Don’t Let Anyone Deceive You In Any Way
Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. (2 Thessalonians 2:3)
In Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians he instructs them once again regarding the return of Christ and the Day of the Lord. In both letters to the Thessalonians Paul covers material that he had previously taught them. In the second letter it appears that Paul, is making absolutely sure they understand about the coming of Jesus Christ and our gathering on the Day of the Lord. Let’s see how he makes it clear to the Church.
2 Thessalonians 1
First, Paul gives a concise description of the events that will transpire when Christ returns. Let’s look carefully at this passage to understand what Paul is telling us.
God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed (apokalupsis) from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
Paul says when the Lord is revealed from heaven, He will give us relief from trouble and at the same time He will pay back to those who are responsible for our trouble. This relief is our deliverance which Paul called “the blessed hope” of the Church, in Titus 2:13. The punishment “with everlasting destruction” is the wrath of God, which will be poured out on the unbelieving world on “the day of reckoning,” (Isaiah 10:3). Therefore, when Paul says that our relief comes at the same time of God’s judgment, he is telling us that the resurrection of believers and the wrath of God will both take place on the Day of the Lord.
Paul uses the Greek word apokalupsis to signify Christ’s visible return to earth, just as he did in 1 Corinthians.
Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed [apokalupsis]. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:7, 8).
In both passages Paul says we are to wait for our deliverance until Jesus’ return, on the Day of the Lord.
He comes to be glorified
Paul tells that this will occur “on the day he comes to be glorified.” Once again we see a clear connection between the Day of the Lord and the coming of Christ. Both Isaiah and Zechariah also make this point abundantly clear in their prophecies regarding that day when the Lord alone will be exalted over the whole earth.
The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day (Isaiah 2:11).
The LORD will be king over the whole earth. On that day there will be one LORD, and his name the only name (Zechariah 14:9).
If only Christ will be exalted over the whole earth on the Day of the Lord, then that day must come after the Great Tribulation. For we know that during the Great Tribulation the Antichrist will be reigning on the earth and he will be worshiped by the whole unbelieving world. So, if the Bible says Christ alone is exalted on the Day of the Lord, can the Antichrist be exalted at the same time? Those who hold to the opinion that the Day of the Lord comes before the end of the Great Tribulation would be wise to consider these verses.
Let’s summarize what Paul has been saying in 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10. When Christ is revealed on the Day of the Lord:
He will be revealed from heaven with His angels
He will give relief to the Church
He will punish the unbelievers
He will be glorified
2 Thessalonians 2
In chapter two Paul warns us that deception, about the last days, will come in many ways and even from seemingly reliable sources. His advice echoes the warnings that Jesus gave during the Olivet Discourse. Paul is very concerned about the deception that had already slipped into the Thessalonian church. Apparently someone had introduced into the church, by letter or prophecy, a report saying that the Day of the Lord had already come. Let’s look at how Paul tries to clear up the deception.
Concerning the coming [parousia] of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion [apostasia] occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Don't you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5)
Paul warns us against any teaching which is not consistent with the Gospel he is proclaiming. Apparently the Thessalonians had accepted some report indicating; “the day of the Lord has already come.” We find that some years later Paul also warned Timothy about what may have been this same teaching; Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching, “the resurrection has already taken place.” This is what Paul said about that.
Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have wandered away from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some (2 Timothy 2:17, 18).
The instructions in these passages provide an extremely important message. That incorrectly handling the Word may result in separation from the truth and cause people to lose faith. Paul is telling us that we must rely on the Word of God and not believe everything we hear.
Concerning the coming of the Lord and our being gathered
Paul makes it absolutely clear that he is writing “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him.” This coming [parousia] is the same coming Paul wrote about in 1 Thessalonians 4:15. It is also the same coming [parousia] that Jesus describes in Matthew 24:3, 27, 37 and 39. In each of these passages the Greek word parousia is used to identify the future Advent of Christ. Paul also ties together Christ’s coming, our gathering and the Day of the Lord. Therefore, Paul is telling us that the believers will be gathered when Christ returns on the Day of the Lord. Paul goes on to say that the Day of the Lord will not come until after two things happen: “the rebellion” and the revealing of the “man of lawlessness,” the Antichrist.
After the rebellion!
The Greek word apostasia is translated in this passage as “rebellion.” Apostasia means “a falling away, defecting, apostasy; in the Bible sc. from the true faith.”1 The English word apostasy is derived from apostasia and captures the meaning in the text. Apostasy means, “an abandoning of what one has believed in, as a faith.”2
Paul writes that the rebellion (falling away from the faith) will take place before Jesus returns and gathers the Church.
We know, from Matthew 24:9, 10, that a time of worldwide persecution and death will take place in the future when many of the followers of Christ will turn away from the faith. Jesus also warned us that there will be a time of great deception when “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible” (Matthew 24:24). Jesus is describing the circumstances which will take place during the Great Tribulation in both of these passages. The Great Tribulation is characterized in Scripture as a time of testing and “trial that will come on the whole world” (Revelation 3:10). It is during this time of tribulation and persecution that the turning away from the faith will occur as the followers of Christ will be put to the ultimate test of their faith. Both Paul and Christ warn us about this time and alert us to this future falling away from the faith.
After the Antichrist is revealed!
Paul also tells us that the Antichrist will be revealed before Jesus Christ returns. He then goes on to describe the circumstances that will take place when the Antichrist will be revealed. He says that the Antichrist “sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). When the Antichrist enters the temple and proclaims that he is God that will be the event called the abomination that causes desolation. We have already studied about this in Daniel’s prophecies and in the Olivet Discourse. Paul and Daniel both describe the Antichrist and the circumstances of the abomination that causes desolation in similar ways. Compare Paul’s writing with Daniel’s below and see the similarities.
He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4).
He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods (Daniel 11:36).
His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation (Daniel 11:31).
He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven.' In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on a wing of the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him (Daniel 9:27).
The prophecies of Daniel 9:27 regarding the Antichrist match perfectly with Paul’s prophecy about “the man of lawlessness” who will enter the temple of God and declare himself to be God. Therefore, we can determine which events must come before Christ’s return:
· Antichrist will be revealed at the abomination that causes desolation (in the middle of Daniel’s 70th Week).
· The turning away from the faith (during the Great Tribulation).
Then, after these two events, Christ will return on the Day of the Lord to gather the elect.
Who is the Restrainer?
Paul goes on to tell us that the Antichrist will be revealed at the appointed time.
And now you know what is holding him back, so that he [Antichrist] may be revealed at the proper time (2 Thessalonians 2:6).
Connecting the prophecies of Daniel with Paul’s prophecies we see that the Antichrist will be revealed at the abomination that causes desolation. We also know from Daniel and Jesus that the abomination that causes desolation occurs immediately before the Great Tribulation.
Now, we are about to dig into one of the most fascinating and perhaps challenging eschatological mysteries of our study. Paul tells us that someone is now restraining “the secret power of lawlessness.” He goes on to say that when he is no longer restraining “the secret power of lawlessness” the Antichrist will be revealed.
Who is now holding back the secret power of lawlessness? Let’s look carefully at what Paul is telling us.
And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, (2 Thessalonians 2:6-8)
For centuries students and scholars alike have attempted to guess who the restrainer is “the one who now holds it back.” However, few seem to have consulted the Scriptures for the answer. One premise of our study is that, if God desires that we know and understand a prophecy before it happens, He will provide the answer in Scripture. That is why we have repeatedly sought to have Scripture interpret Scripture, for our understanding. The answer, if available, will be revealed by studying all Scripture related to the question. However, before we search for the identity of the restrainer, “the one who now holds it back,” we will first search for the identity of who is being held back. Paul indicates that there are three players in this last days scenario, and one we already know is the Antichrist.
1. He who is being held back - ?
2. He who is doing the holding - ?
3. He who will be revealed - Antichrist
So, according to Scripture, who has or is the “secret power of lawlessness” which is being held back?
Who has the secret power of lawlessness?
What do we know about the one who has “the secret power of lawlessness” other than that he is being held back? Paul says that “the secret power of lawlessness” is already at work and the one who has it is currently being held back. Therefore, we know that, in 51 AD, when Paul wrote this letter, “the secret power of lawlessness” was already at work and that he who has it was still being held back at that time. We also know that he will be held back until the time of the abomination that causes desolation, which is when the Antichrist will be revealed. Paul says,
He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God… And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time (2 Thessalonians 2:4, 6).
The apostle John provides evidence to the identity of the one who has “the secret power of lawlessness” when he defines lawlessness. He then connects lawlessness to Satan. Notice that like Paul, John also indicates that Satan has been at work from the beginning and is still at work even to this day.
Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4).
He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning (1 John 3:8).
In these verses John defines “sin” as lawlessness and says that Satan is the power behind sin. While it seems clear that John is saying that Satan is the one who has the power of lawlessness, we should search further to determine if there is other Scripture to support this position. Let’s look in the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation during the time of the Antichrist and the abomination that causes desolation. The reason for looking at these prophecies is because Paul is telling us that the Antichrist will be revealed when Satan is no longer restrained. Are there any connections between Satan and the Antichrist? Let’s look at some verses, bold added for emphasis.
He [Antichrist] will become very strong, but not by his own power. He will cause astounding devastation and will succeed in whatever he does. He will destroy the mighty men and the holy people. He will cause deceit to prosper, and he will consider himself superior (Daniel 8:24, 25).
Daniel says that the Antichrist will become very powerful but that someone else will provide the power he needs. A characteristic of this power, which is evident in both Paul’s and Daniel’s writing, is deception; the Antichrist uses deception to mislead the world. “He will cause deceit to prosper” (Daniel 8:25) as he “deceives those who are perishing” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). Also, in Revelation, we see that Satan will give his power and authority to the Antichrist.
The dragon [Satan] gave the beast [Antichrist] his power and his throne and great authority (Revelation 13:2).
Revelation provides the evidence to confirm that Satan is the one who has the secret power of lawlessness. Satan gives the Antichrist his power to deceive the world during the Great Tribulation.
Paul also ties the work of Satan and the Antichrist together, just as we have seen in Revelation. Paul says,
The coming of the lawless one [Antichrist] will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing (2 Thessalonians 2:9, 10).
Therefore, we now know the identity of two of the three players in Paul’s last days scenario:
1. He who is being held back - Satan
2. He who is doing the holding - ?
3. He who will be revealed - Antichrist
Who is holding back Satan?
So, now, the big question is, who is holding back Satan “the secret power of lawlessness,” until the appointed time?
In order to determine conclusively the identity of Satan’s restrainer we will examine various prophecies that describe what takes place at the time of the abomination that causes desolation. First, let’s see what Paul says about this event.
Paul’s version of the abomination
Paul describes the abomination that causes desolation as when the Antichrist is revealed.
He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God… And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, (2 Thessalonians 2:4-8)
According to Paul, “he” who now restrains Satan will continue to do so until, the appointed time, when “he” is taken out of the way. When “he” is taken out of the way the Antichrist will be revealed. Therefore, the Antichrist will be revealed when Satan is no longer restrained.
Since, Daniel wrote extensively about the rise to power of the Antichrist and was the first to prophesy about the abomination that causes desolation, let’s examine his prophecies next.
Daniel’s version of the abomination
In this key prophecy of Daniel we see outlined the period called the Great Tribulation.
At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress [tribulation] such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people--everyone whose name is found written in the book--will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake (Daniel 12:1, 2).
Daniel tells us, that Michael, the protector of God’s people, will arise to take his stand. Michael’s call to action comes before the Great Tribulation, which is the time the Antichrist is revealed. Since we already know that the Antichrist will be revealed when Satan is unrestrained, we need to determine if something takes place between Michael and Satan at that time.
Because the book of Revelation is the single most comprehensive description of the last days we might expect to find the answer to this mystery there.
John’s version of the abomination
In chapter 12 of Revelation, John relates to us a vision he saw in heaven which will take place at the same time the abomination that causes desolation will occur on earth. Let’s read how he describes the scene.
And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he [Satan] was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down--that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him (Revelation 12:7-9).
So, at the appointed time, Michael will arise and fight against Satan and Satan will lose his place in heaven. Apparently, when Satan and his angels are hurled down to the earth, Michael will no longer be restraining him and Satan is able to go after the people of God without restraint.
When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman [Israel] who had given birth to the male child [Jesus]. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time [3 ½ years], out of the serpent's reach…. Then the dragon was enraged at the woman [Israel] and went off to make war against the rest of her offspring [the Church]--those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus (Revelation 12:13-17).
When Michael throws Satan down to earth, Satan will become furious and pursue the destruction of Israel and the Church during the Great Tribulation. We know this is the time of the Great Tribulation because of what is happening and because John tells us how long this period of distress lasts. He says that this will be for “a time, times and half a time” which is the same expression that Daniel used when he wrote of the Great Tribulation period in Daniel 7:25 and 12:7. Therefore, we know that Michael will cast Satan down to earth at the same time of the abomination that causes desolation, when the Antichrist is revealed. In Revelation 13, John tells us even more about what happens during this last three-and-a-half years of the Great Tribulation when Satan is unrestrained. Let’s read it.
Men worshiped the dragon [Satan] because he had given authority to the beast [Antichrist], and they also worshiped the beast and asked, "Who is like the beast? Who can make war against him?" The beast was given a mouth to utter proud words and blasphemies and to exercise his authority for forty-two months [3 ½ years]. He opened his mouth to blaspheme God, and to slander his name and his dwelling place and those who live in heaven. He was given power to make war against the saints and to conquer them. And he was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation. All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast--all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world. He, who has an ear, let him hear (Revelation 13:4-9).
We have now seen the prophecies of Paul, Daniel and John regarding what happens at the time of the abomination that causes desolation. This is the sequence of events as they have written:
1. Michael arises and throws Satan out of heaven to earth.
2. Satan gives his power to the Antichrist.
3. Antichrist is revealed at the abomination that causes desolation.
4. The Great Tribulation begins immediately and lasts 3 1/2 years.
5. Christ returns on the Day of the Lord and gathers His elect.
Putting all this together, we have concluded that Michael is the one who is holding back Satan (the power of lawlessness) until the appointed time. Michael will then defeat Satan in battle and throw him and his angels down to earth. Satan’s power of lawlessness will then be unrestrained and he will turn his fury on the people of God.
So now we know the mystery of all three players in Paul’s last days scenario, as it is written.
1. He who is being held back - Satan
2. He who is doing the holding - Michael is the restrainer !
3. He who will be revealed - Antichrist
Once again we see that the Bible is the best source for interpreting the Bible. The mystery regarding the identity of the one who restrains the secret power of lawlessness is clearly revealed.
During the Great Tribulation
As we return to 2 Thessalonians 2 we also see that when the Antichrist is revealed he will immediately begin the period known as the Great Tribulation. During this time there will be great deception and persecution perpetrated on the whole world by the Antichrist. Not only will there be great deception by the Antichrist but God Himself will prevent those who have delighted in wickedness from knowing the truth.
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).
As we compare this passage with the description in Revelation, we see that there will be a considerable level of supernatural activity during the Great Tribulation.
Because of the signs he [False Prophet] was given power to do on behalf of the first beast [Antichrist], he deceived the inhabitants of the earth. He ordered them to set up an image in honor of the beast that was wounded by the sword and yet lived. He was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that it could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed (Revelation 13:14, 15).
Because the consequences of not knowing the truth are so terrible, Paul closes his letter with a very strong warning and strict instructions to adhere to the Word of God.
If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of him. Do not associate with him, in order that he may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother (2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15).
Richard H Perry