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The Man of Lawlessness May 15, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12.

Summary: Paul begins by entreating the Thessalonians – as they have set a high value on the coming of Christ, when He will gather them to Himself – to be on their guard against any:

  • false prophecy
  • false pretext
  • spurious writing using his name

which states that the Lord’s day is at hand. They must not assume that the joyful day of redemption is imminent; instead, that day will not come until a general apostasy occurs in the visible church and Satan’s chief follower holds supreme power in the church. Indeed, the Antichrist will claim for himself those things that belong to God; moreover, he will oppose Christ under the very name of Christ and he will claim to rule as God Himself.

Now Paul reminds the Thessalonians that he had warned them about the rule of the Antichrist and the impending devastation of the church. Yet the Antichrist will not hold supreme power in the church until Christ has enlightened the whole world with His Gospel – allowing the godlessness of men to be fully demonstrated by their rejection of His grace. In the meantime Satan will carry on a secret and clandestine war; now Paul comforts the Thessalonians by asserting that God will only allow the Antichrist to hold supreme power in the church for a limited period. At that point, the Antichrist will be reduced to nothing by the Word and the light of Christ’s presence. While the Antichrist holds supreme power in the church, he will oppose Christ’s kingdom with false teaching and fake miracles. In this way Satan will defeat the wicked, who will not use their minds to love the Gospel – and so they perish. Thus, God has appointed the wicked for destruction – and so He blinds them. Paul concludes by asserting that God will punish everyone who has a voluntary inclination to evil – and ignored the guidance that would have led them to Him.

Thoughts: In verses 1 and 2, we see that Paul warns the Thessalonians to not believe any reports that the second coming of Christ was imminent. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 2:

Paul added, or letter supposed to have come from us, evidence that this impudence has a long history – that of using the names of great people. God’s grace toward us is the more wonderful in that while Paul’s name was used in spurious writings, his writings have nevertheless been preserved even to our times. This could not have taken place accidentally or as the effect of mere human industry if God himself had not by his power restrained Satan and all his ministers.

I am curious as to the number of extant “false Pauline epistles” at that time; this passage implies that at least one “false Pauline epistle” was being circulated in that part of the world. One must wonder if these false letters were quite similar to the genuine epistles that I have been strolling through. Did these letters include a well-designed blend of pure and impure doctrines? Did the authors of these letters subtly include false instructions such as, “now, brothers, I want you to know that the Lord himself has revealed to me that His Day will occur in the next year?” If so, I wonder how believers at that time were able to preserve the genuine epistles while rejecting the false epistles.

In this passage, Paul discusses the role of the Antichrist in sparking a general apostasy within the body of Christ. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 4:

Everyone who has learned from Scripture what things especially belong to God will have no great difficulty in recognizing the Antichrist as he observes the claims of the Pope, even if he is only a ten-year-old boy…He contrives means of attaining salvation that are completely at variance with the teaching of the Gospel; in short, he does not hesitate to change the whole of religion for his own pleasure. When he robs God of his honor in this way, the Pope leaves God with an empty title of deity, while he transfers all divine power to himself.

Clearly Calvin had a rather dim view of the Catholic Church, and we know how the Protestant Reformation was spurred by his opposition to Catholicism. Now I wonder if Catholics could read this passage and view Calvin himself as the Antichrist; from their perspective, could he have been the leader of an apostasy within their church? Could they perceive Calvin as the promulgator of false teaching – and even as an opponent of Christ? I suppose the next life will reveal the correctness (or lack thereof) of Calvin’s theory that the Pope is the Antichrist.