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2 Thessalonians

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©Laura Haverkamp

Chapter 2:5-12 (ESV)

Posted on May 10, 2024  - By Chris LaBelle  

Chapter 2:5-12 (ESV) - 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.

Question to consider: What do you think was the mystery of lawlessness that was already at work in the early church?

Passages like this one are the subject of countless debates even though much of the study of “end” things (eschatology) is not nearly as important as people make it out to be. It is not a test for orthodoxy or a matter of our right standing before God. People can have completely different views on the subject and still be brothers and sisters in Christ. People can remain completely ignorant of it and still lead productive lives. I think a lot of time is wasted trying to force modern headlines into ancient scripture, and often more energy is spent trying to identify the Antichrist than proclaiming the Gospel of Christ.

This chapter in 2 Thessalonians is one that gets handled very differently by my favorite pastors and commentators, and I am sure many of them would disagree with my conclusions about it. However, my goal in studying scripture is to try and understand the purpose for which an author wrote a text and receive it like someone in his intended audience. Above all, I try to view a passage in light of Christ Jesus.

With that said, we must recognize that Paul wrote this letter to the church in Thessalonica to encourage them in the midst of their persecution and clear up the confusion that was created by someone who created a fake letter in Paul’s name telling them that Christ had already returned, and they were left behind to suffer.

Paul gave the Thessalonians reassurance that they would not be ignorant of the coming judgment of Christ and then gave them signs to recognize when it was at hand. Because of the language Paul used, I believe he was merely restating what Jesus told the disciples on the Mount of Olives, and that this man of lawlessness referred to someone from that generation. Some people want to turn the “man of lawlessness” into an institution. Luther attributed it to the Papacy. I struggle to get there because the language Paul used was of an individual man, or possibly a succession of individual men. The Papacy of the church at Rome would not have held any meaning to the Thessalonians.

It’s definitely possible that there was a near-term fulfillment of this prophetic claim with respect to the fall of Jerusalem and that there will be an ultimate fulfillment of it at the culmination of this age. However, because of the reference in yesterday’s passage to the temple, I would have to say that any future fulfillment would merely be a type of what occurred in AD 70. Some of the early church fathers believed Paul meant the church when he referred to the temple, but considering that this letter was meant to clarify rather than obfuscate Paul’s previous teachings, I would think he would have clearly called it the church if he meant the church.

In John’s first epistle, he referred to the spirit of antichrist which denied Christ coming in the flesh. I pointed out that this idea which ultimately became Gnosticism began with Nicolaus of Antioch who was an apostatized deacon that began to teach that sins done in the body allowed more grace to be given in the spirit. From there, these Nicolaitans believed it was good to indulge the flesh so that grace may abound. Jesus spoke against them in His letters in Revelation, and I believe that Paul had them in mind when he wrote Romans 6. This could also be the wicked deception that was already at work in the church deluding people into pursuing what was false. Whatever it was, it is obvious from today’s text that the Thessalonians already knew what was holding back the man of lawlessness. While commentators may speculate on this, the ones who needed this warning appeared to have the knowledge they needed to receive Paul’s encouragement.

Throughout history there have been many such antichrists and deceptions. The best way to keep from being deceived is to have a good understanding of scripture and be a part of a well-grounded church.


Dear heavenly Father, thank You for giving the Thessalonians encouragement and understanding in the midst of their tribulation. Please give us the same kind of wisdom in the midst of ours and keep us firm in the faith as we wait for Christ to return. Amen.