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2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

In the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians, Paul turns from the theme of the importance of belief to an admonishment to stand firm. Echoes of the persecution and affliction from Chapter 1 linger here, but it is clear that Paul has a primary issue in mind which he implores the Thessalonians to endure and not be shaken by: apocalyptic enthusiasm. It seems that there was an abundance of enthusiastic speculation about the timing of the Day of the Lord, or the 2nd coming of Christ, as well as its relationship to the so-called “man of lawlessness” as Paul refers to him. In short, there was heavy debate and speculation as to whether or not the “man of lawlessness” had already or was presently at work in the world bringing about destruction. Potential matches for this man of lawlessness were suggested to be Antiochus IV, Pompey, or Emperor Caligula, et al. If one of these men or someone else was the so-called man of lawlessness, then this would mean that Christ’s return was to happen at any moment. Such teachings were, understandably, working many Christ-followers up into a veritable fit. Paul’s response: “settle down!”

Indeed, Paul does confirm that there is a “man of lawlessness” who either is or will wield Satan’s destructive and divisive power in opposition of the Church. Violent persecution and the perversion of the temple will be related to the work of this “man.” This will only happen, confirms Paul, because God will allow it to – which means that God can and will easily bring this all to an end – which is the point! And because Christ’s uncontestable victory is certain, there is just no reason to concern ourselves with this future or present issue. When it happens, according to Paul, even if it is happening right now, God will still be sovereign, and the Son will vanquish the “man of lawlessness” with one word from His mouth! With this stark reminder from Paul, there is no reason to panic. This is the foundation for what Paul shares in verses 13-17. God has chosen you, he says, for salvation through sanctification and belief. Rest assured in this, truly rest in this, and be at peace, he encourages them. May God comfort your hearts through grace so that you may have comfort and hope – with the latter being a surety according to Paul’s theology. And so, he says, “stand firm.”

Today things are not much different from the way they were then. This passage is one that typically fans the flames of apocalyptic zeal, especially the predictive variety. Today people speculate about the so-called “man of lawlessness” as they did back then. The “man of lawlessness,” likened to the Antichrist (which is an interpretation of, but not a literal translation from, of the book of Revelation) is said to be Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Joseph Biden, or some other prominent and divisive world leader. As soon as the conversation goes this route, though, we must heed the words of Paul and return to Scripture. “No one knows the day or the hour,” is a common refrain in the New Testament. This refers most clearly to the return of the Lord Christ, but indirectly this also refers to the rise of the “man of lawlessness.” Yes, this will happen, says Paul, but we do not know when. He stresses that he has not in any way taught that the Day of the Lord has already happened, but he adds that it will happen at some point. Paul maintains what might be described as an apocalyptic agnosticism regarding such things. He believes they will occur, he teaches and lives as such, but he has no real concern about these things because all such matters fall under the utter Lordship of Jesus Christ – against whom no foe can truly stand.

If it helps, Paul teaches that the “man of lawlessness” is a sort of parody of Christ.[1] After all, evil itself is nothing but a privation or parody of goodness (Privatio Boni) so why should the same not be said of Satan’s man of destruction or lawlessness? He has not come yet says Paul, but he will come, and his activities will be most unpleasant, but he will lose – without question. Let us dwell in the ending of that description, keeping our minds on the things of Christ, trusting in his supreme goodness and power. As such, we must not be deceived, says Paul, we must stand firm. Today, just like when the epistle was written, this is still true. Let us not worry, waiver, or be distracted, but instead let us stand firm in Christ alone.


[1] Smith, Abraham. The Second Letter to the Thessalonians. The New Interpreters Bible, v. XI. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 758.