Please read 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 in your Bible. I used the NLT to prepare these remarks.
The expression “spoiler alert” is a warning given that upcoming content will give away details of something that you won’t want to know about in advance. For example, if a website talks about the plot of a movie that you haven’t seen yet but want to, the warning “spoiler alert” will help you avoid spoiling the movie by knowing in advance what will happen.
This morning we’re going to turn this expression around backwards. We’re going to take a look at a passage that alerts us to someone that wants to spoil our relationship with God. Paul refers here to a MAN OF LAWLESSNESS. In his epistles, John referred to an Anti-Christ(s). Jesus warned of false Christs or messiahs. Whether this all refers to a single individual or a movement of godlessness, we are being alerted to opposition to the truth and persecution of God’s people as a sign of the end of this age of history.
The coming of the MAN OF LAWLESSNESS is an obvious sign Jesus’ Second Coming is near.
1. It is a fact that Jesus is coming again: take precautions. (1-3, 5)
A purpose of the Second Coming; Jesus will gather His people to Himself. (1) Jesus’ second Coming is the paramount event of the End Times and of these letters. Paul’s chief concern in writing to the Thessalonians was to correct and clarify what they needed to know about the Second Coming. We need to remember this discussion of the MAN OF LAWLESSNESS is not the main thing. Jesus is coming again; that is the main thing.
The striking thing about this man is how he will stand for everything that is directly opposite of Jesus; that relates him to John’s term, the “Antichrist.” It will be his ambition to replace Christ, becoming an object of worship. Indeed, he want to become the ONLY object of worship for all humanity.
Jesus’ followers are not to be troubled by the MAN OF LAWLESSNESS’ machinations. He will do nothing outside of what God allows. We have been forewarned by Jesus and the Apostles, so we don’t need to be anxious when a time of antagonism of God and persecution of the Church comes to the fore. God will use the chaos the MAN creates to draw a line in the sand that will divide everyone who belongs to God from those who’ve rejected him.
Paul wanted to comfort them with the truth and admonish them to not be alarmed by misinformation. His message to the Thessalonians and to us is to know the truth and thereby avoid anxiety about the future.
To that end, Paul reeled off three “don’ts:” DON’T BE SO EASILY SHAKEN OR ALARMED (2), DON’T BELIEVE THEM (2), and DON’T BE FOOLED (3). In this case, the specific falsehood being spun by false teachers was that the DAY OF THE LORD had ALREADY BEGUN. Imagine how terrifying it would be to be told Jesus had already returned and you missed out.
This false teaching was supported by false evidence of three kinds. One, “spiritual visions.” Anyone can claim to have a SPIRITUAL VISION; even if genuine, it is a wholly subjective experience that cannot be proven nor offered in proof. At best, a VISION can serve to illustrate or support a truth already revealed plainly in the Bible.
Two, a REVELATION, which sounds very similar to a VISION. And three, a letter falsely attributed to Paul. Read 3:17, where Paul verified his authorship of this letter by writing a concluding greeting in his own handwriting. Paul often relied on a secretary to write out the words he was inspired to give to the churches; such letters might be easily counterfeited.
The believers in Thessalonica could trust Paul’s teaching because it hadn’t changed in the time he’d know them. (5) This implies that there was more to Paul’s eschatology than what appears here: he appealed to their memory rather than repeat all of it. (See 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 3:4; 4:1; 5:1-2) This consistency was meant to inspire confidence in Paul’s teaching. His teaching could be trusted because it did not vary. After all, inconsistency is often a sign of falsehood.
2. How we can recognize the MAN OF LAWLESSNESS. (3-4, 9-12)
He will be revealed during a period of GREAT REBELLION AGAINST GOD. (3) This phrase translates a single Greek word: apostasia. This word was used for rebellion against civil authorities or a public defection from a religious belief. (See 1 Timothy 4:1) This is in line with Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 24:11-14, Jesus predicted widespread apostasy occurring before the end of the age.
He will be destructive. (3) The NLT translates this as the MAN OF LAWLESSNESS being an agent of destruction. That is the most literal translation of the Greek, “the son of destruction.” Other versions translate this verse as the MAN being destined for destruction. This fits with verse eight. Both points of view are correct and should encourage Christians to be courageous.
He will exalt himself to the point of attempting to replace God. (4) Paul wrote that the MAN would defy EVERY OBJECT OF WORSHIP. This is another way of saying “idol,” as Paul used in Acts 17:23, referring to the idols of Athens.
He will set himself up in the TEMPLE OF GOD, claiming to be God. To which TEMPLE does Paul refer? It could be the temple in Jerusalem, a pagan temple, or in the Church (Paul refers elsewhere to the Church as the “temple of God”). The Greek word here (naos), was used by New Testament writers to refer to Most Holy Place in the temple, the part where God Himself promised to be present.
In verse four Paul evoked Daniel 11 where a ruler sets himself against God and does a blasphemous act called the “abomination of desecration” in the temple. (See Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14) At least part of Daniel’s prophecy was fulfilled in history by the Seleucid King Antiochus IV, who called himself “Epiphanes,” meaning “god manifest.” The Jews mocked him as “Epimanes,” (the madman). He profaned the temple in Jerusalem in 169 B.C. Paul used this horrible event in Jewish history as an example of how bad the MAN OF LAWLESSNESS would be.
However, just a decade before Paul wrote this letter (40-41 AD) the Roman Emperor Caligula had ordered his statue set up in the temple in Jerusalem. However, he died before the act of desecration was enacted. This event may have had more relevance to Paul’s Gentile readers that Antiochus IV’s act of desecration.
He will do Satan’s deceptive work. (9-12) In Paul’s letters to Timothy, EVIL DECEPTIONS are also cited as a sign of Jesus’ second Coming. (See 1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 3:1). He will offer false SIGNS & MIRACLES and EVERY KIND OF EVIL DECEPTION in order to “prove” his false teaching. According to Old Testament Law, signs and miracles were one way for a prophet to prove he legitimately spoke for God. Of course, any truth can and will be perverted by Satan to make a lie. (See 1 Thessalonians 2:18; 3:5)
However, only those persons who are already ON THEIR WAY TO DESTRUCTION will be fooled. They put themselves on a path of DESTRUCTION by refusing God’s LOVE and the TRUTH THAT WOULD SAVE THEM. God will give them what they want; being GREATLY DECEIVED, they will believe the LIES of t MAN OF LAWLESSNESS. Their choice to enjoy EVIL rather than believe the TRUTH will result in their condemnation.
3. Good news regarding this bad man. (6-8)
He is being held back until the day of his revealing. (6-7) The choice of pronouns in the Greek may be instructive as to who is holding back the MAN OF LAWLESSNESS. YOU KNOW WHAT (neuter pronoun in v. 6)/WHO (masculine pronoun in v. 7) IS RESTRAINING HIM. The word for RESTRAINING can also be translated as “possessing,” which is meant to be reassuring. It implies that God is in total control of the situation, no matter how much it may feel that LAWLESSNESS rules. The choice of pronouns implies the RESTRAINING agent is the Holy Spirit in v. 6 (referred to with neuter words) and Christ in v. 7 (referred to with masculine words). Taken together, this implies that it is God who restrains Satan. We speculate that there will be an increase of ungodliness in the last days before the second Coming because that restraint will be temporarily withdrawn. (See Revelation 20:3, 7-10.)
The words IN HIS TIME in verse six refer to the sovereign timing of God, who is working all things to their intended outcome, the end of this age and the New Creation. Compare this with verse two where we learned that the false teachers said the DAY OF THE LORD had already happened; Paul disputed this. He added in verse seven that God was ALREADY AT WORK restraining LAWLESSNESS until He decides to allow the MAN OF LAWLESSNESS to be revealed. Until that time of revelation, the whole thing will be a MYSTERY, remaining SECRET.
He will be destroyed by the Lord Jesus. (8) The MAN OF LAWLESSNESS will appear when God allows him to appear (6). Though he will deceive people, they are all guilty, choosing a lie more appealing to them than the truth about God.
The deceitful MAN OF LAWLESSNESS will have temporary influence. When he has served his purpose of drawing the line between the people of God and Satan’s followers, he will be destroyed. His doom will come about at the end of this age. This was expressed in two ways: One, he will be slain by THE LORD JESUS ... WITH THE BREATH OF HIS MOUTH: Judgment Day. This statement is based on Isaiah 11:4. He will be destroyed by THE SPLENDOR of Jesus’ Second COMING.
The coming of the MAN OF LAWLESSNESS is an obvious sign Jesus’ Second Coming is near.
In this passage, Paul follows the example of Jesus in the particulars of detail but also in the general purpose of the teaching. Both Jesus and Paul taught about signs of the end times not to fuel mountains of speculation, but to alert people, to prepare His followers for those events.
So rather than argue about which interpretation is most correct, I think the most important question for evaluating end times doctrine is this: “How does this prepare me for Jesus’ Second Coming?” Everything we talk about in relation to the last things should somehow prepare us. It should not just be information. This is serious, not just a head trip.
Good teaching will make us more eager, more hopeful, more attentive, and get us thinking about Jesus’ return more often. So the question we need to ask about this teaching about the MAN OF LAWLESSNESS is this: “How does this prepare us for Jesus’ Second Coming?”
The text itself provides the answer: we must not be intimidated by the prospect of persecution. We must not be deterred by evil becoming more popular and widely practiced. We must not be afraid of the MAN OF LAWLESSNESS. We have been warned. We don’t need to be surprised.
The best preparation in this passage is the promise that Jesus is coming again. When He comes again, evil will be destroyed. After trying times, the New Creation will be opened up to us. The bad news will be temporary, the good news is eternal!
Commentary from https://www.crossway.org/articles/who-is-the-man-of-lawlessness-2-thessalonians-23-10/, retrieved on January 31, 2023.
Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol. 16, 1-2 Thessalonians, 2008, Philip W. Comfort.