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Thursday, July 07, 2022

2022.07.07 Hopewell @Home ▫ 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12

Read 2 Thessalonians 2:1–12

Questions from the Scripture text: Concerning what does the apostle now wr te (2 Thessalonians 2:1)? Where had he explained this before (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11)? What is he concerned they might soon do (2 Thessalonians 2:2)? What had another letter apparently pretended to be? What had that letter said about the day of Christ? What does he now tell them not to allow in 2 Thessalonians 2:3? But what must come before that day? And who must be revealed? Of what is he called “the son”? What does he do (2 Thessalonians 2:4)? Above what does he exalt himself? And where does he exalt himself? How do we know that this isn’t new information to them (2 Thessalonians 2:5)? What was restraining the man of sin’s revelation (2 Thessalonians 2:6)? But what is already at work (2 Thessalonians 2:7)? And how long will the restraining occur? When the man of sin has been revealed as the lawless one, how is he consumed (2 Thessalonians 2:8)? How is he destroyed? How did this lawless one come in the first place (2 Thessalonians 2:9)? What does he have at his disposal? What happens to those whom he deceives (2 Thessalonians 2:10)? What did they not receive, that resulted in their gullibility? By not receiving love of the truth, what doesn’t happen to them? Who sends them what in 2 Thessalonians 2:11? What do they believe instead of the truth? What ultimately happens to them (2 Thessalonians 2:12)? In what did they have pleasure? 

What should believers watch out for, with reference to reports about Christ’s return?  2 Thessalonians 2:1–12 looks forward to the second serial reading in morning public worship on the coming Lord’s Day. In these twelve verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that the unpredictable and sudden return of Christ comes in its own time, so that the elect may be saved, the reprobate hardened, and the great enemy of Christ devastatingly destroyed. 

Don’t be troubled. The church has always had its share of troublers. In this particular case, the apostle’s encouraging words about Christ’s return and believers’ resurrection (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13–5:11) seem to have spun off various “prophetic” claims (2 Thessalonians 2:2—“by spirit or by word” claiming the same authority as Paul’s “as if from us”). Some may have been self-deceived, and others were frauds, declaring that the day of Christ had arrived. Indeed, the implication is that someone even circulated a forged apostolic letter that lacked Paul’s signature closing (cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:17). 

A cursory glance at the shelves of “Christian” bookstores in late 20th or early 21st century America would have been enough to know that the same sort of troublers still trouble the church. So the apostolic request at the end of 2 Thessalonians 2:1 and beginning of 2 Thessalonians 2:2 is one that we would still do well to heed: do not be shaken in mind or troubled.

Don’t be deceived. There are two events that had not occurred by the time of the this letter, making it a certainty for its recipients that Christ would not yet return: the falling away and the revealing of the man of sin (2 Thessalonians 2:3). Now, the warning not to be deceived cuts doubly. For the man of sin himself is a deceiver (2 Thessalonians 2:10).

The apostle is confident that his readers know what he means, because he has spoken to them about this in person (2 Thessalonians 2:5). Indeed, this clues us in to the fact that it is a teaching that the church already had, almost certainly in Matthew 24:9–14

But the falling away described in Matthew 24:9–13 is one that has marked various parts of the church almost continuously for two thousand years now. And it must be within the church. For, they are offended and betraying one another because they are hated for Jesus’s Name’s sake (Matthew 24:9–10). And false prophets, who promote lawless living in the church, lead even to the backsliding/cooling of the love of many (Matthew 24:11–12). Certainly, in the Matthew context, there was a particular falling away in connection with destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:15–22), and this is probably the falling away to which the apostle refers now in 2 Thessalonians 2:3. But even after that, Jesus Himself (Matthew 24:23–26) warns against the same deception as the apostle is here warning against.

So, it has often been this way in parts of the church, and the vigilance that Paul called for then is still called for today: do not be deceived! Don’t get caught up in predictions or announcements of the end. Keep living for Christ. Don’t let following God’s law slide. Don’t let love grow cold. He is still coming. Endure to the end (cf. Matthew 24:13). And the days of being in danger of deception will continue until the gospel has been preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations (Matthew24:14).

Love the truth; hate unrighteousness. It’s not difficult to figure out how the man of sin will tempt people to live. To begin with, he is called the man “of sin” in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and “the lawless one” in 2 Thessalonians 2:8. And those who are taken in by him have “pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:12). He tells “the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11), which is in keeping with that first great lie, “you shall not surely die.” And there have been preachers throughout the ages who assured people that they might sin safely.

With respect to the man of sin himself, much of the language here is borrowed from Daniel 7 and 8, and must be harmonized with Revelation 13 and 17. The man of sin cannot be the same as John’s one beast, who is a composite of Daniel’s four beasts, which are themselves kingdoms. But, he is an actual man as Daniel also had described; he opposes Christ, exalts himself, sits as if God in the temple of God, is personally destroyed by Christ. These are all personal actions. There is a “mystery of lawlessness” already at work at the time of Paul’s writing (2 Thessalonians 2:7), just as there were already many antichrists at the time of 1 John 2:18

The fact that many conservative, Reformed ministers and scholars disagree about the identity of this man leads to what this author thinks is a clear deduction: he hasn’t been revealed yet. Our passage describes not his coming so much as his being revealed. And the apostle assumes that it will be obvious when he is revealed, because his not having yet been revealed is the basis for the impossibility of the day of Christ having arrived.

So, how do you prepare for a day that you don’t know when it’s coming? In at least two ways. The first is directly from 2 Thessalonians 2:10: love the truth. If you love the truth, you will not be pulled in when the man of sin is exalting himself above God from within the church (2 Thessalonians 2:4b). If you love the truth, you will be saved. And if you love the truth, you will follow the second way: hate unrighteousness. For, 2 Thessalonians 2:11 tells us that it is those who do not believe the truth, and who therefore have pleasure in unrighteousness, who will all be condemned. Love the truth and hate unrighteousness, and you will be prepared for the revelation of the man of sin. Love the truth and hate unrighteousness, and you will be prepared for the return of Jesus Christ.

The Lord sends strong delusions (errors/wanderings) into His church (2 Thessalonians 2:11), which exposes those who are in the church but not of it (cf. 1 John 2:19). Be prepared for that too. Love the truth, and hate unrighteousness.

How have you been tempted to focus on when Christ might return, rather than upon preparing for His return and desiring His return? What are you doing to foster love of the truth? What are you doing to maintain and foster hatred of unrighteousness?

Sample prayer:  Lord, just as You did not want the Thessalonians to be troubled or deceived by false prophecy, so also You do not want us to be troubled or deceived by false prophecy. But we are easily impressed by spiritual-sounding things and easily distracted by predictions about Your return. Forgive us our gullibility. You told the Thessalonians that love of the truth would protect them from being shaken in mind or deceived, but we confess that our love of the truth is small. O forgive us! And do not let us have pleasure in unrighteousness, lest we be condemned with those who are consumed with the breath of Your mouth and destroyed with the brightness of Your coming. Preserve us for that day, so that Your Name would be glorified in us, and we would be glorified in You, which we ask in Your Name, our Lord Jesus Christ, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP98 “O Sing a New Song to the LORD” or TPH98A “O Sing a New Son to the LORD”

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