A Commentary by John Stott
2 Thessalonians 2:9-12. c). The dynamics of the rebellion.
The rebellion will take place, according to Paul, publicly and visibly on the stage of history. It will be seen in a world-wide breakdown of the rule of law, of the administration of justice and of the practice of true religion. But Paul also introduces us to its invisible dynamics, to what is going on behind the scenes. He writes of the two major protagonists – Satan (9) and God (11), and uses the word *energeia* (‘working’, ‘operation’) in relation to both. Both God and Satan are at work in relation to the coming of Antichrist.
Paul begins with the devil, asserting that *The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work [energeia] of Satan* (9a). It would be an exaggeration to say that Antichrist will be an incarnation of Satan, as Christ is the incarnation of God. It would be more accurate to think of the coming of Antichrist as a deliberate and unscrupulous parody of the second coming of Christ. Paul shows this by using the same vocabulary of both. ‘The systematic and..calculated adoption by Antichrist of the attributes of Christ is the most appalling feature in the whole presentation.’ Thus, in verses 1 and 8 (as in 1 Thess.4:15) we read of the *parousia*, the personal and official coming of Jesus Christ; but at the beginning of verse 9 we read of the *parousia* of the lawless one, in direct juxtaposition to Christ’s *parousia* at the end of the previous verse. Next, in 1:7 the Lord Jesus is going to be ‘revealed’ from heaven, whereas three times in chapter 2 (verses 3,6,8) it is the lawless one who is going to be ‘revealed’ (it is not stated from where). Again, Christ is coming in power and glory (1:7) and in *splendour* (2:8), while the coming of the man of lawlessness will be accompanied by *all kinds of counterfeit miracles [*en pase dynamei*, ‘in all power’], *signs and wonders* (9). Just as the ministry of Jesus was accredited by ‘miracles, wonders and signs’ (Acts 2:22), and also the ministry of the apostle Paul (Rom.15:18-19; 2 Cor.12:12), so the ministry of Antichrist will be accompanied by (though not authenticated by) miracles. For his will be *counterfeit miracles*, probably not in the sense that they will be fakes, but in the sense that they will deceive rather than enlighten. Thus both comings, of Antichrist and of Christ, will be personal (a *parousia*), visible (an *apokalypsis* or revelation) and powerful (with miracles). And tragically the coming of Antichrist will be such a clever parody of the coming of Christ that many will be taken in by the satanic deception. The reason for their being deceived is that *they refused to love the truth and so be saved* (10). Love of the truth (it is implied) was offered to them, but they rejected it. Behind the great deception there lay the great
*For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie* (11). This ‘lie’ is ‘the denial of the fundamental truth that God is God’, together with the blatant assertion by Antichrist that he is God. God will ‘give them over’ to their own wilful blindness (Rom.1:24-25). And as a result they *all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness* (12). It is of great importance to observe that the opposite of ‘believing the truth’ is ‘delighting in wickedness’. This is because the truth has moral implications and makes moral demands. Evil, not error, is the root problem. The whole process is grimly logical. First, they delight in wickedness, or ‘make sinfulness their deliberate choice’ (NEB). Secondly, they refuse to believe and love the truth (because it is impossible to love evil and truth simultaneously). Thirdly, Satan gets in and deceives them. Fourthly, God himself ‘sends’ them a strong delusion, giving them over to the lie they have chosen. Fifthly, they are condemned and perish. This is extremely solemn teaching. It tells us that the downward slippery path begins with a love for evil, and then leads successively to a rejection of truth, the deception of the devil, the judicial hardening by God, and final condemnation. The only way to be protected from being deceived is to love goodness and truth, These, then, are the dynamics (devilish and divine) which lie behind the final rebellion.
To sum up this whole paragraph, Paul has unfolded the historical process (present and future) in three stages. Now is the time of *restraint*, in which the secret power of lawlessness is being held in check. Next will come the time of *rebellion*, in which the control of law will be removed and the lawless one will be revealed. Finally will come the time of *retribution*, in which the Lord Christ will defeat and destroy the Antichrist, and those who have believed the Antichrist-lie will be condemned. This is God’s programme. History is not a random series of meaningless events. It is rather a succession of periods and happenings which are under the sovereign rule of God, who is the God of history.
Tomorrow: 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17. 3). Paul’s confidence in the stability of the Thessalonians.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 & 2 Thessalonians. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.