This study reviews the Apostle Paul’s correction of false doctrine purporting that the Day of the Lord (the Tribulation) had already come. It says that the “apostasy” and the man of sin must come first.
The Second Epistle to the Thessalonians
II Thessalonians 2
Paul addresses the primary concern of this epistle: an eschatological question regarding the timing of the Day of Christ (“the day of the Lord”, NASB) in relationship to “our gathering together to Him” (v. 1).
Seeking to quiet their hearts about a communication they had received “by a spirit”—Charles Ryrie thinks this term refers to a prophetic utterance [New Testament Study Bible, 374])—, “by word” (a spoken message), or “by letter, as if from us” (a written document whose author supposedly was Paul) that the “day of the Lord” (a period of God’s wrath) had already begun, the apostle asks the Thessalonians not to allow its false content to disturb or deceive them (vv. 2-3a).
Paul then points out that two specific events will precede this “Day”: first, “the falling away,” and second, the revelation of “the man of sin” (v. 3b).
“The falling away” literally points to a departure (apostasia).
[Traditionally, scholars have taken this term to refer to a worldwide repudiation of and rebellion against the rule of “God”; more recently, however, others have tried to demonstrate that the word speaks of the Rapture, that “apostasia” depicts a departure of the saints from this world. This latter view is attractive to those who adhere to the pre-tribulation Rapture view, because it teaches that the Rapture occurs before the Antichrist is revealed. However, since there is not yet wide acceptance of the evidence, we must suspend judgment on its accuracy for the time being.]
If the apostasia consists of humanity’s departure from belief in “all that is called God or that is worshiped” (v. 4a) and its rejection of “the love of the truth” in order to believe in “the lie” (vv. 10-11), then it paves the way for “the man of sin” to fill the vacuum. Paul describes this “son of perdition” (“son of destruction”, NASB) as both positioning himself against (“opposes”) and elevating his majesty above “God” by usurping His “throne” in the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem (v. 4b; cf. Dan. 9:27; Matt. 24:15). The apostle expresses surprise that the Thessalonians had apparently forgotten his instruction on this very detail (v. 5).
Paul also mentions another item of knowledge his readers already possess that involves the identity of what is preventing the “the lawless one” from being revealed until the predetermined time (v. 6). Before commenting further about this “restrainer”, the apostle inserts a word about “the mystery of lawlessness” being already at work (v. 7a).
[The origin of sin is a profound mystery. How did it happen that a perfect being decided to rebel against the eternal Creator? Lawlessness, or sin (cf. 1 John 3:4), is an existential truth that obscurity hides. It finds intimate association with “the man of lawlessness”, for he (or rather the one he worships, Satan) is the one who originated sin.]
Once the restrainer is removed, “the lawless one” will come on the scene and take advantage of the rebellious conditions that continue to operate in the world, gathering all the disobedient unsaved to himself by performing deceptive Satanic works of power (vv. 7b, 8a, 9-10a). Followers of this lawless one will disobey the gospel, because God will cause them to believe the lie of humanity’s deification (v. 11).
[Ryrie’s discussion of God’s penal judgments upon OT evildoers would provide a sobering study (375).]
Because of their unbelief and habitual love of doing wrong, God will condemn them when Christ returns to Earth (v. 12). The Lord Jesus will also rain judgment upon their evil leader, consuming and destroying him with His word and His glorious presence (v. 8b; cf. Rev. 19:15). Paul uses the masculine singular nominative participle (ho katechon) to identify the restrainer, but does not specifically tell the reader what it is—only that it now restrains the man of sin.
One day, however, an outside power with authority will take it away, permitting the man of sin to operate unhindered (v. 7b).
[Since “the man of sin,” the end-time Roman dictator, exercises supernatural, Satanic power, and the only Being capable of preventing him from doing evil is God, God must be the One who removes the restraint. God will withdraw the Church, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, when the Rapture occurs. As the omnipresent God, however, the Holy Spirit will remain to regenerate Tribulation believers.]
The Thessalonians should have realized that the Day of the Lord had not yet come, because God had not taken them, the Church, from the Earth. Paul reiterates that he finds himself obligated to give thanks to God for the Thessalonians: “brethren beloved by the Lord” (v. 13a). This time, however, he eulogizes the Lord not because of their faith and love, but because of His sovereign, eternal election of them to salvation through the Holy Spirit’s setting them apart from the mass of humanity and through their faith in the gospel of Christ (v. 13b). The Lord used Paul’s preaching to call them to a salvation through which they will acquire a share in Christ’s glory (v. 14).
Having reminded them of their awesome destiny, the apostle now exhorts the Thessalonians to “stand fast and hold” to all of his instruction, both the teachings he has proclaimed and the kind he has recorded (v. 15). He asks that “our Lord Jesus Christ Himself” and their loving, gracious Father who has given them “everlasting consolation and good hope” would strengthen them spiritually and enable them to continue to speak and to live well for Him (vv. 16-17).