I think we are afraid of the end of the world.
And a great many of these fears center around a passage like this, from today’s reading:
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4; NIV84)
It almost sounds sinister, doesn’t it?
Some people I know build a huge theology around the end of the world, by coupling this passage with others in the Word of God. Wikipedia has even recognized the popularity of this “man of lawlessness” and has an article dedicated to it.
This man is famous.
Here are the remaining verses in this passage:
Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. (2:6-12)
But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you,whether by word of mouth or by letter. (2:13-15)
I would like to take a look at what we can know, not what we think we know, from this entire passage.
- Some Thessalonians were under the impression the day of the Lord had already come.
- Yet, they were already familiar with the rebellion and the man of lawlessness. Paul wrote in 2:5, “Don’t you remember when I used to tell you these things?”
- So, none of this is new information to them.
- Not only were the Thessalonians familiar with this man, they also knew what would hold him back (2:6). You and I do not have that information.
- They knew there would be a proper time for his revelation (2:6).
- Paul is not giving them any new information in this letter, whatsoever.
And that’s it. Anything beyond this information is sheer speculation.
The most powerful thing to me is that the Thessalonians knew all of this. They knew the identity of this man. They knew what was holding this man back. They were taught to interpret the signs.
It’s like you and I are hearing just one side of a phone conversation. We just don’t know what the other side knows.
Here, Paul was correcting some misinformation. Whatever he had previously taught had been construed in his absence. This letter was an attempt to remind them of his original teachings, and to tell them the day of the Lord had not yet arrived.
But also, there is no sense of heightened anticipation in these verses. These things will happen “in their proper time,” and only God has the power to control time. There is no need for us to try to decipher these identities, or these times, or these signs. God alone knows, and if we trust him, then that trust should be enough. If threatening situations occur during this time, or if they don’t, believers are the only ones with security.
Here’s what I wonder, though.
Paul wrote, at the end of this passage, that this man would be accompanied by “counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders.”
I think we are missing something.
If there are counterfeit miracles, then that means in the community of believers, there are also genuine miracles. Genuine signs. Genuine wonders.
Here is what one commentator, Gordon Fee, says about these signs and wonders:
Paul uses such language only because he presupposes that miracles produced by the Holy Spirit are part and parcel of the Christian faith he knew and experienced. But it is the very “in passing” way they are referred to that in the end indicates how presuppositional such working of the Holy Spirit was for him and his churches — a presupposition that seems to have been lost in much of later Christendom. Fervent expectation has tended to be replaced with benign nonexpectation that God can (or will) do anything out of the ordinary. I for one think Paul and his churches had the better of it. (Fee, The First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, 2009).
I think that pretty much sums it up.
Again, today, I must bear witness to what God is doing in me this summer. I began on June 1, 2012, by reading Matthew 1-3, and then writing a blog. During that first writing process, I was burdened, by God, to write something every day, for 90 straight days.
I hesitated, though. I don’t have time for this. I don’t have the energy for this. And I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make my thoughts so vulnerable.
Yet, here I am, 66 days later, waking incredibly early to read, to pray, to write. I am thankful for this journey, but it has exhausted me. I can only say that God has worked in my life, this summer, to make this happen. I remarked to a friend, just a few days ago, that this summer, and this reading, and this writing experience, has been the most spiritually formative experience in my life. I still believe that.
By the way, you can find all of the other posts here.
My wife and I are reading this together, too. It’s been amazing to talk to her, every day, about these readings.
If you are married, or in a close relationship, I highly encourage you to read the Word of God together.
Thank you, faithful reader, or first-time guest, for giving some of your time to find your way to this tiny little blog. Blessings to you.