The Great Deception
2 Thessalonians 2:1–5
It’s easy to become discouraged and misled by false reports. That’s why it is so important to be able to discern between truth and error. In 2 Thessalonians 2:1–5, the apostle Paul corrected false doctrine that apparently was spreading via a letter forged in Paul’s name.
The letter claimed believers were already living in the Day of the Lord. The news shocked and disrupted the church because, if true, it meant the church had missed the Rapture and was destined to suffer the Day of the Lord’s wrath.
The teaching contradicted Paul’s earlier instruction in 1 Thessalonians, where he taught the church would be raptured before the Day of the Lord. Thus Paul quickly penned 2 Thessalonians to calm the church’s fears, correct the false teaching, and clear up any confusion concerning the Day of the Lord. He also described the Antichrist, whose appearance will precede the Day of the Lord.
Paul addressed the church with loving affection: “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come” (2:1–2).
Paul clearly stated the subject of his letter was “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him,” which refers to the Rapture (cf. 1 Th. 4:13–18). He used the phrase we ask you, or we beseech you (2 Th. 2:1, KJV), to appeal gently but authoritatively to the Thessalonians to reject the idea the “day of Christ” (Day of the Lord) had already come.
He exhorted believers not to be confused or to allow such rumors to derail their commitment to Christ. In other words, the Rapture had not taken place, and their current persecution was not the Day of the Lord’s wrath.
Paul advised the church “not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled” (v. 2). The word troubled means to be agitated, disturbed, or traumatized. He told the believers not to allow false teachers to toss them back and forth, as a violent storm shakes a ship, and not to be anxious, excited, mentally confused, emotionally swayed, frightened, or alarmed by the false report that they were in the Day of the Lord.
Paul mentioned three possible ways this erroneous news could have spread. First, false teachers may have claimed divine authority, saying their teaching was “by spirit” or divine revelation from the Spirit of God. Such claims were spurious.
Second, false teachers may have spread this teaching “by report,” so Paul strongly denied ever sending an oral report saying the church was in the Day of the Lord.
Third, some may have claimed to possess a letter from the apostle, but such a letter (if it existed) was a forgery. Paul categorically denied that he or anyone on his missionary team ever penned such an epistle.
Paul refuted the false teachers’ lies, hoping to calm the church’s fear and dispel its confusion concerning the Lord’s Second Coming and to provide correct instruction on the timing of the Rapture and Day of the Lord.
He already had taught that the Rapture would be imminent, meaning no prophecy need be fulfilled before it occurs (1 Th. 4:13–18). He also taught that the church will never experience the Day of the Lord’s wrath (1:10; 5:9) because it will occur after the Rapture, during the seven-year Tribulation.
The phrase Day of the Lord refers to the time of God’s future intervention into history following the Rapture, when He will pour out His wrath and judgment on the wicked during the Tribulation (Rev. 6:1—19:21).
Unlike the Rapture, which will have no warning signs, many signs will identify the Day of the Lord. In fact, near the end of His ministry, Jesus revealed key events that will take place on Earth during the Day of the Lord’s wrath (Mt. 24:4–31).
In addition to judgment, the Day of the Lord will also include the blessing of the Messianic Kingdom, which the Lord Jesus Christ will establish on Earth for 1,000 years.
Before revealing the first two events that will accompany the Day of the Lord, Paul told the church, “Let no one deceive you by any means [in any way or manner]” (2 Th. 2:3). He warned the Thessalonians to guard against deceptive teaching so they would not be deluded or beguiled by spurious teachers or doctrinal error that leads to erroneous beliefs and causes defection from the faith.
Today many gullible Christians are being led into unscriptural practices and teachings, especially when false teachers are persuasive communicators or have dynamic personalities.
Paul cautioned, “For that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition” (v. 3). The preposition for introduces Paul’s two reasons for warning the Thessalonians.
First, the Day of the Lord will not come “unless the falling away comes first.” The phrase falling away (Greek, apostasia) is apostasy in English. Apostastize means to revolt, defect, fall away, or depart from the true God. Paul used apostasia to connote a willful, conscious withdrawal from God, resulting in a total rejection of belief in Christ.
This apostasia will be more than a general apostasy because the text calls it “the apostasy,” indicating a specific apostasy. The people deceived will hate the truth, believe the Antichrist’s lie, take pleasure in unrighteousness, and remain unsaved.
The word apostasy appears only one other time in the New Testament. Luke, the author of Acts, used it in reference to a charge made by Jewish leaders claiming Paul taught Jewish people “to forsake [apostastize] Moses” (Acts 21:21). They claimed Paul taught others to forsake the Law of Moses and Judaism, which in their eyes was a sin.
Throughout church history, professing Christians have defected from Christ. But “the apostasy” will be a specific departure from the faith prior to the Day of the Lord.
Some commentators interpret apostasia (departure) as the Rapture of the church. But this interpretation doesn’t fit with the congruity of the Rapture, when Christ will snatch away believers to meet Him in the air and take them to heaven (1 Th. 4:16–17). And Scripture never uses the term departure to refer to that event.
Apostasia primarily refers to a situation wherein a rebellious person departs from belief in Christ. Most Bible commentators believe professing Christians who commit apostasy were never truly saved.
Second, the Day of the Lord will not come unless “the man of sin [lawlessness] is revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Th. 2:3; cf. 6–8). Paul said a specific man (the Antichrist) will be publicly revealed, or unveiled, at a specific time in history. This means he will have been living for some time before his manifestation as the lawless one. At his unveiling, people will know the Day of the Lord has arrived.
Paul called the coming Antichrist a “man of lawlessness” and “the son of perdition.” Lawlessness refers to his wicked character. Though not Satan, the Antichrist will be the total embodiment of evil—one who completely disregards, degrades, and tries to destroy any semblance of God’s will and goodness on Earth.
The phrase the son of perdition means “the son of doom and destruction.” Jesus Christ first used the title to describe Judas Iscariot (Jn. 17:12). The Antichrist will have Satan’s destructive nature, and he will be destined to spend eternity in the Lake of Fire (Rev. 20:10).
He will come to power, lead a confederacy known as the revived Roman Empire (Dan. 7:23–25), and establish a historic, binding covenant with many in the nation of Israel (9:27). This covenant will begin Daniel’s 70th week, also known as the seven-year Tribulation.
Satan will energize and empower the Antichrist to lead a planned program to dominate the world politically and religiously. The Antichrist will be one “who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Th. 2:4). He will oppose God by blaspheming His name, His dwelling place, and those dwelling in heaven (Rev. 13:6). He not only will oppose God, Christ, and His followers, but he will oppose all forms of religious worship.
He will “[exalt] himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped” (2 Th. 2:4). With Satan’s help, the Antichrist will elevate himself above every religion and form of worship during the Tribulation. He will seize power and dominate and subdue all religious systems under his authority.
He also will “[sit] as God in the temple of God” (v. 4). The Antichrist will enter a rebuilt Jewish Temple during the Tribulation and desecrate it by sitting in the inner sanctuary as an apostate Gentile. Worse yet, he will erect an image of himself in the Temple, and anyone who refuses to worship it will be killed (Rev. 13:14–15). Jesus referred to this event as “the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet” (Mt. 24:15).
In addition, the Antichrist will “[show] himself that he is God” (2 Th. 2:4). His self-exaltation will lead to his self-deification and denial of all other gods (Dan. 11:36–37). His worldwide power will cause all unsaved people on Earth to worship him (Rev. 13:8).
Paul asked the Thessalonians, “Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?” (2 Th. 2:5). He reminded them that his teaching about the Antichrist and the Day of the Lord was not new, for he had personally and fully taught them about both when he was with them.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Paul made it very clear: No believer in Christ will ever experience the Great Tribulation, live under the rule of the Antichrist, or go through the Day of the Lord’s wrath. Hallelujah!