The Lord’s Return…Let’s Try This Again.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
1. Recognize the Context:
Previous Context: 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
Verse 11 begins, "with this in mind.” This phrase points back to what Paul had said in the thanksgiving. Given their suffering, and the guarantee of God's vindication and judgment, Paul's prayed they would live worthy of God's calling. In this verse, one can hear the echo of verse 5, in which he used a similar phrase to encourage the Thessalonians to live worthy of the kingdom of God.
Paul also prayed God would work by his power to fulfill their inner desire for doing what was right. Additionally, he prayed God would work through their actions produced from faith. Here, Paul returned to a consideration of the church’s faith mentioned in verse 3 above, and he used the exact phrase found in 1 Thessalonians 1:3 when he discussed faith, hope, and love.
The discussion of Christ's glorification in verse 12, is similar to verse 10 above. Paul prayed the name of the Lord Jesus would be glorified in his people, which was just another way to refer to the Lord glorification. In the ancient Near East and for the Jews in the first century, to refer to a person's name was to refer to that person. Here Paul's wording provided an allusion to Isaiah 66:5, with echoes of Isaiah throughout the first chapter. Here, Paul reinterpreted the Isaiah 66 passage in light of the risen Christ. What applied to Israel’s God in the Old Testament was now understood in light of Christ.
2. Read the Scripture: 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4
Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. 3 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. 4 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.
3. Reflect on the Scripture::
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 people within the Thessalonian church were extremely scared and unsettled because they believed the day of the Lord had already come.
Remember 1 Thessalonians 5:2, in which Paul said that the day of the Lord would come “like a thief in the night.” This concept of the day of the Lord is found in the Old Testament. As God’s people, oppressed by foreign nations, Israel awaited his intervention in their suffering and oppression. They prayed and longed for the day when God would save and deliver his people. They also believed he would bring judgment on those who opposed his plan and his people. Paul reinterpreted this Old Testament concept in light of the risen Christ and his return.
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 seemed to have something specific in mind and wrote as if the Thessalonian church knew precisely what he was referring to. 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 did describe how this person would attempt to oppose and resist God. Paul wrote 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 every 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. 6:6, Eph. 2:21). This is because the earthly Jerusalem temple no longer had the significance it once did for Paul when he was Pharisee. As I have said before, Jesus was the game-changer.
A word of caution:
Some people love to study and talk about "the end times." When considering these passages in Paul and other portions of the New Testament, it's worth considering two cautions. First, our initial goal is to understand what Paul was saying to the Thessalonian church. Be careful about importing other passages that might not have been in the mind of the original authors (For example, don't just rush to the book of Revelation to develop some "end times" timeline.). Ask yourself, “Is there a connection?" We do have an advantage in that we have the rest of the Old and New Testaments to reflect on concerning various issues. But our starting point has to be the message for the original readers of the letter. Then we can consider other passages.
Second, be careful about reading current events back into the pages of Scriptures as if it wasn't written for the Thessalonians community, but only for modern readers in the 21st century. This leads to all sorts of speculation, such as assuming, "This is the period of the rebellion because of this leader...and this nation." "This world leader is the man of lawlessness because he…"
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.
Do you think about the day of the Lord and being gathered to him? Why or why not? Does it make you anxious or unsettled? Why? Pray for a proper perspective on living in the present with a biblical eye to the future.
Today, prayerfully consider the day of the Lord and its two sides-salvation and judgment. Thank God for his salvation in Christ.
Today, pray that God's kingdom come, and his will be done, concerning the return of Christ.
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.
Who specifically in your church community can you share what you are learning and being reminded of from the book of 2 Thessalonians?
To study: (Always make sure to read the immediate context of the passages). Read and study these Old Testament uses of the day of the Lord: Isa. 2:1–4:6; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31–32; Amos 5:18–20; Zeph. 1:14. Read and study Paul’s similar day of the Lord phrases the "day of our Lord Jesus [Christ]" (1 Cor. 1:8; 2 Cor. 1:14), or only as the "day of [Jesus] Christ" (Phil. 1:6, 10; 2:16), or even just "the day" (2 Thess. 1:10). Review Paul's passages concerning the temple (1 Cor 3:16, 17, 6:19, 2 Cor. 6:16, Eph. 2:21).