Text: 2 Thessalonians 2
Proposition: To recognize the Anti-Christ is to see the events that surround him and to see the symmetry in Scripture regarding him, his timing and purpose.
Introduction: Last weekwe looked at why Paul wrote this second letter to the Thessalonians. He breaks it into three chapters each addressing a particular issue: he speaks to the despair and persecution they were experiencing as Christians; he corrects the thought that this meant they had missed the rapture and were now in the tribulation period and Christ was about to return; to encourage them to be faithful and to keep their responsibilities instead of just quitting their jobs and waiting for the return of Christ
So in verse one of chapter two Paul refers to two events, the actual second coming of Christ and the event which precedes it, the ‘gathering together to Him’ that we refer to as the rapture of the church, spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 4. His main point here is that the rapture has not yet taken place. There a number of things that must first occur before that happens so they should not be alarmed or shaken as though they had somehow been overlooked by God in the ‘gathering together to Him’.
So let’s look at two things this morning, let’s look at what actions or events must first take place before the Second Coming of Christ and then let’s look at the person of the anti Christ who is referred to here in a number of ways. Have a look at 2 Thessalonians 2.
I. Before the Second Coming of Christ Occurs Three Things Must Happen…
Paul says, “ for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first”. The falling away is the first thing that must take place before Christ comes again to the earth. So what does this refer to? The actual Greek word for ‘falling away’ is a word somewhat familiar to us, it’s ,‘apostasia’, the root word for apostasy. It means to defect, rebel or revolt. So is it that the church defects from Christ or is it that the world defects from God? Certainly if you read Paul’s other letters to Timothy you see that it is both. 1 Timothy 4:1 says, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons…”, seeming to refer to a defection in faith by some of the church. Then in 2 Timothy 3:1,2 he writes, “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come for men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” That certainly sounds like a defection of the world away from God. In fact Paul refers to it as, “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work”, meaning the permissive will of God allows it for the accomplishing of His purposes. So the falling away is happening, has been since the days of Christ but is going to come to a peak in its intensity. We see that today, the movement to remove personhood from unborn children but assign personhood to chimpanzees. The movement to redefine sexuality and marriage to the point of making them whatever any person wants them to mean. We see godlessness at work in the utter cruelty of mankind, we see it in a perversity of imagination in all forms of media. The falling away is intensifying. Yet what also needs to be said is that in such times there is also a great reviving of faith. In the Tribulation period the number of people who come to faith in Christ will be in the millions.
The second thing that must occur before the second coming of Christ is the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Paul says in verse 4 that the trigger moment for the reign of the antichrist is when he sits in the temple declaring himself as god. There is no temple in Jerusalem, hasn’t been since AD70 and the barrier to that happening is that the temple mount is in the control of Islam and the Palestinian authority. For the temple to be rebuilt it will require the engineering of a peace process unlike any seen so far between Israel and Palestine. This is not impossible since engineered solutions often arise from engineered crisis. Daniel 8:25 speaks of this in regards to the Anti-Christ, “He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior. When they feel secure, he will destroy many and take his stand against the Prince of princes.” (NIV).
The third thing that must occur before the second coming of Christ is the revealing of the antichrist and that cannot happen unless what restrains him is taken out of the way (verse 7). So what is it that restrains the antichrist from advancing onto the stage of conquest? The pronoun ‘He’ gives us a clue. What restrains decay and corruption, what restrains and pushes back darkness? Jesus once described all His disciples as ‘the salt of the earth… the light of the world’. What enables the church to be salt and light… it is the very presence of the Holy Spirit within them inviting them to truth, compelling them to proclaim it, to stand for it, to be agents of change in a darkening world. I believe that ‘He’ refers to the Holy Spirit and to His presence in the church. When the church is removed from the world so will salt and light be removed. The Holy Spirit will continue to be present in the world during the tribulation times but more as he was in the days of the Old Testament than as He is right now. Do you remember that quote that was on your bulletins a few weeks ago, “I used to afraid of the dark until I learned that I am a light and the Darkness is afraid of me.” It’s a paraphrase of Ephesians 5:8, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.” Until the church is removed the antichrist remains restrained. The rapture of the church is the next great imminent event in the church’s relationship with Christ.
Let’s now look at the person Paul refers to as ‘the man of sin, the son of perdition’, the Anti-Christ.
II. The Anti-Christ Is a Man, Counterfeit In Design, Powerful But Defeated.
Satan is wise in the sense that what God does Satan sees the design of it and copies it. Perhaps the greatest expression of this is his counterfeit of the Trinity. In God’s design is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In Satan’s knockoff he takes the place of the Father, the Anti-Christ takes the place of Christ and the false prophet of Revelation 19:20 takes the place off the Holy Spirit. From miracles and even resurrection from the dead the Anti-Christ copies the actions of Jesus yet his purpose is to bring all worship to the feet of Satan.
There is a beautiful symmetry in Scripture because of the way prophecy speaks of an event and then the event is fulfilled perfectly. There is also a symmetry seen in the events of that preceded the first coming of Christ that will have a reciprocal at the second coming. In about 175 BC a Greek King assaulted Jerusalem and offered a pig over the altar of burnt offering desecrating it. The kings name was Antiochus IV, Epiphanes, meaning ‘God manifest’. Epiphanes presented himself as God and demanded the worship of all peoples. The Anti-Christ is the reciprocal to Epiphanes, he too exalts himself, he too desecrates the temple and presents himself as God to be worshipped. When you read Daniel you see both characters being referred to as they exercise great power and godlessness. So the Anti-Christ was known well before these words of Paul, the design of Satan to usurp what belongs to God is a pattern continued in him. To be sure the Anti-Christ will be offensive to every religion in the world, verse 4 stated that he “opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped”. So either he overcomes them by power or he overcomes them by deception. The syncretism of blending all faiths into that, ’one faith’ is what the relativism of today is aiming at as it seeks to promote a false sense of harmony among all faiths. The deception will create a peace program that lasts for three and a half years, the temple will be rebuilt as a sign of the effectiveness of that peace and harmony and then the Anti-Christ will present himself to the world as God and will control their obedience and worship even to the point of genocide.
In verse 8 Paul says, “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.” The point here is clear, the Thessalonians are in persecution, it is part of the mystery of lawlessness but the Tribulation period characterized by the Anti-Christ’s rule is not yet here, nor is the actual second coming of Christ. Therefore they should remember these events which will occur, knowing that Christ will not be replaced nor vanquished. The very breath of Christ’s mouth, the breath that said to the storm, ‘Peace, be still’, the breath that breathed the words, ‘It is finished’, that very breath will consume the Anti-Christ.
So it brings us to the last point, next week, that point is simply… get to work!