Dark Days Indeed

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. 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.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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That’s the Spirit!

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. – 1 John 4:2-3 ESV

1 John 4:1-6

That’s the Spirit. Or is it? Eight times in these six verses, John uses the Greek word, pneuma. And like a lot of Greek words, this one has a variety of meanings. It can refer to a breeze or movement of air; the soul of a man; the source of any power, affection, emotion, or desire; or it can be used when talking about the Spirit of God. The definition is established by the immediate context, including the words around it. But not only do we need to determine which pneuma John is referring to, he wants us to know how to figure out the difference between the Spirit of God and the spirit of the antichrist.

Not only does John repeatedly use the word, pneuma, he keeps bringing up the topic of confession. He does so in a variety of way, referring to prophets, hearing, speaking, confessing, and listening. In other words, John puts a high priority in these verses on communication. Prophets, by definition, were to speak on behalf of God. They were to be His mouthpieces, declaring the words of God to the people of God. When they spoke, the did so on His behalf. But John also puts a lot of responsibility on those who hear. They weren’t just supposed to listen, but they were to be discerning. Why? Because not every pneuma or spirit is from God. Not every influence or power that appears to be spiritual is from God. The Old Testament had some clear indicators as to whether a prophet was speaking truth or not. You couldn’t just go by what he said or did. You had to dig deeper and look at the root of his message. God gave the people of Israel the following standard:

“Suppose there are prophets among you or those who dream dreams about the future, and they promise you signs or miracles, and the predicted signs or miracles occur. If they then say, ‘Come, let us worship other gods’—gods you have not known before— do not listen to them. The Lord your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul. Serve only the Lord your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him. The false prophets or visionaries who try to lead you astray must be put to death, for they encourage rebellion against the Lord your God, who redeemed you from slavery and brought you out of the land of Egypt. Since they try to lead you astray from the way the Lord your God commanded you to live, you must put them to death. In this way you will purge the evil from among you.” – Deuteronomy 13:1-5 NLT

If they dreamed dreams and talked about signs and wonders, but encouraged the people of God to worship false gods, they were false prophets. And the penalty for their deception was death. Pretty serious stuff. In the book of 1 John, the apostle gives a similar warning to test the spirits or spokesmen declaring to be representing God. And the criteria for the test was simple: What do they say about Jesus? Do they confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh? Was He the Son of God? Was He the Savior of the world? “Every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist” (1 John 4:3 ESV). It is the lie of Satan. People can claim to have the truth, know the truth, and speak the truth. They can claim to speak for God. But if they do not confess Jesus as the Son of God, sent by God to pay for the sins of man, they are not of God. They are from the world, John says. Not only that, they speak from the world, and the rest of the world listens to what they have to say. But John made it clear that he and the other apostles were from God. They spoke on behalf of God, because they confessed the same Jesus that God confessed. And they spoke to those who were also from God. The children of God recognize the voice of God. Over in his gospel, John recorded an incident that occurred in the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus found Himself surrounded by a crowd who demanded, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (John 10:24 NLT). Jesus responded, “I have already told you, and you don’t believe me. The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name. But you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one” (John 10:25-30 NLT). John follows this up in his letter with the declaration, “greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4 NLT). We have the Spirit of God within us. We have the power of God available to us. We have the truth of God made known to us. All because we believe and confess that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the sole reason we have a right relationship with God the Father. And anybody who teaches anything else is dead wrong.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. – 1 John 2:22-23 ESV

The world in which we live is diametrically opposed to God. Although it was created by Him, it vehemently resists His sovereign right to rule and reign. It rejects His Son as King and denies in any way that men are subjects of His Kingdom. In his letter, John goes out of his way to present Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah. But he wants his readers to know that Jesus was far more than just a man who lived a good life and taught strong moral truths. He was “that which was from the beginning” (1 John 1:1 ESV). He was the eternal word of life and was made manifest, made visible, so that men could see Him. Not only that, He was the propitiation for the sins of man. His death satisfied the just demands of a holy God. And now He sits at the right hand of God the Father where He intercedes on our behalf, acting as our advocate or mediator. But the world would have us believe it is all a lie. The god of this world is doing everything in his power to dissuade us of any notion as to Jesus being the Son of God or the Savior of the world. He wants us to reject the very idea that we even need a Savior. To do that, he gets us to doubt the reality of our own sin. Sinless people don’t need salvation or a Savior. Rather than confess our sins, Satan would have us deny them. Rather than recognize God’s holiness our own sinfulness, Satan would prefer that we measure our righteousness by a more subjective standard. Morality becomes relative and unenforceable. Goodness becomes a personal matter. Right and wrong become totally subjective and subject to interpretation. Isaiah warned about this kind of attitude. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21 ESV). This is the spirit of the antichrist. It is the antithesis of everything for which God stands. No rules. No law. No judgment. No sin. No savior. No hell. And it is all a lie.

John tells his readers, “I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21 ESV). Those to whom he was writing knew the truth regarding Jesus. He was the Son of God. He had come to die on the cross on their behalf. His death had provided them with justification before God. They had enjoyed forgiveness for their sins, a restored relationship with God the Father, and were assured on eternal life. Just hours before His trials and crucifixion, while alone in the garden, Jesus had prayed, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3 ESV). This is at the heart of eternal life. An intimate knowledge of and belief in Jesus as the Son of God and Savior of the world, and the Father as the loving source of that invaluable gift. Anyone who teaches anything other than that is not only sorely mistaken, they are deadly wrong. Jesus Himself boldly and categorically claimed, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). There is no other way. There is no other path. There is no other option. Case closed. End of discussion.

A belief in Jesus that is accompanied by a rejection of sin is nothing less than a lie. A belief in God that does not include His Son as Savior is close, but not good enough. “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23 ESV). One of the most important questions Jesus ever asked His disciples is recorded in the gospels. He started out by asking them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matthew 16:13 ESV). They provided a number of options, clarifying the range of perceptions held by the common people of the day. But then Jesus posed a question for which the answer remains the most significant one any man or woman will ever have to give. He asked, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15 ESV). Forget about everybody else. Don’t worry about what everyone else is saying. What do you say? Who is Jesus to you? And we know by Jesus response that Peter gave the right answer. He simply stated, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mathew 16:16 ESV). Which is why John could say that anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ is a liar. To deny Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, is to deny that He was God. It is to deny that He was sinless. It is to deny that we are sinners. It is to deny that we need saving. It is to deny that God is holy. It is to deny that punishment for sin is possible or even probable. It is to deny the resurrection. It is to deny eternal life and the reality of heaven. And it is to deny the existence of hell. That is the spirit of antichrist. And it is all around us. But we know better. We know Him. We know the truth. We have the light. And we have the life. Let us live like it and love like it. Let us walk as Jesus walked. In the truth of who He is and what He has done.