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The Man of Lawlessness -- Paul's Reminder in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Sadly, many people want to be deceived by God's enemies.

Bible Study Ideas and Commentary for 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12

In scolding his readers for falling for an obviously fake letter that Jesus had already returned, Paul focuses on the "sign" of the man of lawlessness, an enemy of Christ who will deceive many at the Second Coming. Christians have lost a lot of sleep attempting to identify/predict this person, but all we need to know is that Jesus will defeat him.

The Lord Jesus will destroy him with the breath of his mouth and will bring him to nothing at the appearance of his coming. (2:8)

Getting Started: Things to Think About

This week's passage is based on actual "fake news". Some people though Paul said that Jesus had already come back ("I heard it from a friend who"), but Paul hadn't said that.

We've done "fake news" recently, so I wanted to try something different. Here are three variations on the theme: predictions that turned out to be wrong, "facts" we were taught that weren't, and beliefs we have that we don't know where they came from. Maybe one of these will be a fun opening topic for you.

Failed Predictions (aka "Bad Takes")

If there's anything the internet really loves to do, it's to remind everyone of something they said a long time ago that turned out to be wrong. (Where sports talk personalities and weathermen fit into this, I don't know.)

Google "failed predictions" and you'll get a lot of lists. Many of them recycle the same entries, and here are some of the favorites:

  • "There's no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home" - Ken Olson, 1977

  • "Television won't last because people will get tired of staring at a plywood box every night" - Darryl Zanuck, 1946 (technically right?)

  • "Flight by machines heavier than air is impractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible" - Simon Newcomb, 1902

  • "I am apt to believe that [the Second Day of July] will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival” - John Adams, 1776

  • People in industrialized countries will only need to pop into the office for brief “three-hour shifts or a fifteen-hour work week” by the year 2030 - John Keynes, 1930

  • “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.” - Steve Ballmer, 2007

  • "Stocks are now in the midst of a one-time-only rise to much higher ground–to the neighborhood of 36,000 on the Dow Jones.” - James Glassman, 1999

  • “There is no danger that Titanic will sink. The boat is unsinkable" - Philip Franklin

Here's a bonus: this one's bizarre -- in 1998, a Russian named Igor Panarin predicted that the US would collapse into civil war in 2010 and be redistributed according to this following map. ("Man in the High Castle" vibes.) I have no idea how he came up with this.

Facts That Aren't Facts

If predictions aren't your thing, perhaps you might like to start your discussion by listing some "facts" that turn out not to be true. I was taught to the contrary for each of these:

  • Nero wasn't fiddling while Rome burned. One, the fiddle didn't exist, and two, Nero wasn't in Rome when it happened.

  • "Nina" and "Pinta" weren't the names of Columbus's ships. "Nina" was actually the "Santa Clara" and we don't know about the "Pinta".

  • An apple never fell on Isaac Newton's head. At least, he never mentioned it.

  • Witches weren't burned at the stake in Salem. They were hanged.

  • There's no evidence that Ben Franklin performed the kite/lightning experiment, and the existence of electricity was known for a long time prior.

  • Marie Antionette didn't say "let them eat cake".

  • Van Gogh didn't cut off his ear, just the bottom of it.

The Mandela Effect

A variation of this topic is The Mandela Effect -- people believing that something happened that never happened:

  • There is no painting of Henry VIII eating a turkey leg.

  • The line is not "Mirror, mirror, on the wall."

  • The line is not "Luke, I am your father."

  • It's not spelled Oscar Meyer.

  • Sinbad did not star in "Shazaam" in the 1990s.

  • There was never a peanut butter named Jiffy.

  • It was never spelled Looney Toons.

  • It's not spelled Febreeze.

  • It's always been spelled Froot Loops.

  • The Monopoly Man has never had a monocle.

  • There has never been a "Z" after Cheez-It.

  • Chartreuse is a shade of green.

  • C3PO isn't all gold.

  • Ricky Never said "Lucy, you have some 'splaining to do!"

  • His name isn't "Smokey the Bear".

The fun way to go with this is to ask for personal examples. What predictions have you made that were completely wrong? What beliefs have you held that turned out to be false?


This Week's Big Idea: False Predictions of the Apocalypse

[It was either this or "the man of lawlessness" (don't worry - I'll talk about him later).]

I briefly touched on this idea when we covered James' warnings of the subject:

But there are so many predictions to consider. Our friends at Wikipedia compiled a list of some 200 predictions of the end of the world. Some I knew about, many I didn't. Here's an overview of the some of the predictions of the apocalypse.

  • Pope Innocent III (of Crusades infamy) said that the apocalypse would happen 666 years after the rise of Islam in 618 (or 1284).

  • Who knew that Christopher Columbus wrote a Book of Prophecies? In that, he predicted the end of the world in 1656. He later revised it to 1658, or 7000 years after its creation in 5343 BC. (That math doesn't work for me.)

  • Martin Luther jumped in with a prediction of the apocalypse no later than 1600.

  • Cotton Mather (a Boston Puritan) predicted the end of the world in 1697, then revised it to 1716, then finally to 1736. Moral of the story? Don't predict the end of the world to happen in your lifetime.

Now let's move to some more famous predictions.

  • William Miller, whose followers became the Seventh Day Adventists, predicted an apocalypse date of March 21, 1844, then revised it to October 22, 1844. This became known as "The Great Disappointment", and his followers later retconned it to mean that Christ had begun his atoning work in heaven on that day.

  • Charles Taze Russell, whose followers would become the Jehovah's Witnesses, said that the Last Battle would take place in October 1914. It was later revised to 1941. And then to 1975.

  • Jim Jones (!) predicted a nuclear holocaust in 1967. Charles Manson (!!) predicted one in 1969. David Berg (!) said 1974 with Comet Kohoutek and then revised it to 1993.

  • Chuck Smith (Calvary Chapel) said 1981. Pat Robertson (700 Club) said 1982. He later revised that to 2007. Hal Lindsay said 1988 (40 years after the founding of Israel). Jerry Falwell (and Tim LaHaye!) said 2000.

  • Just because I find this interesting, Jonathan Edwards of Puritan fame also said the apocalypse would happen in 2000.

  • Marshall Applewhite (Heaven's Gate) "claimed that a spacecraft was trailing the Comet Hale-Bopp and argued that suicide was the only way to evacuate this Earth so that the cult members' souls could board the supposed craft and be taken to another level of existence above human. Applewhite and 38 of his followers committed mass suicide.

Do you recognize these books by Edgar Whisenant, Lester Sumrall, or Ed Dobson? If you want people to buy your book predict the end of the world.

How about the Blood Moon prophecy that John Hagee "borrowed" from Mark Blitz?

Harold Camping had predicted that the world would end in 1994 and then 1995, then he changed it to May 21, 2011, and finally to October 21, 2011. He even bought billboards.

And then some really fun ones:

  • Rasputin predicted that Jesus would return in 2013

  • Nostradamus said 1999

Er, well, this is what Nostradamus might have said. How do you interpret these lines?

The year one thousand nine ninety-nine seven month From the sky shall come a great King of terror, [Shall be] revived the great King of Angoulmois. Before and after, Mars [shall] reign as chance will have it. (Century X, No. 72)


When you get to the appropriate part of this week's lesson, you might ask this question:

  • Why are people so interested in doomsday prophecies?

  • When people get such a prophecy wrong, why do others keep listening to them?

And then most importantly:

  • Why are we supposed to NOT get involved in doomsday predictions?

If any discussion comes out of this topic, I really hope you direct it here: Jesus was very clear that we will not know when He is going to return. People who try to predict it are deliberately countering Jesus' direct statement.

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, are you restoring the kingdom to Israel at this time?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1)

Or consider what Jesus said in Matthew 24:

36 “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows—neither the angels of heaven nor the Son—except the Father alone."

(More on this chapter in a little bit.)

As we've said multiple times in Thessalonians, we're not supposed to put any energy into predicting the future. We are to put our energy into being Christ's witnesses. That's not as much "fun" as predicting the end of the world. It's hard work. And that's the point.


Where We Are in 2 Thessalonians

Let's take a look at the outline of the letter:

  1. Continued encouragement in persecution (chapter 1)

  2. Trust God's judgment (1:3-10)

  3. Pray for God's help (1:11-12)

  4. Clarification about the Day of the Lord (chapter 2)

  5. Events that happen before (2:1-12)

  6. Stay focused on the main things (2:13-17)

  7. Exhortation to the Lazy (chapter 3)

Paul is talking about the second of the three purposes of this letter: misunderstandings about the Day of the Lord. And the situation is quite simple: somebody wrote a letter (signed "Paul") saying that Jesus had already come back and they missed it.

As we said last week, they didn't have the tools that we have to detect "fake news". The church members were understandably distraught! But Paul tells them that they should have known better. They should have been able to see through the fake letter. In this week's lesson, we cover Paul's scolding -- describing the things that the people had already been told and should have remembered.

I rarely like Lifeway's outline titles. I use them to keep us on the same page, but I rarely find them helpful. This week's is particularly unhelpful. The way I create an outline is to outline the passage. A simple outline of this week's passage makes things pretty easy:

  1. Verses 1-5: You should have remembered that Jesus comes back after the man of lawlessness is revealed.

  2. Verses 6-8: Jesus will destroy this man of lawlessness.

  3. Verses 9-12: But many foolish people will follow the man of lawlessness.

Create your discussion outline based on the passage.


Part 1: Remembering (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5)

Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him: We ask you, brothers and sisters, 2 not to be easily upset or troubled, either by a prophecy or by a message or by a letter supposedly from us, alleging that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he sits in God’s temple, proclaiming that he himself is God. 5 Don’t you remember that when I was still with you I used to tell you about this?

This should make you think of something we read just a few weeks ago:

1 About the times and the seasons: Brothers and sisters, you do not need anything to be written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. (1 Thess 5)

So, this topic was on their mind. Paul talked about it with them when he was in Thessalonica, and they asked him questions about it via courier. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul reminded them that all Christians would be gathered together (even the dead would rise) to be with Jesus when He returns. Paul used that truth to encourage them. So, you can imagine how discouraged they would be to hear that they missed it.

But they hadn't.

Paul's quick response is "You should have remembered that big things happen when Jesus returns. Did you notice any of those events? No? Then why did you listen to those false messengers/prophets?"

To me, the best passage to read side-by-side with this one is Matthew 24, where Jesus talks about this exact subject. I'll give you more about Matthew 24 below, but for our purposes right now, know that Jesus used the word "deceive" a lot there. "Deception" is something we should associate with the Day of the Lord --

  • being deceived by false signs of the Day of the Lord.

  • being deceived by false signs performed by the Man of Lawlessness.

Paul and Jesus give us two protections from deception here:

  1. Anyone who claims they can predict when Jesus will return is lying. The "signs" before the end cannot be used in that way. (They are either deceiving you or deceiving themselves.) That was my main point with the "False Predictions of the Apocalypse" section above.

  2. Anyone who claims the Jesus has already returned is lying. There will be no mistaking the signs of Jesus' return. In other words, we don't know when that day will happen, but we will know it when it happens.

But that leaves a big window for deception "in between". Both Jesus and Paul warn us about this. The man of lawlessness (let's call him the capital-A Antichrist) will be able to perform mighty signs and miracles, and many people will be deceived into thinking that he is the Second Coming of Christ. We will talk about this more in verses 9-11.

I recommend waiting to talk in depth about the man of lawlessness until the end of the lesson. Paul is going to say some more things about him in verses 9-11 that will help paint a clearer picture. But for our part here, we just need to note why Paul is saying this about the man of lawlessness. It's simple: "Have you seen anyone matching the description of the man of lawlessness? No? Then why are you worried that Jesus has come back?"

Verse 5 is tremendous: "Don't you remember?"

How many times have you said that you one of your children? Or employees? Or students? Or even better, how many times has someone said that to you?!

I have many emotional scars from conversations that began with "We talked about this". And usually the second line is "I don't remember talking about this".

Anyway, Paul had talked about this at length with the church members. They should have remembered all of this. If they had, they could have saved themselves a lot of heartache. Has that ever happened to you? (O to have a good memory.)


Aside: Matthew 24 and Jesus' Message about the Day of the Lord

Matthew 24 is such a helpful resource here. We studied it a few years ago.

There is controversy here because people disagree on what Jesus meant.

Here are a few verses from that chapter:

  • 3 While he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples approached him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what is the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

  • 4 Jesus replied to them, “Watch out that no one deceives you. 5 For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many."

  • 14 "This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."

  • 23 “If anyone tells you then, ‘See, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Over here!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 25 Take note: I have told you in advance. 26 So if they tell you, ‘See, he’s in the wilderness!’ don’t go out; or, ‘See, he’s in the storerooms!’ do not believe it. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man."

  • 36 “Now concerning that day and hour no one knows—neither the angels of heaven nor the Son—except the Father alone."

  • 44 "This is why you are also to be ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect."

Here's my Matt-digest version:

There will be no mistaking when Jesus returns. But there will be a lot of mistaking the signs that precede Jesus' return.

A difference between Matthew 24 and 2 Thessalonians 2: Jesus focuses on the deceptive signs they will face before the end, and Paul focuses on one sign (who will deceive) that they won't miss. Why? Because Jesus' audience wants to know exactly when Jesus will return (which they can't know), and Paul's audience is worried that Jesus has already returned (which they should have known better).

Here's my outline of Matthew 24:

24:4-14 Signs before the end

  • Birth pains: wars, famines, earthquakes

  • Persecution and apostasy

  • False prophets

  • Increase of wickedness

  • Worldwide spread of the gospel

24:15-28 Prime example of a deceptive sign: the fall of Jerusalem

  • The greatest distress of history

  • Jews will expect Messiah’s return

  • Many false prophets will deceive

  • BUT no one will mistake Christ’s return

  • (Vv. 22-28 apply both to this example and the entire age)

24:29-31 Signs of the end (as a parenthetical aside)

  • Cosmic upheaval

  • Jesus riding through the clouds

  • Angels gathering the elect

24:32-44 Lessons to be learned

  • When “these things” (vv. 4-28) happen, the time is near

  • “These things” will all happen in that generation

  • Comparison: the day of Noah; they knew yet they didn’t know

  • Therefore, we must always be ready for the end.

Don't These Signs Help Us Predict the Second Coming?

When people study Matthew 24 next to 2 Thessalonians 2, there is often a confusion: "We're not supposed to know when Jesus is coming back, but isn't the appearance of the man of lawlessness a sure sign that Jesus is about to come back?" There is a reverse of this: "If Jesus doesn't come back until after the man of lawlessness, doesn't that mean that Jesus can't come back "at any moment"?"

I've certainly wondered about both things. Here's how I reconcile it all:

Christians are to be aware of the signs of the times. Consider Matthew 24:33

33 In the same way, when you see all these things, recognize that he is near—at the door.

We are to pay attention to what's happening around us. Those events point to a more-and-more eminent return of Christ. But Christians are not to read more into those signs than is there. That's what Jesus says in the very next verse, 24:34:

34 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things take place.

This is where the confusion lies. I believe that "these things" refers to the signs Jesus talked about in Matthew 24. By the time the first apostles die, all of the "signs" will have taken place. The biggest sign is the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple (which happens in 70 AD). Since then, we have been living in "the end times".

But remember that Paul is writing this letter smack dab in the middle of that generation before the fall of Jerusalem. They're still watching for these signs!

"Okay, but that doesn't help us understand what this man of lawlessness has to do with everything. Doesn't he have to come before Jesus?"

Yes, but that's not as restrictive as you think.

First, let's look at how Paul describes the man of lawlessness in verse 4: a man who opposes God and proclaims himself to be God. Haven't there been men in every generation who have done that?

Indeed there have, and that's important. Satan doesn't know when Jesus will return; he's just constantly pushing against God's restraints (that Paul will talk about). This means that Satan always has a "prospective man of lawlessness" someone on the earth at all times. There are probably "men of lawlessness" on the earth right now that Satan could pick from the moment his restraints are loosened.

Second, let's discuss the timeline. How long will the man of lawlessness deceive the nations before Jesus destroys him? We don't know. So the appearing of the man of lawlessness doesn't help us predict the return of Christ at all.

Some people say "No, this means that Christ will return really, really soon, and that's a predictor." Does it? What does "really, really" mean? How do we know that this antichrist won't be granted supernaturally long life? Or that Christ will return to defeat him the same day he appears? Will the Antichrist need years to deceive the world, or days?

And in any event, isn't the point of Matthew 24/25 and 1 Thessalonians 4/5 that we're supposed to live every day as if Christ is returning that night? This sort of bickering is pointless and counterproductive. We don't know how the man of lawlessness fits into the Second Coming because it hasn't happened yet. But when it happens, we will know.


Part 2: Timing (2 Thessalonians 2:6-8)

6 And you know what currently restrains him, so that he will be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but the one now restraining will do so until he is out of the way, 8 and then the lawless one will be revealed. The Lord Jesus will destroy him with the breath of his mouth and will bring him to nothing at the appearance of his coming.

Let me build on my aside: Satan has power that God allows him to have. Satan plays a role on earth that God allows him to play. This role includes tempting, deceiving, and ruining. He's been practicing this since Adam and Eve, and he's very good at it. Well, Satan's "role" in Christ's Return is to provide an opponent to Christ, a "man of lawlessness" (whom we usually name "the Anti-Christ"). But because Satan doesn't know when Jesus is returning, he has a "candidate" man of lawlessness on the earth at all times (read verse 4 again -- you can think of a lot of people who have fit that description throughout history, right?).

But God doesn't allow Satan to "empower" a currently existing man of lawlessness; God has a restraint on Satan. Apparently, Paul explained this restraint to the people, and he expects them to remember. I had always assumed that an angel served this role, but the first pronoun Paul uses is neuter ("what") which leads many scholars to believe that the Holy Spirit restrains Satan. ("Spirit" is a neuter noun.) (Incidentally, there was an Amazon show called Good Omens that took an extremely sacrilegious slant on this exact scenario.)

Can you imagine someone with the power of Satan prowling about the earth? I really can't. Things are bad enough as it is. So it's a great mercy that God restrains the power of this man of lawlessness. But at some point, God will remove that restraint. And the man of lawlessness will emerge from the "human sea of lawlessness" to oppose God and deceive the nations.

[Aside: I thoroughly oppose the insinuation in your leader guide that "the church" somehow is what holds back this lawlessness. One, that doesn't match the grammar. And two, that doesn't match theology. The extent of our "power" over Satan is to resist him. God is the One with the power over the "powers and authorities".]

[You might remember the Peretti books. Those books contributed to this misunderstanding. Let me say that the point of the books -- that spiritual warfare is real and that Christians need to pray -- is great. But the dramatic interpretation was problematic. In those book, angels have physical sword fights with demons, but if the Christians aren't praying, they can't win the fight. In other words, the church has a direct impact on God's ability to defeat Satan. Um, no. Satan and Satan's demons only have the power that God has allowed. That power is considerable, especially when directed at us foolish and easily-deceived mortals. hat's why Paul takes "The Armor of God" so seriously; that armor is a tool God gives Christians to have the daily victory over sin and Satan.]

But make sure to emphasize the real reason Paul mentions the man of lawnessness in the first place: Jesus will destroy him. There's nothing to fear. Jesus will bring him to nothing. This man is destined for destruction. That's the main point.

Do catch the "mystery of lawlessness" comment. "Mystery" means "something hidden that has been revealed". But lawlessness -- rejecting God's law -- has existed since Adam and Eve. It's not a mystery. So, what is being revealed? Well, it seems to be the power that will be given the man of lawlessness when God removes Satan's restraint. Lawlessness exists now, and people are drawn to it -- that's what "is already at work" -- but on this day it will be given a power that is currently unfathomable. (But, we must not fear that power. Jesus is greater.)

Discussion question: the world seems to be getting more and more "lawless". (What is this sex-change craze except a declaration that God has no say over someone?) Does any of this increasing lawlessness frighten you? What concerns you in particular?


Part 3: Deceiving (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)

9 The coming of the lawless one is based on Satan’s working, with every kind of miracle, both signs and wonders serving the lie, 10 and with every wicked deception among those who are perishing. They perish because they did not accept the love of the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a strong delusion so that they will believe the lie, 12 so that all will be condemned—those who did not believe the truth but delighted in unrighteousness.

I've introduced this already. What separates the final Antichrist from every previous potential antichrist is that Satan is not restrained from empowering him. Satan's power on earth is real. Jesus called him "the ruler of this world" (John 12:31), and Paul called him "the god of this world" (2 Cor 4:4). That power is entirely controlled by God (see Job 1), but when the Day of the Lord approaches, God will allow some of the restraints to be removed.

So, when Paul says that this man of lawlessness will be able to perform every kind of miracle, I think he's serious.

Remember when Moses performed God's wonders in Egypt and the magicians were able to replicate-ish those miracles? Now imagine the power of Satan behind those magicians. Those miracles are going to fool a lot of people. Think about it this way: what miraculous sign would get your attention? Healing the sick? Giving sight to the blind? Raising the dead? Satan can enable the man of lawlessness to do all of that and more. That makes him extremely dangerous, don't you think?

Sadly, the people who fall for Satan's deception about the man of lawlessness will perish with him. Consider, for example, the Branch Davidians. They believed that David Koresh (real name Vernon Wayne Howell) was the Messiah, and they died badly. And Koresh wasn't even the fully-empowered Antichrist! The Antichrist will fool many people into believing that he is the Second Coming of Christ

How would you be able to tell the difference (if the Antichrist appeared tomorrow)? Well, the signs and wonders that Jesus and His apostles performed drew people to God. The signs and wonders of the antichrist will draw people to him.

Stay connected to God in Word and Spirit (Bible study and prayer), and we won't be deceived. In fact, I take Matthew 24:24 (which I cited above) to mean that Christians cannot be deceived into believing the Antichrist is Christ. But I don't want to take any chances! I want to stay very closely connected to the truth so that I will not be deceived, or worse, allow others to be deceived.

Here is the depressing conclusion to Paul's words about the man of lawlessness -- he will deceive many people. Why, because many people want to be deceived. People will grasp at anything if it will allow them to reject the God of the Bible, no matter how questionable the "science" behind it might be.

Eventually, God will hand them over to their preferred delusion. That's nothing new. Paul says that God has dealt with every generation in this way:

20 For his invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made. As a result, people are without excuse. 21 For though they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became worthless, and their senseless hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. 24 Therefore God delivered them over in the desires of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen. 26 For this reason God delivered them over to disgraceful passions.

The Bible Project video tapped into this idea: non-Christians want a life without God, and so God lets them live their life their way (with all of the consequences that come with it). What they really think they want is a world without God. God will give them a taste of this by removing Satan's restraints in this end-of-the-world scenario involving the man of lawlessness. But even that will be a mercy because people will still have the chance to realize their foolishness and return to God. (In hell, there will be no such chance.) But they won't return to God; they will believe the lie.

Be careful what you wish for.

But here's the really interesting consequence of verse 11: it takes more effort not to believe in God than to believe in God. God has to enable the delusion for people to reject Him. All people have a "God-shaped hole" that only God can fill, but they are determined to fill it with anything but God. They will exhaust themselves to not believe in God. And God will enable their determination. This does not mean that God caused them to reject Him; this means that He will enable their "confirmation bias". Though the evidence in the world around is clearly that God exists and that God will judge sin, He will enable them to find "evidence" otherwise. Those people want to reject the truth; God will allow them to.

It's a downer of a conclusion. But it should not surprise us. Matthew 24 was brought about by this very sorrow:

37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!"

Our job is to shine the light of Jesus -- hold forth the Word of truth -- into a dark world and pray that some of those people will see their delusion and repent and come to salvation in Jesus before it's too late. Paul used these words as encouragement for his confused readers; we should use them as urgency for our mission.


Closing Thoughts: The Man of Lawlessness

I know that some of you have many questions, so I'll try to answer them here. In 2:3, Paul introduces us to a "man of lawlessness". (Some manuscripts say "man of sin" but the best evidence is for "man of lawlessness". That word means "without law". So, yeah. In 1 John 3:4, sin is equated with lawlessness, so the meaning is the same.)

Well, all of the major apocalypse prophecies mention some person who will oppose Christ when Christ returns:

  • The "abomination of desolation" (Matt 24:15)

  • (Jesus also mentions other false prophets and false messiahs; Matt 24:24)

  • The "beast" (Rev 13)

  • The "antichrist" (1 John 2)

  • The "man of lawlessness" (our passage)

The word "antichrist" simply means "against Christ" or "in the place of Christ", so that's the name that has caught on. Realize the difference between "antichrist" and "The Antichrist". Anyone who opposes Christ is an antichrist, but at the end of human history, there will be a singular "Antichrist" specially empowered by Satan to oppose God.

Note that Satan could be using antichrists in an orchestrated project to undermine the church and draw people away from God -- just because they might be a lowercase-a antichrist doesn't make them harmless.

The Antichrist's greatest tool is deception through miraculous signs and wonders, and that's something Paul highlighted in our passage (you can also read about this in Rev 13 and 19. He will deceive people to gain power, then he will use that power to persecute those he could not deceive.

But all of this is within God's plan. All the Antichrist will do is harness the lawlessness and rebellion already in the hearts of the ungodly. Jesus will defeat the Antichrist and his armies and cast them into the lake of fire (remember the "everlasting destruction" we talked about last week).

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