2:1-12 Brothers, in regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and in regard to our being gathered to him, we ask you not to be readily shaken in your mind and not to get into a state of nervous excitement because of any statement purporting to come from us either in the Spirit or by word of mouth or by a letter and alleging that the Day of the Lord is here. Let no one deceive you in any way. The Day of the Lord will not come unless there comes first The Rebellion against God, and unless there be revealed The Man of Sin, The Son of Perdition, the one who opposes himself to and exalts himself against everyone who is called God or made an object of worship so that he attempts to take his seat in the very temple of God and proclaims that he himself is God. Don't you remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? As for the present, you know the power which restrains him so that he may be revealed in his own time. For the secret of lawlessness is even now in operation. But The Man of Sin will appear only when the one who restrains him is removed from the scene. And then The Lawless One will be revealed and the Lord Jesus will destroy him with the breath of his mouth and will render him ineffective by his appearance and his coming. The coming of The Lawless One is for those who are doomed. He will come according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and wonders which issue from falsehood, and with all wicked deceit. They are doomed because they did not receive the love of truth that they might be saved. For this cause God sends them a deceiving energy in order that they might believe in a lie so that all who have not believed but have consented to that principle of unrighteousness may be judged.
This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult passages in the whole New Testament; and it is so because it is using terms and thinking in pictures which were perfectly familiar to those to whom Paul was speaking but which are utterly strange to us.
The general picture is this. Paul was telling the Thessalonians that they must give up their nervous, hysterical waiting for the Second Coming. He denied that he had ever said that the Day of the Lord had come. That was a misinterpretation of his words which must not be attributed to him; and he told them that before the Day of the Lord could come much had still to happen.
First there would come an age of rebellion against God; into this world there had already come a secret evil power which was working in the world and on men to bring this time of rebellion. Somewhere there was being kept one who was as much the incarnation of evil as Jesus was the incarnation of God. He was The Man of Sin, The Son of Perdition, The Lawless One. In time the power which was restraining him would be removed from the scene; and then this devil incarnate would come. When he came, he would gather his own people to him just as Jesus Christ had gathered his. Those who had refused to accept Christ were waiting to accept him. Then would come a last battle in which Christ would utterly destroy The Lawless One; Christ's people would be gathered to him and the wicked men who had accepted The Lawless One as their master would be destroyed.
We have to remember one thing. Almost all the Eastern faiths believed in a power of evil as they believed in a power of good; and believed, too, in a kind of battle between God and this power of evil. For instance, the Babylonians had a story that Tiamat, the dragon, had rebelled against Marduk, the creator, and had in the final battle been destroyed. Paul was dealing in a set of ideas which were common property. The Jews, too, had that idea. They called the Satanic power Belial or, more correctly, Beliar. When the Jews wished to describe a man as utterly bad they called him a son of Beliar ( Deuteronomy 13:13 ; 1 Kings 21:10 ; 1 Kings 21:13 ; 2 Samuel 22:5 ). In 2 Corinthians 6:15 Paul uses this term as the opposite of God. This evil incarnate was the antithesis of God. The Christians took this over, later than Paul, under the title Antichrist ( 1 John 2:18 ; 1 John 2:22 ; 1 John 4:3 ). Obviously such a power cannot go on existing for ever in the universe; and there was widespread belief in a final battle in which God would triumph and this force of anti-God would be finally destroyed. That is the picture with which Paul is working.
What was the restraining force which was still keeping The Lawless One under control? No one can answer that question with certainty. Most likely Paul meant the Roman Empire. Time and again he himself was to be saved from the fury of the mob by the justice of the Roman magistrate. Rome was the restraining power which kept the world from insane anarchy. But the day would come when that power would be removed--and then would be chaos.
So then Paul pictures a growing rebellion against God, the emergence of one who was the devil incarnate as Christ had been God incarnate, a final struggle and the ultimate triumph of God.
When this incarnate evil came into the world there would be some who would accept him as master, those who had refused Christ; and they along with their evil master would find final defeat and terrible judgment.
However remote these pictures may be from us they nevertheless have certain permanent truth in them.
(i) There is a force of evil in the world. Even if he could not logically prove that there was a devil many a man would say, "I know there is because I have met him." We hide our heads in the sand if we deny that there is an evil power at work amongst men.
(ii) God is in control. Things may seem to be crashing to chaos but in some strange way even the chaos is in God's control.
(iii) The ultimate triumph of God is sure. In the end nothing can stand against him. The Lawless One may have his day but there comes a time when God says, "Thus far and no farther." And so the great question is, "On what side are you? In the struggle at the heart of the universe are you for God--or Satan?"