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 Perhaps the Holy Spirit is the restraining influence that is withdrawn.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 rule. Like 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