Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

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The Man of Lawlessness

2Thessalonians 2:1-12

For some Christians, discussion of the End Times and the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ are a popular pastime, a hobby even. Some pastors have even held yearly “Prophecy Updates” where they hold up a spiritual thermometer to tell how close we are to the return of the Lord. I think this sort of thing was more prominent in the 1980s and heightened by books like “88 Reasons why Jesus will Return in 1988”. But despite the obvious failure to accurately predict the Second Coming, the subject still finds a ready audience today. The Thessalonians too were very interested in the Second Coming of Jesus. The interest had grown to a sort of fever pitch—and cascaded into a false assumption that the events detailing the Second Coming had already occurred.

Paul, in Chapter 2 of 2 Thessalonians, seeks to dispel the rumors and misinterpretation of his message by detailing an atmosphere, a man, and an attitude that will absolutely mark the time of the near return of the Lord. It also gives us some clarity when we think about why some people will go to heaven while others will not.

1 – 2

The topic is the Day of the Lord. I describe what the Day of the Lord means in our study of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11. It is really a series of events over time that represent when God once again directly intervenes in human affairs and retakes ownership of Planet Earth. This includes the Rapture of the church (“being gathered to Him” in verse 1), the emergence of the Antichrist during the last seven years of earth’s history, and the battle and final judgment of those who rebel against God.

Apparently, what happened was that either the Thessalonians had misinterpreted something Paul said in 1 Thessalonians, or they’d received something by way of prophecy or another letter alleged to have come from Paul, to the effect that the events of the Day of the Lord had already happened. Paul had told them in 1 Thessalonians 5:20 not to “despise prophecies” but had also told them to “test all things, hold on to what is good, stay away from every kind of evil.”

The result was that they “upset” and “troubled”. The words mean: “shaken” and “frightened.” Given the persecutions and afflictions they faced, it’s no wonder they became greatly concerned. God was supposed to right all the wrongs and fight against the enemy and then rescue them from their plight. Clearly from their current circumstances that had not happened.

So, Paul outlines for them some very specific things that must take place prior to and during the time leading up to the Day of the Lord. Items 1 & 2 are the Great Apostasy and the Antichrist.

3 – 4

Whoever was leading them to believe that the Day of the Lord had already come was “deceiving” them. Paul wants them to have a clear vision over the people and events leading up to the Second Coming.

The first he calls “the apostasy”. The word means “to defect from the truth.” Essentially this means that people will in great numbers reject the gospel of Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said “I am the Way the Truth and the Life.” (John 14:6). Further, John said in John 1:17 “For the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”

Of course, there have been those who have rejected the gospel and the truth of Jesus ever since He walked the earth. This event is something special, something large, something wholesale. Are we seeing this today? Church attendance across this nation is down dramatically. Many younger people are finding no home in the existing church at all. While I find this very troubling, I think it is a birth pang, rather than the actual Great Apostasy.

For my money, I think the Rapture of the church will signal the beginning of the falling away Paul describes. As we’ll see here in a moment, there is a restraining force that is keeping the events and people of the Tribulation at bay. But when the church leaves this planet, the restraints go with us. Satan will add to the absence of the church and its insistence on the character of God and supremacy of Jesus—a lie so powerful as to be nearly irresistible. In that time, I think churches will be empty and people will be finally free of those “narrow minded” Christians to follow what their flesh demands: self-promotion and reliance without the worry of God watching over their shoulders.

This is the perfect atmosphere for the coming of a man to personify this attitude—the man known as the Antichrist. Verses 3 and 4 are packed with information about this person. Though Paul does not name him as the Antichrist, it is abundantly clear that it’s one and the same.

Paul describes him in four ways: two character traits and two actions that reveal his true character.

  • Man of lawlessness.

The main characteristic of this man is that he is opposed to God’s righteous Law. That Law is epitomized by Jesus in Mark 12: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” The opposite of that might be: “Hate God and all He stands for with every fiber of your being and make sure you get what you want, no matter what happens to anyone else!”

This man will be indwelt by Satan and will oppose the Messiah Jesus. Much of what Paul writes here coincides with Daniel. I’ve linked to a couple of interesting articles about the Antichrist both in terms of who is he and how Scripture speaks about him, especially the Book of the Revelation (Chapter 13)  and the prophecy of Daniel (Chapter 7, 8:9-12, 11:36-37).

  • Son of destruction

This can also be translated “son of perdition” – the same term used of Judas Iscariot (John 17:12). This tells us his end and his manner. He may come as a man of peace but will end up causing great destruction until he himself is destroyed.

  • He opposes.

The Antichrist not only opposes God’s Law but opposes anything other than the worship of him as god just like Satan. Isaiah 14:12-15 talks about him in this way: “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.” So, it’s no wonder that Satan’s false messiah would claim to be god and be worshipped as god.

  • Sits in the Temple claiming to be god

Now we get pretty heavily into End times prophecy. What Paul is speaking of here is an event that takes place midway through the last 7 years of Earth’s history known as the Tribulation – a period I believe the church will not see because it will be raptured away. The Antichrist makes a covenant that solves the Mideast crisis but halfway through installs himself in the rebuilt Jewish temple and claims to be god. Daniel 9:27 says: "And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”

Other Scriptures that describe this include: Daniel 11:31, 36-37, 12:11, Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14.

5 – 8a

I sure wish we had Paul’s study notes from his time in Thessalonica. He recalls stuff he’s already talked about. Then launches into what I think is a truly fascinating section. The unveiling of the Antichrist is being held back by a force and a person. It is a “what” in verse 6 and a “he” in verse 7. While many have theorized about the identity of this force—the Roman Empire, world domination, etc. I think the best explanation is the Holy Spirit (which can be referred to as masculine or neuter). The Spirit came at Pentecost and will leave at the Rapture—reverting to His role among men as in the Old Testament days—only coming upon selected individuals for special purposes (like the Two Witnesses of Revelation 10).

Lawlessness is evident in every generation but the lawless one is still a mystery until he is revealed.

8b

Paul doesn’t spend a great deal of time on the character or actions of the Antichrist, but does want the Thessalonians to know his destiny and the way he will be defeated. Here it says “The Lord Jesus will destroy him with the breath of His mouth.”

This is also revealed in Revelation 19:15: “A sharp sword came from His mouth, so that He might strike the nations with it.” Satan and his hosts may appear strong, but all it takes is a word from Jesus and he’s done in.

Secondly, he is destroyed by the “brightness of His coming.” At the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus appears very bright to the disciples (Luke 9:29). Also in Revelation 1:12-16 Jesus is described as having blazing eyes and a face “like the sun in all its brilliance.”

In the end, there won’t be this monumental struggle between Jesus and Satan—a pitched battle like you see in so many of the martial arts movies where each throws punches and you don’t know who is going to come out on top in the end. As it turns out, Jesus merely shows up on the scene and speak a word—and it’s all over. That’s the Lord we serve.

9 – 12

Let’s look at this section from end to beginning. We have this man of lawlessness. He comes and people will love him. As John pointed out to us in John 3:19 "This, then, is the judgment: The light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.” On our own, we love self-determination—lawlessness.

So, in comes this guy who opposes God’s Law. He is powerful (the Greek “working” is reserved for supernatural power) and does miracles. Remember, Matthew 7:22 and following when people will come to Jesus and say that they did many miracles in His name—but they were false and they didn’t know Him so are cast out from His presence.

The work of this man will be in league with Satan’s desires—to push people as far away from the Messiah Jesus as possible. He will propose a lie and God will actually enhance that lie in the minds of those who want to accept it.

Isn’t this unfair? Not at all. An example of how this happens is Pharaoh. In Exodus, it says that 7 times Pharaoh hardened his heart, then 7 times God hardened his heart. I call this the God Enhanced Heart and you can read more about it on the web in my study in Exodus. The point is: in the end, you get what you want, and God will help you get there though that would not be His desire (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9).

Conclusions

What does this have to do with Palm Sunday? Everything, actually. Palm Sunday is what we might call the First Coming of Jesus Christ. It was His introduction as the Messiah to the Jews and to the world. That’s the only coming the Thessalonians knew. And facing the persecutions and afflictions they were, it might lead them to believe that they would never be rescued.

Paul lets them know that evil will get worse but no matter how bad it will be defeated by Jesus. He came in weakness but He will return in strength. He came as a suffering savior but will return as a conquering King. He rode in on a donkey’s colt but will return on a white horse. At His first coming, He did not open His mouth in defense (Isaiah 53:7) but He in His second He will speak and destroy the enemy.

This should bring great hope to us who are undergoing suffering as well.

But it also leads to this question: where is your love? Is it in opposition to God or do you recognize that He is pure and that you have offended Him by your sins (Psalm 51:4)? Rejecting Him may seem easy now but we need to let this dose of truth into our minds—the leader of lawlessness will be brought to nothing along with all those who believe the lie that we don’t need a savior. 

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