2 Thessalonians 2
The Man of Lawlessness (2:1-12)
1-2 The Thessalonians had heard some things that made them think the day of the Lord had already begun (verse 2). They supposed that Christ was coming immediately. But Paul tells them not to be deceived by such talk. “Such talk has not come from me,” says Paul (see 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2 and comment).
In Paul’s time, there were many ignorant and false teachers, who by prophecy,2report or letter troubled and confused new believers. The Thessalonians had been confused by such teachers.
3 Here Paul states the reason why that day—that is, the day of the Lord (verse 2)—has not yet come: namely, before that day can come, the rebellion must first occur. Since the rebellion has not occurred, the Thessalonians can know that the day of the Lord has not yet come. At the time the rebellion occurs, the man of lawlessness will be revealed (Daniel 8:23-25).
Many Bible scholars believe that Paul is talking here about the end of the world. Just before Christ comes again at the end of the world, a rebellion against God will occur, and the leader of the rebellion will be an evil and powerful person whom Paul calls the man of lawlessness. Paul doesn’t tell us exactly who this “man of lawlessness” is. He is probably the same as the antichrist mentioned by the Apostle John (see 1 John 2:18).
Paul also calls the “man of lawlessness” the man doomed to destruction. That is, this person will not only cause the destruction of many people, but also he himself will be destroyed. He will not be able to overcome Christ (verse 8).
4 This man of lawlessness will call himself God. He will sit in God’s holy place, in God’s temple.3 He will oppose God (see Daniel 11:36; Mark 13:14).
5-6 Paul has taught the Thessalonians some things about the day of the Lord, but in these verses Paul tells us only a small part of what he has taught them. For example, the Thessalonians know what is holding him (the man of lawlessness) back; but Paul doesn’t say in this letter what or who it is.4 The only thing we can tell is that something or someone is holding back the man of lawlessness in some way; something or someone is keeping him under control. This is why the man of lawlessness has not yet been fully revealed.
7 Paul says here that the secret power of lawlessness5 is already at work in the world. The Apostle John says the same thing when he writes that even now many antichrists have come (1 John 2:18). John also repeats the same idea when he writes: This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world (1 John 4:3).
But for the present, says Paul, the one who now holds … back the “man of lawlessness” will continue to hold him back and block his work till he (the one holding him back) is taken out of the way. But the day will come when the one holding back the “man of lawlessness” will be taken out of the way, and after that the “man of lawlessness” will be fully revealed.
It is not known who this one is who holds back the “man of lawlessness.” Some Bible scholars think that Paul is referring to the Roman Empire or one of the Roman emperors. Other scholars think that the one holding back the “man of lawlessness” is an angel. Others think it is the Holy Spirit. But Paul does not tell us, and so we cannot be sure of his meaning.
8 Here Paul calls the “man of lawlessness” the lawless one. The Lord Jesus will overthrow the “lawless one” with the breath of his mouth—that is, with His word—and He will destroy him by the splendor of his coming. The “lawless one” will be destroyed by Christ’s presence alone. The “lawless one” is indeed doomed to destruction (verse 3).
9-10 The lawless one (the “man of lawlessness”) is not the same as SATAN, but his work will be in accordance with the work of Satan. The lawless one is a representative of Satan.
The coming of the lawless one will be accompanied by all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders. He will deceive many people (Mark 13:22). But he will deceive only those who are perishing—that is, those who refuse to accept and love the truth (Christ’s Gospel). All those who follow the lawless one will be destroyed with him.
11 God will send a powerful delusion on all those who follow the lawless one. God will blind their understanding, so that they will believe the lie—that is, the lie that the “lawless one” is God.
From all of this, we can understand that God is more powerful than all the forces of evil. Furthermore, God takes the evil of evildoers and uses it to punish them. Thus evildoers, by their own evil, bring punishment upon themselves. God has all power. God, in the end, makes even Satan fulfill His purposes.
12 One of God’s purposes is that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth. The truth is not only Christ’s Gospel, it is also Christ Himself (John 14:6). All who do not believe in Him will be condemned (see John 3:18-19,36).
There are basically only two kinds of people in the world: those who believe the truth, and those who delight in wickedness. If a man begins by rejecting the truth (Christ), he will end by delighting in wickedness. This is a spiritual principle. If we begin walking on the wrong road, we shall get farther and farther from God. If we reject the light, we will pass deeper and deeper into darkness. God will “give us over” to wickedness (see Romans 1:21,2426,28 and comment).
Stand Firm (2:13-17)
13 Paul calls the Thessalonians brothers loved by the Lord. We, too, are “brothers (and sisters) loved by the Lord.” Therefore, before we criticize or accuse a brother, let us remember that he is loved by the Lord!
From the beginning God chose us to be saved. Our SALVATION arises from God’s grace. We didn’t first choose Him; He first chose us (Ephesians 1:4). God chose us not because we were holy; He chose us in order to make us holy.
Here Paul writes two things about our salvation. First, we are saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit. The HOLY SPIRIT is continually making us more and more holy and blameless. The Holy Spirit is preparing us to meet Christ. We are not yet perfect. But when we receive our full salvation at Christ’s second coming, then at that time the Spirit will have made us perfect (see Philippians 1:6 and comment; General Article: Way of Salvation).
The second thing Paul says about our salvation is that we are saved through belief in the truth. To believe is man’s responsibility. We must believe in the truth—that is, in Christ. The work of saving man is from beginning to end God’s work. But if God’s work of salvation is to be completed, we must believe in His Son Jesus (see General Article: Salvation—God’s Choice or Man’s Choice?).
14 He (God) called you to this; that is, He called you to be saved. God’s purpose for us is that we might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the final stage of our salvation (see Romans 8:17,30; 2 Thessalonians 1:12; 1 Peter 5:10 and comments).
15 Because of this great hope of salvation and glory, let the Thessalonians stand firm, says Paul. In the New Testament, we are urged again and again to stand firm (Matthew 10:22; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Galatians 5:1; Ephesians 6:10,13; Philippians 4:1).
In order to stand firm, we must hold to the teachings of the Bible. Paul tells the Thessalonians to hold to the teachings we passed on to you. In Paul’s time the New Testament had not yet been fully written; therefore, the Thessalonians needed to hold to the words Paul spoke (see 1 Corinthians 11:2).
16-17 In order to stand firm, we need the grace, strength, and encouragement of God and Christ. Let us continually pray for one another the prayer written here in these verses (see 2 Corinthians 1:3-4; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Peter 5:10).