What is Paul’s message in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10?
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul took great pains to describe the second coming of Jesus and the rapture of the church (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Now he returns to the subject at the end of 2 Thessalonians 1, talking about the judgment of God and everyone who doesn’t believe.
Such a stark description of the judgment of God against unbelievers may have taken the Thessalonians off guard. Many of them had already feared that they missed the rapture, the reason he wrote the first letter to them.
And now they hear of all of the judgment that is going to happen in the end times surrounding this event and others. So Paul wanted to clarify and explain what it would be like for the man of lawlessness, the Antichrist, to come upon the earth.
Jesus himself spoke of the abomination of desolation, which Paul describes here in 2 Thessalonians 2, as one of the prerequisites for the returning of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:15-28). The man of lawlessness is the one who brings on this abomination of desolation.
Many false teachers followed Paul around and taught false doctrine in the churches he founded. Because he originally didn’t even get to finish all of his teaching for them before he was kicked out of the city, Paul wanted them to be certain that they knew their theology in case one of these false teachers would try to pawn themselves off as Paul and tell them they missed the second coming of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:1).
He describes all the things that have to happen before the Day of the Lord, the coming of the Lord, can happen. The first step is that there must be a great rebellion (2 Thessalonians 2:3). While Paul does not describe this rebellion in great detail, he does connect it with the coming of the lawless one.
He describes the lawless one as the sun of destruction (2 Thessalonians 2:3). He is described in other places, especially by John, as the antichrist. This is the one who opposes God in all things in the end times (2 Thessalonians 2:4).
The background to Paul’s explanations and descriptions of the end times here, of the man of lawlessness and the “abomination of desolation” comes from the Old Testament. Daniel talked about the abomination of desolation (Daniel 9:27).
This is a secular leader who will oppose God and every other kind of god, wanting to demonstrate that he himself is god (2 Thessalonians 2:4). The abomination of desolation comes in when he takes his seat in God’s temple and declares himself to be god (2 Thessalonians 2:4).
We don’t know exactly what this will look like. Typically in the Old Testament the Mercy Seat was the place where God’s presence would be during the Day of atonement when the priest would sacrifice, first floor himself, and then the sins of the nation of Israel.
The Mercy Seat was the place where God’s physical presence and the Shekinah glory sat, between the two cherubim on the top of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. But we don’t know what seat Paul refers to here.
Another historical example we have of the abomination of desolation, although not a complete fulfillment, as will be the one with the man of lawlessness, is the military leader Antiochus Epiphanies IV.
He went into the temple, sacrificed pigs on the altar, and set up a giant statue of Zeus in the Temple to antagonize the Jews. But he was not the complete fulfillment, as this son of destruction, the man of lawlessness, or the antichrist, will be in the end times.
Paul told the Thessalonians about these things in the end times, although most likely not in as much detail as he would have liked (2 Thessalonians 2:5). He goes on to describe the thing that restrains this evil one, this man of lawlessness, from being revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7).
There are several suggestions to what the Restrainer may be, but the two most popular answers are that it may be the church, since this is what Jesus takes out of the world at the rapture, or the Holy Spirit, who restrains evil for a time. It could be Christians themselves, who as salt and light in the world hold back the full measure of evil until they are no longer here.
It is only after this Restrainer is removed from the earth that the man of lawlessness, the antichrist, can be revealed (2 Thessalonians 2:8). At the time that he is revealed, the Lord Jesus himself will strike him down and kill him.
We are not clear on the exact events of the end times yet. It could be that Paul is giving the final destiny of this man of lawlessness rather than explaining that the moment Jesus returns is the moment of his death.
The book of Revelation describes a great battle that takes place before the antichrist, the devil, and all of the evil ones will be judged for good. In that book, there are several other steps that take place between the coming of Jesus and the destruction of the man of lawlessness.
Paul describes the coming of this lawless one as the action of Satan, pure evil incarnate. Even those who love unrighteousness and follow falsehood will love him unto death. And he will kill them because he doesn’t care about them. Because they have loved unrighteousness and wickedness, they will get their just rewards (2 Thessalonians 2:9-11).
Those who do not believe in the light of Jesus and his truth have been under a strong delusion and do not see the gospel for the freedom it brings. They live in darkness, scratching around for anything that isn’t the true God (2 Thessalonians 2:11).
The message of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-11 is that the saints need not be afraid of anything that happens in the end times because Jesus is our Protector and Guardian. Despite the power of the evil ones, especially this man of lawlessness, Jesus knows that it’s coming and he is our Savior.
In the end times, there will be great evil upon the earth. Many of the things you could never imagine will happen because of this evil that Satan will do through the power of his men of lawlessness. It explains why people are wicked and cannot see the truth of the gospel.
But we must know beyond a shadow of doubt as Christians that the Day of the Lord has not yet arrived. We will know when it comes because all of these signs that Paul gives must take place before everything is completed. Jesus has not abandoned us. And we must serve him until he comes.