In the short interval between 1 and 2 Thessalonians, the Thessalonian church members became confused about the meaning of what Paul wrote in the first letter.
They drew the conclusion that the Second Coming was either at hand or had already come in some secret way (2 Thess. 2:2). Paul’s short answer to this problem? “That can’t possibly be true. There are too many things that haven’t happened yet.”
The confusion in Thessalonica caused Paul to write his most extensive outline of final events. Had he not done so, it would not have been preserved for us.
Verses 3 and 4 are an incomplete sentence in the original. “That day will not come” is missing in the Greek and is supplied in most translations. Paul lists the things that have to happen before Jesus can come. There will be a “falling away” (the Greek word apostasia for “apostasy”), and then “the man of lawlessness” will be revealed. That revelation is described in 2 Thessalonians 2:8-10 as the working of Satan just before Jesus comes (which we will examine more closely in Wednesday’s lesson). But before that revelation of wickedness, there is a period of “mystery” and restraint (2 Thess. 2:6–7).
Verse 4 is a description of the man of sin (or “lawlessness”), who operates under cover for a time and is then revealed at the end. He opposes God, exalts himself above God, sits in the temple, and proclaims that he is God. This verse is filled with allusions to Old and New Testament texts. The “opposer” recalls Satan in Zechariah 3:1. Exalting himself above God and usurping God’s place in the heavenly temple recalls the little horn of Daniel 8. Showing himself to be God recalls Satan in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28; it also points to the blaspheming power of Daniel 11:36-39. So, the description of the man of sin contains elements pointing to both Satan himself and a wicked agent of Satan in the course of Christian history.
In what subtle ways are each of us susceptible to having the same kind of attitude as we see revealed here in this “man of sin”?