2 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 12 The man of lawlessness
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed bu the teaching allegedly from us – whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter – asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.
Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendour of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
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There was a strand of Judaism which concerned itself with eschatology, which is the prophetic understanding of the last days of earth. The early Christians embraced this tradition, partly because they expected Jesus to return quickly.
The imminent return of Jesus made them eager to know what would happen, and passages like today’s study are the way that they were able to talk about it in imagery with which they were familiar.
It’s two thousand years since then, and the images of the apocalypse that helped the early church understand the victory of Jesus no longer have the same meaning. How can we express the important insights of Paul’s teaching in modern terms?
Firstly, he acknowledges that sin – the man of lawlessness – is already at work in the world. Today we can see that without needing the pictures. It’s clear that human society has sin built into it. Democratic government assumes that we cast our votes according to our self-interest. Money is unequal at every scale, from local to global. It’s very hard for the poor to escape poverty no matter how hard they work. Trading laws are heavily biased against poor nations. Rich nations earn money selling high-tech weaponry to oppressive regimes who use them to kill innocent civilians.
Secondly, Paul states that God, through Jesus, has the final victory over sin. Self-sacrificing love will eventually triumph over selfishness, but only through Jesus.
I don’t really feel that I need images of God’s enemies being destined for destruction. But what an arrogant mindset that is! If I were being persecuted for my faith, I might well want reassurance that God’s enemies will be judged and destroyed. I have to confess that I benefit from the unfairness of the world; I am not rich, but there are many millions of people who work harder than I do, or have ever done, for smaller rewards. I must also confess that I don’t devote 100% of my time, energy and resources to helping to bring about God’s kingdom.
And perhaps that’s one of the valuable things about eschatology. It points up, very starkly, that the struggle between good and evil is deadly. There are no half measures; we’re on one side or another.
May I, and anyone reading this blog, be found on the side of good, trusting in Jesus as our Lord, and opposing evil with all our strength.
Thank you for disturbing my complacency. Please help me to be wholehearted in doing your will.
In Jesus’ name, Amen