Fall Conference, FREEA, Appleton, WI, October 15–16, 2016
by Robert W. Christman
Luther was convinced that the Pope, that is, the papacy, was the very Antichrist. Ever since, it has been a benchmark of true Lutheranism that one agrees. And indeed, we still find that the Pope does not preach Christ as the Savior in the biblical, Pauline, sense. Christ is Savior because he treads the winepress alone, that is, he alone saves. Anyone who adds to his work reduces it, for he rejects its completeness. It is sheer divine grace by which it is accomplished. So, because it lies entirely outside of us, faith alone, which lets in that which is without,is the test of one’s convictions. As Scripture presents it, faith clings profoundly and exclusively to what or to whom it is directed. It recognizes grace as God’s supreme attribute and ultimate gift, for which he will be praised and glorified in the highest forever. Does not God identify with grace when he tells us that he is love! To relieve God’s grace of any part of its achievement, then, is to trifle with God himself. Consider what an issue St. Paul made of every attempt to turn circumcision into a bit player in a man’s salvation. If you look to circumcision, even just to buttress your salvation hopes, he said, you give up Jesus Christ entirely. Therefore the papacy, with its worldwide salvation program based on some level of submission to the holy see, with its merit resting on sanctioned papal observances and rituals, and, with its pool of supererogatory merits which only the pope can distribute to the faithful needy—that papacy stands before the world as the very Antichrist, as Luther taught and as the Lutheran Confessions declare.
What we should also know about Luther, however, is that he did not totally reject the possibility of another Antichrist coming along before the end. He considered it unlikely but not impossible. In 1521, when he had already become fully convinced that the Pope was the Antichrist, he wrote the following:
One is not obliged to expect any other Antichrist. To have a worse regime on earth, one that kills more souls than does that of the pope, is impossible. (Of its extortion of bodily goods I shall say nothing.) Therefore we must by all means cry and pray to God against this arch-rascal among all God’s enemies until Christ comes to redeem us from him. The pope is the really guilty one. Let every Christian say amen!
St. Louis Ed., Vol. 15, 1824, via Plass 1, no. 100
What does this mean to us? It is a crack in the door that lets us enter into a new and important field of investigation. Of course we do not need Luther’s permission to look around and apply Scripture. But we do feel better knowing that he did not say for certain that another Antichrist would not appear. He said only that we should not feel obligedto seek one. Besides, it is for us to remember that he did not speak from the perspective of our day. We, on the other hand, come at things from a current perspective. We know the tenor of our times. We also know that we are in possession of slight but telling refinements in the English versions of the New Testament—and the Greek. Several such small corrections will appear in this study.
But one thing should come first. After recently spending considerable time with the locus classicus of the doctrine of Antichrist, 2 Thessalonians 2, I feel compelled to nominate Modern Man as the newly emerging version of Antichrist. By Modern Man I mean scientific man, that is, atheistic Man given to science as the only source of truth. This is Man thinking that the earth is his own and the fullness thereof. It is Man in fullest possession of his days. Since his time is his own, and he can choose to manipulate his life further and further beyond three and a half or four score years, he intends someday to make himself imperishable. I am thinking of Man who claims never to have met a living thing that over the last 4.6 billion years has climbed the ladder of evolution as successfully as he has. He is Man the fittest, because at every turn, when he has competed for food or Lebensraum, he has consigned his rivals to the fossil record, or at best to a lower rung. This is Man who has now advanced to the point where he can with some ease harness evolution and force it to work for him. Is this not a major step forward? Barring a major cosmic accident (which he is currently working to avert), can he ever be stopped?
Dwelling for the time being on his earth, he makes it a point to create new tools. These are not rocks lashed to the end of sticks, but instruments of stunning sophistication. They extend the capabilities of his arms for lifting, his legs for traveling, his voice for speaking and being heard, and his eyes and ears for seeing what eye and ear have never before experienced. But most of all, the human brain has been introduced to data that
humanity never dreamed existed, things great and small, things of the distance and things lying under foot.
With all this, Modern Man has expanded the domain of his brain exponentially, that he may analyze, reconfigure, and control an amount of data—objects and ideas—that seems almost infinite. And gradually he is putting it all to use, as once, not long ago, he domesticated the horse and the camel. We are seeing an explosion of brainpower—hundreds of rooms full of electronic instruments, as it were, beeping and flashing together to bring about new concepts and new theories, most of which will be springboards for the next generation of discoveries, and on from there. Always the wrapping up of old business becomes the taking on of new business that is regularly more exotic. Mostly, the new tools use higher math, the constantly expanding, indispensible new language understood around the world by people of all tongues. Situated at the cutting edge of progress, this is the only way to discuss what is going on.
In short, the plain of Shinar is back in the news, as the new tower rises higher and higher and higher for everyone to see. Answerable now only to himself, Modern Man is making a name for himself. Nothing slows him down, for he will not allow it. Thus he plays by his own rules. Ever more arrogantly, he breaks the old laws and sets up new ones that are more humane and more enlightened. He is hitting his stride. He is forging a world much better than the one he inherited. He is getting things done that his ancestors, pathetically, could only pray about—mostly in vain. He wants none of their ways: no dark taboos and no bungling intuitions. Traditions are a drag. If the people are not ready for progress in one area or another, Modern Man may decide he has to give his tag-a-long siblings a bit more time to come around. But the bus is on the road, and is lapping up the highway. There is no turning back.
Most significantly, old morality, rooted in weakness and confusion, is consigned to the museum. It was cobbled together, sometimes quite intelligently, to meet the social needs of Man in his childhood. Now we must put away childish things. What are needed are imagination, courage, and flexibility, and these fortunately are evolving right along—with a little bit of help. New rules, if we must have them; no rules, wherever we can manage it. This is the world of the Modern Man, a man of lawlessness.
Eliminated, obviously, is a need for God, whom the true Modern Man categorically denies. Most of all, there is no Triune God. First, since there is no Creator of heaven and earth, how then can there be a God the Father Almighty? Second, Jesus of Nazareth, fine fellow that he may have been, is hardly the Son of God. How can he be, if there is no God? Third, the whole idea of the Holy Spirit rests on an imaginary base, god, and a non-existent entity, spirit. And with these negations, what can holy mean? All is a matter of matter and its alternate form energy, working independently under its own rules. No God; no Triune God.
Let us now hold this mentality up to the light, not of reason cut free of its moorings, but of faith informed by the Word of God. We want to bear in mind God’s invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, as they are clearly displayed in the things that have been made! St. Paul by the Spirit makes this claim unabashedly in Romans 1. In wisdom from on high we can keep up with him, follow him. Now particularly we want to turn our attention to his words in Second Thessalonians 2, the first 12 verses. A divine prophecy, we want to approach it according to the example of the prophets of old, of whom Peter writes,
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the suffering of Christ and the subsequent glories.
1 Peter 1:10–11
Our search into persons and times will come down to the suffering of Christ and the subsequent glories!
2 Thessalonians 2:1–3a
“Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit, or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one deceive you in any way.”
Surely we can infer from this that the imminence of the Day of the Lord was on many minds and tongues, and that with all the discussion and concern about it, it was hard for many people to go calmly about their daily routine. From the effort Paul expends, as he specifies three directions from which temptation might come, when the one composite warning might have served, to say nothing of his double description of the manner in which one might succumb to it, “shaken in mind and alarmed,” we can see that he considered the danger to the Thessalonians very great indeed. God’s children in every age must be in possession of a balanced mentality. Yes, they must! Loath to drop the subject too soon, Paul appends a summary warning: “Let no one deceive you in any way!”
Notice, too, that instead of connecting his instruction to the foregoing (chapter 1) with a simple “therefore” (with which he is often satisfied), Paul links what he is taking up with what he had just said quite explicitly. Regardless of the flavor of what ensues, at bottom he will be unfolding the saints’ impending twofold joy, the coming of Christ and their congregating around him. The Word of God is essentially positive, even when it describes enemies and dangers.
2 Thessalonians 2:3
Let no man deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction.
It is the rebellion the Apostle mentions first. The man of lawlessness is its leader. In the King James Version, the rebellion is termed the falling away. But it is a rebellion, for that is the common meaning of the Greek word. As with many other words, its meaning has strayed a bit from its etymology. The word is used only one other place in the New Testament, Acts 21:21, and there the ESV opts for the softer translation, recasting the clause a bit so that it reads, “[they think] that you [Paul] teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake [or “rebel against”] Moses.” But the word is observed in extra biblical sources, and the more one gets a grip on our verses, the more the idea of blunt rebellion seems right. The rebellion comes up again, in thought if not in terminology, with the reference in verse 10 to those “who refuse to love the truth and so be saved.” This is a concerted rebellion.
The change from “Man of Sin” (KJV) to “Man of Lawlessness” (ESV and most if not all modern translations) is based on the discovery of the Sinaiticus and the Vaticanus 3rd Century manuscripts, and the respect they have very properly been afforded. Both read anomiasrather than hamartias.
It would be good at this point to try to figure out just what laws Paul has in mind when he calls the trouble causer Lawless. Could it be civil law? Hardly, at least not in the first place. Could it be the Mosaic Law? Impossible, since Christ is the end of that Law, for righteousness to everyone who believes. What about the moral law, that is, the Ten Commandments? This appears to be the best choice. It is the Law that Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount said he had not come to abolish but fulfill. Of his purpose to strengthen it rather than weaken it, he said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like…a wise man, whose house is founded on a rock.” It is the law that Jesus makes part of the great commission; he tells the disciples to each Christians to observe what he has commanded them. If disobedience to this law can be found in the papacy, it is far easier to find it in today’s bold and lawless social guides and secular gurus. Many a Christian has been tripped up by what they advocate, and, indeed, none of us has been able to resist it entirely. The papacy actually resists, say, the lawlessness of modern marital trends, and does so to everyone’s benefit.
With a view toward where all this is coming from and where it is taking us, it might be good to note that the Ten Commandments are anchored in creation, for which, like the Commandments, God is responsible. The Sixth Commandment is so abused in our day that it is hard to imagine any real return to its simple truth and goodness. It is bound to the creation, male and female, Adam then Eve, as the Lord Jesus pointed out when asked for his position on divorce.
The Fourth Commandment is also rooted in creation, that is, procreation, which the Creator called for upon presenting the woman to the man. Thus family and community appeared according to his explicit will, and everyone knows that rebellious children bring on social upheaval. For everyone’s sake, then, children must learn to honor parents. Without this, a long and prosperous earthly life passes out of reach, as the Commandment itself warns.
The Fifth Commandment says that if it ever was so, we are not now living our lives on the level of the jungle. Who does not know that among human beings a people that gnaws on and devours one another is setting itself up for the same treatment at the hands of others from the other side of the mountain? In the image of God made he man! This makes all the difference. While the blood of animals can be shed for simple, practical purposes, man’s must not be. Animals and humans are not created equal.
The Seventh Commandment assumes that food, clothing and all the physical blessings of the earth will occasion great misery, frustration, and even mortality unless what one person has apportioned to him (by the Creator/Sustainer) is reserved for his use and the use of those with whom he or she would share it. Thus all laws of economics basic to the hum of human productivity require a curb on stealing. Unchecked theft, robbery, and swindling send true prosperity into a tailspin.
The Eighth Commandment is an attempt to protect a person’s good name. Since human life, as it extends from marriage and family, like that of many other creatures, is communal, individual and corporate health and wellbeing require some sort of cooperation, which is impossible without a level of mutual trust and a silent agreement to put into practice a minimum level of good will. Otherwise words are switchblades.
The Ninth and Tenth Commandments recognize this. As God created man with a governing heart, and so all his actions flow from his heart, to some degree and for sound or unsound reasons that heart must function wholesomely, lest all the bad things threatened by the other commandments take control and sink humanity altogether. The Man of Lawlessness, blinded by his fixation on himself, loses his appreciation for the Laws of the Creator, and though experience teaches him otherwise, drives himself to find ways to overthrow them. The result is destruction. The Man of Lawlessness is the man of
The first three Commandments play in, too. God must be given at least a portion of his due, if everything is not to go straight downhill. Along with all the lesser creatures, man’s eyes wait upon God, who from the field and the forest, the ocean and the mine, opens his hand to give him the things he needs. Should thiskindly Fatherly Maker of heaven and earth not be feared, loved, and trusted above all else? Should his name not to be honored? Should his word not be heard and harbored? As long as one is eating the fruits of his fields and meadows, he is getting a message from his Creator about which he should not be flippant. He should seek to find out, as well as he can, whether there might not be a continuation of his mercies beyond the grave, or whether they will come to a full stop. There is no excuse for reading him out of pertinent existence.
The rest of the story, to be sure, is found in the Gospel of Christ broadcast worldwide. It is the unique wholly good news that presents the full meaning of the love that God trains on his creatures great and small. That love gives unity to the created world and makes it rich and satisfying and meaningful. Salvation sits atop the wonders of creation, especially as creation is known today. For the God-given knowledge of the universe that characterizes our day is so very, very much fuller than it ever was. Yet, willful, arrogant, super-man rejects it with greater and greater relish, to his ineffable harm and dismay. Proudly he sets about breaking the laws that reflect the Creator.
Let us pause to bring it even closer to home. The Man of lawlessness and Christ-less-ness defies the laws of marriage and parenthood. He refuses to call God “our Father,” and is contemptuous of the marriage feast of the Lamb. Called from the highways and bi-ways, he has better things to do than attend the wedding. Instead he spends his time
crafting marriage-and-family atrocities. The changes he invents are built out of the foolishness of natural evolution, that is, matter-and-energy auto-creation. With destructiveness our forbearers could not have imagined, he takes it upon himself to dismantle persons, marriages, families, whole nations, and high cultures, though such lawlessness is his and everyone’s destruction. What he touches he shatters.
2 Thessalonians 2:3–4
…the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every bearer of the name god and object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. (ESV altered)
This is the fundamental thrust of the Man of Lawlessness, whom Paul does not here in the Bible’s fullest disclosure call Antichrist, perhaps because he sees his full attack aimed against the Father and the Holy Spirit as much as Jesus Christ. The attack is against the Godhead. It is when the Spirit and his message are blasphemed fully that the Father will say, “Now,” and Christ will be sent to dispatch the Enemy once and for all (vs. 8)). So thoroughly is he opposed to God, that, for good measure, he marks for destruction all other “gods,” no matter how little they may replicate the only true God. In this fight to the finish, all the shadowy deities must go. Lawless Modern Man feels he has the tools to wipe the slate clean. He does not quibble, but pits himself against all that is worshipped. When he was a child, the Man of Lawlessness spoke as a child. Now that he is a man, he must talk differently.
Who now assumes the highest authority? He does. To the victor belong the spoils, as in most earthly rebellions. As he has liberated himself with no help from anyone, it is his to seize the throne and occupy the temple.
But what is left to accomplish? With his triumph in hand, he begins to scour the universe in search of others like him. A new exotic species, when (hardly if) it is found, will, he is convinced, endorse his materialistic view of reality and so add luster to his achievement. Of this much he is certain, that when he finds Entities with whom he can communicate, be they far or near, those Entities too will be self-generated. They will look back on an evolutionary road much like his. In other words, they will not be gods, and they will not be creatures of God. So the Man of Lawlessness works to gain support and strengthen his position. Look at him sitting there in the temple of God!
Why does Paul call his locus a Temple? There has been no real temple of God on earth since the Romans destroyed the one that so impressed the disciples. Jesus said it was to be destroyed, and it was. Of course, Christ himself was among us as the Temple of God. Put another way, his body was the Temple of God. But he is not the temple here; that is out of the question. Our bodies, too, are called temples in Scripture; they are the temples of the Holy Ghost. But they too in no way fit the configuration of this passage.
We need to step back. The Temple represents divine power and honor. It is the epicenter of God’s glory among men. This is what the Man of Lawlessness has taken over. By flexing his muscles and breaking divine laws left and right, Modern Man takes the structure of divine honor and seats himself on the ultimate throne. This is rebellion.
2 Thessalonians 2: 5–8
Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance [or the glory] of his coming.
The subject now turns from the works and ways of the Man of Lawlessness to his manifestation. Paul’s words were manifesting him to the Thessalonians, but in a shadowy way. The same words manifest him today more clearly; the story is for all the saints. Therefore it is supplied in a way that reaches out to faith, not speculation. God works in history as well as through history, and understanding among his children will keep pace with their real needs. At all points the truth must emerge from the shadows for the benefit of the believer, and to some extent for the undermining of the determined unbeliever. God was and still is working historically. The Man of Lawlessness will be shown for what he is, when in the natural course of things his image can be viewed against the western sun.
He will be seen to be blind to the truth. He will fulfill his evil purpose without embarrassment, pleased to be true only to himself. When he has fulfilled his wretched day, at sunset, when his rebellion has run its course, he will be destroyed by the King of kings and Lord of lords, the real Son of Man, who alone has immortality. The usurper, swaggerer, arch-liar, and scoffer will then go lifeless, because, as our Lord told Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin, he, Jesus of Nazareth, will come on the clouds of heaven. By his very appearance in glory all lawlessness will be judged. The Lawless one will not be able to stand up to a word or a puff of breath from the mouth of him who saved sinners by his blood. Together with the saints, the company of rebels will kneel to the One who seized nothing, but laid down his perfect, pure, and holy life in obedience to his Father; the One who then on the third day, all else being finished, took his place of whole and holy triumph. To the finish, he conformed to the testimony of the Law and the Prophets in the service of the entire sweep of the Father’s holy will. (Matthew 5:17–18).
But for a while, Paul teaches, God would have the Man of Lawlessness working in the shadows under considerable restraint. In due time, presumably through natural developments, he (or, what) was restraining him would pass out of the way, and he would stand exposed to faith and wisdom.
Though this would be the place to reveal just who that restrainer is (he seems to be both who and what), the Apostle carefully avoids naming him. Should we be surprised? Perhaps not, since it seems he had already identified him for the Thessalonians when he was with them in person; and likely as well, he may have supplied us with enough data to figure it out for ourselves.
The Thessalonians were to remember what he had told them; he would not repeat it here. He would not disclose again the name or title of the one who restrains in a letter that can be intercepted and placed in the wrong hands. The strongest possibility therefore is that Paul was speaking about the all-powerful Roman Emperor.
The Empire wisely granted civil and religious freedom, but only to the degree that would allow them to keep things under control. Consider the freedom that Jesus had in Judea and Galilee during his ministry. But think too about how Caiaphas warned the Sanhedrin about what they might expect from the hands of the Romans, if they allowed the freethinking (as they viewed it) Jesus of Nazareth to keep broadening and deepening his appeal. The short swords of the legionnaires were set
to guard the line the Emperor had drawn in the sand. The Empire would one day be out of the way. When it was, freedom of thought and communication would be the result.
But we must not insist on a timetable. The works of the Lord have their own timetables, and another thousand years can easily be tacked on to our estimates. The end of the Roman Empire did not turn out to be the end of strong legal restraint. The papacy, playing a second role separate from that of Antichrist, inherited the lion’s share of the ruling élan that had attached itself to the Eternal City and went on to meet
everyone’s instinctive expectations. So, to a large degree the ancient urge for freedom continued to be suppressed by Christian legalism. By the time of Charlemagne, the papacy was able to confer a legal authority, status, and rule on a chosen man, and establish the Roman Empire as the Holy Roman Empire. Charlemagne’s ways were different from the ways of the Roman emperors, but the result finally was much the same. The Holy Roman Empire lasted into the 19thCentury, though at the end it was indeed but a shadow of itself. More importantly, for centuries it shared its character, importance, and power with other European kings, especially those of France and England. So the world stayed undemocratic, and over-arching laws held down the spirit of development and discovery. A nebulous inner liberty not linked directly to specific aspects of its surrounding civilization remained under thumb and kept the Man of Lawlessness from sprouting eagle’s wings.
But the Gospel came along in the work of Martin Luther. Other reformers, though they broke from Luther in many ways, added to the freedom that lies purest and deepest in the grace of God. Make no mistake. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the great power to set people free. Though its freedom is a spiritual matter between God and a man, it has the power to break all kinds of shackles that retard human exercise and expression. Many a Christian observing himself over the years can vouch for this. The unfettered Gospel in society affected society and made it harder and harder to fend off not only faith but free thinking, investigating, calculating, dreaming, and striving. Very soon it could be boxed in no longer, and the American and French Revolutions established and then standardized the rule of free citizens. With this, the thought world went wild, aided in time by such things as the westward retreat of the American frontier and the Industrial Revolution.
We can sketch these matters only very broadly here, for we must move on to the latest surge in man’s great race to the top. Undoubtedly the greatest thrust forward since the horse and the camel were harnessed, the greatest shattering of the invisible shackles, is the discovery of, the splitting of, and now the incredible exploitation of the atom, especially its most wild and wooly components, the electrons. Electronics has increased human powers exponentially with no end in sight. It has brought us into a new age.
For accomplishing things, speed is the thing. If what would have taken a hundred years is now done in less than a hundred seconds, as it is, the sky becomes the limit. Just think of what we do today that was unimaginable when most of us were children. With the aid of electronics we have come to know and harness what seems like everything. Moreover, every mountain scaled has brought more towering ridges into view! If we have a problem, if we face a dilemma, yes, if we confront the impossible, it is already engrained in our thinking that there must be a solution in the laboratory if not the factory. It may be a ways away, but if it is, the fix is probably closer than we think.
“Atom” was the name given to the smallest imaginable particle. This meaning has had to make way for the truth. More than anything, subatomic quests for particles ever more “strange” and calculations that cover chalk boards around ever bigger rooms have carried man to what, if we did not know any better through experience, he would call “the top.” If Modern Man has no time to read the Bible, well he was never inclined to search it anyway, and what now takes up his time seems a thousand times more relevant. What he and his colleagues discover each day keeps on extending the limits of human freedom, and this is not lost on his soul. Likewise, no modern-day Rome, no carefully hammered out Communism, for instance, can hold back the stunning advance. No wonder Man, accomplishing virtually everything he sets himself to do, has a hard time thinking he has not earned the right to make his own laws. What law, he asks, cobbled together when people were childish enough to believe in the gods, should be allowed a position at any symposium? Such a thing can only get in the way.
So the Man of Lawlessness, that is, the Man-not-about-to-knuckle-under-like-a-child, moves into the temple that for too long has been occupied by God. God’s great mansion has been turned into luxury apartments for the political, corporate, and intellectual elite.
Only at this point, when all this reaches its zenith according to the divine plan, will Jesus Christ come in glory. For return he must. With the breath of his mouth—it will take no more than that—he who is the Truth will stop every mouth by his sudden appearance and quell all opposition by the truth displayed simply in his coming. His sudden victory over a fully ripened rebellion will be decisive, leaving no doubt that the Nazarene is the eternal Word. He has gained the victory with no help from all kingdoms of the world or even
a glimmer of their glory, which he once had a chance to buy for next to nothing (one bow to this world’s Prince). Think of how rapidly the world might have progressed had it fallen under his sway in the first century! On the other hand, think of the progress that will be enjoyed by the innumerable host in white robes who call themselves Christians, and are. Think of the arrival of the saints in glory who have followed the pillar of God’s love.
2 Thessalonians 2:9
The coming of the Lawless One is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders.
Hard against the coming of the Savior Immanuel, Paul portrays in one sentence the “coming” of the Lawless one, which is also phenomenal. To do so he must revert to an earlier point in the storyline, his coming. It is powered by Satan. A long time ago, at the very beginning, God, standing on the earth that Satan had just wrenched from him, promised that he would put enmity between Satan and Seed of the Woman. The woman’s seed are those who are bound to the True Man with a bruised heel. The great fight would be between the World Power and him, the Seed of the Woman. Against great signs and wonders worked out of earthly resources, he would win the contest with just this: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” In this is the salvation and against this is the rebellion.
The false signs of the one whose coming is of Satan may indeed be God-allowed miracles. But they are as likely to be the great accomplishments of our day, and those that may as yet follow. Miracles in fact might lead to thoughts of the One who used to occupy the Temple of God, God himself. Therefore they may well be the stunning, mind-boggling discoveries, products and accomplishments of science. Looking around, it seems
that they are quite as capable of wickedly deceiving those who are perishing, as out and out magic. And what we have now is likely to be eclipsed before long by the even more stunning performance of the next generation of technology and understanding already in the making. Progress is not minded to wind down for more than brief periods of time. We can expect the conclusion to continue to be drawn that man has no one above him to obey. So why join a church, why have the children baptized, and why pray Luther’s morning prayer?
This is the force that stands up to Christ the way Goliath stood up to David until he fell. It is a function of man’s love for darkness rather than light. Acceding to the great rebellion of his own prophetic disclosure, the Lord God develops the history of the world in the direction of thorough self-deception.
2 Thessalonians 2:10
The coming of the lawless one is…with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refuse to love the truth and so be saved.
The truth and man’s salvation are bound together. There is no salvation in the lie. As well as being “the way” and “the life” (salvation), the Lamb of God is “the truth.” When He comes in the name of the Lord, he is blessed and he blesses. To love the truth is to love the Savior and be saved. To hate Jesus is to hate your own eternal blessedness and happiness.
How could there be a greater deception, and how could any deception be more wicked than that which convinces people that Jesus Christ is not to be believed? It took the very devil to contrive it. At the same time, it takes God himself to dish it up to those about whom it is said simply that they are perishing.
2 Thessalonians 2:11–12
Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
All unrighteousness must be condemned in the end, that is, all who are saturated with unrighteousness and identify with its flat rejection of God’s holy, saving truth. Notice that Paul ends this discussion as he began it. It is the story of the Flood all over again. Those of the end times like those of early times are the ones who only enjoy ugliness and evil, and choose it hands down over righteousness. When by chance as they scratch the earth beneath their feet they find a few gems of truth, they curse and shuffle away. It is their kind of pleasure they must have, immediate, violent, and filthy.
All the truth of God is the stuff of the Son of God, begotten from eternity, through whom all things were made. It therefore includes his incarnation, his ministry, his bitter sufferings and death, and his resurrection. These comprise man’s life and light. With them lies his eternal sanctification and true satisfaction, his justification and eternal joy. Away with it, man cries. We are robbers and murderers, and it is the Barabbases we prefer. We like his goals and his achievements, even his works and his ways. As for grace and truth, we
This is the way Truth came to be crucified, led to Golgotha by a swell of ugly lies. Utterly rejected, the Lord of life lay briefly in a tomb. Then on the third day, as he said, he arose to stand before his own as the Lord their righteousness. He revealed himself with proofs to his chosen ones, whom he had prepared to be his witnesses, and spoke to them of the kingdom of God. He commissioned them to go into the world and preach the full, beautiful, and gladsome truth. “Come,” he continues to call out through his universal Church, “Come to the Fountain and drink the clean refreshing water of life. Emerge from the crevices of your barren darkness and behold with new eyes the Lamb which takes away the sins of the world. He is your advocate and friend. Let him intercede for you with the Father. Follow him into the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
As the end approaches, we may expect to gain understanding from this vision:
Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while…
And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city; but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were.
Amen, come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 22:20)
(Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations in the above article are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)