The Lawless One, the Restrainer, and the End
2 Thessalonians 2:5-12
1. Recognize the Context:
Previous Context: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
In chapter 2, Paul turned his attention to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ and the gathering of believers to him. It seems evident that Paul was revisiting his previous discussion of the Lord’s return found in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11.
Some within the Thessalonian church were extremely scared and unsettled because they believed the day of the Lord had already come.
Paul was not sure how this misunderstanding was created, but he knew this misconception had been attributed to him and his teaching. Paul warned them not to be deceived by this false teaching. While he believed the exact timing would be a surprise (1 Thess. 5:2), he did think there would be signs indicating its nearness.
First, the rebellion must occur. Paul appeared to have something specific in mind, and he wrote as if the Thessalonian church should know to what he was referring. Unfortunately, today we can only speculate. Therefore, we must use extreme caution in our interpretation. It appears safe to say this probably refers to a time of increased evil and opposition to God.
Second, associated with this rebellion, the man of lawlessness must be revealed. Again, Paul had something specific in mind, and we are at a disadvantage in trying to understand this phrase. In verse 4, Paul wrote this person would attempt to oppose and resist God. Paul stated this person would set himself up in God’s temple. He used the word naos for the temple, which referred to the holiest section of the temple, not the general temple complex. Therefore, this appears to be another way of saying that this person will attempt to resist and “overthrow God.”
There is no reason to assume Paul is thinking of an actual temple building, at that time or some future physically constructed building. I base this on the word choice Paul used, as well as the fact Paul rarely if ever discussed the temple in Jerusalem. Any reference to God’s temple by Paul was used in a figurative sense (1 Cor 3:16, 17, 6:19, 2 Cor. 6:16, Eph. 2:21). This is because the earthly Jerusalem temple no longer had the significance it once had for Paul when he was Pharisee. As I have said before, Jesus was the game-changer.
2. Read the Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:5-12
5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 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. 8 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. 9 The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
3. Reflect on the Scripture::
Much like the previous section, this passage creates more questions than it answers. Verse 5 reminds the modern reader we are missing vital information, which the Thessalonian church had from Paul and his teaching when he visited them.
In verse 6, Paul reminded the Thessalonians that they knew what was restraining or holding back the lawless one until the appropriate time. Again, the modern reader is left wondering, “what did they know?” Paul continued to say the power of lawlessness was already at work, even though in a limited way. He indicated there was one restraining or keeping the full advancement of evil at bay. But whoever or whatever is restraining the evil one, will be taken out of the way so that the lawless one can be revealed.
This man of lawlessness will align his efforts with Satan, and he will perform false signs and wonders, which will deceive those who have rejected the truth. But even though this lawless one will appear to have “power,” he will be neutralized quite easily by the Lord at his return.
Verses 11-12 continue to explain the result of their choice, not the cause. Much like Romans 1, those who rejected God will be given over to their desire not to follow him. They will continue in their delusion and will be condemned.
I make no attempt to identify who or what the restraining force is, although I believe God is involved with this.
I make no attempt to identify the man of lawlessness. Numerous people have been suggested throughout history, including various Roman emperors and world leaders up through the 21st century. Modern Christians are called to be prepared, not to speculate based on current events.
4. Relate to life:
Remember, it is important to be a doer of God’s Word, not merely a hearer or reader (James 1:22-25). Here are some practical ways to actively respond to God’s Word. Consider these or create other ways you can apply the message.
Again today, prayerfully consider the day of the Lord. Are you filled with hope or fear? Why?
Today, prayerfully consider the sovereignty of God. Even though the "power of the lawless one" is at work, God is in control. He is in control of world events, and he is in control of your life. Pray your faith and trust in him might increase.
Today, pray that God's kingdom come, and his will be done, concerning the return of Christ.
Today, pray for those you personally know who have rejected the truth of God and believed a lie.
To do: (with the Holy Spirit's help)
Given the prayer suggestions above and questions, what can you incorporate into your life today? Think about your attitudes, actions, and words. Think about your family, friends, church community, and co-workers.