Wednesday, December 02, 2009

2 Thessalonians 2:6-12

V6-12 – 6And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7For 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. 8And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of His mouth and destroy by the splendor of His coming. 9The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, 10and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

Paul says to his audience, “You know what is holding him back… the one who now holds it back.” The interchangeable pronouns make this difficult. Is it a he or an it? Is he an it or a he? While Paul says that the Thessalonians know what or who he is, we cannot claim that this truth is self-evident for us. We are right to wonder if this is a personal or impersonal being. Could it or he be an institution? Even God Himself? John Crysostom suggested that the Roman Empire, led by the Roman Emperor was holding back the antichrist. When Rome fell, antichrist was revealed (the dark ages).

Calvin argues differently, saying, “Paul declared that the light of the gospel must be diffused through all parts of the earth before God would thus give loose reins to Satan.” He thinks the spread of the gospel to all nations and people groups is what is holding back the man of lawlessness. Calvin says, “A gracious invitation to salvation was first in order,” then once the gospel spreads to all, “vengeance was ripe after grace had been rejected.” Ultimately, the answer of course is that God Himself is restraining the antichrist through the means of someone or something else. At least this was the case for a time, as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians.

Echoing John’s statement (1 John 2:18), Paul acknowledges that, though antichrist has not yet been revealed at the time of writing, the spirit of antichrist, or “secret power of lawlessness is already at work” (v6). Calvin comments, “[Paul] had foretold the destruction of Antichrist’s reign; he now points out the manner of his destruction – that he will be reduced to nothing by the word of the Lord. It is uncertain, however, whether he speaks of the last appearance of Christ, when He will be manifested from heaven as the Judge. The words, indeed, seem to have this meaning, but Paul does not mean that Christ would accomplish this in one moment. Hence we must understand it in this sense – that Antichrist would be wholly and in every respect destroyed when that final day of the restoration of all things shall arrive. Paul, however, intimates that Christ will in the mean time, by the rays which He will emit previously to His advent, put to flight the darkness in which Antichrist will reign, just as the sun, before he is seen by us, chases away the darkness of the night by the pouring forth of his rays.” So we need not fear, because “Jesus will overthrow [him, or it] with the breath of His mouth” (v8; cf. Isaiah 11:4; Revelation 19:15,21).

In v10, Paul notes that “the man of lawlessness” will deceive only those who are perishing. Christians will not buy into his schemes. But the perishing ones refuse to be saved by hating the truth. Because “they refused to love the truth,” God “sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie” unto condemnation for delighting in wickedness. Remember God hardens those He chooses to harden (Romans 1:18-32; 9:18). They harden themselves as well. Oftentimes the punishment for disobedience is more disobedience. Calvin concludes far better than I could:

“[Paul] limits the power of Satan, as not being able to injure the elect of God, just as Christ, also, exempts them from this danger (Matthew 24:24). From this it appears, that Antichrist has not so great power otherwise than by his permission. Now, this consolation was necessary. For all the pious, but for this, would of necessity be overpowered with fear, if they saw a yawning gulf pervading the whole path, along which they must pass. Hence Paul, however he may wish them to be in a state of anxiety, that they may be on their guard, lest by excessive carelessness they should fall back, nay, even throw themselves into ruin, does, nevertheless, bid them cherish good hope, inasmuch as Satan’s power is bridled, that he may not be able to involve any but the wicked in ruin.

“Lest the wicked should complain that they perish innocently and that they have been appointed to death rather from cruelty on the part of God, than from any fault on their part, Paul shows on what good grounds it is that so severe vengeance from God is to come upon them – because they have not received in the temper of mind with which they ought the truth which was presented to them, nay more, of their own accord refused salvation. And from this appears more clearly what I have already stated – that the gospel required to be preached to the world before God would give Satan so much permission, for He would never have allowed His temple to be so basely profaned had He not been provoked by extreme ingratitude on the part of men. In short, Paul declares that Antichrist will be the minister of God’s righteous vengeance against those who, being called to salvation, have rejected the gospel, and have preferred to apply their mind to impiety and errors (Proverbs 8:36)…

“Thus, those that perish have no just ground to expostulate with God, inasmuch as they have obtained what they sought. For we must keep in view what is stated in Deuteronomy 13:3, that the hearts of men are subjected to trial, when false doctrines come abroad, inasmuch as they have no power except among those who do not love God with a sincere heart. Let those, then, who take pleasure in unrighteousness, reap the fruit of it. When he says all, he means that contempt of God finds no excuse in the great crowd and multitude of those who refuse to obey the gospel, for God is the Judge of the whole world, so that He will inflict punishment upon a hundred thousand, no less than upon one individual.”

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