Man of Lawlessness - The Problem

SYNOPSIS - Disinformation fed to the Thessalonians about the “day of the Lord” alarmed many in the congregation2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

Letters Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash
Is the “Day of the Lord” Imminent?
In his second letter written to the Thessalonians, the Apostle Paul addressed a claim by certain sources that the “day of the Lord has set in.” This caused alarm among some members of the congregation. Apparently, the rumor was spread by a “spirit,” word (logos), or a letter, “as if by us.” Paul listed two events that must occur BEFORE the parousia or “arrival” of Jesus and the “Day of the Lord” – First, the “revealing of the man of lawlessness.” Second, The “apostasy.” - [Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash].

His reference to a “word” received whether “by spirit or by discourse or by letter as from us” is a verbal link to the conclusion of the literary unit - (verses 12-15). The entire chapter deals with the subjects of the “day of the Lord,” the “man of lawlessness,” and the “apostasy.” Additionally, it instructs the Thessalonians on how to respond to these false claims.
  • (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, 13-15) – “That ye be not quickly tossed from your mind, nor be put in alarm— either by spirit or by discourse or by letter as by us, as that the day of the Lord hath set in…Hence then, brethren, stand firm and hold fast the instructions which ye were taught—whether through discourse or through our letter.”
Rather than heed rumors about the imminent “arrival” of Jesus, disciples must “hold fast the instructions which you were taught—whether through discourse or through our letter.” Paul admonishes the Thessalonians to adhere to the apostolic tradition they had received and not to listen to any voices that deviated from it.

In the preceding chapter, Paul prepared the ground for dealing with this controversy. He began his letter with thanksgiving for the faithfulness of the Thessalonians despite outside resistance - (“We are boasting in you among the assemblies of God over your endurance and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations”). Already, they had suffered at the hands of their neighbors. However, God would recompense “tribulation to them that trouble you,” but also “release” to the beleaguered saints of Thessalonica, at the “revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven” when the Lord would take vengeance on their persecutors:
  • Who, indeed, a penalty will pay, everlasting destruction from the face of the Lord…whenever he will come to be made all-glorious in his saints and to be marveled at in all who believed — because our witness unto you was believed — in that day” – (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10).
The first chapter echoes themes from the first letter to the Thessalonians in which Paul praised them for having “received the word in much tribulation,” but also with joy “in the Holy Spirit”:

In this way, they “became imitators of the assemblies of God which are in Judaea in Christ Jesus, in that the same things ye also suffered by your own fellow-countrymen, even as they also by the Jews” - (1 Thessalonians 2:14).

In his first letter, he exhorted the Thessalonians not to be moved “by these tribulations, for yourselves know that we are appointed for this.” He also provided detailed information about the parousia of Jesus, the “signs and seasons,” and the “Day of the Lord” - (1 Thessalonians 1:6, 3:3-7, 3:13, 4:13-18, 5:1-10).

The Problem

  • (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2) - “But we request you, brethren,— in behalf of the Presence of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him, That ye be not quickly tossed from your mind nor be put in alarm— either by spirit or by discourse or by letter as by us, as that the day of the Lord hath set in” - (The Emphasized Bible).

Presence” or “arrival” translates the Greek noun parousia, the term applied most often to the “coming of Jesus” in both letters to the Thessalonians. It denotes an “arrival” or “presence” - The arrival of someone or something - (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:15, 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2:8-9).

Our gathering together to him” – This term translates the noun episunagogé. Whatever this “gathering” is, Paul connects it with the “arrival” of Jesus and the “Day of the Lord.” The Greek word is related to the verb episunagō, meaning, “to gather together.”

The verb episunagō is applied in the ‘Olivet Discourse’ by Jesus to describe the “gathering of his elect” at his “coming” – (“Then shall he send his angels and gather together his elect from the four winds”). This “gathering” refers to the same event Paul now states is to occur at the “arrival” or parousia of Jesus - (Matthew 24:31, Mark 13:27, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

That you be not quickly tossed from your mind or troubled.” The verb rendered “troubledis throeō, which occurs only here and on the lips of Jesus at the start of his ‘Olivet Discourse.’ Thus, Paul echoes the warning of Jesus about coming deceivers. Note the verbal parallels:

  • (Matthew 24:6) – “And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars; see that ye be not troubled: for these things must needs come to pass; but the end is not yet.”
  • (Mark 13:7) – “And when ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars, be not troubled.”

Jesus warned his disciples not to be alarmed by deceivers who would spread reports about wars and other calamities, and otherwise cause anxiety about the (supposed) nearness of the “end.” Likewise, Paul warned the Thessalonians not to heed these claims that the “Day of the Lord” was imminent or had already arrived – That day will not come before certain events transpire.

Whether by spirit or by discourse or by letter, as by us.” The phrasing indicates Paul was unsure how this disinformation was spread. “Spirit” is ambiguous but may refer to the exercise of a gift of the Spirit. “Discourse” or logos can refer to several types of verbal communication. The significance of “letter” is obvious. “As by us” suggests a communication to the Thessalonians allegedly from Paul.

The day of the Lord.” Paul links this day to the “arrival” of Jesus and the “gathering” of the elect. The “Day of the Lord” is a common term in the Hebrew Bible for a time of visitation and judgment by God - The “day of Yahweh” - (Isaiah 2:12, Joel 1:15, 2:1, 2:31, 3:14, Malachi 4:5).

Paul used this same phrase in his previous letter to the Thessalonians:

  • (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2) - “Yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.”

The analogy of a “thief in the night” is from a saying by Jesus recorded in the gospel of Luke about his future arrival:

  • (Luke 12:39) - “And this know, that if the good man of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not have suffered his house to be broken through. Be, therefore, ready also: for the Son of man cometh at an hour when ye think not” - (Compare - 2 Peter 3:10).

In the letters of Paul, the “day of the Lord” becomes the “day of Jesus Christ,” the hour of vindication for the righteous and judgment for the wicked. For example:

  • (1 Corinthians 1:8) – “Who shall also confirm you unto the end, that ye may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • (1 Corinthians 5:5) – “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
  • (2 Corinthians 1:14) – “As also ye have acknowledged us in part, that we are your rejoicing, even as ye also are ours in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
  • (Philippian 1:6) – “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
  • (Philippian 1:10) – “That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ.”
  • (Philippian 2:16) – “Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.”

Has set in” translates the Greek verb enistemi, meaning, “to stand in, to set in.” Here it is in a perfect verb tense to depict completed action with continuing results. In this context, the term points to an imminent event or even one that has already commenced. Unfortunately for us, Paul does not detail exactly how the Thessalonians understood this alleged scenario.

In the next paragraph, Paul begins to defuse the situation - That day cannot arrive until certain events occur.

Note well - Paul will not provide “signs” by which a believer can ascertain the time of the end. Instead, he will present evidence for why the “day of the Lord” had not yet occurred.

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