THE DAY OF THE Lord 2 Thessalonians 2–3
“For that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawless-ness is revealed” (2 Thes. 2:3).Holding to Christian teachings involves remembering what lies ahead.
The Day of the Lord.
This phrase, that was picked up from the Old Testament has great theological significance. In its broad sense, it identifies any period of time in which God actively rather than providentially intervenes to shape the flow of history. Most often in prophetic passages, however, it is used of the end times, that final period associated with the return of Christ, the crushing of man’s final rebellion by God, the restoration of Israel and universal peace, the last judgment, and the establishment of a new heaven and earth as the dwelling place of the saved. As noted earlier, these events fit in a span of time, not in a point of time. A number of years, not simply a 24-hour day, is intended when “Day of the Lord” is used. And any Old or New Testament passage mentioning the Day of the Lord is likely to focus on any one of these major aspects of that period. We must then interpret Paul’s references to the “man of lawlessness” as a marker indicating that the Day of the Lord has come in total context. Some folks at Thessalonica interpreted the persecutions they experienced as evidence that the Day of the Lord had arrived. Paul said simply, “Look around. Do you see counterfeit miracles? Do you see the Man of Lawlessness in control? This is not the Day of Lord.” Many Christians throughout the ages have experienced persecution even sharper than that suffered by the Thessalonians, and have wondered if what they experienced might be a sign of the end. Paul’s teaching reminds us that in this world, we can expect suffering. But, because in Christ we fix our eyes in a future beyond this world, even in suffering we have hope.
The Day of the Lord will be marked by the appearance of a “lawless” one and counterfeit miracles (2:1–12). Till then believers are to engage in “every good deed” (vv. 13–17), sure of protection from the evil one (3:1–5). The church is to discipline those who will not work (vv. 8–18).
Understanding the Text
“And our being gathered to Him” 2 Thes. 2:1. There’s nothing like persecution (1:4) to make people eager for Jesus’ return. And there’s nothing like momentary prosperity to drain our sense of urgency. Then when troubles come—a job is lost, a serious illness strikes, an accident takes a loved one—we remember again how vulnerable we are. In one of his psalms David prayed that God would help him to “know his end,” and remember “how frail I am.” The prayer isn’t morbid at all. It reflects a vital need that each of us has to keep life on earth in perspective. When you and I do this, we look eagerly for Jesus to return, whatever the state of our health or our bank account. “The man of lawlessness is revealed” 2 Thes. 2:1–4. The reference here is clearly to a person commonly referred to as the Antichrist. He is introduced in Daniel 9:25–27, and his introduction of an abominable image in a Jerusalem temple plays a key role in Jesus’ prophetic teaching (cf. Matt. 24; Mark 13). He appears again in Revelation 13, and is discussed here by Paul, and mentioned by John in 1 John 2:18. Here Paul picked up the emphasis seen in Daniel and in Christ’s utterances: the Antichrist arrogantly “opposes and exalts himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, and even sets himself up in God’s temple.” I’ve been fascinated to notice in recent Evolution/Creationism debates how some scientists oppose and exalt themselves over everything called God—pushing Him into the realm of the “merely religious” and thus irrelevant. And then such people set themselves up in God’s place, announcing their own answers to the mystery of origins and their own predictions about the future of the universe. What is most fascinating, of course, is their insistence that only they have the right to make such “scientific” pronouncements, and that the Creationist point of view must not even be permitted a hearing. The arrogant spirit of antichrist is deeply rooted in mankind, even though the individual called the Antichrist has not yet appeared. It is good to remember that the Antichrist, and all who act as he will, are “doomed to destruction.” God will be victorious in the end. “The secret power of lawlessness is already at work” 2 Thes. 2:5–7. When terrible things happen to God’s people, it is important to remember one thing. When persecution comes—when the courts decided that permitting a group of Christian young people to meet in a classroom after school hours for Bible study must not be permitted, but that it’s all right for a gay and lesbian teen organization to meet—when a major network determines that it is against their policy to show any program rooted in Christian values—when we see the “spirit of lawlessness” at work—we can take comfort. Paul knew that even then there was one who held back the full expression of that spirit in society (v. 7). Nearly all commentators agree that the restraining power is exercised by the Holy Spirit. And many suggest that the Spirit’s power is exercised through His church. If this is true, then you and I need to be involved in social issues that affect our faith. We need to take a stand, lovingly and graciously, but firmly, and let the Holy Spirit exercise His restraining influence through us. “In accordance with the work of Satan” 2 Thes. 2:8–12. The end times will be marked by the sudden emergence of the supernatural into the realm of nature. Miracles will be performed. But this time, by the Antichrist, through power provided by Satan. It’s strange. People who scoff at the supernatural when we Christians speak of it will be entranced by the counterfeit miracles performed by the Antichrist. Paul said God will send them “a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie.” But note. The delusion is sent only to those who have previously “refused to love the truth and so be saved.” Our only protection against Satan is found in Christ. But in Christ, our protection is guaranteed. The Lord Jesus will overthrow the Antichrist and Satan as well “by the splendor of His coming.” “Through belief in the truth” 2 Thes. 2:13–17. The willing victims of the Antichrist’s campaign refused to believe the truth. What about those of us who do believe? Paul says we are loved by the Lord. We are chosen by Him. We experience salvation through the Spirit’s sanctifying work. We have been given hope and encouragement by God, and one day we will even share Christ’s glory. We Christians are the new humanity: God’s new breed of mankind. You and I as God’s new breed are to demonstrate our nature to all in a most simple way. We are to give ourselves to “every good deed and word.” This is undoubtedly the real miracle that God performs daily. He snatches men and women from Satan’s realm, human beings who have lived selfishly, driven by personal passions, and through Christ makes us truly good. He transforms us, until we are moved to do good in every deed, and every word. No miracle Satan can empower can match the miracle that is taking place in you and me. “Not everyone has faith” 2 Thes. 3:1–5. It’s important to pray, as we wait for Jesus to return and the end to come, that we will be delivered from “wicked and evil men.” God will guard us from Satan. But we may experience persecution from those who are in his camp. When we do, Paul has a simple prescription. Keep on loving God. Keep on persevering for Christ’s sake. And keep on living the kind of good life that Paul’s letters exhort.
Take This Job(2 Thes. 3:6–15)
The country song must have reflected the frustration many felt with their jobs. “Take This Job and Shove It,” the husky voice echoed from stations all over the land. “I ain’t working here no more.” Many in Thessalonica felt that way. Jesus coming back? Great! “I quit.” They did quit. And, since they had to eat, they just sponged off other Christians. And passed their time gossiping. Paul had a simple response. They won’t work? Then don’t feed them. Each person should earn his own bread. Warn each idler lovingly, as a brother. But don’t feed him. I intended, when I started this devotional, to write about the sanctity and the fulfilling nature of work. But I think Paul is making another vital point here. That point? If we fail to practice real love, we hurt rather than help those we love. The real culprits in Thessalonica may not have been the folks who quit work, but the people who fed them! If no one fed the hungry slacker, I suspect they would have gone back to work mighty quickly! It’s the same with so many things in our lives. We complain about what our kids eat. But then we make them a cheese sandwich instead of saying, “Eat the roast I’m serving tonight or go hungry.” Rather than set a policy, no TV till after the homework is done, we let a child watch “my very favorite show” first—and then are upset the next morning when somehow homework was forgotten. Paul’s instructions to the church at Thessalonica remind us. If someone in the family has bad habits, just don’t contribute to them. Unless you or I take a stand that forces others to suffer the consequences of their own bad choices, they’ll keep on making those choices. And, at least in part, it will be our fault.
Don’t feed other’s bad habits by contributing to them.
“Did I but live nearer to God, I could be of so much more help.”—George Hodges