The Rapture, the Day of the Lord, the Man Of Sin: 2 Thessalonians 2:1–5
In 2 Thessalonians 2:1–2, Paul and his companions asked the Thessalonian saints to avoid doing two things. First, they were not to be “soon shaken in mind.” A thorough examination of the meaning of these words and the tense of the verb form indicates that the Thessalonians were asked not to depart hastily1 from their ability to determine the truth of a claim presented to them. They had obtained that ability through the clear, stable understanding of the truth2 imparted to them by Paul and his companions through their ministry at Thessalonica and in Paul’s first epistle to the church. If they were to depart from that ability, they would lose their secure anchor and would be “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive” (Eph. 4:14). Turning from that ability would imply departure from at least some of the truth that had given that understanding of truth and falsehood.
Second, the Thessalonians were asked to avoid being “troubled.” The meaning and tense of this verb form refer to a continuous state of alarm and nervous anxiety.3
This twofold request implies that these saints were in turmoil. Apparently some had already departed hastily from their ability to determine whether a claim was true and, as a result, had fallen into a constant state of alarm and anxiety.
The Cause of the Turmoil
Verse 2 discloses the cause of the turmoil. Someone had deceived the Thessalonians (v. 3) by claiming that the Day of the Lord, about which they had been taught (1 Th. 5:1–3; 2 Th. 2:5), had not only come but was occurring.4 The Greek text says “the Day of the Lord” rather than “the day of Christ,” and the tense of the verb translated “is at hand” refers to what had already come.5
Whoever started this claim asserted that it was communicated originally by Paul and his companions, through a divinely inspired prophetic utterance (“by spirit”), some oral teaching (“by word”), or a letter.6 Since the Thessalonians looked to Paul and his companions as their authoritative teachers, this assertion was a deception designed to persuade the Thessalonians of the truthfulness of the claim.
Paul clearly indicated that he and his companions did not make the erroneous claim that the Day of the Lord had already begun.
The Issue at Stake
Paul’s language (v. 1) denoted significant relationship between the request to the Thessalonians and Christ’s coming and gathering together of church saints to Himself. In order to understand this relationship, three specific parts of the language must be noted.
First, the preposition translated “by” in the expression “by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him” (v. 1) contains the “idea of protection” and thus carries the concept of “in defence of.”7
Second, the definite article “the” appears before the expression “coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” but not before “our gathering together unto him.” This indicates that the coming of Christ and the gathering of the saints are two parts of one event.8 Thus, Paul was referring to the specific coming of Christ that will involve the gathering of church saints to Himself.
Third, concerning the phrase “unto him” in the expression “our gathering together unto him,” Leon Morris stated, “Notice the significance of ‘unto him.’ It is not simply that the saints meet one another: they meet their Lord and remain with him for ever (cf. 1 Thess. 4:17).”9 Morris indicated that the gathering together of saints to Christ in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 is the same event, and since the event in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 is the Rapture of the church, the gathering together of church saints in 2 Thessalonians 2:1 is also the Rapture of the church.
The implication of these three observations is that Paul and his companions wrote their twofold request to the Thessalonians to defend or protect the truth concerning the coming of Christ to rapture the church.
This was the significant relationship between their request and the coming of Christ to gather together the church saints to Himself.
If Paul and his companions had taught earlier that Christ would come to rapture the church before the Day of the Lord began and that, therefore, church saints would not enter the judgment phase of the Day of the Lord, then several things would have been true. First, the claim that the Day of the Lord had already begun and that the Thessalonians were in it would have been contrary to that earlier teaching. Second, that claim and the assertion that it originated with Paul and his companions would have disturbed the Thessalonians. Third, those circumstances would have made it necessary for Paul and his companions to defend their earlier teaching. In other words, if they had taught earlier that Christ would come to rapture the church before the Day of the Lord began and that, therefore, church saints would not enter the judgment phase of the Day of the Lord, then the circumstances would have been exactly the same as those in 2 Thessalonians 2.
In light of what has been seen, it can be concluded that the issue with the Thessalonians was not the fact of Christ’s coming to rapture the church but the time of that coming and, therefore, the relationship of church saints to the Day of the Lord. The request and circumstances found in 2 Thessalonians 2:1–2 prompt the conclusion that Paul and his companions had taught the Thessalonians that Christ would come to rapture the church before the Day of the Lord would begin and that, therefore, church saints would not enter the judgment phase of the Day of the Lord.
Since the judgment phase of the Day of the Lord will involve the unprecedented pouring out of God’s wrath on the world, how could the Thessalonians have been deceived into thinking that the Day of the Lord had already come, when it was obvious that such an unprecedented pouring out of God’s wrath had not yet begun? One basis upon which they could have been so deceived was the persecution they were experiencing from unbelievers as the result of their profession of faith in Christ (Acts 17:5–9; 1 Th. 1:6; 2:14; 2 Th. 1:4–7).
But why would that persecution prompt them to believe the report that the Day of the Lord had already begun? The only possible answer is that they understood that the first phase of the Day of the Lord would be characterized, not only by a great outpouring of God’s wrath upon the world, but also by the persecution of believers by unbelievers. The fact that Paul did not correct this understanding indicates that the first phase of the Day of the Lord will be characterized by the persecution of believers by unbelievers.
From what source could the Thessalonians have derived this understanding? It seems apparent that Paul was that source, for he reminded them that, when he was with them in the past, he had taught them about the Day of the Lord (2 Th. 2:2–5; cf. 1 Th. 5:2).
The Revelation of the Man of Sin
To prove that the Day of the Lord had not begun, Paul declared that the Day of the Lord will not begin apart from the revelation of the man of sin (the Antichrist), and that revelation had not yet happened (v. 3).
Some propose that the revelation of the man of sin will take place in the middle of the 70th week, when he declares himself to be God (Dan. 9:27; 11:36–37; 2 Th. 2:4). On the basis of this proposal some conclude that the Day of the Lord will not begin until sometime after the middle of the 70th week.
There is a problem with this proposal. God has revealed other activities of the man of sin that will precede his declaration of deity and will reveal who he is at least three and one-half years before he claims to be God. First, the man of sin will rise to power as an eleventh ruler within the already formed ten-division revived Roman Empire (Dan. 7:7–8, 20, 23–24). Second, as he rises to power, he will overthrow three of the original ten rulers of that empire (Dan. 7:8, 20, 24). Third, after this overthrow he will become the dominant ruler of the empire (Dan. 7:20, 24, 26; Rev. 17:12–13, 16–17). Fourth, as the dominant ruler he will establish a seven-year covenant of peace with Israel, the establishment of which will be the historic starting point of the 70th week (Dan. 9:27).
Since these divinely foretold activities will reveal the man of sin, and since they will be performed by the beginning of the 70th week, it can be concluded that the man of sin will be revealed by the beginning of the 70th week.
The Description of the Man of Sin
Paul gave two descriptions of the Antichrist (v. 3). The first, “that man of sin” (lit., “lawlessness”), indicates that the Antichrist will reject all authority over him. He will be an absolute dictator, demanding that he be the ultimate authority (cf. Dan. 7:25; 11:36).
The second description, “the son of perdition,” denotes that he is “destined to destruction.”10 At Christ’s Second Coming the Antichrist will be cast alive into the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20; cf. Dan. 7:26; 11:45).
The Antichrist will oppose and exalt himself above every god or object worshipped by mankind. This will result in his setting himself up as God in a new Jewish temple in the middle of the 70th week (v. 4; Dan. 7:25; 9:27; 11:36–37). The Antichrist’s proclamation that he is God will be his ultimate act of lawlessness and will demonstrate why he is destined to destruction.
- William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), pp. 814, 747.
- J. Behm, “nous,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. IV (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967), p. 959.
- James Everett Frame, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul to the Thessalonians (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1912), p. 245.
- Leon Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1959), p. 217.
- Frame, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul to the Thessalonians, p. 248.
- Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 216.
- Harald Riesenfeld, “huper,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. VIII (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972), p. 508.
- Morris, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, p. 214.
- Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 103.