Dr. Ben Stubblefield
Visiting Assistant Professor of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
2 Thessalonians 2:1–12
I wonder if Paul ever thought, “How many times do I have to go over this?”
Although he gave a clear word regarding the end times in 1 Thessalonians, it seems the church remained highly perplexed and hyperfocused on the issue. Thus Paul again writes to help give them clarity.
We don’t know the precise origin of the theological crisis in Thessalonica.
But it is apparent the church there has gotten the idea “by a spirit or a message or a letter seeming to be” from Paul that the Day of the Lord had come and gone.
He reminds them, therefore, the Day of the Lord will not precede the “man of lawlessness.”
Most likely, this is a reference to the Antichrist, also described in Revelation 13, who will be part and parcel of a unique social and religious upheaval. In fact, his rebellion will be so intense he will attempt to assume the place and presence of God.
We’re not sure how the Thessalonians received this instruction from Paul, but my guess is it was a relief.
First, they learned they had not been left out of God’s kingdom. Second, they could see no matter how bad this world gets, God is still working His plan.
A lot of folks are taught their existence is happenstance, and the sequence of history and its events just happen to you with no reason or cause or purpose.
So it’s quite a comfort to learn as Paul teaches here, that for the believer history happens for you. God is directing all our lives and all of history toward a good, noble and gracious goal (Eph. 1:10).
That’s what Paul is telling the Thessalonians, and that’s what God is also reminding us.
So the question remains: “Why hasn’t the Antichrist already appeared?”
Paul says it is because there is a restrainer preventing the full assault of the man of lawlessness against the world.
And who is the restrainer? Well, to be honest, your guess is as good as mine.
Even Augustine said about this passage, “I admit that the meaning of this completely escapes me.” Some good suggestions are the church, the archangel Michael or a just sociopolitical order.
In any case, we don’t want to get too lost on that rabbit trail because the larger point Paul is making is when the lawless one does arrive, he’s going to be slain by the “breath,” or word, of the Lord. So although the details are hazy, the conclusion is clear: Jesus and all those with Him will win.
The Antichrist will mimic the power of the Lord in signs and miracles, but like the Egyptian magicians he can only produce false wonders.
He will, in the likeness and power of Satan, deceive those who refuse to “receive the love of the truth.”
Our passage this week describes a grave, terrible future time. Apostasy, deception and idolatry will be commonplace.
This will not be a shock to the Christian, nor will it be unsettling to those whose confidence is the Lord. We’ve been bearing up under hardship since Abel, and we will go on working “till Jesus comes.”
Why? Because the Lord shows us the playbook of the enemy, and we know the outcome of his showdown with the Almighty. Therefore, in peace or persecution, we can remain “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).