When Paul wrote this second letter to the church at Thessalonica, his aim was to clear up some confusion. In his first letter, written just a few months before, he had told them that someday — any day, maybe today — Jesus will return to gather His church and to judge lost sinners. Paul used the term “the Day of the Lord” (v.2) or simply “that day” (v.3) to refer to the series of events that will take place when Jesus returns. In Paul’s view, the Day of the Lord would begin with the Rapture of the church (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and my blog about it) and conclude with final judgment — both events that would happen in the future.
The church became confused about this when they were deceived by false teaching. Apparently some were teaching that the Day of the Lord had already taken place, and so there was no need for believers to make more disciples, to make plans for evangelism, or to make a living and provide for their families. The false teachers spreading this lie claimed to have a “word” from God and had even forged a letter from Paul to validate their claims (v.2).
Any time a teacher or preacher claims to have a vision, a revelation, or a “new” word from God, ALWAYS test it with Scripture. There are a lot of deceivers out there who claim to speak for the Lord, but if their doctrine does not square with the truth already revealed in God’s Word, that teacher should be ignored and avoided. If you “hold to the traditions that you were taught” from the Bible, you will not be easily deceived (v.15).
Paul corrected the fallacies with the truth of verses 3-12, in which he described three events that must take place before the end:
1. The revelation of the Antichrist. Called “the man of lawlessness…the son of destruction” (v.3) or “the lawless one” (v.8, 9), this is the completely evil man who will come to power in the last days. (Note: the title “Antichrist” is found four times in Scripture, all in the writings of John the Apostle, the human author of the book of Revelation: 1 John 2:18-22, 1 John 4:3, 2 John 1:7). He is called “the beast” in Revelation 13:1-8, and he will be a puppet of Satan, who will empower him to do amazing miracles that will draw people away from the truth and into deception (v.9). As people follow the Antichrist and come to worship him (v.4), they will cross the line of God’s grace and be forever damned by their unbelief (v.10-11).
I don’t believe Paul wrote about the Antichrist so that we could discover or predict his specific identity, but so that we can be ready for any deception or threat to our faith. Rather than obsessing over the man of lawlessness (v.3), we should be concerned with the mystery of lawlessness (v.7) — the underlying force of sin in our world that can only be overcome and reversed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. The lifting of the restraint. There is only one reason the Antichrist has not yet been revealed: Christ is restraining him with the presence of His church in the world. The church is presently under orders to spread the gospel and make disciples of every nation, but when Christ determines that the work of missions and evangelism is complete, He will remove the church from the world and its sanctifying, restraining presence will be gone. The exit of the church (the Rapture) will allow the entrance of the Antichrist.
3. The defeat of the Antichrist. The way I understand it, the Antichrist will rise to power during the seven years of the Great Tribulation. According to verse 8, when Christ returns at the end of those seven years for the Battle of Armageddon, He will kill the Antichrist “with the breath of His mouth” (His words of truth). Until then, you and I can overcome the “spirit of Antichrist” (see 1 John 4:3) in the same way — with the truth of God’s Word. Revelation 19:20 tells us the final end of the Antichrist. He will be “thrown alive” into hell where he can never deceive anyone again.
Having set the record straight, Paul encouraged the church to stand strong in the truth he had taught them and to keep working for Jesus (v.15). That is good advice for us, too. With God in control of the future and our “eternal comfort” secure in Jesus (v.16), we can press on to bring Him glory with “every work and word” (v.17). Let’s do it!