Our study today is the second chapter of 2 Thessalonians. There are three sections for this chapter. The first five verses tell us about a Second Coming deception then current in the Thessalonian church, and also meaningful to us. Next, verses 6-12, deal with the restraining of the man of sin and with what we love. Finally, verses 13-17 urge to hold fast to the traditions that have been delivered to the Thessalonian believers by their church leaders. We will find helps and lessons and warning in all three sections.
Remember, both Thessalonian epistles especially have to do with issues surrounding the Second Coming of Jesus--issues false teachers were creating pushing their own ideas in contrast to what God's representatives had taught. The letter is sent to correct the strange fire. Let's look at the first part of this section.
The Man of Sin is Coming First
Paul likes to keep two ideas together: Jesus' return and our gathering together to Him at His return. All correct teaching will conform to this picture. When Jesus comes we will be gathered together to Him. And yet, the false teaching in Thessalonica is that Jesus has already come, He has already returned, prophesied-of events allegedly have already taken place.
That teaching icontradicted God's prophetic fulfillment line. Paul does not want believers to be quickly shaken, to be too ready to receive stray notions and ideas purporting to outline end-time events. He does not want them to be too nervous, too receptive. All must be tested. What's more, not all teachings--or teachers--are to be received.
He warns of ideas that come by spirit or by verbal mention or by letters sent claiming to be from apostolic sources or local church leadership. He is calling believers to be very careful about the sources for their beliefs. All who teach are to be tested, vetted, clarified as legitimate sources. Teachers of notions are trying to sieve them into the church. Everything must be validated.
Here is a warning for us. We are much too quick to receive random videos and DVDs and emails and books. We are much too quick to grant them our limited time, focus and energy. We take many shortcuts because we are busy and we live under the rain of an information datastorm unlikely to relent before Jesus comes. It is not as if we are just impacted by two or three raindrops, but by water in quantity. We must sift between that which we give our time to and that which we do not.
What is our first source? We do have something that has already been vetted, investigated, certified, validated: the Bible. Our starting point is always the Bible. On those rare occasions (they should be rare) when we listen to a teaching-source outside our standard sources (our sources for right interpretation of teachings are of course the Bible itself, the writings of Ellen G. White, and the teaching of current Seventh-day Adventist pastors and local elders). Our first sources, in terms of documents, are those agreed by the world church; in terms of people, it is people we can directly interact with, question, and whom we can see the life of, at least in some measure, up close.
There are other good and godly people who offer teachings and whom we are thankful for, and yet whose lives we cannot really see and who as teachers we cannot really interrogate. When someone hands us a DVD and we have never heard of the presenter, or we cannot be in any serious communication with the author, we should see these things as careful things. I remember an incident not long ago when a church member recommended a little booklet to me. They did not know that it was Shepherd's Rod material. The number of DVDs circulating is enormous--and it is one of the ways that good people are led off into deceptions such as the alleged “2520” year prophecy, or queer ideas about the Holy Spirit or the feast days and so on. Yes, I know what I am presenting will disturb some of you. I share the truth with you as I understand it and I don't sugar-coat. That's my commission.
I advise you start over. Don't be a consumer of spiritual junk food. Here is the plan.
Number one. Get a good Bible with print easily readable for you, with margin references to significant texts. My center margin for chapter two lists 64 references to other passages (R.A. Allan English Standard Version).
Number two. Sit down with a pencil and paper. See the whole passage. Look up some references outside the passage but first take in in a deep way the whole passage. You start by doing the study. You do not start by listening to a DVD by a favorite speaker. Nor do you start with Ellen White. Start with the Bible. When you have completed the especially Bible-based part of your study, there will be much opportunity to look at what she says. She may suggest ideas which help correct mistakes you have made in your study. But start by praying and thinking together more directly with God and His Word. Know that Mrs. White would be appalled if she thought she was doing your thinking for you.
Number three. Write down each reference as you study. Then you will know what you have and have not looked at. This will help you keep track and be thorough, and not jump over any hard places. Study the whole passage.
Number four. Write out any notes you come up with, any thoughts that come up and finally summarize the whole of your study. Write out in your own words what you have learned.
After this, then listen to a DVD or read a book about it. But you may find that by studying it directly for yourself from the Bible that these other sources are less interesting. You will grow spiritually more speedily, because you are becoming a more studious student of God's Word.
Now Paul reminds them of something. The Second Coming of Jesus shall indeed come, but there is a sequence of events. Before Jesus'arrival, there must first be "the apostasy."
The rebellion does not just happen; it is instigated. It is pushed into being by the "man of sin." More precisely, he is the man of lawlessness. Before the end comes, this one is revealed. Here is what we learn about this "man of sin" in the text (vv. 3, 4).
- the "mystery of iniquity" is already at work in the time of Paul
- the agent is involved in "the rebellion"
- there is a sense in which the agent is veiled at present
- he is characterized as "lawless"
- he is called "the son of destruction"
- he is called "the opposer"
- he exalts himself above all the words of God and all that is worshipped
- he takes his seat in the temple of God
- in this action he proclaims that he is god
- he is under a measure of restraint that will be removed
We all know that the papacy did not exist in the time of Paul. But what did exist was the kingdom of Satan. "The man of sin" is the literal reading of the Greek. It is singular and particular. The text is speaking about a particular agent. This agent is involved in some manner of very large-scale rebellion. The scale? The scale is epic. It is about who is and is not God.
The agent is working but he is limited, veiled, restrained; there is a force opposing him. He is about lawlessness. We recall that God's law is actually a brief expression of His character. Lawlessness is the expression of an opposing character. Whereas God is the agent bringing life, the opposing agent is "the son of destruction," again, singular and particular. He is the "opposing one" who lifts himself up above all the words of God and everything that is worshipped.
He takes his seat in the temple of God. He is a blasphemous interloper, claiming to be god. But in an exact contradiction to his claims, this would-be "god" is under restraint.
It is worth our while to think on these ten points of identification. This is not all that the Bible has to say about this power, but it should give insight. There is enough here easily to work out who and what this agent is. Now, the goal of this talk is NOT to plow into an in depth identification of this agent, but we will take just a bit more time with him and see who he is.
Think about it. He is trans-historical. That is, this agent exists through long periods of history. In his incipient form he is already active in New Testament times. He stands in a direct competition with God. He is involved in worship, by definition, false worship. He does work on the giant scale because the force that is retraining him is the Holy Spirit. His is the manifestation of a character opposite that of God. He is self-promoting. He exalts himself above everything that is worshipped and above the words of God. He rises within Christianity and seeks ascendancy over all other Christians. More than this, he supplements the authority of Scripture and goes beyond it. He has an authority along with Scripture. He places himself in the temple of God.
This topic is an important one. Paul says he taught about it before this. He must have taught them that Jesus would not come before a great apostasy.
Hopefully all here remember their history well enough to know that in the early church there arose a handful of dominating bishops in the major cities of the Roman Empire. As time drew on, the bishop of Rome asserted that his seat was to have preeminence over all other bishops. A system of priesthood was erected in which human priests forgive sin, declared their power to transfer merits from one person to another, to excommunicate (doom to eternal burning in an alleged place called hell), and so on. The Papacy is implicated in all of this as clear as day. The question is, is the "the man of sin" a particular person, the pope, or does this term signify a system?
Think of the image in Daniel two. Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon and the head of gold (Daniel 2:39), but it is clear in the very next verses that the vision deals with a progression of kingdoms (vv. 39, 40, 41, 44). In that prophecy, a person is, in his day and in his monarchy, representative of his kingdom. Because the periods of time presented in the vision are longer than a human lifespan, it is clear that in the broader story told in that vision, kings or kingdoms represent systems.
Likewise, the discussion of the man of sin in 2 Thessalonians also deals with time periods longer than one human lifetime. Whichever person is pope, at a given time, then, can represent the larger reality of a system which has been set up by the mystery of iniquity. In other words, the pope is a pawn. We assign too much cleverness to the pope. The pope is just a man, doubtless an extremely deceived one. The man of sin is the little horn speaking great words and blasphemies (Daniel 7:20), not during one human lifetime, but pope after pope after pope after pope. What's more, the largest problem in the end-time will be the system of apostate Protestantism which shall enforce the worship of the beast (Revelation 13). So do not forget it; popes are interchangable. The character of the man of sin is persistent. These men are merely different flavors of chocolate.
The more important question is about He who restrains. Who is He?
He who Restrains
Two ideas interest us here: Restraining and revealing. In 1:7 Jesus is revealed from heaven, but in 2:3, 6, 8 the lawless one is revealed. In 2:6, 7 the lawless one is restrained for a period of time. The man of sin is especially revealed in his rebellion. We see Satan operating most clearly when he is permitted space to operate. For Seventh-day Adventists this is not difficult to think about. We understand that the 1260 year/day prophecy applies during the time of Papal supremacy, which we see as especially the period AD 508 -- 1798. Those, historically were premium years for papal power.
So who is it that restrains? That is, who restrains across long epochs and time periods? It is not a man. It can only be God in His providential operations. It is the Holy Spirit of God who restrains. He restrains by shaping, in limited measure, the development of human events. We see a similar feature in Revelation 7:1-3. God wants to bring the Great Controversy War on earth to completion but still He bids His angels hold back winds of strife and war. They are not to loose those winds until all of God's servants have been sealed in their foreheads. Then we will see everything unleashed in a way never yet seen, no, not even at the height of Papal power.
What We Love
The latter part of this section may be the most interesting of all. We must be ready not only to believe the truth but to love the truth. Notice here that the coming of, the revealing of, the man of sin is seen in power, signs, and lying wonders. These become avenues of deception for a large class living in the end. Who are persuaded by the deception? Those who are perishing, who refuse to love the truth, who refuse to be saved. They are actively rejecting truth, and God sends them a strong delusion. How? By removing the restraining force of His Holy Spirit.
Why is it, that when we open the Bible we plead with God to send us His Holy Spirit? Because of our great need. Without the influence of God's Spirit, we would be unable to rightly interpret the Word. Think, then, about those who are not consciously seeking His help, who do not recognize their need, and who are fundamentally in rebellion against His rule. What will happen when satanic deceptions are sent their way and become an influence in their minds? They'll be toast.
God sending strong delusion means His removal of the restraining power of his Holy Spirit. They don't seek His help. They don't want Hs help, and they forsake His help. As the issues are made crisper and clearer because of the faithful witness presented by His people, these lovers of sinful pleasure will reject that witness. They solidify as rebels against God's kingdom. They forsake His help and protection and He withdraws that help which mercifully and undeservingly He had extended to them.
Remember, God protects His own, and in 2 Thessalonians, a key issue is persecution. Persecution is not just against God's people--it is against the God of God's people. If you have persecuted one of the least of these you have persecuted the God of heaven, too. So yes, He will withdraw His protection and these are then left to their own cruel devices.
While it is true that these are worldlings, it is also true that for them to reject truth they must have been confronted with it. Theirs is not an arbitrary rejection but a pointed, definite one. They have seen and understood and in their cool calculations have turned away from God. The pleasures of sin for a season are theirs for a season. They do not turn away from to a lie but to THE lie. Wholeheartedly they choose to become rebels.
And so, at last, all shall be condemned who did not believe the truth. They didn't love it, they chose not to believe it, and they are left in the coldness of their own desires. Bad choices, bad results.
What antidote for us? The antidote is for us to love the truth. It is not even just a matter of believing God's truth. We need to learn to love His truth. How do we come to love it? Part of the answer is that we study it, read it, absorb it directly from the truth-soaked pages of the Bible. Another part of the answer is that we do not forsake the assembling of ourselves together for worship (Hebrews 10:24, 25). As we see the day approaching, the Second Coming, we are glad. We redouble our energies and interest in living and giving the Third Angel's Message to a lost world.
Make no mistake, the world is lost. Yes, there are those who love God in other churches; yes, there are other true believers out there. But God desires that His servants call these out of Babylon and into His remnant people. This is no normal time. These are the last days. In God's end-time church is a measure of safety that cannot be present in other places. As a people, the manner in which we are organized, the way in which Heaven has arranged and set things up, is optimized for an end-time church. Just as some automobiles are optimized for speed, and others for rugged off-road travel, this church is optimized for travel through the end-times. God has designed this church to shoot the rapids and go safely over the falls. But even the best kayak needs a skilled paddler. God is workin to grow skilled paddlers. And so, He calls out others to be in His kingdom, to be part of running the end-time rapids. And we need the energies of all true-hearted travellers in our midst to encourage us and that we might redouble our interest in being faithful to Jesus.
Hold the Traditions You were Taught
Finally, in chapter two, there is a call to hold onto the traditions which you were taught. Not all tradition is bad tradition. Paul taught His churches good practices, sound traditions. Some have an infatuation always to be changing and experimenting. Some of that is good, but when it begins to denigrate already clarified light, or to downgrade it, or replace it, there is a problem. Always remember, new light will never contradict old. If there is something new to reveal or clarify, God will do that through His appointed servants who are already walking in the light of the Bible's Third Angel's Message from Jesus.
Notice in these last verses how God calls us through His gospel to sanctification, holiness. The gospel includes justification and sanctification both. It is not only being forgiven over and over; there is power for overcoming. This is the kingdom of God, not the neighborhood gang of some poor guy or some weak and wobbly being. Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords.
This chapter closes with Jesus' request to His Father to establish His followers in the faith. That is how we now close. Asking our Father to help us be strong in Jesus, true as a needle to the pole, clear-minded about what Present Truth is, and bold enough, through the strength of Jesus, to share it with other reeling hearts. May His Spirit restrain, and may His power be revealed in us, not because we are worthy but because Jesus is Lord.
Clark Fork ID 2013-04-20