2 Thessalonians 2:3-12
Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first…
I. HE MUST COME BEFORE THE DAY OF THE LORD.
1. His revelation. He is antichrist - the evil counterpart of the most holy Saviour; he has his revelation, his apocalypse. There must be an apostasy before the coming of the Lord - a great, notable apostasy. The apostle had warned the Thessalonians of it; we need these warnings now. We must not be discouraged when we see scepticism, unbelief, rampant around us. These things must be; Holy Scripture has forewarned us. We must be prepared; we must be calm and steadfast, looking for the coming of the Lord. Such apostasies there have been; there have been precursors of the man of sin, such as Caligula shortly before the date of this Epistle, or Nero shortly after. There have been evil men among the popes of Rome who have exhibited in their lives some of the characteristic features of the antichrist. But the apostasy is yet to come; the man of sin is yet in the future; the mystery of iniquity is working even now; it is working below the surface, in secret; hereafter, we know not when, it will burst forth into open day in the revelation of the man of sin. We must not look forward to a continual, unopposed progress of the gospel; we must not expect that religion will go on in ever-extended triumphs, with no checks, no defeats, overspreading the earth more and more with its blessed influences. Such an expectation is not warranted either by Scripture or by the signs of the times. Scripture tells us of the coming apostasy, of the revelation of the man of sin. And in the world the forces of unbelief and evil are evidently gathering themselves for a mighty conflict. In our own country, it is true, there has been a great revival of religious zeal, great love for Christ, much earnest, self-denying work for his sake. But alongside of this there has been a great outburst of infidelity, a widespread scepticism, a hatred of revelation, manifesting itself in the life and works of men of learning and culture; while elsewhere the revolt against all forms of authority, Divine and human, has been more outspoken and far more widely spread. The armies of God and Satan, the powers of good and evil, light and darkness, faith and unbelief, seem to be already marshalled in preparation for an awful struggle. It must come, Holy Scripture warns us; it will culminate in the revelation of the man of sin. He will be revealed - out of previous obscurity; the apparition will be unveiled out of darkness.
2. His character. He is a person, a man of mighty intellect and giant strength of will, who will take advantage of a general development of unbelief and lawlessness, and gain for a time a widespread sovereignty. Sin fills his being; it becomes, as it were, incarnate in him; it dominates his entire personality. He is "a son of perdition" like Judas (compare the common Hebraism, "a son of death"), destined himself to eternal death, involving in utter death all who follow him. He is an adversary, a human Satan, filled with all the awful energy, the concentrated malice of the evil one. He is the antichrist, the avowed and bitter enemy of the holy Saviour, bringing with his intense wickedness the horrible cry of "Ecrasez l'infame!" into awful prominence. He exalts himself against every one that is called God; he sits in the temple of God, reviving the madness of Antiochus Epiphanes, the impious attempt of Caligula. Such a man the world has not yet seen. There have been many outbursts of wickedness, many evil men in the long course of history have risen to sovereign power; but no one yet has combined in himself all the characteristics ascribed to the man of sin in this Epistle. It is a fearful spectacle which is yet to come. St. Paul warned the Thessalonians that such things there would be, uprisings of malice and persecution, anticipations of the man of sin. He warns the whole Church throughout all time that such things are to be looked for; that sooner or later, before the end cometh, the man of sin himself shall be revealed in all the awful energy of unmingled wickedness, relieved by no one trace of goodness.
II. THE OBSTACLE.
1. The Thessalonians knew what it was. St. Paul had told them of this during his short residence in Thessalonica. For some reason he had dwelt much on this awful subject; it must have been necessary for the Thessalonians in their special circumstances, though we know not why. They had knowledge which we have not; they knew precisely what we cannot find out for certain with all our searching. We may be satisfied that this knowledge, then good for them, is not now necessary for us, or it would have been more clearly revealed. "Ye have an unction from the Holy One," St. John says of believers, "and ye know all things" - all that we need to know for life and godliness.
2. What was it? The Roman empire, the power of Roman law, the emperor as embodying that power. This was the answer of most ancient writers; it seems to be the most common answer now. Then the power of Rome checked the outburst of anarchy and lawlessness. It is still the majesty of law, the authority of well ordered governments, that fulfils the same office. The mystery of lawlessness is working now; it has not reached its height, it has not embodied itself in the fearful personality of the man of sin. But it is working; and it is a mystery, the terrible counterpart of the mystery of godliness. There is a mystery in evil, a strange, fearful mystery, dark secrets not yet revealed; a mystery which suggests awful, heart-rending questionings - questionings which can be quieted only in his presence who giveth rest to the troubled, anxious soul. This mystery of lawlessness was working even then in the world which the God of love created; it is working now; but it is held down by the restraining power; it cannot give birth to the man of sin till his time shall come, the time foreordained in the counsels of God. Then the restraining power will be taken out of the way; lawlessness will prevail, and its creature and embodiment, the lawless one, will come.
III. HIS ACTIVITY.
1. It is but for a short time. The Lord Jesus shall destroy him, and that in an instant, when he cometh. He needs only to speak the word of power; the breath of his mouth shall sweep the adversary into that perdition to which he was appointed. The manifestation of his coming, the very sight of the awful Judge, shall slay the wicked one. This must be our consolation when the dark problems of life distress our souls - "the Lord cometh." Then shall come the assured triumph of righteousness, the crowning victory over all the powers of evil.
2. But it is tremendous. As God is revealed in Christ, so is Satan revealed in the man of sin, the antichrist. The "miracles and wonders and signs" (Acts 2:22) which God did by Christ are parodied by the power and signs and wonders which Satan will work through the agency of the man of sin. As Christ's coming is with power, with his mighty angels in:flaming fire, so is the coming of the lawless one with all power according to the working of Satan. As God worketh in his saints both to will and to do of his good pleasure, so Satan worketh in this his representative with all the awful energy of diabolical wickedness. The antichrist, says Bengel, stands in the same relation to Satan as Christ to God. The antichrist will work miracles, but they are by the energy of Satan, wonders of falsehood. They are net mere deceptions, they are real miracles; but they are the works of him who is the father of lies; and they are lies, inasmuch as they are intended to mislead men into worshipping him as God who is the personation of Satan, the liar from the beginning. Lies, too, they are, because they are the signs of a power which is only a miserable imposture, which must soon end in death and ruin. Our Lord has warned us (Matthew 24:24) of false Christs and false prophets whose signs and wonders should be so startling as to deceive, if it were possible, the very elect. The false prophet, the second beast, of the Revelation doeth great wonders, so that he maketh fire to come down from heaven, and deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he hath power to do. Then there may be, there will be, false miracles, lying wonders. Miracles alone do not always prove the agency of God, but miracles with holiness, works of faith issuing out of a life filled with the presence of God. The blessed life of Jesus Christ our Lord is a mightier miracle than the physical wonders which he wrought. A life of perfect purity and transcendent holiness in the weakness of human flesh, amid all the temptations of this wicked world, is to us a more convincing proof of the Divine mission of Christ than the signs from heaven would have been which the Jews so often asked for. The Church must expect the coming of lying wonders; she must stand unshaken amid all the developments of Satanic energy. The elect will not be deceived, for they will recognize the notes of antichrist, "all the deceivableness of unrighteousness;" they will remember the warnings of Holy Scripture: "Whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God," "He that committeth sin is of the devil; for the devil sinneth from the beginning."
IV. ITS RESULT.
1. He deceiveth them that dwell on the earth; not the elect - the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God; but those who have not been sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise which is the earnest of our inheritance, the pledge of that seal of the living God which his angel shall one day set upon the foreheads of his chosen. But there are, alas! those that are perishing, who have not passed from death unto life through faith in the Son of God, but still abide in death. Such men the man of sin, the lawless one, deceives and engulfs in his own utter destruction.
2. Their own wilfulness is the cause of their ruin. "God is not willing that any should perish." The true light lighteth every man. It came to them, but they received it not. They received not Christ. He is the Truth, and he is Love. He came into the world that the world through him might be saved. But they received not him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. They had no love for the truth, no desire for it. They were quite indifferent to the truth, though their conscience told them that it was the truth; they were worse than indifferent, they rejected it. They might have been saved; the truth would have made them free. They might have been sanctified through the truth; for the truth of God, received into the heart, hath power to cleanse, to purify, to save the soul. But they loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
3. It ends in judicial blindness. God's Spirit will not always strive with man. In his awful justice he gives over to a reprobate mind those who persevere in disobedience. He sendeth them a strong delusion, a working of error. As virtue is its own reward, so sin is its own punishment. Eternal sin (see Mark 3:29 in the best-supported reading) is the fearful end of the obstinate sinner. That hardening of the heart, in which habitual sin must at last result, is ascribed in Holy Scripture sometimes to God, sometimes to the sinner himself, sometimes to the deceitfulness of sin. They are different modes of expressing the same law of God's government. He has so ordered our moral nature, that sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death. He lets the rebel have his own will; he leaves him to be "lord of himself, that heritage of woe." The Spirit is withdrawn at last from those who vex, grieve, resist, his gracious influences. But there is something more awful still. Not only did the Spirit of the Lord depart from Saul, but "an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him." God himself sends at the last, in his most awful justice, the strong delusion, the inworking of error. It is the last state, worse than the first; after which comes that dreadful sentence, "It is impossible... to renew them again unto repentance." This thought gives a most terrible significance to every act of wilful, unrepented sin; every such act brings a man nearer (how near he cannot tell) to that most awful state whence there is no repentance. Then comes judicial blindness; the light that was within them becomes darkness. They would not believe the truth of God, now they believe the lie of the man of sin. It is the judgment of God. We see indications of it from time to time in the credulity of unbelief. Men who reject the Bible are sometimes ready to believe anything except the Bible; they will greedily accept any legend, any scientific hypothesis, though evidently not more than a provisional hypothesis, which seems to contradict the Bible; they will deify humanity, they will worship the idol which is the creature of their own thoughts rather than the living God. This unbelief sprang out of sin; they "had pleasure in unrighteousness." There is such a thing as honest doubt; such were the doubts of Asaph, of Thomas. But unbelief in a very large measure comes from moral causes. Sin darkens the heart and the mind; sin always leads to practical, often to intellectual, unbelief. "Every one that doeth evil hateth the light;" he walketh in darkness; he seeth not the coming judgment.
1. Be prepared for times of darkness - they must come; be strong in faith.
2. If unbelief becomes dominant, still believe; God has forewarned us.
3. Anarchy, confusion, leads to the predominance of sin. "Give peace in our time, O Lord."
4. Even miracles may deceive. Christ remaineth faithful; trust always in him.
5. Hate sin with utter hatred; it ends in hardness of heart. - B.C.C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;