Yesterday, Cal taught on 2 Thess. 2. You can listen to the entire sermon here (Aug. 18, 2019). Today, I’d like to reflect on three traits of the Lawless One according to 2 Thessalonians 2. They are
1. He will exalt himself over all things called God (2 Thess. 2:4).
2. He will set himself up in God’s temple and proclaim himself as God (2 Thess. 2:4).
3. His secret power was at work even at Paul’s time, though it was limited.
The coming of the Lawless One (a.k.a. Antichrist) is what Evangelicals have been anticipating for decades. A god-like figure will arise and demand to be worshipped. The prevailing assumption has been that if we know the Bible well enough, we will know without a doubt who this lawless one is. The interpretation has been through different iterations throughout church history. In each period, the antichrist seems to take on the characteristics of forbidden or ungodly practices of the day.
- In the Medieval period, the antichrist was sometimes characterized by practicing occult sciences (astrology, alchemy, etc.) that lured in unsuspecting people because of the “signs and wonders.”
- By the Reformation, the invention of the printing press had made Scripture accessible to the masses. That combined with Luther’s diligent work on translating the Bible into German led to the rise of criticisms against Rome, decrying their authority and actions as Antichrist.
- From Luther till now, sects of the Lutheran Church still holds to the Papacy as Antichrist.
- English Puritans held and sometimes still hold to the same.
- In Modern times, theories have abounded that the Antichrist would come from the European Union or (thanks to Jenkins and LaHaye) Romania.
- New to the Antichrist identification iteration is the emergence of an Islamic Antichrist (CBN video).
Within historical context, each iteration can be shown to embody the “spirit of Anti-Christ.” Will the ultimate antichrist come from the EU, Romania, or Islam? No one can really say for sure. Additionally, when he does arise, there’s not much we can do to stop it, because it is all part of God’s sovereign plan, resulting in the utter defeat of Satan and his demons. What is important for us to acknowledge is that the Spirit of Antichrist doesn’t have to assume the highest realms of political and religious authority before its destructive power can take effect.
1. Lawless One Exalts Himself Over All Things Called God
We know the tricks and deceptions of the devil because they are spelled out in Scripture. Deception, authoritarian control, theft, murder, destruction and division are all parts of his schemes. People, institutions, and motives that lend themselves to these are operating in the “Spirit of Antichrist.” Sadly, Christians are not automatically immune to the Spirit of Antichrist. When we give in to unforgiveness and bitterness, we partner with the Spirit of Antichrist. In unforgiveness, our “right” to hold a grudge is set above God and his laws. When we force people to do things against their will, we are partnering in the Spirit of Antichrist, because we are trying to control and manipulate an image bearer of God. When we thoroughly dislike (hate) someone, we are giving into the Spirit of Antichrist, because 1 John says “Anyone who hates his brother is guilty of murder.”
By the time the Antichrist comes on the scene, our societies will have already paved the way for his ascension due to our own partnership with the “Spirit of Antichrist” in a million subtle ways. By that time, it won’t matter whether he comes from Europe, the Middle East, the USA, or the Vatican.
The best way to keep the Spirit of Antichrist at bay is for the followers of Jesus to double down on their character building and relationship with God and not give into the whims of emotional Christianity. Only then will Christians be aware, mind, body, and soul, of the tactics of the Antichrist as it surfaces in everyday relationships at home, work, church, marketplace, etc.
2. Lawless One Will Set Himself Up In God’s Temple
There is a lot of discussion around whether or not Israel will rebuild the temple from their Jewish past. It is believed that the current holdup is due to the Dome of the Rock sitting where the Temple used to be. But there are a group of Israelis who are preparing for construction of a third temple. If/when the temple is built, it will create an avenue for this part of the prophecy to be fulfilled in a very literal sense. Since it is believe the Antichrist will fulfill both a political and religious leadership role (much like the emperors of Rome), the Antichrist will have to find a way around the concept of “Separation of Church and State” or a “Secular Society.” That could be feasibly fulfilled with Islam’s Imam or some derivation of it.
Another way to read this is the Antichrist setting himself up in the Church. How do we come to this? If we take the concept of Christians being the Temple of God, and the Antichrist will set himself up in the Temple of God, then he will set himself up in the body(ies) of the church. This would easily fulfill the “Religious leader” element of the antichrist. That means the Spirit of Antichrist will somehow capture the focal points and hearts of Christians. So what temptations are posed to modern day Christians to lure them away from the love and holiness of God? Answer that question, and you may just have the roots of the Antichrist’s rise within the church. What are we most tempted to worship (spend our time, effort, and energy on) other than the resurrected Jesus?
3. His Secret Power Is Already At Work
One of the biggest weapons of the devil is deception (for magicians, this is called “misdirection”). Through misdirection, the devil can capture Christian focus in one direction while he’s carrying out his work in others. I can think of a few ways the devil has caused a misdirection for the church’s focus. 1. An overemphasis on identifying the Antichrist leads to a neglect of our own complicit cooperation with him. 2. A focus on a “future” rise of the Antichrist leads to a loss of diligence fighting the enemy’s current works. 3. Complacency in our Christian walk leads to an apathy regarding Kingdom Work.
1. Overemphasizing Identity of a Future Antichrist
An entire network of ministries has cropped up in preceding decades almost exclusively devoted to the End Times and the rise of the Antichrist. Several of the names associated with this focus are:
- Hal Lindsey
- J. Dwight Pentecost
- John Walvoord
- John Nelson Darby
- John Hagee
- Kenneth Copeland
- David Jeremiah
The efforts of these preachers to rightly understand the Scriptures isn’t inherently negative. Their studiousness is to be lauded. The danger comes from an imbalance on behalf of the followers. It’s easy to decry interpretive issues of big name speakers. What is hard is to maintain an individual discipline to balance another person’s reading of Scripture with our own reading. What does that balance look like? Reading the whole counsel of Scripture. According to Mike Bickle, there are 150 Bible verses that talk about the end times. In total there are 23,145 verses in the Bible. In its entirety, the topic of End Times occupies less than 1% of all Bible verses. So a steady diet of only 150 verses would be the spiritual equivalent of a steady diet of sugar based foods. There is a lot more to understanding the Gospel and the Kingdom of Heaven than piecing together >1% of the entire biblical narrative.
Don’t get me wrong, when doing a concentrated study on a topic, we need to drill down and focus on content. It’s only when that becomes our only focus for months and years on end that we start seeing unhealthy effects. TGP is currently doing an in depth study of those 150 verses on alternating Tuesday nights. I would encourage anyone interested in learning more to come to our Tuesday night studies.
A studied emphasis on the Spirit of Antichrist will be far more beneficial to the individual believer and the kingdom of heaven than a studied emphasis on the Identity of Antichrist. Overemphasizing the identity of the future Antichrist can lead to an imbalance of our personal faith. The danger is we will tend to neglect the hard parts of character building and maintaining healthy, godly relationships in favor of more juicy teachings about the Antichrist and the End Times. That favoring can lead us to complicitly allow the works of Antichrist to take root in our daily lives. The sermon on the mount is far more useful to spiritual maturity than trying to identify the Antichrist. This leads to our next point
2. Focusing on the Future Antichrist Reduces Our Fight Against His Current Works
As Paul even stated in 1 Thess. 2, The Spirit of Antichrist is at work even now within the church, and has been since Paul’s day. If we are focusing our attention on the future rise of the Antichrist, what we are not focusing on is his subtle works in our families and in our churches here and now. Such a prolonged neglect of keeping the beams out of our own eyes means we are allowing the works of Antichrist to infiltrate our daily lives and begin to bind us to his will. By the time he does reveal himself, we will have already formed an alliance with him. Paul’s warning to the Thessalonians was not “In the far off future, several thousand years after you’ve died, an Antichrist will rise, so be diligent today.” His warning to the Thessalonian church was about guarding against the works of Antichrist in their present lives, because he is planting subtle roots in the hearts and minds of people. A prolonged lifestyle of impious living and averting the hard parts of healthy/holy relationships leads Christians away from unwavering dedication to the Lord. Moving away from that devotion leads a person into complacency.
3. Moving Away From God Leads to Apathy
Apathy is one of the most dangerous mindsets we can fall into. This was the danger of the Laodicean Church in Revelation. When we allow the works of Antichrist to disrupt our households, workplaces, and churches, it is easy for us to shut down emotionally and spiritually and become complacent. It is a common assumption that the enemy of faith is doubt. I don’t think it is. I believe the enemy of faith is apathy. Not caring about the kingdom. Not caring about good relationships. Not caring about what is bigger than our own self-importance. If the current work of Antichrist can be successful in turning churches complacent, they won’t care when he rises to power.
My view of the rise of Antichrist is still the Evangelical standard. He will likely be a political-religious leader that will capture the hearts of the world (or at least the Middle-East). But I don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure things out about his origins, identity, or “signs of the times.” To me, the best way to prepare against the rise of the Antichrist is through getting our own lives in order. Holy piety is a non-negotiable for the kingdom of heaven. We are to pursue that, not just in how often we read and pray, but how we engage in relational conflict, how we take responsibility for our lives, how we rebuild after setbacks, etc. The truth is, striving to embody the teaching of the New Testament in our lives is the surest way to hear the heartbeat of heaven and to repel the works of Antichrist.
This week, my challenge to you is to find a couple New Testament verses during your devotional time and strive to incorporate them into habits in your life. If you do this regularly, you will find yourself growing closer to the heart of God and changing yourself to be more like him.
Thank you for reading this week’s Pastor Blog. I hope it has helped you better experience our Lord’s