Paul reassures the Thessalonians that Christ has not returned because certain events which have not happened must happen first. But they can take comfort that Christ will return to bring both justice and salvation for those who believe.
Paul wrote 1Thessalonians from Corinth about 9 months after leaving Thessalonica (Acts 18:5; 2Cor 1:19). Most scholars think Paul wrote 2Thessaloniansr a few months after the first epistle while he was still in Corinth (approx. 51/52 AD). After delivering Paul’s first letter, the courier probably reported back to Paul and Paul wrote this letter in response to the courier’s news.
In chapter 1 Paul expressed his gratitude for their growth in faith and love. Their faithfulness under persecution is evidence of their genuine faith. He assured them that their suffering would end. One day God will bring justice to them and their persecutors will be judged.
How you interpret 2Thessalonians 2 is influenced by how you interpret these passages:
- Daniel 7:1-28 (especially 7:24-27)
- Daniel 8:1-27 (especially 8:23-36)
- Daniel 10:1-21
- Daniel 11:1-45 (especially 11:20-45)
- Matthew 24:1-51
Each of this passages comes from a different point in history.
- In Daniel’s future but in the past for Jesus & Paul: Desecration of the temple by Antiochus Ephiphanes in approx. 167 BC which led to the Maccabbean revolt.
- In the future for Daniel, Jesus & Paul: Destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 AD.
- In everyone’s future including us: the second coming of Christ.
Whether you understand Daniel and Jesus to be describing a) b)events in their past, events in their future but in our past, or c) events still in our future influences how you understand Paul in 2Thessalonians 2.
Paul does not intend to explain how the end times will unfold. The Thessalonians are confused about the second coming. Paul sets them straight by reminding them of three things:
- 2:3-4 – certain events (which have not happened yet) must happen first.
- 2:5-7 – those events are still being restrained or held back.
- 2:8-12 – he describes the nature of those events to demonstrate they haven’t happened yet.
1Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2not 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. 3Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4who opposes and exalts 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. 5Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. -2Thessalonians 2:1-7
- “Rebellion” (2:3) or apostasy is literally a falling away. It can refer to a literal departure (i.e. the rapture) or it can refer to spiritual decline (apostasy). Some take this as a literal rapture or removal of all believers. Others connect it to the spiritual decline Jesus describes in Matthew 24:10-12.
- The “man of lawlessness” (2:3) could be a literal person, a metaphorical way of describing the power of Satan or rebels against God in general. Some connect it with 1John 2:18 and/or Daniel’s visions of a king who will set himself above God (e.g. Daniel 11:36).
- ‘Taking his seat in the temple’ (2:4) could be literal (meaning the temple will be rebuilt) or a metaphorical way of describing the arrogance of the lawless one who sets himself above God.
- Paul did not write down everything he had previously told the Thessalonians (2:5).
- What restrains the lawless one now (2:6-7) is a matter of great debate. For example, the restraint could be the influence of the church, the presence of the Holy Spirit, or simply the will of God.
- Paul makes two points: First, the day of the Lord has not happened because certain very observable events must happen first and they haven’t happened. They know what those events are because Paul told them when he was with them.
- Second, they know what is holding back the appearance of the lawless one (because Paul told them) and the lawless one will appear before Christ returns.
8And 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. 9The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. -2Thessalonians 2:8-12
- Paul gives a brief, vivid description of what happens when the lawless one appears.
- Paul intends to reassure them these events have not happened yet and those who rebel against God will meet justice in the end.
- Christ will easily defeat the lawless one with but a word.
- The lawless one will deceive many through the power of Satan and lure them to their doom because they reject the truth.
- Those who reject God will be so lost to reason they will be totally deceived.
- They will be condemned because they reject the truth and choose to love evil instead.
13But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. 16Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. -2Thessalonians 2:13-17
- Paul contrasts those who believe a lie (2:11) and did not believe the truth (2:12) with those who are saved through belief in truth (2:13).
- The former will be condemned and perish (2:10; 2:12) while the latter will be saved (2:13) and obtain the glory of Jesus (2:14).
- Be comforted, those who receive the life-giving gospel and embrace the truth will not be deceived.
Paul tells them it’s not important to know the details of how the end times will unfold. It’s important to be prepared. Being prepared means believing the gospel and waiting for God to fulfill His promises.
Please listen to the podcast for more detail and explanation.
Series: 1&2Thessalonians: Between Times
Study: 1Thessalonians Resources
Scripture references are from the English Standard version.