Sunday School Lesson for November 11, 2001
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
Focal Teaching Passage: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10
Correction of an Erroneous View (2:1-3a)
The central concern and motivation for this brief epistle is surfaced in this verse. The apostle once again provides instruction for his brethren in regard to the Second Advent and its attendant circumstances. It is quite apparent that the spiritually young believers had serious questions regarding the apostolic preaching of the return of the Lord. Living under the constant threat of both persecution and false doctrine, Paul and his companions thought it essential to instruct them further.
Concerning the appearance of the Lord on the last day, Paul supplies both a "request" and "[exhortation]" for further enlightenment regarding the events in association with the end. Note that the second coming of Christ is referred to by means of two descriptive phrases:
The danger for the Christians at Thessalonica was indeed very real. For reasons that are not explicitly revealed in the text, the members of the new church had apparently come to believe that the intense sufferings they had experienced signaled the immediate return of Christ. In these verses Paul speaks of a three-fold danger:
According to Paul, there were three sources of disinformation regarding the subject at hand, each claiming that "the day of the Lord has come." Note that each of the three sources mentioned is qualified by the phrase "as if from us" (v.2). As a result, each could easily lead to inner turmoil and consternation for the young believers:
Precursors to the Second Advent (2:3b-4)
Now Paul sets forth the fact that, before Christ returns, certain things must happen first—namely the "apostasy" and the revelation of the "man of lawlessness." That is, there are two specific events that will precede the Parousia:
1. He will ["oppose"] God—This man will display a spirit of continual opposition and resistance to God, His people, and the things of His kingdom.
2. He will "exalt Himself"—Here, Paul depicts the antichrist as one who seeks a position of preeminence among men, especially in regard to things related to "worship."
3. He will take "his seat in the temple"—This indicates that the man of lawlessness will usurp the very authority of God and will, in fact, accept the worship of men. Here "temple" describes that part of Jerusalem’s sacred sanctuary known as the "holy of holies." It may be that Paul is using this term metaphorically rather than literally. In this case, the man of lawlessness will apparently maneuver himself into a position of leadership within the Christian church itself.
4. He will display himself "as being God"—Finally, this man will fully reveal the nature of his perversity by proclaiming to all that he is God.
Further Descriptions of the Man of Lawlessness (2:5; 8-10)
This verse indicates that the subject matter addressed in this epistle, particularly that related to the religious rebellion and the manifestation of the man of sin, had already been communicated to the Thessalonians. Apparently, this was part and parcel of Paul’s preaching and teaching ministry. Here, he calls upon his brethren to reflect once again—"Do you not remember?"—upon "these things." Additionally, it seems obvious that Paul’s original readers understood quite clearly the meaning and significance of his terminology, primarily that connected to the identity of both the man of sin and the "restrainer" mentioned in verses 6-7 (to be discussed below).
In these three verses further insight into the "lawless one" is presented. Paul’s main point in this section is to comfort his spiritual children with the truth that, as difficult as these day would prove to be, the sudden "appearance" of Christ would "bring to an end" the diabolical activities of the man of sin (v. 8).
The Man of Lawlessness Under Restraint (2:6-7)
Paul reveals that the man of lawlessness is presently under the influence of an unnamed entity that "restrains him now." While this entity is not identified in the text, it is clear that Paul’s original audience was keenly aware of it—"And you know what restrains him now." The term "restrains" means to hold back, hinder, or prevent and is used in both its masculine and neuter forms in verse 6-7. Several suggestions have been offered by interpreters as to the exact meaning intended by Paul including the Roman Emperor, the Pope, the Holy Spirit, and the church. In light of the fact that the restraining force is seen as both a thing ("what restrains") and a person ("he is taken out of the way"), it may be best to conclude that Paul is speaking of the power of government, embodied in both personal and impersonal mechanisms, as the force which will hinder or hold back the revelation of this man until the time so appointed by God—"so that in his time he may be revealed" (v.6). Leon Morris advocates this position and observes that it is "better to see in the restraining power a reference to the principle of law and government which was illustrated in the Roman Empire, but which still continues in other states. Indeed Roman law is to a large extent perpetuated in the legal systems of the states which have succeeded it" (129-30).
As Paul’s letter was being read in the Thessalonian church, the "mystery of lawlessness" was "already at work." Bruce speculates that in view of 1 Tim. 3:16 this is "a satanic counterpart to the mystery of God’s purpose; at present it works beneath the surface but when due time comes for its disclosure it will find its embodiment in the manifested ‘man of lawlessness’" (170). William Hendriksen notes that while such rebellions against God were certainly nothing new, it was "not evident that one day this spirit of lawlessness would become incarnate in the ‘man of lawlessness." This was still mystery, that is, a truth unknown apart from divine special revelation"(180).
Major questions for Application and Discussion
One: How can believers today, facing such a crush of eschatological frenzy, live stable and focused Christian lives? How can we avoid the very dangers faced by the Thessalonian church of the first century?
Two: According to Scripture the antichrist is both present and future. That is, there are presently many antichrists in the world. Yet, at the end of this age there will be the revelation of the final antichrist. In light of this reality—that such a one is coming to deceive the world and the church—how should believers prepare? What can we do now to safeguard our lives from deception and pervasive evil? As we await Christ’s return, what should we be doing?
Three: Based upon the teaching of this passage, where should the believer who is suffering or persecuted find hope, comfort, confidence, and assurance?