2 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our be-ing gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of law-lessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and ex-alts 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. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 2:1-4
This is the same issue that Paul was addressing in the first letter: Ap-parently it was a serious and disruptive question in the fellowship and one which the troublemakers were seeking to use to their ad-vantage to fracture the unity of the Spirit. Paul was concerned that the controversy would tear the fellowship apart. It still is a very serious and disrupttive question, as the over-filled shelves in our bookstores and the overbooked rooms at our prophecy conferences attest, and it is not a question I want to deal with here. I have re-marked before that there is relatively little space given to the topic in scripture compared to other things, and that we of the modern Evangelical/Pentecostal-Charismatic churches spend an inordinate and disproportional amount of our time focused upon the subject, when the Lord has more important matters He would have us attend to about “life and godliness” and actually being “salt and light” to those who are responding to His calling voice in a world that is com-ing apart at the seams.
The discussions of “end-time things” tend to be divisive and to cause internecine conflict, which is the root definition of “heresy”: That which causes schism, division, and what the King James version translates as a “party spirit” (as in “political party” not “let’s party”) – factions and splits.
Paul apparently had taught the Thessalonians about the “second coming of the Lord” when he and his team were planting the church, and he reminds them of this here. We, not having heard him teach when he was at Thessalonica, are left to ponder exactly what he is speaking about in this paragraph, and our speculations have resulted in much sowing of the wind to very little prophet of the hearers (and very great profit of many of the wind-bags).
Paul’s admonition is “not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed” about things apocalyptic, yet the chatter that occupies a significant portion of our bible stud-ies and our church socials and our prayer meetings is nothing but speculation and concern about the state of the world and the “hope” that the Lord will come soon and end the fears and hardships of his people. Much of “the church” seems to be nothing but “quickly shaken in mind and alarmed”. What is wrong with this picture?
And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be re-vealed in his time. 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. 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, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 2:6-12
Who or what is the “man of lawlessness” and who or what is the re-straining force that Paul refers to can and have made the careers and the retirements of generations of preachers and teachers. I have long ago lost interest in trying to sort through their myriad con-tradictory and conflicting arguments and ambiguous prophecies, though at one time I did find them fascinating. I came to realize over the years that all the talk and the charts and the speculations and the connecting of the prophetic dots seemed to accomplish very little in the development of godly character and intimacy with the Lord, or in the cultivation of nutritious life-giving fruit and reproduc-tive seed. (IMHO, of course.)
The Lord does not want us to be “fascinated” by Him: He wants us to search Him out and discover Him and come to know Him intimately Philippians 3:10; John 17:20–21; John 17:22–24; John 14:21; 1 Tim-othy 1:3–7; 1 Timothy 6:3–5. Paul does not spend all that much time detailing these dark subjects of “anti-christ”, beyond exposing them to the light so that the Thessalonians are aware of them. His primary word is one of encouragement and edification, praising the faith and courage of the young church in the face of opposition and affirming their calling and salvation in contrast to those who, because of their willful and defiant unbelief, are “deluded” by God into believing the satanic lie.
It is not that we are supposed to live unaware of the darkness and of the “spirit of anti-christ” that was in the world in the days of the apostles, and has been at work to this day 1 John 2:18–27; 2 John 7–8, and which certainly does seem to be increasing and advancing toward some final evil end at an alarming speed. We would be blind and foolish to be ignoring the intensifying darkness of our times. But we are to be “raising our heads and taking courage” Luke 21:28 even as the darkness deepens, and we are to be spending our energies “filling our lamps with spiritual oil” Matthew 25:9–13 so that our light burns ever more brightly in that darkness, rather than studying the darkness and trying to formulate an escape plan from it, or trying to figure out how God is going to bail us out of the world He has gone to such great lengths to redeem. We “are the light of the world” Matthew 5:14–16, and darkness cannot overcome light because darkness is only an absence of light: It is not a substance of anything.
If we truly know the Lord, then when the “man of lawlessness” appears we will not be deceived by any “lying signs or wonders”, however subtle they may be. The only truly effective defense against the counterfeit is to know the real so intimately that nothing false can deceive us, no matter how artfully crafted it may be. There are far too many ways to create a lie for anyone to anticipate them all. There is only one Truth Philippians 3:10–16; Ephesians 1:17–21; Jeremiah 31:31–34. And if we know that Truth, then every lie will be evident in contrast to Him.
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers be-loved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2:13-14
Here are clearly seen the “steps” of the evangellion. In His fore-knowledge the Lord God Almighty “chooses” those who He knows will hear and listen to His call John 6:44; John 6:37. Those who have “hearing ears” believe the Gospel when they hear it, generally by preaching, and are set apart to God by the Holy Spirit Romans 10:14–17. This is for the display of the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the manifestation of God the Father, a spirit, in the material creation, and who is the declaration of the sovereignty of God be-fore that creation. Paul speaks of these things in detail in his other letters.
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. 2:15
As I have remarked before, we who dare to claim Christ anchor our faith on the twenty-seven documents of the New Covenant, thirteen of which were penned by Paul. Either these records are valid and ac-curate, or we have been deceived. We are by many proofs convinced they are valid, if we are not hypocrites saying we believe they are God’s inerrant revealed word when in truth we doubt this to be true.
We who dare to follow the Lord Jesus today stand at the end of a very long line of predecessors who also have claimed to follow Him and to adhere to the “traditions” that are recorded in these docu-ments. However, it is quite evident, as we review our long history that we have not always agreed upon what these “traditions” actually are. The mind of man has done a great deal of diabolical damage to the heart of Truth since it was “once for all delivered to the saints” Jude 3. The records themselves prophesy that this would happen 2 Peter 3:16; 2 Timothy 4:2–4; Acts 20:28–30.
I undertook these studies because I needed to satisfy myself to the best of my ability about what Paul, especially, understood as his as-signment from the Lord Ephesians 3:1–6; Galatians 1:11–12; Romans 15:15–18; Romans 11:13–14. What I have discovered so far is that the “Good News” that Paul and the other apostolic writers set down for us is not nearly so complicated and convoluted as our Christian “religion” has made it over the past two thousand years. Their dis-covery of what a relationship with the living God could actually mean began to skew off the rails almost as soon as the light dawned in their hearts as the enemy of our souls raged, after his defeat at Calvary and lashed out through every darkened mind that he could influence. We can already track the attacks in the letters we have at hand. And as soon as John, the last of the thirteen companion apost-les, died, the initial fires of the heart that burned with celestial inten-sity in those who had walked with the Lord began to cool, and the descent into the labyrinthine pits of cold religion and human ambi-tion and politics began in earnest as new generations of scribes and Pharisees rose up to steal the back the ground that had been won by the vanguard efforts of the “firstfruits” that Paul refers to above. Much had been lost by the end of the second century, and the war for liberty has continued uninterrupted ever since. (I offer you “The Torch of the Testimony” by John Kennedy as a significant study of this history.)
Paul and the other apostles were raised up to begin to lead God’s people out of “religion”: Something that they, and the human race, had been condemned by sin to be imprisoned within since Adam’s rebellion in the garden. They, themselves, were still “trapped” in its entanglements. Paul, however, was large enough in mind and spirit to grasp the implications of God’s Plans when they were “revealed” to him and to find words to describe them to us. Peter, less sophis-ticated, caught sight of these things but was not as able to articulate them or to escape as fully from his culture Hebrews 1:1–4;2 Peter 3:15–16; Galatians 2:7–8; Acts 10:34–11:18;Galatians 2:11–3:1. God, in His wisdom, used these two, and the other apostolic writers, ac-cording to their strengths and giftings, to experience Him in His incarnation, and to record His written revelation for us through His inspiration John 14:25–26; 2 Peter 1:20–21; 2 Peter 3:16, and to weave the whole cloth of its wonderful tapestry of His love and His judgments. This panoramic picture is now provided to us with its po-tential for ever-expanding interpretation through the combination of the living written Word and the living spiritual Word mediated in us as the “mind of Christ” by the Holy Spirit 1 Corinthians 2:11-16.
In so far as external forms and ritual aid us in approaching God they have some usefulness. Human beings need symbols and stories and structures in order to have boundaries by which to orient them-selves and pathways along which to travel. There is nothing intrin-sically wrong with this: We are made this way. Our Creator made man in His image: We were designed to be “creative” and visionary… makers of stories and images. We have image-ination.
Our problem is that we were never created to be separated from God, and our first father, Adam, chose to be separated. In alienating the race from God, Adam set mankind up to forget that they were created to be in an intimate relationship with their Creator. And he guaranteed that every descendant of the line of spiritual man would live with an increasing awareness of his or her separation from their Creator and an increasing angst about the consequences of that al-ienation. Human beings deal with this angst in myriad varied ways, depending upon whether they have a will to return to their intended relationship with our Creator or they have a will to exercise their au-tonomy and exist selfishly in spiritual isolation from Him.
“Religion” in whatever form it takes is a symbolic story that we in-vent to tell to ourselves about how we think God desires us to ap-proach Him in order for us to be acceptable to Him. Religions and theologies are always human creations, however sincere they may be. Some “religions” have no truth in them and are demonically in-spired constructs contrived to deceive and destroy human beings as Satan lashes out in his final outrages against God. Some seek to eli-minate a consciousness of God from their objects of worship, substi-tuting ideologies or ideas as their idols to anesthetize angst and fear of death. Some of our religious ideas come closer to Truth than oth-ers, but all of them are human imaginations and all of them lend themselves to abuse by men and women with pride-driven ulterior motives and agendas.
The Jewish religion, uniquely, was originally a revealed story given to them through Moses by God to begin to ex-plain His purposes to them and through them to mankind, and as Paul says in Galatians, to be a “school-master to lead to Christ“ Galatians 3:23–26. At its heart it was not a humanly contrived idea. And the unfolding of the Gospel of the Kingdom is not a humanly imagined idea. The “Christian” reli-gion that has accreted to the Gospel of the Kingdom is generally a mixture of Truth and error: a blending of the Gospel revelation (the evangellion) with the “doctrines of men and demons”.
Until we grow spiritually mature enough in Christ to walk in the lib-erty of grace without corrupting it into license, and until we learn the wisdom and power of humility and obedience and self-discipline in an intimate union with our Lord and our Father through the Holy Spirit, the forms and structures of “religion” may be both helpful and even necessary, but in the same way as a cast or a crutch is helpful when a broken leg is healing. There comes a time when that which is helpful becomes an impediment, and must be put away.
The New Covenant clearly teaches this progress toward liberty in Christ, and those who are called to lead God’s people are mandated to guide each believer toward this stature of maturity as a son or daughter of the High King Ephesians 4:11–16; Hebrews 6:1; 2 Cor-inthians 3:17–18.
Relationships are “living” things, and are not well-suited to formality. Intimacy and formality are fundamentally opposite each other. Jesus spoke of this when He challenged the religious leaders of Jerusalem saying, “You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life. But these are they that speak of Me, and yet you will not come to Me so that you may have life” John 5:39–40. Our rituals and forms must always serve to lead us into personal intimacy with the Lord, or they are empty and without purpose at best and they be-come idols at worst… substitutes for the lap of the Father with whom we are to be having our conversation.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.