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© Rosemary Bardsley 2023

The return of Christ is a major focus in Paul’s second letter. Although he had given them teaching about this during his time with them, and had further explained what would happen in his first letter, there are still areas of misunderstanding that he had to correct and clarify. In chapter 1 Paul wrote about the glory of the returning Christ, and the justice he would bring to those who have not responded to the gospel.

In chapter 2 Paul has to correct misunderstanding that has arisen because of teaching the Thessalonians had heard that had wrongly been reported as Paul’s teaching. It is not easy for us to understand some of the things he talks about here for two reasons: (1) The Thessalonians knew what Paul had taught them about these things when he was with them, but we do not. (2) Some of the things he mentions here are not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament, or, if they are, different words and phrases are used.



Paul links two things together: ‘the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him’ – verse 1. In 1Thessalonians 4:13 – 18 he had explained how these two occurred together, for believers who had already died, and for believers still living when Christ returns. He did this because the Thessalonians were worried about what would happen with believers who had died before Christ’s return.

But the Thessalonians were concerned about something that was even more troubling: that it had been reported to them that Paul had said that ‘the day of the Lord’ has already come – 2Thessalonians 2:1, 2.

Note: there is divided opinion about Paul’s meaning. Where the NIV has ‘has already come’, some translations have ‘at hand’, meaning not quite here. The word – enistemi – is used only seven times in the New Testament, five of which even the KJV translates as ‘present’. Also, some understand the text to mean that the day of the Lord was in the process of happening.

It is no wonder that the Thessalonian believers were troubled when they heard this teaching: if it was true, then Christ had come and not taken them with him! So Paul tells them ‘not to become easily unsettled or alarmed’ by this teaching that reportedly came from him. They should remember what they already had been taught by Paul, rather than letting their emotions be so easily unsettled.

Which parts of your understanding of the return of Christ based on clear information in the Bible?



Which parts of your understanding are based on human speculations?



Does thinking about the return of Christ unsettle or alarm you?

If it does, is it because you are unsure of your salvation or because of human ideas about Christ’s return?



Does thinking about the return of Christ fill you with joy and eager expectation?

If it does, what biblical truths are the basis of your joy?





Paul seeks to calm their fears and settle their minds by urging them to not let anyone deceive them, and telling them that there are two things that will happen before Christ returns, that obviously had not yet happened.

Read 2:3 – 4. What two things will happen before Jesus returns?


B.1 What is ‘the rebellion’?
The word translated ‘rebellion’ is apostasia (apo – away from + stasis – standing or position). It literally means a standing or positioning oneself away from. So some translations have ‘the falling away’. It is equivalent to our English ‘apostasy’ - which refers to the abandoning or renouncing of a previously held religious or political belief. However, it is used only twice in the New Testament, here and in Acts 21:21 where it is translated ‘forsake’ or ‘turn away from’. In secular writings it refers to military or political rebellion.

So what does Paul mean by this apostasia – this ‘falling away’, this ‘rebellion’? There are three possibilities:

[1] That before Christ returns, there will be a falling away within the church: that the church will no longer teach God’s truth.

[2] That before Christ returns there will be a world-wide rebellion against the rule and the authority of God.

[3] Leon Morris comments: ‘The characteristic thought of the Bible is that God rules. Thus the word is appropriate for a rebellion against His rule. In a way I suppose “falling away” points to this sort of thing. It includes the idea of forsaking one’s former allegiance. But the expression is too negative to bring out the thought at all adequately. It is not so much forsaking one’s first love and drifting into apathy that is meant, as setting oneself in opposition to God. Neil speaks of “a widespread and violent defiance of the authority of God.” It is the supreme effort of Satan and his minions to which the word directs us.’ Pp218, 219, The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians, Eerdmans, 1959.

And here we must ask: Does the New Testament talk about any of these elsewhere?

B.2 Who is ‘the man of lawlessness’?
This phase is used only here.

Read 2:3 - . Answer these questions:
Verse 3 - what will his end be?

Verse 4 - what does he do?


Verse 6 & 7 – why had he not yet appeared?

Verse 7 – what was his current activity?

Verse 9 – whose work does the lawless one do?

Verse 9 & 10 – how does he deceive people?

Paul has drawn a picture of an extremely arrogant, deceptive, powerful, anti-God figure. And again we must ask: Is there anyone else like this in the New Testament teaching about the time leading up to the return of Jesus Christ? And along with this question to also ask if the ‘rebellion’ and the ‘man of lawlessness’ are connected. Does the ‘man of lawlessness’ cause the ‘rebellion’, or does the ‘rebellion’ produce the ‘man of lawlessness’?

B. 3 In the teaching of Jesus – Matthew 24
The disciples asked Jesus to tell them what would be the sign of his coming and the end of the age (24:2). Jesus’ reply includes things that are similar, but not identical, to Paul’s teaching in 2Thessalonians. [But we need to be aware that some of Jesus’ teaching applies to the fall of Jerusalem and some to the end of the age.] The relevant points of Jesus’ teaching are:

The appearance of false Christs, who claim ‘I am the Christ’ and false prophets – 24:4, 11, 23, 24.

Their deception – 24:4, 11, 24.

Their use of powerful signs and miracles – 24:24.

Many people turning away from the faith – 24:10.

The love of many will grow cold – 24:12.

Someone or something sets itself up in the holy place – 24:15.

All of this is quite similar to 2Thessalonians 2. The biggest difference is that here there are many false Christs, many deceivers, not just one powerful figure. Another difference is that what Jesus talks about seems to be happening for an extended period during the church age (which could tie in with Paul’s reference to ‘the secret power of lawlessness already at work’ – verse 7).

B.4 In John’s letters
John refers to an end-time figure whom he calls ‘the antichrist’. The term ‘antichrist’ has two meanings – against Christ, and an alternate or substitute Christ. Both are most likely true. Much of what John says is about people present in his day who were motivated by and aligned with the end-time single figure, the antichrist. Because of this alignment he calls them also ‘antichrists’. He says:

Many antichrists have come – each one of them is ‘the liar’ and ‘the antichrist’, denying that Jesus is the Christ , and denying the Father and the Son – 1John 2:18 – 23. Because they aligned with this false Christ, some people who formerly associated with the believers did so no longer (verse 19).

Anyone who does not acknowledge Jesus has come in the flesh is not from God; such a denial is ‘the spirit of the antichrist’ which was already in the world – 1John 4:2 – 3. John says of such people ‘They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world (verse 5). The fact that they listen to ‘the world’ rather than the apostles appointed by God makes it clear that ‘the spirit of falsehood’ is at work in them (verse 6).

John says that the many deceivers who deny that Jesus Christ came in the flesh are in the world; he identifies all such people as ‘the deceiver and the antichrist’ – 2John 7.

B.5 Revelation 13
In this complex symbolic chapter we are introduced to two figures – the beast from the sea and the beast from the earth (also called ‘the false prophet’). Previously Revelation 12 introduced ‘the dragon’ who is clearly identified as Satan (12:9). All three are connected and form a trilogy of evil. If we combine the information about them we get the following picture:

There is a global impact – Satan leads the whole world astray (12:9); the whole world followed the beast (13:3); the first beast was given authority over every tribe, people, language and nation (13:7); ‘all the inhabitants of the earth (except true believers) will worship the beast (13:8, 12).

There is deliberate attack on believers – there is accusation (12:19, 11); there war against those who hold the testimony of Jesus (12:17; 13:7).

There is deception – 13:14. This deception is generated by great and miraculous signs (13:13, 14).

There is the taking over of God’s rightful position and authority – men worship the dragon and the first beast (13:4); the beast blasphemes God (13:5, 6); all the inhabitants of the earth worship the beast (13:8, 12); an image is set up in honour of the first beast and worship of that image is mandated (13:15).

It would seem that the ‘beast’ symbolises a human being – its ‘number ... is man’s number (13:18).

B.6 The man of lawlessness
All of the above help us to get some idea of Paul’s ‘man of lawlessness’ in 2Thessalonians 2. At the back of everything that Paul says about this figure is Satan, who, since Genesis 3 has been deceiving the world and leading it astray, who since the beginning has been anti-God and anti anyone loved by God. Satan wants the worship, Satan wants the throne. Whoever the false prophets and false Christs of Matthew 24 are, they are doing Satan’s work for him. Whoever John’s end-time ‘antichrist’ is, and whoever John’s already present and active ‘antichrists’ are, they are doing Satan’s work for him. Whoever Paul’s ‘man of lawlessness’ is, he will do Satan’s work for him; and, as Paul states (2:7) the power of lawlessness is already at work. Satan is the real and ultimate enemy.


There are four important perspectives to keep in mind regarding this powerful, frightening end-time figure:

C.1 He is not a free agent
Although the power of the man of lawlessness is already at work, he is restrained and held back by one who has more power and more authority (2:6, 7). It is only ‘at the proper time’ that that restraint will be taken away and the lawless one ‘revealed’ (6 – 8). Paul does not say who or what is keeping the lawless one currently in check, but that is not a problem, because, whatever it is, it is ultimately Jesus Christ who is in absolute authority over Satan (Ephesians 1:19 – 22), and it will be Christ who, at the right time, allows that restraint to be taken away.

C.2 The time of his freedom from restraint is limited
In verse 8 it seems that there is not a great deal of time between Christ’s removal of the restraint and his defeat of the man of lawlessness. The shortness of this reign of evil is also evident in Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 24:22) and in Revelation (20:3).

C.3 The man of lawlessness is revealed.
the restraint is removed the lawless one is ‘revealed’ (2:3, 6,8). Lawlessness was present and active prior to this, but its full extent was not obvious. But when the restraint is taken away, the utter evil of evil, of the evil one, and all his minions, will be seen as it was never seen before. And people will love it.

C. 4 Christ’s defeat of Satan - the inevitable and permanent destruction of the man of lawlessness
It is impossible to disassociate the ‘man of lawlessness’ and Satan, even if they are distinct; if Satan is defeated the ‘man of lawlessness’ is also defeated. The New Testament teaches that Christ defeated Satan at the cross (John 12:31; Hebrews 2:14). But he did not at that time put a final end to Satan. That will happen at his return.

Paul says in 2:8 that they Lord Jesus will overthrow ‘the lawless one with the breath of his mouth’ and ‘destroy him by the splendour of his coming’. This is similar to Christ’s defeat of those who followed the two beasts of Revelation 13, who were destroyed ‘with the sword that came out of the mouth’ of Jesus Christ (Revelation 19:21).

Satan, the beasts, the man of lawlessness – they all go down together when the Lord Jesus returns and effortlessly and instantly destroys them.



Verses 10 says of unbelievers: ‘They are perishing because they refused to love the truth and so be saved’. That was prior to the revelation of the lawless one. They had already made their choice. But now, when the lawless one is revealed (by God’s decision and action), when they see such wickedness and hatred of God, their rejection of God and his truth (the gospel) is shown to be so complete that they willingly believe this powerful delusion, this lie, that this lawless one is to be worshipped as God. Their acceptance of and delight in the ultimate delusion confirms their rejection of God and his truth. By this allegiance to the lawless one they also confirm their own condemnation.

And it is perhaps in this that we can see the goodness of God, even in removing his restraint on the lawless one: that in revealing the extreme evil of evil immediately prior to Christ’s return, God is even here in this terrible manifestation of evil, giving people one last opportunity to see the truth, to come to their senses, to turn from evil and return to him and be saved.