Apostasy & Antichrist

Posted: September 1, 2008 in 2 Thessalonians

As sociologists look at our current time period, they often label it the “Information Age.” People have a greater access to information & news than ever before at any period of history – and communication is included in this too. We can literally talk to someone on the other side of the globe in a matter of seconds – which was unthinkable 100 years ago. Can you imagine what Paul would have been able to accomplish today? 🙂 Obviously he didn’t have this same luxury & it would take weeks for letters to travel from city to city – making it difficult to answer questions & allowing a lot of time to go by for further confusion to set in.

This seems to have been the problem at Thessalonica. In his 1st epistle, Paul attempted to comfort the church by assuring them that their friends and family who had died weren’t going to miss anything regarding Jesus. There was still a resurrection and rapture that everyone in Christ was going to take part in & it was going to be glorious! Yet because there was much persecution in the area, the Thessalonians had started to look ahead & get confused thinking that they had missed it & that they were now in the middle of the Great Tribulation. In Ch 1, Paul addressed the fact that Tribulation and Judgment IS indeed coming, and God is righteous to do it. In Ch 2, he assures them that it hasn’t come yet & gives them some very specific proofs showing why.

This little section of Scripture is the cause of MUCH debate within the church & as we’ve noted before, many God-fearing Christians hold very different viewpoints on the timing & theology outlined here. Personally, I think this section of Scripture presents some of the strongest arguments for the pre-trib/pre-mill camp & that’s the viewpoint I’m going to take on it.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (NKJV)
1 Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, 2 not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come.

A. Obviously questions had arisen in Thessalonica from Paul’s 1st letter & apparently false teachers had pounced on this & caused a lot of confusion to develop. In writing here, Paul’s attempting to solve the matter once & for all.
B. Jesus IS coming! All true Christians of every stripe agree on this – where we disagree on is the actual event Paul’s referring to here. Scripture tells us that the Lord Jesus is coming FOR His church, and it also makes clear that the Lord Jesus will be coming back to judge WITH His church. With the understanding that these are two distinct events (see 1 Thess 5), which one is it? Gk parousia = “a being near/advent”…often refers to Jesus 2nd coming, but not exlusively – the NT has a much broader use of the word. A hint is found in the grammar of the sentence. Note there’s only one “the” in vs. 1 – Paul links Jesus’ “coming” and our “gathering” as being one event.
__a. We WILL be gathered together with Him. Amen! This is a direct reference to the rapture & a glorious thought! One day we’re going to be snatched up in a moment & gathered together with our Lord & King. Could be today…
C. Why is this important? The theology behind the rapture, 2nd coming, etc., should bring us comfort (1 Thess 4); not stress! The Thessalonians had been shaken up…they thought they had missed out on everything Paul had taught them & they were now set to endure the Great Tribulation (which no one is going to want to go through!).
__a. Even today with all the debate, it’s common for Christians to get stressed out about end-time issues. Many people look at the world headlines, see things lining up with prophecy & get scared at the things to come. Others just get wound up trying to win a debate & they forget how they’re supposed to conduct themselves as disciples of Christ Jesus.
__b. How NOT to be stressed about the end-times: look for the Lord Jesus. That’s it. Keep it simple. There’s no reason for the church to be worried about Antichrist & start naming names – we won’t be around when he’s revealed anyway. 🙂 As we saw in 1 Thess, the ONE prophetic event Christians are looking for on the calendar is the res/rapture. Until that day, just be who Christ Jesus has called you to be & do what He’s called you to do & leave the rest to Him.

3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition,

A. Let no one tell you that eschatology is all guesswork – there is some VERY specific information here! We can be assured that “the Day” won’t come until some very specific things happen…which Paul outlines here.
B. Which “Day” – the rapture/resurrection or 2nd coming? This is one of the reasons Scripture seems to make such a strong argument that the 2 events are very distinct from each other. 1 Thess made it very clear that the res/rapture could happen at any moment…(as a thief in the night – 1 Th 5:2) However, with this Day, we have to wait for some specific timing…thus Paul CANNOT be referring to the same event! Instead of the res/rapture, Paul seems to be referring to the 2nd Coming of Christ…and that won’t happen until people see the “man of sin.”
C. Who is the “man of sin…the son of perdition”? Though in the NT, he’s only called “Antichrist” by John, that’s exactly who Paul is referring to. He is everything Christ Jesus is not. God is Yahweh (Jehovah) Tsidkenu = “The Lord our Righteousness” (Jer 23:6). But Antichrist is the “man of sin/lawlessness.” Referred to as the “beast” in Revelation. Historically, many Christians have seen Antichrist as a movement, or many people & Scripture does speak of many antichrists (1 John 2:18) – but it also speaks of a specific individual…and plainly that’s what Paul is referring to here.
__a. Do we need to be afraid of Antichrist? Not if you’re born again…you won’t be here. But even that aside, his end is already determined. He’s the “son of perdition” – his destiny is one of destruction & eternal damnation in the lake of fire.
D. What else has to happen first? The great apostasy. “falling away” = apostasia (apostasy). NT repeatedly refers to a time in the end days (specifically revealed to Paul by the Holy Spirit – 1 Tim 4:1) where those who claim to be Christian will fall into deception and fall away from the core truths of the Bible and end up in sheer rebellion against God. It’s not hard to look around & get the idea that we’re in the beginning throws of this! (Pew Survey 2007 – 57% of Evangelical Protestants & 83% of Mainline denominations believe that “many religions can lead to eternal life.” JOHN 14:6!)
__a. Some theologians note that “apostasia” could also be translated “abandonment or departure” & believe this is a reference to the rapture. The problem is that the word is almost universally used to refer to “departure” as a bad thing (military rebellion)…it’s a stretch to make it apply to something magnificent like the Rapture. It’s a weak argument at best – and there are many more specific passages that teach the pre-trib rapture without trying to ‘make’ this one apply.

4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

A. We learn some very important aspects about Antichrist’s character:
__a. Antichrist opposes God: Scripture indicates that he’s going to come in subtly and offer peace (some think he’ll negotiate peace between Israel & the Muslims in Jerusalem by re-building the temple on the mount across from the Dome of the Rock). However he comes in, he’ll be well received by the world…but 1st impressions can be misleading. He is adamantly opposed to God because Antichrist is of the devil, the adversary.
__b. Antichrist exalts himself above God: As with the proclamation against the King of Babylon in Isa 14 (whom many think refer to Satan), Antichrist will exalt himself above God in order to receive the worship God alone deserves.
____i. It can sound rather ridiculous to our ears that people would actually worship a world leader – but it’s not all that far-fetched. People have done it throughout history & continue to do so today. Our culture isn’t as “advanced” as we like to think sometimes.
__c. Antichrist exalts himself above anything that is worshiped: Beyond exalting himself above the True God, Antichrist will set himself up as the only thing that can be worshiped – Rev 13:8 proclaims that anyone who’s name is not written in the Book of Life WILL worship him.
B. We also learn something very important about what Antichrist will do. Going to sit AS God in the temple OF God in an attempt to show Himself to BE God… IOW, however he comes upon the world scene, there will be a point in time that he physically walks into the newly rebuilt Jewish Temple & proclaims to the entire world point-blank that he is God. This will be the final straw before the wrath of God is poured out on the earth. Prophesied by Jesus…Matthew 24:15-16 (15) “Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), (16) “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. [] … Since Jesus referred to Daniel, what does Daniel have to say about it? A lot, actually. References in Dan 8:11, 9:27, 12:11 – also in Ch 11. Daniel 11:31, 36 (31) And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation. … (36) “Then the king shall do according to his own will: he shall exalt and magnify himself above every god, shall speak blasphemies against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the wrath has been accomplished; for what has been determined shall be done. [] Sound familiar? …
__a. Has this ever come true? No doubt, there HAVE been desecrations of the temple. Antiochus Epiphanes (167BC)…tried to force the Jews to worship Zeus & sacrificed a pig on the temple altar. To faithful Jews, this was the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecy & the Book of Maccabees explicitly calls it the “abomination of desolation”. BUT – this was close to 200 years prior to Jesus’ prophecy…and He was referring to a yet future event.
____i. Next possibility would be Caligula’s order to build a statue of himself in the Jewish Temple in 40AD. Never completed…thus the prophecy remains unfulfilled.
__b. ‘What about the preterist viewpoint of the post-Christian Jews performing the abomination of desolation through sacrifices after Jesus’ resurrection?’ Claiming that unnecessary Jewish sacrifices taking place in the temple is an abomination makes good symbolism, but it simply doesn’t match the description given by Daniel. Where is the individual claiming to be God? Why would he refer to daily sacrifices being taken away if those sacrifices were the one that were abominations? Obviously, the destruction of Jerusalem & the temple in 70AD (as horrific as it was) is NOT the event Jesus, Daniel, and Paul are referring to. It is thus still yet to come.

5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?

A. Simply astounding that in only a few weeks time, Paul thought this was so important that he taught it to the fledgling church at Thessalonica! Some churches never touch eschatology at all & yet he’s teaching it to folks who should still be in a “new believers” class! Tells us a few things:
__a. Paul thought it was imminent. Not quite in the same sense as the rapture was (considering there were prophetic events scheduled to take place) – but close enough in the future that people needed to be educated on what was going on.
__b. Paul thought it was important. Eschatology is (no doubt) filled with secondary doctrines. A person’s salvation does not hang on whether or not someone is pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, or Amill (or whatever label you find best). As long as someone has turned to Jesus Christ as the Risen Son of God for salvation, that’s the essence of essential doctrine. HOWEVER – simply because it’s not essential doesn’t mean it’s not important. What we believe about the end days have a dramatic effect on how we live in the current days…

6 And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. 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.

A. Apparently it was obvious to the Thessalonians due to Paul’s teachings – but not necessarily to us. Who is this “restrainer”? Like nearly everything else in this chapter, there’s a lot of debate about it. 🙂 Some think it’s a reference to a specific unnamed person, others think it’s the general legal system. Note the “He” in vs. 7 – Paul does have a personality in mind, but he also uses an impersonal “what” in vs. 6. Seems likely Paul is referring to the Holy Spirit (He) in the life of the church (what). As long as the church is in the world, the mystery of lawlessness is restrained. But when “He is taken out of the way” i.e., the church as the temple of the Holy Spirit is gathered together with the Lord Jesus Christ, the dam will be removed & the flood of sin unleashed.
B. Note the “mystery of lawlessness” is already active. There will be a time during the Great Tribulation when it has virtually free reign, but it’s present even today. (Nelson’s) “Anyone who opposes Christ and His church and seeks to deceive others into worshipping false gods is against Christ, and in that case is an antichrist.” 1 John 2:22-23 (22) Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. (23) Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. []
__a. Imagine what would be taking place if sin wasn’t restrained! We think it’s bad now…
__b. All this underscores the fact that Christians are salt & light in the world! The church isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination – but we have been entrusted with the life-saving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ! During this time while sin is restrained, we are to go into the world & proclaim this gospel through word and through deed – it’s part of our ministry of reconciliation!

8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.

A. There’s the key bit of timing. Once the Restrainer is removed, then Antichrist will be revealed. Again – this cannot be talking about the res/rapture because that event is repeatedly referred to as imminent. This has a very specific schedule to follow…
B. As bad as Antichrist is going to be, the end of the book is already written. We know his outcome. The Lord Jesus will consume & destroy him. What will it look like? Hollywood might be disappointed. There will be a grand battle ground set up with massive armies, but there won’t be any long drawn-out sword fight between the Lord & the beast – no nail-biting struggle between good & evil. The Lord Jesus Christ simply shows up…and that’s enough! 🙂 Understand there’s absolutely no contest between Christ and Antichrist. God is infinitely more powerful than anything else! Revelation describes Christ as having a sword come out of His mouth (Rev 19:15) & along with Paul’s description of His breath, it implies that He simply speaks a word. [Swindoll, “Enough!”]

9 The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.

A. Will Antichrist be obvious? Perhaps…perhaps not. Many will truly be deceived, for what will seem to be good reasons: miracles! The wonders will be “lying wonders” to be sure, but it certainly seems that there will be supernatural signs accompanying Him. Not unknown in history…Pharaoh’s sorcerers did the same thing (Ex 7).
__a. This is yet another reason to be wary of movements that are completely focused on sign & wonders. Praise God for healings & miracles – God is just as powerful today as He was at Creation & He can heal anyone at anytime if He so chooses. But movements that look for the miracles & not the Master invariably get themselves into trouble. Keep in mind that even supernatural miracles are not a sign that someone is born-again. Matthew 7:22-23 (22) Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ (23) And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ []
____i. Also gives us a good reason to examine ourselves! Our salvation is not dependent upon our experiences; it’s dependent upon our relationship with Christ Jesus…
B. During this time, why will people perish? The same reason they’ve always perished, “because they did not receive the love of the truth”… IOW, they rejected the gospel. God offers salvation to the whole world! He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ez 33:11) & sent His Son into the world not to condemn it, but to save it through Him (John 3:17). But by not receiving His love and grace, they reject His love and grace.
__a. “What if you just have a hard time believing? Is that really rejection?” Yes…without a doubt. God made the resurrection of Jesus so obvious, that one has to be willfully blind to the evidence to ignore the historical fact. He’s placed His law upon our hearts to help us understand that we’ve sinned & need a Savior. He’s given us Creation to show that there is a Creator & Judge we will one day face. What MORE can we ask God to do?! To not believe the gospel is to reject the gospel.

11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie,

A. ‘Wait a minute! GOD sends the delusion?!’ Yes. Antichrist may usher in a time of lawlessness on the earth, but God is the one Who allows Antichrist to exist at all. Just like Satan was limited by God in his attacks on Job, so is Antichrist limited by the will of God.
B. Keep in mind God desires everyone to come to repentance; but obviously not all do. To those who refuse to repent, God will allow their heart to be hardened (like Pharaoh) & they will continue to believe the lie that they are already inclined to.
__a. ‘So does anyone get saved after the Rapture?’ Probably – Scripture seems to indicate that they do…at the very least there seems to be a Jewish remnant that gets saved because they finally recognize Jesus as the Messiah. But there will be far more that reject Christ not only before the Rapture, but continue that rejection afterward due to their hardness of heart.

12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

A. There’s the crux of it…people who perish don’t receive the love of the truth, but it’s more than that. Not only do they not believe, but they have “pleasure in unrighteousness.” Not a single human on the planet could honestly claim that they are victims of God’s judgment due to passive sins that they had little control over. Our sin is ACTIVE! Outside of Christ, we take pleasure in sin & unrighteousness…we do wrong things, we know it’s wrong, and we enjoy it! … And ultimately, that leaves us condemned before God Almighty.
__a. BUT. Not if you’re in Christ. Romans 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. [] In Christ, we are cleansed from all unrighteousness, we are forgiven, we are new creations, and we have eternal life with Him.

So some very specific information about the endtimes. Someone could make a lot of money writing a novel about this (oh yeah, they did). 🙂 But here’s the kicker…THIS book isn’t fiction. This is fact that has been predetermined by God Almighty to take place. There really will be an Antichrist – there really will be an end-time deception – and there really will be judgment. That is an unavoidable truth no matter how badly people want to debate it or deny it.

Since it’s true, what do we do about it?
1. As Christian, be comforted. Don’t be shaken – there’s no reason to be. These things WILL take place, but we won’t be here when they do. We will be gathered together with our Lord & King worshiping Him in glory.
2. But at the same time, don’t be complacent. Because these things are true and will take place after the Spirit-born church is removed, it behooves us to be on our knees for the lost to be saved, and to put our faith into action. And because we don’t know when we will be removed, it underscores the importance of taking advantage of every day to share the gospel!
3. For non-Christians, don’t be blind. As sure as the sun rises every day, you can be assured that what the Bible says about this is true. But God doesn’t want you to endure that time. God loves you so much that He sent Jesus to die in your place for His own glory. He wants you to be saved. But you must respond to Him & receive the love of the truth.


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