Hope is a wonderful thing. Hope is faith directed towards the future. It is confidence in what is to come. For Christians our future is a glorious thing. This is the key teaching in the book of Revelation and it is the key in Paul’s epistles to the Thessalonians as well. Seven of the eight chapters in these two books highlight the coming of the Lord. All through these two letters, the Holy Spirit is wanting us to embrace this hope. It is what we need to strengthen us for living today.
You may know that I am a medical doctor. I graduated from the University of Toronto many years ago, not long after Noah came out of the ark. But when as a 20 year old I came on my own to the big city from a small town in southern Ontario to start medical school, I was not feeling very hopeful of success. I remember sitting that first day in the class of 180 and thinking, “I am the dumbest person here. Sooner or later, they will discover this and send me home.” At my first lab, I was struggling to find my way. Noticing my distress, a lab assistant, a kindly older gentleman, came over to offer help. Seeing my name tag, he spoke to me, “How can I help you, Dr. Rennie?” Doctor Rennie? I’m not a doctor at all, but this man thinks I am about to become one! That was a God-given word of hope to me that fueled my early days at med school. We all need such fuel today. We are the children of God and we are heading for glory. The Lord is coming soon to take us there. Let’s see what the Lord has for us in 2 Thessalonians 2:1–2.
Paul had just spent some months in Thessalonica when, due to Jewish opposition, he was led to leave the fledgling community of believers and go on to Corinth. He immediately wrote a letter to encourage them, I Thessalonians. Then he got a message that the Christians had been thrown into alarm over a letter or prophesy of word which supposedly had come from Paul, but was misinformation, fake news. Now fake news is something quite unknown to us because our news outlets are so reliable and factual. Not so! Misinformation abounds so it is hard to know the truth even today. But this misinformation said that the day of the Lord was already taking place.
Now, what is this day of the Lord? It is an extended period of time when God deals with the Jews and with all the world in judgment. So they thought that they were already facing the darkest days of earth’s history. And perhaps the trials they were experiencing were confirming this false belief. There was severe opposition from the Jews, and the Roman Caesar, Claudius was beginning to persecute the Christians. Maybe they thought he was the antichrist. And perhaps they thought that Jesus had already come for his own and they had missed out on it. That would be most distressful!
So, Paul quickly writes this second letter in order to reassure the believers by repeating what he had already told them. “Don’t you remember when I was with you how I used to tell you these things?” he says in verse 5. Then he gives them a review of his teaching on the events leading into the day of the Lord in order to restore their hope. And we are benefitted because it is laid out point by point for us as well to learn.
But before we do, I just want to remind you that the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza has brought the issue of Christ’s soon return and the day of the Lord into sharp focus. Events in the middle east are unfolding before our eyes at rapid pace. What we are talking about here in II Thessalonians is capable of taking place tomorrow or even today. And we say, “Even so, come Lord Jesus!”
Here is the order of events to initiate the day of the Lord that Paul rehearses for the believers.
1 The apostasy, vs. 3,
Apostasy means the rebellion, and it precedes the coming of the lawless one. Apostasy is departing from the faith. It is a rebellion against God’s truth and God’s ways by those who had previously given some pretended obedience to the truth but never bowed the knee to Christ or trusted him as Saviour. In I Tim. 4:1 Paul also says,
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.
This has been happening down through the ages. Christian churches that once were true to God have lost their way and have abandoned the faith. Notice verse 7 of our chapter.
The secret power of lawlessness is already at work.
But, from what we read, there was no apostasy in the Thessalonian church. On the contrary, Paul commends them for their faith and perseverance. 1:3.4 Therefore, this was surely intended to comfort the believers in Thessalonica. No apostasy yet. And yet it is happening around us at an alarming rate and it will no doubt get worse. And what will happen in the future will be unprecedented. So much so that it is called ‘The apostasy’. The King James calls it ‘a falling away’ but other translations call it the apostasy, using the definite article for emphasis. There will be wholesale defection from the truth by many over a short period of time. We will speak more of this in a minute.
2 The man of lawlessness But the second in the order of events is the appearance of the man of lawlessness. Other scriptures give us a description of this man and his actions. We have already seen this man in our study of Revelation, chapter 13.
Who is like the beast and who is able to wage war with him? Rev.13:4
He will be a dynamic and powerful military leader, quickly gathering power to himself. Also, he will be a shrewd politician who convinces all the religious people and especially the Jews that he is the good guy. Daniel’s prophecy says this:
He will confirm a covenant with many for one seven(7 years) but in the middle of the seven(3 1/2 years) he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him. Dan.9:27
This is what is being referred to in our text in verse 4.
He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called God or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. IIThess. 2:4
By the way, the only seat in the temple is the mercy seat. This man has the gall to sit on the ark of the covenant, on the mercy seat. It would appear that he will be for a time sympathetic to the Jewish worship of God. Our verse says he will make a 7 year deal with the Jews to guarantee peace in Israel but after 3 1/2 years he breaks the deal and takes his seat in the temple of God displaying himself as being God and commanding all to worship him. Dan. 9:27, Matt. 24:15, Rev. 13:15 Now Christians today do not recognize a physical place as a temple of God. So this is referring to the Jews who during the tribulation will rebuild a temple in Jerusalem. It is there that the man of lawlessness will set up an idol to himself, declare himself to be God and demand the worship of the world.
Also, his rule will be upheld by Satan. Look at verse 9 and 10
The one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to by saved.
to deceive his followers. Verse 9
It is important to note that his followers will be blinded in 3 ways.
- Deception of Satan, verse 9
b. Unbelief because they refused to believe the truth verse 10
c. Deluding influence from God(judicial blindness) verse 11-12 this remind us of the judicial blindness that is on the eyes of the Jews today. In the Tribulation the eyes of many Jews will be opened but those who reject Jesus, both of Jews and Gentiles will be blinded because they rejected the gospel.
In the time Paul wrote to the Thessalonians the temple was still in Jerusalem and the Jews were still worshipping there. Once again, this meant hope to them.
3 The second coming of Christ to earth verse 8
Christ will come again to defeat him with the breath(word) of his mouth (The sword of the Spirit). Vs. 8 And again, we have studied this in Revelation 19 Christ will gloriously return to earth as the conquering king and all his enemies will be subdued.
But wait! As we return to our text Paul adds an intriguing comment in verse 6. Something is holding back the coming of this man of lawlessness.
And now you know what is holding him back(or what restrains him), so that he may be revealed at the proper time. Verse 6
Then again in verse 7 he says,
Only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.
So, it is a ‘what’ in verse 6, a person in verse 7 and a person in verse 7 who is doing the restraining. Commentators have had varying interpretations of what or who the restrainer is. I believe it is the church in verse 6, and the Holy Spirit inhabiting the church in verse 7. If fact, that is what he is referring to when he opens this section in verse 1. “Now I am going to rehearse for you how we, the church, will be gathered to Jesus.” Then he describes it in verse 6. Some say that it is the Spirit in both verse 6 and 7. But there is a big reason why that is not the case. You see, the Spirit will continue to act in the Tribulation because millions will be saved at that time, and they can only be saved by the work of the Spirit. Jo.3:5 But the big change is that the church, the dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit is removed from earth and is now in heaven. The lawless one will only be revealed after this restraining influence is removed.
Paul has already told the Thessalonians how this will happen and he repeats it to them in his first letter.
For the Lord himself will descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we shall always be with the Lord. I Thess.4:16-17
But is there scripture to indicate that the church is the restraining influence? Yes! Jesus refers to his church on earth as salt of the earth, light of the world. Matt. 5:13-14 What does salt do? It retards corruption. What does light do? It dispels darkness and it purifies. Jesus is saying that the church is the restrainer. He also says,
I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. Matt.16:18
The church will endure, by God’s power and grace. But when Christ is finished building his church and takes us home, only then will the antichrist be allowed to come. Only then will the great apostasy occur.
So the corrected order of events is church(restrainer) removed, apostasy, man of lawlessness revealed, coming of Christ to rule.
A further word about the apostasy. I believe this great apostasy is the result of the darkness that descends on this earth because the true church is gone. The day after the rapture, many people will show up at church and they will have questions about what happened, and they will be told lies and they will believe those lies. “God took those troublemakers at Oakridge Bible Chapel away to judgment so we could have peace on earth.”
Brothers and sisters, you are part of the restraint. Only when the Lord takes you to glory will he start the judgments of the day of the Lord. No one who belongs to Jesus will be left behind.
The Bible says,
For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. I Thess. 5:9
This is how Paul enlightened these believers at Thessalonica, and this is also how he enlightens us.
Having given them enlightenment regarding events to come, he now gives them encouragement.
1 Remember, you are saved you are chosen, you are called, and you will gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 13-14
I was 10 years old when I came to Christ. It was the fear of missing out on salvation that brought me to repent. I had heard some teaching the return of Christ and I knew I was not ready. I would be shaking in my bed at night wondering if Jesus had come and I had missed him. I would get up and go to my older brother Peter’s bed to see if he was still there. But then I made the choice to trust in Jesus for myself. Since then, I have peace about this. I have Jesus. I am called, I am chosen. I will gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ when he comes for his own. Do you have that assurance today?
2 Stand firm and hold to the traditions. Verse 15 Don’t be like the Thessalonians who were confused by false teaching. Know and believe the word. The best way to insulate yourself from the lies is to know the truth and believe it. That is why we study our Bibles here at Oakridge. The light dispels the darkness.
3 Serve him while there is still time. Remember we are the restrainers. Let your light shine. As you enjoy this hope and comfort, don’t be passive, but engage in every good work and word. Verse16-17
Let your light so shine that they may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven. Amen.
Jim Rennie is an elder at Oakridge Bible Chapel and an occasional speaker. He is a medical doctor with Christian counselling practice. Shortly after graduation from medical school he and his wife, Kathy, spent 14 years in Zambia as medical missionaries.