Summary: Go on holding on: the day of Christ is not here yet.
THE NEED FOR CHRISTIAN STABILITY
The church of the Thessalonians had heard a rumour concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our being gathered together to Him (2 Thessalonians 2:1). There were those who taught that “the day of Christ” was already here (2 Thessalonians 2:2)!
I. So Paul adjured the brethren (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3): not to be so soon shaken from their moorings; this was not apostolic teaching; the day of Christ is not already here. Let no man deceive you: there must first occur a rebellion - literally an “apostasy”; and the man of sin “shall have been revealed” - or ‘unveiled’. The man of sin has a specific “time of revealing” (2 Thessalonians 2:6) - an “apocalypse” (2 Thessalonians 2:8) - BEFORE the coming of Christ.
The man of sin is doomed to destruction (2 Thessalonians 2:3) because he (2 Thessalonians 2:4): opposes God; sets himself up above God; sits in God’s seat; and proclaims himself to be God. This was not something new that Paul was teaching the Thessalonians: he had discussed it orally in the church when he had been with them (2 Thessalonians 2:5).
II. (a) Meantime, these Christians knew what (2 Thessalonians 2:6), or who (2 Thessalonians 2:7) is restraining this ultimate, personalised manifestation of sin. This restraint could refer to the Holy Spirit, or the church, or the preaching of the gospel: I dread to think what the world would be like if God should withdraw any of these!
It may also refer to the rule of law: ‘the powers that be’ do still have a restraining influence on the worst manifestations of sin (Romans 13:1-4). The “mystery (or principle) of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:7), is already at work. When the restraint is withdrawn, the “lawless one” is revealed: anarchy gives rise to dictatorship, but it is short-lived; the man of lawlessness is destroyed by the “appearing of the coming” of the Lord - literally, the “epiphany of the Parousia” (2 Thessalonians 2:8).
b) It is ironic that the lawless one also has a “coming” - a “parousia” (2 Thessalonians 2:9). This word speaks of the arrival of a reigning monarch during a royal tour of his territories. The coming of the man of lawlessness is the “work” of Satan, whereas the coming of Jesus is the work of God.
This wicked man replicates and parodies Christ’s glorious epiphany, and makes his own demonstration of power in signs and wonders which are “of falsehood” (2 Thessalonians 2:9). This does not mean that they do not happen, but rather that they serve the purpose of deception rather than enlightenment.
c) The “deceit of unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:10) is already at work in those who are perishing, because they do not love the truth, and refuse to accept the salvation offered to them in the gospel (cf. John 3:18-20).
In the midst of this gloomy picture, we must remember that God is still in sovereign control. It is He who ‘gives them up’ (cf. Romans 1:26; Romans 1:28) to the “working of error” - the strong delusion which they are already courting - “that they should believe the lie” (2 Thessalonians 2:11). Those who “believe not the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:12), and “delight in unrighteousness” are subject to the just judgment of God - (cf. Romans 1:32).
III. (a) Paul reiterates his sense of obligation to give thanks to God (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:3) for the “brethren beloved of he Lord” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Having shown the destiny of the wicked, he might here have added, ‘but, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you’ (Hebrews 6:9).
The thanksgiving is couched in practical Trinitarian theology. First of all, from the beginning (cf. Ephesians 1:4), “God chose you” (cf. John 15:16) to salvation “through the sanctification of the Spirit” and belief of the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Secondly, “God called you” to this salvation by the gospel which we preach “that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 2:14).
b) In light of all this, Paul exhorts the brethren to “go on standing fast, and go on holding on” to the apostolic traditions - which for us means the Scriptures, including the New Testament epistles (2 Thessalonians 2:15). The picture is of a ship in a storm, in which the mariners must persist in keeping their feet firmly on the deck, and doggedly clinging to the safety rails. Our security in Christ should never lead to complacency on our part.
c) Continuing the Trinitarian theme, Paul addresses his prayer “to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God, even our Father, WHO (singular) has loved (singular)… and has given (singular)…” (2 Thessalonians 2:16). Paul draws together God’s love, encouragement and hope, which we have received by His grace (2 Thessalonians 2:16); and prays that God will encourage us inwardly, and establish us outwardly “in every good word and work” (2 Thessalonians 2:17).