As Paul continues his second letter to the Thessalonians, a theme also found in I Thessalonians is revisited here in chapter two. The theme is that of Jesus’ return. You will probably remember how Paul had to exhort the new Christians to not lose faith as they waited for Jesus’ return, but that they should rather work as they lived so that they could still provide for themselves, and so that they would not foolishly waste their time.
The subject is raised again in this instance probably because it needed to be; the Thessalonians were still wholly uneducated or unsure about the return of Jesus. Many believed that He would be returning very soon. And it is true, He may return at any time, but in the first letter, Paul found himself educating them on the practicality of continuing to live and work as they waited. Here in chapter two, we have the other extreme; it seems that many of the Thessalonians believed that He already had returned. Paul tells them that the lawless one must first come before Christ returns.
As the brief chapter progresses, Paul describes the conditions under which Jesus would return. First there will be a mass turning away from God. Then, a man will come that will perform great things using the power of Satan, proclaiming himself as God. This man will sit in the temple of God and will demand that all worship him. This man is also referred to as the antichrist and is described in other places in the Bible (I John 2:18, Revelation 13).
It is a frightening idea, but the coming of the antichrist is not something that believers need to worry over: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming.”
As believers and those obedient of God’s word, we are saved. But those that have not believed, “God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” The idea of an antichrist exhibiting power on earth, sitting in the temple, and claiming deity is frightening, yet even more frightening is the promise of our Creator turning His back on those that have already made their choice: they will be wholly condemned.
In addition to an education on the conditions of Christs’ return, Paul was telling the Thessalonians these things as a way to communicate to them that the time was not yet, and that if Christ had already come back, they would surely know.
The letter ends with comforting admonitions to remain strong in the faith. It is true that life is fleeting, but it can also seem eternal when we are waiting for something that just isn’t coming. Paul’s message of encouragement is to stand strong in the faith, not faltering under the pressure of time, temptation or circumstance. It is an excellent message at any time of life, or at any time in history.