2 Thessalonians 2

1 The second topic Paul wanted to discuss also concerned the Day of the Lord when Jesus will return and the Resurrection will occur.
2 Apparently, reports were going around which declared that the Day of the Lord was going to happen immediately (the verb is present tense). Paul was worried that people who had believed these reports were having their faith shaken and were inwardly disoriented and panicking. These are not to be characteristics of Christians who are solidly grounded in their faith. Some people were probably upset by the thought of having missed the Resurrection.

Paul speaks of three ways these reports had or could have started. The first is a prophetic utterance. All throughout the Scriptures there are instances of prophetic charlatans. Since church groups were made up of people, it would also include those who where proud and wanted attention and some who did not know God, but acted as if they did. These would be prime candidates as people who would say something provocative to become the center of attention by appearing to have had a special spiritual revelation.

The second method is by a message, presumably an analytical approach to predicting when the end times will be. This is a methodology of taking the Scriptures and attempting to fit contemporary events into the symbolic parts of apocalyptic literature and coming to the conclusion that history is about to end. At this point in time, these analysts would have been using the Old Testament since the book of Revelation would not be written until a few decades after this letter.

In the modern church, there is a great deal of interest in the end times, and the use of "prophecies" and historical analysis are still used to generate a type of end-times hysteria within the church. The book of Revelation is particularly useful to "analysts" because it is rich in symbolism. As an aside, those who dismiss Revelation as a prophecy use analysis in the reverse manner as indicated here - they claim that Revelation was a discussion about the Roman occupation in the first century. It should be clear that "exact" interpretations based on a book rich in symbolism should be viewed skeptically. This does not mean that the symbols mean nothing, but we must be aware that the symbols will be unclear until that part of history begins to happen.

The final way this false report could have started would be with a forged letter from Paul. It is not clear from the passage whether this had indeed happened, or that Paul was worried that someone would do this to try to influence others to think a certain way.

3 The Thessalonians should not have been taken in by this report. There is a specific sequence of events that will occur before the Resurrection. The first event will be apostasy or rebellion. Although the world in general is considered to be in rebellion against God, this might refer to a notable and obvious uniting of the world against God and His people. Revelation speaks of a one-world religion, which will presumably try to unite and absorb all the religions of the world. It is not difficult to believe that nominally Christian people will disavow the core tenants of Christianity to join this movement, which would include at least some parts of the "church" in the apostasy. Those Christians who oppose the world religion will likely be seen as dangerous enough to persecute and kill (Rev 13:4-15).

Following this, the revelation of the "man of lawlessness," which may be Satan incarnate, will take place.

4 Throughout history, Satan has probably encouraged idolatry as a means to draw people away from God. Once he appears, though, even idol worship will be opposed so that all worship will be given to him alone. The man of lawlessness will place himself at the head of this one-world religion and declare that he is God. In fact, he will even make an appearance in the Jewish/Israeli Temple (which will apparently be rebuilt sometime in the future) and declare himself as God.

Scripture tells us elsewhere that Satan desires to overthrow God and assume that position himself. He was cast out of heaven for his rebellion, but will apparently be given the chance to act the part here on earth. He will be honored and worshiped by people and have the largest religious following in the world. He will be able to publicly declare himself as God and have few who would object. He will even choose to appear in the same place that God's Shekinah glory had been when He had made the Jerusalem Temple the place where His name dwelt among the Israelites. It will appear that Satan is "god on earth."

Revelation indicates that Satan will go further. His real ambition is to be "god of the universe." In some manner he feels he will be able to recruit the armies of the earth to fight the one true God. This is when Jesus will apparently come down, defeat Satan and his armies, and commence Judgment Day. At some point between the revelation of the man of lawlessness and Judgment Day, the Resurrection occurs.

Note that the study of the end times is very complicated because the entire sequence of events is not clearly laid out in Revelation or elsewhere in the Scriptures, so this is offered merely as a suggested scenario. It is dangerous so build a theology on end times literature, so beware of groups that either try to set a date for the Resurrection or separate themselves from other Christians based on how they believe the end times will come about. Our primary concern in this life is establishing a loving relationship with God, not speculation about the future. It is our relationship with God here on earth that will determine our destiny on Judgment Day, no matter how or when the events unfold.

5 These are matters that Paul had already told them about, so he is gently chastising them for having been gullible to a report that did not fit in with the known sequence of events.
6 Even though Paul must have told the Thessalonians what is currently restraining the man of lawlessness, he does not explicitly do so here. We might guess that it is God who restrains him, but the next verse indicates that "he" (the restrainer) will be taken away. Some commentators suggest that the restrainer might be the Holy Spirit who can be addressed in neuter and masculine terms, but other object because Paul is not otherwise so discrete about what the Holy Spirit does. Others suggest that it refers to God-ordained governing institutions - some specifically point to the Roman government (see Rom 13:1-5 - secular government, 1 Tim 1:8-11 - religious laws). However, the Roman government has long since fallen, and the man of lawlessness has not been revealed. One could argue that governments in general do not do a very good job of keeping evil in check - especially when they themselves become corrupted. Revelation indicates that human governors will freely give their authority to the man of lawlessness (Rev 17:12-13), but by this time it appears that he has already been "revealed" (Rev 13). Perhaps this verse refers to a designated angel who has been given charge to limit Satan's activity (possible example in Dan 10:12-13). At an appointed time, he will be relieved of his duty so that Satan's full influence can be felt on earth, as God sees fit before Judgment Day.
7 This passage sounds similar to John's discussion of the Antichrist in 1 John 2:18, 22, 4:3, and 2 John 1:7. There will apparently be one Antichrist (a.k.a. the man of lawlessness), but until he is revealed, the antichrist (lawless) influence will be at work in society.
8 In the Second Coming (epiphany), Jesus is pictured with a sword coming out of His mouth (Rev 1:13-16). Rev 19:20 does not specifically indicate that the sword is used against the beast (which represents the man of lawlessness, a.k.a., the Antichrist), so this verse provides a little more information about this part of the Final Battle.
9 Miracles seem few and far between in today's world. This has caused many to wonder if God exists, and if so, why He does not appear to perform the quantity of miracles described in the Bible either personally or though His people. When the man of lawlessness comes, he will be empowered by Satan to perform powerful miracles. These will likely be more than sleight-of-hand magic tricks. Our materialistically jaded society will be truly amazed at what he can do because he tap in to the power of the spiritual realm, of which most are unfamiliar with. All three of his abilities will be steeped in falsehood, however, and he will make them out to be more than they are.
10 There are some who long to see miracles happen, and they will flock to the man of lawlessness. Since he displays such power in a visible way, why not believe his claim to be God? The main difference will be that the miracles will be wicked. To speculate a little, these miracles may be directed at harming Christians or aiding in activities that would otherwise be considered evil. The world will likely be drawn to any kind of miracle regardless of how hideous or horrific. At the very least, the wickedness involves distracting people away from God. The Bible tells us that God is the only source of salvation. Therefore, when people reject God to follow the man of lawlessness, they forfeit their hope for heaven. Satan's activities of drawing people away from God are wicked, regardless of what form they take.
11 God does not make decisions for people, but He will often bolster whatever decision they have made. For instance, He promises to spiritually strengthen and impart wisdom to those who accept Him. For those who reject Him, however, He may influence them to increase in wickedness. One prominent example from Scripture was Pharaoh in Exodus. During the first few plagues on Egypt, Pharaoh hardened his own heart as he continued to reject God. Later on, however, the reader becomes exasperated as Pharaoh continued to reject God after increasingly significant evidence that He was sending the plagues. Pharaoh did not want to submit to God's will, but he might have given in out of shear weariness because of the plagues. In response, God intervened and hardened Pharaoh's heart so that all His plagues would be performed against the unbelieving Egyptians and He would be exalted in the eyes of Egypt, Israel, and the rest of the world (Exo 7:3-5, 9:12).

This verse indicates that God will do this during the end times. There is a long series of devastating plagues described in Revelation, yet even at the end, Satan and his remaining armies will gather in defiance of God, somehow believing that they can still defeat Him. It is a belief that seems to defy logic.

However, God is not interested in people submitting to Him out of coercion. He wants us to willingly submit to Him in a loving relationship, which He freely offers. Therefore, God will reinforce the unbelievers' delusion that they can stand against Him. Since they will have chosen the man of lawlessness to be their god, the true God will allow them to continue in their faith despite the painfully obvious evidence that this false god has no ability to stop the onslaught of plagues. These people are not hapless victims of Satan's influence - they have deliberately rejected God and tenaciously hold to Satan regardless of the consequences. In the end times, this delineation will be much more clear than it is today.

We are not told how, but true Christians will not be deceived along with the rest of the world (Mat 24:24-25). It could be a simple as having been warned ahead of time, so we will be aware of what is happening when we see it. It could certainly be the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts reminding us of what is right and wrong. The miracles may be so obviously wicked that they will be repugnant to Christians.

12 God does not do this to prevent people from being saved; He sends this influence on those who have already decided to reject Him. Like a magnifying glass makes small things more obvious to the human eye, so the deluding influence will make it more obvious who has rejected God. He does not change what is there; He simply makes it more pronounced. The unbelievers' increasing propensity for wickedness will clearly justify God's judgment of them.
13 Christians, in contrast, will escape God's judgment. It is certainly a reason to be thankful, not just for oneself, but for others as well.

The second part of this verse is one that could be used as support for the idea that predestination (or election) is equivalent to fatalism (from verses like Rom 8:29, as interpreted by Calvinists). However, it is important to keep this in context with the passage. The next verse speaks of God's "calling" to would-be Christians. It is clear from other passages that God calls all people, but relatively few respond positively (Mark 16:15-16, Rom 10:9-21). It is those who do respond to God in a loving manner who are chosen to be sanctified by the Holy Spirit and faith. In keeping with the previous verses, the Holy Spirit influences those who will believe even stronger. Some, like Moses and Paul, needed very strong persuasive tactics, but it is still obvious that the choice was ultimately theirs to make. The Truth is something that requires a response, and people must choose whether to accept it or not. Rejection of Truth does not make it any less real, so one must be very careful when determining whether to accept or reject something.

There are two ways to think of the phrase, "from the beginning." One would be that God's redemptive plan and methodology was laid out from the beginning of time (although Calvinists would read this as people being predestined). Another way is to look at this from the standpoint of the spread of the Gospel. The Thessalonians were among the first Gentiles to believe in Jesus. However, this letter was written during Paul's second missionary journey, the same in which the Thessalonian church was established, so this seems a less likely meaning.

14 God calls people to respond positively to the Gospel for the very purpose of sharing in the glory of Jesus. This glory is bestowed upon Christians through God's adoption. We become brothers and sisters with Christ. Jesus will always be greatest, being the firstborn Son who never sinned, but as "siblings" we attain, by grace, an exalted standing beside Him before God. We will share in the full and unhindered love of God in a relationship that will last forever.
15 A positive response to the Gospel requires acceptance of it, but the results of that acceptance, along with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, will transform the believer. The teachings of the Scriptures (and the verbal teachings of the apostles at that time) act as a guide. Understanding the workings and influences of the Holy Spirit in a believer's life is not easy, but while rules and laws do not bind Christians, these can be exceedingly helpful in letting us know what God's standards are. Christians should never commit prohibited activities like murder, adultery, etc., for instance, because the Law makes it very clear that these displease God. The proper motivation for Christians is to be to please God, not to follow rules and traditions for their own sake. If the believer feels motivated to do something that breaks a clear command of God, he can likely be assured that it is not the Spirit's influence in his life. Thus, holding to faith in Christ while being guided by the Holy Spirit and the revealed word of God in Scripture, the individual and the Church can stand firm.
16 Paul pauses a moment to share a short benediction (blessing). Perhaps he intended to end the letter here, but then later thought of the last topic he wanted to mention.

This benediction reminds Christians that Jesus is both our Lord and Christ (Messiah), and God is our Father. They have already shown their love towards us by giving us an eternal comfort and hope by grace. Grace is unmerited favor, that is, we did not have to work for these gifts. A person needs only to humbly receive what has been offered to attain eternal life with God.

17 Once saved, the believer has comfort because of the various promises of God. In response, we are to produce good works and words. We do not do these on our own, however. God strengthens us to do them through the power of the Holy Spirit. Works include any action that helps another person. Words include sharing the Gospel and our own personal testimony. Through these things, we are to display God's love to other for the purpose of strengthening those who already believe and drawing those who do not towards God.

The two parts of the benediction cover the main topics of the letter. Encouragement - especially as the Thessalonians endured persecution. Exhortation - advising them to have consistent Christian behavior.