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Stand Firm and Treasure Truth

Date: Jun. 26, 2022

Author: Bob Henkins

2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

Key Verse: 2 Thessalonians 2:15

So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

Good morning, everyone and happy Sunday. Here we are at another worship service in our homes. As you know, we’ve had several of our families get Covid, in some cases the whole family, so that is why we have been meeting in our own homes. Hopefully, we can resume in-person worship next week in the chapel. We’ll keep you posted. We are resuming our study of 2 Thessalonians this week and we are in chapter 2. Chapter is a bit different than the previous chapter because it has a Revelation-esque vibe to it. And if you know me, I’ve always wanted to do a study of Revelation on Sundays so I’m happy to be going through this one. So, let’s not waste aby more time and get into it.

If you remember from our time of Genesis study, in the days of Noah, wickedness and unbelief were rampant. So much so, that every inclination of the thoughts of people’s hearts were only evil all the time. Just as it was difficult for Abraham’s nephew Lot, “who was distressed by the depraved conduct of the lawless deeds he saw and heard” (2 Pet 7) while living in Sodom, it must have been hard for Noah to keep the faith and continue to build the ark. Especially, given his circumstance. But day after day, and year after year, for about 120 years, Noah stood firm and never gave up his faith in God or stopped doing his good deeds - building the ark. Noah did everything just as God commanded him. And although it was probably not easy, in the end, he and his family were saved.

Likewise, our passage today has a similar feeling to the times of Noah in the sense that it can be difficult to hold on to our faith in God when society seems to be falling away from it. Paul is writing the second letter to the Thessalonian partly because he was encouraged by their faith, but also partly because there had been a recent attack upon their young faith. Because of this attack, Paul wanted to encourage the Thessalonian church to be like Noah and stand firm in their faith and treasure God’s truth and keep doing good deeds.

In the first two verses Paul addresses the attack that I was just talking about. Let’s take a look at those verses, “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.” In the first letter to the Thessalonian church, Paul addressed people’s concerns about those who died before Jesus returned. Now, in the second letter, Paul is addressing another issue about Jesus’ second coming that had people worried. Apparently, person, or a group of people, were pretending to be one of Paul’s associates, had either come to their church, or sent word, or wrote a letter to them and said that Jesus (the day of the Lord) had already come and gone. Naturally, people were worried. They thought that they had missed their chance and now they were going to be condemned. It would be like going to the airport and completely missing your flight, you’d be freaking out. The word that was used here for “unsettled” suggested a lack of stability, like a ship that was adrift, being tossed about on the waves. If you’ve ever been in a boat when it was wavey it can be quite scary & unsettling. The Thessalonian’s faith had become a little shaky as they let any new rumor, or false teaching, they heard sweep them away instead of having some critical thinking and discernment. They let their fears and emotions drive their reactions and they almost began to panic. We should keep this in mind when we are reading stuff on the internet because it can be very similar. We don’t always know where these things come from, who is behind them, or what their motive is. So, we need to process the things we read with some critical thinking, discernment and compare them to what the Bible says before we react otherwise, we can be filled with anxiety as we’re like a boat on stormy water being tossed here and there.

In verse two, Paul mentioned three possible types of sources of these rumors, prophecy, word of mouth, or letters. A prophecy is a revelation that is inspired by the spirit, either The Holy Spirit or an evil spirit. Word of mouth is straightforward. The only thing with this is that I’m not sure if it was intentional, like someone trying to deceive them, or maybe it was like the game of telephone where the message gets slightly altered more and more it’s told down the line. And lastly, Paul says maybe a letter was sent to them (Which would be the easiest of them to refute). The way Paul addressed the issue was that no matter how it came to them, any of those three methods, what they were saying was false. They didn’t have to worry because the day of the Lord hadn’t come yet. Take a look at verses 3-4. “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 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.” Since Paul didn’t want the Thessalonian believers to be deceived or led astray by lies, he goes on to describe what the day of the Lord will be like, and some of the signs or events that must happen before it.

One of which he talks about is a rebellion. This is when many people who call themselves Christians will deliberately turn away from and abandon Jesus. Let’s be clear, there have been many people throughout history that have turned away from God, what will make this different is that it will be of greater magnitude than before. Even in our time right now people are walking away from God. Some famous contemporary people who have left Christianity, Tom Cruise & John Travolta have left to join Scientology, Katy Perry, a pastor’s kid, left. I don’t know much about their stories, maybe did not believe very long or were that committed. But there also have been a number of pastors that have recently walked away Jesus, like Joshua Harris and Paul Maxell (Desiring God). Those are high profile people, but what about non-famous people, the Pew Research Center’s 2021 survey shows that in the US, 63% of Americans now identify as Christian, which is down from 78% in 2007. That’s a 15% drop in 14 years. While those that profess no religion has grown from 16 to 29%. That’s a rise of 13% during that same period. It’s almost as if they are just walking away. If these trends continue, sadly, Christians will become a minority in America in 14 years, 2036. And it may happen a lot sooner than that with the reaction to the recent Supreme court decision. There seems to be a lot of anger toward Christians and religion as they are blaming them for it. However, the rebellion Paul is talking about is something bigger, something that is catastrophic, decisive, and recognizable that will cause many to fall away from the church. It must be more than the ups and downs of Christian faithfulness because that has been going on since the time of Jesus. Just look at Judas.

Another event that Paul says that must occur is that the man of lawlessness must be revealed. Who is this man of lawlessness? He sounds mysterious. No one knows who he is. If you google that phrase, Putin, Trump, and Obama popped up in my browser. And depending upon your affiliation, sadly, you might agree with one of them. Paul, however, gives us several clues about him. First, he is a man, he’s not an angel or demon. He will consider himself above the law, the law won’t pertain to him, and he will become the very definition of lawlessness. In fact, he will even proclaim himself to be God. He will come with the help and by the power of Satan (v9). He will have supernatural powers (v9) and will be unparalleled in his ability to deceive people(v10). And lastly, he won’t last because he is born for destruction (v4). If you have studied the Bible long enough you begin to see that Satan often imitates God, either he wants to be like God, or he wants to use his God-like appearance, to lead people away from God. For example, he will create a counterfeit Holy Trinity (which is the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit) with an unholy version (Satan, the Antichrist, and the False Prophet) where the Antichrist is the man of lawlessness.

Let’s take a look at verses 5-8. “Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? Andnow 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. 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.” When Paul first spent time with the Thessalonian church, he taught them many things about Jesus, including his first and seconding coming (Acts 17). I find it interesting that Paul was teaching on this matter so early on in the church. We have to keep in mind that 1 & 2 Thessalonians are two of the earliest letters written of the New Testament, coming even before the gospels and Revelation. And apparently, Paul went deep into the material, in detail, because there are things in this passage that we don’t know even today. For example, in verse 6, we’re not sure what is going to be holding back the lawless man, but they seem to know because he says, “now you know what is holding him back.” The note in my study Bible says some things that could possibly be holding him back could be, the government of his time, Rome, the US, or wherever, maybe Paul’s gospel work or God’s people of the time, the Jewish nation, or simply God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, who is waiting for the right time to reveal him.

However, things aren’t sitting still idle, it says that the power of lawlessness is already at work. The Bible tells us that Satan is the ruler of the air (Eph 2) and we can see that in the book of Job as Satan goes around here and there. (Job 2) And we can see the effects of this all over the news every night as sin is portrayed through human actors. People often ask, “if there is a god, why does he let evil into the world?” and I think our passage we’re studying this morning gives us some insight into this question for the power of lawlessness is at work, and people are actively seeking it out. The man of lawlessness will be so convincing to lead huge amounts of people astray that Paul emphasizes that he appears with “all wicked deception.” However, even in the middle of such deception, Paul gives us some hope by writing that only “those who are perishing” will be fooled (v10). This is also confirmed in the book of Revelation (Rev 13:8). What that means for us is even though when this time comes it sounds like it will be terrible, still we shouldn’t lose hope because when Jesus comes again, he will overthrow the lawless one so easily. We don’t need to worry about the approaching time of lawlessness, because Jesus is Lord, and he will conquer in due time.

Even though Jesus will come, he will come according to God’s time schedule and in the meantime, unfortunately many people will perish. Verses 9-12 tell us that they perish because they like lawlessness. Let’s take a look, “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.” Paul taught that when the Antichrist (the lawless one) comes, he will use Satan’s methods. He will be well versed in Satan’s tactics and will even be powered by Satan. He will the power to do many miracles, not to help people, but to serve his purpose, to further propagate his lie so that he can lead people astray. In the end, the people that don’t love truth or God, will be led astray. They will be deceived by Satan and believe his lie. People will perish because they refuse to love God or truth.

Honestly, I had some trouble accepting verse 11 because it says that God will send them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie. I had trouble that it says, God will send them a powerful delusion. Then in our message review last night Mike and Gideon reminded me of when Jesus told the parable of the weeds, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.” (Mt 13:24-30) In the parable, some people are like wheat and some like weeds. On the outside people look the same, like they are seeking the truth, but some on the inside are different, they love unrighteousness. Both exist simultaneously and no one knows who they are, but God knows, and Jesus says that they will be separated, and those that love unrighteousness will burn like the weeds. St. Peter said, “if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. 10 This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority.” (2 Pet 2:9-10) I was also reminded of when we studied about Pharoah in Exodus, in the beginning Pharoah hardened his heart, but later God helped hardened his heart. It’s like God removed the restraint and gave them over to their love of unrighteousness. People chose not to believe the truth, so God gives them what they wanted. God will never force himself, or his way, upon people. He continues to reach out to people and invite them back, but it won’t continue forever. I think in the end, people will push God away and will even demand lawlessness and God’s going to say, “Ok, you asked for it, you got it.”

That’s why I believe that it’s so important that we read and study God’s word. We need to study God’s word so that we know it in our heart. After going through this passage what Paul said to the Corinthians rings so much clearer, he said, “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold FIRMLY to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.” (1 Cor 15) We need to love truth, and to love God so that we’ll have discernment not to be deceived.

Paul was especially thankful for the encouragement of his fellow believers. Take a look at verses 13-15. “13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” Paul sincerely thanked God for his fellow believers because they really were an encouragement to him. He wanted to make sure that they knew that God loved them so much, that God called them so that they could be with him in his glory. He really wanted to help them to finish their race of faith and to cross the finish line with him. To do so they would really need to stand firm (Stand firm - Ex 14:13, 2 Ch 20:17, Job 11:15, Ps 20:8, Prvb 10:25, Isa 7:9, Mt 10:22, 24:13, Mk 13:13, Lk 21:19, 1 Cor 15:58, Gal 5:1, Eph, 6:14, Jam 5:8) and hold on to God’s word. Paul would later expound upon the idea of standing firm to the church in Corinth, Paul said, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Cor 15:58) We need to stand firm, don’t let any rumors of the world make us doubt, trust in what God has taught us and give our heart to do what is right.

The pastor John Piper summarized this passage like this: Why did Paul focus on the rebellion and the man of lawlessness with the kind of detail that he did to help the Thessalonian Christians stay at their work, and fill their lives with good deeds (v17)? It’s because their root problem, and our root problem, is not a failure to grasp the timing of the second coming. The root problem is why they were sucked into this deception. And his answer is: the tendency of the human heart not to love the truth, but to find pleasure in unrighteousness — to find pleasure not in the God of truth, but in the god of lawlessness. Paul chose to highlight the rebellion (v3) — the terrible change of the human heart away from God to the pleasures of unrighteousness — and to highlight the power of the man of lawlessness to deceive with unrighteousness (v10), because the rebellious heart, the love of unrighteousness, is the greatest danger in the world. (John Piper - https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/the-second-coming-not-before-the-man-of-lawlessness)

So, what are some specific things that we can learn from today’s passage, and that is to stand firm, to love God’s word, to study it, to enjoy it, not dread going to worship service and to do good deeds. Paul concludes with this, “16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” Paul wanted to encourage the Thessalonians to stop being idle, getting into other people’s business, and get back to speaking encouraging words and doing good deeds. Paul prays for fellow believers that Jesus may give them courage and strength to do good deeds and speak good words. These good deeds and encouraging words can anchor us in difficult storms. A good deed can be a simple as saying a kind word to someone, or maybe just listening, just being a good friend. Often, we go through life feeling isolated and lonely, sometimes we need to be encouraged, sometimes we need to encourage. We need these to be able to flourish in our faith, but also help others flourish in their faith as well. In the end, we need to love God and love one another.

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