2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

Submitted by admin on Sat, 2007-02-10 14:47.

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Certain ones of Paul’s Thessalonian brothers in Christ had come to a wrong view about the arrival of the Lord and their being gathered to him. The apostle therefore appealed to them not to be quickly shaken or unsettled in their thinking nor to be alarmed, startled, or stirred to undue excitement by some communication supposedly indicating that the day of the Lord had come. The apostle referred to such communication as being “through a spirit or through a word or through a letter as from us.” A “spirit” may designate a prophetic or spirit-inspired utterance, and a “word” could denote an oral message. The words “as from us” may relate only to a letter Paul allegedly had sent or the phrase could also include the prophetic utterance and oral message. (2:1, 2) Both meanings are reflected in translations. “They may say that they heard this directly from the Holy Spirit, or from someone else, or even that they read it in one of our letters.” (CEV) “We ask you ... not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a ‘spirit,’ or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.” (NAB) “Perhaps it is thought that we said this while prophesying or preaching, or that we wrote it in a letter.” (GNT, Second Edition) “Someone may say this in a prophecy or in a message or in a letter as if it came from us.” (NCV) “Even if they claim to have had a vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us, don’t believe them.” (NLT)

Paul urged the Thessalonian believers not to allow anyone to mislead them in any way about the Lord’s arrival. This event would not take place until after the coming of the “apostasy” or the great rebellion against God and the revelation of the “man of lawlessness, the son of destruction.” This “man of lawlessness” (or, according to the reading of other manuscripts, “man of sin”) would be guilty of God-defying conduct and, as “the son of destruction,” be doomed to everlasting ruin. He would exalt himself over and resist everything regarded as “god” or sacred, seating himself in the sanctuary of God and claiming to be god. (2:3, 4)

Paul’s words suggest that the “man of lawlessness” is a product of the “apostasy” or rebellion against God. Just what form this development may take prior to Christ’s return in glory falls in the realm of conjecture, especially since the information available today is more limited than what Paul had shared with the Thessalonians. (See the Notes section for additional comments.) He reminded them that he had previously told them about this development, but whatever he said in addition to the brief statement in his letter has long ceased to be preserved in living memory. Lost to present readers of his letter is the knowledge about what was restraining or holding back the terrifying development until the appointed time for the revealing of the “man of lawlessness.” As Paul said, however, the Thessalonian believers did know. In their time, “the mystery of lawlessness” was already at work, operating in a hidden or secret manner as a corrupting influence. When the restraining one or thing would no longer be functioning in that capacity, the lawless one would be revealed or be openly active. The Lord Jesus Christ would slay him with “the spirit of his mouth” or the expression of the condemnatory judgment that would come from his mouth. The manifestation of Christ’s arrival would render the “man of lawlessness” powerless. (2:5-8)

Satan would be the source of the power the “man of lawlessness” would exercise. Through the workings of Satan, the “man of lawlessness” would display might and lying signs and wonders. Those who would perish would be taken in by the evil deception. Their being deceived would be retribution for their deliberate failure to accept the “love of the truth,” which could have led to their salvation or deliverance from divine wrath. Instead of desiring truth, the marvelous truth that centers on the Son of God, loving it and considering it as precious, they would prefer falsehood and delusion. God, therefore, would send them exactly what they want or let nothing stand in the way of their being exposed to the workings of error so that they might believe the lie. Consequently, their adverse judgment would befall them because they deliberately and defiantly chose not to believe the truth but delighted in wrongdoing. (2:9-12)

Paul considered himself obligated always to thank God for the Thessalonian believers, his brothers beloved by the Lord, because God had chosen them as “firstfruits” or as an acceptable offering (aparché, but ap’ archés [“from (the) beginning”] according to other manuscripts, including fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus) “for salvation in sanctification of the spirit and faith in [the] truth.” It was through the operation of God’s spirit and their faith in the truth (with its specific focus on God’s Son) that believers were sanctified or set apart as holy and thus divinely approved. The evangel or the message about Jesus Christ proved to be the means by which God had called them to be his sanctified people, with salvation or eternal life in view. Paul referred to it as “our evangel,” meaning the glad tidings that he proclaimed. The eventual result of God’s calling would be for the Thessalonian believers to share in the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. For them to share in his glory would mean enjoying all the joys and blessings associated with being members of his body. (2:13, 14)

In view of all that sharing in Christ’s glory would mean for them, they had good reason to heed Paul’s admonition to stand firm and to adhere to the traditions they had been taught, whether through the apostle’s word or a letter from him. Recognizing the need the Thessalonian believers had for the help of God and his Son, Paul continued with the prayerful expression, “May our Lord Jesus Christ, and God our Father who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope in favor, comfort your hearts and firmly establish you in every good work and word.” (2:15-17)

Through his favor or unmerited kindness, the Father granted believers, those whom he loved and continues to love, comfort that is lasting and that can sustain them in whatever trials and suffering they might experience. He has also given them a “good hope,” the hope of sharing in the fulfillment of all the promises made to them as his children. For the hearts of the Thessalonian believers to be comforted could have included their being granted an inner calm from knowing that the Son of God and his Father would continue to aid, guide, sustain, and strengthen them. The Father and his Son would also “firmly establish” them “in every good work and word,” enabling them to conduct themselves aright and to express themselves in a manner that would be becoming of their dignified standing as sons or children of God and brothers of Christ. (2:16, 17)


It is only natural for people who find themselves in distressing circumstances to long for relief. This desire can make them vulnerable to being deceived by claims of individuals representing themselves as being “in the know” or in possession of unique information about the nearness of deliverance from hardships. As in the case of believers in Thessalonica to whom Paul had imparted the truth about Christ’s return in glory but who nevertheless were induced to draw wrong conclusions, many in more recent times have similarly become unsettled in mind and excited about the closeness of this event. Although the Son of God stressed that such developments as wars, famines, earthquakes, and pestilences were not to be the happenings on which his disciples should focus, religious movements with an end-times orientation have pointed to and continue to point to such occurrences as a sign that the culmination is near. (Matthew 24:4-8; Mark 13:5-8; Luke 21:8-10) When prominent ones within such movements or their official publications express that the end is “very close,” the loyal membership is often stirred to a renewed state of excitement and may be induced to make choices that adversely affect their future well-being.

As some of the Thessalonians became idlers because of having adopted the wrong view of Christ’s return, many members in movements with an undue end-times focus tend to make unwise financial decisions, do not plan for the future, fail to utilize educational opportunities to the full, and may even speak disparagingly of those who apply themselves scholastically and choose to prepare themselves for careers best suited for their aptitudes and abilities. Therefore, in lands where social programs are in place, members of these movements may disproportionately be found among those taking advantage of governmental arrangements for needy ones. Like the idlers among the Thessalonian believers, their way of life is one that unbelieving outsiders look upon unfavorably. Instead of winning the respect of outsiders, they contribute to dishonoring God and Christ. The prime responsibility for this, of course, falls on the leadership of the respective movements, as the leadership exercises the teaching authority that gives rise to the wrong views. Tragically, many who become disillusioned by these movements when wrongly generated hopes fail to materialize also become impervious to the message of the Scriptures and tend to choose paths that either ignore God and Christ or reflect total unbelief.

In the answer Jesus Christ gave to his apostles about the destruction of Jerusalem and his return, he provided the warning for them not to be deceived by any expressions about Messianic deliverance in connection with the destruction to come upon Jerusalem. (Matthew 24:4, 23-26; Mark 13:5, 21, 22; Luke 21:8) That warning about not being deceived should also be taken seriously respecting his return in glory at a time only known to the Father.

The first-century Jewish historian Josephus, who witnessed the destruction of Jerusalem, confirms that many Jews were deceived and relates what happened to them. In his Wars, Book VI, chapter V, paragraph 2 (Whiston’s translation), he wrote: “The soldiers also came to the rest of the cloisters that were in the outer [court of the] temple, whither the women and children, and a great mixed multitude of the people fled, in number about six thousand. But before Caesar had determined anything about these people, or given the commanders any orders relating to them, the soldiers were in such a rage, that they set the cloister on fire; by which means it came to pass that some of these were destroyed by throwing themselves down headlong, and some were burnt in the cloisters themselves. Nor did any one of them escape with his life. A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now, there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose upon the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God: and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes. Now, a man that is in adversity does easily comply with such promises; for when such a seducer makes him believe that he shall be delivered from those miseries which oppress him, then it is that the patient is full of hopes of such deliverance.”

There is grave danger when perceived self-interest or personal desire takes precedence over love for truth. King Ahab of Israel, for example, did not want to hear that his plan to recapture Ramoth-gilead would fail. Even after YHWH’s prophet Micaiah portrayed for him a heavenly scene revealing that the very message about certain success he wanted to hear was the product of a “lying spirit” in the mouths of all his prophets and that he himself would die in the attempt to seize Ramoth-gilead, Ahab still chose to believe the lie, although taking the precaution of not wearing his royal attire. That precaution, however, did not save him from being mortally wounded. (1 Kings 22:2-35) Similarly, during the time Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem and Ezekiel prophesied in Babylon, God allowed an operation of error to go to the people. The false prophets proclaimed what the people wanted to hear, and the people turned a deaf ear to the proclamation of the true prophets that could have benefited them. (Jeremiah 5:12, 13, 31; 14:11-16; 23:16-18, 21-32; 27:8-18; 28:1-11; Ezekiel 13:2-19; 14:9) The same thing will happen when the “man of lawlessness” is revealed.

In numerous respects, the description of the “man of lawlessness” parallels the actions of Antiochus Epiphanes, which fit the words recorded in the book of Daniel and are narrated in 1 and 2 Maccabbees. The quotations that follow are rendered according to the Septuagint version of Daniel (with the major variations of Theodotian being provided in brackets).

Respecting a “little horn” that is designated as a “king,” Daniel 7:25 says, “And he will speak words against the Most High, wear out the holy ones of the Most High, and attempt to change times and law, and all things will be given into his hands for a time and times and half a time.”

“And the king will do according to his will, be provoked to anger, and be exalted over every god [And he will do according to his will, and the king will be exalted and magnified over every god], and he will speak outrageous things against the God of gods.” (11:36)

“The king [Antiochus Epiphanes] sent messengers with letters to Jerusalem and to the cities of Judah, ordering them to follow customs foreign to their land; to prohibit holocausts, sacrifices, and libations in the sanctuary, to profane the sabbaths and feast days, to desecrate the sanctuary and the sacred ministers, to build pagan altars and temples and shrines, to sacrifice swine and unclean animals, to leave their sons uncircumcised, and to let themselves be defiled with every kind of impurity and abomination, so that they might forget the law and change all their observances. Whoever refused to act according to the command of the king should be put to death.” (1 Maccabees 1:44-50, NAB)

“The king sent an Athenian senator to force the Jews to abandon the customs of their ancestors and live no longer by the laws of God; also to profane the temple in Jerusalem and dedicate it to Olympian Zeus... This intensified the evil in an intolerable and utterly disgusting way. The Gentiles filled the temple with debauchery and revelry; they amused themselves with prostitutes and had intercourse with women even in the sacred court. They also brought into the temple things that were forbidden, so that the altar was covered with abominable offerings prohibited by the laws.” (2 Maccabees 6:1-5, NAB)

Past history illustrates what can happen when there is a deliberate and defiant rejection of God. Crowds have been readily induced to follow unworthy ends. In fact, whenever humans are exalted and regarded as more than mere earthlings, the potential exists for exalting one human to the level of a deity and rendering him blind allegiance. So there would not be anything particularly surprising for the “man of lawlessness” to be one man.

Early interpreters did expect the “man of lawlessness” to be one man—the Antichrist. Justin Martyr (second century) wrote that Christ “shall come from heaven with glory, when the man of apostasy, who speaks strange things against the Most High, shall venture to do unlawful deeds on the earth against us the Christians.” Tertullian (c. 155?-230?) stated, “According indeed to our view, he is Antichrist; as it is taught us in both the ancient and the new prophecies, and especially by the Apostle John, who says that ‘already many false prophets are gone out into the world.’” Hippolytus (who died in 235) also identified the “man of lawlessness” as being Antichrist, as did his contemporary Origen. In the fourth century, John Chrysostom, after referring to the “man of lawlessness” as being “some man,” continued, “For he will not introduce idolatry, but will be a kind of opponent to God; he will abolish all the gods, and will order men to worship him instead of God, and he will be seated in the temple of God, not that in Jerusalem only, but also in every Church.”