2 Thessalonians 1 – This chapter reveals more detail about Jesus’ Second Coming. He will come with His angels in flaming fire (literal or symbolic?). The Lord will go after those ungodly people alive on earth at this time. They will be sentenced to eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord. Scary stuff.

v4: Any persecution or affliction we suffer because of our belief in Jesus will not go unnoticed by God who will reward His people for suffering for righteousness sake.

2 Thessalonians 2: Apostasy and the Man of Lawlessness

v2: Hints that there will come deception regarding “the day of the Lord.” This phrase is used several times throughout Scripture, including the Old Testament. It does not always mean the Second Coming of Christ, but can mean that some kind of significant judgment from God is coming. However, in this context, it does refer to the Second Coming.

v3: What is “the apostasy?” It literally means “falling away from the faith.” So what does this refer to? Some think it’s going on now (2021). Others say in the future. Still others claim it was during the Dark Ages when The Roman Catholic Church did not allow people to own or read a Bible and many believers were put to death by popes. Who is the “man of lawlessness?” This is discussed below.

Entire books have been written based on this chapter. It covers a delicate and controversial topic – Anti-Christ. Much needs to be written on this, but here I must be painfully brief (but it won’t seem so).

I will expound upon two major competing viewpoints about End-Time Anti-Christ – Historicism and Dispensationalism (Partial Preterism, Full Preterism, and Idealism are not included here, but they all make very good points and do not come close to being heretical):

1) Historicism (Most end-time prophecies have been fulfilled) – Few Christians today realize when the “last days” began. The answer is found in Acts 2:16-17 which reveals that Pentecost is it. In other words, the End-Times began when Jesus came and rose from the dead, not hundreds of years later. One view is that “Anti-Christ” is not one man but rather an authoritative position emerging from Rome based on Daniel 2:36-45 – the four kingdoms in historical order = Babylon, Medes-Persian, Greek, Roman (Daniel 7:1-27; Daniel 9:26). “Anti” can mean “in place of” or “against.” Some believe this position of world power and Christian persecution would be held by many men over many years so that the Scriptures are referring to a position of authority rather than to one man. Furthermore, there would be a loss of power, then a rejuvenation (“seemingly fatal wound healed” from Revelation 13:3). Martin Luther and many early church leaders believed this would be the position of the papacy, and popes would be the False Prophet fueled by a demonic beast. The Pagan Roman empire was “the Beast” but was “slain” in 476 A.D. when Rome fell. Its revival or “resurrection from the dead” occurred when the Papacy brought power back to Rome by 538 A.D. via Justinian.

I do not believe that “the one who restrains” in verse 7 is only an invisible act of the Holy Spirit. An act of the Holy Spirit for sure, but not without physical affect. If it was, Paul would have plainly stated that the restrainer was the Holy Spirit. He spoke the truth about this topic before as verse 5 reveals. The question becomes, why didn’t Paul say exactly what he was thinking here? The fact is that speaking to people is different than writing down your statements for all to see over time. Historicists believe that the Holy Spirit used the power of the Roman Empire to prevent the Anti-Christ spirit from taking over. In other words, as long as that civil position stayed in power, no religious figure could arise and control nations and come against Christians. So despite the Roman Empire being a big enemy to early Christians, many, including Justin Martyr, were praying that Rome would not fall. The reason Paul did not write all this was because he would be accused of predicting its fall. In those days, if you said anything against the Roman Government, your life was in danger. This, I believe, is why Paul chose his words very carefully in verse 7 and alluded to what he spoke earlier to these believers at the church in Thessalonica in verse 5. Staunch dispensationalist Ron Rhodes, in his book called “The 8 Great Debates of Bible Prophecy,” rejects this historicist interpretation based on the idea that only the Holy Spirit has the power to restrain evil, not the Roman Empire. But as I have said, the Holy Spirit is the real power behind all things but it can influence earthly things to accomplish God’s will.

Many early church fathers believed the same. Irenaeus (2nd century AD-202 AD) held that Rome, the fourth prophetic kingdom, would end in a tenfold partition. This did happen. The ten divisions of the empire are most likely represented by the “ten horns” of Daniel 7 and the “ten horns” in Revelation 17. A “little horn”, which is to supplant three of Rome’s ten divisions, could also be the still future “eighth” in Revelation. Tertullian (160-220 AD) held that the Roman Empire was the restraining force written about by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 2:7-8. The fall of Rome and the disintegration of the ten provinces of the Roman Empire into ten kingdoms were to make way for religious tyranny – the Antichrist (papacy).

According to Roman Catholic teaching, there were popes in power since Peter:

Peter – 33-64 AD
Linus – 64-79 AD
Anacletus – 79-92 AD
Clement I – 92-97 AD
Evaristus – 97-107 AD
Etc. to Present.

However, not only little is known about these men, there is no evidence that they lorded it over the Apostles or early church fathers. Peter certainly did not act like a pope in the Book of Acts, nor did other Apostles treat him as such. In fact at one point, Paul criticized Peter for withdrawing from Gentiles when prominent Jews entered a tent. However, the idea that one position in this world should lord it over the universal (worldwide) church of God began early, though it did not materialize until around 380 AD. It was “set in stone” in 538 AD by Justinian. Part of his decree stated that anyone who does not submit to the Pope will be killed.

In Matthew 16:16-18, Jesus did not make Peter the rock of His Church, but rather the rock was the faith to which Peter just stated, namely that Jesus is the Christ. Jesus alone is the head of His Church, no mere man.

The early Roman Catholic Church was guided by a plurality of elders rather than by a single bishop (or pope). Throughout its latter history, there was much deceit, with many claiming to be the successor of Peter. What in fact these bishops demonstrated was that they were descendants of Adam and his sin. Self-centered power struggles to be #1 ensued. This is just the opposite of what Jesus taught – that to be first, one must serve others and leaders should not lord it over the people.

The concept of the bishop of Rome as a successor of Peter was not seriously held until the fourth century. It was first devised by Damasus, bishop of Rome (366-384 AD), then Innocent I (401-417). It was more fully formulated in the teaching of Bishop Leo I (440-461) in the fifth century. It took many centuries of intrigue and massive forgeries before the concept became dogma in the Roman Church. The Hibernian Christians never accepted the teaching until the Norman Conquest in 1172. The Eastern Orthodox Churches have never accepted it. (Source: Richard Bennett, ex-Catholic Priest).

To be fair and clear: The above statements that link the Papacy to Anti-Christ are what some, not all, Christians believe. Whether or not this connection is true, there is a striking parallel that is factual. True or not, it is NOT an indictment against Catholic people of today. Like Protestants, some are real Christians and some are not. I have some close friends who are Catholic and know the Lord. I strongly disagree with some of their theology, but love them as believers.

2) Dispensationalism (Most of end-time prophecies yet to be fulfilled) – Verse 7 means the Holy Spirit is the restrainer, and when that is taken out of the way, all the Christians must have left the planet as well since the Holy Spirit dwells in them. This would be the rapture of the Church to spare them the horrors of the Anti-Christ. The Anti-Christ is one man who will take over world power sometime in the future and will require followers to obtain a literal (some physical change) 666 mark on their foreheads or right hands. In his extremely influential book, “The Late Great Planet Earth,” Hal Lindsay makes clear that the “restrainer” is the Holy Spirit.

Readers tend to forget that this is an interpretation. The logic of this interpretation has never made sense to me. While it is true that the Holy Spirit resides in believers, we cannot assume that It disappears from earth when Christians leave. No where in Scripture does it say this. Assumptions can lead to error. To the contrary of Mr. Lindsay’s assertion, Jesus said that no one knows where the Spirit will go in John 3:8 – “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” So if we do not know where the Spirit is going, I would hesitate to say that it will go off the earth during the rapture of the saints. It is erroneous to assume that the Holy Spirit is limited to reside in believers on earth.

Today, many Christians believe the “futuristic” or “dispensational” view rather than the “historical.” The dispensational approach to interpreting end-time prophecies, tends to be literal and sometimes ignores God’s consistent use of symbolic language and phrases from the Old Testament. To the dispensationalist, headlines in current newspapers are fulfilling what the Bible has predicted. To the historicist, most prophecies have been already fulfilled.

Personally, I favor the historic view because it is loaded with fascinating insights and historical parallels to End-time prophecy that most believers today have not been exposed to. Dispensationalism, however, tends to sell more books than historical views. The more reading and studying I do in this area, especially about church history, the more I am convinced that the historical method of approaching End-time Biblical Prophecy respects ALL of God’s Word. There does exist a consistent use of symbolic language throughout both the Old and the New Testaments regarding End-Time prophecies. Once this is used by interpreters, more sense can be made from many verses. A major problem with the futuristic view is their literal events would be far too obvious to fool so many people in the world. The position of Anti-Christ is supposed to be filled with deception. If a literal 666 is stamped on people’s bodies, who would be fooled by that? If Anti-Christ causes literal fire to come down from heaven, who then would be fooled since it has been written in the Bible? If a man gets shot in the head and dies, but comes back to life, all people will know that he is the Anti-Christ because of the Scriptures interpreted by dispensationalists. More details will be shared when we explore Daniel and Revelation although I still have questions with some of the interpretations from the historical view. In other words, no one eschatological view has all the answers. It is spiritually healthy to understand fully each view before taking a position.

What we do know, plus some interpretation (bear in mind that “Anti-Christ” also means “in place of Christ”), the Bible says that Anti-Christ will:

1) Destroy many of God’s people (Daniel 11:33, Rev 13:7; 17:6; 18:24) – the Papacy repressed the Bible, tortured and murdered 30 to 50 million believers over a span of 1,260 years.
2) Be worshiped (v4) – anyone accepting a title of “Holy Father” is being worshiped.
3) Magnify himself above all gods (Daniel 11:36) – Papacy claims infallibility (at certain times) and to be Christ on earth. The conical-shaped hat has three rings saying: “Lord above the earth; Lord on earth. Lord under the earth” which all refer to the pope.
4) Have no desire for women – (Daniel 11:37) – popes are not allowed to marry.
5) Power will extend to other countries (Daniel 11:42) – The Papacy had religious and civil authority over the civilized world during the Dark Ages (that power is now limited to mostly religious influence, although some political power remains).
6) Gain much worldly wealth (Daniel 11:43) – popes accumulated great wealth over the years.
7) Perform false miracles (v9) – visions of Mary, bleeding statues, stigmatas, crying statues of Mary, etc. all helped to hold people captive to Roman Catholicism.
8) Be stopped by God’s people (Dan.7:26 only KJV makes this clear) – The fact is that the Word of God was and is the power that God uses to bring truth and liberty to the “captives.” In Revelation, Jesus is depicted as having a sharp two-edged sword coming out of His mouth (Rev 1:16, 19:15). I do not believe this is literal. Hebrews 4:12 says it is the Word of God. Considering the symbolism consistently used in Old and New Testaments, it is logical to view the Protestant Reformation as the way the Word of God out to common people thus weakening the Anti-Christ power.
9) Give a mark on the right hand or forehead of worshipers of the Anti-Christ. I believe this mark is spiritual thus invisible to humans just like other “seals” or marks that God used in the Old Testament. So I do not believe the mark will be an implanted computer chip, for example. I think angels and God will be able to see this mark, but not people. Perhaps personal devotion to the pope would cause a person to be spiritually marked. I don’t think all Catholics are devoted to a pope.
10) Have a number that can be calculated to 666 or 616 (Revelation 13:18) – Roman total letter value for “Vicar of Christ” = 666 (although there have been many other names that come to the same total).
11) According to Daniel Chapter 2 and 7, Anti-Christ arises from the fourth kingdom in his vision which was Rome (Babylon was the first, Medes-Persian the second, and Greece was the third).
12) Rise out of an area (city) known to have 7 mountains (Revelation 17:9) – Rome is known for its 7 hills.
13) Be connected to the “woman” who kills believers – not a literal woman but a city that exerts power throughout the world (Revelation 17:6,18). Rome again.

v11-12: God sends deception upon earth for those who have already rejected Truth (so as to make His judgment against them more obvious to all, maybe?).

The message in the rest of the chapter: Cling to the Word of God and not the traditional teachings of men (religion) and stand firm in Jesus! Amen.

2 Thessalonians 3:

v5: “May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.” Paul recognizes that this is where we all need to live – in the love of God. Our behavior and motives will be pure. We will efficiently accomplish His will through our brief stay upon this earth. The love of God…this is where the power to change behavior lies.

v6-7: If a believer is leading an unruly life, we need to not hang out with him/her. I would like to add that we should pray for them and encourage them toward a disciplined lifestyle.

v8-9: Rich, “prosperity preachers” need to read this (several times?).

v10: “If anyone will not work, neither let him eat.” Wow, does our government know about this verse? How about some of the religious leaders? Jesus is all for helping the poor, but He never ordered governments to force unsaved people to help supply the needs of the poor (whether or not they work). Of course, I realize some cannot work, but many on welfare can but are not motivated to do so. In conclusion, those preachers who want the government to help the poor should organize their churches to help the problem (along with the Gospel of Christ), not lobby a secular government to do so.

v14-15: If anyone is isolated from a Christian church/group, they should NOT be viewed as an enemy but should be admonished as a brother. Good balance here.