The antichrist. The man of destruction. The beast. The man of Satan.
These are all infamous terms for the most infamous of men: the leader who will one day emerge from the global hotbed of apostasy and anti-Christian hostility and set himself up to be God. It’s going to happen, and the consequences of its happening are dire for the population of earth. It is incredibly important to learn how to share the gospel—the KERYGMA, or the word—with the lost around us. If they don’t choose the truth over the delusion that is far more popular, they are doomed to live under the reign of this man—and ultimately suffer judgment with him.
1And now we ask you, brothers, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2that you not be quickly shaken in your mind or be alarmed, 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: 3let no one deceive you in this way, since it will not come until the apostasy [rebellion] comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, claiming himself to be God. 5Do you not remember that while I was with you I was telling you these things? 6And now you know what holds him back now, so that in his time he will be revealed. 7For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work: only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8Then that lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will kill [do away with] by the breath of His mouth and will destroy by the appearance of His coming—9the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10and with all the deception of evil for those who perish, because they did not accept the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11And because of this God will send upon them a deluding influence, so that they will believe what is false, 12in order that they might all be condemned who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in evil.
Paul deals directly with the fears of the Thessalonians pertinent to the Lord’s coming. His very first sentence in these readings gives away his pre-tribulational leanings: the phrase “our gathering to Him” (2.1) is a reference to the Rapture. He doesn’t want his audience to be alarmed regarding the things that he’s about to describe. If Paul had taught a post-tribulational Rapture, they would not have been alarmed or shaken. Next, he introduces the two signs that must be present before the Day of the Lord happens: the “apostasy” (rebellion) and the man of sin. The “apostasy” (2.3) could be a general period of spiritual rebellion in which Man globally rejects the gospel of Christ and all Christianity, or it could refer to a specific, smaller epoch in which the man of sin leads Man into spiritual rebellion. He is referred to in 2.3 as the “man of lawlessless” and the “man of destruction.” This is the epitome of all that is satanic: lawlessness and destruction. He represents these, and to these two attributes we must add one more: he is one who “opposes and exalts” (2.4). This, singularly put, is the “apostasy.” This man opposes the truth and exalts himself as God. Until the elections of 2008 and 2012, I always sort of thought of this attribute as laughable: who, after all, would worship a world leader? It doesn’t seem so far-fetched now.
He sets himself up in the temple, which has caused Dead Seas of ink to be spilled regarding whether or not the temple will be rebuilt before this moment. This passage would seem to lend credence to the teaching that the temple will be rebuilt at some point before the Day of the Lord. There are, in Pauline writings, 7 temples that make appearance: 2 of them are past (the original and the one the Herod rebuilt that was destroyed in A.D. 70), 3 of them are present (your human body [1 Co. 6], the local church [1 Co. 3.3], and the universal church [Eph 2]), 2 are future—these are the tribulational temple and the final millennial temple. In order for the man of destruction to set himself up in the temple, it would seem to need to exist.
We learn that Paul had taught these things before to the Thessalonians—probably orally (2.5). They wanted some clarification, but he had actually shared this information before. Such is the nature of teaching—repetition is key.
Next, we move to the topic of the “restrainer.” Who or what is this restrainer? Something is holding back this man of destruction from doing his thing right now. Some have argued that the restrainer is human government, but this does not seem to fit the passage. Verse 6 states that “you know what holds him back now.” This is captured in one word that is of neuter gender (κατεχον), and is a general reference to the time of revealing. But in verse 7, we’ll see the gender change when Paul speaks specifically about “he who now holds back.” This word is now masculine (κατεχων)—and the Holy Spirit is always spoken of using masculine pronouns in the New Testament. Ergo, it seems likely that the One Who restrains is the Holy Spirit—His influence will be removed from the antichrist. Some teach that the Holy Spirit will be completely removed from the earth during this time, but that cannot be deduced from this passage: only the influence of the Holy Spirit on this man appears to be in view.
Moreover, we’re told something very interesting about the man of destruction in verse 9: he is “the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan.” The phrase “the activity” is translated from ενεργειαν, from which we take our English word “energy.” This word is always used with supernatural workings in the New Testament. Paul is telling us here that this man of destruction is a pawn on Satan’s chessboard. Satan is the one who is pulling this man’s strings. He doesn’t reveal himself; the verb is in the passive voice, indicating that he “will be revealed” by another. However, his story doesn’t end well: on the Day of the Lord, Christ will return and put him to death. The juxtaposition of this man’s power and the ease with which Christ defeats him (“by the breath of His mouth,” 2.8) tells us all we need to know about this final story. Christ will destroy him (καταργνσει), which also carries the meaning of “render inoperative.” Revelation 20 tells us, however, that the antichrist and Satan will be cast into the lake of fire, so “destroy” is a good reading.
The last two verses are the most disturbing: the people under the sway of the antichrist did not accept the love of the truth when it was offered to them, so they are deceived. As a consequence of this, they continue to believe what is false. The “deluding influence” sent by God is reminiscent of that which He sent to blind Pharaoh in Exodus. Then, too, it was a consequence of a decision that Pharaoh made first. The delusion is made complete, and the judgment is deserved. That decision is in everyone’s hands now: to believe the truth or to take pleasure in evil.
Some valuable lessons come to the fore when discussing eschatology like this. Paul’s doctrine led to some panic, and he had to clarify it. Eschatology can do that, so it’s important that we know it well enough to be comforted by it, not panicked. It is important to know the signs of the times; therefore, ignoring eschatology so that we can part of the “Pan School” (it’ll all pan out, Mike) is also not a great option. Satan is at work already, and he is a master of deception, but both the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit have far more power than he. Of equal importance is a lesson that sometimes gets lost on Pentecostals: miracles by themselves do not prove truth. The man of destruction, after all, will perform signs and wonders. Miracles can be reflectors of truth, but do not prove truth. That is done through careful reading and study of the Word.
The most important application of all is found in those last two frightening verses. All of these people were not created for destruction. They were created for eternal life and pleasure in Christ Jesus. But they are actively choosing the pleasure of evil over and against the love of the truth. While it’s true that we can only lead the horse to water—but we can’t make him drink—these eternal stakes are far too high to not try to at least remind the horse that he’s thirsty. In this age of the delusional apostasy, we have to study the Word carefully, study our culture carefully, and articulate the gospel in an effective way. We have a chance to persuade others to miss this terrible chapter; if we shake the dust off our feet too quickly, they will be overwhelmed with this delusion. We have the truth: it is our responsibility to share it. Have you shared the gospel with someone lost today? Have you engaged in the conversation of the truth?