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18 September 2019

The Man of Lawlessness - The Problem (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2)

Judas Betrays Jesus - Courtesy
In his second letter to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul addressed a claim that “the day of the Lord has set in.” This caused alarm among the congregation. Apparently, the rumor was spread by a “spirit,” word (logos) or a letter, “as if by us” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-17). In the process of settling this turmoil, Paul listed two events that must occur BEFORE the parousia or the “arrival” of Jesus: the “revealing of the man of lawlessness” and an “apostasy.”
The description from verse 2, “Whether by spirit or by discourse or by letter as by us,” is a verbal link that serves to mark the start and close of the literary unit (see verses 13-15). 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 such claims.
(2 Thessalonians 2:2, 13-15) – “That ye 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 hath set in…But we are bound to give thanks unto God continually concerning you…for that God chose you from the beginning for salvation, in sanctification of spirit and belief of truth, — Unto which he called you, through means of our glad-message, for possession of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, then, brethren, stand firm and hold fast the instructions which ye were taught—whether through discourse, or through our letter.”
Rather than heed such rumors, the Thessalonians must “hold fast the instructions which ye were taught—whether through discourse or through our letter.” The key is to adhere to the apostolic tradition and not listen to new voices that deviate from it.
In the first chapter of the letter Paul has prepared the ground for the controversy addressed in Chapter 2. He began with thanksgiving for the faithfulness of the Thessalonians despite outside resistance (“we are boasting in you among the assemblies of God over your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations”).
The Thessalonians had suffered at the hands of their neighbors; however, God would recompense “tribulation to them that trouble you.” In contrast, He will grant “release” to the beleaguered Thessalonians at the “revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven.”
On that day, the Lord will take vengeance against their persecutors who, indeed, “a penalty will pay, everlasting destruction from the face of the Lord…whenever he will come to be made all-glorious in his saints and to be marveled at in all who believed,—because our witness unto you was believed,—in that day.”
The first chapter echoes themes from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians in which he praised them for having “received the word in much tribulation,” but also with joy in the Holy Spirit. In this way, they became imitators of the churches of God in Judaea; for you suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they did of the Jews.”
Paul earlier exhorted the Thessalonians not to be moved “by these tribulations, for yourselves know that we are appointed for this” (1 Thessalonians 1:6, 2:14, 3:3-7). “Tribulation” caused by opposition from without the congregation is a theme common to both letters.
In his previous letter, Paul prayed for God to establish the hearts of the Thessalonians in holiness before God, “at the arrival [Parousia] of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones.” They would be his “crown of glorying at the arrival [Parousia] before our Lord Jesus.” At his “arrival” or Parousia, Jesus will “descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel” (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:16).
Only a few months had transpired between the two letters to the Thessalonians. Considering the subject matter, the same future “coming” of Jesus must be under discussion in each of the preceding passages.
Noteworthy are the different Greek terms that Paul applies to this “coming”; the “arrival” or Parousia (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:16, 2 Thessalonians 2:2), the “revelation” or apokalupsis of Jesus (2 Thessalonians 1:7), and the “coming” or erchomai (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:10).
2 Thessalonians 2:1-2
But we request you, brethren,—in behalf of the Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him, That ye 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 hath set in” (source:  The Emphasized Bible).
Presence” or “arrival” translates the Greek noun parousia, the term applied most often to the coming of Jesus in the two letters to the Thessalonian (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2:8. Cp. 1 Corinthians 15:23). The term denotes “arrival” or “presence”; not the process of “coming” but the actual arrival of someone (cp. 1 Corinthians 16:17, “I am glad of the arrival of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus”).
Parousia” is applied to the “arrival” of the Son of Man four times in the gospel of Matthew (Matthew 24:3, 24:27, 24:37, 24:39 [e.g., “They knew not until the flood came and took them all away; so also shall be the coming of the Son”]). In the parallel passages, Mark and Luke use the verb erchomai (“coming”) instead of parousia. Paul also uses this last term for the “coming” of the “day of the Lord” and the “coming” of Jesus in his letters to the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:10). When applied by Paul to the return of Jesus, parousia and erchomai are virtually synonymous.
Our gathering together [episunagogé] to him.” Whatever this “gathering” is, Paul connects it to the “arrival” of Jesus; it is an event that coincides with that day.
The Greek noun episunagogé or “gathering together” is related to the verb episunagō, “to gather together.” This noun occurs only in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 and the book of Hebrews in the New Testament (“not forsaking the assembling together of ourselves” [Hebrews 10:25]).
The verb episunagō occurs in the ‘Olivet Discourse’ of Jesus for the “gathering of his elect” at the “coming” of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:31, Mark 13:27 [“Then shall he send his angels and gather together his elect from the four winds”]). This “gathering” is the same one Paul now states will occur at the “arrival” of Jesus, which he also described in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17:
For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming [parousia] of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.”
That ye be not quickly tossed from your mind nor troubled.” The verb for “troubled” or “alarmed” is throeō, which occurs only here and on the lips of Jesus at the start of his ‘Olivet Discourse.’ Paul is echoing a warning of Jesus about coming deceivers from his ‘Olivet Discourse.’ Note the verbal parallels:
(Matthew 24:6) – “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet.”
(Mark 13:7) – “And when ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, be not troubled.”
Christ warned his disciples not to be alarmed by deceivers spreading reports of wars and other calamities as evidence of the nearness of the “end.” Wars, earthquakes, and famines do not constitute signs that the “end” is at hand. Likewise, Paul now warns that any claim that the “day of the Lord” is at hand is false; that day cannot come before certain events transpire.
Whether by spirit or by discourse or by letter, as by us.” The phrasing indicates that Paul is unsure how, precisely, this disinformation is being spread. “Spirit” is ambiguous but may refer to the exercise of a gift of the Spirit (e.g., prophecy, word of knowledge). “Discourse” or logos can refer to several types of verbal communication; a sermon, exhortation, discussion, etc. The significance of “letter” is obvious. The description, “as by us,” suggests as communication of whatever form represented as having originated 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 a time of visitation by God, the “day of Yahweh,” often in judgment but, also, to vindicate the righteous (cp. Isaiah 2:12, Joel 1:15, 2:1, 2:31, 3:14, Malachi 4:5).
Paul used this same phrase in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-2, “yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.” The analogy of the “thief in the night” is from a saying of Jesus recorded in Luke 12:39 about his future coming: “And this know, that if the goodman 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. Be, therefore, ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not” (cp. 2 Peter 3:10).
In Paul’s letters, the “day of the Lord” becomes the “day of Jesus Christ,” a time of vindication for the righteous and judgment on the wicked. Note the following examples:
(1 Corinthians 1:8) – “Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(1 Corinthians 5:5) – “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
(2 Corinthians 1:14) – “As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
(Philippian 1:6) – “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
(Philippian 1:10) – “That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.”
(Philippian 2:16) – “Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.”
 Has set in” translates the Greek verb, enistemi, a compound of en (“in”) and histémi (“to stand”) with the basic sense, “to stand in, set in.” Here it is in the perfect verb tense. Elsewhere, Paul uses it for the sense of “the present.” Note the following examples:
(Romans 8:38) – “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor the things present, nor things to come.”
(1 Corinthians 3:22) – “Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or the things present, or things to come.”
(1 Corinthians 7:26) – “I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress.”
(Galatians 1:4) – “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world.”
In this context, has set in points to an imminent event or one that has already commenced. Unfortunately, Paul does not detail exactly how the Thessalonians conceived of this scenario.
In this opening statement, Paul presents the problem; someone has fed disinformation to the Thessalonians about the nearness of the “day to the Lord.” This has caused some alarm in the congregation.
Paul will next begin to defuse the situation. That day cannot arrive until certain events have occurred. It is important when evaluating the passage to remember that Paul is not providing “signs” by which a believer can ascertain the approach of the end; rather, he presents evidence for why the “day of the Lord” cannot be immediately at hand.

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