2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Don't be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed – the one who brings destruction. – 2 Thessalonians 2:3 NLT
Sometimes we can be fooled into thinking that simpler is better. Especially when it comes to teaching new believers the doctrines of the faith. As a result, we can end up dumbing down our theology to the point that it is virtually useless. Yes, the Gospel message is beautiful in its simplicity, but it is essential that we take new believers from the threshold of their faith and help them "grow up in their salvation," to use a phrase of Paul's. In fact, Paul had a passion for teaching new believers deeper truths in order to deepen and strengthen their faith. But he wasn't the only one. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews, who many believe was Paul himself, wrote, "So let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again. Let us go on instead and become mature in our understanding. Surely we don't need to start again with the fundamental importance of repenting from evil deeds and placing our faith in God" (Hebrews 6:1 NLT).
Here in his letter to the Thessalonians believers, who were still relative babies in Christ, Paul is not afraid to deal with the difficult and deeper truths. His audience has had questions regarding the coming of Christ. They have received some erroneous teaching that has left them confused. So Paul takes the time to give them the kind of teaching they will need to not only survive in this world, but to better understand the overall plan of their God. Otherwise, they would continue to misinterpret the events taking place around them. The absence of good theology can lead to all kinds of confusion and faulty views of God. The people to whom Paul was writing were thoroughly confused about the second coming of Christ. They had been led to believe that it was going to happen any day. They had begun their faith with the belief that Jesus had died, but had rose again and was some day going to come again. And in the simplicity of their faith, they just assumed that was going to happen immediately. Essentially, their view of the end times or future events concerning Christ's return were totally skewed. So Paul taught them the truth. And his letter was not the first time he had talked about these things. He wrote, "Don't you remember that I told you about all this when I was with you?" (2 Thessalonians 3:5 NLT). When Paul had been with them, he had taken the time to teach these people what some of us would consider to be pretty deep doctrine. But to Paul, it was simply the truth of God. It was all part of God's redemptive plan, just as much as the birth and death of Christ was. For us to understand God, we must understand His plan for mankind. Knowing that God had sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins must be understood alongside the fact that God is some day going to send His Son back to earth. The first time He came as a baby in a manger. The second time He will come as a conquering King. But it was important that the people understand that there were some key events that had to take place before Christ returned. One of those was the coming of the "man of lawlessness" – a reference to the Antichrist. Paul refers to "a great rebellion against God" that must take place. This whole passage is a reference to the Great Tribulation – a seven year period of time that will take place after Christ removes all the believers from the earth – an event Paul referred to in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). One of the things that will happen as a result of the removal of the Church is that the Holy Spirit, who indwells all believers, will be removed as well. Paul refers to that fact in verse 7: "For this lawlessness is already at work secretly, and it will remain secret until the one who is holding it backs steps out of the way." The Holy Spirit, who acts as a restraining force against evil in the world, will be removed, leaving a spiritual vacuum and the perfect environment in which the Antichrist might thrive. The presence of the Holy Spirit and the influence of the Church are all that holds back evil. When they are both removed, chaos will reign. This is what sets up the Great Tribulation.
Paul wants the Thessalonians to know about all of this – even though they will not live to experience it. He wants them to know how things are going to end, because it speaks volumes about their God. He tells them that this man of lawlessness will come, but that he will also ultimately destroyed by Christ Himself. The Antichrist will be under the power and control of Satan, performing miracles and signs and exhibiting Christ-like powers. He will deceive and manipulate, with a plan to destroy those who are living at that time. And they will believe his lies and enjoy evil rather than the truth, leading to their destruction. And Paul wants the Thessalonians to know all this. He wants them informed and educated regarding these future events. Why? Because it is all part of God's overall redemptive plan for mankind. It is as important as the virgin birth of Christ and His resurrection from the dead. Jesus' second coming is as important as His first. With His return, the plan of God would be incomplete. Satan must be defeated. Christ must come as the conquering King, fulfilling all the Old Testament Scriptures that predicted it. He must set up His Kingdom on earth, ruling from Jerusalem, fulfilling God's promise to David that a descendant of his would sit on a throne, ruling from the city of Jerusalem forever. Every story has an ending. And if we don't understand it, we will always be confused about what we see taking place around us. God's redemptive story has an ending and it is essential that every believer understand not only what God has done, but what He is going to do.
Father, You have a plan and You are working it to perfection, but for so many of us don't have a clue what You are doing Some of us don't even seem to care. We don't think it's important. And it leaves us with an incomplete understanding of what it is You are doing and an unclear view of who You really are. May we never be afraid to teach the deeper, more difficult truths of Your Word. Help us to understand that the end is just as important as the beginning. Help us to teach the entirety of Scripture, revealing Your complete plan so that we might know and understand You better. Amen.