What Awaits Us

Nathanael Winkler

The current state of the world is causing many Christians to reflect. How should we be conducting ourselves? What can and cannot be known from the prophetic Word about what’s to come? Second Thessalonians gives the answer.

More and more believers are worried about whether the anti-Christian kingdom is just around the corner. In light of the current state of the world, the Apostle Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians (and the second in particular) are a helpful guide.

The church in Thessalonica was established through the Apostle Paul’s ministry over a period of about three weeks. Soon after this, Christians who were still young in the faith were already facing persecution. They nevertheless remained firm in their confession and moral conduct: “And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1 Thess 1:6-7). Their love grew strong (2 Thess 1:3-4; cf. 1 Thess 1:3; 4:9), and that made the church strong: “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing” (2 Thess 1:3).

Regardless of what the situation was or how the individual church member was feeling about it at the time, there was unity. Love came before all else. However, because of the difficult circumstances the Thessalonian Christians found themselves in, confusion and uncertainty were arising. So, Paul wrote the first letter to address questions that were already circulating among the Thessalonians, due to those who had already died (1 Thess 4:13-18). Paul encouraged them that no matter what happened, “then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words” (vv. 17-18; cf. 1 Thess 5:1-8).

The reason for the second letter was that the fire of persecution was causing the Thessalonians to think that the Day of the Lord had come (2 Thess 2:2-3). Paul began this epistle with extraordinary encouragement for persecuted Christians: “Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering” (2 Thess 1:4-5).

To the Apostle, these sufferings were even a sign of God’s favor! The faithful Thessalonians were being attacked because they were light. The church itself, by contrast, was surprised by the sharp winds of persecution. Because of this, members were allowing false teachers to deceive them into thinking that the Day of the Lord was already here, and that the Lord’s second coming was imminent. This caused some to stop living their everyday lives or working, since such things were supposedly no longer worthwhile: “For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living” (2 Thess 3:11-12).

So, it was into these circumstances that Paul wrote about the Lord’s return, using brief words to clarify what he had already said in greater detail when he had been with them in Thessalonica. As a result, his remarks leave many questions unanswered for the modern reader. But we can state the following, which is as true for us today as it was for the Thessalonians then.

In chapter 2, verse 1, the Apostle writes, “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him…” He uses the same words that Christ did in His end-time discourses, and addresses two events with relation to the Day of the Lord.

First, the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same Greek root word is also used four times in Matthew 24 in reference to Jesus’ return.

Second, being united or gathered up to Him. The Greek word for this can also be found in the Lord’s end-time discourses in Matthew 24:31: “And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

This is followed by the warning: “Not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come” (2 Thess 2:2). Again, we find the same Greek word for “alarm” in this quote from Jesus: “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Matt 24:6; cf. Mark 13:7).

There are three things that Christians should not allow to confuse them: a spirit, a word, or a letter purported to be from the Apostles. In other words, there is no authority that could have told believers that the Day of Christ is here. By “Day of Christ,” Paul (and other translations) means the Day of the Lord, the day of judgment already announced under the Old Covenant. For Jesus Christ is the judge appointed by God over the living and the dead (Acts 10:42; 17:31; Rom 2:16; Rev 19:11-21).

Paul continues: “Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction” (2 Thess 2:3). Before the Day of the Lord arrives, something else absolutely must come first. Two things, in fact.

First, the rebellion. The Greek term could denote one that is military, political, or religious. In this case, it means a conscious turning away from Christ in a world that was once familiar with Him. The Lord speaks about this in His end-time discourses: “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:9-13).

Before the end—before the Day of the Lord—many people will take offense. At what? At God, at His ordinances, and ultimately His Gospel. It indicates a decline in Christianity, which can also be observed today in the gender confusion or LGBTQ ideologies being promoted by countries in which Christianity was once influential.

Second, the man of lawlessness will be revealed in the course of this apostasy from Christianity. The Bible also calls him “the prince who is to come” (Dan 9:26), the little horn (Dan 7:8), the beast (Rev 13:2-10), and the Antichrist. What do we know about him?

Paul writes that the Antichrist is the one “who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God … 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” (2 Thess 2:4, 8-10).

This mysterious figure is someone who also represents an entire system. In Revelation 13, we see two antichrist figures: the beast out of the sea (vv. 1-10), and the beast out of the earth (vv. 11-18). Verses 16 and 17 make it clear that there is also a system connected with the Antichrist’s rise to power: “Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name” (cf. Rev 17:12-13).

Today, we’re seeing more and more how such total control is really possible. Taking current developments into consideration, as well as what the Bible says about the Antichrist’s system, things could become truly terrifying. We could fall into the same trap that some of the Thessalonians did, folding our hands and living disorderly lives, since taking responsibility for our actions and living in an orderly way is no longer worth it. But Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy admonish: “Biblical teaching regarding the Antichrist is not given to make us anxious, but to make us aware. Awareness of God’s victory over Antichrist and all evil gives assurance to believers that both the present and the future are firmly in the grasp of God. We should be concerned about the Antichrist, not just because the Bible speaks of him or out of curiosity, but because he provides insight into the mystery of lawlessness that is already at work (2 Thessalonians 2:7). The pattern of evil which will be clearly played out in the future and personified in the Antichrist should be our concern, so that we can skillfully resist evil in the present” (The Truth About the Antichrist and His Kingdom, pp. 40-41).

Bible teacher John Phillips writes about the person of the Antichrist: “The Antichrist will be an attractive and charismatic figure, a genius, a demon-controlled, devil-taught charmer of men. He will have answers to the horrendous problems of mankind. He will be all things to all men: a political statesman, a social lion, a financial wizard, an intellectual giant, a religious deceiver, a masterful orator, a gifted organizer. He will be Satan’s masterpiece of deception, the world’s false messiah. With boundless enthusiasm the masses will follow him and readily enthrone him in their hearts as the world’s savior and god” (Exploring the Future: A Comprehensive Guide to Bible Prophecy, p. 272).

According to Paul, the Antichrist will sit in the temple of God (v. 4). It could be said, like father, like son! His “father” is the devil: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north’” (Isa 14:12-13).

The son of perdition, ruled by the devil, thus wants to reveal himself where God reveals Himself. Will this place be a future temple in Jerusalem? Some interpreters assume so, but it’s important to note that Paul always considered and referred to the Church as the temple of God (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21).

Next, he writes: “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” (vv. 6-7).

Who is doing the restraining? The text doesn’t say! The Thessalonians knew because Paul had already spoken to them about it: “Do you not remember that when I was with you I told you these things?” (v. 5).

Interpreters have put forth many suggestions: the Holy Spirit, the Church, the Archangel Michael, the Gospel that has yet to be proclaimed to the world, the host of angels, the condition of the people of Israel, the bondage of Satan, the providence of God, and many more. The MacArthur Study Bible explains: “The power that holds back Satan from bringing the final apostasy and unveiling his Satan-possessed false Christ must be divinely supernatural. It must be God’s power in operation that holds back Satan, so that the man of sin, the son of destruction, won’t be able to come until God permits it by removing the restraining power. The reason for the restraint was so that the Antichrist would be revealed at God’s appointed time and no sooner.”

Whoever or whatever this restrainer may be, until the Lord comes: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Thess 2:15-17).

In the end, here is what Paul says to the afflicted Christians in Thessalonica: No matter how bad it gets, “As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good” (2 Thess 3:13). This also applies to us. There are many things that we can’t know, and some may frighten and distress us. But we should never tire of loving and doing good—following the example of the Thessalonians.

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all … The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (2 Thess 3:16, 18).

Midnight Call - 06/2022

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