Studies in 2 Thessalonians

Tom Bentley, Ballymena, N. Ireland

Part 2 of 4 of the series Studies in 2 Thessalonians

CHAPTER 2

Outline of the chapter

The Appeal, vv. 1 – 2. Paul’s Personal Exhortation

v. 1 Decision
    The Subject of It - ‘brethren’;
v. 2 Discretion
    The Aim of It - ‘not quickly shaken’;
    The Reason for It - ‘spirit, word, epistle’;
    Revelation . . . Speculation . . . Communication;
    The Cause of It - ‘that the Day of the Lord is now present’.

The Answer, vv. 3 – 12. Paul’s Prophetical Exposition

v. 3 Deception
    ‘Let no man beguile you’;
    First answer, First the Apostasy; 
    Second answer, the Appearing of the Man of Sin;
v. 4 Description 
    He ‘opposeth’, ‘exalteth’, ‘sitteth’, ‘sheweth’;
v. 5 Deliberation 
    Recall what I taught while with you;
v. 6-7  Detraction 
    Second answer, ‘know’ perfectly; ‘that’ neuter; ‘that he’; 
    The Man of Sin - His Time 
   ‘there is one restraineth’, ‘one’ is masculine; 
   Obviously the restraint in on the ‘mystery of 
   lawlessness’ and the Power and Person 
   who restrains is the Holy Spirit. 
    The Man of Sin - His Termination;
v. 8 Demolition 
    The Man of Sin - His ‘Apocalypse’, vv. 3, 6, 8; 
    The Man of Sin - His Annihilation; 
    epiphaneia brightness; parousia presence, cp. Isa.11. 4;
v. 9 Distraction 
    The Man of Sin - His Tyranny - ‘power’, ‘signs’, ‘lying wonders’; 
v.10Delusion 
    The Man of Sin - His Tact - ‘all deceit of unrighteousness’;
v.11    Deviation 
    The Man of Sin - His Treason - ‘that they believe a lie’;
v.12    Destruction 
    The Man of Sin - His Tribe - ‘that they ALL may be judged’.

The Appreciation, vv. 13-15. Paul’s Pastoral Exercise

v.13    Determination
    ‘chosen’ God’s choice that the church would not be involved in the tribulation;
v.14    Destination 
    ‘obtaining of the glory’;
v.15    Discretion 
    ‘stand fast’ ‘hold the traditions’.

The Appeal, vv. 16-17. Paul’s Practical Encouragement

v.16    Designation 
    The last time he appeals to the Father and to the Son
v.17    Direction
‘comfort’; 
    ‘stablish’ in every good word and work. Paul’s first appeal was directed to the saints, now this is directed to the Father and Son.

Chapter 2. 1 – 12 Apprehensions.

The Appeal vv. 1 – 2 Paul’s Personal Exhortation

Verse 1  Paul opens this section with a truly passionate appeal in the words ‘we beseech you brethren’. It offers to the disturbed saints an urge to attend to his earnest request. He is literally begging them to respond. This is now the second time Paul uses the family and all-embracive term ‘brethren,’ which is from adelphus, which implies ‘from the same womb’. He has the right to charge but rather, he implores as a brother. If we are to win the affectionate attention of the saints on any issue of truth, then it is vital that we follow Paul’s exemplary approach. ‘By the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’ indicates that Paul is concerned about the treatment handed out by the false teachers on this subject of the coming of the Lord. ‘By’ is huper, as in 1. 4, but is used here as peri, ‘concerning’. Is there a subject that has been so mistreated and misinterpreted as the coming of the Lord for His own? Let the reader note with interest that the coming here is linked with the full administrative title of the Saviour, ‘Lord Jesus Christ’. Never allow our hearts or our minds to become so accustomed to this title so as to disregard its significance. It appears ten times in this short epistle, 1. 1, 2, 8, 12; 2. 1, 14, 16; 3. 6, 12, 18. The words, ‘And by our gathering together unto him’, translate kai hemon episunagoges ep’ auton. ‘Gathering together’ is episunagoges. It is used in Hebrews 10. 25 to denote the gathering of the saints together in assembly. Its basic meaning indicates to ‘bring together to others already assembled,’ which ideally conforms to what we have already seen, 1 Thess. 4. 17.
Verse 2 The saints of the assembly at Thessalonica were exposed to the common danger of hastily responding to an impression without waiting to consider the content or consequences of an issue, should it be erroneous. Paul uses a word he has already employed when writing to the Galatians regarding the same tendency. The word he employs is, takeos, ‘soon’, ‘quickly’, ‘suddenly’, as in Galatians 1. 6 and 1 Timothy 5. 22. ‘Shaken’ is a strong word denoting ‘to totter’. The suddenness of the shock is stressed. See for comparison Luke 6. 48 and Acts 2. 25. It is descriptive of a ship in a tempest being driven from its secure moorings. Let us never be driven away by feverish and excitable expectations from that which holds us sober and level footed, even our heritage and possession through the truth. The ‘mind’, nous, is that which has been enlightened by the revelation of God and His truth, not merely the faculty of thought. As always we see here that error never brings joy or contentment, for the word that Paul uses for ‘troubled’, throeomai, means ‘to wail’, see also Matt. 24. 6; Mark, 13. 7. Obviously it is not the will of God that His people be disturbed and perpetually tossed about.

Paul then delineates three items that may well upset the spiritual equilibrium of the saints: 1) ‘Neither by spirit’ (revelation); 2) ‘nor by word’ (speculation); 3) ‘nor by letter’ (communication). In days when so many claim to have the gift of prophecy, it is essential that the saints know how to judge such unfounded and unproven claims and that which they surreptitiously pronounce and proclaim. Those who tried to subvert the saints of God then and even today, could do so only in the context of a fireside chat or by a private conversation and hence the use of the term ‘word’. The apostle avowedly asserts that no written communication ever came from him to distort the truth or to disturb the minds of the saints whom he loves. If such were ever received, he affirms it is a forgery. The need for all of us today is to be aware of pretence, whether it be by a professed communication from God, or simply conversation in private. Special care must be taken above all should a pretended ‘epistle’ be received. Was it not SIR WALTER SCOTT who asked his visitors, to ‘bring the book?’ His friends asked, ‘Which book? He replied, ‘There is only one book, that is the Bible’. Simple language, but vital adherence is required on our part if we are to be preserved in a state of spiritual composure.

The next expression is vital to a proper understanding of the subject. Translations differ, as do teachers. I accept and advance without apology, that the expression should read as in JND and the RV ‘the Day of the Lord’. The day of Christ is the day of verse 1, when we shall be gathered unto Him. The ‘Day of the Lord’ is the day of Old Testament prophecy as in, for example, Isaiah 2. 12. It is gladly assumed that the ‘Day of Christ’ has no preliminary conditions to be fulfilled ere it dawns, but the ‘Day of the Lord’ certainly has. Paul continues to unfold this in the next verse. ‘Is at hand,’ comes from enisteemi, and is used seven times in the New Testament denoting ‘has come and is here’. Seeing the Day of the Lord had not yet come then, the Thessalonians would return to that state of mind that rests solely upon the word they had already received, as their sole basis of reference, see 1 Thess. 1. 10; 5. 9. Would that many believers in our day would return to this same acknowledgement of the revealed word of God on this subject.

The Answer vv. 3 – 12 Paul’s Prophetical Exposition

Verse 3  Paul continues with these words, ‘let no man deceive you by any means’ by which he is ministering a warning to the saints, but I doubt if we can take it as an indictment of what had already occurred. True, they had received unauthorized communications, but had they wrought such havoc as to actually bring about a wholesale deception? ‘Deceive’ occurs five times in the New Testament and is a first aorist subjunctive of the verb exapatao, ‘to deceive thoroughly,’ or ‘to beguile’. Without being unduly technical, it is to be noted that the sentence in the text begins with the aorist subjunctive me, ‘not,’ and issues a form of a prohibitive construction, which forbids the commencing of an action not yet begun. The approach Paul is making is, ‘Do not begin to let anyone beguile you’. Saints of God should never allow the mere record of experiences intrude so as to overcloud what they know to be the revealed mind and will of God. ‘For that day shall not come’, is not at all in the original text but is aptly supplied by the AV. Therefore, Paul is continuing on the subject of the day of the Lord. He explains, ‘except there come a falling away first’. Many useful and acceptable commentators have gone along the interpretative road of making the term ‘falling away’, which is apostasia, see Acts 21. 21 where it is translated ‘to forsake’, refer to the taking away of the church at the rapture. I do not subscribe to this interpretation. There are very clear passages to be considered that impinge readily on Paul’s use of the word ‘apostasy’, and they are helpful to gain an insight into his understanding of the word, for example 2 Tim. 3. 13; 4. 3-4; Tit.1. 14.

The departure of which Paul speaks will culminate in the arrival in full manifestation of the man of sin. The RV margin has ‘man of lawlessness’ which conforms to 1 John 3. 4 where ‘sin’ and ‘lawlessness’ are deemed equivalent. Such a term indicates the willingness of the coming impostor to comply with the intent of the devil to dethrone God and enthrone his own system of anarchy. He is therefore fittingly designated as ‘the man of lawlessness’. He has yet another descriptive term, ‘the son of perdition’. This denotes two issues: 1) intrinsic character, which is decisively and literally ‘destruction’; 2) ultimate destination, one destined to destruction, compare the words in John 17 verse 12,. We have only space for a consummate outline on this man of lawlessness which is as follows:
Daniel 7 – presents him governmentally in his Littleness
Daniel 8– presents him geographically in his Location
2 Thess. 2  – presents him godlessly in his Lawlessness
Rev. 13 – presents him globally in his Laudation
Rev. 20 – presents him gloomily in his Loss

It is important to note that the verb apokaluphthéi, translated ‘be revealed’, is a subjunctive passive of the verb ‘to uncover’. This clearly indicates that the man of sin will be made manifest and universally known by someone other than himself. There is no doubt that it will be the Dragon who will bring him to light as such, when he judges the time is fully ripe.

Verse 4 Paul now affirms that this coming ‘man of sin’ will be nothing less than an ‘adversary’. The expression basically should read, ‘he who opposes’, or ‘the opposer’, ‘the adversary’. See these scriptures for further help, Luke 13. 17; 1 Cor. 16. 9; Gal. 5. 17; 1 Tim. 5. 14. The word for ‘exalteth’ appears only three times in the New Testament, here and twice in 2 Corinthians 12. 7. It emphasizes that the man of sin will exert all the influence he can muster to advance himself, while coordinating with Satan who will advance him to the utmost against God and against His Christ. But Paul adds, ‘so that he sitteth in the temple of God’. In emphasizing the certainty of this evil action, the text begins with the simple pronoun ‘he’, auton, stressing that he himself sits down. The question is, ‘Where?’ So the apostle adds, ‘in the temple of God’. It is evident that by the time this is being fulfilled there will be a place existing that will be owned of God as His temple. We believe this without doubt, but to enlarge upon it right now, would be beyond the space limit of the current exposition.

This is a definite act and it will continue, for Paul adds, ‘shewing himself that he is God’. He will exhibit his potential claim to be God. But note the sense of the word Paul employs here denotes ‘to point away from one’s self’, clearly identifying him to be an imposter. In spite of all his conceited claims, and his sumptuous signs, he is totally unable to sustain his preposterous attempt to be as God, for he is not, nor ever will be what he is subversively attempting to become. What touches all those who know the truth is that Jews, as well as pagans and such like, will willingly accept him.

Verse 5; The Thessalonians had already had the truth ministered to them and they were advised to remember what they had been clearly told. The tense suggests that Paul repeatedly told them of things to come. Let us all who read these lines constantly refer back to the things, which we have been taught rather than fall prey to spurious doctrine and teaching that bear no relation to the truth of scripture already received and acknowledged.

Verse 6 Through Paul’s lucid and repeated ministry the Thessalonians know the truth and also are aware as to what or who is now restraining, for the apostle appeals to them implying their awareness of the restraining influence. That the oral instruction enables them to perceive the meaning is indicated by the strength of the word ‘know’, which clearly establishes the fact that they know perfectly. But for the present reader in this day, nowhere in scripture is this disclosed, therefore we have to determine either ‘what’ or ‘who’ is the restraining power that withstands the appearance and operation of the lawless one. It is clear that lawlessness is being restrained until the lawless one is revealed, 2. 7, 8. Further, from the context it is clear that this restraining activity will continue until the restrainer is withdrawn, v. 7. We now have to determine who or what restrains. Advances have been made including: 1) the Roman Empire; 2) constituted government; 3) the church; or 4) the Holy Spirit; and likely many more. We still have to decide which one and why? I select confidently from the foregoing alternatives, the Holy Spirit. As early as Genesis chapter 6 verse 3 the reader of scripture knows that the Holy Spirit exercises this type of ministry. There is no reason to believe that He has in any form relinquished His role and this is demonstrated in John 16 verses 8 to 11 and Acts 7 verse 51. Simply on account of the fact that the neuter form of ‘what witholdeth’ to katechon, is used does not provide any reason to affirm another abstraction. In the New Testament the Holy Spirit is referred to with both neuter and masculine gender as in John 16 verses 13 to 14. Only divine power can restrain the lawlessness of the lawless one and all associated with him. But the time will come when this restraint will be removed then he, the lawless one, shall be revealed in his time. The very construction of these words denotes so much so let us value the inspired word and words. ‘He might be revealed’ is the translation of one word in the original text, apokaluphthánai, meaning ‘to disclose what has been covered up’ and it is in the passive voice. This clearly assures the reader that the Lord will unveil the true identity of the man of sin, the Antichrist, not that he reveals himself. How we rejoice to know that at all times our God is in control. Then again the word ‘time’ is literally, as we often say, ‘the time on the clock’, ‘measured time’. How true and how comforting are the words of the psalmist, ‘Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep’, Ps. 121. 4.

Verse 7 To have all the ‘mysteries’ of the Bible listed and expounded is both advised and certainly rewarding. There is not the opportunity to do so now, but there is a useful work on the subject by the late MR. T. E. WILSON (Angola) who supplies useful material on this subject. Paul uses the term ‘the mystery of lawlessness’ here indicating it is something that cannot really be known merely by human reasoning, but is apprehended as a result of divine revelation. VINCENT has a useful comment here, ‘A mystery does not lie in the obscurity of a thing, but in its secrecy’. Perhaps we may feel that sin has not been hampered, nor is there evidence abroad of any restriction having been put upon it. But in view of its ultimate unrestricted flow, until the restraint has been removed, sin certainly has been tempered by the Holy Spirit of God. The next expression is often misinterpreted. Paul adds, ‘only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way’. Though this will be the outcome of the church’s testimony having been terminated on account of the rapture, it does not mean that the Holy Spirit will cease operating on earth. Let us affirm clearly that the Holy Spirit will maintain His presence after the rapture. The term ‘taken out of the way’ has been ably illustrated by the image of a dam of water that is held in by powerful gates. These gates when moved to one side, allow the water to flow torrentially. What an indescribable period of wickedness it will be when such is augmented by the action of divine power and purpose.

Verse 8 ‘And then shall that wicked be revealed’, obviously the emphasis is on the word ‘then’. Just when the hindering power is set aside, then shall the full consummate of evil be revealed. Clearly the word ‘revealed’ denotes that the man of sin has been hidden, undisclosed for what he is. For three years he will deceive, delude and determine much, but when the moment dawns for his unmasking, then the truth will be out and this person will be known for what he really is, the instrument and chief agent of Satan on earth. Paul covers the intervening time and brings us to the doom of the Antichrist. The Lord Jesus will consume him. The word denotes ‘to put out of the way’. Paul declares how decisive the removal will be, ‘with the spirit of his mouth’. This is amplified for us in Isaiah 11 verse 4 and Revelation 19 verses 15 and 21. Two interesting words follow, which command our interest namely, epiphaneiai meaning ‘brightness’, and which emphasizes His becoming visible in excelling glory, and parousia which establishes the Lord’s personal presence, referring to the literal, actual pre-millennial appearing of Christ to deliver His people of Israel. See for reference Zechariah 12 verses 8 to 10 and Revelation 19 verses 11 to 21.

Verse 9 ‘Even he’ is added by the AV, which confirms that the context is without doubt referring to the lawless one, ‘whose coming is after the working of Satan’. This helps to establish many essential truths that we will seek to unfold. ‘Whose’ refers to and resumes the ‘whom’ of verse 8, while ‘coming’, which is parousia and is used three times by the apostle in this epistle, 2. 1, 8, of Christ; and 2. 9 of the Man of Sin and denotes the personal presence of the Antichrist. It shows that the parallel drawn between the revelation of the Man of Sin and that of the Lord Jesus Christ is intentional on the part of the apostle. Note the use of the word kata, ‘according to’ RV, confirming that not only will the Antichrist be completely controlled by the devil, but the terrible deeds he will enact and perform will be characterized by ‘the wiles (stratagems) of the devil’. Antichrist will enforce his nefarious acts and impious pretensions by the working of actual miracles. It is clear to all that the word ‘lying’ which translates pseudos, meaning ‘a conscious and an intentional falsehood’, is to be taken as being descriptive of and applying to the three nouns, and does not denote that the miracles are fictitious, but have their inherent purpose of deceiving men. LIGHTFOOT ably distinguishes between the three terms in this manner, ‘Power has reference to the author of the miracles and they are works denoting ‘power’ on the part of him who performs them. Signs and wonders have reference to the witnesses of the miracles. Signs denote their effect on the understanding, wonders denote their impression on the moral sense. No wonder the world will say of him, ‘Who is like unto the beast?’

Verse 10 ‘And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness’, or ‘and with all deceit of unrighteousness’ RV. In his use of anything and everything that is unrighteous and that can deceive, the Man of Sin will secure a following, and ensure the perdition of those who accept him. What a sombre word follows, ‘in them that perish’, or as the RV has it, ‘in them that are perishing’. Terms used by the Spirit of God are truly significant, for the word ‘perish’, apollumenios, is in the middle voice, indicating that it is the deliberate and willful choice of the lost to reject the truth and to embrace the lie. Since God has made an unlimited provision for all to be saved, no one really has to be lost and as we often sing, ‘None need perish, all may live for Christ has died’. Their offence is worse than the mere rejection of the truth. They not only fail to receive the truth, but they also have no desire or love for it, John 5. 40.

Verse 11 When the overtures of God’s love, grace and truth are wilfully refused by those who are evidently incorrigible, God can and does harden their hearts, Exod. 8. 15; Rom. 9. 17-18. As Paul puts it in Romans chapter 1, verses 24, 26, and 28, He can righteously hand them over to their own iniquity in which they will reap dire consequences. ‘God shall send them strong delusion’ affirms that persistent and wilful rejection of the truth brings its own judicial punishment. The word ‘delusion’ translates ‘plane’, which indicates ‘an inner working of error’, and appears ten times in the New Testament. The sense is that God sends them just what they choose, namely, a state of heart in which error is readily accepted as truth. It is vital to a proper understanding of God’s action to accept unreservedly that it is His permissive will that is in action here, not His determinative will. The words, ‘that they should believe a lie’, come from eis to pisteusai autous toi pseudei. The purpose in using the text is to have the reader note that ‘a lie’ is really ‘the lie’ as opposed to ‘the truth’, which translates toi pseudei. It is exactly what Satan wishes them to believe, namely to accept without reservation that the Man of sin, the Antichrist, is the Messiah, the Christ. This is the goal Satan will actively pursue in that day.

Verse 12 Three stages are here described in the downward course of the wicked. First, their obstinacy, ‘who believed not the truth’. They reject the revelation of God’s word, they refuse the righteousness offered in Christ’s work, and resist the strivings of the Holy Spirit. ‘The truth’ is personified in the Lord Jesus, John 14. 6. ‘The truth’ is preached in the gospel, Gal. 2. 5, 14. ‘The truth’ is preserved in the scriptures by the inspiration of the Spirit of God, 2 Tim. 2. 15. Yet these who are eternally condemned refused to believe the truth. Second, their option, ‘but had pleasure in unrighteousness’. The definite article ‘the’, occurs significantly here, so it should read, ‘in the unrighteousness’, which in this context can only be ‘the lie’. Third, their outcome, ‘that they might be damned’. Solemn issues conclude this important section, as eternity is in view and souls face it unforgiven, and only awaiting their consigning to the Lake of Fire forever. This is that which is the conclusive outcome and meaning of the word damned, Rev. 20. 11–15.

To be continued.