Introducing the Coming World Ruler
Introducing the Coming World Ruler
Book: 2 Thessalonians
Scripture: 2 Thes 2:1-12
What/Who delays the antichrist’s coming? What happens after the antichrist is revealed? Why will people perish?
Today is the second in our Endgame: Peace from God’s Plan series from 2 Thes. Today we get the big picture of God’s future plan from chapter 2:1-12. Last time I spoke with you I shared how Bible prophecy which I like to call “prerecorded history” was a key factor in my coming to see the validity of Christianity as a skeptic, pointing to God as its author and its central character Jesus as my Savior. Unlike the vague predictions of the psychics, tabloids, or Nostradamus, today we’re going see how biblical prophecy is remarkably detailed. Our focus is “Introducing the coming world ruler,” given 40+ titles in the Bible, we commonly call Antichrist, from 1 John 2:18. The prefix, “anti” means both “opposed to” and “substitute for” the real Christ.
The Thessalonian letters are among the earliest, AD 51, about 20 years after Jesus’ death and return to heaven, and the recipients are new Christ-followers. Often we’re told don’t teach prophecy to new Christians because it’s too deep, unimportant, or controversial, yet it’s a big theme of both letters, and the NT itself, and was epic in my own spiritual formation. Paul had written the church a few weeks or months before this letter, commending them for having turned to God from idols now serving the true and living God while awaiting His Son’s return from heaven (1:9-10).
The immediate expectation to see Jesus is a common theme throughout the NT. Jesus said, “Be on the alert, you do not know which day your Lord is coming….Be ready; the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will” (Mt 24:42-44), and He ends Revelation, “I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give each one as his work deserves” (v.12). The Lord’s brother James said, “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord….the coming of the Lord is near…the Judge is standing right at the door” (Jas 5:7-9). “In a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay,” says the author of Hebrews (10:37). Peter, “The end of all things is near!” (1 Pet 4:7), while John says, “Beloved, we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 Jn 3:2). “Maranatha! Our Lord come!” was a 1st century common Christian greeting (1 Cor 16:22).
Perhaps today, any moment, Jesus will appear from heaven to conform us to the body of his glory (Phil 3:20-21) and take us to His Father’s house (Jn 14:1-3). No judgment, no preconditions or signs are required. The blessed hope is Jesus Himself. Are you ready? Are you eager to see Him? Or do you feel you have more important things to do here first? There’s a new toy I got to get, a place I got to see!
About a month ago, my dear mom Elaine died. At 9:40 PM, her soul-spirit, went immediately to be with Jesus whom she loved (2 Cor 5:8). Her body stopped working and was planted into the ground a few days later. This was the dilemma of the Thessalonians. They thought that Jesus’ coming was near, soon, any-moment, but He’s been delaying some 20 years. Paul, what happens to believers who die before Jesus returns? Is mom going to miss out on the resurrection? Paul responds that we grieve with confident expectation, in line with Jesus’ words in the upper room (Jn 14:1-3), because without notice, “The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ (who know Jesus) will rise first. Then we who are alive (Paul expected to be among them)…will be caught up (Lat. raptus from which we get rapture, “to snatch up, seize, carry away by force”) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore, comfort one another (no anticipation of prior judgment) with these words” (1 Thes 4:16-18). In another place, Paul says that in the time it takes to blink your eye, dead Christians will arise and then the living, together transformed, ushered to the place Jesus has been preparing for us (1 Cor 15:52). When this occurs, it will be the strangest, most evangelistic event ever.
In the next chapter, 1 Thes 5, he transitions to a new but related topic, “What happens after this rapture?” He says I shouldn’t have to tell you because we’ve already talked about it, but I’m glad he did. He introduces something called “the day of the Lord,” which will be important for today’s study. Scholars define this as a future time when God will deal more directly and dramatically in world affairs than He has since Jesus came 2000 years ago. In the Jewish mind, the day of the Lord included a night of global wrath or just judgment (Isa 13:6-13; 5:2; 2 Th 2:2), followed by a new day of unparalleled blessing (Zeph 3:8-20; 2 Pet 3:10-13). The phrase appears about 20 times in the OT, parallel terms “the last days,” 14 times, or “in that day,” over 100 times, but the rapture is a mystery not revealed in the OT (1 Cor 15:51).
Here’s a sample from Zeph 1:14-18, “The great day of the Lord is near and coming very quickly….That day is a day of anger, a day of tribulation and distress, a day of destruction and desolation, a day of darkness and gloom….Because they have sinned against the Lord… On the day of the Lord’s anger all the earth will be devoured by the fire of His jealousy, for He will make a complete end, indeed a horrifying one, of all the inhabitants of the earth.” Not pretty. No wonder Paul told Christians earlier that they (and we) are “to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath (day of the Lord) to come” (1 Thes 1:10). And in chapter 5 he writes, “The day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they [who? lost] are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction will come upon them like labor pains upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness, so that the day would overtake you like a thief; for you are all sons of light and of day [so, He says, let’s live fervently as such, godly, in faith, love, and hope]. Why because “God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep [alive or dead, when Jesus comes], we will live together with Him. Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you also are doing” (1 Thes 5:9-11).
With that background, we’re ready for 2 Thes 2. Because this passage is complex, the best way to make it clear is by asking and answering five questions. Just weeks or months after Paul writes 1 Thes, he hears that the church is facing growing persecution and some false sources told them, “You’re in the day of the Lord.” Some feel that way today.
Question 1: Are we in the day of the Lord? Look at Paul’s answer [1-2] “Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, regarding the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him [the rapture], that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed 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.” Various sources said, “We’re in the tribulation!”
According to opendoorsusa, Christians are the most persecuted people on earth; 13 are martyred every day; many are assaulted and harassed, even here, U.S., and many are losing their jobs. Do you think that these, like the Thessalonians, may feel, surely I must be in the day of the Lord? Friends, Jesus said, “in the world you have tribulation” (Jn 16:33). But He makes clear distinction between the trials and tribulations we face daily, some even to death, from God pouring out his future wrath about which He says “a great tribulation, such as has not occurred since the beginning of the world, nor ever will” (Mt 24:21). Same word, different context and magnitude. If Paul taught that believers will experience the day of the Lord as some do today, one would think they would have been not too shaken. Paul said we’ll experience the day of the Lord, so here we are! No, you will be raptured 1 Thes 4 then naturally follows chapter 5, the day of the Lord, commonly called “Daniel’s 70th Week,” “the Tribulation,” or other names.
To put our present suffering in perspective with the day of the Lord, here’s a diagram of what will happen in the first half of the Tribulation. Jesus breaks 6 seals of wrath or judgment consecutively, Revelation 6. The first seal brings the false christ and his false peace, mass delusion about that which is most important, who you trust for salvation; the 2nd, war; 3rd, mass famine; 4th, death to 1/4th of earth’s population—that’s 2 billion people, 5th, mass martyrdom of those who become Christ-followers during this period, Rev. 7, and 6th, devastating cosmic destruction. That’s just the beginning, the more severe trumpet and bowl judgments follow.
No wonder Rochester’s famous scholar Francis Schaeffer wrote, “True Christians will be taken out of danger before God’s wrath is poured out on the earth…The unsaved will be left.”
John MacArthur says, “Scripture suggests that the Second Coming occurs in two stages—first the Rapture, when He comes for His saints and they are caught up to meet Him in the air (1 Thes 4:14-17), and second, His return to earth, when He comes with His saints (Jude 14) to execute judgment on His enemies.” “Daniel’s 70th Week must fall between those two events. That is the only scenario that reconciles the imminency of Christ’s coming for His saints with the yet unfulfilled signs that signal His final glorious return with the saints.”
Are we in the day of the Lord? Not yet.
Question 2: [Paul] What two things initiate that day? Verses [3-4] continue, “No one is to deceive you in any way! [deception is a growing problem as the end approaches] For it will not come unless the apostasy [literally, departure] 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.”
What must happen before the day of judgment? First, a specific departure, either physical or spiritual. Scholars like Andy Woods give good reasons why the departure is physical, meaning the rapture, over spiritual, but that’s for another time. Let’s assume the departure is spiritual which is more popular and fits better with later NT writings. Wholesale abandonment of true Christianity. Do you see the prelude today? Remember, Jesus predicted, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8). Barna Research affirms that every successive age group of Christ-followers is shrinking. It’s harder to be a Christian today than just a few years ago, and harder to discern truth than ever with so many sources of information where even fact checkers lie. We have to keep going back to Scripture weighing every idea that comes at us. Jesus prayed for you, “[Father] sanctify or make them holy by Your truth; Your word is truth” (Jn 17:17). I hope you’re in your Bible daily as you consider things happening in our world.
And have you noticed an increase in lawlessness? Jesus said, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Mt 24:12). Hard to love you if I think you’re going to kill me. Even in Minnesota, recent crime stats from the non-partisan Bureau of Criminal Apprehension show we are less safe today than two years ago and last year, a big increase in all crime. Murder up by 58%, violent crimes, 16.6%, vehicle theft rose 19.7%, robberies, 26%, and assaults on police on duty, up 62%!
This rebellion and lawlessness will consummate in a man of lawlessness or sin. Let’s talk about this coming world ruler. Far from the devilish, shifty, spooky looking caricature commonly portrayed, a study of his over 40 titles in the Bible paints a picture of one credible, attractive, brilliant, articulate, persuasive, yet completely profane, arrogant, violent, and deceptive. He will be a suave political, governmental, and military genius. He embodies charisma, eventually possessed by Satan himself.
Paul says that after the departure, “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.” This would have moved the readers back 6 centuries to the prophecies of Daniel 7-12, predicting this end-times world king who will conquer initially through peace, making or confirming a 7-year covenant with Israel (Dan 9:27). Israel was exiled in AD 70, and reborn as a nation May 14, 1948. This antichrist will arise from a group of 10 leaders, subduing 3 (Dan 7:24-25), then ruling all and altering global religious times and laws. The first half he favors religion and spirituality and unites them but at the midpoint of the 7 years, he breaks his covenant and demands worldwide worship as God (Dan 9:27; 11:31).
This evil scene foretold by Daniel in the 6th century BC was later, 167 BC, acted out, foreshadowed by Syrian king Antiochus IV (he called himself Epiphanes, god manifest; the Jews called him Epimanes, madman). He captured Jerusalem in 167 BC raided and desecrated the temple by setting up an alter to Zeus and sacrificed a pig. He outlawed Jewish worship and rites like circumcision, ordering them to worship Zeus and eat swine. When the Jews expressed outrage, he slaughtered 40000 and sold another 40000 into slavery. In Mt 24:15, Jesus predicts a similar future unholy desecration, when a man stands in Israel’s temple, which today is ready to be rebuilt: the plans, priests, articles, and funding are in place. Antichrist will claim to be God and demand worship as God. Revelation 13 amplifies this scene where the whole earth is compelled to worship him and his image or be killed. See how specific Bible prophecy is?
Question 1: Are we in the day of the Lord? Verses 1&2 say “No.” Question 2: What two things initiate that day? Verses 3-4, first a great departure must occur and then the antichrist must be revealed and midway through the 7-year tribulation worshiped as God in Israel’s coming temple.
Question 3: What/Who delays antichrist’s coming? Answer? Verses [5-7], “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 he will be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is removed.” Though lawlessness is bubbling up everywhere under our human tapestry, something or someone is still restraining evil on a global scale who must be removed for antichrist to be revealed.
Who is “the He who now restrains?” Scholars propose several possibilities, the top ones are the Roman government or human government in general, Michael the archangel, and the Holy Spirit. Government’s main role is to restrain evil (Gen 9:3-6; Ro 13:1-7), but it’s track record both in ancient Rome and in the last century, says it often perpetuates evil. Two+ million Christians in the first 3 centuries martyred under various Roman emperors. In the last hundred years, more people have been killed by their government than any other force including war. Over 130 million people died in the last century under the likes of atheistic despots like Stalin, Mao, and Hitler.
How about Michael the archangel, protector of Israel (Dan 12:1)? Is he the restrainer? No angel is omnipresent nor omnipotent, one angel cannot be everywhere at once to suppress global evil. The only candidate I see as feasible is God Himself. The Holy Spirit is everywhere present and all powerful. Pneuma (for Spirit) is a neuter noun, but here referred to by a masculine pronoun, “He who now restrains…until He is removed.” The Spirit restrains evil in the world (Gen 6:3) and when you invite Jesus into your life, the Spirit indwells you and restrains evil in your life. “Walk or live by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” (Gal 5:16).
Why does it matter who the restrainer is? The Holy Spirit indwells and empowers the church (YOU!) as God’s primary instrument in this world to restrain evil. That’s what being salt and light means, but it makes us unpopular because we’re pushing against a culture that opposes God and promotes sin. Often we feel pretty meager and ineffective. But Chuck Swindoll reminds us that, “When the church is gathered together and taken to be with Christ in the air, the salt and light will be withdrawn. Every vestige of goodness will decay; every remnant of truth, unravel. The man of lawlessness will take center stage. Like cages in a zoo suddenly opened, so will it be when the Restrainer is taken out of the way and lawlessness runs wild and rampant on the streets. Ours is a day of grace in which sin, to a large degree, is restrained. It is a day when God does not deal directly with human sin. However, there will come a time when He will step on the scene to deal definitively with sin. And that will be a time of great destruction” (The End, Hitchcock, 166).
It’s important to clarify that the all-powerful, all-present Holy Spirit will not leave the earth with the rapture; His restraint of evil through the church is removed, but His convicting, lifegiving work will continue to save innumerable multitudes during the tribulation. Sometimes people ask, is this person or that president (from the political party they don’t like) the antichrist? Verse 7 says it’s worthless for us to conjecture because he won’t be revealed until after we’re gone.
Question 3: Who delays antichrist’s coming? Answer? The Holy Spirit.
Question 4: What happens after the antichrist is revealed? The answer is in vv. [8-10a]. “Then that lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will eliminate [ESV, kill] 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 false signs and wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish.” Paul summarizes the 7-year tribulation, saying that after the restraining Spirit’s life in His church is removed, antichrist will be revealed.
Indwelled by Satan himself, this charismatic icon will have miracle-working power, signs, and wonders, according to Rev 13:3, including a fatal head wound healed (a resurrection?). At His coming to earth, the Lord Jesus will put wicked antichrist to a quick and decisive end (1:6-10). Revelation 19 details, “The armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean [the church glorified and rewarded], were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron….On His robe and on His thigh He has a name written: ‘KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.’ …The beast [antichrist] was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire, which burns with brimstone” (Rev 19:14-20).
Question 4: What happens after the antichrist is revealed? He will work powerful evil, deceptive signs and wonders but after 7 years Jesus will come to earth, bringing him to a swift, complete end.
Our last Question 5: Why will people perish? The answer is in [10b-12], “Those who perish, because they did not accept 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 this, “God will send upon them a deluding influence so they believe what is false?” Doesn’t seem fair. Satan blinds the minds of the lost so they can’t see the good news of Jesus (2 Cor 4:4), and because they prefer their sin over God’s rescue, they’re easy prey for deception. Think of how sin weakens you. You see, each time we reject God’s truth, His offer of abundant life in Christ, we embrace evil as good and lies as truth. The antichrist will use every form of sin to deceive dying people who perish because they do not love the truth. I pray you love truth!
Jesus said, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the Light; for their deeds were evil” (Jn 3:19). Recently I talked with a woman who always has reasons to remain a skeptic. I said that God’s moral requirements are what repel most people from embracing Jesus. He doesn’t let us do whatever we want, for our good and the good of those around us! Jesus said, “the way that leads to life is narrow and few are those who find it but the way leading to destruction is broad and many are those who travel it” (Mt 7:13-14). I think Paul’s saying that people essentially get what they want. Literary giant CS Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Your will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “your will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened” (CS Lewis, The Great Divorce). Do you desire joy? Will you seek God? Trust and obey Him? Or is it, “Your way?”
Some say verses 10-12 teach that those who hear the gospel and reject it before the rapture cannot turn to Jesus in the day of the Lord, but that is not what this text says. Let’s keep sharing the good news of Jesus with those around you. Many who say “no” now, when judgment comes, will say, “I thought that crazy but gracious dude or lady was wrong, but I now know he/she spoke the truth in love for me.” God wants precious people to know Him even more than we do.
We’ve seen the big picture of God’s future plan. The rapture is an any-moment, sign-less event, immediate expectation to meet Jesus in the air before the day of the Lord. How do we know it’s near? We see the stage fully set for the things that will happen in the 7-year tribulation, casting their shadow on the end of the church age. Israel is reborn and eager to sign a peace agreement. A new temple is ready to be rebuilt which Jesus, and Paul here, says will be defiled by the antichrist midway when he demands global worship. People are crying “peace and safety” in a world of growing lawlessness and danger. There’s no true safety or peace apart from Christ. And Satan always has candidate for antichrist ready to be revealed. Isn’t the world eager to embrace the ultimate leader who will help us solve our world problems? Last year, former UK prime minister Gordon Brown called for at least a temporary global government to address the medical and economic problems caused by COVID-19. He’s not alone: the world pleas for the ultimate leader! Growing evidence says soon he will step on the stage, but we look first for Jesus! He is our Blessed Hope (Ti 2:13).
Three takeaways from this passage: I urge you to…
- Love the truth and understand our times through the lens of the Bible; the end brings growing deception and it’s hard to know what’s real and true.
- Invite people through your life and words onto the Ark, Jesus, before the day of the Lord flood comes. Keep using those BLESS practices we learned over summer.
- Don’t fret, worry, or fear over your future, kids, grandkids; trust Christ and pray. I close with Jesus’ words from Lk 21:34-36 (HCSB):
“Be on your guard, so that your minds are not dulled from carousing, drunkenness, and worries of life, or that day [of the Lord] will come on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come on all who live on the face of the whole earth [that phrase is used 11 times in Revelation of lost people]. But be alert at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place and to stand before the Son of Man.” We escape wrath not because we deserve it, but because our soon coming Groom Jesus took our wrath on a Roman cross 2000 years ago!