The Time of Lawlessness: 2 Thessalonians

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Today’s reading: 2 Thessalonians 1-3.

“What happens when the antichrist comes?”

Jesus said no man knows the time of his return, but he also described what that time would be like so we would recognize it when it happens. Paul added some more details about the events leading up to Jesus’ return, a time when the man of lawlessness is revealed, a man presumed to be the Antichrist, a world leader who will proclaim himself to be God. Paul described this time of lawlessness in the context of Jesus’ second coming, a time also known as the Day of the Lord. These things will happen, Paul said, before Jesus returns.

For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8

Paul described a time of rebellion. The implication is that the world in general, and the Antichrist specifically, will be in rebellion against God. The spirit of rebellion already works in the world, but the rebellion will worsen as the end approaches.

A time of withdrawal precedes the climax of the rebellion. God will withdraw something, or someone, who currently restrains, controls, or prevents the reign of the lawless Antichrist. The nature of the restrainer isn’t detailed, and that has led to much speculation. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is the restraining influence that is withdrawn. Perhaps it’s the church which is taken away (as by the rapture). Some suggest the archangel, Michael, who Daniel described as standing up for Israel, is the restrainer who will sit down and allow the tribulation to begin. The only thing we can know for certain is that God remains in control of the timing.

The result of the lawless man’s rebellion is a time of idolatry. He proclaims himself to be God in the flesh, making that claim in God’s own temple (many believe this is an end-times Jewish temple rebuilt in Jerusalem), and requiring all the world to worship him.

These dramatic events will happen because it is a time of delusion. There are two fronts to the delusion. Satan produces counterfeit signs and wonders through the lawless man, but God also deludes the lawless people who have continually rejected the truth of his word. Like the sinners in Paul’s introduction to the book of Romans, God gives them over to their false beliefs, allowing them to plunge deeper into the lies of Antichrist. The acceptance of Satan’s lies results in a time of condemnation as God judges the wickedness of all those who have rejected the truth and the offer of salvation.

The hope Paul proclaims is that the evil times will be cut short. A time of destruction awaits Antichrist, because the time of Jesus’ return will end his ruleLike the Thessalonians, we remain hopeful in spite of such future tribulation because we have been “saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth,” if we “stand firm and hold to the teachings.” Therefore, for believers, difficult times will also be times of “eternal encouragement.”

Image by Colin Davis on Flickr, CC by 2.0

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4 thoughts on “The Time of Lawlessness: 2 Thessalonians

  1. “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” 2 Thessalonians 2:15

    It is difficult to know exactly how to take this passage. There was at the time the Old Testament scriptures, probably the Septuagint, written in Greek and containing the Deuterocanonical texts, which apparently Matthew used as a reference for when Jesus was quoted quoting the Old Testament. There was no written New Testament. Jesus was the New Covenant (or testament). But there was a lot of oral history being circulated, and some of Paul’s letters were being preserved, and perhaps some of the Gospels were being penned to Velum. (Some interesting science being reported about pages of codex being unglued from ancient mummy masks that may date the Gospels earlier than they have been dated before).

    Paul seems to be saying that at that time, the truth of the Gospel could be found in both oral and written forms. Not only that, be we now known that extra-biblical sources were trusted enough to make their way into portions of the New Testament.

    Are there any important traditions that Paul could be talking about that really matter to us Christians today? The Creeds could be one such example. Another is the canon of scripture itself. As you know, there is no “Table of Contents” that came with the Bible. That list was passed down to us from the Apostles through the Church until it was finally written down at a Church Council. There really is no way to look at ancient texts and develop a litmus test to determine what belongs in the Bible and what does not. Does Hebrews? We do not even know for sure who wrote it. It was Tradition alone that preserved this list, much in the same way Tradition assigns titles to the Gospels. There is no ancient text that ties the name of Matthew to the first Gospel. Tradition gives us that association.

    So it sets up an interesting question: If we trust the Church to preserve the canon of scripture, why do we not trust Her in all other matters? And if do not trust Her in other matters, how can we trust the canon of scripture, since She preserved it? If not, then like R.C. Sproul says, we have a fallible collection of infallible books. And that would seem to be a horrible position to be in theologically.

    • Good points. While I have faith in God’s word, I do not share such faith in every statement made by men in the church through the ages. I agree with much of what Augustine says, but not everything. The same would be true, I’m sure, if I examined the words of all the popes through the centuries.

  2. Understanding of course, that when Popes write, they write with no more authority than any of the rest of us, except that they tend to be phenomenal theologians (e.g. Benedict VIX). Only Ex Cathedra pronouncements are infallible, and there have only been two of those in the last 500 years.

  3. Pingback: Bible Daily Devotional – The Time of Lawlessness: 2 Thessalonians | ChristianBlessings

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