2 Thessalonians

The Man of Lawlessness. 2:1-12


In Chapter 2 of Thessalonians, Paul writes concerning the day when Christ executes judgment. The believers at Thessalonica had come to believe that "the day of the Lord" had already occurred. They were undergoing persecution and so they thought that the end was upon them. So, Paul sets out to explain why this is not the case. The day of Christ's "coming", the day when he executes judgment on a sinful word, has not yet occurred because the "man of lawlessness" has not been exposed and annihilated.

The passage

v1-2. Paul first identifies the subject he is going to deal with, namely the "coming" of Jesus and the gathering together of believers with him, cf. Matt.24:31. The argument he intends to make is that the day of the Lord still lies in the future and so his readers should not be led astray by false teachers who claim that "the day" has already come, cf. 1Thess.5:2.

v3-4. The first point that Paul makes in his argument is that "the day" obviously hasn't already come because certain preliminary events have not yet occurred. There must first be the "rebellion" and the divine exposing of "the Man of Lawlessness", the one who claims deity and exalts himself over God, namely, the antichrist. This event, "the abomination that causes desolation", cf. Mk.13:14, is a time so terrible that it would be impossible for it to pass unnoticed.

v5-8. The second point that Paul makes is that the present activity of the Man of Lawlessness, powerfully evidenced in the persecutions being experienced by the Thessalonians, shows that the day of the Lord has not yet arrived. At the moment the antichrist is the top man causing no end of trouble, but once the day arrives he will be taken out of the game by Christ and annihilated. "The secret power of lawlessness is presently at work, although only until the one who is ruling is removed from the scene", v7. The "one who is ruling", the one prevailing, is the antichrist, although most translations incorrectly refer to a separate person here, "the one who holds it back", TNIV.

v9-12. The third point that Paul makes is that "the day" obviously lies in the future because the Man of Lawlessness is presently active in the world, diverting humanity from the gospel with his delusive marvels. Note how the display of his glorious power, as Satan's representative, is described in the same terms used of Jesus' demonstrations of power. Sadly, the rejection of the gospel inevitably prompts divine judgment, initially in the form of "a powerful delusion." When we fail to believe a clear word from God we end up with divine riddles and ultimately condemnation.

The Man of Lawlessness

When Paul writes his second letter to the church at Thessalonica, he is writing to a church totally focused on the second coming of Christ. Some of the members had even given up their jobs because they thought that the day of the Lord was upon them. So, Paul lets them into a secret. Before the day of judgment there will be the rebellion and the coming of the man of lawlessness. This evil man, the man of sin, Mr. Loss, is right now causing trouble, but in the last day he will be exposed for who he is and annihilated with a word from Jesus. So, the Thessalonian believers need to relax; the great day still lies in the future.

Mr. Loss, revealed elsewhere in the scriptures as the antichrist, is rather difficult to identify because he takes on many shapes. He can be a political leader, a philosophy, a heresy, a revolutionary group...... yes the day may even come when he is a rouge computer. Paul says that "the secret power of lawlessness is already at work." So, what is he up to right now, what is he doing?

First, he opposes and exalts himself over everything that is God's. He intrudes his evil into the fellowship of believers and claims of himself the status of God, v4. This is why he is often a heresy articulated by fanatics.

Second, he is running the secular agenda. Verses 6 and 7 seem to suggest that there is something, or someone, restraining his present activities, but this is not what the original Greek is saying. The word "restrain" is best translated "rule". What Paul is saying is that the antichrist is actually running things for the present. Remember, Satan has "the whole world in his hand" cf. Luke.4:5-8.

Third, he deludes humanity, including believers, v9-12. His "coming", or better, his "presence", is similar to Christ's. He performs "miracles, signs and wonders", but they are "delusive marvels" and "evil". His focus is on those who are not confident in their salvation. At first reading, those who have "refused to love the truth and so be saved" may seem like godless pagans, but the description also covers apostate believers. When we fail to rest on gospel truth, our Lord leaves us with riddles, "a powerful delusion", a delusion which moves us to judgement day.

So there he is, Mr. Loss, ever active, ever deceitful. He will have his day, but at the moment he is running amuck. There is only one place of safety in the presence of the antichrist and that is at the foot of the cross.


1. Discuss the "rebellion" in the terms of "the abomination that causes desolation", cf. Mk.13:14.

2. Discuss the possibility that Mr. Loss is a heresy undermining our salvation.

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