The Return of Jesus – 2 Thessalonians 2
Read the Passage: 2 Thessalonians 2
Day of the Lord (2:1–12)
Recall that in 2 Thess. 1:7–10 Paul had briefly addressed Jesus’ return as he taught about the judgment of unbelievers. In a similar manner, back in 1 Thess. 4:13–5:11 Paul wrote about the return of Christ. Note that these two passages, and the current one, differ as follows: 1 Thess. 4:13–5:11 focuses primarily on the fate of believers who have passed away; 2 Thess. 1:7–10 is about the judgment of unbelievers; and 2 Thess. 2:1–12 is about the return of Christ and those in the church. Apparently, the Thessalonian church had received a spurious letter, purportedly from Paul, which taught that “the day of Christ had [already] come” (2 Thess. 2:2). While Paul gives no details about this false teaching, it is possible that some people were claiming that the Day of the Lord had occurred at Jesus’ first advent, or when the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost, or on some unknown occasion.
2 Thess. 2:3–12 is one of the most detailed passages in the Bible about the Day of the Lord. In 2 Thess. 2:3–4 Paul teaches that two events must occur before Christ will return, thus Jesus could not have already returned. Here Paul writes, “That Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed” (2 Thess. 2:3). The falling away likely refers to a future great apostasy and the man of sin is likely the one whom John later refers to as “the antichrist” (1 John 2:18). While Paul does not offer any information about the falling away, in 2 Thess. 2:4–8 he describes the man of sin as opposing God (cf. 2 Thess. 2:4), he teaches that God is currently restraining sin (cf. 2 Thess. 2:6–7), and he writes, “The lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (2 Thess. 2:8).
Just as Paul taught that signs must precede the return of Christ, so Jesus had earlier given a similar teaching in the so-called Olivet Discourse (cf. Matt. 24:4–25). Another way in which Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings correspond is the idea that signs will be continually present all throughout the church era (cf. Matt. 24:8; 2 Thess. 2:7). Observe that John would later write, “The Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have [already] come” (1 John 2:18). In 2 Thess. 2:9–10 Paul writes that the coming of the lawless one (or the man of sin, or the antichrist) is according to the working of Satan. Moreover, since “the mystery of lawlessness is already at work” (2 Thess. 2:7), this Satanic activity will deceive many in regard to salvation. Note, however, that Satanic deception does not thwart the plan of God or circumvent the will of man, for all those who are condemned both take pleasure in and have freely chosen to sin (cf. 2 Thess. 2:11–12).
Sanctification of Believers (2:13–15)
Just as there will be signs that mark the return of Christ, and there are things that mark the man of sin, so there are certain characteristics that mark true Christians. In 2 Thess. 2:13–17 Paul records his thankfulness for the church and briefly discusses two characteristics of the Thessalonian believers. First, in 2 Thess. 2:13 Paul writes that from the beginning God chose Christians for salvation. While the idea of God choosing believers for salvation may unsettle some, it is necessary, for no one can or will choose God apart from His grace (cf. John 6:44, 65; Rom. 3:10–11). Second, in 2 Thess. 2:14 Paul teaches that Christians are called by God through the gospel. Indeed, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Because the Thessalonian believers were chosen and called by God, they could “stand fast” (2 Thess. 2:15) against both suffering and false teaching.
Blessing from Paul (2:16–17)
While Paul teaches about eschatology in this brief letter, recall that his main purpose was not to pen a technical theological treatise; rather his intent was to send pastoral words to a relatively new church in order to comfort believers who were experiencing persecution and grappling with false teaching. Ultimately, however, Paul realized that it is “our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and our God and Father, who . . . [will] comfort your hearts and establish you in every good word and work” (2 Thess. 2:16–17). In this closing passage Paul cites three things that God gives to believers to comfort us. First, the fact that God “has loved us” (2 Thess. 2:16a), even while we were yet sinners, is of great comfort in trials. Second, Paul reminds his readers that God encourages us and has “given us everlasting consolation” (2 Thess. 2:16b). Third, Paul writes that God has given us “good hope by grace” (2 Thess. 2:16c).
- Why do false teachers almost always focus on the doctrine of salvation, teachings on the material world (including sex and money), and the return of Christ?
- What does it mean to “be ready” for the return of Christ? Why are some believers easily led astray by false teachings about the end times?
- What is the difference between the teaching that Jesus’ return in imminent and the idea that Christ’s return is impending?
- Regarding those whom Satan deceives, why does God “send them strong delusion that they should believe the lie” (2 Thess. 2:11; cf. Ezek. 14:9; Rom. 1:26)?
- Does the fact that God has chosen you for salvation, and called you by the gospel, comfort you or concern you?