OK, let’s have another run at our passage, 2Thessalonians 2:1-4. We’re in much better shape now that we have done some investigating; we’ll apply what we learned. To do this, I’ll switch from the NIV to the NASB for this entire passage so that we can keep those anomalies we found from causing confusion again. Here’s the text:
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who 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.
2Thessalonians 2:1-4 (NASB)
The first time we looked at this passage, we got through the first two verses pretty easily; the Thessalonians had somehow gotten the idea that the Lord had already returned. Paul set them straight on that, telling them not to listen to any such nonsense. In 3-4, he is amplifying this statement by reminding them that there is a way they could tell this for themselves.
Jesus isn’t coming (returning) until the apostasy has come and the man of lawlessness has been revealed. The NIV used the word “rebellion” instead of apostasy, and for me the word rebellion is the one I would normally use, since it is a more commonly understood word. “Apostasy” on the other hand is a word that always requires definition, since it is not commonly used outside of religious circles. It means a departure from God and the ways of righteousness. In this particular case, it is handy because it makes the nature of rebellion clearer: Humanity will turn away from God and His ways.
Before we get too giddy with end of the world excitement, please allow me to remind you that this rebellion or apostasy happened in Genesis 3. The relationship between God and Man since Genesis 3 has been like a roller coaster ride. At times, things seem to calm down, and many are faithful to Him, but most of the time, there is more rebelling and apostasy going on that not. The persecution of the Thessalonians is an example of people turning away from God and His ways by persecuting His church, and as long as this is going on, the Lord hasn’t returned.
What was happening at the time of this writing, therefore, could be what Paul is talking about, but to be fair it could also refer to something in the future; the grammar is neutral on the time factor. Yet Paul clearly indicates elsewhere that this apostasy has begun. Remember those false teachers in First and Second Timothy, Jude and 1 John for instance? There is also the concern Paul expresses about those Jews who have rejected Christ and opposed His church (1Thessalonians 2:14-16; Romans 9-11) which also would qualify as “apostasy”. Think about this carefully: If apostasy means falling away from God and His ways, who could possibly be more apostate than the Jews who refused to follow the gospel that their God had foretold of, promised, and then went to such extreme lengths to bring to fruition right in their very midst?
Since the Thessalonians were being persecuted because of local Jewish instigation, it would be altogether logical and contextual to conclude Paul had it in mind when he was writing this.
Now we come to the man of lawlessness; whoever this is, he will one day be revealed. The immediate reaction of most people would be to assume that this guy “will come” some day, but I would suggest that we read a little more carefully, asking ourselves what “revealed” means. It could mean that some latent force or personality, one that has been inactive and waiting for just the right moment bursts upon the scene, like a sleeper cell that suddenly comes out and blows something up. It could also mean a puppet-master who has been pulling the strings behind the scenes and is suddenly exposed for who he really is.
Isn’t this fun; don’t you love doing this?
Let’s keep in mind how this discussion began: Somebody was trying to deceive the Thessalonians into thinking that the Lord had already come, but that He hadn’t come for them; they might just as well forget all about their faith and give it up!
Thankfully, Paul cleared things up for them in the first 2 verses. Now he’s talking about this man of lawlessness who will be revealed or exposed before or at the time of Jesus’ return: What do you think he’s talking about?
who 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. (2:4)
Now can you see why it was so important to get the tense right here? Whoever this dude is, he is already at work in the mid-first century, and is not a person who comes along later. The Thessalonians are suffering at his hand… but who is he? Come on Paul, name names!
Hold on, Paul did name a name… “the son of destruction” at the end of verse 3. Who is the son of destruction? It sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?
There is another place in the New Testament where the same Greek words are found that the NASB renders “son of destruction” and that is John 17:12 where they are rendered “son of perdition”. (apoieia). Who was that, you ask? Why it was Judas Iscariot, the guy into whom Satan went when he betrayed the Lord.
But Paul isn’t talking about Judas Iscariot, is he? No, he’s talking about Satan!
Who invented apostasy (rebellion) in heaven? Satan did. Who instigated apostasy (rebellion) on earth? Satan did. Who opposed God all throughout the Old Testament? Satan did. Who opposed Jesus during His earthly ministry? Satan did. When the Pharisees were arguing with Jesus, who did He tell them their father was? Satan. Who was pulling the strings when Jesus went to the cross? Satan. Who was at work among the Jews who instigated the persecution of the church? Satan. Who will be exposed before the whole world for the fraud he has always been when Jesus returns? Satan.
Who was and is the man of lawlessness? _ _ _ _ _