Through the prophet Isaiah, God declared, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure” (Isa. 46:10), and “I act and who can reverse it?” (Isa. 43:13).
Paul had preached the sobering truth about the Day of the Lord to the Thessalonians during his relatively brief stay in their city (2 Thess. 2:5). After he left, questions arose in their minds about both the Rapture and the Day of the Lord. Second Thessalonians was written from Corinth a few months after 1 Thessalonians
LONGING, WAITING, HOPING
“and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thes 1:10)
Those who love Christ long for and anticipate His return. To wait for the Lord’s return is a recurring theme in the Thessalonian letters (1 Thess. 2:19-20; 3:13; 4:15–17; 5:8, 23; 2 Thess. 3:6–12).
Paul also said:
“In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (2 Tim. 4:8)
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.” (Titus 2:11–13)
Wrath is God’s eternal judgment against sin. Unfortunately, in the postmodern world the idea of divine wrath is largely rejected, so the Rescuer is not needed or heeded.
As true believer we eagerly look forward to Christ’s return because we know that God will rescue us from the wrath to come. Some believe that the mentioning of “the wrath to come” refers to the tribulation and see this rescue as the promise of the pretribulation Rapture. But the immediate context of Paul’s discussion of election and salvation in chapter 1, rather than eschatology, mainly rules out temporal wrath and points to eternal wrath, as does the wrath mentioned in 1 Thessalonians 1:5:9—“For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thes 2:19–20)
Paul always lived and taught others to live in the light of Jesus Christ’s return (Rom. 13:12; Phil. 3:20; 2 Tim. 2:12; 4:8, 18; cf. 1 Cor. 1:7–8; Phil. 4:5; Titus 2:13), and here he plainly stated that the glory to come to believers when Christ returns, provides a powerful motivation for ministering.
The crown of exultation (cf. Prov. 1:9; 1 Cor. 9:25; 2 Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4; Rev. 2:10; 3:11; 6:2) is the festive wreath or victor’s crown, awarded for athletic triumph, and exultation denotes the exuberant expression of joyful feelings, and sometimes is translated “boasting,” in the righteous sense. From the Greek, one can literally render this phrase, “the crown which is rejoicing.” Similarly, “the crown of life” (James 1:12) is “the crown which is life,” and “the crown of righteousness” (2 Tim. 4:8) is “the crown which is righteousness.” The “incorruptible” crown (1 Cor. 9:25 KJV) is the reality of salvation’s triumph over believers’ corruption. The crown or wreath denotes the overwhelming victory God gives His own over sin, suffering, death, and judgment (cf. 1 Peter 5:4).
“so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints.” (1 Thes 3:13)
The final objective of Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians was that they might look to their glorification, which produces a purifying hope. The nature of that hope is best stated in 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (cf. Phil. 3:20–21).
Paul knew that the promise of Christ’s return to Rapture and reward the church is the essence of believers’ purifying hope.
“For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Thes 4:15)
The Rapture does not rest on the shaky foundation of whimsical theological speculation, but on the sure foundation of the death, resurrection, and revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Two groups of people will participate in the Rapture: those who are alive at the coming of the Lord and those who have fallen asleep.
In Romans 13:11-12 Paul wrote, “Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night [of man’s sin and Satan’s rule] is almost gone, and the day [of Christ’s return] is near.” The salvation of which he wrote was the redemption of the body (Rom. 8:23) that takes place when Christ returns.
He wrote to the Corinthians, “Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed” (1 Cor. 15:51–52). As he concluded that letter Paul wrote, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha” (1 Cor. 16:22). Maranatha comes from two Aramaic words that mean “Oh Lord, come!” and expresses Paul’s strong hope that the Lord would return soon.
Paul fully realized that he might die before the Rapture. In 1 Corinthians 6:14 he acknowledged that he might be among those resurrected at the Rapture: “Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.” He affirmed to the Philippians his desire that “Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Phil. 1:20).
Paul lived in constant expectation of Christ’s return. But the apostle nevertheless reassured the Thessalonians that those of their number who had died would not miss the Rapture, which will also include those who have fallen asleep. Moreover, the living will not precede the dead. They will not take precedence over them or gain an advantage over them. Those who die before the Rapture will in no sense be inferior to those who are alive. All Christians will participate in the Rapture.
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thes 4:16–17)
First, the Lord Himself will return for His church. He will not send angels for it, in contrast to the gathering of the elect that takes place at the Second Coming (Mark 13:26–27).
Second, Jesus will descend from heaven, where He has been since His ascension (Acts 1:9–11).
Third, when Jesus comes down from heaven, He will do so with a shout. The Lord’s shout of command will be similar to His raising of Lazarus, when “He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth’” (John 11:43). This is the hour “when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). The righteous dead of the church age will be the first to rise—a truth that must have greatly comforted the anxious Thessalonians.
Fourth, the voice of the archangel will sound. There is no definite article in the Greek text, which literally reads, “an archangel.” Jude 9 is the only other passage in Scripture that mentions an archangel, the archangel is Michael. Scripture does not say whether or not he is the only archangel (there were seven archangels according to Jewish tradition). Thus, it is impossible to say who the archangel whose voice will be heard at that Rapture is. Whoever he is, he adds his voice to the Lord’s shout of command.
Fifth, to the Lord’s command and the archangel’s voice will be added the sounding of the trumpet of God (cf. 1 Cor. 15:52). Trumpets were used in Scripture for many reasons. They sounded at Israel’s feasts (Num. 10:10), celebrations (2 Sam. 6:15), and convocations (Lev. 23:24), to sound an alarm in time of war (Num. 10:9) or for any other reason it was necessary to gather a crowd (Num. 10:2; Judg. 6:34) or make an announcement (1 Sam. 13:3; 2 Sam. 15:10; 20:1; 1 Kings 1:34, 39, 41). The trumpet at the Rapture has no connection to the trumpets of judgment in Revelation 8–11. It seems to have a twofold purpose: to assemble God’s people (cf. Ex. 19:16–19) and to signal His deliverance of them (cf. Zech. 1:16; 9:14–16).
Sixth, the dead in Christ will rise first, their glorified bodies joining with their glorified spirits to make them into the image of Christ, as the apostle John wrote: “We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:2). Those who were in Christ in life will be so in death; death cannot separate believers from God (Rom. 8:38): “therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8).
Finally, those believers who are alive and remain will be caught up together with the dead saints in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Harpazō (caught up) refers to a strong, irresistible, even violent act. In Matthew 11:12 it describes the taking of the kingdom of heaven by force. In John 10:12 it describes a wolf snatching sheep; in John 10:28–29 it speaks of the impossibility of anyone’s snatching believers out of the hands of Jesus Christ and God the Father; in Acts 8:39 it speaks of Philip’s being snatched away from the Ethiopian eunuch; and in 2 Corinthians 12:2, 4 it describes Paul’s being caught up into the third heaven. It is when living believers are caught up that they are transformed and receive their glorified bodies (Phil. 3:21). “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” believers “will be changed” (1 Cor. 15:52), rescued from the grasp of Satan, the fallen flesh, the evil world system, and the coming wrath of God.
TIMING OF THE RAPTURE
The time of the Rapture cannot be discerned from this passage alone. But when it is read with other Rapture texts (John 14:3; Rev. 3:10; cf. 1 Cor. 15:51–52; Phil. 3:2–21), and compared to judgment texts (Matt. 13:34–50; 24:29–44; Rev. 19:11–21), it is clear that there is no mention of judgment at all in the Rapture passages, whereas the others major on judgment. It is therefore necessary to conclude that the Rapture occurs at a time other than the judgment. It is best, then, to separate the two events. That initiates the case for the Rapture to occur imminently, before the elements of judgment described in Scripture as leading up to the Second Coming in judgment.
Although no solitary text of Scripture makes the entire case for the pretribulation Rapture, when one considers all the New Testament evidence, a very compelling case for the pretribulational position emerges, which answers more questions and solves more problems than any other Rapture position.
The following arguments present a strong case in favour of the pretribulation Rapture:
First, Revelation 6–18 does not mention the church as being on earth. Because Revelation 1–3 uses the Greek word for church nineteen times, one would reasonably assume that if the church were on earth rather than in heaven during the tribulation, they would use “church” with similar frequency, but such is not the case.
Second, Revelation 19 does not mention a Rapture even though that is where a posttribulational Rapture (if true) would logically occur.
Third, a posttribulational Rapture renders the Rapture concept itself inconsequential. If God preserves the church during the Tribulation, as posttribulationists assert, then why have a Rapture at all? It makes no sense to Rapture believers from earth to heaven for no apparent purpose other than to return them immediately with Christ to earth.
Fourth, if God raptures and glorifies all believers just prior to the inauguration of the millennial kingdom (as a posttribulational Rapture demands), no one would be left to populate and propagate the earthly kingdom of Christ promised to Israel. It is not within the Lord’s plan and purpose to use glorified individuals to propagate the earth during the Millennium. Therefore, the Rapture needs to occur earlier so that after God has raptured all believers, He can save more souls —including Israel’s remnant—during the seven-year Tribulation.
Fifth, the New Testament does not warn of an impending tribulation, such as is experienced during Daniel’s seventieth week, for church-age believers. It does warn of error and false prophets (Acts 20:29–30; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1–3), and of present tribulation (1 Thess. 2:14–16; 2 Thess. 1:4; all of 2 Peter). Thus it is incongruous that the New Testament would be silent concerning such a traumatic change as Daniel’s seventieth week if posttribulationism were true.
Sixth, Paul’s instructions here to the Thessalonians demand a pretribulational Rapture because, if Paul were teaching them posttribulationism, one would expect them to rejoice that loved ones were home with the Lord and spared the horrors of the Tribulation. But, in actuality, the Thessalonians grieved. In addition, with a posttribulational teaching one would expect them to sorrow over their own impending trial and inquire about their future doom; however, they expressed no such dread or questioning.
Seventh, Revelation 3:10 teaches that the Lord will remove the church prior to the Tribulation. In the Greek, the phrase “I also will keep you from” can mean nothing other than “I will prevent you from entering into.” Jesus Christ will honor the church by preventing it from entering the hour of testing, namely Daniel’s seventieth week, which is about to come upon the entire world. Only a pretribulational Rapture can explain how this will happen.
The final step in the plan of the Rapture is the blessed, comforting truth that after Christ returns to gather us (believers) to Himself, we shall always be with the Lord.
“Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1 Thes 4:18)
Paul’s goal in teaching the Thessalonians about the Rapture was to comfort them. Paul calls the return of Christ “the blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).
SANCTIFICATION’S GOAL AND CULMINATION
“be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thes 5:23c)
At the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, God will make all believers sinless forever. First Corinthians 15:50–54 affirms that reality: “Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
A NEW REVELATION
Although the Gospels talk about a trumpet and the gathering of the elect, the differences between those passages and the passage in 1 Thessalonians 4:15 outweigh the similarities, as Robert L. Thomas notes:
“Similarities between this passage in 1 Thessalonians and the gospel accounts include a trumpet (Matt. 24:31), a resurrection (John 11:25, 26), and a gathering of the elect (Matt. 24:31)…. Yet dissimilarities between it and the canonical sayings of Christ far outweigh the resemblances…. Some of the differences between Matthew 24:30, 31 and 1 Thessalonians 4:15–17 are as follows: (1) In Matthew the Son of Man is coming on the clouds, … in 1 Thessalonians ascending believers are in them. (2) In the former the angels gather, in the latter the Son does so personally. (3) In the former nothing is said about resurrection, while in the latter this is the main theme. (4) Matthew records nothing about the order of ascent, which is the principal lesson in Thessalonians.” (“1, 2 Thessalonians,” in Frank E. Gaebelein, ed. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 11 [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979], 276–77)
Further, in 1 Corinthians 15:51 Paul referred to the Rapture as a mystery; that is, a truth formerly hidden but now revealed. That indicates that Jesus did not disclose the details of the Rapture during His earthly ministry. (He referred to the Rapture in John 14:1–3 in a general, nonspecific sense.) Paul’s teaching on the Rapture was new revelation, possibly given by God through a prophet (such as Agabus; Acts 21:11) but more likely directly to Paul himself. The Thessalonians had apparently been informed about the Day of the Lord judgment (5:1–2), but not about the preceding event—the Rapture of the church —until the Holy Spirit through Paul revealed it to them. This was new revelation, unveiled mystery.
THE DAY OF THE LORD
“Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you. for you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. hile they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.” (1 Thes 5:1–3)
From the blessed event of the catching away of the church, Paul turned to the horrible event that follows it, namely the destruction of the wicked rejecters of the Lord Jesus Christ. As history continues to unfold the eternally planned purposes of God, one event looms large on the horizon: The Day of the Lord. That event will mark the end of man’s day, as God acts in judgment to take back direct control of the earth from the usurpers (both human and demonic) who presently rule it. It will be an unprecedented time of cataclysmic judgment on all unrepentant sinners.
The phrase the times (chronos) and the epochs (kairos) refers in a general sense to the end times (cf. Dan. 2:21; Acts 1:7). Chronos refers to chronological time, while kairos views time in terms of events, eras, or seasons, such as the times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24).
The Thessalonians did not need to know when the Day of the Lord would come; they already knew all that God intended them to know. There were no need of anything to be written in this regard.
“For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, “Peace and safety then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child and they will not escape.” (1 Thes 5:2–3)
The Thessalonians knew for certain that the Day of the Lord will arrive unexpectedly. Jesus said, “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into” (Matt. 24:43; cf. Rev. 16:15). Like the Day of the Lord, the exact time of the Second Coming will not be revealed, though there will be signs that Christ’s return is imminent (Matt. 24:4–33).
The metaphor of a thief coming is never used to refer to the Rapture of the church. It describes the coming of the Lord in judgment at the end of the seven year Tribulation period, and the judgment at the end of the thousand-year kingdom of Christ on earth (2 Peter 3:10).
The biblical term the day of the Lord describes God’s cataclysmic future judgment on the wicked. It is mentioned explicitly nineteen times in the Old Testament (Isa. 2:12; 13:6, 9; Ezek. 13:5; 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; 3:14; Amos 5:18 [2 times], 20; Obad. 15; Zeph. 1:7, 14 [2 times]; Zech. 14:1; Mal. 4:5) and four times in the New Testament (cf. Acts 2:20; 2 Thess. 2:2; 2 Peter 3:10), and is alluded to in other passages (cf. Rev. 6:17; 16:14). Scripture three times calls the Day of the Lord the “day of vengeance” (Isa. 34:8; 61:2; 63:4).
The Day of the Lord must be distinguished from the “day of Christ” (Phil. 1:10; 2:16), the “day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6), the “day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5), and the “day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8); all of those terms refer to the time when believers will receive their rewards from the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:11–14; 4:1–5; 2 Cor. 5:9–10). The Day of the Lord must also be distinguished from the “day of God” (2 Peter 3:12), which refers to the eternal state.
The historical days of the Lord, as mentioned in the Old Testament, were merely a prelude to the final eschatological Day of the Lord, which will be far greater in extent and more terrible in its destruction. These passages often have both a near and a far fulfillment, as does much Old Testament prophecy.
Unlike the Rapture, which will not be preceded by any signs, there will be several precursors that will herald the arrival of the eschatological Day of the Lord. Some of these precursors will be discussed later on in this article.
The terrible outpouring of God’s wrath in judgment will happen while they are saying, “Peace and safety!” The lying deceivers will dupe the world into believing that peace and prosperity are just around the corner, despite the ominous signs that the Day of the Lord is fast approaching.
Olethros (destruction) does not refer to annihilation, but separation from God (cf. 2 Thess. 1:9). God will accomplish the destruction of unbelievers by casting them into the eternal torment of hell (2 Thess. 1:9).
By using the term them (a reference to unbelievers), Paul reassured the Thessalonians that they will not face destruction. As he states plainly in verse 4, the Thessalonians will not experience the Day of the Lord; they will be raptured before it begins. The Day of the Lord will come suddenly and unexpectedly on unbelievers. They will not escape divine judgment. “How will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:3).
THE DISTINCTIVENESS OF BELIEVERS’ DESTINY
“For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” (1 Thes 5:9–11)
The blessed truth for believers is that God has not destined us for wrath (cf. 1:10; John 3:18, 36; 5:24; Rom. 5:1, 9; 8:1, 33–34). Believers will not experience the wrath God will pour out on unbelievers on the Day of the Lord, and for eternity in hell.
The word destined expresses the inexorable outworking of God’s sovereign plan for believers’ salvation. Orgē (wrath) does not refer to a momentary outburst of rage, but to “an abiding and settled habit of mind” It is a general reference to the final judgment, when God’s wrath will be poured out on the wicked (Matt. 3:7; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; 12:19;Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6; Rev. 14:9–11). But God’s wrath here must also include the Day of the Lord, since that was the Thessalonians’ primary concern.
Salvation in this passage refers to glorification. Jesus declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” Nor will they face His condemnation, because “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
The marvelous reality is that all believers will live together with Him, as Jesus Himself promised: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:1–3; cf. 1 Thess.4:17)
Paul concluded his discussion of the Day of the Lord by exhorting the Thessalonians to encourage one another and build up one another.
THE SECOND COMING
“when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marvelled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.” (2 Thes 1:10)
When He comes, two things will happen regarding the believers.
First, Christ will be glorified in His saints on that day. There is coming a day in which God will be glorified through believers in a manner never before seen.
This is the glorious manifestation of believers that Paul wrote about in Romans 8:18–19: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.” This glorification will be the final and full redemption of all believers alive when Jesus Christ comes in glory.
Some believers will already be in the glorified condition, having been raptured before the Tribulation. They will have been in heaven since then, in the place prepared for them (John 14:1–3) in resurrection glory enjoying their rewards and fellowship with their Lord. They will return with Christ (Rev. 19:14) to the earth for the Millennium, to join the saints still alive on earth who will receive the earthly kingdom and reign of the Savior. Apparently at the time of Christ’s return, Tribulation saints and Old Testament saints, whose spirits have been with the Lord, will be raised and fully glorified to join those descending from heaven.
This is the resurrection spoken of by Daniel: Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground willawake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. (Dan. 12:1–3) All the living believers who enter the kingdom will see the glorified saints.
Second, believers will be marveled at among all who have believed. Since only believers enter the kingdom, as the judgment of the sheep and goats makes clear (cf. Matt. 25:31–46; Rev. 20:6), the redeemed will wonder at the glory of Christ that is fully revealed in the resurrected saints.
THE ANTICHRIST YET REVEALED
“Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?” (2 Thes 2:1–5)
Paul wrote this section to deal with the Thessalonians’ loss of hope and joy through confusion about the end times. He had already given them explicit instruction about both the Rapture (1 Thess. 4:13–18) and the Day of the Lord (1 Thess. 5:1–11). Yet only a few months later, they had become confused, again fearing that they had missed the Rapture and were in the Day of the Lord. They were directly assaulted by the deception of some false teachers. Paul adds strong evidence to prove that they are not in the Day of the Lord: The Antichrist had not appeared, and his coming will occur just before the Day of the Lord comes.
Man’s religious history has also been plagued by false christs, false teachers and countless other charlatans and wolves in sheep’s clothing. But one is coming who will surpass them all, both in the extent of his power and the evil of his person. He is known in Scripture by many names. In this chapter, Paul describes him as “the man of lawlessness” (v. 3), the “son of destruction” (v. 3), “that lawless one” (v. 8), and “the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan” (v. 9). But he is best known as the Antichrist (1 John 2:18).
Daniel 7:25 depicts him as a blasphemer who “will speak out against the Most High.” He also will “make alterations in times and in law,” replacing the world’s religious ceremonies and observances with new ones in honor of himself and introducing a satanically inspired morality.
But Antichrist’s oppression will be divinely limited to “a time, times, and half a time” (v. 25; cf. 9:27; Rev. 11:2, 3; 12:14; 13:5), the last three and a half years of the Tribulation when his reign of terror is in full swing.
The Thessalonians had forgotten that Paul told them when he was there that the Day of the Lord will not come unless the apostasy comes first. It is important to note that he did not tell his readers that they would live to experience the apostasy and the unveiling of the man of lawlessness. Paul’s point was merely that the apostasy will precede the Day of the Lord.
The basic meaning of apostasia (apostasy) is “revolt,” or “rebellion. Apostasy will reach its peak in the end times as seen in 2 Tim.3:1–5, 13; cf. 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Peter 3:3–4 and Jude 17–18. But Paul’s use of the word apostasy in this passage reveals that he had in mind not a general flow or trend, but a specific, identifiable act of apostasy. The apostasy will be a blasphemous act of unprecedented magnitude. The apostle identified the apostasy by naming the key character connected with it: the man of lawlessness.
After initially posing as the friend of religion (cf. Rev. 17:13), The Antichrist will suddenly reveal his true nature when he commits blasphemy against God and opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship (cf. Rev. 13:15–16). He will exalt himself by taking his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. He will thus desecrate the temple by committing the abomination of desolation spoken of in Matt. 24:15.
Paul takes a deeper look at the man himself. He lists four aspects of Antichrist’s career: his revelation, destruction, power, and influence.
“And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. Then that lawless one will be revealed” (2 Thes 2:6–8a)
The Greek verb translated restrains (katechō; “to hold back,” “to hold down,” “to suppress”) appears in this text as a neuter participle, prompting commentators to suggest numerous options as to the identity of that restraining force. The most significant problem with most of opinions expressed is that they relate to human forces and therefore cannot restrain the supernatural power of Satan that seeks to release the Antichrist. The most logical of those choices, the church, has never been able to restrain even human evil.
God does the restraining so that in his time he will be revealed. Not even the purposes of hell operates independently of God’s sovereign timetable. In Isaiah 46:10 God declares, “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.”
Though Antichrist may be restrained, evil will not be; in fact, the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Evil, lies, hypocrisy, immorality, and false religion permeate the world and grow increasingly worse, so that every generation is more wicked than those before (2 Tim. 3:13), but sin’s ultimate manifestation is yet to come. It should be noted that not only will the man of lawlessness be revealed, but God will also release demons from being bound in hell to inundate the earth (Rev. 9:1–19).
The sovereign, divine force that currently restrains Antichrist is exerted by a person—the Holy Spirit. Only He has the supernatural power to hold Satan in check. Some believe that He will continue His restraining work until the midpoint of the Tribulation. The removal of the Holy Spirit’s restraint therefore cannot be identified with the Rapture of the church, since that event takes place three and a half years earlier, before the Tribulation.
The phrase taken out of the way must not be interpreted to mean that the Holy Spirit will be removed from the world. That is impossible, since He is omnipresent. Nor could anyone be saved during the Tribulation (cf. Rev. 7:14) apart from His regenerating work (John 3:3–8; Titus 3:5). The phrase refers not to the removal of the Holy Spirit from the world, but rather to the cessation of His restraining work.
“whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming;” (2 Thes 2:8b)
Just as Antichrist will be revealed at God’s appointed time, so also is the moment of his destruction divinely ordained. At the height of his power, when he seems invincible, he will meet his end. Daniel 7:26 says, “His dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever”; Daniel 11:45 notes that “he will come to his end, and no one will help him.” Revelation 17:11 declares that Antichrist “goes to destruction,” and that destruction is graphically described in Revelation 19:20: “And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.”
“The Lord will slay him with the mere breath of His mouth.” The concept that the Lord will destroy His enemies with the breath of His mouth stems from the Old Testament. Isaiah 11:4 says that the Lord “will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.”
“that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish,” (2:9–10b)
The Antichrist’s great power will not be his own but will be in accord with the activity of Satan. The Antichrist’s power and signs and false wonders will not only be deceptive tricks, like falsifying his own death and resurrection (Rev. 13:3, 12, 14; 17:8, 11), but also actual manifestations of Satan’s supernatural power. Power (miracles; cf. Matt.7:22; 11:20, 21, 23, etc.) refers to supernatural acts; signs point to the one who performs them; wonders describes the astonishing results. They will cause people to believe the lie that he is a divine being and worship him.
DELUSION AND JUDGEMENT
“because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.” (2:10c–12)
“Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins…. But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.” (John 8:24, 45–47)
The terrifying reality is that God will seal the fate of those who hate the gospel by “sending upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false.” He will sentence unbelievers to accept evil as if it were good and lies as if they were the truth. The story of Pharaoh is a grim reminder that God will judicially harden the hearts of those who persist in hardening their hearts against the truth.
Satan as an instrument of His judgment, in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness. Satan will, through Antichrist and the false prophet, delude the world into believing the lie that the Antichrist is God. Unbelievers will be confirmed in that belief because they will choose not to love the truth, but rather to take pleasure in wickedness.
(Main Source: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – 1 & 2 Thessalonians by John MacArthur)