II THESSALONIANS 2:1-4: “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.” NKJV
OBSERVATION: Did you know that people have been trying to identify the Antichrist for centuries? Ever since Jesus ascended into heaven, and throughout all the times of persecution and upheaval, man has tried to identify the Antichrist and the coming of the Day of the Lord. Is it possible to identify him?
The answer to this question hinges on a person’s view of eschatology (the study of the end times). And, to be more precise, it hinges on the subject of the rapture (the gathering of the church to be with Jesus Christ in the air). To be honest, even for the seasoned Bible student, this subject is not simply one that is cut and dry. Yet, in my humble opinion, these verses from Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians offers us great hope in unraveling this mystery.
In Paul’s first letter he spoke about what has come to be known as the rapture of the church. The word rapture does not appear in the Bible. It is a Latin term that literally means seizing or carrying away. It has been used to describe the phenomenon that is explained in I Thessalonians chapter 4.
- “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” I Thessalonians 4:15-18 NKJV
In the rapture, two things happen. Those who have died in Christ (having faith in Christ), experience their bodily resurrection. Their glorified bodies are united with their spirits and join with Christ in the clouds (just as Jesus ascended into heaven). Then, those who are still alive on the earth experience this in one grand event. They are transformed as they are physically caught up together with Jesus in the air.
Now comes the point we must not miss. Paul tells the Thessalonians believers – “Therefore, comfort one another with these words.” The hope of the rapture, our gathering together with Jesus in the air, to forever be with him, was to give them great comfort. Why is this significant? It was because this church was under great persecution. The persecution was so great that they began to think that the awesome “Day of the Lord,” the day of judgment prophesied in the Old Testament, had fallen upon them.
Fast forward to the opening verses of II Thessalonians. To this battered church, Paul writes these words of comfort once again. I am going to paraphrase these verses below.
- “Dear believers, do you remember when I wrote to you about our gathering together with Jesus Christ in the air? Don’t you remember that I shared this wonderful truth with you in order to bring you comfort? Why then are you so worried and filled with fear? Have I written to you that the Day of the Lord has come? Don’t you realize that we will be gathered together with Christ before this terrible day even begins?” (Paraphrase, II Thessalonians 2:1-2).
Now, Paul becomes more specific with them to show them the error of their thinking with regards to the Day of the Lord. If the comfort of the rapture was not enough, he would show them that it was impossible to even think they were in the Day of the Lord.
- “Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time.” II Thessalonians 2:3-6 NKJV
Paul assures them that the Day of the Lord will not come until two major events take place. The first is a great falling away from the faith. This battered church was vibrant in their faith. When you study churches that are being persecuted, you won’t find many lukewarm believers! The second was the revealing of the man of sin – the Antichrist. This would not be something that was hard to interpret. No one would have to guess. It would be fully evident to all.
When Paul spoke about this to the Thessalonians, the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing. Yet, the Temple is not on the Temple Mount today. Before this Scripture can be fulfilled in our time the Temple in Jerusalem will have to be rebuilt. Therefore, to believers today, there are three great events that must take place in order for the Day of the Lord to be at hand. First, the Temple must be rebuilt. Then there will be a great falling away and the man of sin will be revealed. Paul is very specific about this.
- “…so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.”
So let’s put this all together. Can we know and identify who the Antichrist is? If we take Paul’s words literally the answer would be – NO! Then, why does Paul even give us this information? He writes this specifically to the Thessalonians to bring them comfort in their time of great persecution, He wants them to know that there is a Day of Judgment coming but they are not in it. They can have comfort and great assurance in this truth. Why? The answer is the rapture! They will be transformed into the presence of Jesus before the terrible Day of Judgment takes place.
It is about this time that many who hold a different view of the end times are saying – “Oh, this is just another pre-tribulation viewpoint! Why – the church did not even hold this viewpoint until later in the 1800s!” The answer to this could be twofold. First, this viewpoint could be in error. If it is, then we will persevere into the end times by grace through faith. Or, it could be that the Holy Spirit has unveiled this understanding to the church, as we enter into these last days, so that we, like the Thessalonians, would not think we are in the Day of Judgment.
Here is the last reason in this section of Scripture that I ascribe to the rapture taking place before the unveiling of the Day of the Lord and the revealing of the Antichrist.
- “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. 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. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this reason 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.” II Thessalonians 2:7-12 NKJV
Fasten your seatbelt! The mystery of lawlessness is already at work. John points this out in his first epistle. The spirit of the Antichrist is at work in the world. The spirit of Antichrist is Satan himself. Yet, this does not mean that the Antichrist has been revealed. In fact, his unveiling is being restrained at the moment. How is he being restrained? The Antichrist is being restrained by – “…He who restrains.”
Who is Paul referring to? I believe it is the Holy Spirit in the world. Unlike the Old Testament, when the presence of God followed the nation of Israel, the Holy Spirit now indwells each and every believer. And, each and every believer has been baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. This is why Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians,
- “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Ephesians 2:19-22 NKJV
Note that the church is called – “…the dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” It is by the Holy Spirit (He who restrains), through the church, that the Antichrist is now being restrained. As bad as the world is right now, it is the light of the church that is restraining the massive outpouring of evil that will take place during the Day of Judgment. And, this domination of evil in the world, and the unveiling of the Antichrist, will continue to be restrained, until “…He who restrains…” is taken away.
When will the Holy Spirit be taken away? It will be when the Church of Jesus Christ is raptured, caught away in the air, to be reunited with Jesus Christ for all eternity. It is then, and only then, that the Antichrist will be revealed. So, we come full circle to our opening question. Can we really know who the Antichrist is? If you are a believer, the answer is – NO! You will be caught up and reunited with Jesus Christ before that is even possible. And, any evil now that you think might be the Great Tribulation – is merely child’s play to what is really going to happen in the Day of the Lord’s Judgment!
- “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”
So I take great comfort in these words…
- “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ (Day of the Lord) had come.”
The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto Him, is our call to persevere with great assurance and comfort. God has not appointed us unto wrath but salvation through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Who is the Antichrist? To be honest, I don’t care, and I don’t have time to worry about this question. You see – I am looking upward. I am looking for that great day. My ears are tuned to hear the sound of the trumpet of God. I am looking up and awaiting His call to come home!
Lord, as I await this Great Day – may I walk in the power of Your Holy Spirit, by grace through faith. No matter what I face, no matter what may come, I know that You will carry us and provide for us. And, just as you ascended into heaven – so we too will meet You, as You met the Your Father!
Come, Lord Jesus – for Your Church!
- “For the Lord” Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. “
In Jesus Name!