 we see that God will repay those who have been conducting and committing the affliction. Are you picking up on all the connections, the links to Matthew 24? Do you remember when we were covering verses 13 and 14 and we looked at the word HUPOMENO at that time? Verses 9-12 of Matthew 24 dealt with the conditions characterizing the Great THLIPSIS period and verse 13 mentions there will be deliverance, there will be a rescue, people will be saved!
I believe it is important for you to also remember that when we covered passages from I Thessalonians I taught that Paul had laid a doctrinal foundation for the church while there. But after he departed, the testing of their fairly immature faith by persecution, resistance and various types of spiritual obstacles resulted in confusion among the brethren. So Paul sent Timothy to help deepen their knowledge of doctrine, sending his first letter to them in an effort to ease their concerns regarding all their afflictions and their concerns about departed friends and loved ones in the Lord. Please bear with me as I provide just a few verses that will help you understand the important point I’m trying to establish.
For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming [PAROUSIA]? For you are our glory and joy (1 Thess. 2:19, 20).
Once again, notice how Paul links his encouragement of the Thessalonian church to the PAROUSIA.
and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith, so that no man may be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know (1 Thess 3:2-4).
In these verses we see that Paul writes to remind the Thessalonians he had previously told them to expect to suffer affliction and that his instruction proved to be true.
and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all men, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father at the coming [PAROUSIA] of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. (1 Thess 3:12-13 NASB)
In these two verses Paul forms yet another link to the PAROUSIA of Christ and from there develops the theology we studied when we covered chapters 4 and 5. By the time Paul writes 2 Thessalonians a few months have transpired and a somewhat new problem had arisen. False teachers appeared on the scene, having misinterpreted the historical climate of that part of the world in their generation and began spreading false doctrine. The Thessalonians began to focus their attention on the circumstances that encompassed them and began to wonder what in the world was going on? So Paul sent the second letter to reassure them everything was progressing according to God’s plan. Nobody had missed the PAROUSIA and the Day of the Lord had not started yet, as apparently some false teachers had been claiming. Paul was trying to help them regain the proper perspective. And since they were so concerned about the PAROUSIA and the Day of the Lord he shared with them again, how it will play out–when it occurs. If we read his second letter to the Thessalonians carefully without trying to read anything into it that isn’t there, we might discover that Paul never reveals that he expects these things could occur at any moment or that he even expects these things to happen soon. What he is teaching is that perseverance and faith are needed in every generation because of the KRISEOS process. God separates and decides and makes judicial judgment decisions on who are genuine Christians and who are imitations in every generation. But eventually there will come a time for one generation of believers, who have been experiencing persecutions and afflictions, when God will say, “Enough! That’s it! No more!”. He will then give relief to all remaining believers, and repay those who have been causing the affliction. As part of his instructions to the Thessalonians, Paul explains when this will occur.
Looking at verse 7 of chapter 1 of 2 Thessalonians, when does Paul instruct this will occur? The answer is, “when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.” Is there any doubt this is referring specifically to the PAROUSIA/Day of the Lord period? Recall to your mind the instruction given by the Lord in Matthew 24:30-31 to confirm this conclusion.
So, in chapter 1 Paul instructs the Thessalonians to 1) persevere under persecution and affliction, and, 2) don’t become impatient about obtaining relief through the Lord’s intervention. In chapter 2 he is going to review pertinent information he had basically already taught them in an effort to address their concerns held at that time. Verses 1 and 2 identify the concerns the Thessalonians have from Paul’s standpoint. Let’s read these verses and see if you can spot the areas of concern.
2 Thessalonians 2
Vs. 1 Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming [PAROUSIA] of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together to Him,
Vs. 2 that you may 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. (NASB)
Right from the start I feel it quite necessary to point out two critical words in verse one that are almost always ignored. Those two words are, “with regard“. This is important because whatever “with regard” points to will flavor the instruction provided in the whole paragraph. Paul mentions three important events in these two verses. The words “with regard” point to the first two. The first is more than obvious since I automatically provided the word found in the original Greek text, which is a form of the word PAROUSIA, translated as “coming” in English. The second distinct event would be “our gathering together to Him” and we could even quietly call it the rapture of the saints if desired, but I don’t desire to. The so-called rapture’s rightful place is as a lesser, sub-event of the PAROUSIA. Yet it is an event. This verse provides a powerful argument that the “rapture” will not occur before the PAROUSIA because of the link it supplies to the Olivet Discourse. In this verse we see the noun form (EPISUNAGOGES- “a gathering together”), of the verb found in Matthew 24:31 which is a form of EPISUNAGO, which means “to gather together”. If the “gathering together” at the PAROUSIA in II Thessalonians 2:1 is distinct and separate from the gathering of Matthew 24:31 Paul would of necessity be obligated to provide careful instruction to differentiate between the two. No explanation is offered, as they are indeed one and the same. Remember the source of Paul’s teaching on the return of Christ: “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord...” (1 Thess 4:15).
Third on the list is the Day of the Lord. It is perhaps best considered as a co-event with the PAROUSIA, but in this instance it should be characterized as a separate event. Please notice the sequence of these events as Paul lists them. The Bible is very consistent as it presents this sequence in passage after passage. Now, even though Paul mentions these three important events that begin in quick succession of each other, he does so with wording that reveals there is a special concern over one in particular. What seems to be the concern of the Thessalonians? The answer is, that the day of the Lord has come.
Keep in mind Paul’s instruction is flavored “with regard” to the PAROUSIA and “our gathering together to Him“. It is not a dissertation on the day of the Lord. With that in mind, if the day of the Lord period had indeed already begun (and remember the day of the Lord is a period lasting several months), what would the implications be? The answer is, they would have missed the initial PAROUSIA of Christ and also missed out on being gathered together to Him!
Paul then identifies three sources that were causing their disturbed composure. The first source mentioned is that which is “by a spirit“. I agree with those who believe Paul had in mind what we also refer to as a spirit of prophecy or a prophetic utterance. This would be someone who claims to have a message or revelation from God or the Lord.
The next source of disturbance Paul lists is “a message“. I believe this would be like someone giving a sermon or delivering a message to the congregation or a teacher teaching or a pastor preaching.
How about the last source? What is meant by “a letter as if from us“? That would be a perpetrated forgery, a false document attributed to have come from the apostles, or in this case Paul, Silvanus and Timothy. To discourage this error from happening again, at the end of this epistle Paul instructs his readers to be mindful of his handwriting, the way he writes, his signature, as a distinguishing mark of authenticity.
Vs. 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,
Vs. 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.
Vs. 5 Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? (NASB)
Paul tells them, “Let no one in any way deceive you.” He is emphasizing that his teaching to them should have been so clear they should never be tricked or misled by any false prophecy, false message or forged letter. They had access to the Old Testament writings, they had received personalized instruction from Paul and Timothy and they had Paul’s first letter from a few months back.
Also in verse 3 Paul emphatically states that “it” will not come… What is he referring to in this statement? The answer most specifically would be “the day of the Lord” but if we included the PAROUSIA of Christ and even “our gathering together to Him” along with the day of the Lord it wouldn’t change a thing concerning Paul’s further instruction. He writes that two events must precede the day of the Lord and, by implication, the PAROUSIA and our gathering together to Him.
The first one he lists is “the apostasy“. What is that in reference to? Discovering the answer involves taking a close look at the Greek word APOSTASIA, from which the English word “apostasy” comes from. Vine’s Expository Dictionary tells us the word means “a falling away” or a departure from the faith or religious ordinances or principles; to revolt; rebellion; to utterly forsake. It never denotes any kind of physical departure like departing on the last boat to Tarsus or the last train to Clarksville or something like that. It has absolutely no reference to the resurrection of the saints or the rapture of the Church as a book I once read suggested. Paul is not saying in this verse that the day of the Lord cannot occur until the rapture occurs first.
There was a time when I felt “the” apostasy mentioned here by Paul was in reference to the nation of Israel signing the seven year agreement or covenant or treaty with the one who would later be discovered to be and popularly referred to as the Antichrist. However I have since modified my position and now believe “the apostasy” is in reference to the masses of people- perhaps a few billion or more, who will embrace the Antichrist when he commits the abomination of desolation in the middle of Daniel’s 70th week of years, worshiping him as a god and savior. This will be developed further, along with the discussion of the second event Paul insisted must come first…before the day of the Lord would begin.
The second event- the revealing of the man of lawlessness, is connected to “the apostasy“, much the same way the PAROUSIA and day of the Lord are connected together, in that “the apostasy” occurs nearly at the same moment as the revealing of the “son of destruction” and is dependent upon it. In verse 4 Paul provides a description of what happens when the Antichrist commits the Abomination of Desolation mentioned by the prophet Daniel in chapter 9 and by Jesus in Matthew 24. The Antichrist, the man of lawlessness, is revealed by taking his seat in the temple in Jerusalem and publicly displaying himself as the god of this world. It is at that time he demands the world to worship him, as well as take the mark of the beast. The apostle John recorded divine revelation on this character in Revelation 13. Remember, the Antichrist remains incognito while gaining military strength, aligning the ten nation confederacy, conquering various regions of the world and most importantly when making the firm covenant, treaty or agreement with the nation of Israel. His true identity is revealed when he commits the Abomination of Desolation.
Reading verse 5 gives me the feeling Paul was slightly exasperated the Thessalonians were struggling so much with these issues. I wonder if those false teachers were claiming something back then that is a popular teaching today, that the day of the Lord begins at the start of Daniel’s 70th week of years? Perhaps those false teachers were misinterpreting the circumstances and events of their day as being within the context of that seven year period? I pray none taking this journey would fail to realize the day of the Lord does not begin until the signs in the sun, moon and stars indicate it is about to commence, just as the prophets of old plainly foretold, just as we firmly documented in our earlier studies.
Though much more might be studied in connection with the man of lawlessness we will now turn our attention to what many find as an intriguing subject: who or what is restraining the Antichrist from revealing his true identity and declaring himself to be god and demanding to be worshiped?
Vs. 6 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he may be revealed.
Vs. 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.
Vs. 8 And 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 [PAROUSIA];
Vs. 9 that is, the one whose coming [PAROUSIA] is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, (NASB)
In verse 6 Paul writes that the Thessalonians already know what or who restrains “him”. Easy question: who is the “him” Paul is referring to? The answer is the lawless one, the son of destruction, the Antichrist, the Beast of Revelation. Now for the tough question, what or who restrains this lawless one so that he is not revealed before his time? Are you familiar with some of the choices that have been offered over past decades? Some have suggested it is human government; others, the Word and some say the Church. For years the only answer I really encountered and the one which was heavily marketed as the only legitimate choice was, the Holy Spirit. It was an answer that seemed to make sense to the masses as well, after all it highlights the sovereignty of God and places Him directly in the position of determining exactly when it would happen. Yet, the biggest advantage of this answer was that it cleanly, conveniently and convincingly demonstrated the necessity for the rapture of the Church to occur before the Antichrist could be revealed. This answer would eliminate any need to question the plethora of authors, seminarians and preachers banded together to defend the pre-tribulation rapture theory. The argument is simple and straight forward. Since the Bible teaches the Holy Spirit indwells all true Christians, if the Holy Spirit is the restrainer, by necessity the followers of Christ must be taken out of the way by means of the rapture in order for the Antichrist to appear on the scene and play out his role in prophecy.
However, all of these suggestions lack any specific indication from the scriptures necessary for qualifying any of these suggestions as the accurate designation for the restrainer, hence, they are in essence merely speculative. As such we should avoid any dogmatic and unyielding claims in promoting any of these suggestions. We should not be adamant about something not plainly presented in the scriptures, especially when the possibility of another choice exists that does have scriptural support but may have been missed or overlooked or even disregarded by proponents of the pre-tribulation rapture theory.
The apostle Paul gives us at least three clues as to where to look for the answer to his matter-of-fact statement demonstrating the Thessalonians knew who the restrainer was. Apparently Paul was with the Thessalonians for only a short time teaching them face to face before writing his second letter. How would Paul have taught them? What tools would he have used? We find the answer in Acts 17:1-3 where Luke records Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures“. These would be the Old Testament scriptures as the New was not completed in 50 A.D. No doubt Timothy would have used the same teaching method after Paul’s departure. So do you really need to be a scholar to figure out that just maybe, the answer to the question of who or what is restraining the lawless one might possibly be found somewhere in the Old Testament? Verses 6 and 8 indicate there will come a certain time when the lawless one will be revealed. We know from our previous studies this occurs at the Abomination of Desolation, which we know occurs at the mid-point of Daniel’s 70th week of years. We also know that this event ushers in the period of Great Persecution/Tribulation, which happens to be an important clue to keep in mind.
Verse 7 reveals the restrainer is a “who” instead of a “what”, and also that the restrainer is a “he” who and not a “she” who or an “it” who; the gender is masculine not feminine or neuter. This would eliminate the suggestions of human government, the Word and even the Church from being serious contenders for the position of “the restrainer”. Our summery then, is that the restrainer is a definite, singular and masculine personification or figure. We also clearly see from verses 7 and 8 that when the restraining one ceases to restrain or stops restraining, the Antichrist will be revealed for who and what he is; therefore we can conclude the restraining one will continue to restrain up until about the time of the Abomination of Desolation.
There are 39 books in the Old Testament. Which one can you think of as having anything to say about any of our clues? The book of Daniel comes to mind first as the obvious choice, especially since we already covered key passages relating to some of the clues in previous studies. Do you recall in Daniel chapter 9 Daniel receives instruction from the angel Gabriel regarding the 70 weeks of years, the last week, i.e., the last 7 of those years, the one commonly referred to as the Antichrist and the abomination of desolation? From there we will take a quick look at parts of chapter 10, in which Daniel receives a vision, and in describing the main speaker in this vision Daniel lists characteristics remarkably similar to the apostle John’s description of “one like the son of man” provided in Revelation chapter 1, describing the One who revealed Himself and the vision for John to record. Arguably, there is adequate reason to believe the One described in Daniel 10:5-6 is the pre-incarnate Christ. I want us to take a look at four verses of instruction given to Daniel.
Daniel chapter 10
Vs. 12 Then he said to me, “Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words.
Vs. 13 “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. (NASB)
A couple of points regarding verse 13 need to be made. The “prince of the kingdom of Persia” as well as “Michael, one of the chief princes” are both angelic beings- not human authorities. The first prince is in reference to a fallen angel. Michael, is an holy angel. So here in this verse we are given a small glimpse into the angelic conflict, and as seen here, Michael plays a part.
Vs. 20 Then he said, “Do you understand why I came to you? But I shall now return to fight against the prince of Persia; so I am going forth, and behold, the prince of Greece is about to come.
Vs. 21 “However, I will tell you what is inscribed in the writing of truth. Yet there is no one who stands firmly with me against these forces except Michael your prince. (NASB)
Here we obtain just a little more information. Not only is Michael one of the chief princes as revealed in verse 13, but here in verse 21 we learn that Michael is prince over the Jews…which is the intended designation when the messenger refers to Michael as “your (ie. Daniel’s people’s) prince”. Notice that Michael is the only one who “stands firmly” with the Lord against Satanic forces. We will now move on to chapter 12.
Vs. 1 “Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued.
Vs. 2 “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt”. (NASB)
Let’s take a moment to establish the context for these two verses. When Daniel records in verse 1 of chapter 12 the words “at that time” he is referring to information provided in the previous paragraph, in chapter 11:40-45. Verse 40 helps provide a yet future time frame in which to understand the description of certain military maneuvers involving the one we call the Antichrist as well as information provided in chapter 12, with the phrase “at the end time“. This time period is in reference to the 70th seven of years from chapter 9. During this end time period the Bible describes at least three major military campaigns involving the Antichrist. The first one could be referred to as the Jerusalem Campaign, which occurs near the mid-point of the seven year period, around the time of the Abomination of Desolation. That is the campaign discussed in Daniel 11:40-45. The second could be referred to as the the Jehoshaphat Campaign which occurs near the beginning of the Day of the Lord, sometime during the second 3 1/2 years. The third is the Armageddon Campaign which occurs 30 days after the completion of the 70th seven of years.
Daniel 12:1 refers to this same Michael as “the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people” (i.e., the Jews or Israelites). At the time of this Jerusalem Campaign, which starts shaping up near the end of the first 3 1/2 years of the 70th seven of years, the passage says that Michael, who had been standing firm and standing guard will “arise“, according to my NASB! How can someone who has already been standing…arise? Sometimes we need to check out the original languages, don’t we; and this is one of those times. In the Hebrew text the word Daniel records is the word AMAD (pronounced: ah-mad). Discovering the Hebrew word used is the easy part; selecting the appropriate definition and translation is more difficult. AMAD is sometimes used in the Scriptures in a literal sense and sometimes in a figurative sense; sometimes it’s a transitive verb, sometimes an intransitive verb, having a more abstract definition and application. As far as the basic meaning goes it does mean “to stand” but after that comes a whole slew of possibilities! I will provide a partial list of additional possibilities.
AMAD can mean and be translated as: Stand still (as in) cease, stop, tarry, stay. Other choices include: Stand-(up, fast, firm, by), arise, appoint, leave, make, ordain, dwell, endure… I’m sure you get the picture that there is a lot of nuance to consider when translating and interpreting this Hebrew word AMAD! With so many choices we better be sure of the context, and as we review the context we see that at some point, during “the end time”, Michael, who previously had been depicted as standing firm, standing strong, standing up for the Jewish people and defending them from the power of Satan and restraining the demonic forces antagonistic toward the Israelites…at some point, he is going to suddenly stand still, he will stop, he will stand aside and cease, stay, tarry–in regard to what he had been doing for so long previously! There will be a change that will occur from what had been taking place.
And did you notice what happens when Michael ceases to restrain Satanic forces and stands aside? What does verse 1 indicate will happen at the time Michael ceases and stops restraining and stands still and no longer stands guard nor stands strong and firm in defense of Daniel’s people? The answer is, “And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time“. Surely this is exactly what our Lord had in mind when He told the disciples that, after the Abomination of Desolation there would be a time of “great persecution/tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world until now, nor ever shall.” And likely it is what the apostle Paul had on his mind as he wrote the letters to the Thessalonian Christians.
Consider this illustration. You are in school and there always seems to be a bunch of bullies picking on you. Fortunately a certain teacher constantly looks out for you and intervenes on your behalf. One day the teacher is no longer there to intervene. What is most likely to happen? The bullies are going to “get you”. In roughly the same manner this is what we find in Daniel 12:1.
In my opinion understanding this piece of the puzzle–that the restrainer is the arch angel Michael, helps provide insight into another debated issue in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, which is, what is meant by “the mystery of lawlessness” which Paul depicts as being already at work?
If you have read any books on the second coming or have heard any of the quickie, mini sermons on 2 Thessalonians 2 you most likely have been exposed to the popular interpretation of this passage teaching that Satan has someone ready to assume the position of Antichrist in every generation as he has no idea when God will spring the pre-tribulation rapture and it is essential for someone to step into that role on a moments notice. Attempts to validate this belief invariably include mention of certain verses in I John chapter 2 and 2 John which are the only two chapters in the Bible containing the Greek word ANTICHRISTOS which Vine’s Expository Dictionary says can mean either “against Christ” or “instead of Christ.” or perhaps, combining the two, “one who, assuming the guise of Christ, opposes Christ”. In his letter, the apostle John explains that many antichrists had already made the scene by the time he penned his first epistle, informing his readers that is the evidence of living in “the last hour.” Isolating additional select verses found elsewhere in the scriptures with those of chapter two makes it easy to surmise that Satan has always had the power and ability to propel an individual of his choice into the mind boggling position we conjecture as being the epitome of evil, worldwide tyranny, power and control–oh and yes, all on a moments notice and within a matter of days…
My apologies. Once I get started, the embarrassment of my prior blind acceptance of the pre-tribulation rapture theory tends to rise up, constraining me to expose vulnerable tenets of that position in attempts to enlighten other misguided souls. We can put to rest any argument that Satan has someone ready to enact the part of “the” Antichrist in every generation, with the revelation given to the apostle John while on the island of Patmos. In chapter 17 an angel tells John the mystery of a scarlet beast seen by John in a vision. Throughout human history there will be eight beast empires. John lived during the sixth beast empire, the seventh and eighth being yet future in his day. The one we call “the” Antichrist heads up the eighth empire. Satan doesn’t have to have “the” Antichrist ready until that time. It was over eighteen centuries before the seventh beast empire arrived on the scene! That’s a long stretch of time Satan did not have to worry about having someone to play the role of “the” Antichrist. Based on this evidence alone we can see the interpretation of the mystery of lawlessness being Satan having someone ready to play the role of the Antichrist is more than just a weak interpretation, it is an incorrect interpretation. My point is, no, these verses do not lend support to the pre-tribulational rapture theory.
Some holding to that interpretation will admit their comments are opinions only and do not take a dogmatic stance on this view because, after all, it is a mystery. Ahh, but really it’s not a mystery; it’s a MUSTERION (pronounced: moo-stare-e-on)! Do you remember what a MUSTERION is? It is truth or knowledge that would not be known except for being revealed by God. Well, has God revealed anything about “lawlessness” in His Word? If we again read 2 Thessalonians 2:9 it appears fairly plain to me that both “the MUSTERION of lawlessness” and the “lawless one” are directly connected to Satan! Has God revealed any information about this Satan character? Sure, starting in Genesis and Job and a few Old Testament references and several references in the New Testament. We know Satan has an agenda he desires to implement. For example, our adversary the devil prowls about like a roaring lion–for what purpose? The answer is, seeking someone to devour! In Luke 22:31 the Lord told Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded to…” do what to him? The answer is, to sift him like wheat. And it wasn’t for the purpose of testing to prove him genuine either. Satan wanted to bring him to ruin!
But the big passage that gives us the most insight on Satan’s agenda is Revelation 12. If you are able, please take the time now to read chapter 12 in its entirety as I am going to furnish only a quick highlight of part the chapter in relation to our study and look into a couple appropriate verses.
The chapter deals with a specially described woman representing the Jews and a great red dragon representing the devil, Satan. A depiction of a war in heaven is given and Michael and his angels boot the dragon and his angles out of heaven.
Vs. 12 “For this reason, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.”
Vs. 13 And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman who gave birth to the male child.
Vs. 17 And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. NASB
As you read the chapter you should be able to discover the links to our subject of the mystery of lawlessness which is already at work. And it’s working according to Satan’s agenda (of course within the confines of God’s sovereignty), regardless of how futile it will be in the long run. His agenda focuses upon the destruction of God’s people–whether it be the Israelites as God’s chosen nation, or those that have been saved by the blood of the Lamb, the Lord Jesus Christ. And what period of history will experience Satan’s most intense, concentrated effort to destroy the people of God? The answer is, the Great Persecution/Tribulation which is referred to by some as the period of Satan’s Wrath because of verse 12. And according to Daniel 12:1, what happens just prior to the beginning of “a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation…”? The answer is, Michael, the great prince will AMAD, he will stand up, stand aside, he will cease, he will stop.
Taking this information into consideration, let’s look again at 2 Thessalonians 2:6. I believe the principle behind this verse is Satan would love to violently attack the Jews as God’s chosen people in an effort to totally wipe them out. And at the same time do the same thing to the Church as the bride of Christ. Yet he is restrained from doing so with the result that he can’t do all he desires (even within the confines of his limited powers) until God permits him to give it his best shot–which will only be according to God’s timing as the Sovereign of the universe. The primary goal of Satan’s agenda is not the unleashing of the Antichrist upon the world, it’s the destruction of God’s chosen nation, Israel, and the destruction of God’s elect. This is what we need to remember as we engage in spiritual warfare and pray for one another as Christ followers.
Continuing on, we see 2 Thessalonians 2:8 is linked with verses 3 and 4. Verses 7 and 8 indicate the lawless one will not be revealed until the restrainer stops restraining, but verses 3 and 4 indicate the lawless one will be revealed when he takes his seat in the temple of God and displays himself as being God. It is during this event the Antichrist, the dictator beast, the son of perdition, reveals his true identity. The scriptures teach that when this occurs the world in general is amazed and follow after him because of all the powerful and convincing SEMEION (signs, wonders and miracles)! But others, like the Jews in particular are terrified and horrified because they suddenly realize what it means, and therefore try to flee for safety.
But Paul tells the Thessalonians that although the lawless one will enjoy a time in the spotlight, it will eventually be demonstrated he is not immortal and he is surely doomed; he is not God! Paul reveals this in a very interesting way and we need to look very carefully at what the apostle writes.
The first part of verse 8 starts out with the words “And then“, which obviously links to the Antichrist declaring himself to be God, as per verse 4. In the rest of verse 8 Paul is going to reveal two very distinct and separate consequences that the lawless one will experience even though at first glance it would seem he is describing one action, and citing when it occurs. It seems fairly straight forward Paul is writing there will come a point after the revealing of the lawless one when Christ will slay him with the breath of His mouth, which would obviously bring him to an end…and this all happens at the appearance of Christ at His PAROUSIA. Is that the way it looks when reading it for yourself?
Allow me to share with you a few interesting points I discovered. The Greek word translated “slay” in verse 8 is the word ANELEI, which is a form of the word ANAIREO. In other words, to get clues as to what ANELEI means we have to look up the word ANAIREO. I don’t mean to make this complicated but it’s an important part of the documentation process. We actually looked briefly at this word many verses ago. Do you remember?
As you know by now there are a number of Greek words that can be translated by different English words in different passages having different contexts. ANAIREO is one of those words. As I checked out my Vine’s dictionary I found this word included under four different English words. It is one of eight words sometimes translated by our English word “death”. It is one of six Greek words sometimes translated “slay”. It is one of seven words sometimes translated “kill”, and one of thirty-four words translated in various passages by our word “take”. As I looked at the definitions given for the Greek word ANAIREO, each time the definition that was given would mention that it also meant “to take up”, “to take away”. It is also used in the sense of removing, for the purpose of destruction, or, to abolish, along with other included definitions such as: put to death, slay and destroy. Remember in Matthew 24:39 the flood came and “took” them all away?
I openly admit I’m just a student of the Word. I’m no scholar. But based on my studies I believe the apostle Paul is instructing that at some point in time the Lord is going to “blow away” the “lawless one”. I believe the Lord will use the breath of His mouth–not to kill the Antichrist outright but to remove him for the purpose of destruction, by blowing him away, just like you would imagine seeing it in the movies with all those nifty special effects they have nowadays.
This may seem somewhat silly to you, and you may wonder how in the world I would come up with something like this? Well, what is the rule when the definition of a word allows for multiple translations? What is the first thing to check out to determine which choice is best? The answer is, the context. But this is one of those instances in which the context doesn’t give a clear distinction of which choice is any better than the rest. However, the choice we make here in verse 8 will affect the accuracy of another passage. Revelation 19:11-21 deal with the battle of Armageddon and verse 20 describes the fate of the beast, the Antichrist.
And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone (Rev. 19:20).
What key factor is brought out in this verse that would be affected by how we translate 2 Thessalonians 2:8? The answer is, the beast is cast alive into the lake of fire! Apparently he will die a physical death but it will be the result of being cast into the lake of fire; it is the fire that will kill him. But wait! From reading the passage in Revelation as translated in the NASB it appears that maybe the Beast is grabbed and tossed into the Lake of Fire, not blown into it by the breath of our Lord. Without going into detail I will merely mention that the normal Greek words for “seized” and “thrown” were not selected by John as he recorded the Revelation, and that other Bible translations use differing English words when translating the original Greek, providing quite a different perspective on what actually will happen at that future time. It is conceivable that the righteous Lord would not “touch” the despicably wicked and ungodly Antichrist but rather rids the world of this rebellious man by blowing him off the scene with the breath of his mouth. There is actually another passage that provides concise support for this and is found in the scroll of Isaiah.
Isaiah 11:4 But with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked (Isaiah 11:4).
I don’t mean to come across as making a big deal out of all this. I thought you might enjoy my interpretation on the subject. And I do believe it has merit but I am not willing to stake my life on it.
As we continue to look at 2 Thessalonians 2:8 we see another consequence the lawless one will experience. In Greek writings it is not uncommon to find an issue of importance listed first in a list, even if it is not in proper sequence. It was a technique employed to highlight significance. The ultimate doom of the Antichrist to the Lake of Fire is of higher significance to the consequence of being brought to an end. In preparation for discovering what the apostle is discussing here we should read the rest of the verses of this revealing paragraph. I am going to repeat verse 8 along with them in order to help keep everything in perspective.
Vs. 8 And 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; [PAROUSIA]
Vs. 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan with all power and signs and false wonders.
Vs. 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.
Vs. 11 And for this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they might believe what is false,
Vs. 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
Let’s look at this second consequence the Lord administers personally and also consider the timing as to when it takes place. Paul informed the lawless one would be brought to an end at the appearance of His coming [PAROUSIA] which indicates this happens soon after Christ comes on the clouds of heaven. While we will not know the day or the hour when that will be, we have already discovered it is somewhere within the second half of Daniel’s 70th week of years, and at least a few months before its completion. The Beast doesn’t get cast into the Lake of Fire (and thereby slain) until the battle of Armageddon…30 days after the completion of the 70th week of years.
So what in the world is this second consequence? Neither the NIV nor the NASB shed any accurate light on a distinction between the two. But in my NASB the phrase “bring to an end” is the translation of the Greek word KATARGEO (pronounced: kat-arg-eh’-o). It is significant that Paul did not use the word TELOS as could have been expected. If you don’t remember what this common word for “end” means you can refresh your memory by referring to the Glossary of Terms.
Let’s look at the role KATARGEO plays in the development of Paul’s instruction. According to Vine’s dictionary and Strong’s concordance, KATARGEO means to reduce to inactivity, to render useless, to make of no effect. Here’s what happens: at the PAROUSIA of Christ the time period of the Great Persecution/Tribulation is KOLOBOO’ed. It is cut-off, curtailed, docked. At that time the Antichrist, the Beast, the lawless one will become of no effect, he will be rendered useless, his effectiveness will be stripped from him, he will be basically powerless. His will, his desires and strategies used to reach his intended goals will be thwarted by the sovereign will of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Rotherham Bible’s translation of this verse reads the lawless one is “paralyzed” at the Lord’s appearance. This minion of Satan who, at that time will actually be possessed by the devil, will no longer be effective in executing the will of his evil master. His hands will be tied so to speak at the PAROUSIA but he is still in the picture. He isn’t removed from the scene until after the battle of Armageddon. For a little more insight we will look briefly at Revelation 13.
Revelation 13:4 and they worshiped the dragon, because he gave his authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who is able to wage war with him?”
Vs. 5 And there was given to him a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies; and authority to act for forty-two months was given to him. (NASB)
Verse 4 helps orient us as to the timing issue of verse 5. The beast mentioned here is the same as the lawless one we are studying in 2 Thessalonians. People begin to worship the beast at the mid-point of Daniel’s 70th week of years. Verse 5 informs us he is given authority for 42 months, which is the same as 3 1/2 years. We need to be careful not to read into this passage more than what is written. John wrote that the beast was given authority to “act”, to be a participant as the drama unfolds. This does not mean he and the devil will accomplish all they desire. During the period of Satan’s wrath, the period of Great Persecution/Tribulation, Satan, the beast and the false prophet will seem to experience a great deal of success. But that all changes at the PAROUSIA and the start of the day of the Lord’s wrath. Isaiah says of that day, the Lord alone will be exalted! (This is another reason for insisting the day of the Lord begins with the PAROUSIA and not at the start of the 7 years of Tribulation, as some claim.) And it will be at that time the Lord will KATARGEO the beast and render him useless and begin to punish the wicked for their rebellion and evil deeds. And at the end of the 70th week of years there will be the initiation of the 30 day reclamation period as Christ begins to reclaim His rightful rulership over the earth.
In 2 Thessalonians 2:9 Paul elaborates on his description of this lawless one. Part of his description was given in verses 3 and 4 and now continues with verses 9 and 10. As we once again read verse 9 we see the English word “coming“. In the Greek it’s our old friend PAROUSIA; only this time its not associated with Christ but with the Antichrist. Time and again we saw illustrations of how PAROUSIA speaks of “coming…as an event”. Just as the coming of Christ has several facets, activities and aspects involved, spread over a period of time, so also the PAROUSIA of the Antichrist. Here Paul reveals the source behind the activities and facets and every aspect of the PAROUSIA of the beast. And big surprise–it’s Satan! As we look at the verse we might say the PAROUSIA of the lawless one is sponsored by the devil as he attempts to control and manipulate all people everywhere. We might say that Satan is the beast’s agent, just like a movie star. An agent takes on various responsibilities, handling various details on behalf of his client. And after Satan is booted out of heaven at the mid-point of Daniel’s 70th week of years, descending to earth having great wrath…knowing he has but a short time to pull off some type of victory by causing God to forfeit His character somewhere along the line, he personally provides the power behind the lawless one and initiates tremendous SEMEION’s and false wonders.
Even though in this passage Paul is focusing on Satan’s power in relation to the Antichrist, grant my request that you read Paul’s related teaching which is applicable to both the saved and the lost, as found in his letter to the Ephesians. It is also quite appropriate for our study of 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12
And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) (Eph. 2:1-5).
This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness (Eph. 4:17-19).
As we bring our focus back to our study of 2 Thessalonians 2:9, do you remember what a SEMEION is? It is an “attesting miracle” or a “sign” miracle; it points to or calls attention to someone or something as genuine or authentic. Of course in this case it is deceptive. What about “false wonders”? I would describe those as observations or experiences that cause people to draw false conclusions based upon those observations or experiences. And what does verse 10 say? “With all the deception“, or, “with every deception of wickedness”. This is the time of Satan’s desperation. He pulls out all the stops, no holds barred. He goes all out in his efforts to cause God to default in any way. It is all related to the angelic conflict between God and His forces, and Satan and his forces. It is a fascinating study all its own.
Satan’s strategy is totally effective against “those who perish“, however. In verse 10 Paul explains why it is effective, as well as the qualification to be included on the list of “those who perish“. What is the reason Paul gives? The answer is, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. Now there are important differences between rejecting the truth and not receiving the love of the truth, although it follows perhaps in this instance that both issues were involved. But by his selection of Greek words Paul is able to emphasize an important point. I would explain this phrase by describing those who perish refusing to take to the heart, the truth. In other words, they did not embrace the truth. When you physically embrace a loved one, when you wrap your arms around them and draw them close to you, you are receiving them to your heart– physically and emotionally, heart to heart. For those who perish, the truth will be there to be grasped, to be embraced. They will be able to receive it, they will be exposed to the knowledge of the truth, to understand the true issues, but they will not “take to heart” the truth. The consequences are devastating, with the result that they will not be saved–physically or spiritually, but they will perish–both physically and spiritually.
In verse 11 Paul provides an additional consequence that actually precedes their physical and spiritual deaths. During this time of Great Persecution/Tribulation for Christ followers and Jews, the rest of the world will be experiencing a period of excited anticipation of good times and celebration. Millions upon millions of people will be presented the truth in a fashion they will understand, but will decide not to take to heart, the truth. They will decide not to embrace the truth. Paul reveals a specific consequence to be experienced by those who reject the truth. He writes that God Himself will send upon them a deluding influence, or, “powerful delusion” as translated in the NIV. The Greek word translated as “powerful” means “effective” or “effectual”. The word for “delusion” refers to “errors”, “wrong opinions”, “mental straying”. Verse 11 proclaims God is going to send upon the perishing an effective mental straying–from truth, to error. It is all part of the outcome of God’s natural design for the function of the soul. If you tamper with the norms and standards of your conscience you will effectively stray mentally from truth to error.
What is God’s purpose for this, revealed in verse 12? The answer is, so they all may be condemned. And Paul re-emphasizes why God will condemn them. He writes it is because they “did not believe the truth”. The word ” believe” comes from a form of the Greek word PISTEUO (pist-yoo-o) and it means “to believe”. But its stronger than just taking a casual credence. It means to be persuaded of, to the point of placing confidence and trust in the truth, and reliance upon the truth. These people did not do that. But they did do something else. Paul says they “took pleasure in” or, “approved” something. This translation comes from a form of the Greek word EUDOKEO (yoo-dok-eh’-o) which stresses a willingness, an intention or a resolve regarding some issue. It includes the participation of the volition, free will, our “decider”. What is it these people willingly, intentionally, firmly, resolve to approve? The answer is, wickedness, unrighteousness. It’s the Greek word ADIKIA (ad-ee-kee’-ah). Here’s a partial definition given in Vine’s Expository Dictionary: A condition of not being right, whether with God, according to His standards, or with man, according to standards of what man knows to be right–by his conscience. Isn’t that amazing? Paul reaffirms the horrific consequences of “short circuiting” the moral reasoning process by imposing our own rebellious norms and standards over the Creator’s norms and standards, within our own conscience.
You remember this problem is as old as mankind, that it originates from the second lie the serpent told the woman back in Genesis. You know the background of the account. God told man not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Satan, in the guise of the serpent, challenges God’s veracity and entices the woman. Lets look at two pertinent verses.
And the serpent said to the woman, “You surely shall not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4, 5).
My interpretation of verse 5 is that Satan entices the woman to believe she can become like God–in the way that she could have the authority to determine for herself what is “good” and what is “evil”. The serpent led her to believe the fruit held the power to enable her to establish her own norms and standards. The implication of not being accountable to God is there as well.
This is something we see all around us in America today and is promoted in New Age philosophy and religion. “Don’t you be telling me what’s sinful or what’s bad and what’s good! I’m not accountable to you. I’ll determine for myself what’s good and what’s evil. You can have different standards if you want–that’s your choice, you are free to disagree. Just don’t try to impose your standards upon me. If you try, you are violating my rights! And don’t try to suppress my right to believe what I want and do what I believe is okay. I will be the master of my fate. I will be the captain of my soul!”
But, while it is true God gave us free will (volition), and yes, man has the ability to reprogram one’s conscience with differing norms and standards, in truth we are all accountable to God for the volitional decisions we make. Where this satanic philosophy and religion falls apart is, we are not in fact “like God” in the area of consequences. Only God is sovereign, therefore only God controls the consequences of every volitional decision made. Only God is omnipotent and omniscient, therefore He controls the consequences of every moral decision that is made. It is at the point of experiencing consequences we did not choose or anticipate, the deadly poison of Satan’s lies are exposed. Unregenerate mankind wants to indulge his or her lust pattern and experience imagined, pleasurable results. But reality demonstrates quite the contrary. And every one of these people Paul characterized in 2 Thessalonians is going to perish because they did not take the truth to heart but rather, firmly resolved to approve the unrighteousness or the iniquity of the wicked. They purposely and deliberately rebelled against God and His standards. Today, as in that future period, people in this category are often aggressive and vocal about their opinions and quite ready to attempt to arrogantly intimidate, if possible, anyone holding to biblical standards. The Christ follower would do well to heed Paul’s instruction in 2 Timothy 4:2 to be prepared to, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
This concludes the little side journey to study 2 Thessalonians. I strongly encourage those who are able, to read the rest of chapter 2 from your own Bible as Paul reveals the contrast of those who will perish and the beloved brethren. While you are at it, why not read chapter 3 as well and finish this fairly short epistle? After that you’ll be ready to take the next part of the journey as we dive into Matthew 25.