Bible Study - 2 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians 2  •  14 min. read  •  grade level: 11
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Edward Cross
2 Thessalonians 2
1. Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto Him,
2. That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand.
3. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
4. Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, chewing himself that he is God.
5. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?
6. And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time.
7. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.
8. And then shall that Wicked he revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
9. Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,
10. And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
11. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:
12. That they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
13. But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth:
14. Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
15. Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.
16. Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace,
17. Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work.
The apostle now enters upon the more direct consideration of the error which was the occasion of his writing this epistle. This is the subject matter of verses 1-12; and, considering the extreme importance of what is here set forth — the complete overthrow of the power of Satan in the instrument of his opposition to the Lord Jesus Christ — we can easily understand how the Spirit of God would unfold it to these young believers in the clearest terms, so as to counteract in their minds the simultaneous effort of the enemy, by every means of deceit in his power, to becloud or distort it.
To prove to them how baseless was the error into which they had been led, of believing that “the day of the Lord is present” (N.T.), he appeals, first to facts within their own experimental cognizance, namely, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, as he had already taught them in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-1713But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. 14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. 15For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. 16For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:13‑17), and as to which, by their very presence here in this world they could not be deceived; and secondly, he instructs them in regard of events which must precede that day, and which had evidently not yet taken place, namely, the apostasy full blown and the revelation of the man of sin.
And on this ground be begs them not to be soon, that is, in a precipitate or unreasonable manner, shaken from their ordinary sober mind — from their common sense, as we would say — nor troubled, either by what might be spoken to them or written, even though it came to them under the cloak of having been written by him. The consideration of these two facts should show them that it was impossible that the day of the Lord had already come.
Saints there will be, no doubt, at that day on the earth; there will be the godly remnant of the Jews, and there will be the white-robed throng redeemed from all nations (cf. Jer. 30:77Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob's trouble; but he shall be saved out of it. (Jeremiah 30:7) and Rev. 7); but the saints of the present period, who are connected with Christ, now, during His rejection, and whose portion it is to form the Church which is His body (Eph. 1:2222And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, (Ephesians 1:22)), have the special privilege of being “kept from the great tribulation” that will close up this present period, prior to the introduction of the age to come (Rev. 3:1010Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. (Revelation 3:10)).
The rendering of the A.V., “the day of Christ is at hand,” is doubly misleading: first, as to “the day of Christ,” a reference to 1 Corinthians 5:55To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. (1 Corinthians 5:5), Philippiams 1:5,10; 2:16 will show that the day of the Lord Jesus, or of Christ, is connected, as the words Jesus or Christ imply, with the blessing of the saints, while “the day of the Lord” is connected always with the judgment of the world: and again the word “at hand” implies nearness in the future, whereas the word in the original means very emphatically that they thought that it had “come already.” The word is used seven times in the New Testament, in two of which, Romans 8:3838For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, (Romans 8:38) and 1 Corinthians 3:2222Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; (1 Corinthians 3:22), “things present” are expressly distinguished from “things to come.”
Moreover there was nothing new in the fact that the day of the Lord was “at hand.” Its coming had been declared from the time of Isaiah, and implied as far back as Hannah’s song (1 Sam. 2:1-101And Hannah prayed, and said, My heart rejoiceth in the Lord, mine horn is exalted in the Lord: my mouth is enlarged over mine enemies; because I rejoice in thy salvation. 2There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God. 3Talk no more so exceeding proudly; let not arrogancy come out of your mouth: for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. 4The bows of the mighty men are broken, and they that stumbled are girded with strength. 5They that were full have hired out themselves for bread; and they that were hungry ceased: so that the barren hath born seven; and she that hath many children is waxed feeble. 6The Lord killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave, and bringeth up. 7The Lord maketh poor, and maketh rich: he bringeth low, and lifteth up. 8He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory: for the pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he hath set the world upon them. 9He will keep the feet of his saints, and the wicked shall be silent in darkness; for by strength shall no man prevail. 10The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; out of heaven shall he thunder upon them: the Lord shall judge the ends of the earth; and he shall give strength unto his king, and exalt the horn of his anointed. (1 Samuel 2:1‑10)); so that the apostle had no need to correct them in that respect. The error they had fallen into was that it had “already come.”
But they were not to be deceived, for that day will not be until the apostasy has first come, and the man of sin be revealed, who exalts himself above all that is called God, whether the true God or false gods, or that is an object of veneration, so that he sets himself down in the temple of God showing himself that he is god. This is not the apostasy; the apostasy leads up to this; this is the ripe fruit of it; the full-blown and resultant head. The apostasy is necessary to the Antichrist: the Antichrist is the heading up of the apostasy.
The spirit of apostasy is at work already: compare verse 7 and 1 John 2:1818Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time. (1 John 2:18). It has been going on unceasingly ever since the apostle’s time. But here we have its climax. This is the result of Genesis 3:5, 65For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. 6And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. (Genesis 3:5‑6). the man of sin, the son of perdition, completing his role under the instigation and power of Satan. This is the end of the apostate Jew, and of the temple of God, rebuilt in unbelief, not for the glory of God, but for the apotheosis of this “blasphemy.” This is the end of Christendom, the total giving up of all faith in Christ. This is the liar, who denies that Jesus is the Christ. This is the Antichrist, who denies the Father and the Son.
It is not the secular power of the world, represented by the first beast in Revelation 13, that is the subject here, but rather the religious character of this wickedness, represented by the second beast in that chapter. This is the man of sin, the false prophet, who in the temple of God, sets himself up against God, the God of Israel. It is the apostasy of man against God, the rational outcome of the first suggestion of Satan in the garden of Eden, “ye shall be as gods”: It is the revelation in full of the mystery of lawlessness; as Christianity is the revelation of mystery of piety (1 Tim. 3:1616And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory. (1 Timothy 3:16)); It is the lawless one who throws off all restraint and does according to his will (Dan. 11:3636And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done. (Daniel 11:36)), the anti-climax of Him who came, not to do His own will, but the will of Him who sent Him (John 6:3838For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. (John 6:38)).
The world assumes that it is getting better, and the Church joins in this vain boast, and every fresh sect that arises amid the divisions of Christendom thinks that the future is with it, but “Scripture cannot be broken”; and one has but to look around to see the general trend of things making unmistakably for the apostasy that is here predicted. Ritualism and rationalism are doing their deadly work; superstition and atheism for the nonce in league, like Herod and Pilate (Luke 23:1212And the same day Pilate and Herod were made friends together: for before they were at enmity between themselves. (Luke 23:12)), to destroy the testimony of God and the gospel of the Christ; and often where there is professed orthodoxy, the gospel is presented in such an adulterated form that they who believe it are not saved thereby. How much reason, then, there is for those who know the gospel to preach it with increased earnestness, for the time is already come of which the apostle prophesied, “when they will not bear sound teaching... but they will turn away their ear from the truth and will have turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:3-53For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. 5But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. (2 Timothy 4:3‑5)). In the mad race for popularity, they who should know better won’t stop to think; and all this is preparing the way for the last and great apostasy.
The apostle had already told them of these things, but they had forgotten them, or had so feebly seized them at the first that they were unable to resist the perverting influence of the enemy. Now he recalls them to their memory, and he assumes that they “know that which restrains, that he, the Antichrist, should be revealed in his own time.”
Note that it does not say that the evil was to be restrained. The evil is not restrained: it has been ceaselessly working ever since the apostle’s time, and will continue to work to the end; but the final manifestation of it is restrained, “that he should be revealed in his own time.”
In verse 6 he speaks of that which restrains — a restraining power; in verse 7 he speaks of a person who exercises that power. He does not say what that power is. What it was then may not be what it is today. Then it was the form of government established in the Roman Empire; at least so the early Christians thought, and many prayers were in consequence offered up for its continuance. Today the same principle of governmental order is maintained by God in different forms in different countries, and evil is thereby to a certain extent restrained: and in countries where this restraint has been most released, we see the consequent growth of atheism correspondingly, and the dissolution of all religious profession, as witness, that is, the French Revolution. But as the presence of the Spirit on earth, and the formation of the Church thereby, are characteristic of God’s present actings in the world, doubtless we may find in connection with this the fundamental reason of this restraining-power, which will surely be maintained until the purpose of God in regard to the gathering out of the Church is fulfilled. When that has taken place and the Church raptured is no longer here, and the operations of the Spirit in connection with it cease, then the apostasy will take its unbridled form, and the Antichrist will be revealed.
All this plainly shows the present working of evil towards its final issue, and the hopelessness of any remedy until the Lord comes. The rejection of Christ was the rejection of God come in grace and bringing salvation. “His blood be on us and on our children” was an awful imprecation on the part of those who invoked it. The answer to it is the energy of evil working ceaselessly ever since, and restrained only in view of its open manifestation under the Antichrist in the latter day.
But this restraint being removed, the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the spirit of His mouth, that is, the word of truth judicially applied, probably in allusion to Isaiah 11:44But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. (Isaiah 11:4), and annul by the brightness of His coming, the epiphany of His presence — not His presence, but the epiphany, the outshining of it. These two, His presence and the brightness of it, are not to be confounded — him whose coming, in contrast with the coming of Christ, “is after the working of Satan in every possible form of power, and signs, and wonders of falsehood,” accrediting himself by the imitation of those things whereby Jesus was accredited of God (Acts 2:2222Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: (Acts 2:22)), and “in every form of deceit of unrighteousness to them that perish,” as they are adjudged retributively by God to this fearful doom, “because they received not the LOVE of the truth that they might be saved.” The forms of the truth in their broad outlines have been received in Christendom in every section of the professing Church; the common creed is the same everywhere; but the love of it? that was the real test, and it was not there. Judas was ordained an apostle as truly as the rest, but he loved money; they loved their Master: and his end is emblematic of what the apostle here sets forth. “Satan entered into him”; and how terrible is the Satanic energy, “the energy of error,” here predicted. No stronger words could be used to describe it: no more fatal picture could be drawn of the state of those who “believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”
Serious and solemn words and terrible to contemplate: all the more so that we know that the spirit of it all is actually at work. We live in the midst of it: the effects of it are all around and its influence pervades the very air (Eph. 2:22Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: (Ephesians 2:2)).
What cause, therefore for thanks on the part of those to whom light is vouchsafed and who are chosen of God to salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, called by the glad tidings of Paul to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. What a contrast to the judgment that was to overtake the world.
And for this very reason he urges them to stand firm and to hold fast the instructions they had been taught, whether by word or by letter from him, that is, the former Epistle. Had they indeed held fast the truth of “the rapture” as given to them (1 Thess. 4.), they would not have been misled into errors as they were. Now, in spite of this warning, Christendom as a whole has wholly given up this important truth, the precious treasure of the Church, the guerdon of her hope. To be caught up to be with Christ is not known or understood amongst the great mass of Christians, and where spoken of is denied; and even those who have received the light of it seem little under its power of late years. For it is possible to hold this glorious truth in the letter and not have it as a bright hope in the heart. It behooves us, therefore, all the more to take heed to the apostle’s words, and “hold fast” the instructions that we have learned from him.
And now again, as is his wont, he turns from them and his exhortations, to a higher and a firmer trust — he turns to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and to the love of God the Father, who has given us eternal consolation and a good hope by grace, that their hearts might be encouraged, and that they might be established in every good work and word. May we too turn with increasing earnestness to the same source, that we may be preserved from the many perils of these “difficult times,” and be “like men that wait for their Lord.”