Sunday October 6th
2nd Thessalonians 2-3
I read a story the other day about a photographer who went to this haunted castle, hoping to get photographic evidence of this supposed ghost who haunted the place.
He didn’t want to frighten off the ghostly spirit, so he set up all of his camera equipment during the day, and then sat there, perfectly still, as the sun went down.
Finally, at around two o’clock in the morning, he saw an apparition drifting down the stairwell.
He quietly picked up his camera and slowly pointed in the direction of the ghostly figure.
To his surprise, the spirit actually stopped and struck a pose for him.
He could hardly believe his luck, so he gently squeezed his finger onto the camera button.
And nothing happened. His batteries were too low.
You see, the spirit was willing but the flash was weak!
Speaking of darkness and light, I want to review with you what the Apostle Paul wrote concerning the battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light in 2nd Thessalonians Chapter 2:
Now we request you, brethren, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, 2 that you not be quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.
We can see from these opening two verses that the church in Thessalonica was waiting for the return of Jesus. They were so eager for Jesus to return, that the apostle Paul was worried that they might believe false rumors stating that Jesus had already returned.
Remember that Paul had left town a while back, so he warns them not to believe these false rumors, even if they come in the form of “a message or a letter as if from us.”
Paul then goes on to give us very specific information about what will have to happen before Jesus does return.
3 Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God. 5 Do you not remember that while I was still with you, I was telling you these things?
So there are two distinct events that Paul identifies which must occur before Jesus returns:
“But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”
What about this “man of lawlessness” where have we heard of him before? Some people equate him with the anti-Christ or the “beast” from the book of Revelations.
Here is a description of him from a commentary:
“This is an individual embodiment of wickedness. He will draw away by deception those already inclined against the true God and will ultimately commit the sacrilege of thrusting himself upon humanity as its object of worship.”
Paul does not use the term “antichrist” here, but it is a fitting designation.
In reality, the Holy Spirit has been keeping this evil in check throughout all of history.
Paul explains it in verses 6-12
6 And you know what restrains him now, so that in his time he will be revealed.7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 8 Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; 9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, 10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.
Paul tells the Thessalonians in verse 6 that “you know what restrains him now.” But that restraining wasn’t going to last forever, because in verse 7 Paul says that the “mystery of lawlessness” is already at work.
John warned about the same thing in 1 John 2:18
“Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour.”
When verse 8 says that “Lord will slay (the man of lawlessness) with the breath of His mouth” that is a fulfillment of prophecy from Isaiah 11:4
“But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.”
That prophecy finds its final fulfillment in Revelation 19:15
“From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty.”
Notice that according to verse 10, not only will the man of lawlessness be judged, but also all those who followed him and his deceiving signs and false wonders, because “they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.”
What’s even more fascinating to me is what verses 11 and 12 say:
“For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.”
Do you see that? If people choose to believe lies over the truth, God is going to say “Go for it! Believe the lies if that’s what you want to do! But don’t be surprised when I hold you accountable for rejecting the truth!”
And what is the truth? The truth is what we call the Gospel. It’s that God came to earth physically in the form of a man, Jesus of Nazareth. And that man lived a sinless life but then suffered a cruel punishing death on a cross, not for what He had done wrong, but for what all of mankind has done wrong. And to prove that He was no ordinary man – to prove that He had the power over life and death – He came back from the grave on the third day after the buried Him! That’s the truth. You can either accept it or reject it.
But remember, either choice has consequences.
Paul finishes this chapter by rejoicing with those who have accepted the truth:
13 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. 14 It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, 17 comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.
Can I tell you something very important today? God chose you. He has called you to find Him and to follow Him.
This is what Paul emphasizes as he closes out his letter in chapter 3:
Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; 2 and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith.
As he closes out his letter, Paul requests prayer for the success of his ministry and for the protection of all those who spread the gospel, especially amidst persecution. Remember that Paul faced continual physical danger throughout his ministry.
That is absolutely true today well. Nothing can be accomplished in the ministry of this church without the faithful support of your prayers. We NEED you to be praying for us and with us in order to fulfill God’s plan and purpose for our lives and for this church.
And Paul is very confident that their prayers will continue and that God will use those prayers in his ministry:
3 But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God and into the steadfastness of Christ.
So what is Paul saying? “God has been faithful to me and He will be faithful to YOU as well. Let’s be faithful to God.”
Starting in verse 6, he moves from prayer to instruction:
6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.
Paul obviously see these “unruly” individuals as a serious concern, but he still refers to them as “brothers”.
One of the major issues with these troublesome individuals was their unwillingness to work. Paul points out that HE always worked when he was in Thessalonica. HE always did his share to contribute to the needs of the church, even though he really didn’t have to.
He says, “7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we would not be a burden to any of you; 9 not because we do not have the right to this, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, so that you would follow our example.”
He reminds them that he had the “right” not to work, because his main job was to preach the gospel, but he CHOSE to work in order to set an example of what daily Christian life should look like. And in Paul’s mind it doesn’t look like sitting around on your duff all day expecting others to take care of you. He puts it very bluntly in verse 10:
“For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either.”
Why is this such a big deal? Is it really such a problem for someone not to pull their weight by contributing to the church community?
The problem isn’t simply what these people AREN’T doing, it’s what they’re doing INSTEAD of working!
Verse 11 says that they are “For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies.”
THAT was the real problem! With too much time on their hands, these folks were minding everyone else’s business instead of minding their own business!
12 Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread. 13 But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good.
14 If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame.15Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
Despite the problems that they are creating Paul still treats the offenders as fellow believers who need to be dealt with firmly but in love.
The last few verses of this letter are a final prayer and goodbye from Paul, with an interesting insight included.
16 Now may the Lord of peace Himself continually grant you peace in every circumstance. The Lord be with you all!
17 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write. 18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
Paul’s prayer is for peace “in every circumstance”, which is only possible by fully trusting God with our lives.
In verse 17 Paul points out that he is signing off on the letter in his own handwriting, which was apparently pretty distinguishable.
According to bible scholars, Paul often had the help of scribes, or secretaries in writing his letters, but he typically signed the final greeting in his own handwriting. He calls attention to this as a mark of the letter’s authenticity.
Why did this matter? Because if you remember back in chapter 2, Paul had warned the Thessalonians not to be “quickly shaken from your composure or be disturbed either by a spirit or a message or a letter as if from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.”
In closing this letter with his signature, Paul is assuring the church that this was indeed the “real deal”, a letter truly written by Paul, and not someone claiming to be Paul.
Now consider this – in 2nd Corinthians 3:2-3 Paul says:
“You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
We are living letters, living messages, sent by God to carry HIS words to the world around us! Just as Paul’s letters were proven to be real because his signature was on them, so our authenticity as “letters from God” is proven by the “signature” of Jesus in our lives.
What does that look like to you this morning? In what ways would you says that the signature of Jesus is clearly written upon your life?
And how can we be open to an even greater signature of Jesus in every area of our lives?
Don’t you want the final words over your life to be signed:
“With love, from Jesus”?