By Sam E. Stone
Paul wrote his first letter to the church in Thessalonica to encourage the new converts and give additional teaching. Last week’s lesson from that letter focused on the certainty of the Lord’s return and the need to be ready for it at all times. A short time later—perhaps six months or so—he wrote them again. In this second letter he corrects their misunderstanding about the return of Jesus (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12) and offers additional encouragement and guidance.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
People in the church at Thessalonica were upset. Paul urged them not to be unsettled or alarmed by what they had heard. Some people were evidently misleading them by claims of apostolic authority and special knowledge. They claimed they had some form of teaching from Paul—prophecy, word of mouth, or letter—asserting that the day of the Lord had already come! “Don’t be fooled!” the apostle told them. Elsewhere he wrote the Galatians, “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (1:8, NIV 1984).
Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs. Jesus is coming back, but first there will be the rebellion, literally an apostasy. J. W. McGarvey writes, “Without professing to set forth all the events that would intervene between the date of his Epistle and the Lord’s coming, the apostle enumerates three: (1) a great apostasy, (2) the removal of that power which hindered the manifestation of the lawless one, and (3) the manifestation of the lawless one, and his reign.”
This man of lawlessness is also called the man doomed to destruction. Some Bible scholars interpret this to mean a pagan leader (such as a Roman emperor). Like an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14), Satan will use this individual in opposition to God’s will. Elsewhere Scripture warns of the antichrist (1 John 2:18). Our concern should not be to guess who this individual is, but instead to renew our commitment to follow the Savior faithfully, whatever may come.
2 Thessalonians 2:8-12
Verses 5-7 (omitted from the printed text) speak of God’s coming judgment. The Lord will conquer all opposition, including the lawless one. Whether the apostle is referring to some person or to Satan himself, the result is the same. No one will be able to stand against Jesus Christ.
Temporarily Satan has great power. He follows a pattern of deception (see Matthew 24:24). The people he uses continually deceive those who are perishing. These perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. When a person is lost it is not because of an arbitrary decision by God. Those who oppose Christ use their free will to make wrong choices, despite God’s desire for their salvation (2 Peter 3:9). For a time God permits Satan to send a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and . . . be condemned. God himself does not tempt anyone with sin (James 1:13).
2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
Instead, God chose to save all who believe the gospel and obey it, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. All Christians receive the gift of the Holy Spirit after their repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). God’s Spirit then begins working to completely sanctify them—set them apart in holiness—for the Lord’s service (Ephesians 5:26). The Christian must believe in the truth, however. The Bible does not teach a person can believe whatever he wants and still go to Heaven. Believing and obeying the truth revealed in Jesus is the only way (John 14:6).
The message the Thessalonians heard from Paul contained God’s good news. The resurrection assures the validity of God’s wonderful promise (Philippians 3:21; Romans 8:17). We will reflect his glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). Believers are to hold to the teachings . . . passed on to you. God had spoken through Paul and other inspired people. Their teaching, whether oral or written, is binding. The church must hold firmly to the apostolic message. Biblical hope is based on solid evidence (1 Peter 3:15). This provides ample reason for God’s children to be encouraged. Paul had prayed for this in his earlier letter as well (1 Thessalonians 3:2). Both a person’s walk and his talk must be consistent with the goodness of Christ.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.