About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

Home Page

2 Thessalonias 2

Previous Section - Chpate 1

Next Section  - Chatper 3 

ch. 2:1-12    ch. 2:13-17

The Man Of Lawlessness (ch. 2:1 - 12)


2 Thessalonians, chapter 2, is one famous passage when it comes to prophecy, especially for Prophetic Futurists.  In Acts 17:1 - 9 we see Paul visiting Thessalonica.  It appears from the text that he is only in that city for three weeks.  It appears that he must have spoken much about the return of Jesus to earth because both this letter and his first letter have much to say on the subject.  That would tell me that prophecy was important to Paul. 


Paul begins chapter 2 with the words “concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him…”  This gathering together of all Christians to meet Jesus is what Paul spoke about in his first letter when he said that the dead in Christ would rise first and those who are left would rise to meet Him in the air.  See 2 Thessalonians 4:13 - 18.


 Note here that there are two aspects spoken concerning the return of Jesus that Paul is addressing.  They are; "Jesus' coming", and the saints "being gathered together".  Many Prophetic Futurists see the saints being gathered as the rapture of the church, or Christians, before the tribulation period that ends this age.  This is definitely a rapture.  The question is just, when does this rapture take place.  Some believe it takes place before the last seven years of the age.  Some believe it will take place at the middle point of the tribulation.  Others believe it will take place at the end of the tribulation. 


The other point Paul makes here concerns the coming of our Lord Jesus back to earth.  There is no debate over that fact. 


Verse 2 implies that there had been someone, either through a prophecy, or some other kind of report, which includes a false letter from Paul, saying that “the day of the Lord has already come.”  Someone was trying to tell these people that the gathering together of the saints and Jesus' return had already happened, and they had missed it.  Paul is discounting these rumors in the following verses.


Note that Paul speaks of the Day of the Lord.  In Biblical terms, the Day of the Lord can be seen in at least three ways.  One way is the exact day when Jesus returns to earth to set up His kingdom on earth.   Another way is the Day of Judgment, otherwise known as the Great White Throne Judgment as seen in Revelation 20.  Then, the Day of the Lord is often seen the time of jedgment known as the Great Tribulation.  


In verse 3 Paul goes as far as to say that whoever is spreading such teaching is trying to “deceive” these people of Thessalonica.  Paul’s instruction here is to clarify certain facts about the second coming of Christ.


We know from various Scriptures, Revelation 20:1 - 3 for example, that satan is the one who ultimately deceives people and nations.  I would not be surprised if Paul believed the deception was straight from the devil.  


Paul goes on to say that Jesus will not return to earth until “the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed; the man doomed to destruction”.  Remember, Paul, when he had visited these people told them all about the second coming of Jesus.  Here in this letter he only reminds them of a few of the facts; not all of the facts.  In verse 5 he says, “Don’t you remember that when I was with you, I used to tell you of these things”.  I wish that Paul had of reminded them of more of these particular facts in this letter.  It would have clarified many questions that Christians have asked over the years.  It would have ended so many debates.


We need to ask two questions.  What does the rebellion mean?  Who is the lawless man?  In this particular letter Paul does not explain his words concerning some kind of future rebellion.  People’s theology on this point comes from their interpretation of other Scriptures that they link to this verse. 


I believe the NIV makes the rebellion a bit vague.  In my Greek text it states a falling away that must "first" come.  The Greek word translated as "first" in some translations does not appear in the NIV, although some will say it is implied.  One might think that the lawless one leads the rebellion, when in fact that rebellion, or the apostasy, must come first.  The rebellion or apostasy paves the way for the lawless one to appear on the scene.  


This is how I presently see this.  Christian influence slowly disappears from society, as it is doing now.  This is the apostasy or the falling away.  Then, when there is no longer a Christian consensus, the lawless one will have an easy time coming on the scene and taking over.  There will be little opposition to him because of this apostasy, because there will be little to no Christian influence.  This is what is clearly happening in the world today.     


Once the lawless man appears in the world he will further the rebellion against God.  The rebellion against God won't appear to be a rebellion against God right away, but as is seen in the book of Revelation, the final fight will be against God.


This lawless one, popularly known as the anti-Christ, has no respect for God’s laws.  That's why he is called the lawless one.  In verse 4 we see that he is “doomed to destruction”.  Before he is destroyed, he will lead this rebellion. “He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple proclaiming himself to be God”.


In verse 4 we see that this lawless man will oppose not only God, but everything that is called God.  He will set himself up as the chief religious leader in the world.  That means he would take control of not just the Christian church, but the Catholic church, Muslim's, Hindus, and every other religion.  You can see things shaping up for such a take over now.  Back in the 1960's Time Magazine pronounced that God is dead.  Well, He has now been resurrected because much of the talk in the news these days concerns religion and religious struggles.  There's lots of talk about God these days.  He is no longer dead in the minds of many.  This lawless man will get tired of this talk and declare himself as the chief over all religions.  You see this in Revelation 13.  He will appoint a false prophet to represent him in the world of religion.  


Verse 4 also says that the lawless man will set himself up in the " temple of God ".  There has been much debate over this.  Some people view the temple spoken of here as the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem .  Others say it is the church.  I tend to believe this temple to be a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem .  This thought is popular among Prophetic Futurists. 


Prophetic Futurists believe, because of Daniel 9, that the anti-Christ will help Israelis rebuild their temple.  In the middle of the last seven years of this age, he will go against the Jews and defile the temple with his presence, proclaiming that he himself is God. 


If this is the case, we should realize that this temple is not God's will.  It is man's will.  You might then ask why Paul would actually call it the temple of God if God has nothing to do with it.  Well, I would suggest that God had nothing to do with the temple in Jerusalem when Jesus overthrew the money changers.  The temple was actually called Herod's Temple because Herod the Great, who was half Jew and half Gentile, built it, and, he built it nothing like the original temple.  Therefore, it really was Herod's Temple , and, it was not a temple of prayer, but of commerce.  That's what got Jesus so upset.  Even though the temple really wasn't God's temple, Jesus still called it His Father's house.  So it will be with this rebuilt temple in the last seven years of this age.  It won't be God's temple, but like Herod's Temple , it is viewed as God's house.                 


In verse 5 Paul reminds these people that he told them all about these things when he was with them, and he was not with them long; only three weeks as seen in Acts 17.  Again, Paul must have believed that end time teaching was important enough for him to teach these people all he knew on the subject in just three weeks.  As I said before, I wish I had the notes from Paul's "in person" teaching on these things.  Most of what we debate over concerning end times as Christians would be answered is we had such notes.     


In verse 6 Paul says, “Now you know what is holding him back so that he will be revealed at the proper time”.  These people knew what Paul was speaking about because he taught them about it.  I'm sure they knew who was holding this lawless one back.  Paul didn't seem to feel the need to remind them of that.  That's too bad.  It would have cleared up many problems if he had have reminded these people who the one was holding the lawless one back.  The things that are not said here by Paul are probably designed by the Lord.  It makes us trust Him, as well as it makes us keep our eyes open.


In verse 6 the pronouns "him" and "he"  refers back to this lawless man.  The lawless man is a "he" and not a nation or a world system as some think.  The lawless one is also not a she, as in a female.


Concerning the phrase "proper time",  God has a timetable of events.  Nothing happens to soon or too late.  The anti-christ will appear in the world exactly when God wants him to appear. We note in Revelation 11:9 that the beast is allowed to come out of the Abyss.  Prophetic Futurists believe the beast to be the anti-Christ.  In Revelation 13 we see that the beast, or, the anti-Christ, at this moment in time gets his authority, power, and abilities from the devil himself.  I'll come back to this.   


I think the word "reveal" might mean something here.  To reveal something is to unveil something that has been in existence but now is being shown.  I think God is the one ultimately responsible for revealing or unveiling the anti-christ because he is a tool to bring about God's judgment on the earth and the end of this age.  That being said, it might be implied in Revelation 13 that it is satan who does God's work for God.  It appears to be satan who tells the beast, or the anti-Christ, to come on the scene. 


In verse 7 Paul says that even now, before these upcoming events “the secret power of lawlessness is already at work”. In 1 John 2:18 John says something similar.  He speaks of the anti-Christ that will come, yet at his writing, the spirit of anti-christ was already working in the world.  This most likely is what Paul is getting at here.  The spirit of the lawless one, most likely meaning the devil, is at work in the world right now as Paul was writing these words.


The word "secret" implies that the spirit of anti-christ can't be seen.  He is working behind the scene.  Of course, that is true.  The secular man can't see what is happening, but the intelligent Christian can.


The rest of verse 7 says, “But the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way”.  The previous verse uses the impersonal word “what”, that is, some thing is holding this lawless man back.  This verse says that “one”, a personal pronoun, suggesting a person is holding the lawless one back.  The word “it” in the verse is impersonal, most likely referring to the “secret power of lawlessness”, not the “lawless man”, but, what does the pronoun “he” refers to in this sentence. That is to say, “one” is holding “it” (lawless power) back until  “he” is taken out of the way.  Who is “he”? The “he” is referring to the one dong the restraining, because Paul goes on to say, “and then the lawless one will be revealed”.  When “he”, the restrainer is taken out of the way, then the lawless one can appear in world history, until then, only the secret power of lawlessness is at work.  


The majority view among Prophetic Futurists is that the presence of the church is holding the anti-Christ back.  These people believe that there is a Great Tribulation period to come and at some point before it begins, the church will be raptured away to escape the troubles of that day.  So, they believe the "he" refers to the church.


Some Prophetic Futurists say the "he" who is restraining the anti-Christ is the Holy Spirit. It's the Holy Spirit holding the man of sin back, but how can the Holy Spirit be taken out of the way.  God is everywhere at all times.  So, how can He be removed from the earth? 


Others combine these two ways of thinking by saying the Holy Spirit within the church is holding him back  and when the church is raptured the Holy Spirit is raptured too.  We have the same thinking here with the absence of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit cannot be taken away from anywhere.  He is everywhere and at all times.  That is the very nature of who God is.     


Some people also say the Roman Empire in Paul's day was restraining this lawless man, and this is why Paul is being vague. He does not want to clearly state this due to present persecution. Others have said that the Jewish State itself was holding this man back. I can't see that either the Roman Empire or the Jewish state is the one holding the lawless one back.  Both are "it's", not a "he".  Some might get around this by saying it isn't the Roman Empire , but Caesar who is doing the holding back.


Another way of thinking that is not so popular, but I believe does have some validity.  That which holds the anti-Christ back is the Abyss as seen in Revelation 14.  I'll explain.  


 The Greek word translated as "holing back", or, "restrain" is translated from a word meaning "to fasten too".  In Revelation 13 we note that the beast, that is, the anti-Christ comes out of the Abyss.  In one sense of the word, he is fastened to the Abyss.   Here in 2 Thessalonians 2:7 Paul says that the "one" holding lawlessness back must be taken out of the way before the anti-Christ can come onto the world scene.  The word "one" is a neuter noun.  It's not a masculine noun.  You can easily say, "That which holds lawlessness back.  Since the noun is neuter, it is a thing that holds lawlessness back, and, that thing might well be the Abyss, that is seen holding the anti-Christ back in Revelation 13.     


We do know that something, or someone, is preventing this lawless man from appearing in the world and creating the ultimate rebellion, until “the proper time” comes.  THE use of the words “proper time” suggests that God has a proper time for these things to happen and that He is in charge of these events.  This means that God Himself has power over this lawless man and the rebellion that he will instigate is part of God’s plan of judgment.  Really, God is using this lawless man for his own purpose.  God often uses His enemies as an agent to have His will come to pass on earth. 


We see in verse 8 that the lawless one is revealed, then Jesus Himself will destroy him, simply by His return to earth, and with “the breath of His mouth”, or “spirit of His mouth.  The Greek word “pnuema” is the word translated as “breath” here, but is also the word we translate as “spirit” in the New Testament.  There won't be a big fight between Jesus and satan.  It's all over for the anti-Christ and satan in a split second.    


In verse 9 Paul continues by saying “the coming of the lawless one is in accordance with the work of satan”.  This tells me that the lawless one is not satan, but one who works with satan, which would fit the description of a man, an anti-christ.  Again, this is clearly seen in Revelation 13.


This lawless one Paul says will do many spectacular miracles and will “deceive those who are perishing”.  This is important when we are trying to figure out who the anti-christ really is.  When a man of power begins to do miracles, then you will know.   Note that it is the unbeliever that will be deceived.  We as Christians should not be deceived. 


In verse 10 Paul says that “it is every sort of evil” that will deceive those who are perishing.  This man will have the power to promote every kind of evil activity, maybe more than we have ever known in world history.  Those who are perishing will be caught up in this evil and will not see the truth of the gospel.  Most Prophetic Futurists don't believe Christians will be around to be deceived by the anti-Christ.  Either we will have been raptured prior to the last seven years of this age or in the middle of the last seven years. 


Most Prophetic Futurists believe the first seal that is open in Revelation 6 is the anti-Christ, but he is the anti-christ without the power and authority of the devil.  That comes in Revelation 13.    


In verse 10 Paul says “that they are perishing because they refused to love the truth”, that is, the truth of the gospel of Jesus.  We as Christians should have a real love for the truth of Scripture, but in our post-modern church, this is not the case.   


Verse 11 is interesting.  It says, “For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie, and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness”. We see God Himself sending people a “powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie” of the lawless one.  God is actually encouraging these people, and even helping them to follow this man of sin, as the KJV version calls him.  The reason why God is doing this is because previously these people chose not to follow the truth but gave themselves to wickedness.  It is God’s prerogative to do what He wishes to do with His creation, and in this instance He chooses to influence sinners to believe the great lie of the lawless one. Some may suggest that this is a reason for a pre-tribulation rapture, since God would do such a thing.  Why would He condemn people while Christian activity is still on the earth?  Why would He condemn someone while we are trying to save the same people?  Once again, the text does not say this.  This way of thinking would only be speculation.  We should stick to the words of the text.


In case you are wondering why God would cause people to believe a lie, Paul addresses this in Romans 1.  Paul basically says that if someone wants to persist in his sin, God will just hand the person over to his sin and the person will reap God's judgment.  Here in 2 Thessalonians, if someone persists in not believing the truth, God will simply hand that person over to satan's lie.  In other words God will hand people over to their sinfulness, if that is what they want.  God says, "if you want to sin, go ahead, sin all you want and as often as you want.  Just remember, there are consequences."   This shows us how important the love for the truth is.   


Verse 12 says that "all will be condemned", that is, "all who have delighted in wickedness."   Note here the word "delight'.   Mankind delights in doing wicked things.  This will be the nature of man at the end of this age, as it is fast becoming now.  Men and women throughout the world are delighting in all sorts of ungodliness.  It is a sign of the time.  Our hedonistic lifestyles are exactly what Paul is talking about here. 


Here is a summery of this chapter.  Before Jesus can return there will be “the rebellion”, a forsaking of the ways of God, which paves the way for the lawless one.  After that the "lawless one” will be revealed to those on earth.  Yet there is “one holding” the “lawless one, and the power of lawlessness” back at the moment.  At some point “he”, (the one holding the lawless one back) will be removed, which releases the lawless one to work miraculous signs and wonders along with doing great evil, deceiving those who are perishing.  He will try to set himself up as God in God’s temple, yet at the return of Jesus he will be destroyed with everlasting destruction.


Concerning this lawless one who I believe is the anti-Christ; we need to understand, from a variety of other passages, that he is like an angel of light.  He is a very attractive and well liked man.  What he promotes will be logical and loving for our world.  He will come in the name of love and unity, something we all want.  His message will be readily accepted by the world, because it is what the world will desperately need at the time.  My point here is simple.  The anti-christ will not appear as an evil man.  He will appear as the savior of the world, and most in the world will be glad to see him come.  


Stand Firm (ch. 2:13 - 17)


In verse 13 Paul says that he thanks God for these people. The reason he gives for this thankfulness is that “from the beginning God chose you”, meaning, the Thessalonians.  What does Paul mean by the words, “from the beginning”?  It is my thinking that these words refer to time prior to creation.  We see Paul use such language in other of his writings.  This brings up the subject of predestination.  Does God choose certain people and not choose other people? 


For a detailed explanation you can refer to
my commentary on Romans 8:29 and 30 concerning predestination.  In short these verses say that God calls people, and then justifies them, and then He glorifies them. God has predestined to call everyone to salvation.  This is where predestination comes in.  He chooses and calls everyone, yet only the ones who respond to His call will subsequently be justified and glorified.  Justification is our salvation and glorification is our final salvation when Jesus returns for us.


Paul says that these people are saved “through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and belief in the truth”.  “Belief in the truth”, means faith in Jesus and His gospel, or trusting Him alone for our salvation.  Belief in Scripture means more than simply mentally agreeing with the truth, but actually giving yourself to the truth, that is Jesus Himself.  Once you have given yourself to the truth, God’s Spirit comes to reside within you, beginning the sanctifying process.  This is a process, not a one time experience as some claim.  It lasts a lifetime.


Paul goes on to say in verse 14 just how God “called” these people.  The way in which God called the Thessalonians was through the preaching of "our gospel".  Once again, referring back to Romans, in chapter 10, it is clear that preaching is extremely important.  It is the preaching of the gospel that God uses to bring people to Him, as foolish as that may seem. 


Then, once people have given themselves to the gospel, “they will share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ”.  There is a partial present day glory to share in, yet as we have seen in the last chapter, and in Paul’s first letter to these people, the real glory comes when Jesus returns for us.  “He will be glorified in His people”. (ch. 1:10) We will share in this glory. 


Note the words "our gospel".  Some have made too much of these words.  They believe that Paul had his gospel.  Peter had his gospel, and each apostle had their own gospel.  This is far from the truth.  There is one gospel, and that is the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  All the early apostles, including Paul, spoke Jesus' gospel.  Those who say that each apostle has his own gospel say this in order to also say that those under the authority of a particular apostle must submit to everything their apostles says, that might differ a bit from the apostle down the street to whom others must submit to.   


Inv verse 15 Paul speaks about their salvation that culminates in their full salvation at the return of Christ, Paul asks these people “to stand firm”.  He also tells them to hold on the teaching that he has passed on to them, “whether by word or letter”.  I am sure that Paul did more teaching by word than he did by letter.  I wish he had recorded more of his words in letter form.


Note the words "passed on".  This tells me what really happened with the gospel he calls "our gospel".  He simply passed the gospel on that he had heard from Jesus.  He did not make his own gospel up.  He heard from Jesus and passed it on to others.  It is as simple as that.


In verses 16 and 17 Paul ends this chapter by saying, “may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good word and deed”.  Paul knew that he had limitations in helping these people grow as Christians, but God Himself had no limitations.  God, through His Spirit can give these people the encouragement and strength they need in the midst of their trials.  Yet this encouragement and strength was not merely given to get them through the trials, but to help them do good works in the midst of these trials.  We often feel that we need help to simply get by, but Paul says that there is help for us to do more than just get by, but to do good things no matter how hard our lives are.  Paul was a living example of this.  Jesus does not want us to stop doing good when we find ourselves in the midst of trials. 


Notice that Paul is saying that both God the Father and Jesus is able to encourage the hearts of these people who are under great stress.  I often hear people saying that we must be accountable to others who can admonish and strengthen us, and to a degree this is true, that is, as long as such admonitions aren't dictatorial.  That being said, human encouragement has its limitations.  Only God, only Jesus, through the Spirit of God, can reach into the heart, where encouragement is needed most.  In the final analysis, no one, no man or woman, can take the place of the Holy Spirit in this respect.


Next Section  - Chatper 3 

Previous Section - Chpate 1

Home Page