Read 2 Thessalonians 2 with your family
2 Thessalonians 2 is a famously difficult chapter to interpret. Futurists interpret this passage as a prophecy that will be fulfilled in our future. It is about what will happen right before Jesus returns for the resurrection and last judgment. On the other hand, Preterists (meaning “past”) interpret this passage as a prophecy that has already been fulfilled. It is not about the coming of Jesus to raise the dead; instead, it is about the judgment of Jerusalem and the temple, which occurred in AD 70.
Faithful Christians continue to debate how the details of this chapter should be interpreted. This need not discourage us. Though certain aspects of the passage may be unclear to us, they were certainly clear for Paul and his original readers. This is a reminder that the Bible was not written directly to us – that is, we aren’t the original recipients. Nevertheless, the Bible is written for us – for our salvation and sanctification. So, there is still much that we can learn.
Since we don’t have space to discuss every detail of this chapter, let us focus on a few of the things that are clearly taught.
The Temptation of Lawlessness
In the “man of lawlessness,” we see the recurring temptation to set oneself up as God. He sits in the place of God, even declaring himself to be God. This is what the serpent promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden: you will be like God. Pagan emperors are prime examples of how man tries to exalt himself above God. In the days of the early church, Roman emperors proclaimed themselves to be gods or descendants of the gods.
In our modern context, we may not exalt any individual person as a god, but we are still drawn to the promise of human power. Our modern gods are celebrities, or “the party,” or even “the people.” We may believe that if only our political party comes to power, then all things will be made well. Or, we may be tempted to reject God’s Word because it is unpopular with the majority.
But we do not only try to be gods in society and politics. We also encounter this same temptation at the individual level. Maybe you’re not trying to be king of the world, but perhaps you are trying to be king of your own life. You are willing to believe in Jesus so long as he doesn’t interfere with your plans or your own personal beliefs and preferences. We still want to be in control over our own lives. We are willing to accept Jesus as savior, but not as our King.
Jesus shows us a different way. Jesus shows us that true kingliness means becoming a servant to others. He teaches that if we try to hold onto our lives – if we try to grasp onto wealth, or good looks, or worldly prestige – then we will lose it. But if we die to our old selves, if we surrender our lives to him and seek his kingdom, then we will find true life in him (Matt. 16:25).
Discuss: What are some of the ways that we try to exalt ourselves above God, either in society or in our individual lives? Is there something in your life that you won’t let go of – that you are trying to control – instead of trusting God?
The Danger of Self-Deception
As we read elsewhere in the Bible, Satan may persecute and even kill God’s people, but he cannot ultimately deceive them into following him (Rev. 13:7-8). In other words, those who trust in the power and wonders of the “man of lawlessness” (whoever he is) are not believers, but “those who are perishing” (v.10).
Let us take a closer look at what Paul says about those who are perishing. Why are they deceived? Paul tells us in verse 10. They are deceived “because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” When people reject God’s salvation and follow idols, it is not an honest mistake. Instead, sinners reject God because they refuse to love God’s truth. They are deceived because they have already decided that they don’t want God.
In Romans 1, Paul says that God’s invisible attributes are displayed in creation, so that men are without excuse. But, in our sin, we suppress this knowledge of God. Because of that, says Paul, “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (Rom. 1:24). God’s judgment against sinners is to give them up to their sinful desires.
Paul makes a similar point here in 2 Thessalonians 2. Verse 11 says, “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false.” God is not deceiving innocent victims. Remember, Paul is speaking of those who reject the Good News – those who refused to love the truth and so be saved. Because they have already deceived themselves, God gives them up to be deceived by lawlessness.
Discuss: What are some ways that we deceive ourselves about sin? about ourselves? about God?
Called through the Gospel
If it is true that we have all been deceived by our own sinful hearts, then how can anyone be saved? The good news is that God intervenes to save us from our own sin and self-deception. Paul writes, “…we ought to always give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth” (v.13). Here, Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they are not among those who are perishing. Instead, they are loved by the Lord and chosen by God.
But they are not the only ones who will be saved. Paul calls them the “firstfruits” of salvation. In agriculture, firstfruits are the very first crops to be harvested. But after the firstfruits, the rest of the harvest is still to come. So, the Thessalonians, along with other first-century believers, are the first of many generations of peoples who will be saved, who will believe in the truth of God.
For us, then, salvation is available just as it was for the Thessalonians. “To this he called you through our gospel,” writes Paul, “so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.14). How does God bring salvation? How does he save people from their sin and self-deception? How does he break through hard hearts? By calling people through the Gospel of Jesus.
Paul calls this “our gospel.” Of course, he doesn’t mean that the Gospel belongs to him or that he invented it. He means that he is the one who preached it to the Thessalonians. He was the instrument that God used. In this life, we cannot see who is ultimately saved and who isn’t. God has not given us knowledge into other peoples’ hearts. Instead, Jesus calls us to follow him in proclaiming the Gospel to all people. Since that is the case, let us strive to share the Good News with everyone that God has placed in our lives.