Have you ever received misdirections and ended up somewhere you did not intend to go? I remember a time when my wife and I took a day trip with our children (I may have shared this with you before). We were headed to a museum. We had a general direction, but we were not exactly sure where we were going. This was in the early days of GPS. We were following the turn-by-turn directions. However, the further away from our house we drove, the more we realized this could not be right. We were in the back pastures somewhere in South Texas. When we reached a dead-end, we knew we had been misguided. We turned around, made our way back to a main highway, and eventually found our way to the museum.
We have all been there at some point. Perhaps it was that time when pulled over to a gas station for directions. The person seemed confident when they gave you directions. However, 30 minutes later, you realized they were as confused as you. It's easy to get turned around, distracted, and end up in someplace you never intended when misdirected.
We are continuing our studies of 2 Thessalonians as we consider Chapter 2. Reflecting on this passage and reading various commentaries, the more I began to understand that this is a very difficult passage. In Chapter 2, Paul summarizes things he had previously discussed with the church before he had to leave; "Don't you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?" (2 Thess. 2:5). For me, the difficulty is with this aberrated summary Paul provides in the letter. It’s hard to reach a definite conclusion about some of the things he writes. For example, Who is the "man of lawlessness?" As with other commentators, I'm left with a few questions and puzzles. However, it is important to remember Paul is writing to encourage and comfort the Thessalonian Christians. Paul is not trying to add fuel to end-time speculation. He is not trying to incite fear. Paul is writing to comfort, reassure, and encourage Christians.
It seems some of the Thessalonian Christians had been misdirected. And this misdirection was causing confusion and alarm.
2 Thessalonians 2:1–3 (NIV)
"Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction."
It seems someone was spreading misdirection about the "day of the Lord" in the name of Paul. Perhaps letters that claimed Paul as the author were being circulated. This helps us understand why Paul draws attention to his signature of this letter.
2 Thessalonians 3:17 (NIV)
"I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write."
You can imagine how troubling it would be for a church undergoing intense persecution to think the Lord had already returned and they were abandoned in their suffering. How would we feel?
Paul is writing to comfort and reassure the church as he explains the Lord has not returned yet, nor has He abandoned them.
2 Thessalonians 2:3–4 (NIV)
"Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God."
In this text, Paul points to two significant events that must occur before the Lord's return.
A falling away (the rebellion)
The Man of Lawlessness revealed
Paul explains there will be a time when a great number of faithful Christians will abandon the gospel of Christ. There will be a falling away or rebellion. Another thing that will happen is the restraining influence holding back lawlessness will be removed, and the lawless one will be revealed (2:7-8).
Who or what is the lawless one? Part of the puzzle in this passage is understanding who or what the man of lawlessness is. As mentioned earlier, commentators have speculated on many different theories. Mike Mazzalongo, in his lesson, "Who Is The Man of Lawlessness," provides a summary of 4 theories that have been suggested:
The Roman Empire
A Principle of Lawlessness
Without going into the details of these theories in this lesson, each has an element of validity and inconsistencies with Paul's words. Again, Paul is not trying to add fuel to end-time speculation. He is not trying to incite fear. Paul is writing to comfort, reassure, and encourage Christians. He is writing to provide hope. Paul explains, the suffering and percussion Christians are experiencing in Thessalonica will not last forever.
2 Thessalonians 2:7–8 (NIV)
"For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming."
Evil and lawlessness will be overthrown and destroyed at the glorious splendor of the Lord's return. Paul offers hope for those who are suffering as they follow Jesus and the words of God.
Where is Paul driving? As we mentioned in our last lesson, each of the
significant movements in 2 Thessalonians is marked by a prayer at the end of the movement.
2 Thessalonians 2:13–15 (NIV)
"But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter."
Paul is driving us to stand firm in our faith. Amid life's misdirection, find direction—in the gospel revealed.
Crossing The Context
Misdirection will often steer us to a destination we never intended. The church in Thessalonica received misdirection. This misdirection drove them to be unsettled and alarmed. Misdirection turned to a fear of being abandoned and left in their suffering. We can only imagine how this would have felt. However, Paul's words bring them back in the right direction. He removes the distraction so they can focus on the destination.
Amid life's misdirection, find direction—in the gospel revealed. Stand firm and hold fast to the gospel of Christ.
What if we were a community that, together, provided direction? Our world is filled with misdirection. Influences that lead to destinations we never desired. What if we were a community that provided direction? A community holding fast to the good news of Jesus and directing others to Him.
1. Mazzalongo, Mike, Series 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Who Is The Man of Lawlessness, BibleTalk.TV, accessed Jan. 13, 2024
Scripture quotations taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011).