“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him…” (2 Thessalonians 1:1)
Think about the battles that wear you out—dealing with a rebellious son or daughter or a difficult colleague at work, trying to do something for Christ and experiencing opposition at every turn, struggling with sin and temptation in your own life. You wonder, “What’s going on inside me?”
Understanding the battle
This chapter gives us wisdom for discerning the battle. It gives us the inside story of what’s really going on behind the scenes. If you are going to stay the course you need to understand the battle.
God speaks to us about this in Scripture. He lifts the veil covering the activity of unseen forces in the spiritual realm. The best known passage is where Paul says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against… the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
People are not the problem. It sometimes seems like it is a person that is the problem, but Paul says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood…” If you don’t understand that, then you don’t really understand the battle.
You are worn out in the battle with your rebellious son. But you need to understand that behind his rebellion unseen spiritual forces are at work. You are struggling with the way certain people do business in your industry. Understand that spiritual forces are at work in them. You are struggling with your own sin. Have you ever said, “I hate myself.” You need to know what is going on inside of you, so that you will know what it is that you should hate.
Spiritual forces are at work in the world, forces that will be uniquely expressed in one man, who will appear on the scene at the time of Christ’s second coming. All of face a spiritual battle and that battle will intensify as we move towards the return of Jesus Christ.
“Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.” 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2
Word had got around in the church that the day of the Lord had already come. It’s not obvious what this would have meant. It may be that some people had denied the doctrine of the second coming of the Lord Jesus.
When people deny the second coming of Christ it often goes something like this, “The second coming of Jesus was fulfilled by the coming of His Holy Spirit, through His spiritual presence in the church.”
That suggestion has often been made. Instead of seeing the hope of the world in Jesus Christ and in His glorious return, people say, “The hope of the world is in us—in the church, in the community we are able to create and in the good that we are able to do.”
It’s not clear how these ideas got around in the church. It seems that different people picked it up in different ways. It may have been by “some prophecy” that is, someone said that they had a direct revelation from God, “God told me this,” and people believed it.
It may have been a forged letter “A letter supposed to have come from us saying that the day of the Lord has already come.” It may simply have been “a report,” or as we would say, “a rumor.” You know how this kind of thing happens, people talk over breakfast or they run into each other in the grocery store…
“Did you hear that Paul is saying, ‘Christ has already returned?’”
“Yes, they were talking about it last night at small group. I heard there’s a letter from Paul.”
“Really? Where did the letter come from?”
“I’m not sure. My bosses’ uncle heard about it from his brother who said he saw Paul when he was on business in Corinth.”
This had “alarmed” and “unsettled” the believers, which is hardly surprising. If it was really true that Paul was saying that the day of the Lord had already come, it would be a flat out contradiction of what he had said in his first letter about the day when Christ will come…
“…down from heaven with a loud command. With the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God and the dead in Christ will rise first and after that we who are still alive… will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
Obviously, that had not yet happened! So, if Paul was now saying, “The day of the Lord was already here,” he must have changed his mind. And if he had changed his mind, he was undermining the apostolic authority of Scripture and rupturing the heart of these peoples’ faith. So, in this chapter, Paul is writing to put the record straight.
“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.” 2 Thessalonians 2:3
The day of the Lord has not yet come. First, the rebellion comes and the man of lawlessness is revealed, then the day of the Lord comes.
On the day of the Lord, Jesus Christ will “overthrow the lawless one with the breath of his mouth, and destroy him by the splendor of His coming” (2:8). So, this man must come on the scene before the day of the Lord. Paul is making a simple point. First, the lawless one is revealed, and then the day of the Lord will come, when the lawless one will be overthrown.
We need to know something about this “man of lawlessness.” Who is he? What does he do? And what does all this have to do with us? At first glance, this looks far away from us. But I want you to see that this has everything to do with the battles and struggles you are facing today.
The Man of Lawlessness
Who he is
The “man of lawlessness” is a person who will appear on the scene shortly before the day of the Lord. Evil and human rebellion against God will reach its climax in this person and through his leadership.
We are told three things about this man…
- His coming
“The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan…” (2:9).
- He is revealed
“The day of the Lord will not come until… the man of lawlessness is revealed” (2:3).
- His [counterfeit] miracles
“The work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders” (2:9)
When you hear these three words—coming, revealed and miracles, who do you think of? These words are of great significance because they all relate to our Lord Jesus Christ.
“The Lord Jesus will destroy the lawless one by the splendor of His coming” (2:8).
“The day when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1:7).
Christ is the One who worked the true miracles, signs and wonders recorded in the Gospels and He still does in human lives today. So, the “man of lawlessness” will be a parody of Christ. He will be the antithesis of everything in our Lord Jesus.
When the apostle John writes about this person, he calls him the antichrist, “Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18).
William Hendriksen says…
“Satan… cannot become incarnate, [but he] would like to imitate the second person of the Trinity… as far as possible. He yearns for a man over whom he will have complete control, and who will perform his will as thoroughly as Jesus performed the will of the Father.” 
I want you to see what a man who is completely under the control of Satan does…
What he does
- He will exalt himself over every religion
“He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped.” 2 Thessalonians 2:4
It doesn’t say that he exalts himself over God. He can’t do that. He might think that he can, he might try to, but nobody succeeds in exalting himself or herself over God. That’s impossible. God is exalted over all.
He exalts himself over everything that is called God, over everything that is worshipped—everything, across cultures, across the world. In other words, he exalts himself over all religion.
Many voices are saying today, “Religion provokes intolerance and intolerance provokes violence. How many problems in the world today stem from religion?” There is a growing consensus that religion is a force for evil. One of the ways you might hear this is when somebody says, “I’m interested in spirituality but I’m against organized religion.”
That is the mood of our time across many cultures. So, I have no doubt that our time is ripe for a leader who will exalt himself over “everything that is called God or is worshipped.” He will exalt himself over Islam and over Christianity, over Judaism, over Hinduism and over Buddhism.
He will say, “A plague on all your houses! Religion is the source of intolerance and violence in the world. It is religion that divides. If we get rid of religion, then we’ll have peace in the world.”
That message will resonate with millions of people in the world, and he will gather many people to himself who will say, “This is what I’ve been waiting for all my life!” I do not find this difficult to imagine. Do you?
- He will proclaim that he is God
“He sets himself up in God’s temple proclaiming himself to be God.” 2 Thessalonians 2:4
If he sets himself up in God’s temple, what does he replace? Well, what was in the temple? There are three answers to this question. At the center of the temple was a room, 30 feet long, 30 feet wide and 30 feet high. It was called the holy of holies or the most holy place.
1. In the center of that room was a wooden box. It was called the “ark of the covenant.” Inside the ark was a copy of the Ten Commandments or the law of God. When we read about a man setting himself up in God’s temple, we are to understand that he is replacing God’s law. That’s why he is called, “the lawless one.”
2. On top of the ark was a lid, where once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the high priest was to sprinkle the blood of a sacrificed animal to atone for the sins of the people. When we read about this man setting himself up in God’s temple we are to understand that he is replacing “The Sacrifice” with himself. He is proclaiming himself as the savior.
3. In the Old Testament we read about how “the glory of the Lord filled the temple” (1 Kings 8:10), and “the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud…” (8:11). So, when we read about a man setting himself up in God’s temple, we are to understand that he is attempting to replace God with himself. That is why it says, “He sets himself up in God’s temple proclaiming himself to be God.”
Two ways to go
Now that’s the teaching of these verses, and there are two ways we could go with this in the time that remains, and two ways we could go when we talk about this in the Life Groups.
- We could try to discern what this will look like in the future
We could get into the question of where the rapture of the church (that is not mentioned here) fits in. Are Christians taken to be with Christ before this man appears, after him, or somewhere in the middle?
When this man “sets himself up in God’s temple” does that mean a literal temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem? Or is Paul speaking of the temple in a figurative way, as is often the case elsewhere in the New Testament?
What does Paul mean when he talks about the restraining power that is presently “holding him back” (2:6), delaying the appearance of this man?
These questions might intrigue some, but they would confuse others, and in terms of the battles that we will face this week, it won’t help any of us. So, instead of trying to discern what this might look like in the future…
- Let’s try to discern what it looks like now
“The secret power of lawlessness is already at work.” 2 Thessalonians 2:7
Another way of translating “the secret power of lawlessness” is “the mystery of sin.” The mystery of sin is already at work. John says the same thing, “The antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come” (1 John 2:18). What we’ve learned about the man of lawlessness has an application to the spiritual battle you face today!
The secret power of lawlessness is already at work. That means you are up against it now! The spiritual power that will be so fully and horribly manifest in the antichrist is already here. When you know what this secret power will look like in him, you will be able to discern its presence.
The antichrist puts himself in the place of God, in the place of God’s law and in the place of Christ sacrifice. That is what sin is made of, this is Satan’s work at its very core. That’s exactly what the secret power of lawlessness, the mystery of sin that is already at work in the world does. Whenever you try to put yourself in the place of God, put yourself in the place of God’s law or put yourself in the place of Christ’s sacrifice, you know what power is behind it.
You know this spirit: “It’s about me!” That’s putting yourself in the place of God. “Nobody tells me what to do!” That’s putting yourself in the place of God’s law. “I’m a good person!” If you’re such a good person, then you don’t need a sacrifice. That’s putting yourself in the place of Christ’ sacrifice. Do you see this in the world today? Do you see this in yourself? You have faith in Christ, but you experience this impulse rising up within you. Is this not a mystery to you?
When you are in Christ, your sin is forgiven, its power is broken, but its presence is not yet removed. The mystery of sin remains in you. Hidden depths of pride and self-righteousness lurk in your soul, as they lurk in soul of every other person you meet. This is our battle!
Some people have kind views of pastors, but most of them are children. Some children think that I sleep in the church. But I have a home where I live with my wife, Karen. One little girl asked her last week, “Does Pastor Colin ever read any books other than the Bible?”
Would it be possible for a pastor to get to the place of saying, “It’s all about me?” Would it be possible for a pastor to get to the place of saying, “Nobody tells me what to do?” Of course, this is our battle. This secret power that is at work in you, and that is at work in me, destroys! The mystery of sin destroys marriages and businesses and churches, and it is looking to destroy you!
How do you overcome that?
This is the great battle of your life! How do you overcome the spirit that puts self in the place of God and self in the place of God’s law and self in the place of Christ’s sacrifice? That’s what we’re going to look at next week, but I can’t leave you hanging, so here’s the headline…
“The Lord Jesus will overthrow [him] by the breath of His mouth and destroy [him] by the splendor of His coming” (2:8).
That is how the man of sin is destroyed, and the secret power of sin will be destroyed in the same way. How? By His breath and splendor. What hope is there for you when you find this mystery of sin rising up in you? Your hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ, His breath and His splendor.
With His breath, His life, His Spirit in you, that is how you will prevail in this battle…
Breathe on me, breath of God.
Fill me with life anew,
that I may love what Thou dost love
and do what Thou wouldst do. 
When you see His splendor, you will not be taken up with your own! You cannot be taken up with your own splendor while you are looking at the splendor of Christ. Christ delivers us from preoccupation with our glory by showing us His glory.
This is why Paul says, “As we behold the Lord’s glory, we are being transformed into his likeness” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Seeing the glory of Christ changes you. That’s why gathering for worship is so important.
Your hope of overcoming the secret power of sin in your life, lies in the life that Christ breathes into you. Your hope of prevailing in the battle lies in seeing and beholding His glory, that transforms you into the likeness of Christ.
 William Hendriksen, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, p. 182, Baker, 1953
 From the hymn by Edwin Hatch, “Breathe on Me, Breath of God,” 1878
© Colin S. Smith
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