“Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).
As we enter the central portion of the book of 2 Thessalonians, Paul the Apostle will offer some additional detail regarding several important end-time events. As we’ll see later in this chapter, this portion of Scripture will supplement some of Paul’s earlier teaching on this subject in order to protect the Christians at Thessalonica from some erroneous teachings that had entered the church.
In one sense, the opening verses of 2 Thessalonians chapter two are comparable to the experience of listening to one side of a mobile phone conversation. While we can gain a great deal of understanding regarding the subject of that conversation, we can only guess at the portion we can’t hear. In this analogy, the first twelve verses of this chapter serve as the portion of the conversation we can hear. What we don’t know is what Paul said earlier regarding “…the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him.”
Nevertheless, these verses provide an excellent framework for understanding the things Paul will go on to say later. For instance…
- They establish our subject for much of this chapter: “…the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him.”
- They explain the reason for Paul’s concern: “…Do not become easily upset in your thinking or afraid” (NCV).
- They identify the source of the issue: “…by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us.”
- They provide us with the nature of the problem: “…as though the day of Christ had come.”
Finally, one source summarizes the opening twelve verses of this chapter and offers some wise counsel that should guide our response to this passage…
“Paul describes the end of the world and Christ’s second coming. He says that great suffering and trouble lie ahead, but evil will not prevail because Christ will return to judge all people. Although Paul presents a few signs of the end times, his emphasis, like Jesus’ (Mark 13), is the need for each person to prepare for Christ’s return by living rightly day by day. If we are ready, we won’t have to be concerned about the preceding events or the timing of Christ’s return. God controls all events.” (1)
(1) Life Application Study Bible Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. [2 Thessalonians 2:1]
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 ESV).
Having comforted the Thessalonians with the assurance that he was praying for them, the Apostle Paul will now transition to a subject that holds interest for every generation: the return of Christ. One scholar provides us with an overview of this topic in the context of the passage quoted above…
“The church of all ages has looked with joyous anticipation to the promised future return of Christ. As His first advent secured our redemption, so His second advent is the blessed hope of the church for the full consummation of His kingdom. The New Testament term most often used to point to Christ’s return is the Parousia. The Parousia refers to the ‘appearing,’ ‘manifestation,’ or ‘coming’ of Jesus in glory at the end of the age. It refers to the church’s expectation of the promised Second Coming or Second Advent of Christ.” (1)
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 offers a detailed description of what will take place during this period…
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”
We can associate this portion of Scripture with an event that has come to be known as the “rapture of the church.” This term derives from an ancient translation of the Scriptures known as the Vulgate. That version renders the phrase “caught up” as raptus, a word that serves as the root of our modern-day word “rapture” and offers a convenient way to identify this Biblical doctrine.
For those Christians who are alive at the time of Jesus’ return, this event will bypass the physical death process and provide for their immediate entrance into eternal life with a glorified body. Yet despite having shared this information with the Thessalonian Christians (both in person and within his previous letter), it appears that many within the Christian community in Thessalonica were still anxious regarding this subject. We’ll take a closer look at the subject of anxiety (and how to deal with it) next.
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2137). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“Now regarding the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to be with him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to be easily shaken from your composure or disturbed by any kind of spirit or message or letter allegedly from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 NET).
One of the motivating factors behind Paul the Apostle’s second letter to the Thessalonian church involved the need to correct those who had misapplied some of his earlier teachings. Paul addressed one such misconception in the passage quoted above: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ… we ask you… not to become easily unsettled or alarmed.”
In light of this, it appears that some among the Thessalonians were anxious and uneasy concerning the subject of Jesus’ return. It also appears that this sense of apprehension had its origin in several different sources that were less than trustworthy.
It might be said that the Thessalonians had fallen into this state of anxiety because they shifted their focus from Someone (Jesus Himself) to something (the timing of His return in this instance). Much as the Apostle Peter famously began to sink beneath the waves of the sea when he took his focus off Jesus, these verses remind us that it is easy to fall into a state of anxiety if we fail to focus upon Christ. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to read Peter’s counsel from the Biblical book of 1 Peter: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7 NIV).
Here are a few other Scriptures to commit to memory when facing a potentially anxiety-producing circumstance…
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 NIV).
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27 NIV).
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him: We ask you, brothers, not to be easily upset in mind or troubled, either by a spirit or by a message or by a letter as if from us, alleging that the Day of the Lord has come” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 HCSB)
A closer look at this passage reveals three potential avenues for spiritual deception: “a spirit… a message or by a letter as if from us.”
The first avenue (“a spirit“) likely relates to those who falsely claimed to possess a divinely-inspired message regarding Jesus’ return. Paul had earlier counseled the Thessalonians to scrutinize such things when he said, “Put everything to the test. Accept what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21 CEV). This also aligns with something we read in the New Testament epistle of 1 John…
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 NIV).
A “message” is comparable to a modern-day sermon or “a spoken word” (ESV). While many contemporary speakers are skilled in the art of persuasion, it’s important to recognize that such talents are not always put to God-honoring purposes. It’s also important to recognize that the ability to generate fear and anxiety in the minds of an audience may be used appropriately or inappropriately depending on certain factors.
For instance, a speaker who is honest about the prospects of a Christless eternity may provoke a legitimate sense of fear and anxiety in those who do not know God. Ideally, that response would serve to direct their attention to humanity’s failure to live up to God’s moral standards and illustrate their need for a Savior. However, the Christian community in Thessalonica did not fall into that category. Because of this, their confused (CEB) and troubled (KJV) response indicates that there was something wrong with what they had been told concerning “…the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him“.
While it is right to promote a healthy sense of respect and reverence for God, we should recognize that “…perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18) in those who follow Christ. Remember that fear and anxiety are powerful motivational tools. Therefore, a speaker who generates this kind of emotional response in his or her audience should be carefully examined to ensure that his or her message corresponds with sound Biblical doctrine.
Finally, “a letter” would correspond to a written report. Today, this might take the form of a published work, online post, text message, or email. Just as in our first two examples, a spiritual teaching that takes the form of a written report may not be what it seems. In light of this, we would be wise to test the authenticity of such things against the Scriptures.
“Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4)
Judging from the passage quoted above, it appears that some members of the Thessalonian congregation had been mistakenly led to believe that the “The Day of The Lord” had arrived within their lifetimes. Paul the Apostle will now go on to correct that misunderstanding beginning here in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4.
In one sense, it’s easy to understand how the church at Thessalonica might have made this connection. For instance, the Scriptures often associate “The Day of The Lord” with God’s wrath (Isaiah 13:9), a period of destruction (Joel 1:15), and a day of trouble and distress (Zephaniah 1:14-18). In light of the intense persecution they had experienced as a result of their commitment to Christ, this impressionable young church may have been susceptible to this erroneous message from others or someone claiming to be Paul himself.
One source offers some additional perspective on this idea…
“In the Bible, ‘the day of the Lord’ is used in two ways: It can mean the end times (beginning with Christ’s birth and continuing until today), and it can mean the final judgment day (in the future). Because some false teachers were saying that judgment day had come, many believers were waiting expectantly for their vindication and for relief from suffering. But judgment day had not yet come; other events would have to happen first.” (1)
Thus, this passage offers an important reminder for 21st century readers. For example, it is one thing to recognize that current events seem to indicate that “the day of Christ“ is drawing near or that Jesus is likely to return soon. In fact, Jesus consistently warns us to be watchful in regard to His return. But as another commentator adds, “False starts have been a common phenomenon among movements predicting the imminent end of the age as people’s expectations exceed their patience.” (2)
Therefore, we would be wise to live in expectation of Christ’s return while keeping the following Scriptures in mind…
“Make good use of every opportunity you have, because these are evil days” (Ephesians 5:16 GNT).
“Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity” (Colossians 4:5 NLT).
“…you are living with evil people all around you, who have lost their sense of what is right. Among those people you shine like lights in a dark world, and you offer them the teaching that gives life…” (Philippians 2:15-16 ERV).
(1) Life Application Study Bible Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. [2 Thessalonians 2:1-2]
(2) Charles A. Wanamaker, The Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 238. Quoted in Notes on 2 Thessalonians 2020 Edition, Dr. Thomas L. Constable https://www.planobiblechapel.org/tcon/notes/html/nt/2thessalonians/2thessalonians.htm
“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits in God’s sanctuary, publicizing that he himself is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 HCSB).
In seeking to comfort the members of the Thessalonian church regarding the subject of Jesus’ return, Paul the Apostle explained that “…the day of Christ” (v. 2) will not arrive until a specific period of spiritual desertion takes place. That desertion may take the form of those who once self-identified as Christians and later departed from the faith, a deliberate rebellion against God throughout humanity, or perhaps a combination of both.
Depending on the Biblical translation, this wide-scale defection from God is variously defined as…
- “a falling away” (KJV).
- “the apostasy” (CSB).
- “a great rebellion against God” (NLT).
- “a definite rejection of God” (Phillips).
One source tells us that ancient non-biblical documents associate the idea of this defection with the concept of a political rebellion. (1) So this implies something more than just a general lack of interest in the things of God; it implies a dedicated insurrection against the Creator.
While history has seen innumerable revolts against various forms of societal, religious, and/or political order, these are only precursors to the rebellion that will usher in the appearance of the person described as “the man of lawlessness” in the passage quoted above. Since Romans 13:1-2 tells us that God has established all governing authorities, this revolt will likely extend beyond the spiritual dimension to encompass other forms of governmental and societal order as well.
Before we turn our attention to the person who is described for us within this passage, one commentator leaves us with a few additional observations in the context of Paul’s original audience for this letter…
“The ancient Greek wording for falling away indicates a rebellion or a departure. Bible scholars debate if it refers to an apostasy among those who once followed God, or a general worldwide rebellion. In fact, Paul may have both in mind, because there is evidence of each in the end times (1 Timothy 4:1-3, 2 Timothy 3:1-5 and 4:3-4). Nevertheless, Paul’s point is clear: ‘You are worried that we are in the Great Tribulation and that you missed the rapture. But you can know that we are not in the Great Tribulation, because we have not yet seen the falling away that comes first.’” (2)
(1) G646 apostasia. Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for ‘Fall, Fallen, Falling, Fell’. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of NT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ved/f/fall-fallen-falling-fell.html. 1940.
(2) Guzik, Dave 2 Thessalonians 2 – The Coming of That Day https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/2-thessalonians-2/
“Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 ESV).
Some members of the Thessalonian church had apparently been shaken by the belief that “The Day of The Lord” had already arrived within their lifetimes. Paul the Apostle sought to clarify his earlier teaching regarding that subject and calm their fears in the verses quoted above. In doing so, Paul provides us with some important information regarding a specific period of rebellion against God that will occur in the future.
That rebellion will usher in the appearance of a person whom Paul identifies as “the man of lawlessness.” This individual will be so completely under the control of sin that he will personify the spirit of the antichrist described for us in the New Testament epistle of 1 John: “Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22).
While it may seem obvious, it’s important to note that the word “antichrist” is separable into two distinct portions: “anti” and “christ.” The first part of this word (“anti”) means “against.” This prefix is familiar to many of us due to its appearance within many well-known words and phrases. For instance, a person who is said to be “antisocial” is someone who is against the idea of socializing with others. The words “antifreeze,” “antiestablishment,” and “antibiotic” offer some additional examples.
However, the term “anti” can also mean “instead of” or “in place of.” This means the word “antichrist” may also be associated with an attempt to substitute someone or something else for Christ. Therefore, any person, teaching, or organization that attempts to take Jesus’ place may be accurately characterized by the word “antichrist” (see 1 John 4:2-3 and 2 John 1:7).
The term “antichrist” will find its ultimate definition in the future when the person described here in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is revealed. This person will personify the word antichrist in both senses of the word (see also Revelation 13-20). Because of this, “the man of lawlessness” will be the ultimate embodiment of this idea, for he will be someone who is completely against Christ while attempting to substitute for Him at the same time.
“Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed–the one who brings destruction. He will exalt himself and defy everything that people call god and every object of worship. He will even sit in the temple of God, claiming that he himself is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 NLT).
We can make a few additional observations regarding the man of lawlessness who is identified for us within these verses. For instance, some versions of this passage (most notably the King James Bible and its related translations) identify this person as “the man of sin.” In reality, there is little real difference between these descriptions since lawlessness and sin are functional equivalents of one another.
We should also remember that the concept of lawlessness is not limited to this future period when the man of lawlessness will be revealed. As Paul the Apostle will later go on to acknowledge, the “mystery of lawlessness” was already at work in his own day (2 Thessalonians 2:7). In fact, such acts of lawlessness run like a thread throughout the course of human history extending as far back as our first human ancestors. Thus, the acts of lawlessness we see, hear, or experience today are harbingers of the man of lawlessness who is to come. He is the one who will embody the characteristics of lawlessness in its various forms.
It is also interesting to note that this future leader is further identified as “the son of perdition” in many Biblical translations. This phrase expresses the idea of ruin, damnation, and “the destruction which consists of eternal misery in hell.” (1) Those who are familiar with the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life may also recognize this term, for Jesus used this same phrase to identify Judas Iscariot…
“While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12).
Thus, Judas served as a type or example of the man of lawlessness who will appear in the future. This has led one commentator to conclude, “Perdition means destruction, the complete loss of well-being. It is really the opposite of salvation. To call him the son of perdition means his character is marked by this destruction. Moffatt says the phrase ‘son of perdition’ essentially means the doomed one.” (2)
(1) G684 apoleia Thayer’s Greek Lexicon https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?strongs=G684&t=NKJV
(2) Guzik, Dave 2 Thessalonians 2 – The Coming of That Day https://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/2-thessalonians-2/
“He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, and as a result he takes his seat in God’s temple, displaying himself as God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4 NET).
This passage offers several insights into the man of lawlessness described earlier in verse three. For instance, he will accept no competition from “…any so-called god or anything that people worship” (NCV). Next, the act of “taking a seat” in God’s temple implies that he will seize an exalted position much like a king who claims a royal seat of authority. However, he will take this seat in a place that does not belong to him (i.e. God’s temple) in seeking to displace God from His rightful position.
Finally, this man will attempt to represent himself as something he is not: “He will announce that he himself is God” (NIRV). Taken together, these actions reveal that the man of lawlessness will seek to assume a position of ultimate supremacy, dominance, and worship.
Two commentators make several sobering observations regarding this spurious claim to deity and attempt to usurp the place of God…
“This Greek term for ‘temple’ (naos) was used for the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple, though no seat was in it. The term was also employed for pagan temples where deities were enthroned. This may imply that the Jewish temple must be physically rebuilt (cf. Dan. 9:24-27), possibly following Ezekiel 40-48, but not necessarily. Remember the Jewish temple had no place to sit. It was only a Greek temple (i.e., Zeus’) which had a throne. If literal this phrase could not refer to a Jewish place of worship. Chrysostom interpreted ‘a temple’ as a common Pauline metaphor for the Church (cf. 1 Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:21). This view sees the Anti-Christ as manifesting himself in the visible church.” (1)
“This man is not Satan, although Satan is the force behind him (v. 9) and he has motives like the desires of the devil (cf. Is 14:13, 14). Paul is referring to the very act of ultimate apostasy which reveals the final Antichrist and sets the course for the events that usher in the Day of the Lord. Apparently, he will be seen as supportive of religion so that God and Christ will not appear as his enemies until the apostasy. He exalts himself and opposes God by moving into the temple, the place for worship of God, declaring himself to be God and demanding the worship of the world. In this act of Satanic self-deification, he commits the great apostasy in defiance of God.” (2)
(1) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, 2 Thessalonians 2:4 Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07C_02.html
(2) MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (2 Th 2:3). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.
“Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?” (2 Thessalonians 2:5).
It’s interesting to note Paul the Apostle’s brief aside here in verse five: “Don’t you remember? I told you all this while I was with you” (GNT). This statement is important because it verifies the Biblical book we know today as 1 Thessalonians as a genuine letter from Paul himself. You see, Paul and the members of the Thessalonian church were the only two parties who held the ability to confirm the truth of that statement. This enabled the Thessalonians to verify the genuine nature of this message and establish that it was not a forgery.
Beyond this, it appears that the Thessalonian congregation had forgotten some key aspects of Paul’s teaching regarding the subject of Jesus’ return. In fact, Jesus once had a similar experience in speaking with His disciples: “‘Take care,’ Jesus warned them, ‘and be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod’” (GNB).
The “yeast of the Pharisees” represented false spirituality or religious hypocrisy (Luke 12:1). “The yeast of Herod” involved a secular mindset and the appeal of power (Acts 12:21-23). Much like the subtle, pervasive effect of yeast upon a piece of dough, these attitudes can produce a damaging effect if they are allowed to permeate our lives.
The problem is that the disciples completely misinterpreted the meaning of Jesus’ message: “The disciples talked this over and said to each other, ‘He must be saying this because we don’t have any bread’” (Mark 8:16 CEV). That prompted Jesus to make the following response: “‘…Don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets did you fill with leftover pieces?’ They told him, ‘Twelve.’ ‘When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many large baskets did you fill with leftover pieces?’ They answered him, ‘Seven.’ He asked them, ‘Don’t you catch on yet?’” (Mark 8:18-21 GW).
While the disciples had surely remembered their previous experiences with Jesus, they had forgotten to apply them in the context of His warning. In a similar manner, the Thessalonian church had forgotten what Paul taught them- and that led them to respond in fear and anxiety when presented with an aberrant teaching on the subject of Jesus’ return. We can avoid a similar fate by reading the Scriptures daily to bring their teachings to our remembrance and help ensure that we do not forget what we’ve already learned.
“And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time” (2 Thessalonians 2:6).
Despite the abundance of modern-day Biblical study materials and thousands of years of research by untold numbers of people, it appears that we know less about some aspects of this passage than the ancient church at Thessalonica. To illustrate this, consider Paul the Apostle’s enigmatic statement here in 2 Thessalonians 2:6: “You already know what is holding this wicked one back until it is time for him to come” (CEV).
Paul’s statement implies that the Thessalonian congregation had insight into this restraining force that we do not possess today. Since Paul had already addressed this point with the Christian community at Thessalonica, it’s easy to understand why he didn’t elaborate on this subject within this letter. While this is not ideal for a 21st century audience, it does not prevent us from considering the possible identity of this restraining power.
Just as a detective might use a series of clues to narrow the list of suspects in a criminal investigation, we can use the information given to us in the verse that follows 2 Thessalonians 2:6 to aid our investigation of this passage…
“…only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:7).
This passage contains a subtle but important shift that merits close attention. Notice that the “what” of 2 Thessalonians 2:6 has now become the “He” of 2 Thessalonians 2:7. In other words, this restraining force is impersonal in verse six but personal in verse seven. Therefore, it appears that someone is using something (or perhaps multiple “somethings”) to restrain the “son of perdition” mentioned earlier in verse three.
Since a tool is often less important than the person who uses it, we should begin by focusing our attention on the individual identified here in verse seven before we turn our attention to the form of that restraint. We can start by observing that the man of lawlessness described in 2 Thessalonians chapter two is powerful, but less so than the one who restrains him. Despite the terrifying nature of the son of perdition, he remains subject to the one who holds him back. Therefore, he can only do what he is permitted to do and not necessarily what he might like to do. In fact, the activities of the lawless one are managed by this restrainer down to the precise time of his revelation.
With these things in mind, we’ll discuss the likely identity of this restrainer next.
“And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time” (2 Thessalonians 2:6 ESV).
While this passage may seem cryptic and obscure to modern-day audiences, it appears the original readers of this letter understood this reference to the restraining force mentioned here. Unfortunately, 21st century readers of this passage do not possess that same advantage. Therefore, we must prayerfully consider the nature of the restraint upon the man of lawlessness in light of 2 Thessalonians 2:6 and the verse that follows: “…the one now restraining will do so until he is out of the way” (HCSB).
It seems that there is only one entity who is capable of exerting such control over the man of sin. That entity would be God in the Person of the Holy Spirit. It’s likely that God in His omnipotence is the only Being capable of exerting the force necessary to restrain such malevolence.
The next question is, “What form does that restraint take?” One possibility is human government. The New Testament book of Romans provides us with one of the clearest Biblical declarations concerning God’s use of human government to restrain evil…
“Everyone must obey state authorities, because no authority exists without God’s permission, and the existing authorities have been put there by God. Whoever opposes the existing authority opposes what God has ordered; and anyone who does so will bring judgment on himself. For rulers are not to be feared by those who do good, but by those who do evil.
Would you like to be unafraid of those in authority? Then do what is good, and they will praise you, because they are God’s servants working for your own good. But if you do evil, then be afraid of them, because their power to punish is real. They are God’s servants and carry out God’s punishment on those who do evil” (Romans 13:1-4 GNT).
One commentator endorses this view with the following observation…
“The principle of law and order, as enforced by human authority, is ‘that which restraineth’ until he be taken out of the way. This means that Satan will continually use every device, pursue every opportunity, and employ every diabolical instrument in his efforts to break down law and order in society. Hence, for the time being, the worst Satan can do is to promote the spirit of lawlessness… At the divinely decreed moment (the appropriate time) when, as a punishment for man’s willingness to cooperate with this spirit, the ‘someone’ and ‘something’ that now holds back is removed, Satan will begin to carry out his plans.” (1)
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:6”. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/2-thessalonians-2.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“And you know what currently restrains him, so that he will be revealed in his time” (2 Thessalonians 2:6 HCSB).
In addition to human government as a restraining force against evil, we can say that the influence of those who genuinely follow Jesus also serves to restrict the impact of evil in the world. While objectors may be quick to identify various injustices that have been committed in the name of Christ, it’s important to measure those who claim to follow Jesus against His teachings and not the other way around.
For instance, consider the restraint upon evil that would result if everyone enacted the following portion of Jesus’ teaching from the Beatitudes…
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45).
Jesus also referred to His followers as “…the salt of the earth” in Matthew 5:13. While salt is a relatively common element, it possesses properties that serve as an excellent illustration for 2 Thessalonians 2:6. For instance, salt is commonly known as a seasoning agent. In other words, salt often makes food taste better than it might ordinarily taste alone.
The New Testament book of Colossians utilizes this attribute as an illustration when it tells us, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6). The idea is that our interactions with others should be tasteful just as salt makes food more tasteful.
Salt is also valuable for use as a preservative. In the days before refrigeration, salt was regularly used as a preservative to keep food from spoiling and is still used for that purpose today. In a spiritual sense, we can say that Jesus (and those who genuinely represent Him) serve as a kind of preservative influence upon others. Without the preserving influence of Christ and His people in pursuing that which is good, the world would quickly become as spoiled and corrupt as food that hadn’t been salted or refrigerated.
Therefore, as Jesus says, “…Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another” (Mark 9:50) thus allowing His influence to season our thoughts, words, actions, and relationships with others.
“For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way” (2 Thessalonians 2:7).
We can enhance our understanding of this verse by examining three significant words. The first is the word mystery. This refers to a secret that would ordinarily remain unknown unless it was revealed in some manner. (1) The second word is lawlessness. We can define this word as “contempt and violation of law, iniquity, wickedness.” (2) Finally, there is the term “work.” In the original language of this passage, this phrase is represented by the word energeo and serves as a root of our modern day word “energy.” This word means, “to put forth power (or) be operative.” (3)
We can tie these definitions together to form an instructive paraphrase: “Here is a revelatory truth that would ordinarily remain unknown: the contempt for law that will characterize the man of sin is already in operation.” One scholar elaborates on this idea with the following insight…
“Though the man of lawlessness has not yet appeared, Paul will not allow his readers to let down their guard. The same satanic power that will ultimately spawn this unholy deceiver was already at work in Paul’s day (1 John 2:18) and is at work in ours. Because it is now restrained, the church has a strong encouragement to carry out its mission.” (4)
While virtually every human being has been exposed to some degree of lawlessness, we have yet to experience the type of lawless behavior that will characterize human conduct when the restraints upon the man of sin are removed. Another commentary closes our look at this passage with a serious and penetrating analysis…
“Lawlessness is the hidden, subtle, underlying force from which all sin springs. Civilization still has a veneer of decency through law enforcement, education, science, and reason. Although we are horrified by criminal acts, we have yet to see the real horror of complete lawlessness. This will happen when ‘the one who is holding it back steps out of the way.’
Why will God allow this to happen? To show people and nations their own sinfulness, and to show them by bitter experience the true alternative to the lordship of Christ. People totally without God can act no better than vicious animals. Lawlessness, to a certain extent, is already going on, but the man of lawlessness has not yet been revealed.” (5)
(1) G3466 mysterion https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/mysterion
(2) G458 anomia https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g458
(3) G1754 energeo https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g1754
(4) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2147). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
(5) Life Application Study Bible Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. [2 Thessalonians 2:7]
“And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8).
In one sense, 2 Thessalonians 2:8 returns us to the opening verses of this chapter: “…let us clarify some things about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and how we will be gathered to meet Him. Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 NLT).
We can follow the Apostle Paul’s God-inspired thought process through the first eight verses of this chapter in the following manner …
- Some members of the Thessalonian church were concerned that the Day of The Lord had already begun (verse two).
- However, that Day will not occur “…until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2 Thessalonians 2:3).
- There is a force restraining the man of sin and preventing his appearance (verse six).
- That restraining force has not yet been removed (verse seven).
- Therefore, the congregation at Thessalonica could be assured that the Day of The Lord had not yet begun regardless of what they may have heard.
- As a further comfort, Paul assured his readers that the Lord will completely annihilate the man of sin who is to come (verse eight).
Therefore, the intensity of the persecution against the Thessalonian church was not connected to Jesus’ return but attributable in part to the fact that “…the secret power of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7 NIV). This also recalls Paul’s counsel to a young Pastor named Timothy: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 ESV).
Given Paul’s deep familiarity with the Old Testament Scriptures, it should not come as a surprise to learn that the imagery he used in 2 Thessalonians 2:8 also appears in the book of the Biblical prophet Isaiah: “He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited. The earth will shake at the force of his word, and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked” (Isaiah 11:4 NLT).
In the context of 2 Thessalonians 2:8, we might understand this passage to mean that the Lord is so overwhelmingly powerful that a simple puff of His breath will be sufficient to dispatch this coming man of sin.
“The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9).
2 Thessalonians chapter two has already alerted us to one characteristic of “the lawless one” mentioned here: he will assume the place of God and usurp the worship and recognition that rightfully belongs to Him alone. To this, the verse quoted above adds two additional attributes. First, this coming man of sin will conform to Satan’s agenda. Next, he will be vested with supernatural capabilities.
This supernatural power will be reflected in the ability to perform “signs and wonders.” The word “sign” refers to “…an unusual occurrence, transcending the common course of nature. ” (1) A “wonder” is associated with something miraculous when used in this context. (2) These demonstrations will influence many to accept the man of sin in place of God.
At this point, we should pause to remember that the ability to perform “miracles, signs, and wonders” does not necessarily mean that God endorses a person or ministry. In other words, the presence of miracle-working ability does not prove that the miracle-worker is doing God’s will. (3) One source offers a perceptive comment on this unfortunate reality…
“In these confusing times, many Christians are seeking for ‘signs and wonders’ to bolster their faith. This attitude, however, was rebuked by Christ, when He lamented: “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe” (John 4:48). The danger of being led thereby into a false occultic pseudo-Christianity is very real, for Satan and his false christs and false prophets are also able to ‘shew great signs and wonders” (Matthew 24:24). But these are ‘lying wonders,’ intended to deceive men into a false worship.” (4)
In this instance, the ability to perform these signs “…is in accord with the activity of Satan” (NASB). Despite what many believe, the Scriptures identify Satan as an actual being who possesses genuine influence over others. He is not characterized as a myth, legend, or mischievous prankster. Instead, he is defined as a literal being who is evil (Matthew 6:13), wicked (1 John 2:13), a liar and a murderer (John 8:44), and a deceiver (Revelation 20:10).
We can also add the ability to perform “false miracles, signs, and wonders” (Mounce) to that list of characteristics. These miracles will be false in the sense that they represent…
- Supernaturally sophisticated sleight of hand techniques.
- Authentic miracles that are intended to deceive.
- A combination of both.
Nevertheless, one of these possibilities seems more likely than the others. We’ll see why next.
(1) G4592 semeion https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?t=kjv&strongs=g4592
(2) G5059 teras https://www.billmounce.com/greek-dictionary/teras
(3) See Wilbur Fields, Thinking Through Thessalonians, Notes (2:9) [pg. 205] https://archive.org/stream/BibleStudyTextbookSeriesThessalonians/17Thessalonians_djvu.txt
(4) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes 2 Thessalonians 2:9 https://www.icr.org/bible/2Th/2/9
“The coming of the lawless one is based on Satan’s working, with all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9 HCSB).
While it is possible that the coming man of lawlessness will employ a series of highly developed illusions that appear to be miraculous, it seems more likely that he will be imbued with genuine supernatural power of a Satanic origin. Consider the analysis of this passage offered by the following commentary…
“Paul employed three terms to describe the supernatural power this man will demonstrate. Miracles (dynamei) emphasizes the inherent power behind the works he will perform. Signs (semeiois) refers to the fact that they will have significance. Wonders (terasin) indicates the attitude of awe that they will evoke when people behold them. He will, in short, perform such powerful miracles that it will be evident to all that he has supernatural power, and people will stand in awe of him. One such miracle and the people’s awe are mentioned in Rev_13:2-4 and Rev_17:8.” (1)
This is important to remember if we encounter something that purports to be miraculous. The issue is not that God is incapable of performing miracles. Instead, we would be wise to examine such things before we assume they originate with Him. Jesus’ teachings are highly instructive in this regard…
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23, emphasis added).
“…false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand” (Matthew 24:24-25).
Another sources summarizes this precautionary approach with the following insight…
“Here it is important to note that not all miracles are of God. The devil and his agents can perform miracles. The man of lawlessness will also perform them (Rev_13:13-15). A miracle indicates supernatural power but not necessarily divine power. The miracles of our Lord proved Him to be the promised Messiah, not simply because they were supernatural, but because they fulfilled prophecy and were of such a moral nature that Satan could not have done them without harming his own cause.” (2)
We’ll consider some additional steps that can help us separate the true from the false in this regard next.
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary [2 Thessalonians 2:9]
(2) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary 2 Thessalonians 1:6, pg.2055
“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9 ESV).
In 2 Corinthians 12:12, Paul the Apostle wrote the following message to the church in the city of Corinth: “Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds.” Much like the apostles who accompanied Jesus during His earthly ministry, Paul verified his apostolic calling through the miraculous works God performed through him, some that included healing the sick (Acts 28:8 cf. Luke 9:1-6). So much like a guidepost that offers direction to a traveler, these miraculous signs pointed the way to Christ, the Savior Paul represented.
This distinction becomes important as we consider the miraculous works ascribed to the man of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2:9. Unlike the “false signs and wonders” performed by the lawless one, a God-ordained miracle honors the God of the Scriptures and points us towards Christ. A sign, wonder, or miracle that reflects something else is likely to be illegitimate.
The following comments can be helpful as we seek to determine the legitimacy of an alleged miracle…
“…true miracles cause one to think more highly of God, tell the truth, and promote moral behavior. Counterfeit signs from Satan do not do this. They tend to glorify the person ostensibly performing the sign, and they are often associated with error and immoral behavior. They also may not be immediate, instantaneous, or permanent. In short, only God performs true miracles; Satan does counterfeit miracles. This is precisely what the Bible calls them in 2 Thessalonians 2:9 when Paul writes that, ‘The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders.’ Of course, unless one is discerning, such signs can be deceptive and may be mistaken for miracles (Matt. 24:24).” (1)
“This evil man will use ‘counterfeit power and signs and miracles’ to deceive and draw a following. Miracles from God can help strengthen our faith and lead people to Christ, but all miracles are not necessarily from God. Christ’s miracles were significant, not just because of their power, but because of their purpose—to help, to heal, and to point us to God. The man of lawlessness will have power to do amazing things, but his power will be from Satan. He will use this power to destroy and to lead people away from God and toward himself. If any so-called religious personality draws attention only to himself or herself, his or her work is not from God.” (2)
(1) Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist Copyright© 2004 [p.213]
(2) Life Application Study Bible Copyright © 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993, 1996, 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers Inc., all rights reserved. [2 Thessalonians 2:9]
“and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10).
The New Testament gospel of John records a question that Pontius Pilate presented to Jesus just prior to His crucifixion. That inquiry represents one of the most important questions anyone can ever ask: “What is truth?” (John 18:38). This question relates to 2 Thessalonians 2:10 because Paul the Apostle uses the word “truth” three times in verses ten to thirteen. An accurate definition of truth is vitally important, for if we fail to define “truth” now, others will surely try to define it for us later.
We can begin with this basic definition of truth: “truth” is defined as “that which corresponds to reality.” Simply put, if you’re speaking the truth, you’re telling it like it is. So truth is that which is in agreement with the facts. Although we may dispute the facts of a matter, we cannot dispute the overall existence of truth. We can demonstrate that reality with a brief exercise.
Let’s consider the following statement: “There is no such thing as truth.” We might respond to that declaration by asking, “Is that true?” If it is, then we have just uncovered the self-defeating nature of that idea and confirmed the existence of truth.
This question may also arise in regard to Jesus’ statement from John 14:6: “…I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (NIV). Some prefer to dismiss that claim with the following response: “Jesus may be true for you but not for me.” Yet just as with our previous example, a statement like this is self-defeating if we stop to think about it.
To understand why, let’s reconsider this assertion: “That’s true for you but not for me.” Does that statement apply to everyone? In other words, is it universally true that something may be true for some but not for others? If the answer is yes, then at least one thing is universally true- and if it’s possible for one thing to be true for everyone, then it is at least possible for Jesus’ statement to be true for everyone as well.
For some, the reality of “truth” may be disconcerting in view of the natural inhibition it places upon our ability to do whatever we want. But choices lead to consequences and a disavowal of the existence of truth helps explain the difficult and uncomfortable message of 2 Thessalonians 2:10: “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”
“and with every wicked deception among those who are perishing. They perish because they did not accept the love of the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10 CSB).
2 Thessalonians 2:10 identifies a kind of cause and effect relationship. But unlike the usual expression of this idea where a cause leads directly to an effect, the passage quoted above brackets the effect around the cause in the following manner…
Effect: “They perish…”
Cause: “because they did not accept the love of the truth…”
Effect: “and so be saved.”
We’ll discover why people “…refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them” (NLT) a little later in verse twelve. But first we should address two important points. We can begin with this observation: we increase our susceptibility to various forms of deception whenever we depart from the truth. The following portion of the New Testament book of Romans makes this abundantly clear…
“Ever since God created the world, his invisible qualities, both his eternal power and his divine nature, have been clearly seen; they are perceived in the things that God has made. So those people have no excuse at all! They know God, but they do not give him the honor that belongs to him, nor do they thank him. Instead, their thoughts have become complete nonsense, and their empty minds are filled with darkness. They say they are wise, but they are fools” (Romans 1:20-22 GNT).
This coming man of lawlessness will subsequently exploit that vulnerability…
“The meaning of this verse is not that everything (the man of lawlessness) does will be perceived as evil by people, but that it will be evil in its essence because it misrepresents the truth and leads people away from worshiping God. The same three words used to describe his miracles in 2Th_2:9 (miracles, signs, wonders) were used of the miracles of Jesus Christ (Act_2:22) and the apostles (Heb_2:4). It will appear to unbelievers living on the earth at that time that he is indeed God. He will be able to pass himself off as God and receive worship as God.” (1)
The second point involves those who find fault with God for punishing human beings who “…have refused to love the truth that would allow them to be saved” (CEB). One scholar addresses that objection with an instructive response…
“…justice often cannot occur without punishment for the oppressors. We understand the dynamics with injustice in this life, and yet some then protest that God has to be completely different when it comes to eternal life. The inconsistency proves telling.” (2)
(1) John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, Bible Knowledge Commentary [2 Thessalonians 2:10]
(2) Craig L. Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the New Testament Copyright © 2016 B&H Academic Nashville, Tennessee [pg. 367]
“And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11).
2 Thessalonians 2:11 undoubtedly represents a challenging portion of Scripture for many. For instance, it may be difficult to understand how the Biblical God of truth and honesty could actually send a delusion upon a group of human beings.
To address that question, we should note this passage begins by saying, “Therefore” (ESV), “Consequently” (NET), or “…for this cause” (KJV). This tells us that God is acting in response to something. That “something” was given to us in the previous verse: “…they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). To ensure we do not miss the point, the next verse will go on to reiterate it: “…all those will be judged guilty who did not believe the truth, but enjoyed doing evil” (NCV).
With this in mind, we can say that God does not indiscriminately trick, fool, or delude these individuals. Instead, we’re told that God will send a delusion upon a select group of people based upon the actions they have taken. Perhaps the best way to understand this concept is through the use of a comparison.
Let’s say a business manager directs a subordinate to carry out a task. When that task is completed, the manager can rightly say, “I took care of that responsibility” to those who are higher up the company’s chain of command. While the manager was not directly involved in completing that task, he or she was the one who made it happen.
The same is true for the highest-ranking official on a ship of any kind. The highest-ranking official is ultimately responsible for anything that takes place under his or her command even if he or she wasn’t directly involved with every operation.
In a similar manner, God possesses this same type of accountability, albeit on a far greater scale. Thus we can say God sends this delusion in the sense that He permits, allows, or makes it happen. A better known example occurs in the Biblical book of Job where God allowed Satan to inflict great pain upon Job. Satan was directly responsible for afflicting Job but only because God was responsible for allowing it.
Much like a vaccination that helps protect against a deadly disease, those who love and accept the truth develop an internal resistance to deluded beliefs. Therefore, we can say that one of the best ways to avoid the potential for delusion is to prayerfully ensure we “…receive the love of the truth.”
“Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 ESV).
The truth of God’s existence (and all that proceeds from it) is often difficult, uncomfortable, or inconvenient for those who would prefer to live as if that truth did not exist. Nevertheless, the old adage still applies: the truth always catches up with you. In this instance, a denial of the truth results in condemnation for those who “…would rather do evil than believe the truth” (CEV).
One source elaborates on the stark realities that confront us in this passage…
“Since they will not believe the truth, God allows them to believe the great lie. Although God is the sovereign agent behind all that happens, it is clear in this passage that a voluntary, rational choice is made by these people of every age who have pleasure in unrighteousness. The word used here (Gr eudokeo) means to ‘make a decision about what is right.’ The decision was theirs; they decided for unrighteousness rather than for righteousness and God. The result is that they are condemned, i.e., lost!” (1)
Another commentator offers a particularly hard-hitting analysis of these verses…
“This thought may astound some people, but the Scriptures actually teach that when men refuse to accept what God plainly says, that God sends delusion to them, that they may believe a lie and be condemned. There are numerous examples of this in the Bible.
(1) God hardened Pharaoh’s heart and caused him to suffer many plagues, because Pharaoh first hardened his own heart. Exo_3:19; Exo_5:1-2; Exo_7:3; Exo_7:13.
(2) God hardened the hearts of the wicked inhabitants of Canaan, so that they would fight Joshua and be destroyed. Jos_11:20.
(3) God sent a lying spirit to the prophets of Ahab, so that Ahab would go into battle and be killed. 1Ki_22:19-23. (Of course, Ahab had long before rejected Jehovah.)
(4) God turned the Gentiles who refused to honor Him as God, over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which were horribly evil and self-destructive. Rom_1:28.
(5) Likewise now the lie of the man of sin comes to those who will not receive the love of the truth. Beware.” (2)
The warning to modern-day readers of this passage is clear: “God furnishes no guarantee that He will disabuse sinners of error if they really prefer error to the truth.” (3)
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2488). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
(2) Wilbur Fields, Thinking Through Thessalonians, Notes (2:9) [pg. 209] https://archive.org/stream/BibleStudyTextbookSeriesThessalonians/17Thessalonians_djvu.txt
(3) Archer, G. L. (1982). New International Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (p. 410). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
Thus far, 2 Thessalonians chapter two has featured an extended discussion on the subject of Jesus’ return and the events that will accompany it. But here in verse thirteen, Paul the Apostle will transition from the future to the present and go on to share a number of practical exhortations to Godly living. Those exhortations will encompass most of the remainder of this letter.
Knowing what the future holds should impact the way we live in the present- and unlike those who “…had pleasure in unrighteousness” mentioned earlier in verse twelve, Paul was clearly encouraged by the fact that he could “…give thanks to God” for the Christians in Thessalonica.
In addition to what we read here in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, we should also note that Paul expressed his thankfulness for God’s people in several other instances as well…
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world” (Romans 1:8).
“Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers” (Ephesians 1:15-16).
“Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I thank my God every time I remember you” (Philippians 1:1-3 NIV).
“We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints” (Colossians 1:3-4).
“I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus” (Philemon 1:4-5 NIV).
In a world full of conflict, division, misunderstanding, emotional injury, and differences of opinion, it is often difficult to find things we can be thankful for in the lives of others. Nevertheless, we can honor God by making an effort to seek out and focus upon the things we can give thanks for as we interact with those who enter our lives.
“But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
1 Thessalonians 1:4 is a brief passage that undoubtedly served to reassure the original recipients of this letter. Nevertheless, this verse also presents us with a doctrine that has arguably led to more discussion and debate than any other throughout the centuries: the doctrine of election.
The issue arises from the apparent conflict that exists between God’s sovereignty in choosing (or electing) individual human beings for salvation and human responsibility in accepting or rejecting His offer of salvation. We can turn to the following sources for some helpful insight into this topic beginning with a definition of the term “election”…
“The doctrine of election teaches that God chose certain people in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph_1:4). It does not teach that He chose some to be damned. If men are finally lost, it is because of their own sin and unbelief. The same Bible that teaches election also teaches human responsibility or man’s free choice. God makes a bona fide offer of salvation to all people everywhere. Whoever comes to Christ will find a warm welcome.
These two doctrines, election and freedom of choice, create an irreconcilable conflict in the human mind. But the Bible teaches both and so we should believe both even if we can’t harmonize them.” (1)
Another commentary provides us with Biblical references that support the doctrines of divine election and human responsibility while acknowledging the difficulty in reconciling them…
“The proof of God’s love for the Thessalonians was His choice of them unto salvation. From the word translated chosen (ekloge) comes the English ‘election.’ That God has chosen to bless some individuals with eternal life is clearly taught in many places in both the Old and New Testaments (e.g., Deu_4:37; Deu_7:6-7; Isa_44:1-2; Rom_9:1-33; Eph_1:4-6, Eph_1:11; Col_3:12; 2Th_2:13).
Equally clear is the fact that God holds each individual personally responsible for his decision to trust or not to trust in Jesus Christ (cf. Joh_3:1-36; Rom_5:1-21). The difficulty in putting divine election and human responsibility together is understanding how both can be true. That both are true is taught in the Bible. How both can be true is apparently incomprehensible to finite human minds; no one has ever been able to explain this antinomy satisfactorily.” (2)
We’ll continue our look at this important subject with a focus upon the tension that exists between divine sovereignty and human responsibility next.
Portions of this message originally appeared here
(1) William Macdonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary (p.2024) Edited by Arthur Farstad Thomas Nelson Publishers
(2) Bible Knowledge Commentary, note on 1 Thessalonians 1:4 pg. 691
“But we ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:13 NET).
While the doctrine of election is a challenging subject, perhaps we might benefit from a change of perspective. What if we viewed divine election and human responsibility as “both/and” and not an “either/or” proposition? One scholar explains…
“God’s determination and human freedom are not necessarily an either/or situation; they can be a both/and situation. There are a number of ways a theist might reconcile the two. He might contend that God has determined that men be free. He may contend that God controls the world by what he knows men will freely do. Knowing what men will do with their freedom is not the same as ordaining what they must do against their freedom. The latter would seem to be incompatible with a loving God, but the former would appear to follow naturally from such a God.
If love is persuasive but never coercive, then allowing men to freely determine their own destiny would seem to be the loving way to make them. Hence, a theist could argue that the love of God necessitates that if he decides to create creatures that can love him, then they must be free; it is of the very necessary nature of love that other persons be able to respond freely to it. In this way both God and man would be responsible for free acts…
The theist may argue that if man is free, then he is responsible; if he has been given freedom, then he is responsible to the One who gave him freedom. In this account God is ultimately responsible for the fact of freedom (which is a good thing) but not immediately responsible for the acts of freedom (which may be evil). Both God and men take their separate responsibilities for freedom.” (1)
We’ll close our look at this subject with an illustration attributed to H.A. Ironside. That illustration begins as follows: Imagine you encounter a door with the following sign: “Whosoever will may enter.” You may accept or decline the invitation and choose to go in. Upon entering, you are surprised to find a banquet with a place set aside for you as an expected guest. As you turn to look at the door you entered, you find that the inside of the door is marked with a different sign: “Foreordained from the foundation of the world.”
This illustration offers one means of addressing the polarization between divine election and human responsibility: “God’s determination and human freedom are not necessarily an either/or situation; they can be a both/and situation.”
This message originally appeared here
(1) Geisler, N. L. (1976). Christian apologetics (p. 231). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
“…God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).
Paul the Apostle used an interesting turn of phrase in referring to “our gospel” here in 2 Thessalonians 2:14. For instance, one might have expected Paul to reference the gospel in addressing the good news of God’s plan of salvation through faith in Christ. Instead, he used the possessive term “our gospel” to deliver this message. The question is, why?
Perhaps the simplest way to understand this reference is to recognize that God does not take a “one size fits all” approach to ministry. While the content of the gospel remains unchanged, God accommodates the needs of various audiences by equipping different speakers with the tools they need to effectively communicate with others. Thus, we can expect God to use the cultural backgrounds, rhetorical skills, life experiences, and interests of various ministers to meet the needs of different people. This is how “the” gospel becomes “our” gospel.
Of course, there are also many counterfeit gospels (both religious and non-religious) that purport to be “good news” but really aren’t. For example, there are spiritual “gospels” that promote good works, virtuous lifestyles, or the adherence to various standards as the path to acceptance with God. Then there are non-religious “gospels” that include social popularity or the accumulation of wealth and material possessions as the keys to happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction. Other types of secular gospels include the single-minded pursuit of business, athletic, political, or academic successes.
In light of this, we can say that everyone has his or her own gospel in a sense. In other words, everyone lives by a set of beliefs they believe to be “good news.” Furthermore, everyone preaches their “gospel” through the choices and judgments they make each day. The real question is, how closely does “our” gospel align with “the” gospel?
Remember, the Biblical book of Proverbs tells us “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death” (Proverbs 14:12 NLT). In fact, this reminder is so important that it is repeated again later in Proverbs 16:25. It is only when “our” gospel reflects “the” gospel that it becomes something to live by. Therefore, we would do well to prayerfully examine the “gospel” that we believe and preach to others.
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
The closing verses of 2 Thessalonians chapter two offer an encouragement to stand firm in the face of affliction. Nevertheless, the use of the word “traditions” (or “ordinances” as it appears in some translations) may seem troublesome. For some, the idea of a “religious tradition” may summon the image of a centuries-old observance with little or no relevance to modern-day life. Others may be encouraged to participate in various traditions with little understanding of the origin or significance behind them.
These concerns are understandable, for the concept of a “traditional belief” may sometimes represent a human-oriented observance that serves to nullify or circumvent the Word of God. Jesus identified the negative aspect of such observances in addressing the religious leadership of His day: “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Matthew 7:9). The issue was that some of those religious leaders prioritized their traditional observances above the Word of God. If a conflict subsequently developed between them, the need to adhere to these human-oriented traditions ultimately took priority.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with the concept of a traditional observance, it is certainly wrong to allow such observances to take precedence over God’s Word. In view of this, Jesus rightly identified and condemned this practice.
This brings us to Paul the Apostle’s use of the word “tradition” here in 2 Thessalonians 2:15. In considering this passage, we should first note that Jesus’ teachings were primarily transmitted via the spoken word in the days prior to the establishment of the New Testament canon of Scripture. Thus, these teachings formed the oral tradition that God’s commissioned representatives (such as Paul the Apostle) used in helping to establish the first century church.
Unlike the first century religious leaders who built their traditions upon a human interpretation of what it meant to follow the Scriptures, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 refers to the verbal instruction that Paul had earlier delivered to the Thessalonians as an Apostle of Christ. Therefore, those traditions represented the Word of God in spoken form to the church at Thessalonica. This also explains why Paul encouraged the Christian community at Thessalonica to “…remain faithful and follow closely what we taught you in person and by our letters” (CEV).
We’ll continue our look at this subject by considering the meaning and implication of the traditions mentioned in this passage next.
“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15 ESV).
One commentary identifies the function of the traditions referenced here in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and provides us with some important insights…
“’Traditions’ can be either valuable or harmful, depending on whether or not they support God’s Word. Jesus, for example, rebuked the Pharisees on this basis: ‘Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?’ (Matthew 15:3). Paul, on the other hand, encouraged the Thessalonians to keep the traditions they had been taught by him, either verbally or in writing (see also II Thessalonians 3:6).
For the first twenty years or so of the spread of Christianity, each church needed to carefully and accurately remember what they had been taught orally by the apostles or their prophets, pastors, and teachers, for they did not yet have the New Testament in written form. By this time, however, Paul had written down at least some of his teachings, and the New Testament was beginning to take shape.
Eventually, by the time the last apostle died, it would all have been written and circulated among the churches, and there would be no further need for them to be guided by the oral traditions. The corresponding message to us today, therefore, would be to ‘stand fast, and hold the Scriptures which ye have been taught.’” (1)
So Paul the Apostle essentially told the Thessalonian church, “Hold firm to the traditions you received directly from me via letter or spoken word, not in someone else’s epistle or others who claimed to be me.” As another commentator summarizes, “In other words, follow the plain meaning of Paul’s preaching and writing, not some creative distortion of it.” (2)
Thus, this chapter closes much as it opened: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 NIV).
As with any institution established by fallible human beings, a traditional religious observance can devolve into something inappropriate if it is detached from a clear Biblical foundation. Therefore, “The traditions we should hold are the great truths which have been handed over to us in the sacred Scriptures.” (3)
(1) Institute for Creation Research, New Defender’s Study Bible Notes 2 Thessalonians 2:15 https://www.icr.org/bible/2Th/2/15
(2) Ben Witherington III, 1 and 2 Thessalonians: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 234 quoted in Craig L. Blomberg The Historical Reliability of the New Testament Copyright © 2016 B&H Academic Nashville, Tennessee p.362.
(3) William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary 2 Thessalonians 1:6, pg.2057
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who has loved us and given us everlasting consolation and good hope by grace, comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17).
This reference to “every good word and work” offers a preview of what is to come in the final chapter of 2 Thessalonians. For example, this terminology draws our attention to the things we say (“every good word”) and the things we do (“[every good] work”). This is important, for if there is a disconnect between the things we say and do, it likely means that something is wrong. It also means that others are sure to notice and make their own judgments concerning the things we claim to believe. As the old adage reminds us, “actions speak louder than words.”
This represents an important consideration, especially in an era where we have an unprecedented opportunity to amplify our thoughts, opinions, and ideas through various forms of social media. An objective look at an average social media feed will often reveal the true nature of our words and works. Even our volume of activity on social media reveals something important about our priorities. Do such things function as a “good word” or a “good work” that reflects well upon Christ?
In a larger sense, this reference to our words and works serves to remind us that everyone carries a philosophy, worldview, or set of principles that governs their choices. Those principles are subsequently expressed through the decisions of daily life. If our principles are built upon a Biblically-sound relationship with God through faith in Christ, then we can count on Him to establish us in every good word and work.
Unfortunately, we’ll soon find that some among the Thessalonians held principles that led to decisions that reflected poorly upon their relationship with Jesus. As we consider their example, we are sure to discover some insights that can help us avoid a similar mistake. But for now, we’ll close our study of 2 Thessalonians chapter two with a few important observations from the following commentator…
“Notice that believers are encouraged to do and say ‘good things.’ We are not saved by doing good things but we are saved for doing and saying good things. Our relationship with Christ must lead to Christlikeness. We were called unto good works (cf. Eph. 1:4; 2:10). The goal of every believer is not only heaven when we die but Christlikeness now.” (1)
(1) Dr. Bob Utley. Free Bible Commentary, 2 Thessalonians 2:17 Copyright © 2014 Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL07/VOL07C_02.html