2 Thessalonians 2
Keep the faith; he’s coming
First comes the Man Above the Law1 Now, dear family, let’s talk about the coming of our leader, Jesus the Messiah, and about our getting together with him. 2 Don’t get yourself all worked up and rattled when someone tells you our leader has already come. It doesn’t matter if they’re just talking about it, reporting a prophecy, or reading a letter they said we wrote. 3 Don’t believe lies like that. The big day won’t come until after the revolution, when the Man Above the Law shows up as the Son of Destruction. 4 This guy is so into himself that he thinks he’s more important than any god. He’s opposed to all religions that don’t worship him. One day he will sit in God’s temple and tell everyone this is his temple because he’s God. 5 Don’t you remember me telling you about this when I was with you? 6 You know what is keeping him in check at the moment, waiting for the right time to make the move and turn him loose. 7 Actually, the secret lawbreaking is already going on. But it will stay secret until the one who has put a hold on the action is removed. 8 That’s when the Man Above the Law will make his appearance. This is a man Jesus will destroy with nothing more than the splendor of his arrival and words from his lips. 9 This Man Above the Law will come to do the devil’s business, working for Satan. He’ll show you fake miracles, mysterious signs, and vexing wonders. 10 He’ll use every trick he can to deceive people. They will end up dead. It’s because they will reject both the love and the truth that would have saved them. 11 So God will give them what they want. He’ll help them tighten their stubborn embrace of the lies. 12 In the end, they’ll be condemned for rejecting the truth and living it up by having a good time doing bad things.
Hang onto the faith13 We should always remember to thank God for you, dear family, whom the Lord loves. After all, God picked you to become among the first souls saved by the sin-cleansing work of the Spirit and by your belief in the truth. 14 God invited you to salvation. He did it through the Good News we told you about so you could one day share the glory of our leader, Jesus the Messiah. 15 Dear family, stand your ground in spiritual matters. Hold tight to the teachings we told you about or wrote to you in our letters. 16 Our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father love us, never stop encouraging us, and are kind enough to give us hope. 17 May they encourage your hearts and give you the strength to say and do good things with your life.
Often translated “man of lawlessness.” Some ancient copies of Paul’s letter say “man of sin.” Some Bible experts say this Greek description is similar to the Hebrew phrase “son of Belial” (1 Samuel 25:17, King James Version), translated in negative terms such as “worthless man” (New American Standard Bible), “wicked man” (New International Version), and “despicable person” (Common English Bible). Some scholars describe him in Paul’s context as a counterfeit Jesus.
“Son of Destruction,” sometimes translated “son of perdition,” is the same phrase one Bible writer used to describe Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus (John 17:12). As a son of destruction, Judas was a destroyer whose actions led to the crucifixion of his mentor, Jesus. But also as a son of destruction, he was doomed for destruction; he committed suicide (Matthew 27:5). He was a destroyer who was destroyed.
Paul had apparently told the Thessalonians about this earlier. Readers today are left guessing what he was talking about. One guess is that God is the one who’s waiting for the right time to set in motion these events that will lead to the return of Jesus.
Paul uses a phrase sometimes translated as “mystery of lawlessness” (New American Standard Bible). Some scholars say this reads like the opposite of what Paul described as God’s secret plan: “the mystery of his will” (Ephesians 1:9 New American Standard Bible). “These mysteries remained secret to people in earlier generations. It’s only now being revealed by the Spirit to the Messiah’s devoted apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:5).
“Words from his lips” is often translated “breath of his mouth” (New American Standard Bible), which in casual English could sound like killer bad breath. It’s nothing of the kind. Bible experts say this is a phrase that links Jesus to a prophecy about the future messiah from the family of King David: “By his words the wicked will be put to death” (Isaiah 11:4 New Century Version).
A more literal description: “God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false” (New American Standard Bible). Paul, writing in Romans 11:8, said something similar about the Jews, quoting the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord has poured over you a spirit of deep sleep, He has shut your eyes, the prophets; And He has covered your heads, the seers” (Isaiah 29:10 New American Standard Bible). Somehow, God drives the disobedient people even deeper into their delusion. Perhaps as if to say, “You want this? Okay, here’s more of the same.”
We’ve seen pictures of people carrying signs saying “The End is Near.” That sounds a little like what was going on in Thessalonica. Reading between the lines of Paul’s letter, it sounds as though some people were getting the Christians “worked up and rattled” (2:2) by telling them Jesus had already come back and Doomsday was just around the corner. Why do you think people do things like that, trying to get people frightened with lies?
Paul talks about the “Man Above the Law,” also tagged the “Son of Destruction” (2:3). Many centuries later, in the Middle Ages, some students of the Bible created what might sound like a theological Frankenstein. They patched Paul’s description of a nasty man with John’s description of “antichrists everywhere you look” (1 John 2:18 Message), and then added a beast with “two horns” and “the voice of the Dragon” (Revelation 13:11 New Living Translation). Then they introduced the Antichrist as a dictator who will take over the world and rule it under the authority of Satan. What do you think about that? Does it surprise or trouble you that this is not a teaching that has been a part of the church since the beginning?
For 2000 years Christians have been wondering what “revolution” (2:3) Paul was talking about when he assured the people at Thessalonica that Jesus had not yet come back. Paul said that big day “won’t come until after the revolution.” Do you think it’s fair to speculate on what he was talking about, or do you think it’s time to let these particular words rest in peace so we can move on and deal with the hard stuff like forgiving people who hurt us and showing compassion to strangers such as refugees?
LIFE APPLICATION. How have you seen end-time speculation and prophecy affect politics and the way people live their lives?
LIFE APPLICATION. What do you think are some of the pluses and minuses of spending much time and energy studying about end times and the Second Coming?
- LIFE APPLICATION. Paul closes this chapter by encouraging the people of Thessalonica. “Our Lord Jesus Christ and God our Father love us, never stop encouraging us, and are kind enough to give us hope” (2:16). Given the fact that Jesus and God are somewhat invisible, how do you think we can know if they are encouraging us?