This morning is not going to be very satisfying. In my sermons I like to preach what I believe God wants us to know. I pride myself on being clear. I want to be understood. I want you to walk away from one of my sermons being assured of what Scripture teaches us. None of that is going to happen this morning. It is not going to be very satisfying.
We come to 2 Thessalonians chapter 2. Which is on Tim’s Top Ten Tough passages in the NT. It may be in the top three. So, are you ready to get nothing out of my sermon?
Let’s read chapter 2.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore, God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
The question I would love to answer for you this morning is... Who is the man of lawlessness? I’m going to struggle answering the who question.
But, before we get to the who, let’s learn what we can from these 12 verses. I think there are several truths we can deduce.
In Thessalonica, about 50 AD, there was confusion over the Parousia. We know the Parousia is the Greek word for Coming or Appearance. It is used as a technical word for when Jesus returns. In 1 Thessalonians, when Nick died, they did not know what was going to happen to him. They thought they all were going to live until the Parousia. When Nick died, they thought he was going to miss out on the Parousia. Jesus was coming back to party, Nick wasn’t going to get to. Paul taught them that all who were asleep in Christ were going to meet those who were still alive to join Jesus in the air. All believers would escort Jesus back to the earth. Where they would be with the Lord forever.
This morning, we discover another problem the Thessalonians were having about the Parousia. Some were teaching that the coming of Jesus had already happened. “You all missed the party. They all were left behind. You didn’t see him.” So, Paul is calming them down. “No, you did not miss the Parousia.”
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way.
This is our first truth. You can’t believe everything you hear from a spirit. Don’t trust everything someone tells you. Don’t be deceived by fake letters. I might add, you can’t believe everything you read on the internet.
Truth One: Let no one deceive you in any way.
That’s pretty good...
--There is truth. There is false.
--There is correct theology. There is incorrect theology.
--There is right. There is wrong.
Be careful not to be deceived. It is good to pay attention. It is good to study our scriptures. It is good to be careful. It is good to know our theology.
“I’m liking this sermon more than I thought I would.”
Let’s see what other truths we can learn from Tim’s Top Ten Tough passage.
At this point, in Paul’s understanding, in 50 AD, he thinks he is part of those who are going to be alive at Jesus’s return.
1 Thessalonians 4:15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.
Paul envisioned himself among those who would be alive and not among the group who were asleep. Paul died around 65 AD. He did not live until the Parousia. Paul was wrong about how soon Jesus would return. Paul did not know when Jesus was coming back.
We made this point several weeks ago. I think we need to reaffirm this as our second truth.
Truth Two: No one knows when the Parousia is
1 Thessalonians 5:2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
Thieves don’t announce when they are going to break into your house. That would kind of defeat the purpose of coming at night. Burglars don’t advertise their schedules.
Jesus said the same thing to his disciples.
Matthew 24:36,42-44 "But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only... Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore, you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
It has always been clear, the when of the return is a mystery.
Somebody was teaching the Thessalonians that Jesus had already come. That was wrong. But it reaffirms that no one is going to predict the Parousia.
Before, I get give a shot at who the man of lawlessness is, I think there is one more truth from Tim’s Top Ten Tough passage.
Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians in late 50 AD or early 51 AD. That letter is in history. Things were going on. Politics and governments and wars and rebellions and stuff was all happening. The Thessalonians were real people who had lives. They lived in a real place at a real time. They lived in color; not black and white or sepia.
Paul had visited them a few months before. Paul taught the Thessalonians about Jesus. He preached the resurrected Christ. He told them all he could in the short few weeks he was with them. Paul and the Thessalonians shared a historical context. They had common knowledge. They had shared experiences. They had a share frame of reference.
We don’t know much of that shared frame of reference. We are listening in one side of a conversation 1,968 years later. You would expect there to be references to shared information that we don’t get.
2 Thessalonians 2:5-6 Do you not remember that when I was still with you, I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time.
Well, no we don’t know what Paul told them. We don’t remember. Perhaps, he was writing in code, to avoid making their situation harder. Here is the third truth...
Truth Three: Scripture is often hard. You aren’t going to know everything.
We could wish scripture was written differently, and some of it was... Ephesians is more universal and less shared frame of reference. But, here, it 2 Thessalonians we come up against information Paul and the Thessalonians shared, that we don’t have. Paul already taught them about the man of lawlessness; a code word? So, he didn’t have to explain it again. Paul just reminded them.
So, we are left with no knowing all that is going on. That’s okay. We need to be humble. We need to be honest. We need to say, “Hey, we don’t know.” We must be careful not to violate truth one... not be deceived. Let’s not just make up stuff to have an answer. Somethings we just don’t know. Be honest.
With those three truths before us... Let me take a shot at the who question; who is the man of lawlessness?
Let’s gather up the stuff we know.
In Thessalonica there was persecution. We know from the book of Acts this persecution was from jealous Jews. It was the Jews who instigated the persecution of Paul.
Acts 17:5-6 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities.
--The Jews led the persecution in Thessalonica.
Remember, Paul is still thinking he will be around at that the Parousia. Also, Paul thinks this man of lawlessness is not too far off.
2 Thessalonians 2:6-7 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way.
--Whoever, the man of lawlessness was... he was already at work, he was already in Paul’s time. He was being restrained in 50 AD.
From history, outside the Bible, we know that Jewish zealots lead a rebellion against Rome which began in 66 AD; about 15 years after the writing of 2 Thessalonians.
--There was a rebellion led by lawless zealots in 66 AD.
Paul mentions the temple.
2 Thessalonians 2:4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.
--It has something to do with the temple, I’m going to say, in Jerusalem.
We also know that Jesus told his disciples Jerusalem was going to be destroyed by the Romans.
Mark 13:1-3 And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, "Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!" And Jesus said to him, "Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down."
Paul would have taught this to the Thessalonians. This could be what he taught them in the code about the rebellion and the man of lawlessness.
--Early believers knew that Jerusalem would be destroyed.
Here is my best shot at the man of lawlessness. I am 17% on this one. I suspect Paul is talking about the Jewish rebellion against Rome. I suspect Paul taught the Thessalonians that a certain zealot was leading rebellion. You can look online and trace history to come up with several candidates. Something or someone was keeping the rebellion back. But rebellion, the lawless zealot would lead to the destruction of Jerusalem. If these things were supposed to happen, then Jesus would not return until after they did.
2 Thessalonians 2:3-9 For that day (the Parousia) will not come, unless the rebellion (the Jewish rebellion of 66 AD) comes first, and the man of lawlessness (a zealot leader rallying his troops) is revealed, the son of destruction, (Jerusalem was destroyed) who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. (Disobeying God in Jerusalem) Do you not remember that when I was still with you, I told you these things? (Jesus taught us this) And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. (Jewish moderates or even Christians) For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth (the rebellion was squashed) and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. (The destruction of Jerusalem was a day of the Lord) The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders,
That is my best shot at understanding one of Tim’s Top Ten Tough passages. It fits most of the information we have. Okay, I will give it a 19%.
I told you this would not be very satisfying. It would be nice to be sure. But I am not.
But let me close this unsatisfying sermon with a satisfying statement... the next 5 verses of 2 Thessalonians chapter 2...
2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
That is satisfying.
Los Alamos Church of Christ
December 2, 2018