2 THESSALONIANS CHAPTER 2.
The Man of Sin and the Mystery of Iniquity. 2 Thess. 2, 1-17.
The coming of Antichrist before the end: V.1. Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and by our gathering together unto Him v.2. that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. V.3. Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; v.4. who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped, so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Paul had naturally included an instruction on the second coming of Christ in the doctrine which he taught at Thessalonica. But it seems that in the short interval since his departure from the city false opinions had gained a foothold in the Thessalonian congregation, particularly that of the immediate coming of the Lordís second advent. The apostle therefore warns his readers not to lend their ears too readily to such ideas: We beg you, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being mustered together before Him, that you do not get unsettled quickly from your mind nor terrified, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of the Lord is at hand. The apostle realizes fully the danger of the position; he is anxious about the faith of his Christians and the life of sanctification they should lead. His exhortation, for that reason, almost assumes the form of an adjuration. On account of the honor of that day and the events which would transpire in it; on account of the fact that the day of the Lord will surely come, and that the right preparation for this event is expected from all Christians; on account of the fact that we must all be mustered before Him on that day and that judgment will be held: for these reasons it was essential that the conduct of the believers at all times should express their appreciation of the situation. They should beware, then, of a rapid unsettling of the mind; they should not permit their minds to be taken from their conviction of the truths which they had been taught; they should hold fast the doctrines which the apostle had proclaimed in their midst. Nor should they permit themselves to become excited or terrified with nervous fear; they should not give way to panic. Whether this disturbing agency happened to be some spirit of prophecy which some unscrupulous person was using to strike terror to their hearts, or some preaching which errorists were introducing, or some letter which had been forged and was now being ascribed to Paul: they should pay absolutely no attention to it. For all such attempts, all such assertions as though the day of the Lord, the Day of Judgment, was at hand, that its coming was imminent, were false and spurious; they had no foundation in the Word of Truth, in the teaching of the apostle. Were they to listen to such deceivers, they would merely become subject to needless terror, which would result in disorganizing their entire work.
The apostle substantiates his warning: Let no man deceive you in any manner; for unless the apostasy first come and the man of lawlessness be revealed, the son of perdition. Neither spiritual drowsiness nor unwholesome excitement is the proper state for Christians to exhibit; for in either case they are subject to delusions, in either case they can readily be led astray. The thought of the coming of the last day must be supplied from the previous verse. The apostle assures his readers that the Day of Judgment would not come unless the apostasy had first come, the great rebellion against Christ and against the sum of the doctrines taught by Him. He is speaking of a specific event in the future history of the world, of which he had spoken to the Thessalonians, of which he knew by prophetic insight and on the basis of the prophets, Dan. 8, 23; 9, 30. A feature of this apostasy from the purity of Christian faith would be the revelation of the man of lawlessness, of some man of unusual ability and power, whose entire life and being would be characterized by opposition to Godís will and Law. According to his final destiny, the apostle designates this historical personage as the son of perdition. Because he is wholly devoted to sin, to lawlessness, therefore his end will be destruction. The thought seems also to be included that, as he goes down into condemnation under the judgment of God, he drags others with him into everlasting perdition.
The apostle continues his description of this human Antichrist: Who sets himself against, and vaunts himself above, all that is called God or an object of worship, so that he sets himself into the temple of God, showing himself forth that he is God. The man of lawlessness sets himself in opposition to God, to Christ, thereby revealing his nature as Antichrist. He wants his own doctrines and laws regarded just like those of Christ; in fact, he insists upon replacing Christís precepts with his own. At the same time he vaunts himself, exalts himself against all that is called God or an object of true worship. He acts as though he were not under, but over Godís will and Law; he treads all true religion under his feet, making the service of God a play and a farce. But the climax is reached by his final arrogance, by which he sets himself in the temple of God, showing himself forth that he is God. In the Church, in the midst of Christendom, in the midst of the baptized Christians, Antichrist had the audacity to place his throne. For he presumes to be the representative of God on earth and to be endued with divine power and authority. There can he no doubt that this prophecy finds its fulfillment in the Roman papacy, as a special article below will show. The insistence of the Roman See upon the tradition of the Church, its prohibition of Bible reading, its doctrines of the immaculate conception of Mary, of transubstantiation, of the sacrifice of the mass, of indulgences, of the veneration of saints, of purgatory, of the infallibility of the Pope, etc., the entire system of doctrine, in fact, with all its ramifications, mark the Pope of Rome as the Antichrist in the narrow or specific sense of the word.
The revelation of the mystery of iniquity: V.5. Remember ye not that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? V.6. And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. V.7. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work; only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. V.8. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of His mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of His coming; v.9. even him whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders, v.10. and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. V.11. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion that they should believe a lie, v.12. that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. This was not the first time that the apostle had given the Thessalonian Christians instruction concerning the great apostasy: Do you not remember that, while I was still with you, I told you this? He had made it a point to include this point in his oral instruction, not only once, but habitually. Surely it was merely necessary to remind them of the facts as they had learned them. Therefore also the apostle could continue: And now you know what withholds that he may be revealed in his own time. Before the writing of this letter, the contradicting and contradictory opinions which the Thessalonians heard might have tended to confuse them. But now that they recalled his oral instructions, they knew what he was referring to, they knew the reason for the delay, they knew what restrained Antichrist from being revealed before his appointed time. All that Paul had taught them, and a repetition at this time would be unnecessary; they would understand to what Paul was referring.
Just how serious the apostle thought the situation and its possible dangerous developments appears from his next words: For the mystery of lawlessness is active even now, only until he that withholds for the present is out of the way. He speaks of a mystery of lawlessness which was even then working and active; he sees before him the scattered, shapeless mass of ungodliness, which is first to gain form and personality in Antichrist. It was at that time still hidden and covered, one could not yet point out specific instances of its terrible power. But it was at work, it was influencing certain persons, for instance, Diotrephes, 3 John, v.10, and other unruly spirits, 1 John 2, 18. Against a general development and manifestation of power, however, another force was opposing, a force or being that made it impossible for the lawlessness to have free rein until it should be removed. It is probable that Paul is referring to the fact that no bishop could attain to temporal power and honor as long as the Roman emperors could inaugurate persecutions.
When, however, this restriction would be removed, the hidden opposition to Christ, the lawlessness, would break forth: And then the Lawless One will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus shall consume with the breath of His mouth, and He shall make an end of him by the appearing of His coming. ďThen,Ē some time after the removal of the restriction which kept the hidden lawlessness from being put into execution openly. According to the manner of prophecy, events that are centuries apart are spoken of as occurring in quick succession or about the same time. The revealing of Antichrist as such took place through the Reformation of Luther. When he brought forth the everlasting Gospel out of the darkness of centuries, it was an easy matter for every Bible Christian to recognize the antichristian character of the Roman papacy and to withdraw from its soul-destroying influence. But the end is not yet; for though Antichrist has now been revealed and exposed before all the world, and though the Lord Jesus, through the breath of His mouth, through the sword of the Spirit in the Word, is counteracting the work of Antichrist and destroying his work in many instances, the final destruction will come only at the appearance of His coming. When the Lord returns, visibly and with a full revelation of His divine glory, He will put an end to the arrogance of Antichrist forever and give him his punishment with all evil-doers.
The reason for this uncompromising attitude is given in the further description: Whose coming is after the working of Satan in all power and signs and lying miracles, and in all deceitfulness of unrighteousness to them that are lost, because they did not accept the love of the truth that they might be saved. Although Antichrist has been exposed and his doom is inevitable, he is making the best of his time and of his situation in the Christian Church. Although he has lost his temporal power, he does not think for a moment of giving up his ambition, but his evil advent continues. He has his inspiration from Satan, from whom he also receives the remarkable power which his errors still exert in the world, in signs and wonders which are the product of lie and fraud, as witness the many healings which are credited to relics of saints. With the same cool audacity which has always characterized Antichrist, he continues in all deceit of unrighteousness. He has a glittering show of righteousness and holiness; good works, show, and pomp are flaunted before the eyes of the world at all times by the henchmen of Antichrist, yet he is full of unrighteousness. Fortunately, however, he has this influence and power only among those that are perishing, because they refused to accept the love of the truth, the simple Gospel-message of salvation, which teaches them the way of salvation. By the grace of God there is many a person that clings to the way of salvation through the merits of Jesus Christ alone, although outwardly under the dominion of the Roman See. But for those that reject the Word of Salvation and actually place their trust in their own merit and in that of the many saints that have been canonized, their destruction with their acknowledged head is a well-merited reward of their disobedience.
Of this St. Paul writes: And for this reason God sends them working of delusion that they should believe the falsehood, that all might be judged who did not believe the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness. For this reason, because they would not accept the love of the truth, the Gospel-message of their salvation, God punishes the deliberately disobedient people by giving their minds up to the lie which they preferred. A strength of deception enters their hearts; they become so -firmly convinced that their course is right that they absolutely refuse to turn back to the truth. They believe the lie, put all their faith and trust in falsehood, in conscious, willful, God-defying untruth. A devilish perversion has taken hold of them, making them blind to all sound and true doctrine. The result, therefore, is that all those that will not believe the truth, but find their pleasure in unrighteousness, in a total lack of the righteousness which the Lord demands, will be subject to the condemnation of the Lord. In this way Antichrist serves as a tool in Godís hands for the punishment of such people as reject the truth of the Gospel, surely an earnest warning in our days when the glamour and the pomp of Rome is unfolded before our eyes more and more.
Paul commends, counsels, and comforts his readers: V.13. But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth; v.14. whereunto he called you by our Gospel to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. V.15. Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle. V.16. Now our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, v.17. comfort your hearts, and establish you in every good word and work. After his extended description of Antichrist and its attendant warning, the apostle now turns back to his Thessalonian Christians with words of cheer and thanksgiving to God: But us it behooves to give thanks to God always in your behalf, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you to salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and by faith in the truth, through which He also called you through our Gospel, to the attainment of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul felt the obligation resting upon him, he felt bound to give thanks to God for the election and salvation of his readers, whom he affectionately calls brethren that were beloved by the Lord, people that were enjoying His love, as they were indeed. He knew that God had lifted out, selected, chosen them from the beginning. The eternal decree of God concerning their salvation had begun to go into effect when Paul preached the Gospel among them. And it had resulted in their salvation, begun and guaranteed in the sanctification of the Spirit and in their firm belief in the truth of the Gospel-message. They were sure of their redemption in and through Jesus, and because this faith lived in their hearts, its Source and Author, the Holy Spirit, was able to continue His work of sanctification in them. At the same time they were being confirmed in their faith in the truth as they had learned it. ALL this was the result of the gracious call of God through the Gospel which Paul preached to them. Under these circumstances the final result could not be in doubt for as much as a moment, namely, the attainment, the acquisition, the taking possession of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ; they should be assured of their participation in the life of Christís glorification, Rom. 5, 2; 8, 17. 29; Phil. 3, 21; John 17, 22.
With this wonderful goal before their eyes, the Christians of all times will heed all the more gladly the exhortation of the apostle: So, then, brethren, stand firm, and keep a strong hold on the instructions which you were taught, whether through word or through our epistle. Commendation and exhortation always should be related. The apostle wants his readers to stand up in the midst of the general falling away, to be firm in spite of all attacks on the part of their enemies, and to keep a firm hold on the statutes and instructions which he had delivered to them, which he had taught them, both by word of mouth and by means of the first letter addressed to them. This Word, the inspired Word of Truth, is the only reliable foundation of faith and hope; all doctrines of men, and especially those of Antichrist, are untruths and lies, which tend to lead men into everlasting destruction.
Since, however, the success of the exhortation depends entirely upon the power of God as it is manifested in the believers, the apostle finally says: But He Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, and God, our Father, who loved us and gave us everlasting consolation and good hope in grace, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word. It is from God that every good gift and every perfect gift comes down. Our Lord Jesus and our heavenly Father, being one in divine essence, are continually busy in our behalf, in the interest of our salvation. But the work of the Father is particularly emphasized in this connection. He loved us with an everlasting love, with a love so great that He did not spare His own Son, but gave Him for us all. In His grace, through His Word, He gives us everlasting comfort and consolation, namely, the certainty of our salvation through the merits of our Redeemer. And by reason of this same grace we now have a good, a certain hope; we know that our souls, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, are secure in His hands, not only to the last great day, but beyond that day throughout eternity, Titus 2, 13; Col. 1, 5. With this certainty before our eyes, the prayerful wish of the apostle cannot fail, namely, that our hearts will be comforted in the midst of all troubles and afflictions of this life, and that this comfort of faith will find its expression in every good work and word, that our entire life will be an expression of the love which follows upon faith in our hearts. The happiness which lives in the minds of the Christians is bound to find its manifestation in word and deed, both of which thereby become witnesses for the truth and power of the Gospel in the hearts of all men that believe.
Summary. The apostle describes the coming of Antichrist and the revelation of the mystery of iniquity, which nevertheless is to continue to the end; in a prayerful commendation he counsels and comforts his readers in their steadfast faith.