8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. – 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12 ESV
Helping Christ-followers understand the events surrounding the end times was important to Paul because he knew that knowledge would dramatically influence the way they lived their lives in the present. Without a firm grasp on the divine timeline of the last days, believers in every age would find themselves easy prey to every false doctrine and spurious opinion that came along. Even Jesus warned that there would be those who showed up claiming to be Him and declaring themselves to be the Messiah.
“Don’t let anyone mislead you, for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many.” – Matthew 24:4 NLT
Without a well-developed understanding of God’s plans for those final days, people will be susceptible to the claims of false teachers and self-proclaimed prophets. Jesus warned His disciples.
“And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people. Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.” – Matthew 24:11-12 NLT
So, when Paul heard that false teachers were causing angst and anxiety among the Thessalonians by declaring the day of the Lord had already begun, he felt strongly compelled to correct their error. As discussed in yesterday’s lesson, “the day of the Lord” refers to that future period of time which includes the Tribulation, the Second Coming, the Millennial Kingdom, and the Great White Throne Judgment. According to Paul, the Rapture of the church will be the event that sets all of these things in motion. With the removal of all believers from the earth, the restraining influence of the church will create a moral and spiritual vacuum that will allow wickedness to spread like wildfire.
In verse 7, Paul refers to an individual who acts as a restraining influence on evil and prevents the coming of “the man of lawlessness…the son of destruction” (2 Thessalonians 2:3 ESV).
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. – 2 Thessalonians 2:7 ESV
This “restrainer” is the Holy Spirit, who inhabits the church and every single believer. With the rapture of the church, all believers living at that time will be “caught up” to meet the Lord in the air. Then they will receive their glorified bodies and return to heaven with Christ. With their departure, the primary means by which the Holy Spirit restrains wickedness in the world will be gone. Whether we realize it or not, the presence of Spirit-filled Christians on this planet plays a powerful role in holding back the forces of darkness. Jesus stated, “You are the light of the world…” (Matthew 5:14 ESV), but with the church’s rapture, the light will be removed, allowing the darkness to envelop the world as never before.
That is why this period of time is called the Tribulation. It will be a literal seven-year span of time that begins the day of the Lord and will feature cataclysmic events and divine judgments that will be unprecedented in their intensity. Jesus described it in rather stark terms.
“…there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began. And it will never be so great again. In fact, unless that time of calamity is shortened, not a single person will survive.” – Matthew 24:21-22 NLT
There is no doubt that evil was running rampant in Paul’s day. In fact, he said, “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thessalonians 2:7 ESV). The New Living Translation puts it this way: “this lawlessness is already at work secretly.” The apostle John describes much of the false teaching that was infiltrating the church as “the spirit of the Antichrist.”
…if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.” – 1 John 4:3 NLT
The evil influence of this “man of lawlessness” was already alive and well in the 1st-Century because he will be nothing more than a tool of Satan. In the book of Revelation, John provides details concerning his vision of the Antichrist, describing him as “the beast” who receives his power and authority from “the dragon” (Satan).
…to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority.…and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” – Revelation 13:2, 3-4 ESV
While there will be a literal, real-life Antichrist who rules and reigns during the Tribulation, the spirit or attitude of the Antichrist has been alive in every generation. Paul warned Timothy that the last days would be filled with apostasy and a level of rebellion like nothing the world has ever witnessed before.
…in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. – 2 Timothy 3:1-5 NLT
And, even though Paul is describing the last days, he warns Timothy to “Stay away from people like that!” (2 Timothy 3:5 NLT). Why? Because those kinds of people can be found in every generation. But in the last days, they will represent the majority of people on earth and they will eagerly take part in what Paul describes as the “rebellion” (2 Thessalonians 2:3). The Greek word is apostasia, from which we get our English word, “apostasy.” It means, “a falling away” or “a defection from the truth.” Remember what Paul told Timothy. The people living in the last days “will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly” (2 Timothy 3:5 NLT).
Paul describes Antichrist’s powerful influence over the world during the last days.
This man will come to do the work of Satan with counterfeit power and signs and miracles. He will use every kind of evil deception to fool those on their way to destruction, because they refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them. – 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10 NLT
John adds his own description of Antichrist’s reign of terror.
Then the beast was allowed to speak great blasphemies against God. And he was given authority to do whatever he wanted for forty-two months. And he spoke terrible words of blasphemy against God, slandering his name and his dwelling—that is, those who dwell in heaven. And the beast was allowed to wage war against God’s holy people and to conquer them. And he was given authority to rule over every tribe and people and language and nation. And all the people who belong to this world worshiped the beast. – Revelation 13:5-8 NLT
Notice John’s mention of worship. And remember what Paul told Timothy: “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.” Those living in the last days will worship Antichrist, who slanders the name of God and sets himself up as a replacement for God. Paul describes him as one “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 2:4 ESV).
The prophet Daniel was also given a vision of this future world leader.
…a fierce king, a master of intrigue, will rise to power. He will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause a shocking amount of destruction and succeed in everything he does. He will destroy powerful leaders and devastate the holy people. He will be a master of deception and will become arrogant; he will destroy many without warning. – Daniel 8:23-25 NLT
In the book of Revelation, John describes the creation of an idol, made to represent the Antichrist, which is set up in the temple of God. And the false prophet, the second-lieutenant of the Antichrist, “was allowed to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast might even speak and might cause those who would not worship the image of the beast to be slain” (Revelation 13:15 ESV).
These will not be ordinary, run-of-the-mill days. As Jesus said, “there will be greater anguish than at any time since the world began” (Matthew 24:21 NLT). And Paul indicates that those days will be marked by a level of deception and spiritual delusion like nothing the world has ever seen before. People will “refuse to love and accept the truth that would save them” (2 Thessalonians 2:10 NLT). And, as a result, “God will cause them to be greatly deceived, and they will believe these lies” (2 Thessalonians 2:11 NLT).
During the Tribulation, God will bring a wave of unprecedented judgments on the world. He will reveal Himself through a series of cataclysmic plagues and meteorological catastrophes. And while those who endure these judgments will recognize His hand behind them, they will still refuse to repent of their sins and turn to Him.
But the people who did not die in these plagues still refused to repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. They continued to worship demons and idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that can neither see nor hear nor walk! And they did not repent of their murders or their witchcraft or their sexual immorality or their thefts. – Revelation 9:20-21 NLT
And as Paul sadly states, “they will be condemned for enjoying evil rather than believing the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:12 NLT).
The end times will be marked by rampant rebellion and level of spiritual blindness like nothing we have ever seen before. Even while recognizing the hand of God behind their suffering, mankind will shake its fist in His face, choosing to endure His divine punishment rather than admit to the truth of their own sin and their need for a Savior.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.