Don’t Be Fooled (2 Thess. 2:1-17)
Don’t Be Fooled
2 Thessalonians 2:1-17
In any given period of time, there will be a series of national or international catastrophes that indicate to some people that the end of the world is near, that it is time for Jesus to come back again. We can’t deal with all of the Bible passages that are used to teach about the anti-Christ and the rapture and Armageddon. We’ll deal with that in our Wednesday night class starting December 22nd. But, we don’t want to be fooled when it comes to the second coming of Christ…
In the text we’re considering this morning, Paul speaks of a “man of lawlessness,” which the old KJV calls the “man of sin.” This “man of lawlessness” is the central figure in a discussion about an “apostasy” (ver. 3). This apostasy is a rebellion against God and His will. It is like a “coup” in an army which tries to take over the control of a country.
Jesus had warned of false prophets coming like wolves in sheep’s clothing, in Matthew 7:15. The apostle Paul had also warned of such false prophets in Acts 20:28-30. As our society moves further away from Christian principles, it is putting pressure on Christians and churches to conform into the mould of the world. Let us be warned by Paul in this passage so that we will not be fooled…
THE MAN OF LAWLESSNESS MUST BE REVEALED BEFORE CHRIST COMES BACK - 2:1-3:
When Paul wrote in A. D. 52, notice that this “man of lawlessness” was still to be revealed, future tense. We’ll talk about what retrains him in just a moment, but when that restrainer is taken out of the way, the “lawless one” will be revealed (ver. 8).
The Christians in Thessalonica were confused about the second coming of Christ. Some thought Jesus had already returned (ver. 2). Paul did not want them to be deceived. In 2 Timothy 2:17-19, Paul warned that some Christians - he names Hymenaeus and Philetus - were teaching that the resurrection of Christians had already taken place.
Paul did not want them to be mislead by any message or letter - as if it were sent out by Paul or some other inspired man - or by any “spirit” of a false prophet.
But Paul says that Christ’s second coming could not happen until the “man of lawlessness” was to be revealed. What does Paul say about this “man of lawlessness”?
PAUL’S DESCRIPTION OF THE MAN OF LAWLESSNESS - 2:3-4, 8:
He opposes God and His people (ver. 4). The devil’s name means “false accuser” or “slanderer.” This person opposes all that is good and right.
He also exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship (ver. 4). Only God deserves worship (Matt. 4:10). But this person exalts himself and desires worship.
In fact, he “takes his seat in the temple of God displaying himself as being God” (ver. 4). The “temple” here might refer to the church since it is the spiritual temple of God. This individual wishes to be “officially enthroned” as the ruler. He “takes his seat” (ver. 4). That sounds like something official. He then “displays himself as being God” (ver. 4).
But regardless of how important he thinks he is, God will bring him down…
He is the “son of destruction” (ver. 3). That is, he is destined to be doomed and condemned. This is the description Jesus gave of Judas Iscariot in John 17:12. This person is headed for destruction. Verse 8 says that Christ, at His coming, “will bring him to an end.”
Who is this “man of lawlessness”? There is a lot of speculation; we briefly present a few of the options:
1. The Pope of Rome - This view was very popular during the Reformation Movement which broke away from the Catholic church. While I would agree that the Pope fits many of the descriptions of the man of lawlessness, I think it would be better to say that Catholicism is an outgrowth of the man of sin. The Catholic church does teach things that are right, such as the deity of Christ and that abortion is wrong.
In this text, Paul is describing the “man” who has an evil influence that grows stronger right up to the point when Christ comes again and then will be destroyed at Christ’s second coming (ver. 8). Honestly, the Catholic church is losing influence and has been losing influence since the Protestant Reformation movement.
2. The Roman Emperors - It is well-known that these emperors often claimed to be “gods.” It is also well-known that up until the 300s, the Roman Emperors often persecuted Christianity. However, the Roman Empire obviously no longer exists but the “man of lawlessness” will exist when Jesus comes again.
3. The Devil himself - First, it is true that the devil sets himself in opposition to God. It is true that the devil is evil incarnate. It is true that the devil will be destroyed when Jesus comes again (Rev. 20:10). However, verse 9 of our text distinguishes the “man of lawlessness” from the devil himself. So, while he is in agreement with Satan, he is not the same being as Satan.
4. Evil personified (and not a literal man) - In 1 Timothy 4:1ff, Paul does say that evil is going to get worse and worse. Paul warned the same thing in 2 Timothy 3:13 and 4:3.
So Paul writes that this evil will build to a feverish climax, working together with the Satan and it will be fully revealed (verses 3 & 8). This evil is in full competition with Christ and will be seen as winning, swallowing up Christianity. This evil will try to suppress all worship of the True God. This evil personified includes all false religions, all religious which do not teach the doctrine of Christ accurately, which do not respect the authority of Christ. It includes all atheistic forces, all forces of materialism and secularism.
Just like in the days of Noah (Matt. 24:37), they understood nothing about God and the Spirit. But, in the blackest of hours, Christ will come in His glory, with His holy angels, with the shout of the arch-angel and with the trumpet of God (1 Thess. 4:16). Christ will destroy this personified evil, notice with the “breath of His mouth” - notice there is no battle at Armageddon - but Christ destroys Him with His powerful Word!
During our lives on earth, evil sometimes seems invincible. Satan and his forces win various battles and it seems to be getting worse and worse. But, Christ will win the war! He is praised in heaven (Rev. 5:11-13) because of His victory! Whose side will we be on?
But let us continue seeing what Paul says here in this text so we will “not be fooled…” In this next paragraph, Paul says that something is restraining this “man of lawlessness.” He is hindered, curbed, kept in check, held back as if on a leash.
THE “RESTRAINER” WILL CONTINUE TO RESTRAIN - verse 7:
Paul is speaking of the “mystery of lawlessness” which is synonymous to the “man of lawlessness.” Paul writes that this mystery is already at work, like yeast already influencing men and women toward evil.
But, something is restraining, holding back, curbing the lawlessness so that the time of his “revealing” is delayed. This will continue until…
THE “RESTRAINER” IS TAKEN OUT OF THE WAY - ver. 7:
The verb “taken out” carries the idea of “taken out by force.” So, something is keeping the “man of lawlessness” in check, keeping “him” from being revealed, but that “restrainer” is going to be taken away by force. What is Paul talking about?
Of the options, one is that this is an individual. As with the phrase “man of lawlessness,” this description sounds like it could be a person.
It could also be something - If we combine the two together, then we have the personification of something or the personification of a force. But what is this restrainer?
If the “man of lawlessness” is properly identified as the personification of evil, then the “restrainer,” who holds back the “man of lawlessness” would be the personification of good, that is moral forces that are at work today - goodness, honesty, integrity, purity in all areas of society. The good thing is that morality comes from God so as long as there is morality, God is in control and God is working. But, as Paul here says, one day the “restrainer” will be taken out of the way. What then?
THE REMOVAL OF THE “RESTRAINER” ALLOWS THE REVEALING OF THE “MAN OF LAWLESSNESS” - 2:8:
When the man of lawlessness is revealed, he will reveal himself with “power, signs, and false wonders.” These three words are used to refer to the miracles performed by Jesus and His apostles. Jesus warned His disciples leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem, in Matthew 24:24, that false prophets will work great signs and wonders to deceive His elect, but the elect will not be deceived. They are dedicated to Jesus Christ and His teachings so they will not be deceived.
However, the man of lawlessness will deceive some (ver. 10). The man of lawlessness wants to deceive, to lead people away from Christ, and he will be successful with some! He will deceive:
Those who perish (ver. 10). The man of lawlessness will deepen the confusion of many people, to make them less interested in the gospel message.
Those who do not receive the love of the truth (notice also in verse 12, they don’t “believe the truth”). At some point, these individuals were deceived some time in the past and made the decision to not embrace the truth of the gospel. Those who accept the gospel do so “to be saved” (ver. 10). Those who reject the gospel are destined for destruction. They “take pleasure in wickedness” (ver. 12).
To those who decided against God and His gospel…
GOD SENDS A DELUDING INFLUENCE - 2:11:
God does this because “they received not the love of the truth” (ver. 10). Jesus had said back in John 3:18 that the one who believes in Christ will not be judged but the one who does not believe has been judged already.
God allows man free choice. So, God allows people to teach error. Those of us who have the highest possible allegiance to the gospel message and its authority will not be deceived. But those who have decided that they do not love the truth, they can deceive themselves into believing that lies are truth. God will let him be deceived. God allows (“sends”) these deluding influences. There are only two ways in which to walk: the narrow way that leads to life and the broad way that leads to death (Matt. 7:13-14).
Those who are so deluded “will be judged” (ver. 12). God does not want this; He doesn’t want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9). Satan is working to deceive people and lead them away from God, from Christ, and from the teachings of the Holy Spirit in the gospel message.
God allows false ideas to circulate. He allows the “man of lawlessness” to increase more and more. We need to decide to love the truth and to “delight in the law of the Lord” (Psa. 1:2) so that we will not be judged (ver. 12).
To avoid being deceived, we need to “delight in the law of the Lord.” We need to read, study, meditate, and love the word of God. We don’t need to leave the studying to the preachers and elders or Bible class teachers. David wrote: “Your word have I hid in my heart so that I will not sin against you” (Psa. 119:11).
But, even as wickedness grows more and more, Christians have a calling and an election by the God of heaven…
CHRISTIANS HAVE BEEN CALLED INTO SERVICE - 2:13-17:
We have been called to serve God! To give Him our total allegiance and undying commitment in dedication to Him.
In Ephesians 1:4, Paul says that we are chosen “in Christ.” It is our choice to get “into Christ” through faith and baptism. It is our choice to obey Christ so that He will be our author of eternal salvation. The Thessalonians had decided to obey Christ and so they were “in Christ.”
Being called into service makes us members of God’s “elect” people…
GOD’S PART - 2:13-14:
God had chosen the Thessalonians as “first fruits” of His harvest in Macedonia. That’s the meaning of the phrase “from the beginning.” We have some Christians here who have been members of Swartz Creek “from the beginning.”
This “calling,” Paul writes, happened “through the sanctification of the Spirit.” In John 17:17, Jesus states that we are sanctified through the Truth, which was revealed through the Holy Spirit. When we obey the word of the Spirit, we come to faith in Christ, we repent of our sins, and we are immersed into the waters of baptism for our sins to be washed away (Acts 22:16). That’s when we become “sanctified.”
But our calling also happened “by faith in the truth” (ver. 13); the word “gospel” (ver. 14) is a synonym for the truth. Paul took the gospel message to the Thessalonians. Everyone does not embrace the gospel message. Only those who accept it as truth and then act on that faith obey the gospel message.
Third, Paul says that we are called to salvation (ver 14) that we may gain the glory of the Lord. The more we obey the gospel of Christ, the more we live like Christ and the more we obtain His glory (cf. 2 Cor. 3:18). But, we will enjoy His glory in a fuller sense once we get to heaven (Rom. 8:18).
This is God’s part in our calling…
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
Were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
and every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Tho’ stretched from sky to sky.
F. M. Lehman in “The Love of God”
OUR DUTY IN THIS CALLING - 2:15-17:
We need to “stand firm!”
By holding to the “traditions” taught by the inspired men. “Traditions” means something “handed down.” Paul is referring to teachings which have been handed down from the Holy Spirit to the inspired men like Paul (cf. 1 Cor. 11:2).
Notice also that these traditions were taught by “letters.” These letters were those written by inspired men, the apostles of Christ and prophets who were guided by the Spirit of God in the first century.
We are all responsible for our own “calling.” We are responsible for knowing the Scriptures. It also means we are responsible for defending Christ’s teachings before others.
WE HAVE HELP FROM THE GODHEAD IN OUR FAITHFULNESS:
God is the only power capable of helping us stand firm against the devil. So Paul prays that Jesus and the Father will:
1.) Encourage our hearts (ver. 17).
2.) Strengthen our hearts (ver. 17).
a.) in every good work - helping the weak, visiting the sick, taking food, etc.
b.) in every good word - correcting those in sin, teaching those in ignorance, encouraging those who are discouraged.
Paul says don’t be disturbed about the time of the second coming. Yes, things are going to get worse and worse. But, we should keep our minds in the word of God, our feet with the brethren, our hands in the hands of Christ, and our eyes set on heaven!
Take home message: We don’t have to be fooled by this world’s deceptions. Christ tells us all we need to know. Let us stand firm in the gospel of Christ.