The Antics of the Antichrist
2 Thessalonians 2:1-12
November 24, 2002 | Brian Bill
One afternoon, when we lived in Mexico City, I was in a McDonald’s restaurant studying Spanish. As I was eating my hamburger with jalapenos (that’s how they do it in Mexico), I suddenly became very dizzy and disoriented. I wasn’t too concerned at first because this was a common occurrence whenever I worked on my Spanish! When I looked up from my verb chart however, I noticed that the other tables around me were moving back and forth. It was then that I realized that I was in the middle of an earthquake! The other customers didn’t seem too bothered by it, in fact some were even laughing. I was totally freaked out, felt sick to my stomach and suddenly became very concerned for Beth and the girls who were at our house, which was located about 20 minutes away.
I ran out of Ronald’s place and jumped on a bus. When the bus dropped me off I sprinted up our street to make sure my family was OK. I opened the front door and screamed for everyone. Beth wondered why I was wigging out because they hadn’t felt a thing. I was greatly relieved but still a bit queasy and worried about any aftershocks. I had heard about the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City that killed up to 30,000 people and I was frankly frightened that another big one was on the way
Friends, there is a coming cataclysmic, earth shattering event that will make the strongest earthquake feel like the Chicago Bears offense. The tremors of the Great Tribulation period will shake people to their core. Thankfully, those of us who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will not go through this terrible time of tribulation. But tragically, if the Rapture were to happen today, most of the people you and I know will.
As we move toward the conclusion of our series called, “Don’t Be Left Behind” from the books of First and Second Thessalonians, we’re going to see that the church at Thessalonica thought that they somehow had missed the Rapture and were left behind to face the horrors of God’s holy holocaust. As we established last week, the main reason that Paul wrote two letters to the believers instead of one is because they were bewildered. In 1 Thessalonians 4, the believers were comforted with the fact that those who have died in Christ, and those who are alive, will not miss the Rapture but will meet the Lord in the clouds. In chapter 5, Paul made it very clear that believers would not be here when the Day of the Lord comes at the end of the seven-year tribulation period.
But, because persecution had begun to permeate this young group of Christ followers, they wondered if they had missed something. Maybe they had been left behind. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul tells them that while they were experiencing some terrible tremors, the great quake had not yet struck. They would definitely not be left behind to face the frightening fury of the final days. They could bask in the reality of the Rapture that would release them from the unimaginable carnage to come.
As we’ve emphasized several times, the purpose of prophecy is not to give us a calendar of coming events but to build our character. But, because the Thessalonians were perplexed about the persecution they were experiencing, Paul lists four major events from 2 Thessalonians 2 that make up God’s prophetic timeline.
- The Rapture will deliver believers (1-2)
- The Rebellion will deceive many (3a, 7a)
- The Revelation of the Antichrist will dominate the world (3b-6)
- The Return of Christ will destroy evil (8-12)
The Rapture of Believers (1-2)
Verses 1-2 set the topic for the chapter and the theme for the entire book. The rest of the letter either prepares for, or flows out of this section: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come.” Notice the two words “coming” and “gathered.” Paul here is referring to the truth that he established in 1 Thessalonians 4:17: “After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.” When Jesus comes, believers will be “gathered” together to meet Him in the air.
The Thessalonians had already been taught this but they had become easily unsettled and alarmed. The word “unsettled” means that they were wavering and filled with agitation. The idea is something moving back and forth, like a building shaking during an earthquake. To be “alarmed,” suggests that they were extremely frightened, or “jumpy.” They were deeply disturbed and filled with fear because they thought they had somehow gotten their wires crossed and were entering the Tribulation. Paul quickly clarifies that there is nothing to fear because they won’t be here when God’s judgment is unleashed.
One of the biggest threats to confidence in our lives is rumor. It’s been said that some people will believe anything if its whispered to them. The Christian community over the years has been very susceptible to rumors about the end times, and the Thessalonians were no exception. We’re not quite sure what had happened to them but Paul makes it clear that a prophecy, report or letter should not frighten them into losing their moorings.
Maybe someone had claimed to have a special word from the Lord, or gotten hold of a new report that said the Day of the Lord had come. There may have even been a forged letter from Paul that was circulating among the believers.
We need to be on our guard as well because there is a lot of end-times hysteria in our day. If someone comes up to you and tells you that they have some inside information on when Jesus is coming back, you can discount them because Jesus said no one knows the day or hour in Matthew 24:36. If someone claims to have a direct prophecy from God, we are told to test everything in 1 Thessalonians 5:21. We must be discerning and process everything through the grid of the Word of God.
The Rebellion to Occur (3a, 7a)
Believers don’t have to freak out because we won’t be here anyway. The Rapture takes place first, and then a time of Rebellion will come that will deceive many. Look at the first part of verse 3:“Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs….” Jesus gave a similar warning in Matthew 24:4 when he said, “Watch out that no one deceives you.”
The Day of the Lord will not arrive until after the Rapture, and will be preceded by a time of raw rebellion. I want you to notice that this is not just an ordinary uprising but is referred to as the rebellion, or apostasy. The word literally means, “to rise up in open defiance of authority, with the intention to overthrow it” and was used of political insurrection or military desertion. In a spiritual context, this represents an abandonment of religious beliefs, of a wholesale and worldwide turning from God. The idea is that there will be a massive organized revolt against God that goes beyond anything we’ve ever experienced.
Jesus said it this way in Matthew 24:10-12: “At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold.” This doesn’t mean that believers will lose their salvation. He’s referring to professors of Christianity, not possessors of Christ
This advent of atrocious apostasy is something that is still to come in the future and yet verse 7 declares that the seeds are already being sown in the present: “…For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work.” “Secret” means that this power of lawlessness is hidden, or behind the scenes, but it is surely at work! We can see it pop up with increasing regularity, and we’ll see even more as move toward the return of Christ. 1 Timothy 4:1: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” Paul is talking here about the strange secret of universal evil. Even our secular prophets are puzzled by it. Why is it that we can’t correct our problems? Why do we seem to be going downhill? Why can’t we cure human depravity? It’s the mystery of lawlessness, set in motion by Adam and Eve.
This week I checked out a few web sites in my research for this message. One home page declared in bold letters: “Christianity is a cancer, and must be cured!” A bit further down, I read this: “For a person to be truly free, he must forgo all brain-washing, all past teachings and desires, and look to himself. One of the greatest things that can happen in one’s life is the self-realization of his being a god. I’m a god, you’re a god, and we’re all a god. So praise god, heh.”
2 Timothy 3:1 is even more detailed in what we can expect: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” If that doesn’t describe contemporary America, I don’t know what does. About a week ago, someone gave me a copy of a Dear Abby column in which a pastor wrote something that made my skin crawl. He was referencing a situation where another reader wanted to go against something God has clearly prohibited. This is what he wrote: “God is love and wants love to fill our lives. God does not want anyone to live in a situation such as you described.” In other words, if it doesn’t feel good, then bail on the Bible. And if it brings you pleasure, then it must be right.
The Revelation of the Antichrist (3b-6, 9-10)
The next event to happen after the Rapture and the Rebellion is the Revelation of the Antichrist. Look again at verse 3: “For that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.” Paul does not refer to him as the “Antichrist,” but instead gives him three other titles:
- “Man of lawlessness” (3). He will have a total disregard for God’s laws.
- “Man doomed to destruction” (3). This same title was used by Jesus to describe Judas in John 17:12.
- “The lawless one” (8a)
The Bible records over 20 different names for this man doomed to destruction. Here are a few others:
- “Little horn” (Daniel 7:8)
- “A stern-faced king, a master of intrigue” (Daniel 8:23)
- “Abomination that causes desolation” (Matthew 24:15)
- “The Beast” (Revelation 13:1). This title is used 36 times in Revelation.
- “Antichrist” (1 John 2:18; 1 John 4:3, 2 John 7)
2 Thessalonians 2:4 describes four antics of the Antichrist: “He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” The prefix “anti” means, “in the place of,” or “in opposition to.” Antichrist will be against the Almighty and will try to usurp His throne. His main purpose is to acquire power and turn people away from God, directing worship to himself.
- He will oppose God.
- He will exalt himself over everything that is worshiped.
- He will try to take God’s place by desecrating the rebuilt temple.
- He will proclaim himself to be God.
Daniel 11:36-37 provides additional information about his antics: “The king will do as he pleases. He will exalt and magnify himself above every god and will say unheard-of things against the God of gods. He will be successful until the time of wrath is completed, for what has been determined must take place. He will show no regard for the gods of his fathers or for the one desired by women, nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above them all.”
As we come back to our passage, verse 9 and the first part of verse 10 add four more details: “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing.”
- He will do Satan’s work.
- He will counterfeit the work of God.
- He will energize all kinds of evil.
- He will deceive those who are perishing.
We don’t have time this morning to synthesize all the Scriptures that describe the Antichrist. To do that, along with 2 Thessalonians, we’d have to study the Book of Daniel, the Gospels, 1 John, and the Book of Revelation, but I do want to give a summary, or overview of what the Antichrist will be like.
A pastor friend of mine hit it on the head when he wrote: “…He will be the very incarnation of evil cleverly disguised as a dynamic, charismatic, visionary leader. He will astound the world with his solutions to human problems. His empire will span every continent and his rule will be the most demonic the world has ever experienced. He will rise to world domination by declaring himself a Man of Peace but will later plunge the world into global war…He will be opposed to Jesus Christ and will offer himself to the world as the savior of humanity. He will control the global economy and force his followers to receive a mark on their hands or their foreheads. Most of the world will willingly follow him. Those who do not receive the mark will be hunted down and many will be killed. At the apex of his power he will launch an all-out attack on Jesus Christ at a place called Megiddo in the valley of Jezreel in the central region of Israel. That battle is known in the Bible as Armageddon. His reign of terror will come to a sudden end when the Lord Jesus Christ destroys him when he returns to the earth to set up his kingdom.”
A lot of people over the years have tried to figure out who the Antichrist might be. I don’t think this is the right approach to take. It’s better to be well versed on what he is and how he will display his power. Even though believers won’t be here when he is revealed to the world, the spirit of Antichrist, according to 1 John 4:3 is already in the world. And, the Antichrist could very well be alive right now.
David Jeremiah describes the Antichrist in four ways:
- He will be Charismatic. Daniel 7:20 says that he will be more imposing than anyone else because he will be a “horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke boastfully.” A horn refers to strength and eyes speak of intelligence. Revelation 13:5 describes him as having a mouth that speaks proud words.
- He will be Clever. Daniel 11:21, in the King James Version, says, “He shall come in peaceably, and obtain the kingdom by flatteries.”
- He will be Cultic. As we’ve seen in our passage for today, he will try to take over for God. Daniel 7:25 tells us that he will speak “against the most High.” Revelation 13:3 says that after the Antichrist’s fatal wound is somehow healed, the whole world will be “astonished and will follow the beast.” And because of his ability to do counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders according to 2 Thessalonians 2:9, the inhabitants of the earth will be deceived. Revelation 13:14 adds that they will worship “An image in honor of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived.
- He will be Cruel. After snatching power, his wickedness will be on display. Daniel 7:23 says that He will “devour the whole earth, trampling it down and crushing it.”
The Rebellion and the Revelation of the Antichrist will not take place until after the Rapture. Let’s take a brief look at a couple verses in this passage that commentators have conjectured about for generations. Follow along as I read 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7: “And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.” What is it that is holding back the Antichrist right now? In verse 6, Paul referred to the restrainer in the neuter gender and in verse 6 he uses the masculine form. This restraining force is at work right now but will be taken out of the way in the future. When that happens, the enormous apostasy and the awful Antichrist will be revealed at the “proper time.” This will all take place according to God’s divine calendar. None of it will be a surprise to Him.
Notice that the Thessalonians evidently knew this answer. Look back at the first part of verse 6: “And now you know what is holding him back…” We’re at a disadvantage because he assumes that his readers know who or what it is. Since we’re not told, scholars have suggested a few possibilities. This could refer to government and law, which help to curb evil. Another suggestion is the ministry and activity of the church as a protector and preservative of our culture. When the church is raptured, things will head south quickly. A third proposal is that this is the Holy Spirit. I personally think it’s a combination of the church and the Holy Spirit. People who criticize the church have no idea that the presence of the people of God in the world is delaying the coming of judgment. Incidentally, if this is referring to the Holy Spirit, it doesn’t mean that He won’t be at work during the Tribulation, only that He “will be taken out of the way,” or “out of the midst” to allow Satan and his forces to go to work.
The Return of Christ (8-12)
The fourth event that Paul describes in this chapter is the Return of Christ at the end of the seven-year tribulation period when the secret power of lawlessness and the man of destruction will come to a swift end at the Battle of Armageddon. These final verses speak of the abolishment of the Antichrist and the condemnation of non-Christians.
1. Abolishment of Antichrist (8).
Let’s look first at how Christ will deal with the one who dared to declare himself deity. Verse 8: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.” This picture comes from Isaiah 11:4: “He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”
The epiphany of His presence will be a radiant event
Friends, listen carefully. No matter how powerful Antichrist is he is no more than a flickering flame to be blown out by the Lord [demonstrate with a candle]. An effortless breath will overthrow him. And, when this evil one sees the majesty of the coming Messiah, he will be wiped out. The word “splendor” means “shining forth” or “brightness.” The epiphany of His presence will be a radiant event. I like how the Message translates this verse: “But don’t worry. The Master Jesus will be right on his heels and blow him away. The Master appears and—puff! —The Anarchist is out of there.”
I can think of no better way for us to grasp the glory of His return and the vanquishing of the wicked one, then to listen to how the Apostle John describes the spectacular luster of the Lord’s return in Revelation 19:11-16, 19-20. Listen as I read:
“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS…Then I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army. But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur.”
This reminds me of the words to the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure;
One little word shall fell him.
2. Condemnation of non-Christians (10-12).
This passage ends with a challenge to those of us who have not yet put our faith in Jesus Christ. Look at the last part of verse 10 through verse 12: “They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” People perish because they pursue pleasure at the expense of truth. One day it will be too late. If Jesus were to come back today, the majority of people alive right now would be left behind. The only way to avoid condemnation is to believe the truth. And truth is wrapped up on a person. Jesus said about Himself in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
It all comes down to whether or not you will put your full faith and confidence in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins and eternal life
Friend, let me tell you this straight. It’s possible to resist the truth so much that you will eventually become deluded and believe the lie. There is no neutral ground. To reject the truth means to receive the lie. It all comes down to whether or not you will put your full faith and confidence in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins and eternal life. John 3:36: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
I want you to know that God does not enjoy condemning non-Christians. He is a God of love and mercy. Ezekiel 33:11: “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” 2 Peter 3:9: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Are you ready to receive and believe the truth before its too late? Now’s the time to make sure your name is written in the Book of life. Revelation 20:15 doesn’t allow for any loopholes: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
I can think of at least five ways to apply this message today.
1. Brace yourself.
The worst is yet to come. No matter how good the world seems to be in terms of technology, the moral compass is still pointing in the wrong direction. The modern unholy trinity of tolerance, diversity and pluralism is paving the way for an outbreak of evil beyond anything we have seen so far.
2. Be alert.
Keep your guard up because the end times will be filled with confusion and spiritual delusion.
3. Be bold.
Don’t compromise your Christianity. It’s time to witness like never before. Make sure your friends and family members are not left behind.
4. Be encouraged.
God is working everything for His glory to accomplish His purposes. Jesus is coming! I heard someone say this week that he is not looking for the undertaker but is longing for the uppertaker!
5. Come to Christ.
The whole world will eventually have to make a choice – Christ or Antichrist. Don’t put off this decision. Now is the day of salvation. Don’t worry if you’re not prophetically informed; just make sure you’re spiritually reborn.
Do you know where the safest place to be is during an earthquake? Chuck Swindoll suggests that the best place during an earthquake is to be up in the air. The only safe place to be when the earth quakes during the terrible Tribulation is up in the air! Are you ready to meet the Lord? Is your name written in the Book of Life?
I want to close with these words from Max Lucado.
He has spoken…and He still speaks.
He came…and He’s coming again!