The Study of Last Things

Bringing Truths from Different Books of the Bible into Focus, Perspective, and Understanding

"Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 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. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction,"
2 Thessalonians 2:1-3

Clearing Up Confusion about the Day of the LORD

The Day of the LORD and Believers in the Church Age

Will Church-Age Christians Be Forced to Endure the Tribulation?

Part 4: A Discussion of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17, The Thessalonian Christians and Clearing Up Their Confusion about the Day of the LORD

In 2 Thessalonians 2, Paul found it necessary to clear up some confusion that existed in the minds of the new converts in Thessalonica. First, the topic he wished to reference was “the coming (parousia) of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him” (2 Thess. 2:1). By his description, Paul obviously meant the Rapture, about which he had written in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, as opposed to the Retribution, which he had just finished discussing in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10. Second, Paul was obviously very concerned about the Thessalonians’ frame of mind. He described them as having been “quickly shaken” from their composure and “disturbed” (2 Thess. 2:2). This frame of mind can hardly have been beneficial to the Thessalonians, so Paul requested that they discontinue their needless alarm. Third, Paul identified the source of their lack of composure. Someone had misrepresented Paul’s position to the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 2:2). There may well have been more than one instance of misrepresentation, so he covered three possibilities: (a) A demonic spirit had spoken through some false teacher and had misrepresented Paul; (b) Someone had delivered an oral message to them, misrepresenting Paul. (c) Someone had forged a letter from Paul, misrepresenting his position. Fourth, Paul identified the untruth that had so upset the equilibrium of the Thessalonians: Someone was teaching them that the Day of the Lord had already come!

What was it in their experience that made the disinformation they had been hearing believable? Constable (2 Thessalonians, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (TBKC), NT volume) states it this way: “It must have seemed to some of them that the day of the Lord had already come. After all, the persecutions they were experiencing seemed to be what the prophets had predicted when they wrote about the great calamities coming on God’s people and the world in the day of the Lord.”

Now if Paul had taught the Thessalonians a Post-Tribulation Rapture, they would not have been troubled at all. They might have had a grim sense of joy, for they would know that Christ’s Second Coming was, at most, only seven years distant. I use the word “grim” because they would all know the horrors that they would have to pass through. Obviously, Paul had not taught them a Post-Tribulation Rapture. He had taught them a Pre-Tribulation Rapture, one which would precede the Great Tribulation, also known as “The Day of the Lord.” (1 Thess. 4:13-18, the Rapture, comes before 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, (See the two passages back-to-back as Paul wrote them.) The Day of the Lord, also known as the Tribulation.) Only a belief in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture could account for their having been shaken from their composure when someone told them they had already entered the Tribulation period. They were upset because they thought they had missed the Rapture and were already in the Tribulation period! That would be enough to cause any Christian to lose his composure!

Paul proceeded to tell the Thessalonians three things that needed to happen before the Day of the Lord (the Tribulation) began (2 Thess. 2:3). (Note that in 2 Thess. 2:3 he identified only two of the three events.) We will identify these three factors in the order that Paul presented them. But we must remember that he did not present them in the order that they would occur. First, Paul said that there would be an apostasy (2 Thess. 2:3). Second, someone identified as “the man of lawlessness” would need to be revealed (2 Thess. 2:3). Third, “the man of lawlessness” would not be revealed until the one who restrains him  “is taken out of the way.” (2 Thess. 2:6-8). Let us examine each of these factors one by one. I discuss these events in the order in which Paul discusses them, but I have numbered them in the chronological order in which they will actually occur. I do that because Paul himself dictated that order.

2. The Apostasy. What is meant by “the apostasy” (hē apostasia, 646) (2 Thess. 2:3)? The NASB footnote here reads “Or falling away from the faith.” Of course, the words “from the faith” do not appear in the Greek text. If the NASB footnote accurately reflects the meaning of Paul, this could refer to a significant and perceptible falling away of the global church from the faith prior to the Rapture, and thus prior to the Tribulation.  Elsewhere (1 Tim. 4:1-3), Paul certainly did speak about a falling away from the faith in later times:

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.

Notice that in 1 Tim. 4:1 Paul said that “some will fall way from the faith.” That of which Paul speaks in 2 Thess. 2:3 is, in my view, more universal in nature. After all, he calls it "the apostasy" (emphasis mine). And I suspect that the falling away is meant to apply more to humanity in general than it is merely to the Church. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, for example, Paul spoke about a generalized departure from good:

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.

What could precipitate that kind of societal departure from good to the embracing of evil? I believe it will be the removal of “he who now restrains” (2 Thess. 2:6-7). I take the restrainer as referring to the Holy Spirit’s influence through the Church. When the Holy Spirit in the Church is gone from the scene, there will be nothing left to brake global society’s rapid pursuit of evil. The brakes on the world's freight train of moral fiber will be removed, and the train will pick up speed rapidly heading downhill. The Apostle John saw a vicious world ruler who appeared to him as a beast (Rev. 13:1-10). With the Holy Spirit in the Church gone during the Tribulation period, Satan will empower this evil ruler, and he will take the world by storm. The whole world will worship Satan and worship his false messiah (Rev. 13:4, 8, 12, 15).

So I take the apostasy, the falling away, to mean a global descent into evil by society in general. In my view, this is the more likely meaning rather than limiting it to the apostasy of the "professing Church." This view fits in neatly with the removal of the restrainer spoken of in 2 Thessalonians 2:7. And of course, the unregenerate, institutional church, not having been raptured, will participate in the general apostasy after the Holy Spirit in the true Church will have been removed.

It should be noted that, as the text reads, the arrival of the apostasy and the revelation of “the man of lawlessness” are a matched pair. They go together. The apostasy will arrive first, and will precipitate the revelation of the man of lawlessness; yet the revealing of “the man of lawlessness” will yield greater apostasy and lawlessness.

When will this apostasy take place? We do not know precisely, of course. But it makes the most sense to believe that "the apostasy" will take place after the true Church has been removed. Nowhere in Scripture is it revealed that the Tribulation must begin the day after the Rapture. It seems logical to believe that there will be a period of transition as the world recovers from the stunning disappearance of Christians all over the world. With their absence, there will be no brake for the evil plans of the world's rulers and their citizens. The ensuing time of "the apostasy" will be the perfect time for the rise of the "Man of Lawlessness." He will step into a global power vacuum and captivate a world hungry for a leader who will guide the world into Utopia.

3. The Revealing of The Man of Lawlessness (2 Thess. 2:3, 6, 8).

Who is “the man of lawlessness” whom Paul says will be revealed? He is to be identified with the person known as “the Antichrist.” This term is used only once in Scripture in relation to a specific person (1 John 2:18), and it refers to the individual at the end of the age whom Satan will use to impersonate the true Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth during the Tribulation.

How will he be revealed, or unveiled? The term Paul used is the verb apokalupto (601), used 26 times in the NT. Paul used it three times in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 6, 8 to refer to the revealing or, literally, unveiling of the "man of lawlessness." Elsewhere Jesus used this verb to speak of His own unveiling at His Second Coming (Luke 17:30), and Peter seems to hint at the yet future unveiling of Christ in glory as demonstrated in His glory on the Mount of Transfiguration (1 Pet. 5:1). Paul used the related noun apokalupsis (602) to speak of the revelation or unveiling of Jesus at His Second Coming for Retribution (2 Thess. 1:7). Paul used the word epiphaneia (2015) "appearance" in reference to Jesus' future coming (parousia, 3952) (2 Thess. 2:8). Clearly, the unveiling of the "Man of Lawlessness", the pseudo Messiah, is Satan's malevolent attempt to duplicate the revealing, or unveiling of Jesus!

As revealed in Scripture, this man will be the consummate politician who will enjoy a meteoric rise to power in global politics. According to Daniel 9:26, he will have a connection with a revived Roman Empire. He will apparently succeed in solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, guaranteeing Israel peace and security in terms of a seven-year peace treaty (Dan. 9:27). To do that, he will have had to mollify the Arab bloc in some way. He will be hailed around the world as the messianic figure who can bring peace to the world, and will undoubtedly receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his accomplishment. That diplomatic success, I believe, will signal the unveiling of the “man of lawlessness” for those at that time who are following the Scriptures.

But that is not what Paul spoke of here. He rather picked out that climactic event when the Antichrist shows his true colors. According to 2 Thessalonians 2:4, this Man of Lawlessness will actually enter the Holy of Holies of a yet-to-be-rebuilt Jewish Temple. He will identify himself as God-come-in-the-Flesh, the ultimate Pseudo Messiah or Antichrist. That blasphemous, provactive, in-God-face gesture is what both Daniel and Jesus referred to as "The Abomination of Desolation" (Daniel 11:31; 12:11; Matthew 24:15; Mark 13:14). That signal event will mark the Revealing of the Man of Lawlessness.

4. The Arrival of the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord, in the context not only of the Thessalonian Epistles, but also in the great bulk of the Old Testament, is that time of great trouble inflicted upon those who dwell upon the earth. In non-technical terms, it refers to the whole of the seven-year time frame of Daniel's 70th Week, dominated by "the prince who is to come" (Dan. 9:26-27). In technical terms, however, "The Day of the Lord" as a time of great judgment will not arrive until the mid-point of the Tribulation, the time at which the "Man of Lawlessness" breaks his treaty with Israel and enters the Holy of Holies, proclaiming himself to be God.

As stated earlier, he will be identified by his apparent success in solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, he is a man who is
characterized by lawlessness (anomias). By that is meant that his whole existence is directed at defying God and His authority and laws (see Dan. 7:25; Rev.13:5-6). He will break the seven-year peace treaty he engineered with Israel in the middle of the term (Dan. 9:27). Thus it is no surprise that Paul also characterizes him as “the son of destruction” (2 Thess. 2:3), meaning that he is irreversibly doomed to eternal destruction in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone (Rev. 19:20). Let us itemize what Paul says about this future, Satan-empowered ruler who will gain control of the entire world in the Tribulation period. Paul's description of what this man does is also a description of what happens during the Tribulation period as it relates to the most significant man during that time.

(1)    He is “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thess. 2:3) who is bent on opposing everything that God stands for. There will be no law of God or law of man that will deter him from his diabolical plan of gaining global control of every person (Rev. 13:16-18), even exercising tracking and veto power over their financial transactions. He is also called “that lawless one” (2 Thess. 2:8).

(2)    He is called “the son of destruction”, meaning that he is doomed to spend eternity in the lake of fire and brimstone (2 Thess. 2:3; Rev. 19:20; 20:10).

(3)    He will make himself out to be God-come-in-the-flesh (2 Thess. 2:4). So he will set aside every religion, false or true. He will exalt himself above Buddha, above the gods of Hinduism, above Mohammed and Allah, above the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, above Jesus Christ.

(4)    He will actually enter the Holy of Holies of the rebuilt Jewish temple in Jerusalem. He will seat Himself there and claim to be God, accepting and demanding worship (2 Thess. 2:4; Dan. 9:27; Rev. 13:4, 8, 12, 15). His entrance into the Jewish temple will mark that which Jesus characterized as “the abomination of desolation” (Matt. 24:15; cf. Dan. 9:27).

(5)    The lawless one’s coming will be energized and authorized by Satan himself (2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 13:1-2, 4).

(6)    Because he is empowered by Satan, the lawless one will be able to perform miracles, signs and false wonders – (lit., wonders – of a lie!) (2 Thess. 2:9; cf. Rev. 13:3, 13-15).

(7)    His regime will be characterized by “all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10). Because people in the Tribulation will not love the truth, God will give them a huge personified lie, the Antichrist himself, in whom they will believe!

“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” (2 Thess. 2:11-12).

(8)    When the Lord Jesus returns (Retribution, not Rapture), He will slay the “lawless one” with the breath of His mouth, and bring him to an end “by the appearance of His coming” (parousia) (2 Thess. 2:8; cf. Rev. 19:20).

(9)    A thousand years after the “Lawless One” and his right-hand man, “The False Prophet” have been consigned to the Lake of Fire and Brimstone, Satan, who energized both, will also be cast forever into that same fiery lake (Rev. 20:10). The Antichrist and his lieutenant will still be burning there, and they will be joined by Satan himself. That will be a particularly joyless reunion, to be sure.

We close this particular section by reminding the reader that the apostasy and the Lawless One are a matched pair. They go together. The apostasy facilitates the acceptance of the Lawless One, and the arrival of the Lawless One facilitates even greater apostasy.

1. The Removal of the One Restraining (2 Thess. 2:6-7).
Who or what is “that which restrains” (2 Thess. 2:6, author’s translation) and “he who now restrains” (2 Thess. 2:7)? (The article appears in the neuter case in 2 Thess. 2:6 and in the masculine case in 2 Thess. 2:7.) There is something or someone who presently, in Paul’s day was restraining the appearance of “The Man of Lawlessness,” even though the “mystery of lawlessness" was already at work. Paul had already told the Thessalonians about the evil world ruler who was to come (2 Thess. 2:5). Furthermore, he had already told these new Christians what was restraining his appearance, for he wrote, “And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed” (2 Thess. 2:6). The Thessalonians knew, but most Christians today have no clue what Paul is talking about. What did Paul mean when he stated that “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work? Thomas Constable in his commentary on this passage (The Bible Knowledge CommentaryTBKC, NT vol.) states the following:

A mystery in the New Testament is a new truth previously unknown before its revelation in the present dispensation. In this case the mystery is the revelation of a future climax of lawlessness in the world. Then and now a movement against divine law directed by Satan was and is operative. But it is being restrained somewhat, and this restraining will continue until the time appointed for revealing the man of sin and the climax of lawlessness.

So who or what is the restrainer? Some say it was the Roman Empire. But the Roman Empire long ago disappeared, and yet the “Man of Lawlessness” has not been revealed. Another suggestion is Satan, but why would he restrain sin? Others suggest that the restrainer is human government. But human governments will not disappear to permit the Antichrist to rule. He will embody the ultimate in (merely) human government. He will achieve a one-world government, exactly what today’s elite rulers across the globe hope and plot to achieve. Furthermore, as Constable states, not all human governments restrain sin. In fact, many encourage it!

The best understanding is that “he who now restrains” refers to the Holy Spirit abiding in the Church. Reference to the Holy Spirit would explain the use of the neuter case article in 2 Thess. 2:6 and to masculine case article in 2 Thess. 2:7. Spirit (Pneuma) is neuter in gender, and we find that sometimes neuter gender articles are used and sometimes masculine gender words are used in relation to the Holy Spirit. But who else but God Himself can restrain evil in the world?

When the Holy Spirit, indwelling the Church, is removed from earth, who will be left to restrain evil upon this world. Christians around the world work to limit evil in their own families, in their own towns and villages, in their own regional and national governments. When all true Christians are gone, removed from the earth in the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:13-17), who will be left on earth to discern truth from error? Who will be left to restrain the evil descent of all humanity from worshipping the False Messiah? The answer is, “No one!”

So the Restrainer is best seen as the Holy Spirit in the Church. Until the Church is removed from the scene, the False Messiah cannot be revealed. When the Church is removed (the Rapture), the Apostasy will begin. At or about the same time, the False Messiah, the Lawless One, will be revealed. The apostasy will facilitate belief in the Antichrist, and the Antichrist will promote the Apostasy.

Comfort for the Thessalonians (2 Thess. 2:13-15). In the closing paragraphs of Paul's clearing up of the confusion of the Thessalonians, who believed they were already in the Day of the Lord, Paul offers them comfort. Here is what he writes to them:

But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.

Paul seeks to comfort these worried Thessalonians by assuring them that from the very beginning, God had chosen them for salvation through the Holy Spirit. In the context, this salvation means not only eschatological salvation, but salvation from the wrath of God during the Day of the Lord, also known as the Tribulation. Paul closes by exhorting them to hold to what he personally had taught them, rather than being swayed by false teaching from another source.

Concluding Prayer (2 Thess. 2:16-17). Paul concludes this section of his letter with a prayer:

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.

Even though they are presently enduring persecution and affliction (2 Thessalonians 1:4), he requests that both Jesus the Messiah and God the Father comfort and strengthen their hearts to be able to persist in serving both by what they do and what they say. Part of the comfort that they can enjoy is that, "No, they have not missed the Rapture." "No, they are not presently in the Day of the Lord." They are enduring hard times, but their eschatology can remain fixed in the foundation of "Rapture before Wrath."

Will Church-Age Christians be forced to endure the Tribulation? The answer is a resounding "NO!" The Tribulation is a manifestation of the wrath of God, from which Church-Age believers are specifically exempted (1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9). As Jesus Himself phrased the issue in words addressed to the Philadelphian church (Rev. 3:10), but words whose language indicates they apply to the Church-at-large:

10‘Because you have kept the word of My perseverance, I also will keep you from the hour of testing, that hour which is about to come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.

We conclude then, that the Thessalonians were confused about the Day of the Lord because they were enduring so much persecution they thought they already in it. They were shaken from their composure because they knew Paul had taught them the Rapture would precede the Tribulation. Based upon their circumstances, they were afraid either that they had missed the Rapture, or more likely that somehow Paul was mistaken in his teaching and that the Rapture would happen during or after the Tribulation.

To clear up their confusion, Paul said it was impossible that they were already in the Day of the Lord, the time of Tribulation. The Day of the Lord could not come until the Apostasy came. And when the Apostasy had come, the "Man of Lawlessness" would be revealed. But neither of those could happen until the Holy Spirit in the Church, He who restrains was removed. That is a reference to the Rapture. Here is the sequence Paul taught:

(1) The Rapture. (The removal of the One restraining.) God will withdraw His Spirit from the earth as indwelling the Church. Once the Spirit, as indwelling the Church, is absent from the earth, a chain reaction will be ignited.

(2) The Apostasy. Absent the conserving influence of the Church, the world will descend into an abyss of immorality and wickedness that will be anti-God, anti-Christ, and anti-good. This will take place during the first half of Daniel's 70th week (Dan. 9:27). This Apostasy will set the stage for the unveiling of the "Man of Lawlessness" at the mid-point of the seven-year treaty.

(3) The Revealing of the Lawless One. The Antichrist will step into a global power vacuum and offer a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The seven-year peace treaty between Israel and the Arabs will identify this sinister figure to those who have become believers during this time. But his actual unveiling, or revelation, will take place when, in hideous blasphemy, he identifies himself as the Messiah, God-come-in-the-Flesh, in the Jewish temple (2 Thess. 2:4). This is called "The Abomination of Desolation."

(4) The Arrival of the Day of the Lord. Just when man thinks he has ushered in the era of supreme peace and utopia, sudden destruction will arrive. The events of the Tribulation as outlined in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, 9-12 and Revelation 6-18 will unfold with breath-taking rapidity.

(5) The Second Coming of Christ in Retribution. Jesus will return in power and great glory. He will destroy the Antichrist by His verbal command (2 Thess. 2:8), casting him and his false prophet alive into the lake of fire and sulfur (Rev. 19:20).

The Revelation of Jesus Christ for Vindication and Retribution

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(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB.)

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Originally published October 30, 2011

Updated November 16, 2018