2 Thessalonians is a follow-up letter Paul wrote to the believers in Thessalonica. In his first letter, he reminded them of what he had taught about the return of Christ. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, he describes what we refer to as the rapture, the catching away of the church to meet the Lord in the air. Then, in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, he refers to the Day of the Lord, the time period following the rapture which will conclude with the Second Coming, when Jesus descends from heaven, in view of the world, and to judge the wicked.
Based on their understanding of Old Testament scriptures and Paul’s teaching, the believers knew that the Day of the Lord would be a time of great suffering and persecution for those who stood firm in their faith. This was exactly what they were experiencing, and some had grown discouraged, thinking they had missed the rapture, and were indeed, already in the Day of the Lord. Paul writes this second letter to dispel this mistaken idea, and in so doing, he provides us with more insight as we study eschatology today.
Paul set the believers’ hearts at rest when he described an event that will indicate the Day of the Lord has begun. Since it had not yet happened, they were clearly not in the Day of the Lord.
2 Thessalonians 2:3-12 – 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, 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. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things? And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. 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. 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; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
What’s called the Tribulation is the seven years leading up to Christ’s second coming, but the Day of the Lord is the Great Tribulation, the last 3 ½ years. The “kick-off” event is when the antichrist (the man of lawlessness Paul refers to) will set himself up in the Temple (that Israel is even now ready to build on the Temple Mount) and declares himself to be God. This will be the ultimate apostasy, which all apostasy today is setting the stage for the world to embrace and worship this man possessed by Satan. During this time, those who have continued to reject the truth will have their hearts hardened. God will send a great delusion upon them so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
Notice what this man is called – the man of lawlessness. For the first 3 ½ years he will proclaim peace, but at that moment he stands and declares himself to be God, unspeakable wickedness and lawlessness will be unleashed on this world, because he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way.
That restrainer is the Holy Spirit. Just as God sent Jesus the first time at the exact moment He sovereignly decreed (in the fullness of time), there is coming a time when God will pull back His Holy Spirit and let Satan loose on our world.
I don’t want to be here.
Over the past two years, we’ve been given a glimpse of what lawlessness unleashed looks like. Remember the riots? The burning? The shooting? The killing? Have you noticed how our major cities are disintegrating from within, with murder rates skyrocketing and city streets looking like third-world countries? And then again, this week, another mass shooting of innocent children. What horrifies us today, even as lost and ungodly as our world is, will be commonplace in the Day of the Lord. Today’s world will be paradise compared to the evil and destruction that Satan will bring when he is no longer restrained by God.
What will it be during that 3 ½ years when the vast majority of the world is deluded into following Satan’s puppet and the Holy Spirit is withdrawn, no longer here to convict of sin, righteousness, and judgment? When men’s consciences are so seared, they can no longer repent? When starvation is the only option to bowing down to the antichrist, what acts of desperation do you imagine will take place?
People make fun of those of us who believe the judgment of God is soon to fall on our world. I’m okay with that. As the Thessalonian believers were learning, suffering and persecution are just an indication that God’s Word is true, and that we truly belong to Him.
The prospect of what’s coming will have one of three effects on you. If you know Jesus, you have hope and anticipation that we are closer than ever to eternity with our Lord and Savior, and there is an end coming to all wickedness and depravity that we see today. If you don’t know Jesus, you will either be afraid, or apathetic. You will either mourn the sin that separates you from God or mock the Savior who gave His life for you.
God tells us the truth. He warns us what is going to happen. He gives us plenty of notice so that we have time to respond. What we do with the knowledge He gives us is up to us.