Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
Right away, we have three things to wonder about: What happened in Thessalonica to give them the idea that Jesus had come back, and they had missed it? What rebellion? Who is this “man of lawlessness”?
The short answer to all three of these is that Paul doesn’t quite say.
It seems clear enough that someone has told these poor brothers and sisters that Jesus returned, and He had not done so. It would also appear that whoever this was, told them he got the word from Paul, and he had not gotten this from Paul. At this point, it might be helpful if you think about Jesus and what He told the people about listening to those who would later tell them that the Christ either had appeared, or was about to appear: He told His disciples never to listen to them! Now Paul is telling the Thessalonians the same thing.
Paul, however, goes further than that and tells them that something will happen first: a rebellion. The question we are left with is “what rebellion?” It probably wasn’t the rebellion of the 13 colonies in 1776 or the southern states in 1861; those are the first 2 to pop into my mind… Could it be the uprising of the Jews in 70 AD? Some have suggested that.
There are dozens of theories about this question, along with hundreds of books written. I suppose I could outline them for you, but that would probably require 30,000 words, and it would just confuse everyone… I wonder what Paul could be talking about.
Starting at the very beginning, we know that Satan was rebelling against God, and that he caused humanity to rebel against God in the Garden, and we know that Jesus came to redeem humanity by His blood on the cross. We know that the church was established at Pentecost, that it was thus the Kingdom of God from that point forward, and that it brought the good news everywhere it went, including Thessalonica, and we also know that the brothers and sisters in Thessalonica were living under persecution when Paul wrote this and that he was writing to encourage them to continue in their faith. Could it be possible that Paul is referring to this rebellion- their persecution?
Yes, it is possible, but not many like to teach it that way.
Let’s come back to that one. Who is the man of lawlessness? Why didn’t Paul just name names? OK, here’s what we know about him so far: He will be “revealed” thus, he won’t be a secret. He is doomed to destruction. He will oppose everything that is called God; that sounds kind of like a rebellion to me. He will also exalt himself over everything that is called God; isn’t that what Lucifer tried to do back in the day, that got him thrown out of heaven? Yes, I think that was it. He will also oppose and exalt himself over everything called worship. Then he will set himself up in God’s temple and call himself God. That sounds a little like something Satan would do to me; is Paul referring to Satan?
Maybe, but not many teach it that way, either. The popular thing today is to say that he is “The Antichrist” from Revelation, but I’m dubious about that; it’s too easy just to say that, and besides, “The Antichrist” isn’t even mentioned in Revelation, at least not in so many words. (“antichrist” is found only in 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 John 7)
What about “God’s temple”; is Paul talking about the one in Jerusalem? Many think so, but then wouldn’t that be kind of strange, considering that the Thessalonians were living under the New Covenant; doesn’t Hebrews tell us that all that Old Covenant stuff is useless and obsolete? What would be the point of that? What would be the point of that? How would that encourage the Thessalonians to hang in there?
My head is spinning!
Let’s take a break, and when we get back together, maybe we can make sense of this. If you have some time, think about these verses, and our questions; try to avoid just looking up what somebody says. I’m going through this to see if we can figure it out before we worry about what others think. Then, after we do that, look it up in your favorite commentary.