Man of Lawlessness - Disinformation

Disinformation about the “day of the Lord” caused alarm among many in the congregation at Thessalonica – 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

Sun Rising - Photo by David Jusko on Unsplash
In Thessalonica, Paul addressed a claim that the “day of the Lord had set in,” which had disturbed members of the congregation. The rumor was spread either by a “spirit,” word (logos), or letter, “as if by us.” In addressing this, Paul listed two events that must occur BEFORE the “arrival” of Jesus. First, the “revealing of the man of lawlessness”; and second, the “apostasy.” - [Photo by David Jusko on Unsplash].

The reference to a “word” received “by spirit or by discourse or by letter as from us” provides a verbal link to the conclusion of the literary unit (verses 1-15). The entire chapter deals with the subjects of the “day of the Lord,” the “man of lawlessness,” and the “apostasy.” Additionally, it instructs the Thessalonians on how to respond to these false claims and avoid deception.
  • (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, 13-15) – “That you be not quickly tossed from your mind, nor be put in alarm, either by spirit or by discourse or by letter as by us, as that the day of the Lord has set in… Hence then, brethren, stand firm and hold fast the instructions which you were taught, whether through discourse or through our letter.”
Rather than heed rumors about the imminent “arrival” of Jesus, disciples must cleave to the instructions they were taught, “whether through discourse or through our letter.” Paul admonished the Thessalonians to adhere to the apostolic tradition they had received, and not to listen to any voices that deviated from it.

In the preceding chapter, the Apostle prepared the ground for this controversy. Despite hostility, the Thessalonians exhibited “endurance and faith in all their persecutions and tribulations.” But God would recompense “tribulation to them that trouble you,” but “release” to the beleaguered saints at the “revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven” when he would take vengeance on their persecutors - (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10).

THE PROBLEMJesus had warned his disciples not to be alarmed by deceivers who would spread false reports and caused anxiety about the nearness of the “end.” So, likewise, Paul warned the Thessalonians not to heed recent claims that the “day of the Lord” was imminent or had even arrived. That day would not come before certain events transpired.
  • (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2) - “But we request you, brethren, in behalf of the arrival of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to him, that you be not quickly tossed from your mind nor be put in alarm, either by spirit or by discourse or by letter as by us, as that the day of the Lord has set in.”
In the passage, “arrival” translates the Greek noun parousia, the term applied most often to the “coming of Jesus” in the letters to the Thessalonians. It denotes an “arrival” or “presence,” the arrival of someone or something - (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2:8-9).

Our gathering together to him” translates the noun episunagogé. Whatever this “gathering” is, Paul connects it with the “arrival” of Jesus and to the “day of the Lord.” The Greek word is related to the verb episunagō, meaning “to gather together,” which was applied by Jesus to the “gathering of his elect” at his “coming” (“Then shall he send his angels and gather together his elect from the four winds”).
This “gathering” refers to the same event that Paul now states will occur at the “arrival” of Jesus on the “day of the Lord” - (Matthew 24:31, Mark 13:27, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

That you not be quickly troubled.” The verb rendered “troubled” is throeō, which occurs only here and on the lips of Jesus in his ‘Olivet Discourse.’ Thus, Paul echoes his warning about coming deceivers:
  • (Matthew 24:6) – “And you shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that you be not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet” – (Also, Mark 13:7).
Whether by spirit or by discourse or by letter, as by us.” Paul was unsure how this disinformation was spread. “Spirit” is ambiguous, but could refer to the exercise of a spiritual gift like prophecy. “Discourse” or logos can refer to several types of verbal communication. The significance of “letter” is obvious. “As by us” suggests a communication allegedly from Paul.

The day of the Lord.” Paul links this day to the “arrival” of Jesus and the “gathering” of the elect. The “day of the Lord” is a common term in the Hebrew Bible for the time of visitation and judgment by God, the “day of Yahweh” - (Isaiah 2:12, Joel 1:15, 2:1, 2:31, 3:14, Malachi 4:5). Paul used this same phrase in his previous letter to the Thessalonians:
  • (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2) - “Yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night.”
The analogy of the “thief in the night” is from a saying by Jesus recorded in the gospel of Luke about his future arrival:
  • (Luke 12:39) - “And this know, that if the good man of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Therefore, be ready also, for the Son of man is coming at an hour you think not” - (Compare - 2 Peter 3:10).
In Paul’s letters, the “day of the Lord” becomes the “day of Jesus Christ,” his hour of vindication for the righteous and judgment for the wicked – (1 Corinthians 1:8, 5:5, 2 Corinthians 1:14, Philippian 1:6-10, 2:16).

Has set in” translates the Greek verb enistemi, meaning, “to stand in, to set in”; here, it is in the perfect tense to depict a completed action. In this context, the term points to an imminent event or even one that has already commenced. Unfortunately for us, Paul does not detail exactly how the Thessalonians understood this alleged scenario.

In the next paragraph, Paul will begin to defuse the situation. That day cannot arrive until certain events occur. In all this, Paul does not provide “signs” by which a believer can ascertain the time of the end; but instead, he presents evidence for why that day has not yet arrived.


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