Three Reassuring Signs

2 Thessalonians 2:1-10
- Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. 

Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.

Background Notes:

The Day of the Lord is the apostle Paul’s topic in the first half of 2 Thessalonians 2. In particular, he emphasizes three signs that are associated with the Day of the Lord. In his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul had differentiated between the “Rapture” and “the Day of the Lord.” Both events are related end-time events, but they are not identical. The Rapture is the coming of the Lord Jesus to catch away all true believers to be with Him in glory. This doctrine is discussed in the second half of 1 Thessalonians 4. The Day of the Lord, which is covered in the first half of 1 Thessalonians 5, includes events surrounding the Return of the Lord Jesus to this earth to set up His glorious kingdom, such as the Tribulation (following the rapture), the Return of the Lord to this earth in judgment, and the time of our Lord’s kingdom on earth.

The term “Rapture” does not appear in Scripture. It is derived from the Latin word meaning “to seize,” thus the coming of the Lord Jesus to “seize away” or “catch away” His Church from the earth is commonly called “the Rapture.” The Rapture is called a “mystery” in 1 Corinthians 15–that is, it is a doctrine which was not revealed in the Old Testament, but is only uncovered and brought to light in the New Testament. In fact, this truth was revealed to the apostle Paul directly by the Lord: “For this [the doctrine of the Rapture] we say to you by the Word of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15).

The future Day of the Lord, however, is not a mystery. It is clearly revealed in the Old Testament, and our Lord elaborated on these revealed truths in the Olivet discourse, His teaching sermon concerning future events (Matthew 24-25, Mark 13 and Luke 21).

The Rapture could occur at any time. It is imminent! There are no prophetic signs that must be fulfilled before the Lord returns to the air to catch His Church away to heaven. The Day of the Lord, on the other hand, does have signs associated with it, so the Day of the Lord cannot come unless the associated signs are also present.

That is exactly Paul’s argument in 2 Thessalonians 2. The believers in Thessalonica were undergoing persecution and trials (1 Thessalonians 1:6 and 2:14; 2 Thessalonians 1:4). Some of the believers had come to the incorrect assumption that perhaps the Day of the Lord had already arrived because they were experiencing these tribulations. Furthermore, from verse 2 of our passage, it appears that some false teaching, some false prophetic utterances and even a false epistle, as if from the apostle Paul, were all backing up the false notion that the Day of the Lord had already begun.

So the apostle corrected this misunderstanding and misrepresentation, and he began by saying, in effect, “Thessalonian believers, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, that is, the Rapture, don’t be worried or anxious. In view of the Rapture, don’t be shook up or alarmed as if the Day of the Lord has already come, regardless of what anyone is telling you! It has not come! It is not present! The Rapture must take place first, and the signs associated with the Day of the Lord are not yet present.”

What signs? There are three signs given in this chapter: the coming of apostasy or rebellion, the revealing of the “man of sin” or “man of lawlessness,” and the removal of the Restrainer, or that which is holding back the tide of rebellion against God.

Doctrinal / Teaching Points:

1. The Day of the Lord cannot come until the apostasy is present.

 Apostasy means a turning away from truth once held. It’s a renunciation and abandonment of the faith. There has been apostasy and there have been apostates throughout church history, but 2 Thessalonians 2 is talking about a great falling away from the faith once held, and a great, active rebellion against God–an apostasy and rebellion that affects all of Christendom.

The apostle Paul told the Thessalonians believers that this great apostasy must be present at the time of the Day of the Lord. Because this great rebellion and turning away had not yet taken place, the Day of the Lord had not yet arrived.

It still has not come! Although there have been many departures from the truth and plenty of heresy within the church over the past 2000 years, there still has not been a wholesale renunciation and abandonment of the Christian faith. But that time will come! Sometime in the future, maybe soon, Christendom will totally reject the essentials of the Christian faith and, as we see from verse 4, Christendom will worship a man who proclaims himself to be God.

What will precipitate this great apostasy and rebellion against God? Take a guess! Can there be any doubt that the cause will be the rapture of the true Church? At the rapture all true believers will leave this earth, but “Christendom” will remain. There will still be “churches” and “ministries,” but they will all be apostate churches and ministries. When the true believers leave the scene, there will be nothing but apostasy. This is a strong argument in favor of the position that that the rapture will take place before the predicted terrible tribulation on this earth.

2. The Day of the Lord cannot come until the “man of sin” is revealed.

 Who is this “man of sin” or “man of lawlessness”? He is the Antichrist, the leader of the forces of evil. He is not Satan, because he is distinguished from Satan in verse 9. Although he is only a man, this coming Antichrist will claim to be God. In the Greek language, the tense of the verb “revealed” in verse 3 indicates that his true identity as the “man of sin” may be masked or hidden until he achieves power, but he will be revealed to be the Antichrist at a definite moment or by some decisive act. This hasn’t taken place yet!

Verse 4 indicates that the future Antichrist will set himself up in the rebuilt Temple in Jerusalem and blasphemously proclaim himself to be God. He will set up an idolatrous image in the Temple and cause everyone to worship the image (Revelation 13:14). This is the “abomination of desolation” predicted by the prophet Daniel (Daniel 9:27 and 12:11) and to which our Lord referred to in Matthew 24:15. Revelation 13:15 states that the Antichrist will be able to give lifelike characteristics to the image. This will be one of the Antichrist’s “counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders” which are mentioned in verse 9 of our passage.

Notice, however, that the “man of sin” is doomed to destruction (v3). Despite his seeming power and authority, he will be destroyed when the Lord returns to earth in power and glory –“whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of His mouth, and destroy by the splendor of His coming” (v8)! The Antichrist’s days of power and dominance will be short-lived. We don’t know whether or not the Antichrist is alive today, but we can say for sure that the Day of the Lord cannot come until this man of sin is revealed.

3. The Day of the Lord cannot come before the Restrainer is removed.

 Who or what is “the Restrainer” or “the one who holds it back”? Numerous suggestions have been made, including various human laws or governments. It seems most likely, however, that the Restrainer is none other than the Holy Spirit. At the present time the presence of the Holy Spirit in this world is restraining or holding back the “secret power of lawlessness which is already at work” (v7).

How does the Holy Spirit restrain evil in the world today? It is through the true Church, through His presence in every true believer in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit indwells the Church (1 Corinthians 3:16), and He also indwells each and every true believer (1 Corinthians 6:19). Christians are to be the salt of the earth, slowing down the spread of moral decay and corruption (Matthew 5:13).

But Christians will be leaving this earth in the rapture. At that time the Holy Spirit, who presently restrains rebellion and evil, will be “taken out of the way”(v7), because the true Church will be caught up and away away from the earth. Then will come a period of tribulation like nothing the world has ever seen, according to our Lord (Matthew 24:21).

On Pentecost, when the Church was officially formed, the Holy Spirit came to indwell individual believers and the Church. The Holy Spirit is in the world today to minister to believers (John 14:15-18 and 26-27), and He will leave with the Church at the time of the rapture. Obviously the Holy Spirit, as the third Person of the Trinity, will still be omnipresent after the rapture, but as the Restrainer of lawlessness, the Holy Spirit will be taken away when the Church is raptured. This is part of the “mystery of lawlessness” which God is revealing through His Word. Although lawlessness is present on earth now, it will come to a terrible climax before our Lord’s glorious return to reign over this earth. Thus the Day of the Lord cannot come until the Restrainer is removed.

Practical Application:

You’re never too young to study prophecy! 

We usually say, “You’re never too old” for this or that, right? Well, here we have the converse as our practical application: You’re never too young to study prophecy! There’s heavy prophetic truth in 2 Thessalonians 2. Maybe you think this kind of truth is too difficult for new believers, but the apostle Paul didn’t think that way! These Thessalonian believers were young in the faith–many of them only a few months old in the Lord. Most of them were as yet spiritually untaught and ignorant–after all, none of them had “Sunday School backgrounds”!

But look at what Paul wrote to them in his first letter: “You turned to God from idols to serve the true and living God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). In his two brief letters to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote a lot about future events. Paul didn’t have the attitude that young believers couldn’t handle heavy doctrine, and neither should we! Our teaching of prophecy should be balanced–we shouldn’t overemphasize it to the detriment of other doctrinal truths, but neither should we shy away from teaching it. You’re never too young to study prophecy!
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