An Historical And Eschatological Commentary On 2 Thess 2:1-12

thess-1

An Historical and Eschatological commentary on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-11

 

The mystery of lawlessness -Judiazers infiltrating the church

The restrainer – An uncompromised gospel message

Man of lawlessness – Apostasy to Judaism or submission to Zealot-led Israel.

 

(2Th 2:1)  Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him,

 

“…the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him,”

The context of 2 Thessalonians chapter two begins by referring to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and “our gathering together to Him”.  This was a common theme in first century Christian thought as many Christians expected Jesus’ return to be imminent, and considered their days to be the last days. We see evidence of this in numerous scriptures (Heb 1:2, 1 Peter 1:20, 1 John 2:18-19 among others). They were right. Jesus returned in their generation the way the disciples saw Him leave (Acts 1:11), in the clouds, which is symbolic of being in God’s presence.

(Act 1:11)  They also said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into the sky? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in just the same way as you have watched Him go into heaven.”

Jesus returned unseen, just as He disappeared from physical view of the disciples, only to return spiritually, in judgement.

In addition to 2 Thess 2:1, Jesus’ return is also mentioned in 1 Thess 2:19, 1 Thess 3:13, 1 Thess 4:15-17 and 1 Thess 5:23. Evidently, Paul included himself as part of a group that expected Jesus to return in their generation.  Caps mine for emphasis.

(2Th 1:7)  and to give relief to you who are afflicted AND TO US AS WELL when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,

(1 Thess 2:19) “…YOU, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming?

(1 Thess 4:17) “…when WE who are alive and remain…”

(1 Thess 5:23) “…YOU entirely; and may YOUR spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

(2 Thess 2:1) “…OUR gathering together to Him”

 

 

2 Thess 2:1 is of course a reference to what Paul had already taught them in 1 Thess 4:17.

(1Th 4:17)  Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.

The word “meet” is a Greek word (GK ‘apantesis’). In ancient Greek culture, ‘apentesis’ referred to the practice of going outside the city to meet someone of great importance, like a dignitary or war hero and to escort that person back inside the city to their proper destination. Thus, Jesus comes (GK ‘parousia’) while the saints meet (GK ‘apantesis’) and gather to Him (GK episunagōgēs ep’ auton’).

This is not referring to a secret, invisible rapture, but rather, the visible return of the Lord Jesus Christ, heralded by believers who go out of the city to meet Him and escort Him as He is coming down, witnessed by many, “every eye will see Him…” returning in or with clouds and fire.

(Rev 1:7)  BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen.

(Mat 24:30)  “And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory.

(2Th 1:7)  and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels IN FLAMING FIRE,

 

This actually happened, years after 2 Thessalonians was penned. Paul and the early church’s expectation of Jesus’ return in their generation is affirmed in both the scriptures and history. Revelation 19:11-16 shows Jesus coming out of heaven on a white horse, followed by the armies of heaven, and wielding a sharp sword in His mouth.

Interestingly, Jewish historian Josephus recorded that, in the spring of 66 AD shortly before the Jewish-Roman War began, a “star resembling a sword” appeared over Jerusalem (remaining for a year) and there were also many in Judea who saw chariots and soldiers running in the clouds:

“Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers, and such as belied God himself; while they did not attend nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation, but, like men infatuated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them. Thus there was a star resembling a sword, which stood over the city, and a comet, that continued a whole year… Besides these, a few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius, [Jyar,] a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities” (Wars 6.5.3).

The 1st century Roman historian, Tacitus, also said this:

“There had been seen hosts joining battle in the skies, the fiery gleam of arms, the temple illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds” (Histories, Book 5).

 

 

(2Th 2:2)  that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

 

“a spirit….”  Men who were spreading false teachings are identified as a “spirit” in this verse. A ‘spirit’ is also identified as a man in 1 John 4:2, among others, but in the same passage is used in contrast to a supernatural ‘spirit’.

(1Jn 4:3)  and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world.

“…message or a letter…”   A ‘message’ is suggesting an oral teaching. A ‘letter’ would be an epistle.

This text shows Paul teaching that the ‘coming of the Lord and our gathering to Him’ (2 Thess 2:1) was being declared, albeit falsely, as having already happened (the deception of 2 Thess 2:3).  We see this type of deception highlighted in Paul’s epistle to Timothy. Toxic individuals like Hymenaeus and Philetus are mentioned by name.

(2Ti 2:18)  men who have gone astray from the truth saying that the resurrection has already taken place, and they upset the faith of some.

 

 

“…day of the Lord…”  Not a specific day, but the general time period of Jesus’ return in judgment.

 

(2Th 2:3)  Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,

“Let no one in any way deceive you….”

Paul is warning them to be ready for spiritual deception, and reassures them that Jesus’ return has not occurred, and that there will be a significant spiritual deception leading to an apostasy and the revealing of a ‘man of lawlessness’.

It is nearly inescapable that the greatest threat to the church at the time the Thessalonian epistles were penned was the threat of Judaist infiltration influencing in the church and persecution by both Jews and Rome.  We see this in statements from Paul, for example….

(Gal 2:4)  But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.

These were false apostles, Judaizers who were attempting to infiltrate the church and bring these Christians back under the heavy, legalistic yoke of Judaism. The threat of Judaist infiltration was so great that in response to the early church being plagued with forged epistles authored by Judaizers, Paul reminds some of the churches he writes to that his epistle bears the mark of his own hand.

(2Th 3:17)  I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write.

(Gal 6:11)  See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

Even the emphasis of the ‘first day of every week’ (which today we call ‘Sunday’) may have been used to cement his identity to the text, thereby differentiating between the Judaizer’s texts and authentic, Pauline texts.

(1Co 16:2)  On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come.

 

 

Persecution pressure to apostatize

Apostasy often occurs when under duress, when afraid for one’s life such as in a time of persecution violence. Though there was abundant persecution against Thessalonian Christians in the middle 50’s AD, most of it was from the Jewish community. Roman persecution began to intensify later, by the early 60s, when Christians refused to affirm the emperor as a god or other false Roman gods. Undoubtedly there were many who apostatized to both Roman cult emperor worship or to a corrupt form of Judaism to prolong their lives.

 

It doesn’t make sense to claim the great apostasy is Jewish, since one has to genuinely believe the truth first before one can apostatize from it. Jews for the most part rejected the truth and were generally hostile to it. The apostasy of 2 Thess 2:3 must be a Christian apostasy.

 

Paul and the Thessalonians didn’t expect a far future tribulation and return of Jesus. They were living in what they believed was the end time. We see indications of this in…

(1Th 3:4)  For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know.

(2Th 1:6)  For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you,

Who was afflicting Thessalonian believers? The origin of Judaist hostility to Jesus and His followers was made evident even before the apostolic era began. In the gospel according to John, we see that the Jewish leaders felt threatened by Jesus and His popularity was causing them to lose political and religious influence among the people.

(Joh 11:47)  Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man is performing many signs.

(Joh 11:48)  “If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

(Joh 11:53)  So from that day on they planned together to kill Him.

 

After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the perceived political and religious threat to the Jewish leaders grew, as did the severity of the Jewish leader’s response.

Stephen was murdered by the Sandhedrin (Acts 7:54-60) and according to Jewish historians Josephus and Hegesippus (a 2nd century Christian who is quoted in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, vol. II, ch. 23, A.D. 323), James was also murdered by the Sanhedrin.

The influential and powerful Sanhedrin tried to prevent Peter and John from proclaiming the name of Jesus (Acts 4:1-22), and when they wouldn’t cease from it, the Sanhedrin had them beaten (Acts 5:17-42). The Sanhedrin conspired to murder Paul (Acts 23:12-22) and in the Revelation, Jesus associates false Jews as being responsible for the church of Smyrna’s ‘tribulation and poverty’ by ‘those who say they are Jews but are not, but are a synagogue of Satan” (Rev 2:9).

 

Both John and Paul make stinging accusations against the Judaizers. John refers to them as ‘antichrists’ in 1 John 2:22-23. In contrast to those who are ‘false Jews’, Paul calls genuine believers in Christ the ‘true circumcision’ (Philippians 3:3). Paul also makes a distinction between those who are only circumcised in the flesh, and those who are genuine Jews because they believe in Christ and have had their hearts circumcised (Rom 2:28-29).

Many Christians tend to ignore or soften Jewish hostility toward Christians and the gospel. Not only did the Jews crucify the Son of God, but the book of Acts makes it clear that Judaist opposition was the main adversary to Paul’s spreading of the Gospel and establishment of the early church (Acts 13:50,51; 14:2,5,619; 17:5-9,13,14; 18:6,12-17; 21:27-36; 23:12-25).

Paul speaks of the Judaist opposition with little affection. They had….

(1 Thess 2:13-16)”….killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins”.

Paul goes on to say…

(2Co 11:24)  Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes.

Thirty-nine lashes was the maximum number or lashes one could have without having a death penalty. The Jews of Antioch in Pisidia cursed Paul and his message (Acts 13:45), drove him out of the city, and then travelled to Lystra to oppose his preaching there. The Jews of Iconium and Jerusalem sought to “stir up” the Gentile authorities against Paul (Acts 14:2,5).

Paul even associates Ishmael’s mockery toward Isaac as being synonymous with those born in the flesh (Judaists) being the persecutors of God’s true children (those born of the Spirit).

(Gal 4:29)  But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.

One of the oldest authentic descriptions of the character of early Christians is in the Epistle To Diognetus, dated approximately 130AD.  It says in its fifth chapter …

”They are assailed [violently attacked] by the Jews as barbarians”.

The Thessalonian believers were under pressure from those who brought ‘affliction’ and ‘suffering’ upon them (2 Thess 1:6) and who are recognized in Gal 5:11-13 as being Judaists.

(Gal 5:12)  I wish that those who are troubling you would even mutilate themselves.

 

Most commentaries do not make the connection of spiritual infiltration and persecution of Christians to Jews, or if they do, they only declare them as “false teachers”, perhaps in order to avoid being labelled anti-Semitic. Once the connection is made in 1 John, Galatians, the Revelation and other New Testament texts, it is clear that first century Christians were troubled greatly by Judaizers.

 

We see from the scriptures a strong case for Judaist infiltration and pressure to apostatize due to persecution violence. Since Jesus returned in the same way He left (in clouds per Acts 1:11) to destroy the ‘man of lawlessness’ with the breath of His mouth and appearance of His being (2 Thess 2:8), the apostasy mentioned here seems to have been during a time when the ‘mystery of lawlessness’ (spiritual deception) was still at work, using deception and employing persecution violence.

 

The beast (Nero) and the whore of Babylon (Jerusalem) appear joined together, perceived by John to be working as a single unit to destroy the real church. Undoubtedly this was a time when an increasingly lukewarm, spiritually undiscerning church believed some lie in order to save their lives when threatened with persecution violence. Perhaps this was the “refining” Jesus speaks of in Rev 3:18.

(Rev 3:18)  I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.

 

 

“….man of lawlessness…”

It was not uncommon in Hebrew thought to personify concepts and ideas. For example, the “he” of Daniel 7:25 can also be rightly understood as an “it” in a non-anthropomorphic sense as translated in Young’s Literal Translation, similar to how the ‘beast’ of Revelation 13:11-18 is translated as a “he” in some texts, but as an “it” in some others. Further evidence of the anthopomorphizing of concepts is seen in the symbolic description of the church (a group of people) depicted as candlesticks. So we have multiple examples showing that in Hebrew thought, concepts were personified.

So, what or who is the “man of lawlessness”, also referred to in other translations as “the Wicked” and “man of sin”?  Is it a single man or a group of people? According to 2 Thess 2:3, the ‘man of lawlessness’ will be revealed. This seems to imply that the ‘man of lawlessness’ was at that time, concealed. It’s important to note that the ‘man of lawlessness’ was not evident to the Thessalonians, at least not at the time Paul penned 2 Thessalonians. Theirs was the time of the ‘mystery of lawlessness’ (2 Thess 2:7), not the ‘man of lawlessness’.

 

Reinforcing the ‘single individual’ view is the part of the verse saying “….the son of destruction…”, obviously in the singular.  The KJV has it as “son of perdition”, which is the same term describing Judas Iscariot in John 17:12. Is Judas Iscariot a type of ‘man of lawlessness”?

Judas Isacariot was Jewish and he was among the other disciples for a long time, yet they were unaware that he was a “devil”.

(Joh 6:70)  Jesus answered them, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?”

 

Jesus knew Judas was going to betray Him while the disciples only discovered Judas’ betrayal when it happened.  He was corrupted when satan entered him.

(Joh 13:27)  After the morsel, Satan then entered into him. ….

 

From this brief summary of Judas, we can see that he was a corrupted Jewish deceiver chosen by Jesus to fulfil prophecy.

(Psa 41:9)  Even my close friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me.

The similarity of Judas to the ‘man of lawlessness’ is interesting. Judas’ mission was concealed from the other disciples, just as the ‘man of lawlessness’ was unknown to the church, concealed until his/its real mission would be discovered being associated with a great apostasy. In spite of the similarity between Judas and the ‘man of lawlessness’, this writer believes there is a more compelling hypothesis.

 

The ‘man of lawlessness’ as a group:

We sometimes see single words meaning their plural counterpart and a plural word describing their singular counterpart. It is useful to examine some scriptures that employ this rather cryptic method.

 

(1Jn 2:18)  Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.

The ‘antichrist’ (singular) is the ‘many antichrists’ (plural). A few verses later, it is the ‘many antichrists’ of 1 Jn 2:18 that are ‘the liar’ and ‘the antichrist’ of 1 Jn 2:22. Plural describing the singular.

(1Jn 2:22)  Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.

 

Another example, in 2 John 1:7. Again, the plural describing the singular.

(2Jn 1:7)  For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.

Many deceivers are ‘the deceiver’.

So we see in 1 John that many antichrists are ‘the’ antichrist, just as in 2 John, the ‘many deceivers’ are ‘the’ deceiver and antichrist. However, in all of scripture, there is no single end time antichrist. Each time the word antichrist is used, it is used in connection with multiple antichrists, multiple deceivers that were expected by first century Thessalonian believers, not a single, end time charismatic individual. Most of the modern day church already believes there is a single, end-time individual called ‘the antichrist’ but the scriptures simply do not support it.

 

If the ‘man of lawlessness” is a group of people, this would suggest that God will destroy an entire group of people who have no love for the truth, are deceived, deceiving others and associated with the apostasy of many Christians.  What group of people did God repeatedly warn throughout history about spiritual apostasy? The Israelites. Who did God warn on the day of Pentecost with the sign-gift of tongues? Old Covenant Jews (1 Cor 14:21, Isaiah 28:11). Who did God destroy?  The Jewish nation, temple and in large part, the Jewish people….those who don’t know God and who don’t obey the gospel.

(2Th 1:8)  dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus

 

 

(2Th 2:4)  who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.

 

For other reasons that are expounded on in greater detail in other entries, the Roman Catholic church (or pope) simply doesn’t fit the description of the beast from either the Revelation or Daniel. It doesn’t even meet the biblical criteria for being ‘antichrist’ in 1 John 2:22-23. The Roman Catholic Church (or pope) is therefore not in view as a plausible candidate for who or what the ‘man of lawlessness’ of 2 Thess 2:3-4 was.

Up to now, the ‘man of lawlessness’ has shared similarities with Judas. An apostate Christian church may match the description of the ‘man of lawlessness’ in 2 Thess 2:4 if it falls far enough away from orthodoxy and holiness. The aggressive spread and prideful nature of the ‘man of lawlessness’ opposing all and exalting itself seems to fit today’s lukewarm, apathetic church of pew warming, holiness despising prosperity whores who are themselves, destined for the lake of fire. But it is better explained as the personification of spiritual apostasy.

 

“….takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself to be God.”

 

In the past, God took a place of pre-eminence in the Holy of Holies of the Jewish temple. According to 2 Thess 2:4, the ‘man of lawlessness’ will seat himself as God’s substitute in the place of the temple. Which temple? The physical temple that was destroyed and the place of which is now occupied by the Islamic Dome of the Rock? Or the spiritual temple of the church, both individually (1 Cor 3:16) and corporately (Eph 2:21)? The context surrounding 2 Thess 2:4 is apostasy, de-conversion, from one faith to another. Apostasy happens in a spiritual temple.

 

It is significant that the man of lawlessness ‘sitting’ in the temple is in the same sense of the whore being seated over many peoples in authority (Rev 17:15) and as a believer is seated with Christ, in spiritual authority (Eph 2:6) in a spiritual temple.

The scriptures show that the entire body of Christ is the temple (1 Peter 2:5, Eph 2:21-22) and that the individual believer is the temple (1 Cor 3:16). When the man of lawlessness sits in the temple, he (or it) is asserting authority over the church (or believer), causing apostasy, which is what the ‘man of lawlessness’ is associated with. Since the ‘temple’ is a group of all genuine believers, it stands to reason that the ‘man of lawlessness’ is sitting in the temple, in the church itself.

Since 2 Thessalonians was penned before significant Roman persecution but during a time of Jewish persecution, the ‘man of lawlessness’ was apostasy to a corrupt Old Covenant Judaism, possibly Zealot-led Israel.

 

 

(2Th 2:5)  Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?

Paul had visited the Thessalonians earlier, reassuring them about the status of current events (that Jesus had not returned yet) and things still to come (the apostasy, the resurrection, the return of Jesus). In this second epistle, Paul is reminding them in carefully guarded terms of what they should have already known, speaking to the Thessalonians in a way he believed others would not understand.

The Thessalonian believers had received earlier instruction via oral teachings and other, unknown epistles.

(2Th 2:15)  So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.

 

(2Th 2:6)  And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed.

What is being restrained? The “him”, the mystery of lawlessness, Judaizing spiritual deception…. that which was already at work. The Thessalonians knew what the ‘restrainer’ was, yet they needed to be reminded by Paul.  Notice that the restrainer is referred to as both a ‘what’ in 2 Thess 2:6 and a ‘he’ in the next verse. What and who is this restrainer? An uncompromised gospel? What else could be the antithesis of spiritual apostasy to a corrupt Old Covenant Judaism but truth itself?

 

(2Th 2:7)  For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.

 

The identity of the ‘mystery of lawlessness’ was present in the day of the Thessalonian believers. They knew what it was. However, the ‘man of lawlessness’, though expected in their generation and associated with a significant apostasy, was unknown to them at that time.

This writer believes that the mystery of lawlessness is spiritual deception that existed in the form of Judaist infiltration of the church. It will later be fully revealed in the ‘man of lawlessness’, a hideousness of apostasy to Zealot-led Israel. Under this deluding influence, it would be an apostasy the Christian world had never seen or experienced before at that time.

 

“…he who now restrains…”

Again, we see that this restrainer is active during the time of the Thessalonians. This writer takes the view that the restrainer was the truth of an uncompromised gospel. The Thessalonians believed that when this restrainer would be taken away, or removed, then the ‘man of lawlessness’ would be revealed. This is what happens when the truth is put aside. What is false takes its place.

 

There is a popular view among much of the church, that “…he who restrains…” is the church, and that the pre-tribulation rapture is the ‘taking away’ of “he who restrains”, the removal of the church from the world, and thus, evil would be allowed unchecked.

This is problematic for several reasons, most significantly is that there is no pre-tribulation removal of believers from the earth. But also, the church, if referring to the multitude of church-going professing ‘Christians’, is mostly apostate. The church today has not ‘made herself ready’ (Rev 21:2) and cannot reasonably be characterized as “spotless and blameless” (2 Peter 3:14), “beyond reproach” (Col 1:22) or presentable to Him as “holy and blameless” (Eph 5:27). These were qualities of the first century church, not today.

From a Thessalonian perspective, ‘he who now restrains’ seems to be in direct opposition to the ‘mystery of lawlessness’ which characterized the Judaizers. This writer believes “he who now restrains” is another way of describing a personified truth of the gospel itself, especially since pronouns like “he” are used in other places to describe non-human and even immaterial concepts.

 

“…he is taken out of the way….”

 

The use of the pronoun “he”, referring to ‘he who restrains’ and also to the ‘man of lawlessness’ has caused many to believe that the ‘man of lawlessness’ really is a single man, even ‘the’ antichrist.  However, pronouns have been used before to describe non-personal objects or concepts. For example, wisdom is referred to in a feminine form in….

 

(Pro 9:1)  Wisdom has built her house, She has hewn out her seven pillars;

 

Babylon the great (Rev 18:4) is referred to as “her”.

 

(Rev 18:4)  I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues;

 

Also, the “he” of Daniel 7:25 can also be rightly understood as an “it” in a non-anthropomorphic sense as translated in Young’s Literal Translation., similar to how the beast of Revelation 13:11-18 is translated as a “he” in some texts, but as an “it” in some others.

 

Thus, we should not automatically expect a pronoun like ‘he’ to mean a literal, single person when the context may better support it being a system, group of people or an object.

 

The text seems to suggest that it’s the restrainer that will be taken out of the way, which will then reveal the lawless one (next verse). However, both the restrainer (the truth of an uncompromised gospel) and the ‘mystery of lawlessness’ (spiritual deception by Judaizers) were already at work in the first century.

 

 

The ‘restrainer’ could also be referring to a true church being “taken away” into apostasy, followed by the Lord returning to destroy it in its apostate condition. This view seems to have some support when one considers Jesus’ own warning to an apostatizing church of Pergamum….

 

(Rev 2:16)  ‘Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth.

(2Th 2:8)  Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming;

The logical conclusion from these two verses is that the ‘lawless one’ is a group of apostate Christians that Jesus destroyed at His return, though the destruction is by the correction of His word, and later, physical destruction on account of persecution violence.

Consider His warning to the dead church at Sardis…

(Rev 3:3)  ‘So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.

Clearly this is a threat of judgement coming to an actual Christian church.

 

 

(2Th 2:8)  Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming;

 

It seems reasonable to associate the ‘man of lawlessness’ with the generation that was experiencing the ‘mystery of lawlessness’, Judaist infiltration and persecution violence. After all, Judaizers were all about promoting the law, but were themselves ‘lawless’ hypocrites. Additional evidence to support this is in the fact that the term ‘lawlessness’ was used frequently by Jesus to describe Jews who would be removed from the kingdom.

(Mat 13:41)  “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness,

Who were in His kingdom of the Old Covenant that were removed? Unbelieving, Christ-rejecting Jews.

 

And to the “scribes and Pharisees…”

(Mat 23:28)  “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

 

The apostle Paul identifies Jews (unbelievers) with lawlessness in…

(2Co 6:14)  Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?

 

The spiritual deception began by Judaizers (the mystery of lawlessness) led to other apostasies once it had fully infiltrated the church, even to the point of causing believers to apostatize en-masse in a great apostasy, leading Jesus to destroy all who were sickened by that apostasy.

(Rev 2:23)  ‘And I will kill her children with pestilence, and all the churches will know that I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.

 

‘…the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth…”

What does the ‘man of lawlessness’ do? Deceive. What happens as a result of deception? Apostasy. How is the evil of apostasy destroyed? With truth, the breath of His mouth, God’s word, and by the purification that only persecution violence can accomplish.  Paul likely got this imagery from the Old Testament.

(Isa 11:4)  But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His MOUTH, And with the BREATH OF HIS LIPS He will slay the wicked.

(Hos 6:5)  Therefore I have hewn them in pieces by the prophets; I HAVE SLAIN THEM BY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH; And the judgments on you are like the light that goes forth.

 

“…. and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming”

Jesus, who is the personal embodiment of truth (John 14:6), brings an end to all that is hostile to truth. Those who apostatized before Jesus’ return in 70AD were brought to their end at His return at 70AD, as well as the Judaizing religion that was hostile to Him.

 

(2Th 2:9)  Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders,

Along with the revealing of the man of lawlessness (vs 8), he (or rather, it) will have accompanying “power, signs and lying wonders” (vs 9). Those who apostatized to a corrupt form of Old Covenant Judaism experienced false signs and false wonders.

From the Jewish historian Josephus, we learn that there were many who pretended to be divinely inspired. Deceiving the people, they led many of them into the desert and ultimately, to their deaths.

Josephus says “The land was overrun with magicians, seducers, and impostors, who drew people after them in multitudes into deserts to see the signs and miracles which they promised to show by the power of God”.

Inside the city of Jerusalem, false Messiah figures would have conducted their teachings or led others to secret rooms or subterranean passages beneath the city.  Adam Clarke’s Commentary On The Bible says…

“Josephus mentions a false prophet, who declared to the people in the city, that God commanded them to go up into the temple, and there they should receive the signs of deliverance. A multitude of men, women, and children, went up accordingly; but, instead of deliverance, the place was set on fire by the Romans, and 6,000 perished miserably in the flames, or in attempting to escape them.” (War, b. vi. c. 5),

 

(2Th 2:10)  And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

They perish in the eternal sense because they died with a love for what is unrighteous, impure, deceptive and false. Unrighteousness was “in them that perish”, suggesting that at the time of death, they were apostates. This verse shows that they never had a sincere love for the truth from the beginning. They were acting out a form of faith, and later apostatize to Roman emperor worship.

 

(2Th 2:11)  For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false,

2 Thess 2:11 is part of a greater eschatological context describing certain people at a time just prior to Jesus’ return who do not love the truth (Jesus, the gospel, repentance, obedience, holiness…etc). In His foreknowledge, God knows they will not repent, so He gives them what they want; the love for a lie which ultimately led to their doom at the time of Jesus’ return. First century Old Covenant Jews fit this description.

In the first century leading up to 70AD, the ‘elect’ would not be deceived by false Christs and false prophets (Matt 24:24). In that time of the end [of the Jewish religion, people and culture), it was the ‘elect’ who were similarly not deceived by the lying signs and false wonders perpetrated by false Judaist prophets.

 

 

(2Th 2:12)  in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.

 

Those who had no love of the truth believed the lie and “took pleasure in wickedness”. Recall that the ‘man of lawlessness’ is also called “the Wicked” (KJV). What could be more wicked to Paul than a spiritually adulterous, corrupt form of Judaism?

In God’s omniscience, He must have known that those to whom He would give over to a lie would not have chosen to repent from their spiritual adultery. So He literally gives them what they want (the deluding influence, a lie) which leads to their ultimate judgment.

 

Addendum:  Interesting Parallels between Jesus’ return in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 and the Revelation.

 

  1. Jesus returns in ‘flaming fire’ to deal retribution on those who persecute followers of Jesus (in that context, Jews), while in Rev 19:12, Jesus returns with eyes that are “a flame of fire’ to destroy those who are hostile to Him and who have persecuted those who follow Him.

(2Th 1:7 NASB)  …when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,

(2Th 1:8 KJV)  In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:

(Rev 19:12 NASB)  His eyes are a flame of fire….

At the time 2 Thessalonians was penned, Jews were afflicting the Thessalonians, Jews knew not God and Jews did not obey the gospel.

 

 

  1. The ‘man of lawlessness’ (apostasy to a corrupt form of Old Covenant Judaism) sits in authority over the temple (the church), while the temple (the actual temple) is trodden on during a time of persecution violence (the reference to 42 months) in Rev 11:2.

(2Th 2:4 NASB)  who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.

(Rev 11:2 NASB)  “Leave out the court which is outside the temple and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.

 

  1. The ‘mystery of lawlessness’ has its counterpart in Rev 17:7, each referring to spiritual deception leading to apostasy.

(2Th 2:7 NASB)  For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.

(Rev 17:7 NASB)  ….. I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.

 

 

  1. The ‘mystery of lawlessness’ (Judaizing spiritual deception) has its counterpart in Rev 17:7 ‘mystery of the woman’, each referring to spiritual deception leading to apostasy, in this case, on account of Judaizing false doctrine infiltrating the church.

(2Th 2:7 NASB)  For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.

(Rev 17:7 NASB)  ….. I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.

 

 

  1. The Lord consumes the ‘man of lawlessness’ with the spirit (or breath) of his mouth (also Isaiah 11:4), meaning the truth of His word. In Rev 19:15 the Lord Jesus Christ destroys those nations influenced by the beast (unrepentant Old Covenant Judaism) with truth.

(2Th 2:8 NASB)  Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming;

(Rev 19:15 NASB)  From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.

Also, (Isa 11:4 NASB)  But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.

 

  1. In 2 Thess 2:9, the ‘man of lawlessness’ (apostasy to a corrupt form of Old Covenant Judaism) is revealed with (or by) ‘all power and signs and false wonders’. In the Revelation, the ‘second beast’/false prophet (Zealot-led Isarel) is revealed with power, influence and seemingly miraculous powers to repeatedly repel Titus’ army.

 

(Rev 13:13)  He performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down out of heaven to the earth in the presence of men.

And….

(Rev 16:13)  And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs;

(Rev 16:14)  for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.

See also Rev 19:20

 

 

  1. Those who fall under the deception of the ‘man of lawlessness’ and given over to the delusion are likewise deceived by the beast and false prophet of Rev 13:14.

(2Th 2:11 NASB)  For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false,

(Rev 13:14 NASB)  And he deceives those who dwell on the earth because of the signs which it was given him to perform in the presence of the beast….

 

  1. Those of 2 Thess 2:11 who don’t love the truth perish for believing a lie, while the false prophet (Zealot-led Israel) of Rev 19:20 lies and perishes.
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